Daily Archives: April 1, 2002

Code Unknown

Aptly subtitled Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys, the best feature to date by Austrian director Michael Haneke (2000, 117 min.) is a procession of long virtuoso takes that typically begin and end in the middle of actions or sentences, constituting not only an interactive jigsaw puzzle but a thrilling narrative experiment. The second episode is a nine-minute street scene involving an altercation between an actress (Juliette Binoche), her boyfriend’s younger brother, an African music teacher who works with deaf-mute students, and a woman beggar from Romania; the other episodes effect a kind of narrative dispersal of these characters and some of their relatives across time and space. I couldn’t always get what was happening, but I was never bored, and the questions raised reflect the mysteries of everyday life. The title refers to the pass codes used to enter houses in Parisa metaphor for codes that might crack certain global and ethical issues. In subtitled French, Malinke, Romanian, German, Arabic, and sign languageand also, occasionally, English. (JR)… Read more »

The Lady And The Duke

My favorite Eric Rohmer features are mainly his period filmsPerceval, then The Marquise of O (despite its emotional toning down of the Heinrich von Kleist novella), and now this fascinating antirevolutionary take on the French Revolution. Inspired by the memoirs of Scottish royalist Grace Elliott (beautifully played by Lucy Russell), it centers on her relationship with Philippe Egalite, erstwhile duke of Orleans (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), who brought her to France in 1786. For the exteriors of this 2001 film Rohmer uses digital-video technology to superimpose the actors against painted landscapes, and the results are charming as well as historically plausible. Influenced by the use of stationary camera setups in D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm, this is absorbing throughoutnot just a history lesson but, as always with Rohmer, a story about individuals. In French with subtitles. 129 min. (JR)… Read more »

Abc Africa

The most accessible film to date by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, though some have been scared away (unwarrantedly, in my opinion) by its subject matter: the many Ugandan children orphaned by AIDS. In fact, much of this 2001 digital video documentary focuses on the kids singing and dancing. But a brief scene in a hospital and a few interviews tell us all the disturbing facts we need to know, and the second half moves beyond conventional documentary into Kiarostami’s brand of provocative philosophical inquiry. One scene in total darkness recalls Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, and another set in a ruined house in the rain is as lovely as anything in Life and Nothing More. Like virtually all of Kiarostami’s mature work, this centers on the issues raised when a well-to-do filmmaker interacts with poor people and expresses his admiration for their resilience. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Believer

Inspired by a true story, this stylistically inventive 2001 film about a young Jewish proto-Nazi (Ryan Gosling) is the masterful first feature of writer-director Henry Bean, whose previous work as a writer has been on features as varied as Deep Cover, Internal Affairs, Enemy of the State, Murder by Numbers, and Chantal Akerman’s musical, Window Shopping. Persuasive, intelligent, and provocativethough it makes no attempt to offer a comprehensive psychological explanation for its antihero (assorted clues are offered)this is both a film about hatred in the tradition of Samuel Fuller and a film about being Jewish. Gosling is compelling throughout and the secondary cast, including Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, and Billy Zane, is excellent; Bean himself plays a bit part as a Jewish investment banker and former ambassador whom the protagonist plans to assassinate. (Shown recently on cable, this is belatedly getting a theatrical release.) 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

La Commune (paris, 1871)

Peter Watkins’s 1999 made-for-TV film about the revolutionary Paris Commune formed in 1871 offers a stunning lesson in understanding the past in relation to the present. Using contemporary talk-show and TV-news reporting techniques, Watkins shot the 345-minute film in only 13 days in an abandoned Paris factory. His cast consisted of 220 Parisians and illegal aliens from North Africa, most of whom had no acting experience, and he got them to do their own research on the Paris Commune and to collaborate in the construction of their characters and dialogue (in late scenes these actors, still in costume, discuss the relevance of the Commune to their own lives and contemporary issues). In some ways this work is more fascinating as an idea than in its execution. But it’s full of exciting moments and very effectively shot, in black and white and with extended mobile takes. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Rookie

This semitiresome buddy-cop movie is generally understood to be director-star Clint Eastwood paying his commercial dues for making his wonderful (if relatively uncommercial) White Hunter, Black Heart. The problem is, Eastwood is only as good as his scripts, and this one, by Boaz Yakin and Scott Spiegel, is both mechanical and unfelt. There’s a lot of undigested clinical stuff about why the younger cop (Charlie Sheen), who comes from a wealthy family and who replaces Eastwood’s partner after the latter is killed by the leader of a stolen-car ring (Raul Julia), wants to be a cop at all. Eastwood’s slightly out-of-date loner persona doesn’t really mesh with a buddy plot in any case, and the script’s ploy of endlessly repeating cute bits of dialogue to show how Charlie learns to become a man just like Clint is strictly from hunger. Fortunately, the movie begins and ends with excellent action sequences, and there’s some kinky stuff involving Julia’s mistress (Sonia Braga) and a serviceable score by Lennie Niehaus, all of which give this movie some fitful, intermittent life between the obligatory slugfests and other genre reflexes. But don’t expect a story you can care about or believe in (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Cat’s Meow

Peter Bogdanovich’s first theatrical feature in almost a decade imagines what might have happened the weekend of November 19, 1924, when newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) hosted a yachting party that included Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), and Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst). In some ways Dunst gives the most impressive performance, uncannily embodying the flighty if mainly loyal Davies, though Herrmann’s portrayal of Hearst is equally sympathetic and multilayered. Shot in 31 days in Germany and Greece for $6 million, the film looks more polished than Hollywood features costing ten times as much, and if it speaks with a quieter voice than many of Bogdanovich’s early pictures, what it has to say seems substantially more personal and thoughtful. Steven Peros wrote the script, adapting his own play; with Joanna Lumley, Victor Slezak, James Laurenson, and Claudia Harrison. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ellipses, Reels 1-4

My exposure to Stan Brakhage’s massive oeuvre has been somewhat limited, but these four works made in 1998 are among the most exciting and ravishing I’ve seen, rivaling even Scenes From Under Childhood (1970). Aptly described by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice as scratch-and-stain films, these mainly nonphotographic works are, among other things, a visual analogue to Abstract Expressionism. Reel 1 (22 min.) registers as visual music in its development of motifs and its use of rests to divide the work into discrete sections-a music that pulses, throbs, and sometimes winks on and off like a strobe light. Reel 2 (15 min.) credits Sam Bush as the visual musician and Brakhage as the composer; more staccato, dramatic, and richly orchestrated than the first reel, it occasionally recalls early Stravinsky in its fierce rhythms. Reels 3 (15 min.) and 4 (20 min.) are my favorites: the former uses bursts of photography (water, sky, birds, forest, sand, a nude child, merry-go-round horses), and the latter often suggests animation, with a black field disrupted by tantalizing bursts and smears of color. Also on the program are two Brakhage works I haven’t seenCoupling (1999, 5 min.) and Night Mulch & Very (2001, 7 min.).… Read more »

Our Times

Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, the most famous woman filmmaker in Iran, directed this documentary about women candidates and the youth movement during Iran’s 2001 presidential election, interviewing various film actors and artists (among them her daughter) and some of the 48 women whose candidacies were refused by the government. Well over half the current population of Iran is under 21, and the voting age there is much lower than in the U.S., so this should be an eye-opening look at Iranian politics. 65 min. (JR)… Read more »

Just A Movie

A program of experimental works using found footage. I’ve seen only two of them, but they alone are worth the price of admission: Bruce Conner’s first film, A Movie (1958), which draws material from diverse sources, and Martin Arnold’s Piece Touchee (1989), which manipulates footage from the 50s Hollywood feature The Human Jungle. Also showing are Peggy Ahwesh’s The Color of Love (1994), Scott Stark’s Noema (1998), and Naomi Uman’s Removed (1999). 122 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tarzan Escapes

Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) gets caught by a hunter who wants to put him on display in England in this 1936 feature, reputed to be one of the series’s best (despite some postproduction tinkering and reshooting after a preview audience reacted unfavorably to some of the violence). Richard Thorpe, who wound up directing many of the subsequent Tarzan pictures, is credited as director, though Jim McKay and John Farrow were both involved at earlier stages. With Maureen O’Sulliivan. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

Elegy Of A Voyage

Like Yasujiro Ozu’s features with seasonal titles, Alexander Sokurov’s hallucinatory video elegies tend to be so similar, even in their running times, that they blur together in memory. Elegy of a Voyage (2001, 47 min.)whose title, grammatically speaking, should have been Elegy For a Voyageis a journey, a dream, a first-person narrative (visibly as well as audibly) that evokes the 19th century, and a hypnotic study in textures relating to fog, snow, and water that often entails a breakdown in the usual divisions between color and black and white (as well as fiction and documentary). It was commissioned by the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, which asked Sokurov to look at a work of art in its collection like a night watchman in a deserted museum. By the time Sokurov creeps into the museum to reflect on Brueghel’s The Tower of Babel and seven other paintings, he seems to have trekked across substantial portions of his native Russia as well as Helsinki harbor. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Sweetest Thing

After seeing Roger Kumble’s previous Cruel Intentions and the trailer for this Cameron Diaz vehicle, I was expecting a sexy comedy; in fact the main bill of fare is gross-out humor in the style of There’s Something About Mary but without the same sense of character. The camaraderie between Diaz and her two pals (Christina Applegate and Selma Blair) leads to plenty of high spirits, yet the film is far too appreciative of its own jokes to let the audience discover anything on its own. The trio’s love lives are so poorly imagined that they never surmount the strident setups and deliveries of a few overworked gags, and when the bloopers are unreeled during the final credits, they’re pretty hard to distinguish from the takes that were actually used. Nancy Pimental wrote the script; with Thomas Jane and Parker Posey. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

America So Beautiful

As far as I know, this 2001 feature by Babak Shokrina is the only one to deal with the Iranian-American community in Los Angeles, which automatically gives it a certain interest. (The dialogue is split between English and subtitled Farsi, often in the same sentence.) Apart from a brief epilogue set at the time of Reagan… Read more »

Habit

In his powerful and original video Fast Trip, Long Drop (1993), Chicagoan Gregg Bordowitz examined his life since learning that he was HIV positive; this eye-opening sequel (2001, 52 min.) returns to and extends many of the same themes, charting his personal and political struggles with AIDS. (There’s even another conversation with filmmaker and dancer Yvonne Rainer.) Bordowitz starts off with his daily regimen of 20 pills, then shifts to an international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, where local AIDS victims are unable to afford antiretroviral drugs. The video notes that some activists are taking radical steps to address this problem and reports on struggles for drug access in Brazil and India. Other segments focus on friends, acquaintances, artists, and activists involved in the crisis, among them painter and photographer Claire Pentecost, with whom Bordowitz lives, and antiapartheid crusader Donald Woods (now deceased), who reads one of his poems. (JR)… Read more »