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Takeshi Kitano's visually stunning new film was inspired by a 17th- century bunraku puppet play about forbidden love. The film tells the interweaving stories of three desperate, doomed couples. They include a fragile woman whose fiance abandons her, and an obsessed fan who blinds himself after his idol, a singer, is disfigured in a car crash. In contrast with the dark plot, "Dolls" was filmed amid gorgeous scenery: snowcapped mountains, cherry blossoms and trees with scarlet-tinged leaves. Couturier Yohji Yamamoto designed the costumes with his usual flair. October.

TEN Director Abbas Kiarostami, the grand old man of Iranian cinema, attached a camera to a dashboard to chronicle 10 trips made by a woman driver (the riveting Mania Akbari). Divorced and struggling for a sliver of freedom in the male-dominated Iranian Republic, Akbari's character examines the range of experiences for Iranian women through conversations with various passengers: her resentful son, a pious old lady en route to a shrine and a giggly hooker who tells her that wives and whores are basically the same. "You're the wholesalers," says the prostitute. "We're the retailers." With the camerawork of a home movie and raw performances, "Ten" has the classic Kiarostami touch: audacious simplicity and deep-seated humanism. September.


Chinese director Chen Kaige's ( "Farewell My Concubine") lush new film explores life in modern Beijing. It's told through the eyes of Liu Xiaochun, a 13-year-old, prize-winning violinist who was raised in the countryside by his devoted but uneducated father. Realizing his son's future lies in the capital, the father takes the boy to Beijing to audition at a music school. The result: a charming coming-of-age story. September.


Jang Sun-woo's hallucinogenic version of Hans Christian Andersen's famous Christmas tale is the most expensive Korean movie ever made ($10 million). Loaded with special effects, the plot involves a girl who wanders the streets of Seoul trying to sell lighters, then inhales butane. Delusions ensue. September.

SWEPT AWAY Anyone with any doubts that we're living in a post- ideological era, look no further. The proof: Italian surrealist Lina Wertmuller's 1975 film about a communist fisherman and a bourgeois bitch has been remade with Madonna as a sex, drugs and loadsa-money comedy. Mrs. Ritchie, directed by her husband, Guy (of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" acclaim) plays Amber, the Hermesed wife of a pharmaceutical kingpin. Marooned on a desert island with earthy Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini, whose father created the role in Wertmuller's version), the two become lovers. When Wertmuller explored the master-slave sexual relationship between the two stranded characters back in the '70s, feminists and film buffs alike debated whether rendering the rich woman a sexual slave to the boorish, primal fisherman was debasing or liberating for women. Even if the film creaks slightly, it'll be fun to watch Madonna--herself no stranger to the "is she or isn't she a feminist?" debate. October.


What if Maria Callas had a second career--in film? …