Monthly Archives: March 2008

In The City Of Sylvia/Some Photos In The City Of Sylvia

Two hypnotic and haunting 2007 features by Spanish experimental filmmaker Jose Luis Guerin, about the same romantic obsession. (The reference points are W.G. Sebald’s novel Vertigo and Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same title.) The silent Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (65 min.) uses black-and-white stills with English intertitles to recount an unseen artist’s return to Strasbourg to search for a young woman he met briefly 22 years earlier while making a Goethe-related literary pilgrimage. The far more elliptical In the City of Sylvia (84 min.) tells the same story with color, carefully articulated sound, and minimal, subtitled French dialogue; in this film the artist returns only six years after his pilgrimage. Both works are mysterious, beautiful, and primal. It’s a pity the first, an intimate study and scenario for the second, is being shown after only one screening of its more languid successor. (JR)… Read more »

La Fille Coupee En Deux (The Girl Cut in Two)

GirlCutinTwo

Claude Chabrol’s capacity to make shopworn material seem almost new is especially evident in this 2007 drama, which he cowrote with his stepdaughter, Cecile Maistre. Their sincere and competent script seemingly transplants the 1906 murder of New York architect Stanford White to contemporary France, with an added emphasis on various forms of class and sexist abuse. A TV weather announcer (Ludivine Sagnier) becomes involved with a famous writer (Francois BerlĂ©and) who’s married and nearly twice her age, much to the chagrin of a spoiled heir (Benoit Magimel) who’s closer to her in age and accustomed to getting his way. In French with subtitles. 114 min.… Read more »

Under The Same Moon

A Mexican illegal who’s been working in LA for four years (Kate del Castillo) scrimps and saves to hire a lawyer so she can become a citizen and send for her nine-year-old son (Adrian Alonso). He’s being cared for by his grandmother, but after she dies, the boy decides to sneak across the border. Your enjoyment of this picaresque tearjerker may depend on how much you can tolerate its shameless contrivances and didactic social realism, whereby the story exists only to illustrate the plight of illegal aliens. I was ultimately more moved than appalled, but it was a close contest. Patricia Riggen directed a script by Ligiah Villalobos. In English and subtitled Spanish. PG-13, 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

It’s A Free World . . .

Writer Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach have produced some powerful dramas — My Name Is Joe, Bread and Roses, Sweet Sixteen — but this 2007 feature doesn’t compare with them despite its timely subject, the exploitation of illegal aliens. Newcomer Kierston Wareing is strong as the lead character, an unscrupulous but not entirely unsympathetic single mother who loses her job at a London employment agency and then partners with a flatmate (Juliet Ellis) to open her own such establishment. But Loach and Laverty’s didactic side ultimately becomes obtrusive, even as they challenge our identification with the heroine. I emerged from this story feeling sadder and wiser but was never fully engaged. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Inner Life Of Martin Frost

Relaxing at a friend’s empty country house, a reclusive New York novelist (David Thewlis) is inspired to write a new story and the next morning wakes up alongside a mysterious and seductive graduate student (Irene Jacob) who quickly becomes his muse and lover. Paul Auster, who made his directing debut with Lulu on the Bridge, provides the voice-over narration for this 2007 second feature, which was drawn and expanded from an interpolated story in his own novel, the engrossing Book of Illusions. The sad irony is that his storytelling gifts, Thewlis’s resourcefulness, and Jacob’s beauty only postpone one’s awareness that the material is too literary to work as cinema. The plot becomes increasingly arch (with the arrival of characters played by Michael Imperioli and by Auster’s teenage daughter, Sophie) and self-consciously metaphysical, and mannerism gradually overtakes visual and narrative invention. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Paranoid Park

A taciturn 16-year-old (Gabe Nevins) in Portland, Oregon, accidentally causes the gruesome death of a security guard and tries to deal with the psychological consequences in Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of a novel by Blake Nelson. This has something to do with guilt, alienation, and the loss of virginity but a lot more to do with skateboarding, and the emotional disassociation is underlined with Nino Rota’s theme music from Amarcord and Juliet of the Spirits. (Van Sant is a compulsive hijacker of other people’s material, from his Psycho remake to his appropriation of Chimes at Midnight in My Own Private Idaho, but he never enhances or illuminates what he filches.) There’s some striking camerawork by Christopher Doyle (in 35-millimeter) and Rain Kathy Li (in Super-8), though this doesn’t alter the overall feeling of random, nihilistic drift. Elephant said much more about teenagers and said it better. R, 84 min.… Read more »

The Inner Life of Martin Frost

Relaxing at a friend’s empty country house, a reclusive New York novelist (David Thewlis) is inspired to write a new story and the next morning wakes up alongside a mysterious and seductive graduate student (Irene Jacob) who quickly becomes his muse and lover. Paul Auster, who made his directing debut with Lulu on the Bridge, provides the voice-over narration for this 2007 second feature, which was drawn and expanded from an interpolated story in his own novel, the engrossing Book of Illusions. The sad irony is that his storytelling gifts, Thewlis’s resourcefulness, and Jacob’s beauty only postpone one’s awareness that the material is too literary to work as cinema. The plot becomes increasingly arch (with the arrival of characters played by Michael Imperioli and by Auster’s teenage daughter, Sophie) and self-consciously metaphysical, and mannerism gradually overtakes visual and narrative invention. 94 min.… Read more »

In the City of Sylvia/Some Photos in the City of Sylvia

Two hypnotic and haunting 2007 features by Spanish experimental filmmaker Jose Luis Guerin, about the same romantic obsession. (The reference points are W.G. Sebald’s novel Vertigo and Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same title.) The silent Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (65 min.) uses black-and-white stills with English intertitles to recount an unseen artist’s return to Strasbourg to search for a young woman he met briefly 22 years earlier while making a Goethe-related literary pilgrimage. The far more elliptical In the City of Sylvia (84 min.) tells the same story with color, carefully articulated sound, and minimal, subtitled French dialogue; in this film the artist returns only six years after his pilgrimage. Both works are mysterious, beautiful, and primal. It’s a pity the first, an intimate study and scenario for the second, is being shown after only one screening of its more languid successor.… Read more »

Big Bad Love

Arliss Howard, making his directorial debut, takes on the self-pity of 60s burnout with decidedly mixed and often sloppy results. Adapted from Larry Brown’s short story collection, the film focuses on a divorced Vietnam vet in Mississippi (Howard) who collects piles of rejection slips for his fiction, gets occasional house-painting jobs from an old war buddy (Paul Le Mat), and sporadically makes halfhearted, wistful efforts to win back his estranged wife (Debra Winger, who also produced). This recalls a lot of 60s novels fueled by internal monologue (particularly Herzog) as well as British and Hollywood films that tried to achieve the same effect, mostly by ripping off the French New Wave; unfortunately Howard lacks the sense of film rhythm (or literary rhythm, for that matter) required to make such an exercise work. Just about the only clear triumph here is an underplayed performance by Angie Dickinson, though Winger and Rosanna Arquette also provide welcome relief from Howard and Le Mat’s self-indulgent carousing. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »