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Visions in Video 

Hideous Kinky (R)

A Merry War (PG-13)

The Inheritors (R - subtitled)

After fighting the crowds, parking lots and long lines at movie theaters over Thanksgiving, a weekend in front of the VCR is the perfect antidote for holiday irritability.

I found three recent films that never made it to Springs theaters during a recent sweep of the video-store shelves, and viewing them over a lazy weekend transported me to Morocco, London and rural Austria.

Of the three, the most interesting by far was The Inheritors, a sumptuous epic set in the rolling farmland of Austria during the early part of the century. When a wealthy landowner dies, the neighboring farmer, Danninger, and the local priest expect to be the recipients of his property. But when the will is read, they receive only his contempt, and the entire estate is left to the peasants who have worked the land and kept house for him all their lives.

The peasants -- led by Lukas (Simon Schwarz), a lusty blond mysteriously referred to as "the foundling" -- refuse offers to sell their shares of the farm, and decide instead to try to stake their claim in society as landowners. The film vividly dissects the rigid social structure and reflects on the inherent inhumanity of the serf system.

Fine supporting performances, especially by Sophie Rois as Emmy, flesh out the film. The drama is tense but not overwrought, and a lovely musical track underscores the beauty of the setting. The Inheritors is an outstanding example of the importance of setting to a film, relying on gorgeous landscapes and darkly lit inside scenes to get across the feeling of difficulty in these hard lives.

Hideous Kinky, though a little short on story, is also remarkably visually lush. Beautifully framed shots of the streets of Marrakesh, the glowing desert of Morocco and the sensuous curves of Moorish architecture make it well worth watching. Kate Winslet (Titanic) plays Julia, a young English woman with two little girls who comes to Morocco to find herself, or at least to sit at the feet of a Sufi. The little family live out of a backpack, and Julia takes as her lover Bilal (Said Taghmaoui), a poor local guy. The dramatic arc is built around the notion of the suitability or unsuitability of Julia's lifestyle for Bea and Lucy, her daughters.

Hideous Kinky is pleasant and subtle, and little happens beyond the family dynamic. Winslet is wide-eyed and wholesome as Julia, and her character thankfully does not come off as a stereotypical hippie or a flake. But the real stars of the film, aside from the setting, are young actors Bella Riza and Carrie Mullan as Bea and Lucy. Their bedtime games and private conversations provide the film's best moments, and they are absolutely believable as two close sisters who make their way in the world by creating their own special universe.

A Merry War, made in 1998, is a light, British romantic comedy starring Richard E. Grant as Gordon Comstock, a successful advertising copywriter in the early days of that trade who chucks it all to live the life of an artist. A poet, Gordon takes a job in a dusty bookshop and holes up in a garret to pursue his muse. Helena Bonham Carter is Rosemary, a co-worker of Gordon's at the advertising firm, who loves him but is far more practical-minded than he. The two carry on a tepid affair while he searches, but she is reluctant to consummate the relationship until he realizes that the kind of love that makes a marriage is not necessarily Byronic in nature.

I won't spoil the story by giving away its ending, but I will say that it is wrapped up with a wonderfully ironic twist. Based on a George Orwell short story (much of the rich dialogue comes directly from Orwell), A Merry War is notable for strong writing, dry wit and Grant's manic depiction of a man who fears for his spiritual livelihood in the clutches of the modern world.

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