Compared to the past couple of years, tonight's opening of the Seattle International Film Festival will be relatively sedate.
Instead of 11 movies arriving almost simultaneously on four screens - which is how 1993 and 1994 began - the festival is returning to the tradition of opening with one movie on one screen. And it's a big one.
Mel Gibson's passionate, thoroughly engrossing three-hour historical epic, "Braveheart," plays at 7 o'clock at the 5th Avenue Theatre, and its director-star will be there to introduce it. A party will follow.
Then the deluge begins. Starting tomorrow at 5 p.m., the Egyptian, the Varsity and the Harvard Exit will be occupied for the next week with new movies from Norway, Germany, Australia, Algeria, France and many other countries.
Beginning May 26 at the same hour, two more theaters will be added. From May 26 through June 8, five screens - the Egyptian, Seven Gables, Varsity and the upstairs and downstairs auditoriums at the Harvard Exit - will be running festival movies. The festival, which includes about 200 films this year, ends June 11.
More than a dozen of this weekend's entries have been screened in advance for the press.
Among the standouts to be shown tomorrow night are "Pretty Baby," a broad German sex comedy in the tacky-funny tradition of last year's "Makin' Up," and "Dust of Life," a gripping French-Algerian-Hong Kong production about Amerasian children who were herded into Vietnamese "work camps" following the fall of Saigon. For romantics, there's the rather delirious Australian student-teacher love story, "The Heartbreak Kid."
Showcased on Saturday night are this year's Academy Award winner for best foreign-language film, Russia's "Burnt By the Sun"; a fascinating German drama about the impact of the Berlin Wall, "The Promise"; and the big winner at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, "The Brothers McMullen."
Tickets for most evening events are $7, although the opening-night film-and-party is $25. Information: 325-6828. To order tickets, call 325-6150.
Here's a rundown of the schedule for the next couple of days:
5th Avenue Theatre
7 p.m. - "Braveheart." Director-actor Mel Gibson's rousing epic-with-kilts is much longer than the meandering "Rob Roy," yet it seems shorter. The story of a 13th century Scottish rebellion, it's loosely patterned on such early-1960s spectacles as Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus" - with which it shares several plot points, quite a bit of battlefield imagery and some crucified-hero symbolism. Gibson, who made a strong directing debut two years ago with "The Man Without a Face," makes the material his own, using the violence graphically at times, poetically at others.
5 p.m. - "Jupiter's Wife." American portrait of a homeless woman in Central Park.
7:15 p.m. - "Pretty Baby." Katja Reimmann, who played the independent heroine of last year's popular German festival entry, "Makin' Up," is the pregnant wife of a hunky philanderer (Til Schweiger) in this similarly frank and funny comedy. When he moves in with a gentle gay man (Joachim Krol), she gets all the wrong ideas. The situation leads to plenty of outrageous farcical misunderstandings, as well as a touching "Strawberry and Chocolate" friendship between the two men.
9:30 p.m. - "Smoke." Wayne Wang's new film stars William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Stockard Channing and Forest Whitaker. Based on an episodic script by Paul Auster, about several characters who hang out at the Brooklyn Cigar Store, it's a companion piece to Wang's "Blue in the Face," which features Keitel, Roseanne, Lily Tomlin, Michael J. Fox and will be shown Sunday night at the festival. Wang, who had originally planned to be here, has canceled his Seattle visit.
Midnight - "Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!" The festival's midnight series gets under way with this wonderfully campy mid-1960s exploitation classic directed by Russ Meyer, who never made a more entertaining movie. Meyer is scheduled to introduce it.
5 p.m. - "Beyond the Sky." Norwegian story of social outcasts helping each other, starring a member of the Ingmar Bergman rep company, Harriet Andersson.
7:15 p.m. - "The Heartbreak Kid." Steamy Australian love story about an engaged 22-year-old high-school teacher (Claudia Karvan) and her favorite 17-year-old student (Alex Dimitriades). He wants to play soccer and she volunteers to be the coach. There's undeniable chemistry between these two actors, and there's an interesting subplot that involves Australia's Greek subculture (previously explored in some of Paul Cox's films). Unfortunately, the sensibility behind the whole enterprise is rather TV-movie-ish.
9:30 p.m. - "Postcards From America." Stream-of-consciousness film about the life of gay artist David Wojnarowicz, based on his writings.
5 p.m. - "Ecological Design: Inventing the Future." American documentary about pioneering 20th century designers.
7:15 p.m. - "Dust of Life." Rachid Bouchareb's powerful French-Algerian-Hong Kong co-production plays like a response to the banalities of "Miss Saigon." Instead of concentrating on the dilemma of a G.I. who left an Amerasian child back in Vietnam following the fall of Saigon, it focuses on the thousands of G.I. children who were herded into Vietnamese "work camps" that were little more than lethal concentration camps. The Vietnamese government disapproved of the script, so Bouchareb shot the film in Malaysia.
9:30 p.m. - "Spider and Rose." Australian road movie about the testy relationship between a grieving 70-year-old widow (Ruth Cracknell) and a punkish 22-year-old ambulance driver (Simon Bossell). The actors do what they can with this patchily developed "Harold and Maude" relationship, but there's a discouraging air of predictability about the whole thing.