It's a dilemma that confronts writers and filmmakers all the time: tell a story about family or friends, about major events such as marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and everybody thinks you're plundering from your own life. Art as autobiography, autobiography as art.

Tamara Jenkins

, whose second film,

The Savages

, opened Friday at the Ritz Five and Showcase at the Ritz Center/NJ, knows the problem well. Because

The Savages

is about a grown sister and brother, Wendy and Jon Savage (

Laura Linney

and

Philip Seymour Hoffman

) dealing with their frail, dementia-stricken dad, the assumption is that Jenkins likewise grappled with the parent-care predicament.

Well, yes and no.

"What's real and what's fiction?" says the writer-director, happy to draw some lines.

"In terms of this movie, there was a very personal chord to it in that I had two family members that had dementia and had lived their last days in a nursing home - my father and my grandmother. But it's not like a strict retelling of that story. . . . It's a fiction, but I took aspects of my life."

Instead of Linney's character's one brother, a college professor in Buffalo, Jenkins has three brothers - all professors. "I've never been to Buffalo," she adds, and she hadn't set foot in Sun City, Ariz., where the movie dad, played exquisitely by

Philip Bosco

, resides.

"And Phil Hoffman's character is like an ex-boyfriend of mine, but he's also like my husband, and like one of my brothers, mixed with an old friend of mine," Jenkins says. "It's sort of a weird thing people do, you know - the Cuisinart of your imagination."

A funny, poignant portrait of disconnected siblings who come together over the crisis of finding a facility for their father,

The Savages

marks the first time that the esteemed New York actors Hoffman and Linney have worked together.

"I know!" Jenkins says, beaming. "I just like the notion of them together. They're these two strong American actors, often in independent film, and also they traipse back and forth on the New York stage.

"Yeah, it was a good idea. I'm glad I was the first one to think of it."

Jenkins cast Hoffman first, fresh off his best-actor Academy Award for

Capote

. She nabbed Linney the following week.

"Phil did

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

straight after us - another movie about messed-up siblings," she quips, hanging out in a Center City hotel on a recent visit.

"And I hadn't seen

Capote

when I met him. I sort of had a crush on him based on a whole different series of things. . . . And then I met him and I knew very quickly that he would be great. . . .

"I liked the strippedness of this character for him. The character is armored with this intellectual facade, but he's really protecting this much-more-vulnerable thing."

Jenkins, 45, was born in Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood. Her mother still lives in the area, but the filmmaker had a peripatetic childhood that took her from Lower Merion to Los Angeles, from Cambridge, Mass., to New York. An alum of the NYU Film School master's program, she now lives in New York's East Village with her husband, the screenwriter (and

Alexander Payne

collaborator)

Jim Taylor

, and their Jack Russell terrier,

Weegee

.

There was a stretch of more than nine years between Jenkins' writing/directing debut, the (yes) semiautobiographical,

Natasha Lyonne

-starring

Slums of Beverly Hills

, and

The Savages.

The gap between pictures included a messy and frustrating false start on a

Diane Arbus

biopic. (Sans Jenkins, it turned into the

Nicole Kidman

bomb

Fur

.)

After shooting last year, and premiering

The Savages

in January at Sundance, Jenkins is glad to finally have her movie in theaters. Its fate? Who knows?

"It's like some sculptor builds this massive thing, and then they put it in the park," she says. "I'm sure there's a day when the sculptor is sitting there - 'There it is, it's in the park!' - and people are walking by. And some people are skating by and not even looking at it, other people are taking pictures of it, a dog [relieves itself] on it.

"Hopefully, the right people will stop and take a picture of it, and look at it and think about it. But you never know."

Jenkins, who has also published short stories, says that right now, "I have little ideas brewing, but I'm not officially writing because there's the writers strike.

"But I am writing my diary, which is OK, according to the Writers' Guild. You're allowed to write in your diary, you're just not allowed to negotiate - and I'm not negotiating with anybody with regards to the publication of my diary. I promise you that."

Schnabel in short pants.

As a kid growing up in the Coney Island precincts of Brooklyn, N.Y.,

Julian Schnabel

- world-famous painter, and director of the just-out

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

- spent as much time as he could in the dark. In the Kingsway movie theater, to be precise.

"

Repulsion

was a big picture for me, growing up," says Schnabel, referring to

Roman Polanski's

1965

Catherine Deneuve

creepfest. (Polanski was a big help to Schnabel while he was in France shooting

Diving Bell

, and Mrs. Polanski, the actress

Emmanuelle Seigner

, is one of the film's stars.)

Schnabel also warmly remembers

Cecil B. DeMille's

The Ten Commandments

. "I love when the Red Sea opened up, you know. Egyptians floating around under the water with their chariots - that was wild, no?"

A couple of '50s fantasy flicks stick in his consciousness, too: the

George Pal

Tom Thumb

, with

Russ Tamblyn

in the title role, and the cartoon feature

Gulliver's Travels

.

"I liked that a lot, when I was really little. 'There's a guy on the beach!' " he mimics. " 'Forever be faithful da da da da,' " he sings. "Great cartoon, man."

Almodovar noir.

The prolific

Pedro Almodovar

has announced his next film -

Los abrazos rotos

in his native tongue (or

The Broken Hugs

if you believe Google's language translation tools). "It's a four-way tale of

amour fou

, shot in the style of '50s American film noir at its most hard-boiled," the director told Variety, adding that he has cast his frequent leading lady

Penelope Cruz

, along with

Blanca Portillo

and

Lluis Homar

. To be shot in Madrid in the spring, and set in the 1990s and the present day, Almodovar's pic will pay

hommage

, or homage, to, he says,

Nicholas Ray's

In a Lonely Place

and

Vincente Minnelli's

The Bad and the Beautiful.

He also told the trade that Cruz's role will be modeled on

Gene Tierney

, and on the

Linda Darnell

of

Otto Preminger's

Fallen Angel

.

How do you say

cool

en Espanol?

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.