Monthly Archives: March 2006

Brigitte And Brigitte

French film critic Luc Moullet made his feature directing debut with this 1966 black-and-white comedy, and like his other big commercial success, The Comedy of Work (showing next week), it’s sweet and tender and focuses on conditions and bureaucracies peculiar to his native land. Two teenage girls with the same name, clothes, and bags meet by chance, become roommates in Paris, and try to survive their first year at the Sorbonne; despite their superficial similarities, one is right-wing and the other communist. The small-scale gags and episodic narrative easily accomodate guest-star appearances by Claude Chabrol, Michel Delahaye, Samuel Fuller, Eric Rohmer, Andre Techine, and Moullet, as well as the director’s own parents. In French with subtitles. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Americanese

Adapted from Shawn Wong’s 1995 novel American Knees, this intriguing, well-acted feature by writer-director Eric Byler (Charlotte Sometimes) has the merit of not fully explaining its multilayered characters and asking viewers to take the initiative in figuring them out. A middle-aged Chinese-American professor (Chris Tashima) in southern California, still adjusting to his recent separation from a much younger woman (Allison Sie), gets involved with another teacher (Joan Chen), a traumatized Vietnamese refugee, and no one behaves according to expectations. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Basic Instinct 2

The 1991 original was silly and campy, but director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had a stylishly hokey way of recycling Hitchcock tropes and an appreciation for Sharon Stone as superwoman/dominatrix that made her a star. She’s still magnificent as novelist Catherine Tramell, who has moved to London and finds herself a shrink (David Morrissey) to play Emil Jannings to her Dietrich. But like many sequels this is actually a remake, and it suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Screenwriters Leora Barish and Henry Bean are hip enough to reference cultural theorists Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek, though director Michael Caton-Jones, no stranger to kinkiness in Scandal, seems bemused by the more formulaic elements. With David Thewlis and Charlotte Rampling. R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Slither

A meteor lands in the sticks, and a slimy tentacled creature enters a local’s body (Michael Rooker), turning him into a squishy monster with a hunger for meat that drives him to devour most of the people and animals around him. Gross-out horror comedy is my least favorite genre, but this movie’s so skillful I have to take my hat off to it. Writer-director James Gunn, who worked on the script of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, relies too much on George A. Romero’s imagery without trying for any of his or Joe Dante’s satire. But he’s so adept at laughs, thrills, and repulsive effects that even the product placements are inspired, and he gets the most out of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Gregg Henry. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Counsellor At Law

John Barrymore plays a Jewish lawyer with an unfaithful wife and a faithful mistress in Elmer Rice’s 1933 adaptation of his own play. It’s one of Barrymore’s best performances, and William Wyler’s direction of this brisk comedy-drama is exemplary. With Bebe Daniels, Doris Kenyon, and Melvyn Douglas. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Adam & Steve

Goth transvestite Adam (Craig Chester) and disco dancer Steve (Malcolm Gets) share a disastrous one-night stand back in the 80s when the latter snorts too much coke laced with baby laxative; years later they meet again without recognizing one another and become a couple, but their former identities threaten to sabotage the match. Chester, making his feature debut as writer-director, does some effective mugging, and there are enjoyable performances from Parker Posey as Adam’s acerbic pal and Chris Kattan as her boyfriend. But despite the high spirits, most of the comedy is feeble and forced; Steve’s career as a therapist seems especially far-fetched. With Sally Kirkland. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Zizek!

From the Chicago Reader (March 31, 2006). — J.R.

zizek-documental-astra-taylor

I’m almost tempted to say that making me popular is a resistance against taking me serious, says Slavoj Zizek in this entertaining 2005 portrait of the Slovene cultural theorist and academic rock star. It’s a characteristic utterance, and his charisma is such that the meaning registers despite the faulty grammar. Whether he’s ruminating in his Ljubljana flat, speaking at the University of Buenos Aires, fleeing autograph hounds, running for president of Slovenia (in 1990), defining ideology, or staging his own mock suicide, his frenetic and lucid manner is neatly captured by the jazzy style of director Astra Taylor. In English and subtitled Slovene. 71 min. (JR)

Zizek!posterRead more »

The Modest Master [Luc Moullet]

From the March 31, 2006 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Luc Moullet: Agent Provocateur of the New Wave

Almost 30 years have passed since I wrote a heated article about French filmmaker Luc Moullet for Film Comment — the first extended defense of his movies and his film criticism in English. But the first American retrospective devoted to him is only now opening, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Only 8 of his 32 films will be included, and some of my favorites are missing. Still, it’s been worth the wait.

Moullet, who grew up in the sticks, the son of a mail sorter and a typist, started writing for Cahiers du Cinéma in the 50s, when he was in his teens, and he’s still a critic today. Brigitte Bardot is seen reading Moullet’s book on Fritz Lang in Godard’s Contempt (1963), and his Politique des Acteurs came out in 1993. But only a fraction of his major writing has been collected. He was the first to write at length about Samuel Fuller and Edgar G. Ulmer and the first at Cahiers to champion Luis Buñuel. Neither a formalist nor an ideologue, he has a particular feeling for film style that in 1958 led him to compare the gratuitous camera movements in Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels to the run-on sentences in its source novel, William Faulkner’s Pylon.… Read more »

Anatomy of a Relationship

Luc Moullet remains an unsung hero among the Cahiers du Cinema critics who turned to filmmaking, and this 1975 feature, part of a monthlong retrospective of his work at the Gene Siskel Film Center, provides a succinct introduction to his special brand of low-budget cinema. A restaging of his abortive sexual relationship with Antonietta Pizzorno (who cowrote and codirected but, unlike Moullet, appears only in the finale), it’s painfully, hilariously, and graphically honest, and its willful rejection of technique is an implicit critique of slickness. Moullet was the only rural, proletarian, and anarchist member of the New Wave, and at Cahiers he became poet laureate of the American B movie, introducing French readers to Sam Fuller, Gerd Oswald, Douglas Sirk, and Edgar G. Ulmer. He maintains a healthy contempt for all the pretensions that money and prestige can buy and burrows into his subjects like an unruly gopher. His movies are sweet, funny, distressing, and strangely noble–a powerful antidote to the self-important romantic psychodramas of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen. In French with subtitles. 82 min. For more on Moullet see this week’s Section 1 review. Sat 4/1, 4:45 PM, and Wed 4/5, 6:15 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Two Seconds

Adapted from an Elliott Lester play, this stagy 1932 drama stars Edward G. Robinson in his most bravura performance, as a condemned murderer reliving his doomed marriage and the accidental death of his best friend on a construction site. Mervyn LeRoy directed. 68 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Place(s) of Danièle

Written for a tribute to Danièle Huillet in Undercurrent, on the FIPRESCI web site, in March 2006.  — J.R.

One thing worth mentioning about Danièle: I’ve never known anyone who knew her and Jean-Marie well enough to know absolutely for sure whether or not they were literally husband and wife. This might strike some as a mere technicality, but I think it signifies something more. Whether they went through an actual wedding ceremony or wound up living together; whether they considered having children; whether it was inaccurate or precise, impolite or perfectly okay to refer to them as “the Straubs”: these are all basically questions about how they defined themselves in relation to society. And the fact that most of us don’t know the answers points towards a larger uncertainty about whether they were true bohemians or eccentric traditionalists (not necessarily the same thing), or some combination of the two. (Danièle only began to be credited as coauteur belatedly, after their first few films. But was this because she gradually became more active as a filmmaker or because the two of them began to place a higher value on her participation? Again, I have no idea.)

I think the fact that their work provokes silence more often than discussion — a tribute in some ways to its continuing radicality and difference — may be partly to blame for this.Read more »

Anatomy Of A Relationship

Luc Moullet remains an unsung hero among the Cahiers du Cinema critics who turned to filmmaking, and this 1975 feature, part of a monthlong retrospective of his work at the Gene Siskel Film Center, provides a succinct introduction to his special brand of low-budget cinema. A restaging of his abortive sexual relationship with Antonietta Pizzorno (who cowrote and codirected but, unlike Moullet, appears only in the finale), it’s painfully, hilariously, and graphically honest, and its willful rejection of technique is an implicit critique of slickness. Moullet was the only rural, proletarian, and anarchist member of the New Wave, and at Cahiers he became poet laureate of the American B movie, introducing French readers to Sam Fuller, Gerd Oswald, Douglas Sirk, and Edgar G. Ulmer. He maintains a healthy contempt for all the pretensions that money and prestige can buy and burrows into his subjects like an unruly gopher. His movies are sweet, funny, distressing, and strangely noblea powerful antidote to the self-important romantic psychodramas of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen. In French with subtitles. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Wah-wah

Character actor Richard E. Grant makes his writing and directing debut with this autobiographical feature about growing up in white Swaziland in the early years of its independence from Great Britain. Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy) plays the young hero, Miranda Richardson his adulterous mom, and Gabriel Byrne his alcoholic dad. Shot in ‘Scope, this is a hokey, old-fashioned melodrama in which the actors scream more often than necessary, though it loosens up a bit when the father resettles with a relatively laid-back American (Emily Watson), who uses the title phrase to ridicule British pomp. With Julie Walters. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Fallen

German filmmaker Fred Keleman (Fate, Nightfall) has worked as a cinematographer for Hungarian master Bela Tarr, and like his mentor he employs long takes, slow camera movements, and depressive settings shot in black and white. This 2005 feature differs from his earlier work in its Latvian locations and tricky mystery plot, about an archivist who thinks he may have witnessed a woman’s suicide and becomes obsessed with the apparent victim. Suggesting at various junctures Laura, Vertigo, and Blowup, it deconstructs certain art-house cliches (including its own compulsive gloom) but also embraces certain others, both visual and aural. In Latvian and Russian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »