Daily Archives: April 14, 2006

The Comedy Of Work

Luc Moullet’s 1987 film looks at the bureaucratic contradictions of the French labor exchange and at various characters who pass through it. As critic Jill Forbes once remarked, Moullet seems characteristically amused that an organization dedicated to keeping people in work should in fact turn out to keep them out of work in order to keep itself in work. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Girl Is A Gun

This 1971 film is Luc Moullet’s feature Une Aventure de Billy le Kid with funny English dubbing. Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud and Rachel Kesterber costar with some scene-stealing landscapes. 77 min.… Read more »

Opening Tries

Luc Moullet’s miniature 1988 epic shows the director’s baroque ingenuity at trying to remove a twist-off cap from a large bottle of Coke. 15 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Smugglers

Shot in black and white, 1967′s The Smugglers (1967, 81 min.) is the closest thing to a testament in Lulc Moullet’s oeuvre; despite some derisive allusions to adventure thrillers, the tone is closer to sweet-tempered absurdism, with throwaway gags about backpackers and imaginary borders in the French Alps. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Subject Two

An eclectic and not very successful medical student (Christian Oliver) accepts a job from a mysterious doctor (Dean Stapleton) and reports to a remote cabin in the snowy Rocky Mountains. As it turns out, the doctor thinks he can restore life to the recently deceased and needs the student as a guinea pig (his second, hence the title) to be killed and resurrected repeatedly. Writer-director Philip Chidel has a disturbing and gripping story to tell, made all the more resonant by the skilled acting and strong homoerotic undertones. He comes close to ruining this at the end, however, with a self-referential twist that’s too clever for its own good. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Wild

A lion cub from a New York zoo gets shipped off to Africa accidentally, and his dad sets out to rescue him, accompanied by some animal pals. This computer-animated Disney feature shares the same premise as the Dreamworks hit Madagascar (2005), and the macho-colonialist message comes through even louder and clearer: the American animals may be stupid innocents, but they still triumph over the savage jungle beasts, with their primitive religion. The CGI characters seem less like artwork than humans wearing animal suits, but despite the overall ugliness and sitcom timing, this has enough action, violence, and invention to keep kids amused. Steve Spaz Williams directed. G, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Shipwrecked On Route D17

The slickest work to date by French director Luc Moullet, perhaps because he ceded the producer’s chores to the resourceful Portuguese independent Paulo Branco. This 2002 feature isn’t my favorite Moullet comedy, but it provides a good introduction to his subtle humor. Set in 1991 during the gulf war, it shuttles back and forth among a champion racer whose car has broken down on a nearly abandoned highway, his randy female assistant, a couple of astronomers (including Mathieu Amalric of Kings and Queen), a clueless French army unit searching for Saddam Hussein, and various local rustics. In French with subtitles. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

La Promesse

A powerful 1996 neorealist feature by the French Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne that follows the instinctive, makeshift moral progress of a 15-year-old boy named Igor (Jerome Renier), the son of a slum landlord who rents to recently arrived immigrants, some of them illegal. One tenant, from Burkina Faso, falls from a scaffold and makes a dying request to the boy to take care of his wife (Assita Ouedraogo) and infant son; Igor spends the remainder of the movie trying to honor that request, even when it means breaking away from his own father and coping with the scorn and incomprehension of the widow. This is a beautifully realized, richly detailed story, full of humor as well as pathos, and part of the Dardennes’ strength in telling it is their openness to experience and the world around them without being hampered by didacticism. in French with subtitles. 93 min (JR)… Read more »

J. Edgar Hoover And The Great American Inquisitions

An engrossing two-hour video documentary portrait (1995) by Chicago filmmaker Dennis Mueller. A hatchet job, though a convincing one, this compilation of intelligent talking heads and fascinating archival footage documents Hoover’s behind-the-scenes involvement in major historical events and wisely eschews such personal matters as his closet homosexuality to concentrate on the illegality of many of his investigative methods and proceduresa litany of abuses ranging from blackmail to embezzlement and beyond. Little of the indictment is new, but as a lucid survey and historical refresher course this is essential viewing. (JR)… Read more »

L’Enfant

Few contemporary filmmakers can tell a story as well as Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose gripping features all take place among marginal people in a nondescript French-Belgian industrial city. In La Promesse (1996), Rosetta (1999), The Son (2002), and now this volatile 2005 drama, the camera sticks close to the protagonists but neither the plot nor the characterization is ever simpleminded. Jeremie Renier (La Promesse) plays a petty thief who sells his newborn son, then struggles to buy him back after the mother recoils from the deed. Whether the title refers to the baby or the thief remains an open question, and the viewer is left to decide whether the theme of redemption should be perceived in Christian terms. This builds to a suspenseful climax, and as in Hitchcock’s best work, that suspense is morally inflected. In French with subtitles. R, 100 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Music Box.… Read more »

Films by Luc Moullet

The Gene Siskel Film Center’s monthlong retrospective on French director Luc Moullet peaks this week with screenings of some of Moullet’s best work. Both parts of his career are represented–his neoprimitive beginnings, when he shamelessly flaunted his lack of money and technique while alluding to Hollywood genres (The Smugglers, A Girl Is a Gun), and his mature mastery as a comic performer and a director, when he pushed situations to hilarious extremes (The Comedy of Work, Opening Tries).

Shot in black and white, The Smugglers (1967, 81 min.) is the closest thing to a testament in Moullet’s oeuvre; despite some derisive allusions to adventure thrillers, the tone is closer to sweet-tempered absurdism, with throwaway gags about backpackers and imaginary borders in the French Alps. It screens with the miniature epic Opening Tries (1988, 15 min.), which shows Moullet’s baroque ingenuity at trying to remove a twist-off cap from a large bottle of Coke. (Sat 4/15, 5 PM, and Mon 4/17, 6 PM) The delirious and erotic color “western” A Girl Is a Gun (1971, 77 min.) is Moullet’s feature Une Aventure de Billy le Kid with funny English dubbing. Jean-Pierre Leaud and Rachel Kesterber costar with some scene-stealing landscapes. (Sat 4/15, 3 PM, and Wed 4/19, 6 PM)

The Comedy of Work (1987, 90 min.) looks at the bureaucratic contradictions of the French labor exchange and at various characters who pass through it.… Read more »