If you had been sitting near actress Brooke Adams at the Washington premiere of her new movie last night, you could have heard her weep all the way through. And a few local folks did.

"That's the first time I've gone to a movie and sat behind the star -- who was sniffling," said Scott Wallace, a 29-year-old lawyer.

Here's what the star said at a crowded supper afterward: "I cry every time. But this time, I kept thinking, 'I can't cry, because I don't want to ruin my makeup.'" She didn't. Nonetheless, probably a few other women had to do mascara repair jobs in the bathroom.

The reason for all this grief was "Tell Me a Riddle," a film centered on a dying old woman and her flashbacks to the past. It was shown as part of the American Film Institute's regular "Film Club" evenings at the Kennedy Center. Pay $185 to join, and you get premieres that come with food, wine, a few movie stars, a senator or two -- and in last night's case, a chance to meet Lee Grant, the film's director, at Sutton Place Gourmet.

That's a fancy food store on New Mexico Avenue in Northwest, where the party was. Grant stood near the bagels, accepting hearty congratulations because, by this time, the collective tears had dried. Then somebody asked how this film, as one of just a few directed by women, was going to be accepted by the Hollywood establishment.

"I think the establishment will be worried that I'm a closet artist," said Grant, who is an Oscar-winning actress ("Shampoo") as well. "So I have to prove that I can make good trash -- and I can. I've been in so much myself. Like 'The Omen.' And 'Airport '77.'"

The ranking senator at the party was Strom Thurmond, the Republican from South Carolina who's now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He missed the movie, but came enthusiastically to the supper. He bit into a seafood shish kebab.

"How'd you lik the film?" he asked his wife, Nancy.

"Very descriptive of the elderly," she said. "The loneliness . . ."

Thurmond took another bite, just missing a shrimp that fell to the floor.

". . . the problems, the lack of ability to communicate," continued Nancy Thurmond. "But I wondered . . ."

Another bite. This time, a cherry tomato got away.

". . . about David in the movie, and if he was the one in the flashbacks," continued Nancy Thurmond. "I think I'm going to ask Lee Grant about that." She looked at her husband, then the droppings on the floor.

"Strom," she said delicately, "that shish kebab's kind of hard to eat. I think you need a fork."