Crazy Love

Shoot the Moon Prods. in association with Stevens/Zieff

PARK CITY — "Crazy Love," a bizarre true story of pathological love, possession and maiming that certainly fits into the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category, is a case of intriguing subject matter and lackluster execution. Despite the inherent shocking nature of the material, Dan Klores' narrowly focused, poorly paced documentary lacks a narrative thrust that could have made for a more compelling film.

The filmmakers might get North American distribution, but in a field of docus about pressing socio- political issues and intense competition for limited theatrical venues, it will be difficult for a film about two odd people locked in a poisonous embrace to get traction.

Old photographs and home movies of Linda Riss, who grew up in the 1950s, reveal an uncommonly attractive, sensual woman full of vitality. In on-camera interviews, friends attest to her singular beauty and her hold over men. Her aura of glamour captured the imagination and triggered the compulsions of Burt Pugach, a philanderer and narcissistic manipulator with a lifelong habit of trimming the truth.

Burt is who Jean Paul Sartre had in mind when he wrote: "Hell is other people." Linda, initially impressed by Burt's money and style, found out he was married. After she broke it off, Burt threatened and stalked her before dispatching criminals who threw acid in her face and blinded her. The media ate the story up.

Linda, an inveterate New Yorker and one tough lady, gamely faces the camera, her disfigurement concealed behind a wig and sunglasses. She calls herself damaged goods. He had said that if he couldn't have her, nobody else would. He got his wish.

Burt went to prison. After he was released, she married the jerk. Then they went on the TV talk- show circuit, queried by incredulous interviewers. They've been together for 28 contentious years, and according to Linda's friends, that in itself is a form of justice: He got his punishment, she got her revenge.

Sweet Mud (Adama Meshuga'at)

Sirocco Prods.

PARK CITY — Only someone who grew up on an Israeli kibbutz could have made "Sweet Mud." Screenwriter-director Dror Shaul infuses this almost-memoir with a sweet melancholy. A viewer gains a real appreciation for the spirit and romantic idealism of a commune — and how things can go so wrong. This is a film from the heart, from a firsthand familiarity that yields conflicted emotions over the gap between an ideal and its realization.

"Sweet Mud," the Israeli entry for the foreign-language Oscar, has limited though solid art house potential in North America because it touches on such coming-of-age issues as identity and first love along with the central issue of communal vs. individual needs.

Shaul said the film "is not an entirely true story" but admits he plumbed childhood memories as a boy born and raised on a kibbutz. The story he tells is of 12-year-old Dvir (a resourceful Tomer Steinhof), who enters his bar mitzvah year in 1974 in an isolated kibbutz. Like all children, he is raised collectively by the community, sleeping in the "children's house" and assigned farm chores. His solitude is more extreme than most, however, since his father has died — in circumstances pointedly kept from him — and his mother Miri (an extraordinary Ronit Yudkevitch) has only recently returned from a mental hospital. An older brother gets distracted by young women and military service, while most of the community is uncomfortable around the mentally fragile Miri, who no longer fits the kibbutz ideal.

A visit by Miri's boyfriend, a much older Swiss gentleman (Henri Garcin), brings things to a head. Just when Miri is happiest, her dreams get dashed and with them her spirit. Dvir must grow up fast to take care of his beloved mother and to understand his growing affection for a young French girl, who suffers from a similar alienation from her parents and community.

Shaul has cinematographer Sebastian Edschmid shoot the kibbutz and surrounding countryside in warm, earthen tones that make the rural community hugely inviting. The utopian spirit is certainly inviting at first, but the discord and small tyrannies become clear over time. Shaul steps through this delicate minefield adroitly, seeing things for what they are yet understanding the ideals that makes utopian communities seem so viable. What the film makes clear is that such collectives have no real way to deal with truly vulnerable individuals.

The Night Buffalo

La Neta Films, Canana/Fidecine/AC Films

PARK CITY — There's an abundance of sex and little joy to be found in "The Night Buffalo," a pretentious mess that seems interminable even at 97 minutes. Jorge Hernandez Aldana makes his directorial debut with this overheated, melodramatic clunker based on the book of the same name by Guillermo Arriaga, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aldana.

The story opens with the suicide of Gregorio, a paranoid schizophrenic and the best friend of Manuel (the usually radiant Diego Luna, looking uncharacteristically constricted and strained). Complicating matters is that both men loved the same woman, Tania (a sensual Liz Gallardo, who spends most of the film naked). When Gregorio is confined to a mental hospital, Tania and Manuel begin an illicit affair that has disastrous consequences. Manuel also has an unhappy coupling with a former flame as well. The women in the film, all blessed with beautiful bodies, strip down so often it becomes comical and, finally, boring.

Aldana gets wooden performances out of his actors, and the story, which cuts back and forth between past and present with the actors playing their younger selves, is difficult to follow. None of these characters seems to have jobs or real lives. Mostly it's just one desperate coupling after another, activity that quickly ceases to be erotic when there's no believable emotional connection.

At one point, Manuel goes to the zoo and shoots a wolf. This act proves, perhaps, that too much sex can drive a person insane.

Hector Ortega's shaky, hand-held camerawork is overused. A throbbing, dissonant soundtrack is a further assault on the senses.