Monthly Archives: November 1994

The Tracker

Ever since Rolf de Heer’s 2002 western was screened as the opening-night attraction at the Melbourne film festival, it’s been lodged in my memory as the best Australian feature I’ve seen in years. Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout, Rabbit-Proof Fence) gives the performance of a lifetime as a tracker helping three mounted police find a murder suspect in 1922, and though the film recalls Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man in its grim tale of pursuit, its poetic feeling for both history and landscape, and its contemporary score (by aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach), it has an identity all its own. (One of its most original moves is cutting to paintings by Peter Coad, specially commissioned for the film, at every moment of violence.) With Gary Sweet and Grant Page. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Rituals

Adapted from a 1980 novel by Cees Nooteboom that has been through 11 editions in Holland and translated into eight languages, Herbert Curiel’s Dutch feature describes the gradual re-education of an upper-class womanizer and art dealer (Derek De Lint) who loses most of his money in the stock market and meets the relatively impoverished rejected son of a family friend (Thom Hoffman) who teaches him another way of looking at life’s everyday rituals. Accompanied by a dry and occasionally witty offscreen, first-person narration, the plot is largely a series of philosophical monologues and dialogues, but Curiel’s actors and his effective use of Amsterdam settings give it more than an abstract, cerebral interest. Nothing earthshaking, but a respectable and watchable piece of work, made with craft and intelligence. (JR)… Read more »

Queens Logic

The form and the material couldn’t be more familiar: a bachelor party in Queens that brings together several working-class childhood friends, very much in the manner of something like Diner. What makes it sparkle is the cornucopia of actors’ shtick provided by the talented cast: Joe Mantegna, John Malkovich, Kevin Bacon, Linda Fiorentino, Tom Waits, Ken Olin, Chloe Webb, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Steve Rash directed Tony Spiridakis’s script as if we haven’t already received its gist countless times before, and the actors somehow managed to follow suit. (JR)… Read more »

La Puritaine

Conceptually one of the most interesting of Jacques Doillon’s features, this 1986 film is set almost entirely inside a theater. While awaiting the return of his estranged daughter Manon (Sandrine Bonnaire), a stage director (Michel Piccoli) asks his young mistress (Sabine Azema) to act out various versions of the anticipated reunion, then summons several young actresses to embody different aspects or portions of Manonher eyes, voice, hands, ears, and so on. Manon herself makes an appearance during these improvisations, yet the theatrical games continue, until a heated confrontation between father and daughter finally takes place. While the puritan of the title is supposed to be Manon, whose estrangement from her father is related to her puritanism, the Bergman-esque guilt and sexual angst that seem so much a part of Doillon’s world appear to rebound on the filmmaker as well. Using theater as an indirect metaphor for his own activity as a director, Doillon is well served by William Lubtchansky’s camera work and the powerful talents of his three leads; even though the plot seems at times strangely external to his main concerns, the mise en scene and psychodrama that he enacts carry considerable dramatic voltage. (JR)… Read more »

The Garden Of The Finzi-continis

A wealthy Jewish family in 1938 Ferrara blithely ignore the encroachment of fascism until it’s too late in one of Vittorio De Sica’s many postneorealist comebacks, this one strong and popular enough to have won an Oscar. Based on a novel of the same title by Giorgio Bassani and attractively shot, this 1970 film catapulted Dominique Sanda to stardom and probably helped Helmut Berger along as well. With Lino Capolicchio, Fabio Testi, and Romolo Valli. In Italian with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Consuming Passions

Swiftian satirespecifically, A Modest Proposalseems to be the model for this grim farce by Monty Python’s Michael Palin and Terry Jones about the accidental discovery at a chocolate factory that human bodies in the vats make for better sales. Squarely aimed at Thatcherism in general and cynical business greed in particular, this project sorely needs a talent on the order of Terry Gilliam in order to register its political point with the proper clarity and bite. What it gets instead is limp and unfocused direction from Giles Foster that can’t distinguish between overarching concepts and incidental slapstick details: everything gets the same coarse inflection, and alas, practically nothing works. With Tyler Butterworth, Vanessa Redgrave (the funniest actor on board, as a sexually voracious Maltese widow), Jonathan Pryce, Freddie Jones, and Sammi Davis. (JR)… Read more »

The Conformist

In retrospect, Bernardo Bertolucci’s highly influential fifth feature (1969)ravishing to the eye but less than fully satisfying to the mindcan be regarded as the lamentable turning point in an extremely promising career that ultimately chose stylishness over style and both over content. Following on the heels of his much superior The Spider’s Strategem and adapted from an Alberto Moravia novel set in 1938, this political thriller follows an Italian professor (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who’s recoiling from his own homosexual impulses as he agrees to work as a police agent during his honeymoon in Paris and assist in the assassination of his former mentor, now a dedicated antifascist. With Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda, Gastone Moschin, and Pierre Clementi. In Italian and French with subtitles. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Combination Platter

An illegal immigrant from Hong Kong (Jeff Lau), struggling to speak English and desperate for a green card, goes to work at a Chinese restaurant in Queens in this independent first feature (1993) by Tony Chan, written with Edwin Baker. I was won over from the beginning by its engaging artlessness, its unpolished acting and less-than-action-packed story. If you’ve ever wondered how Chinese restaurants operate, this modest, bilingual (English and Chinese, with various characters speaking both Cantonese and Mandarin dialects) comedy-drama gives you a comprehensive idea, and the cast of charactersincluding a Chinese American clerk who doesn’t speak Chinese, a waiter beleaguered by gambling debts, and a shy Caucasian woman the hero is talked into datingkeeps things hopping. (JR)… Read more »