Daily Archives: June 17, 1994

Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

A much more serious treatment of Buddhism than Little Buddha, this 1989 Korean feature by Bae Yong-kyun (who produced, directed, shot, and edited), winner of the top prize at the Locarno film festival, has already become something of a cult film, and it’s easy to understand why. The title is an unanswerable Zen koan, at one point echoing the narrator’s queries: “Who is Buddha? Who isn’t he?” The skeletal plot concerns an old master, a young disciple, and an orphaned boy in a remote Korean monastery in the mountains, but the film’s main offering is its contemplation of and inexhaustible fascination with the natural world; indeed, we periodically have the sensation that the narrative has been suspended almost entirely for the sake of this meditation. Full of ravishingly beautiful images rather than ravishingly beautiful shots, the film conveys not so much a filmic intelligence as a Buddhist intelligence that’s being translated, step by step, into movie terms; the film seems to reach us from a certain remove, with positive as well as negative consequences. Count on something slow, arresting, and lovely, and if you’re looking for drama, expect to find it internally. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, June 17 through 23.… Read more »

Poison

After personally thanking all the members of his cast and crew inside the film’s various sets, Sacha Guitry plunges into the most ferocious, and possibly the most subversive, masterpiece of his career (1951). The great Michel Simon plays a middle-aged village gardener who despises his alcoholic wife (who despises him in turn). After learning on the radio about an ace defense lawyer famous for getting murderers acquitted, he goes to see the lawyer, claiming to have already killed his wife, and learns from the lawyer’s questions and comments precisely how he should commit the crime to escape sentencing; meanwhile, his wife is hatching a murder plot of her own. Shot in just 11 days–in deference to Simon, who demanded that each of his scenes be filmed only once–this caustic social satire lasts 96 minutes, and not one of them is wasted; with Germaine Reuver and Jean Debucourt. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, June 18, 6:00, 443-3737.… Read more »

Bad Blood

The distinctive and unusual talents of French filmmaker Leos Carax have relatively little to do with story telling, and it would be a mistake to approach this, his second feature, expecting a “dazzling film noir thriller,” which is how it was described for the Chicago Film Festival in 1987. Dazzling it certainly is in spots, but its film noir and SF trappings–hung around a vaguely paranoid plot about a couple of thieves (Michel Piccoli, Hans Meyer) hiring the son (Denis Lavant) of a recently deceased partner to help steal a cure to an AIDS-like virus–are so feeble that they function at best only as a literal framing device, a means for Carax to tighten his canvas. The real meat of this movie is his total absorption in his two wonderful lead actors, Lavant and Juliette Binoche (Blue), which comes to fruition during a lengthy attempt by the former to seduce the latter, an extended nocturnal encounter that the various genre elements serve only to hold in place. The true sources of Carax’ style are neither Truffaut nor Godard but the silent cinema–its poetics of close-ups, gestures, and the mysteries of personality, its melancholy, and its innocence. Bad Blood uses color with a sense of discovery similar to that found in the morbidly beautiful black and white of Boy Meets Girl, and the rawness of naked emotion and romantic feeling is comparably intense.… Read more »