From the Chicago Reader (June 19, 1998). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Christopher Scott Cherot
With Chenoa Maxwell, Cherot, Tammi Catherine Jones, Robinne Lee, and Reginald James.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Noah Baumbach
With Eric Stoltz, Annabella Sciorra, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Brian Kerwin, Peter Bogdanovich, and Bridget Fonda.
Two eclectic, youthful, and surprisingly upbeat romantic comedies open this week, both by writer-directors; both about blocked novelists, relationships, fear of commitment, jealousy, self-torturing neurosis, betrayal, and ultimate fulfillment; and both set in upscale, urban east-coast milieus. I had a good time at Christopher Scott Cherot’s Hav Plenty and Noah Baumbach’s Mr. Jealousy both times I saw them, though I couldn’t believe in either all the way through, and neither made me laugh out loud very often. Presented as hand-crafted self-portraits that have agreed to play by certain commercial rules and genre conventions, both teem with eccentric tics and personal energies, giving us the pleasure of contact with an individual intelligence — something that seldom happens with bigger-budget fare.
The eccentric tics in Hav Plenty begin with the title — which conflates the first name of heroine Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell) and the last name of hero Lee Plenty (Cherot) — and include Philippians 4:12 (“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.… Read more »
Commissioned by and written for the Italian web site 8 1/2, published in September 2017. — J.R.
When asked what I think about current American cinema, my first response is to ask another question: whose American cinema? Because given the splintering of both the audience and all the possible venues for what we now call American cinema, it’s no longer possible to describe it as a single homogeneous entity.
Perhaps it was always wrong to describe it as such, but when I was growing up in the 1950s, there was still an American cinema that appeared to belong to everyone. Today we have only a series of separate niche markets and venues that seem to exist independently of one another. For the sake of both clarity and candor, I should confess that from 1987 through 2007, I was the principal film critic for the principal alternative newspaper in Chicago, the Chicago Reader, which meant that I was professionally obliged to keep up with what was regarded, rightly or wrongly, as “current American cinema”. Since my voluntary retirement from that post, I’ve been a cinephile with no professional obligations, and my preferences in that capacity have been to systematically avoid films featuring superheroes, most horror films and war films, sports films, blockbusters, and most of the other releases mainly targeted for teenage and preteen boys.… Read more »
This review appeared in the December 1976 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. For whatever it’s worth, my favorite among Rohmer’s features remains, alas, his most unjustly neglected — Perceval le Gallois (1978), the feature he made immediately after Die Marquise von O… –J.R.
Marquise von O…, Die
West Germany/France, 1976
Director: Eric Rohmer
Probably the most faithful of all the disciples of André Bazin, Eric Rohmer has shared his mentor’s philosophical fascination with “ambiguity” in his criticism and films alike. A position derived from Catholic existentialism which adheres to a “realist” aesthetic whose prime model is the naturalistic novel as exemplified by Dos Passos, Hemingway and Hammett, this orientation is clearly at the root of his version of Kleist’s masterpiece, which subtly betrays the awesome energies of the original while maintaining an overall fidelity to its plot and characters that is rare in contemporary cinema. Widely and justifiably praised for its immaculate direction, acting, and visual sophistication, it can none the less be regarded as a Jamesian re-write of the novellas that dims the passion of the latter with a form of delicate detachment quite in keeping with the tenor of Rohmer’s Contes Moraux. A minor omission like the very Kleistian blood “gushing” from the mouth of a would-be rapist whom the Count “smashes” in the face with the hilt of his sword — a detail which the film tastefully keeps off-screen -– reveals this strategy on a rather trivial level; and the splitting in half of the Count’s childhood anecdote about the swan of which he is reminded by the Marquise -– so that its conclusion now comes at the end of the plot -– can easily be defended as a sensible dramatic expedient.… Read more »
From The Soho News (October 29, 1980). I’m delighted to report that, at long last, the second version of We Can’t Go Home Again is scheduled to premiere shortly at the Venice International Film Festival. (For more information, go here.) — J.R.
Nicholas Ray — supreme Hollywood hero of Godard, Rivette, Rohmer, Truffaut; passionate outlaw and bullshit artist; director of They Live By Night, In a Lonely Place, Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without a Cause – died last summer at the age of 67. But he made two films about his dying before he went. Actually it would be more precise to say he worked on two films about his dying, neither of which is complete, both of which I’ve been able to see this year.
The first of these is We Can’t Go Home Again, an epic 35mm feature made by Ray in collaboration with his wife, Susan, and his film students in the early ’70s. Susan is trying to raise money to complete the film, and I’m hoping that she can find it. When she showed the tattered workprint to me and a few other interested parties on a Steenbeck early last July, pieced together from about 30 percent of the material, it was apparent that this remarkable, impossible, impressive and irritating work in progress is all of a piece — unlike the version that I’d seen at the Cannes Festival in 1973.
… Read more »
This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.
Eric Rohmer’s least typical film, Perceval might also be his best: A wonderful version of Chrétien de Troyes’ 12-century epic poem, set to music, about the adventures of a callow and innocent knight (Fabrice Luchini). Deliberately contrived and theatrical in style and setting -– the perspectives are as flat as in medieval tapestries, the colors bright and vivid — the film is as faithful to its source as possible, given the limited material available about the period.
Luchini, who would later play Octave in Rohmer’s much more characteristic Full Moon in Paris (1984), called Perceval “a scholarly project, touched by insanity.” That is both its charm and its ineffable strangeness, enhanced by the fact that it represents an almost complete departure from the carefully crafted realism of Rohmer’s other films. As Australian critic G.C. Crisp has described this realism, “The cinema is a privileged art form because it faithfully transcribes the beauty of the real world….Any distortion of this, any attempt by man to improve on [God’s handiwork], is indicative of arrogance and verges on the sacreligious.”
Though this might seem to make Pervecal a betrayal of Rohmer’s aesthetic, his medieval musical -– which actually feels at times like a studio-shot Western, complete with artificial sky -– cogently illustrates his stated conviction as a critic that a true preservation of the past ultimately produces a kind of modernity.… Read more »
Eric Rohmer died in early 2010 at the age of 89. (See Dave Kehr’s very fine obituary in the New York Times.) Although my support for his work was often guarded, I hope that I did justice to his importance in this August 20, 1999 piece for the Chicago Reader.
I was distressed more recently to read A.O. Scott assert about Rohmer, in an article about him in the New York Times, that “some aspects of late-20th-century life -– most notably, politics –- were absent from his palette”. This immediately made me think about L’arbre, le maire et la médiathèque (1993), one of Rohmer’s best and most neglected features, although, as Kent Jones subsequently noted on Dave Kehr’s blog, other Rohmer films with (direct or indirect) political content could also be noted. As usual, it appears that Scott is doing what many readers want from the Times‘ film writers: to assure them that their ignorance about certain matters is an “educated” ignorance, even if it isn’t. –J.R. [1/13/10]
Autumn Tale Rating *** A must-see
Directed and written by Eric Rohmer
With Marie Rivière, Béatrice Romand, Alain Libolt, Didier Sandre, Alexia Portal, Stéphane Darmon, and Aurélia Alcaïs.… Read more »
Written for the Fipresci web site on September 18 2017. — J.R.
Adapting a novella of the same title by Javier Cercas (available in English in the 2006 volume The Tenant and the Motive, translated by Anne McLean for Bloomsbury Publishing), writer-director Manuel Martín Cuenca’s black comedy about the lures and potential perils of yarn-spinning focuses on a hapless and naïve bureaucrat in Seville named Álvaro (Javier Gutiérrez) working as a notary clerk and longing to be a serious and successful novelist, unlike his author wife Amanda (Maria Léon), who writes best-selling but unserious novels (at least according to her husband).
Curiously, the Spanish title of both the novella and the film, El Autor, means “the author,” not “the motive” (the English title of both). But it must be conceded that Álvaro is a highly, even willfully and monomaniacally motivated author as well as a rather stupid sociopath. Taking a writing course from a testy and critical teacher named Juan (Antonio de la Torre), who berates his clichéd prose, he leaves his wife after he discovers via their pet dog that she’s having an affair and, after his boss, noticing his distractedness, urges him to take an extended vacation, moves into a flat of his own to concentrate full-time on writing his first novel.… Read more »
Capsule reviews of two of my favorite American films, both commissioned by BBC.com, who previously asked me to name my ten favorite American films. (For some reason, my computer can’t handle their own web site and link, which is why I’m posting this material here.) I responded to their first request with these choices:
1. GREED (Stroheim, 1924)
2. SUNRISE (Murnau, 1927)
3. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Welles, 1942)
4. CITY LIGHTS (Chaplin, 1931)
5. LOVE ME TONIGHT (Mamoulian, 1932)
6. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (Wyler, 1946)
7. STARS IN MY CROWN (Tourneur, 1950)
8. LOVE STREAMS (Cassavetes, 1984)
9. A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)
10. WHEN IT RAINS (Burnett, 1995)
Other truncated masterpieces (most notably Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons) tend to be appreciated in spite of their flaws, but Erich von Stroheim’s Greed maintains its strength and intensity and even much of its density in its surviving form. The characters are rich and complex and the mise en scène fully serves both the power of the performances and the richness of the world depicted. The overall fidelity to Frank Norris’s McTeague is matched by a highly personal and inventive dedication to its meanings and resonance, and the overall vision of what money does to disfigure and destroy human personality is unequaled.… Read more »
How much of the pain of Sadaf Foroughi’s first feature — winner of one of my Fipresci jury’s two prizes at the Toronto International Film Festival, a film from Iran — is the pain of being a teenager, and how much is it being a teenager at a particular place and time? How much is personal and how much is institutional, familial, cultural, social, political, architectural?
These are the questions raised by Foroughi’s exquisite, unorthodox framings and reframings of her characters, each one posing a separate inquiry. [9-20-17]
… Read more »