Daily Archives: October 8, 2004

Shorts 3: Driven

A 123-minute program of shorts by Jonathan Nix (from Australia), Jun Watanabe (Japan), Matthew Gravelle (UK), Richard Goleszowski (UK), Rachel Davies (UK), J.J. Villard (U.S.), Chris Cherot (U.S.), Robert Mowen (U.S.), Laurence Coriat (UK), Andrew Gura (U.S.), Seth Grossman (U.S.), and Jay Rosenblatt (U.S.), the only one I’ve seena documentary about his little girl devouring an ice cream cone that’s much less compelling than his previous work with found footage. (JR)… Read more »

The 10th District Court: Judicial Hearings

Raymond Depardon’s riveting documentary about various routine cases brought before a woman judge in a Paris courtroom may be as brilliant as some of its advocates claim, but only if one’s sufficiently alert to read at least some of the proceedings against the grain of her judgments. Through this procession of middle-class drunk drivers, alienated and/or dysfunctional individuals, and illegal aliens ranging from a pickpocket to an African whose only crime is never having the correct papers, a fascinating glimpse of contemporary France emergesmade apparent as much through the weary responses of Judge Michele Bernard-Requin and various fatuous court-appointed defenders as by the accused. The editing is brilliant. In French with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Big Red One: The Reconstruction

A heroic effort by critic Richard Schickel to reconstruct Samuel Fuller’s most ambitious featurea semiautobiographical account of his own fighting unit during World War II, severely truncated by distributors when first released (in 1980). This isn’t a director’s cut, and the offscreen commentary that Fuller objected to is retained (if reduced), but it’s 50 minutes longer than the original release, with 15 previously missing scenes and 23 extensions of existing scenes supplied from surviving footage, with Fuller’s script and notes used as guidelines. Starring Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, and Bobby Di Cicco as well as Stephane Audran and Christa Lang (with a cameo by Fuller himself), this multifaceted, earthy, and philosophical reflection on war runs the gamut from realism to surrealism. What it lacks in cohesion it more than makes up for in comprehensiveness, as it follows Fuller’s combat experience from North Africa to Sicily, France, Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. R, 163 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Cow

I wrongly assumed that this venerated 1969 film, a founding gesture of the Iranian new wave, would be humanist and sentimental. In fact, Dariush Mehrjui’s second feature, written with the late playwright Gholam-Hossein Saedi and shot in stark black and white, is a cruel allegory whose meanings are far from obvious. The owner (Ezzatolah Entezami) of the only cow in a village that’s terrified of potential invaders goes mad and comes to believe he’s a cow after the animal dies for unexplained reasons during his brief absence from home. Ultimately this is a film more about community and scapegoating than about aberrant individualityfull of dark implications, powerfully acted, and graced by a striking modernist score. 100 min. In Farsi with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Aaltra

Benoit Delepine and Gustave de Kervern’s 2004 Belgian comedy in black-and-white ‘Scope follows a couple of feuding farmers paralyzed in a tractor accident who travel together to confront the company that built the machine. I saw this alleged crowd-pleaser around the time it came out and can barely remember it now. In French, German, and Finnish with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Henri Langlois: The Phantom Of The Cinematheque

Any documentary about the eccentric late cofounder of the Cinematheque Francaise is bound to be watchable, but Jacques Richard’s lumpy 210-minute talking-headathon obfuscates as much as it clarifies. The factionalism in the French film world guarantees that Richard has to choose sides, but he fails to acknowledge this problem, picks the wrong side, favoring fans and bureaucrats over scholars (he fails even to mention Langlois’ principal successor, Dominique Paini), and never owns up to his omissions. His choice of clips is unforgivably hackneyed, and such matters as Langlois’ Turkish past (beautifully handled in Edgardo Cozarinsky’s 1994 documentary Citizen Langlois) and his homosexuality are almost completely bypassed, making a passing allusion to his male lover at his funeral seem a non sequitur. And his poor way of illustrating the visual qualities of nitrate prints only confuses the issue. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Andy Warhol’s Blood For Dracula

One of the two schlocky horror comedies Paul Morrissey made in Italy in 1974; Blood for Dracula is the sexier and funnier, while Flesh for Frankenstein is the gorier (and in 3-D). Both were released with Warhol’s name attached for advertising purposes, though apparently that was his only connection. Joe Dallesandro, a fixture of Morrissey’s movies in that period, costars with Udo Kier and (I kid you not) Vittorio De Sica and Roman Polanski. Also known as Andy Warhol’s Dracula; various versions range from 93 to 106 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

The Leopard

Novelist Giuseppe di Lampedusa was a conservative, and filmmaker Luchino Visconti was a communist. But both men were aristocrats, and when Visconti adapted the posthumously published Il gattopardo to the screen in 1963, he created one of the movies’ richest portrayals of fading aristocracy since Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons. The 205-minute version that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes probably no longer exists, but this dazzling new 183-minute restoration of Visconti’s greatest feature is so superior to the dubbed and faded 161-minute version released in the U.S. that it feels complete. Burt Lancaster stars as Don Fabrizio, a gentlemanly landowner in mid-19th-century Palermo who realizes that the old world is dying. The painterly peripheral detail of Visconti’s epic exteriors is surpassed only by the extended ball sequence in the last third, in which realistic details double as Fabrizio’s stream of consciousness. With Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale. In Italian with subtitles. Music Box.… Read more »

How This World Works

I just know how this world works. — George W. Bush, first presidential debate

The recent news that three years after the 9/11 attacks 123,000 hours of potentially useful recordings related to terrorism have yet to be translated by FBI linguists is a grim reminder of how limited our ability to know our enemies is. That President Bush thought it was OK to ridicule an American reporter for speaking French to French people in France suggests that we also have a problem when it comes to knowing our friends.

Fortunately, the desire in this country to understand others is intense. One of the easiest ways to learn about foreign cultures is to watch their movies, and over the next two weeks the Chicago International Film Festival–one of the oldest festivals in North America, now celebrating its 40th anniversary–is offering films from more than 40 countries. With 119 programs, including 14 revivals, this is a rare opportunity to learn more about how the world works.

Some of the features portray aspects of more than one foreign culture. Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre musique, a beautiful, oddly serene reflection on war set and filmed in Sarajevo, counts among its characters the French-Swiss Godard himself, a French-Jewish journalist based in Israel, Algerians, Vietnamese, and even Native Americans.… Read more »