Daily Archives: November 1, 1999

All About My Mother

According to most of the American mainstream press at the 1999 Cannes film festival, this consciousness-raising transsexual soap opera by aging Spanish enfant terrible Pedro Almodovar should have walked off with all the prizes. I guess it represents a significant advance in his career, giving us a kinder, gentler, more soulful Almodovar who makes a lot more references than usual to other movies: All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire especially, but also (in terms of the story’s point of departure) John Cassavetes’s Opening Night. For me it felt like a good many weeks at a politically correct summer camp, though the talented actorsincluding Cecilia Roth, Eloy Azorin, Marisa Paredes, Toni Canto, Antonia San Juan, and Penelope Cruzseem to enjoy the taste of the characters they’re playing. In Spanish with subtitles. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Phantom India

Louis Malle’s seven-part, 378-minute 1968 documentary series is one of my favorites among his works. His upper-class misanthropy and morbidity usually alienate me, but this essayistic travel diary avoids any pretense of objectivity in order to present itself as a highly personal searchnarrated in excellent English by Malle himself in the version I’ve seen, but in French with subtitles in this version. In the first episode he addresses the problem of everyone he meets in India describing the country in Western terms, then goes on to reflect on how his filmmaking affects his subjects; from there he takes in everything from a water buffalo being devoured by vultures to interviews with a few European hippies about why they’re in India. With his wide-ranging but rambling approach Malle undoubtedly misses or skimps on certain topics, but his mercurial intelligence keeps this lively and fascinating. (JR)… Read more »

West Beirut

Quentin Tarantino’s cameraman, Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, wrote and directed this autobiographical first feature (1998) about his early teens in Beirutset in 1975, during the onset of the country’s civil warand cast his younger brother Rami as himself. In fact, Doueiri scores with every member of his wonderful cast, which consists of nonprofessionals in the child roles and seasoned veterans playing the grown-ups. This is one of the best coming-of-age movies I’ve seen, largely because the characters are so full-bodied and believable without falling into predictable patterns. The excellent score is by Stewart Copeland. In French and Arabic with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chronique D’un Ete

A joint effort by the great (and recently deceased) French ethnographer-filmmaker Jean Rouch and the important French sociologist Edgar Morin (The Stars) yielded this remarkable 1961 documentary investigation into what Parisiansregarded as a strange tribewere thinking and feeling during the summer of 1960, when the war in Algeria was still a hot issue (although many other issues are discussed as well, private as well as public). The filmmakers treat their interview subjects with respect and sensitivity, among them Marilu Parolini, a secretary at Cahiers du Cinema who later became a screenwriter for Jacques Rivette, and Marceline Loridan, a concentration camp survivor who later became the collaborator and companion of Joris Ivens. Rouch and Morin even screened their first interviews for the participants and then filmed their responses, catching the shifting emotional tenor of their lives over a certain period. A seminal work. In French with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

Eternity And A Day

Winner of the 1998 Palme d’Or at Cannes, this rambling but beautiful feature by Theo Angelopoulos may seem like an anthology of 60s and 70s European art cinema: family nostalgia from Bergman and seaside frolics from Fellini; long, mesmerizing choreographed takes and camera movements from Jancso and Tarkovsky; haunting expressionist moods and visions from Antonioni. Yet it’s such a stirring and flavorsome examplemdfar richer emotionally and poetically than Woody Allen… Read more »

Street Fighter Ii

Not a sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme opus made the same year (1994) but a Japanese animated feature based on a video game of the same name; whether the video game itself is a sequel is a matter I’ll leave to the specialists. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Family Diary

By reputation, one of the best features of one of the best (and, in this country, more neglected) Italian directors, Valerio Zurlini. I’ve seen only his Girl With a Suitcase (1961), which suggests that his reputation was deserved. This 1962 film stars Marcello Mastroianni as a fraternal twin grieving over the loss of his brother. (JR)… Read more »

The Source

As he revealed in Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol (1991), documentary filmmaker Chuck Workman has a slick and entertaining way of stitching together old footage and practically no analytical or historical insight at all. Consequently, this breezy if terminally square account of the beats and their generation is fairly watchableespecially for its glimpses of the writers themselves (mainly Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder) and some effective readings by John Turturro, Johnny Depp, and Dennis Hopperbut for anyone under 50, this is bound to be more mystifying than enlightening. According to Workman, anything and everything in the pop culture of the 50s, 60s, and 70s is equally germane to the beats (including such irrelevancies as Jack Nicholson humiliating a diner waitress in Five Easy Pieces), yet his footage from the major beat film Pull My Daisy (1959) is so brief that it fails to impart any of the flavor. What I miss here is the magic of reading On the Road for the first time, or the way New York’s MacDougal Street in the early 60s (where poets read aloud in coffeehouses) looked a bit like Baghdad, or the experience of smoking dope in cold lofts.… Read more »

Jeanne And The Perfect Guy

Virginie Ledoyen and Mathieu Demy (son of Jacques) costar in this 1998 French musical, which has been compared to the elder Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) in its mixture of a dreamlike atmosphere with social realism. Directed and written by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau; the original title is Jeanne et le garcon formidable. (JR)… Read more »