How the Fest Was Won

It's film-festival season in the Valley. Last week was the outdoor short-film blowout at Arizona State University, and coming up mid-May, the awe-inspiring 75th-anniversary celebration tour of Warner Bros. classics comes to town. This week, it's Arizona Film Society's shoestring Saguaro Film Festival.

Now celebrating its fifth year, the plucky fest kicks off Friday, May 1, with a reception for the filmmakers from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fat Tuesday's at Arizona Center. The screenings start at 7 p.m. Friday and continue through Sunday, May 3, at AMC Arizona Center 24, Third Street and Van Buren. Several of this year's locally made selections--Karl T. Hirsch's Green (aka Whatever), Ross Corsair's Blackthorn Rose and Chris Sheridan's Walk This Way--have already received area screenings, but there are also some Arizona premieres. Of those that I was able to screen, the two most interesting were a broadly comic love story, Between the Sheets, and Midnight Mambo, a low-key road movie.

Between the Sheets, directed by Michael Deluise from a script by the star, Peter Deluise, takes its title from a facetious theory that I've never seen disproved: that any fortune-cookie fortune will be enhanced by the addition of the phrase "between the sheets." Try it yourself the next time you have Chinese food.

The film is a romantic comedy about Hollywood. Peter plays a young star of cable-TV programmers, once hot but now in a slump. He and his leading lady (Lisa Rotondi) despise each other, but when she's stood up by her date for an awards show, he's pressed into service as her escort. Rumors that they're an item fly, and the pair's respective "people" persuade them to pretend they're true for the sake of the publicity. To complete the charade, they must spend the night in a hotel honeymoon suite together. Can you guess what happens?

Of course you can, but in this sort of film the fun is in getting there, and in Between the Sheets, the Deluise brothers get us there imaginatively. The film can't hide its low, low budget, and there's some blundering unevenness in the attempts to play illusion-and-reality games with the structure. But there are also long passages of dialogue that are genuinely sparkling.

So are the performances of the four leads--Deluise, Rotondi, Marco Sanchez and especially a beguiling actress named Elyssa Davalos as Rotondi's manager. Carol Arthur is a hoot as a TV gossip-monger, and Dom and David Deluise supportively turn up in cameos.

The Deluise brothers have come up with a noble sacrifice for their hero to make that, as far as I know, is new in the annals of movie romance. I won't spoil it; I'll only say that Ronald Colman himself never went this far for love.

In Midnight Mambo--partly filmed in Arizona--Carlos (Vincente Ramos-Bermudez), a Guatemalan man, leaves his job as a dishwasher in an L.A. restaurant, where he has worked nonstop for two years. He returns to Guatemala expecting to live happily ever after on the (improbably large) fortune he has sent home to his wife, only to find that she has taken up with an American man and run off--with his money--to the U.S. herself.

The understandably distraught Carlos returns to L.A. and, finding that his beloved has fled to San Antonio, Texas, persuades his friend Tony (writer-director Philip Marino), a nerdy American waiter, to drive him there. The two have no concrete plan for finding her when they get there, much less for what action they'll take if they do. Along the road, needless to say, they have peculiar adventures.

This thoughtful, intelligent, well-acted buddy comedy is low-key and understated almost to a fault; yet this is so rare in modern cinema that pointing it out could be called praising with faint criticism. The film dramatizes, cleverly and sweetly, the difference in mindset between Americans and Third World immigrants. For Marino, it's an impressive debut.

Also on the schedule are Brad Marshland's Liar's Dice (starring Kasi Lemmons), Greg Morgan's 17 and Under, Joe Lamirand's Talent, and numerous shorts. Best-title honors go to Canadian director Michael McNamara, for The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati.

--M. V. Moorhead

For specific screening and event information, call Arizona Film Society at 970-8711. Tickets for individual films are $5; various panel discussions cost $10. All-event passes are $35, $25 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster (784-4444).

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead