Oct. 15-Oct. 27

Vienna cafes are no doubt percolating overtime; here come 289 films from 44 countries, all of which get jammed into two weeks' worth of the Viennale. The main program encompasses about 100 films, roughly half of which are documentary films.

Two new programs this year, in addition to the main sections: Bonus Tracks, which is just an extra day of programming -- and free breakfast for all, because what the hell -- and Propositions. Now, the Propositions section is tagged for films that "risk having unusual forms in cinema, stories and aesthetic and political strategies."

Which...uhm? But the mouthful of officio-speak becomes crystal clear once you've examined the handful of films that made the line-up: "Tarnation," which seems to be playing damn near everywhere, "Pin Boy," and Mark Milgard's "Dandelion." Ah. Odd films. Solid proposition.

There are a handful of venues screening films, but fest central is the Urania. Someone with common sense also decided that most venues would be located within walking distance of the Ringstrasse. Jump a tram, and 'round Vienna you go. Tour it in one.

Highlights: Feature films

Most love stories have a happy beginning, but happy endings aren't so common.

"5x2" is like a mathematical formula solved in reverse, in which we see five crucial events in a modern relationship, as director François Ozon ("8 Women," "Swimming Pool") rewinds the story from brutal parting to questionable beginning.

Like the recollection of a familiar story, we are taken from the fresh memory of divorce to the happiness of a beginning idealized through the fuzziness of memory.

"Man-Yan/Pirated Copy"
The discreet charm of DVD bootleggers. Set during a cold winter in Beijing. People selling illegal DVDs are everywhere: in shopping centers, on viaducts, around the bars, and at the university. The film follows a series of characters and their lives, tagged to their favorite films.

Shown above: Maggie Cheung, in "Clean"

Drug addict Emily Wang loses her partner to an O.D. and goes to jail. She's lost almost everything she has; the last thing she has left is her son. She's determined not to reclaim him until she has remade her life. Actress Maggie Cheung ("Irma Vep") plays Wang.

"A Tale of Two Sisters"
Two sisters return home to a distant father and cruel stepmother. Dreams about their late mother awaken one of them. And then, strange things begin to happen. Based loosely on a Korean folk tale, director Kim Jee-Woon's contorts the source material into a narrative jigsaw puzzle that leaves audiences guessing until the very end.

Highlights: Documentaries

"Sylvia Kristel - Paris"
On the surface, a portrait of Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel, typecast by her role in 1970s erotica/cult series "Emmanuelle." More interestingly, a commentary on the difficulties in plotting a coherent narrative for something as complex as a human life.

For two years, director Manon de Boer recorded the stories of Kristel. At each recording session, Kristel spoke about a city where she’d lived: Paris, LA, Brussels, Amsterdam. The collection of stories were meant to make up an informal biography. Over time, it became a demonstration of the inherent faultiness of biographical works, as details from the same stories surfaced, faded, overlapped, or remained irretrievably lost, even in the re-telling.

"Darwin's Nightmare"
A factory owner shows off his mechanical fish that sing "Don't Worry, Be Happy," while homeless orphans fight over grains of rice in the dirt outside. This is just one of many moments in "Darwins Nightmare" where director Hubert Sauper finds dark irony in the most despairing of situations. A scathing commentary on…appalling inequities that result from the endless pursuit of profit. (Review: Dimitri Eipides)

"Salvador Allende"
September 11, 1973, is a deeply symbolic date for Chile. President Salvador Allende's government was overturned in a coup détat and it is maintained that Allende committed suicide. The determination of this man to above all maintain democratic rule was also what led to his death. "Salvador Allende" retraces the life of this determined Marxist-humanist, delving into the supposed implication of the United States in the coup d'état.

Shown/header image: "Salvador Allende"

Find it: Urania
1st District Vienna, Uraniastrasse 1
Get there: U1,U4 Schwedenplatz - Trams 1, 2, Schwedenplatz
Get info: +43-1-526 59 47, +43-1-513 13 58

Find more film festivals/screenings worldwide, in the OCT/NOV issue of "Arte Six".