Daily Archives: April 1, 1994

On The Bridge

A fascinating documentary (1992) that’s much easier to watch than you’d think. Filmmaker Frank Perry (David and Lisa, Mommie Dearest) charts his own determined fight against inoperable cancer, and the amazing thing is how cheerful it makes him seem. Part of his philosophy (and the film’s) is that state of mind influences state of body, which means that he tries out all sorts of alternative healing methods, many of which seem to work; perhaps even more important is the attitude he takes toward his search and his joyful sense of discovery. The film is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what it includes (we learn nothing about his family or his closest friends, apart from his cameraman and sound person), but what it includes seems like very strong medicine. (JR)… Read more »

Max Mon Amour

With the possible exception of Kurosawa, Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses, Empire of Passion, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) is the greatest living Japanese filmmaker. Unfortunately, most Americans’ knowledge of the modernist Japanese cinema doesn’t include Death by Hanging, Boy, The Man Who Left His Will on Film, The Ceremony, and many other Oshima masterworks. Max Mon Amour (1986) isn’t as good as those movies, but then what else is? This dry drawing-room comedy about an English diplomat’s wife (Charlotte Rampling) who has a serious affair with a chimpanzee was produced by Serge Silberman, producer of Bunuel’s last films, and written by Bunuel’s cowriter on the same films, Jean-Claude Carriere. Much of this film’s ongoing humor derives from the human couple’s sense of decorum; in a game effort to preserve his marriage, the diplomat (Anthony Higgins), who has a mistress of his own, arranges to have the chimp moved into their flat. Even for a filmmaker who essentially changes style with each pictureand has a reputation as a taboo breakerthis is uncharacteristic: the poker-faced surrealism of civilized people attempting to be mature about a woman’s passion for a chimp seems, not surprisingly, more like Bunuel than Oshima. (JR)… Read more »

The Little Girl Of Hanoi

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Hai Ninh’s 1974 Vietnamese propaganda feature, partly filmed during the U.S. bombing of Hanoi in 1972, is how strong and accomplished and beautiful it is, given the almost impossible circumstances under which it was made. The simple but powerful story centers on a little girl wandering through the rubble of the city looking for her parents, until a soldier takes her under his wing. Told partially through flashbacks and incorporating everything from animation to documentary footage to studio rear projection, the film is remarkable not only for its sincerity and emotional directness but for its accomplished visual style. And though it was clearly designed to boost morale, its anti-American feeling is remarkably mild given what we were doing to Vietnam at the time, especially compared to the anti-Vietnamese sentiments expressed in The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter; there’s even a sympathetic American character, a nurse shown caring for wounded Vietnamese. (JR)… Read more »

Kristina Talking Pictures

A 1976 experimental narrative feature by former dancer Yvonne Rainerwitty, word happy, and at her most Godardian (as well as abstruse) as she traces the relationship between a middle-class female artist and her lover through fragmented (and fragmentary) texts, postcard collages, various actors (including Rainer) playing the same roles, and vintage Rainer wisecracks. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Knocks At My Door

Adapted from a successful play, this tense Venezuelan political thriller (1992), directed with craft and discretion by Alejandro Saderman, follows the principled decision of a nun to shelter a fugitive from armed rebels during a civil war, the ambivalent cooperation she elicits from a fellow nun, and the price they both have to pay for their courage. Saderman sticks to the claustrophobic feeling I assume the original play had, while still conveying a detailed sense of the surrounding community, from mayor to bishop to shopkeeper. Wisely, he tends to veer away from close-ups when he wants certain dramatic points to register; indeed, many of this film’s finest momentsmost of them related to the performance of Veronica Oddo, who plays the more committed nuntranspire in long shot. (JR)… Read more »

Jimmy Hollywood

Yet another step down the ladder from Diner by writer-director-producer Barry Levinson. This is an unconvincing tale of a would-be Hollywood actor (Joe Pesci) who, with his slow-witted sidekick (Christian Slater), becomes a vigilante bringing petty thieves and dope dealers to justice and turning into something of a TV news hero as a consequence. The conceit is ripe for glib homilies and generalizations, and Levinson lets us know how profound it’s all supposed to be. What one mainly comes away with is tons of condescension designed to flatter a middle-class audience; with Victoria Abril. (JR)… Read more »

Illusions

A striking 1983 independent short film by Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) about a light-skinned black woman in Hollywood during the studio era. 34 min. (JR)… Read more »

Guelwaar

Alternately wise and very funny in its treatment of tribalism and in its grasp of neocolonial corruption, Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene’s seventh feature (1992, 115 min.) has so much to say about contemporary Africa that you emerge from it with a sense of understanding an entire society from top to bottom. A political activist and Catholic figurehead known as Guelwaar (which means the noble one) dies from a beating after delivering an impassioned speech against foreign aid and its attendant corruptions, and when friends and family gather for his funeral they’re shocked to discover that his body is missing. It emerges that he was accidentally buried in a Muslim cemetery, and the tribal, political, and cultural disputes that arise from this constitute the remainder of this beautifully told story. (A lot of significance is attached to when the characters speak French and when they speak Wolof, the principal language of Senegal.) In French and Wolof with subtitles. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Girl On The River

This lyrical, bitter 1987 Vietnamese feature, directed with style and distinction by Dang Nhat Minh, focuses on two womena prostitute working on a boat on the Perfumed River in central Vietnam during the war who winds up sheltering and having an affair with a wounded Vietcong leader, and a reporter hearing her tell her story in the present. A blistering attack on both censorship and the changes in Vietnamese society since the war, it offers a provocative juxtaposition of past and present, even if it reaches for a rather outlandish plot coincidence in doing so. (JR)… Read more »

Frosh: Nine Months In A Freshman Dorm

A fascinating 1993 documentary by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine that follows eight freshmen living in a Stanford University coed hall over an academic year. Unless Muzak is perpetually heard on the Stanford campus, inserting it on the sound track throughout insults everyone in the audience; but in other respects, including the use of topic headings for various sections, the film does an admirable job of organizing 250 hours of material into a brisk 97 minutes. The eight teenagers are ethnically diverse, as are their sexual attitudes and class and religious backgrounds, all of which are discussed at length. What emerges isn’t exactly profound, but it’s still highly interesting. (JR)… Read more »

Films By Maya Deren

Three films by the great experimental dancer-performer-filmmaker-theorist, perhaps the first major figure in the American avant-garde cinema: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, 18 min.), codirected by Alexander Hammid; At Land (1944, 15 min.), possibly her greatest film; and Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1985, 52 min.), her posthumously edited documentary about voodoo rituals. (JR)… Read more »

The Dark Side Of The Heart

Argentinean filmmaker Eliseo Subiela’s disappointing 1992 follow-up to his Man Facing Southeast (1986) and Last Images of a Shipwreck (1989) chronicles the misadventures of a boorish, self-absorbed, and, to all appearances, untalented poet searching for the woman of his dreams in contemporary Buenos Aires. He’s approached mainly by prostitutes, and gets along by reciting lines of his verse to passing motorists in exchange for handouts. It’s hard to sustain much interest in such an insufferable character for 126 minutes. Moreover, Subiela’s magical-realism devices look distinctly shopworn. The light satire of the Argentinean avant-garde, mainly expounded through the film’s treatment of the hero’s artist friends, shares with Woody Allen’s movies and Borges and Bioy Casare’s Chronicles of Bustos Domecq too much contempt for bohemian art, which makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff; ultimately this leads to a smirking middle-class complacency about artists that seems flagrantly unearned. (JR)… Read more »

Cronos

This highly personal take on the themes of immortality and vampirism, a first feature (1992) by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, may not be your cup of tea, but you have to admire the style, sincerity, and overall sense of craft even if you don’t fancy the comic-book gore. A strange instrument delivering both pain and immortality, developed during the Spanish Inquisition by an alchemist, winds up in the possession of an elderly antique dealer in contemporary Mexico City, but a wealthy invalid has dispatched his goonish nephew to search for it. If this sounds a mite formulaic, del Toro incorporates enough dark camera poetry and authentic feeling (including intense familial affection) to make you periodically forget it; one of his conclusions, incidentally, is that immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The cast is especially fine, including onetime Bunuel regular Claudio Brook, Argentinean star Federico Luppi, U.S. actor Ron Perlman, and a highly expressive little girl (Tamara Shanath). (JR)… Read more »

Cops And Robbersons

After doing something highly personal and more serious in his previous feature (Memoirs of an Invisible Man) and getting slammed as a result, Chevy Chase returns to the anonymous, unmemorable suburban mode that made his earlier movies profitable. And guess what? The results are anonymous and unmemorable. The basic situation is that Chase’s character, an accountant with a wife (Dianne Wiest) and two kids, has to allow the police (including Jack Palance) to take over his home in order to stake out a dangerous criminal (Robert Davi) living next door; you can pretty much guess the rest. The once-interesting Michael Ritchie, well equipped for routine assignments like this, directed from a script by Bernie Somers. With David Barry Gray, Jason James Richter, Fay Masterson, and Miko Hughes. (JR)… Read more »

Belle Epoque

It’s interesting to speculate why this ho-hum period sex comedy by Fernando Trueba won the 1993 Oscar for best foreign film (over The Scent of Green Papaya, Farewell My Concubine, and The Wedding Banquet): could it simply be that it’s the most Hollywoodish? The plot, set during the last days of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, bears a distant resemblance to Raoul Walsh’s The King and Four Queens and you may be reminded momentarily of Meet Me in St. Louis, but this picture isn’t within hailing distance of eitheror of one of its conscious models, Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country. Still, it’s fairly inoffensive and intermittently charming. An army deserter winds up in the home of an old painter (Fernando Fernan Gomez, who gives the most likable performance) with four single daughters, all of whom have romances with the young man. Eventually the missing mother, an opera singer, turns up with her lover, and other complications ensue. With Jorge Sanz, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, Miriam Diaz-Aroca, Penelope Cruz, and Mary Carmen Ramirez. In Spanish with subtitles. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »