Fans of European cinema who have only just stopped buzzing from the excellent collection of German-language films screened during the Max! festival will probably be completely overcome when they see the European Film Festival programme which begins on November 7. How any of us will be able to cope with the third dose, French Cinepanorama in December, remains to be seen. This festival contains so many outstanding works it is hard to only mention a few here. The one likely to sell out fastest is Character (Karakter), the Dutch film that surprised everyone by winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. The surprise was the Academy could be so enchanted by a film that made so little effort to be charming. It lacks all the normal criteria: a beautiful central character, exotic cinematography, daring storyline, and it was made in a stable European democracy. Character is an austere story set in Rotterdam in the 1920s, where an estranged father and son circle and finally destroy one another. Another possible sell-out is Gary Oldman's directorial debut Nil By Mouth set in his native South East London. Oldman made it out of the grubbier bits of his home town to Hollywood, but he has not forgotten how utterly horrible and depressing the lives of many of his less fortunate neighbours have become. It is these people he describes here. The central character is Ray, an unemployed, coke-abusing monster who torments all around him. Kathy Burke, best known before this as a comedy actress playing Waynetta Slob, and Patsy's boss in Absolutely Fabulous, plays his wife Val, who suffers the most appalling violence, mental and physical. Even hardened critics were shocked by this film, but no one can doubt for a minute that it rings with truth. Sad stories of the beautiful woman Women being abused by men is also the theme of City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC) choreographer Willy Tsao's long-overdue return to the Hong Kong stage in Sexing Three Millennia, which opens tomorrow at the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. Tsao has mined world history over the past 3,000 years to come up with beautiful women who became as famous for their tragic fates as their looks. He retells their stories, without condemning or condoning. We will see Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, and figures from Chinese history, including Diaochan, concubine of the Lord Lubu during the Three Kingdoms period. Diaochan's fate pretty much sums things up for women in her position: described as one of the four most beautiful women in China, when her lord was overwhelmed in battle, his victorious enemies were so besotted by her they feared love for her would come between them. So they chopped her head off. As well as being the first work Tsao has created for the CCDC, Sexing Three Millennia also sees the return of another local star to the spotlight: Anita Yuen Wing-yi. Yuen will perform the role of Zhao Feiyan, the concubine of Emperor Chengdi of the Western Han who was so delicate she could dance on the palm of a man's hand. Yuen is not best known for her dancing ability - up until now all the dancing she has had to do is a few steps to go along with her brief career as a singer, and the essential hip-swinging required to win the Miss Hong Kong title that launched her career all those years ago. But as the CCDC freely admits, dancing ability was not a priority for this role. Yuen got it because Zhao required a star, and Yuen is definitely stellar in this town. Her part is performed solo, and on a huge outstretched palm. Young players on a worldly stage The Hong Kong bit of the Hong Kong Youth Arts Festival is impressive enough, but the French International School will introduce a truly international element into the festival by hosting more than 100 overseas school-age performers this week, as part of this year's International School Theatre Association (ISTA) programme. ISTA organises regular exchanges between its member schools all over the world. Ten of those schools are sending students here this weekend, where they will perform selected scenes directed and performed by the students. The last of these will be put together from scratch by the students during their week-long visit. Many professionals would be afraid to try anything half so courageous.