Daily Archives: October 1, 1995

Off Season

One of the the nicest as well as most personal of the movies of Swiss director Daniel Schmid is this 1992 semiautobiographical reverie, Fellini-like in a good sense, about a boy growing up in a hotel in the Swiss Alps run by his widowed mother and grandmother. (The grandmother is played by Fellini’s sister, Maddalena.) With an excellent cast, including Sami Frey, Carlos Devesa, Ingrid Caven, Arielle Dombasle, Geraldine Chaplin, and Ulli Lommel. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Doom Generation

More in-your-face aggression from American independent Gregg Araki (The Living End)a road movie, a romantic triangle (James Duval, Rose McGowan, and Johnathon Schaech playing three goof-offs on the run), and loads of stylized violence (1995). Describing itself in the opening credits as a heterosexual moviemainly because the three lead characters at least profess to be straight, unlike those in Araki’s preceding featuresthis is still very much about homoerotic desire, often given a hysterical edge by the pop expressionism of Araki’s visual style. Striking to look at, though often offensively opportunistic, this mainly comes across as a throwaway shocker with energy to spare. There’s not much thought in evidence though. (JR)… Read more »

The Story Of Xinghua

The second feature (1994) of Sixth Generation mainland Chinese director Yin Lia project originated by screenwriter Shi Lingis a melodrama set in a village that’s next to the Great Wall in northern China: a wealthy and unscrupulous grocer purchases a wife hoping to have an heir and digs obsessively for a legendary treasure supposedly buried beneath one of the Great Wall’s watchtowers. The cast, headed by Jiang Wenli (the prostitute mother in Farewell My Concubine who severs her son’s finger to get him into opera school), is effective, and the ‘Scope cinematography is consistently attractive, but I found the film fairly routine, both as narrative and as drama. (JR)… Read more »

Fresh Bait

Though it’s remarkably well crafted, Bertrand Tavernier’s re-creation of the real-life exploits of three young Parisians (two guys and a girl) who cold-bloodedly murdered two men for their money in December 1993the female serving as sexual bait, the males carrying out the killingsleft me with a sour aftertaste. Tavernier seems to hate his youthful and remorseless characters too much to understand what makes them tick. There’s certainly plenty of intelligence here, and the avoidance of psychology has its benefits, but the script (by Tavernier and his frequent collaborator and ex-wife Colo Tavernier O’Hagen, working from a nonfiction book by Morgan Sportes) never transcends or even builds on its givens. Are we supposed to conclude that the trio’s enthusiasm for De Palma’s Scarface is somehow connected to their lack of soul? This painstakingly detailed docudrama, which won the grand prize at the Berlin film festival, commands some attention and respect; I just can’t go along with its antihumanistic attack on antihumanism. (JR)… Read more »

Up Down Fragile

For its first hour, this 1994 French feature seems not so much a Jacques Rivette film as Rivette Lite. But as it grows into a critic’s giddy appreciation of MGM’s Arthur Freed-unit musicalswith mise en scene and decor taking the place of a decent score or physical agility on the part of most of the youthful actorsa genuine sense of charm and euphoria takes over. The film’s musical essence stems less from the numbers than from everything leading up to and away from them; this isn’t a musical to replace real life, but a musical to enhance it, dead moments and all. For the first time in Rivette’s cinema, one finds a Paris virtually free of anxiety (though it still has its secrets). Nathalie Richard (the only real dancer), Marianne Denicourt, and Laurence Cote helped write the dialogue for their characters, three crisscrossing heroines who are uneasily trying to come to terms with their pasts. With Anna Karina (a trifle wasted) and (rather graceful in the Gene Kelly part) Andre Marcon. In French with subtitles. 169 min. (JR)… Read more »

Butterfly Kiss

If you’re sick of kinky killers and English rip-offs of American genre movies, this terminally bleak and violent 1995 road movie may irritate the hell out of youunless you’re as impressed as I was by Amanda Plummer’s performance as an impulsive lesbian murderer searching for her ex-lover and dragging along Saskia Reeves on her adventures. Just when I was about to give up on this shocker as the worst kind of deja vu, it unexpectedly reminded me of the fury of Flannery O’Connor and some of her craziest and most alienated charactersand roped me back in. Michael Winterbottom (Family) directed, fairly adroitly, from a script by Frank Cottrell Boyce. (JR)… Read more »

L’amore Molesto

A better-than-average Italian feature in black and white, directed by Mario Martone, about a grown daughter investigating her mother’s apparent suicide and discovering what her love life actually consisted of. It held my interest a couple of months ago, and some of the performances are strikingly lifelike. (JR)… Read more »

Good Men, Good Women

Like its predecessors, the concluding (and entirely self-sufficient) feature in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s epic trilogy about the history of Taiwan in the 20th centuryone of two landmarks in Taiwanese cinema to date, along with Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Dayfocuses on a specific period and a specific art form. City of Sadness (1989) covers the end of World War II through the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan in 1949 and concentrates on still photography; The Puppet Master (1993) covers the first 36 years (1909-’45) in the life of puppet master Li Tien-lu and showcases his own art. This film, whose art form is cinema itself, intercuts material from 1949 to the present. In the present a young film actress preparing to play the real-life Chiang Bi-yuan anti-Japanese guerrilla in 40s China who, along with her husband, was arrested as a subversive when she returned to Taiwan during the paranoid, anticommunist White Terror of the 50sis harassed by an anonymous caller who’s stolen her diary and is faxing her pages from it. Images evoked by her diary from her past as a drug-addicted barmaid involved with a gangster alternate with her imaginative projections of the film she’s about to shoot, seen in black and white.… Read more »

Mighty Aphrodite

This might be said to bear the same relationship to Woody Allen’s other comedies as September bears to his other dramaswhich is another way of saying it’s somewhere near the bottom (1995). In its opening moments, it’s sufficiently self-serving to take a swipe at Mia Farrow for her desire to adopt children, and after thatwhen the Allen hero decides to track down the mother of his adopted son, who proves to be (surprise, surprise) a bimbo prostitute (Mira Sorvino) with a heart of goldAllen gets a chance to unload all his usual patronizing contempt for and middle-class wisdom about his own working-class origins. His combined awe and nervousness about high art translates itself here into a Greek chorus (speaking in New York vernacular) complete with ancient amphitheater that only made me hunger for the more honest vulgarity of Mel Brooks. I heard a lot of laughter around me when I previewed this, but something tells me that if Woody Allen decided to portray himself as a thoughtful ax murderer, as long as all his victims lived in Brooklyn his affectionate constituency would probably remain intact. With Helena Bonham Carter, Olympia Dukakis, Jack Warden, and F. Murray Abraham. (JR)… Read more »

Masks

A so-so mystery thriller from Claude Chabrol (1986) involving a TV game-show host (Philippe Noiret) who hires a journalist (Robin Renucci) to ghostwrite his memoirs at the host’s isolated county estate, which maintains a peculiar staff. It’s fun but not especially memorable. With Anne Brochet. (JR)… Read more »

Inspecteur Lavardin

If memory serves, this 1985 follow-up to Claude Chabrol’s Poulet au vinaigre, bringing back the same police inspector (Jean Poiret) on another case, isn’t quite as much fun as its predecessor. But it’s still Chabrol and it’s still enjoyable, helped in this case by the presence of Bernadette Lafont and Jean-Claude Brialy. (JR)… Read more »

Art For Teachers Of Children

An alternate title for this provocative autobiographical black-and-white independent feature (1995) by Bard College graduate Jennifer Montgomery might be Therapy for Underage Lovers of Artists. The plot concerns a 14-year-old girl at a boarding school who has an affair with her dorm counselor, a married photographer in his 30s who likes to take pictures of students in the nude. The affair is recalled years later when the FBI begins investigating the photographer on child-pornography charges. Despite some uncertainty in many of the performances, this is a fairly honest examination of a difficult subject that occasionally smacks of self-indulgent psychodrama with traces of exhibitionism; Montogomery herself narrates in the first person, and her mother plays the heroine’s mother, who’s offscreen in various phone calls. The mother comes up with the film’s best line about the damage caused by bad artists, though what she (or the film) means by good art isn’t clear. With Caitlin Grace McDonnell and Duncan Hannah. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sonic Outlaws

A documentary feature (1995, 87 min.) by Craig Baldwin that, like his other paranoid (or pseudoparanoid) compilations (e.g., Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America), plays with found footage to work up delirious scenarios. The subject here is the lawsuit waged against Negativland by U2 for copyright infringement, a subject that has already yielded reams of compulsive documentation; if you’re looking for moreor at the very least more of the samehere’s the place to find it. (JR)… Read more »

A Time Of Love

Less potent as filmmaking than The Peddler or Marriage of the Blessed, this intriguing 1990 feature by the eclectic, unpredictable Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, filmed in Turkey with Turkish actors, was banned in Iran because it addresses the taboo subject of adultery. It recounts the tale of an adulterous triangle (a taxi driver, a wife, and a man who shines shoes) in three separate versions, each of which offers a different perspective on the characters and issues; with Shiva Gered, Abdolrahman Yalmai, and Aken Tunc. (JR)… Read more »

Salaam Cinema

The talented and prolific Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Peddler, Marriage of the Blessed) filmed his auditions, at which 5,000 potential actors showed up, and most of this 75-minute documentary (1995) consists of his interviews with various applicants. In contrast to Abbas Kiarostami’s brilliant documentaries (Homework, Close-up) and fiction films (Life and Nothing More, Through the Olive Trees) about the interchanges between filmmakers and ordinary people, this is a bullying and occasionally sadistic, albeit candid and honest, display by Makhmalbaf of his power over such people, full of facile ironies and pearls of wisdom about the film world. Certainly not devoid of interest, though it mainly reconfirms the greatness of Kiarostami’s forays into the same sort of material. (JR)… Read more »