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Fast Friends: 'Nico and Dani' explores teen sexuality.

Cinema Paradiso

Sexy rentals to help you forget the homeland

By Richard von Busack

American movies are rankly, unforgivably unsexy right now. However, there is still Europe! As Sophie Marceau said, Dracula-wise, to a tied-up 007 (Pierce Brosnan), "Sometimes, we forget the old ways at our peril."

'Nico and Dani'

The original title of the sexy but never exploitative Catalonian coming-of-age picture is Krámpack. The word is the private slang of two 17-year-old boys for their mutual masturbation sessions. Friends since childhood, the two have no guilt about their secret game. However, this summer, the rules of the game are becoming hard to understand, signaling a wedge growing between them.

Nico (Jordi Vilches), the blond, richer, better-looking one, is writing a novel and taking private summer school from a pretty English teacher; Dani (Fernando Ramallo) is a lot less complicated. He's failing in school and aims at being a motorcycle mechanic. During 10 days of unsupervised liberty at Nico's parents' beach house, the two students begin a program of sexual exploration that includes the local girls. Picking these girls up is an easy matter; but after the girls have headed home, drunk and flecked with wine vomit, Nico is finding that his fumbling around with this pal is leading to an infatuation he can't understand.

Nico and Dani goes much further with its realistic look at teen sexuality than is possible to see in Hollywood movies, where sex is moralized about, avoided, feared. These characters, not quite adults and not quite children (and not quite straight and not quite gay), are privileged in ways that the average kid won't be. (NR; 90 min.; 2000)

'Autumn Tale'

Eric Rohmer's Autumn Tale could just as easily have been made in the cheaper parts of the North Bay. Only the subtitles really make the difference. Watching this film, you think, "How French," but really, how Northern Californian.

This is the story of a handsome, middle-aged single woman Magali (Béatrice Romand), who is in charge of a small and unpopular Côte du Rhone vineyard. Lonely as she is, Magali isn't about to leave her home to look for a man. Magali's friend Isabelle (Marie Rivière) decides, without Magali's knowledge, to set her up with a personal-ad date.

Rosine (played by the stunning Alexia Portal) also tries to match-make. She intends to fix the elder woman up with her own former lover, a philosophy professor named Étienne (Didier Sandre). Suddenly, Magali has two suitors: one known to her, the other unknown, thanks to Isabelle's subterfuge. Rohmer's droll, delicate but tough-minded romance touches on more than just love, and Autumn Tale is unusually sexy, even though the film's most dramatically erotic moment shows Étienne straightening Rosine's tank-top strap as it falls away from her bare shoulder. (PG-13; 112 min.; 1998)

'Naked'

"Your soul is getting fat," says Charlotte (Nina Hoss) to her husband, Dylan (Mehmet Kurtulus) in Doris Dörrie's German comedy Naked. Despite their business reversals (he lost a mint in a cat-toilet business), the two still have some money left, and in anticipation of Christmas, are putting together a fancy dinner, inviting their four old friends.

Each of the four has had just about enough of Charlotte and Dylan. Charlotte's fancy-shmanciness and Dylan's extramarital cheating (not to mention his bad business advice) have strained these friendships. Despite it all, the two other couples trudge out for a free meal. Emilia (Heike Makatsch) and Felix (Benno Fürmann) arrive. Emilia has broken up with Felix but is still hanging out with him. Felix, a waiter, has rancorous class-warring feelings stirred up by Dylan and Charlotte's wealth.

Compared to these two, Boris (Jürgen Vogel) and Annette (Alexandra Maria Lara) are slightly less resentful, though they probably would have been happier with some time alone. With the dinner as poor as could be expected, the group decides to play a psychologist's game: Can they recognize each other blindfolded and nude, merely by touch?

In a film of 30 years ago, that would be that. But Dörrie goes beyond the soft-core instinct. The identity game ends in a major squabble; the argument forks back to where it started, into the three couples' disenchantment. And the question arises whether lack of money or lack of romance causes the most misery in this world. How satisfying to see a movie contend with the idea that the aim of life is just a steady relationship and a well-feathered nest. (NR; 100 min.; 2002)

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From the February 5-11, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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