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Film Festival spans different worlds

Gus Van Sant's latest featuring Matt Damon should draw a crowd

What with world travel becoming a bit iffy in recent months, the Portland International Film Festival arrives just in time for thwarted globe-trotters. The festival's 25th incarnation offers about 100 feature-length and short films from approximately 30 countries.

It's a great way to see the world without worrying about a cavity search from overzealous security types.

For a full rundown of the festival, pick up a schedule. But here are some opening weekend highlights:

What better way to begin this multinational occasion than with the Danish film 'Italian for Beginners ' (7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, Broadway Cinemas; 4:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, Whitsell Auditorium).

Aside from its accommodatingly polyglot nature, it's a good movie. Directed by Lone Scherfig, it's the latest film to follow the Spartan tenets of the Dogme 95 movement (no music, no artificial sets or effects, natural lighting only).

In this case, the Dogme restrictions make for an intimacy that grows on you as the film progresses and its ensemble of lonely Copenhagen singles, all of whom take the same Italian language class, try to make connections.

As unexpectedly charming as it is naturalistic Ñ touching on themes of love, faith, yearning and parental relations Ñ it's almost as if Woody Allen finally merged with his idol, Ingmar Bergman. Brisk as a Copenhagen winter, warm as Italian sunlight.

Gus Van Sant's 'Gerry' (9:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, Whitsell Auditorium) takes to the deserts of Death Valley, Utah and Argentina for a foot movie (as opposed to road movie) that will prove stimulating or enervating depending on your taste. Perhaps an attempt to get back his indie credibility, Van Sant's meditative wanderings finally seem to have more in common with his arid art school 'replica' of 'Psycho' than with the Hollywood sentiment of 'Good Will Hunting' or the street romance of his earlier work.

Two guys who call each other Gerry (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) take a nature trail to see 'the thing' and get really lost. Some might say Van Sant does the same with his long takes of figures in a widescreen landscape, but it's clear that this is what he wanted it to be.

Comparisons to Antonioni, Tarkovsky and Herzog films could be bandied about, but 'Gerry' doesn't get under your skin as those films do. Rather than love it or hate it, you might find that it simply leaves you cold as a desert night.

Combine time travel with your world travel at a screening of German master F.W. Murnau's 1926 silent epic 'Faust,' complete with live musical accompaniment from the Golden Arm Trio (2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, Guild Theatre).

Murnau was one of silent film's most innovative creators, and his version of the original 'Let's Make a Deal' is filled with breathtaking imagery.

Emil Jannings, perhaps Germany's greatest star at the time, is a brilliant Mephistopheles, and the film's world is vast and magically atmospheric. Chances to see it on the big screen are rare enough; with live music, it's a must for movie lovers.