F FOR FAKE
Runs 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21-Sun., Nov. 23, at Consolidated Works (500 Boren Ave. N., 206-381-3218)
A perfect capper to ConWorks' "Fraud" series, Orson Welles' last completed film (1974) starts out as a documentary about debunking a charlatan, then hoodwinks the audience with a delightful twist of its own. You can't say he doesn't warn you. Like any good magician, Welles begins the movie with a caveat: "Watch out for the slightest hint of hanky-panky. This is a film about trickery." As are all filmsbut what enjoyable lies these are.
The first liar we meet is enjoying himself the most. Now-forgotten Hungarian art forger Elmyr De Hory cavorts on Ibiza with his jet-set pals, including neighbor Clifford Irving, who would subsequently expose De Hory's scams in a 1969 book. Welles didn't direct this documentary footage, which was apparently shot in the late '60s. Instead, he edits it all together, interspersed with his chuckling commentary and ruminations on art and lies and life. What started out as some French guy's doc about De Hory becomes Welles' doc about Irving, who achieved notoriety in 1971 by forging the diaries of Howard Hughes. (This got him on the cover of Time as "Con Man of the Year," plus a short term in jail.)
So Irving, who exposed one fraud, becomes the perpetrator of an even more sensational fraud. It's such a great story you almost wish it were fictional, and the subject clearly energizes Welles from his Paul Masson wine commercial torpor into a frenzy of brisk, witty editing constructing patently false conversations and reaction shots out of this stew of old footage. He keeps winking at you as he does itone con artist making a film about other con artists. It's meta, but also mighty entertaining. (Also topical, given Jayson Blair and Shattered Glass.)
As Irving says, once the very notion of expertise is eroded (whether in the art world, journalism, or movies), anything is possible; there are no reliable arbiters of truth or taste or quality. Everything can be sold, and everyone can be swindled. In this sense, though three decades old, Fake is a perfect document of our own times. And Welles, the old charlatan, is laughing at us still. (NR) BRIAN MILLER
TIBET: CRY OF THE SNOW LION
Opens Fri., Nov. 21, at Harvard Exit
It's Art-Wolfe-meets-Al-Jazeera in this glossy, coffee-table documentary about the sad history of Tibet, which punctuates a romantic depiction of Tibetan life and culture ("The power of the divine seems present everywhere . . . ") with brutal accounts of torture and starvation under the Chinese occupation. Narrated by Martin Sheen, the film is nothing if not one-sided, and it's hard to assess the credibility and authority of some of the American talking heads interviewed. But the film does an awfully effective job of drawing your heart to the Tibetan plight, and you can't help but think that if the Dalai Lama were a little less committed to nonviolence, and a little more partial to suicide bombers, his cause would be getting a lot more world attention. Viewers with "Free Tibet" stickers already on their Volvos may not learn anything new here, but the cinematography is gorgeous. If you've ever wondered what those stickers were about, Lion provides a lush, if schematic, introduction. (NR) MARK D. FEFER
TO BE AND TO HAVE
Runs Fri., Nov. 21-Thurs., Nov. 27, at Varsity
The question to ask yourself here is how much you'd enjoy watching cute little French schoolchildren learning how to write the number 7 and say "Jojo is my friend"for long, long stretches of time. If the answer is that you'd enjoy this very muchboy, has your ship come in. If you're unsure, you still might want to check out this small, weirdly engrossing documentary that puzzles and ultimately charms with its utter lack of polemic. There seems to be no social agenda here: All we do is witness a year in the life of a rural, one-room primary school, run by a gentle, gray-bearded, bespectacled instructor, a cerebral Mister Rogers in black turtleneck. The children are unexceptional. Nothing much happens. And yet there's something in the slow pace and quiet gaze, something in the teacher's low-key but loving devotion, that is inescapably touching. The film isn't really about anything, but it ultimately feels like it's about something extremely important. (NR) M.D.F.