Euzhan Palcy is smart. She is upside-your-head, thunderclap beautiful. As if that weren't enough, the Martinique-born director -- whose anti-apartheid drama, "A Dry White Season," lured Marlon Brando back to the screen after an eight-year absence -- has a butter-cream voice that sounds like this: "I am beezy, beezy, beezy." Sitting in her suite at the Ritz-Carlton, Palcy, who's in the midst of a press tour for "Season," looks exactly like Cleopatra in a black Azzedine Alaia shimmy and three-inch pumps. "Tomorrow I go to Zan Franzeesco; ze next day to Los Angeleez, zen to Parees to speak wiz ze French press. I am over-exhausted, obzolutely tired," she sighs. "But I have to do eet. You don't spend five years working on a project like zat weez zo much emotion, and just stop eet. When ze movie comes out, forget about your entire zoul. When you een eet, you're een eet." Right now, the 32-year-old director is up to her Egyptian necklace in it. Critics are tossing around words like "powerful" and "wrenching" ("It stirs you to outrage," Time magazine says of the film), even though "Season" is only Palcy's second film after the critically acclaimed, low-budget 1983 folk drama, "Sugar Cane Alley." Euzhan Palcy, whose first name means "light and purity" in Greek, isn't complaining about her budding celebrity (she's been featured on the morning shows, in Vanity Fair, Essence and USA Today), or her grueling interview schedule. Because the more interviews she endures, the more attention will be paid to the ugliness that is apartheid. "Films are powerful weapons," she says over and over, her heartfelt mantra for the press. "I won't say my film will change things in South Africa. But it can hit people, it can give them the truest information about what's happening over there. Just to, to make ... one person see, then maybe another, as human beings to say, 'We've got to do something.' If a mass of people say it, if they put pressure on the president here and in England, with anybody who maintains a good relationship with South Africa, that can help." So can getting a high-profile cast to drive your message home. Donald Sutherland plays Ben du Toit, an easygoing Johannesburg schoolteacher. His comfortable life within the racist system shatters in the aftermath of the beating death of his gardener's son by police following the Soweto massacre in 1976. Janet Suzman plays his unsympathetic wife; Susan Sarandon has a small role as a journalist critical of the system. Palcy says getting Brando -- whose interest in human rights is nearly as well-documented as his penchant for privacy -- to play the brief-but-memorable part of a liberal lawyer was surprisingly easy. She and producer Paula Weinstein were discussing who should play the part of Ian McKenzie, who attempts to expose a white official responsible for numerous killings of blacks. "I was explaining the kind of actor I wanted for McKenzie; someone with charisma, power, the right politics. {Weinstein} said, 'You need Brando.' I said, 'Of course, but how to get him? It's been 10 years since he's had a film; this is not a lead part.' She said it didn't hurt to ask." Brando read the script, written by Palcy and Colin Welland, and said he was interested. "I told him, this is not a big-budget film {"Season" cost $9 million}. He said, 'I'm not talking about money; I don't want to be paid.' But he had to accept union scale -- for someone who can make $10 million per film, that means he worked for free." Palcy says this with admiration, not surprise. For a highly paid actor to accept practically no money to make a film he believes in is a political decision. Like Spike Lee and Costa-Gavras, Palcy approaches filmmaking -- and life -- the same way. This is a woman who never saw herself as a singer, but who cut an album of songs for local children because, "the only albums of song for children in Martinique were coming from France. With white singers singing about the realities of France -- snow, things these kids never saw. I wanted them to have music about their realities; their environment, their lives." Who, when she was a child mesmerized by the films of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, wasn't impressed so much by the stars or costumes or story lines as by the power of film to make her feel and believe things she wouldn't have otherwise. "I remember the bad films I'd see about the {American} Indians, Westerns, the bad way they portrayed them. As a little girl in Martinique, if I had by some miracle met an Indian in the street, I would have run and hidden, tried maybe to hurt him, just because of the cliche. "It's the same thing with black people," she continues. "How do you want white kids from anyplace in the world to have any respect for a black person when you give them films with black people being portrayed as unintelligent, people without any dignity? "It's why I said, 'Okay, it doesn't help to be angry; if you want to change things, be a filmmaker.' " The movement and sweep of film, its animated, breathing characters, can give it an impact far beyond that of newspapers and still photos, she says. That and the fact that it provides no easy escape for audiences make it the perfect medium for enlightening people about apartheid. "When you turn on the TV, you can push a button and go to another channel. People don't want to deal with this; it's easier to have a good time, not to think about this terrible thing. But ... when you sit in a theater to watch a film, there is no way out unless you leave the theater. But since you paid for that, you're committed to it." Despite her own commitment, Palcy says she hopes not to be labeled a "serious" director, or any kind of director. "Sugar Cane Alley," the story of a Martinique woman who works on a sugar plantation in 1930 to get a decent education for her grandson, is a "love story," says Palcy, the third child of a manager of a pineapple factory and a housewife. "It's about the struggle of black women. ... And I love comedy. What I do know is that I won't make film without an important message. ... I want {the audience} to leave with something to think about." Tell Palcy that some critics have left "Season" complaining that the film resembles "Cry Freedom" and "A World Apart" in that it deals with South Africa's problems from the perspective of a white person who is sensitized to apartheid's immorality, and she bristles. "I can tell you that after a trip over there, they would not say that. If I say I already saw two films about apartheid, and don't see that this one is trying to achieve what the others did not ... it means I don't give a damn." It's hard for Palcy to be objective about this, to reconcile the horror of what she's seen with other people's perceptions of her film. "During the {Sept. 6} election, they killed children," she says. "There was a picture in the newspaper of a 5-year-old little girl, she had bullets in her belly, on the ground, was screaming 'Mama, mama, help me.' I read they put her in a truck to get her to hospital, and the white policemen wouldn't let her leave the township. It's in the newspaper." That such impossibilities can happen -- and then be published for a readership that doesn't demand a change -- stops her short. Her film, unlike "Freedom" and "World," she continues, gives audiences glimpses of the torture routinely doled out by South African police. "It may be graphic, but that's the reality." Another topic is introduced, but Palcy can't stop now. "Such people should just have a talk with Zakes Mokae {who plays Stanley, an elusive black taxi driver, in the film}. His brother was hanged by the government. They should talk to John Kani, who plays the black lawyer. That guy, when you look at the film, the tight shot on his face, look carefully. You'll see he has a glass eye -- is that how you say it in English?" Kani lost his eye when he returned to South Africa after appearing in Athol Fugard's anti-apartheid play, "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead," here and in New York. The actor was lured from his home by a telephone caller who said Kani was wanted at his father's home. On the way there, Kani says he was surrounded by police, who beat him and left him for dead. "He heard them say they thought he was dead. ... The next day, in the newspaper, they were announcing his death. "This," she says quietly, "is what happens to black people in South Africa." A phone rings; a publicist calls her name. Palcy excuses herself. She cradles the phone as she talks. "I would like to have a serious meeting with you," she says and smiles, flashing a white wall of teeth. Even with her cleavage-revealing dress, Palcy looks more serious than sexy -- she is too small, the face that peeks from its Egyptian-braid frame too still, for sultriness. Her Nefertiti-of-the-'90s look, she suggests when she returns, is no accident. "I wanted to appear like an African girl. I come from Africa; I am African Caribbean. It's important not to be associated with something I'm not." Her beauty is such that it seems inevitable that people would suggest she try acting. Mention this and she's unimpressed. "I don't know if I'm pretty. I hear that but I don't know why. Many people ask me to be an actress, to be on the other side of the camera. But I don't believe I'd be a good actress." Does she think she's a good director? "Good? I don't know. You see, if I refer to the way people talk about me, what they tell me about 'Sugar Cane Alley' -- they say I loved it; I have seen it two, three times -- I feel I have done a good job. But I never believed I am an accomplished director. ... I have a lot to learn. "I just know I want to be the best." Later, she decides she knows something else: that there are no Ben du Toits in South Africa today; no more white men and women who can credibly cloak themselves in ignorance of apartheid's inhumanity. "In 1989," she says, "it's impossible for any Afrikaner to say, "I didn't know."