Foreign fare keeps festival going at home

The film festival's over, but there are still interesting items coming down the foreign-movie pipeline. One of the most reliable suppliers of such fare is Mongrel Media, the plucky Toronto outfit that regularly imports theatrical releases by Pedro Almodíƒ ³var and other top auteurs.

Latest out of the Mongrel chute is Head-On, an ambitious 2004 effort from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin. In this stark yet playful tale of amour tríƒ ¨s fou, charismatic Birol Ünel (Enemy at the Gates) stars as the Charles Bukowski-like Cahit, an aging punk rocker drinking himself into oblivion over the loss of his beloved wife. When a lovely, if suicidal, young woman (German-born Sibel Kekilli) talks him into a marriage of convenience to satisfy her immigrant parents, it sets them both on a destructive path that leads to Istanbul, with volatile and often passionate results.

Also associated with Mongrel releasing in this country is the eclectic New Yorker Video, which has just offered Voyages, a superb omnibus film from 1999, whose three stories follow different women in Poland, Israel, and Paris, all connected by the long arm of the Holocaust. The disc also contains a valuable half-hour documentary on the unique film's genesis.

And Human Rights Watch has a rare release of a non-documentary feature, Sabiha Sumar's Silent Waters, set in post-partition Pakistan. This powerful effort is accompanied by an interview with human-rights critic Smita Narula, among other extras.

There are also plenty of oldies coming our way. Luis Buíƒ ±uel's The Phantom of Liberty, his slightly more cryptic 1974 follow-up to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, is finally out on disc, in a snazzy Criterion Edition package. From Italy comes Big Deal on Madonna Street: 20 Years Later, the 1985 sequel to a deathless '60s classic. Marcello Mastroianni returns from the original cast.

The Dude is back in The Big Lebowski Special Edition, a newly remastered pressing of the 1998 flick. It's lesser Coen brothers but a major hit of good ol' Jeff Bridges. In his bathrobe. Then there's Marlon Brando, slumming a bit in 1990's The Freshman, but it's still interesting to see him playing against Matthew Broderick in a kind of Godfather-meets-Ferris Bueller setting.

In new Hollywood films, Bewitched is a notable recent failure, with Nicole Kidman trying but failing to save Nora Ephron's botched attempt at reviving a TV show and spoofing it at the same time. Hey, Will Ferrell, don't try to be a leading man, okay? The former SNL funny guy also has a featured role-a better one-in Melinda and Melinda, the latest misfire from Woody Allen. Compared to Bewitched, the Disney update of Herbie, Fully Loaded, is practically refreshing to watch.

Of the current American indie batch, Saving Face is a rather weak cross-cultural comedy in which the cultures are Chinese immigrants and their gay children. Too bad it's so bland. Joan Chen is good as an overbearing mother, but new filmmaker Alice Wu forgot to make the lead character, played by stiff Michelle Krusiec, likable. Another talented cast, including Glenn Close and Jesse Bradford, never gets to the bottom of Heights, yet another ensemble piece about New Yorkers stumbling toward something like redemption. Or at least figuring out that they're gay.

You're far better off with Mysterious Skin, one of the most intriguing films of the year and the best one yet from bad boy Gregg Araki. TV kid Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal of an abused child-turned-teenage hustler is unforgettable, not least because it asks for zero pity.

Of new Canadian releases, Mark A. Lewis's Ill Fated is worth seeing for unusual rural locations and a good, if brief, performance by Paul Campbell as a small-town guy who should have stayed away after escaping to the big city.