This is the first thing I ever wrote about Ozu’s films. I’ve subsequently come to value Hen in the Wind much more than I did in 1972, above all as an expression of Japanese’s humiliation after the end of the war and during the American occupation. — J.R.
From Paris Journal, Film Comment, Summer 1972 (excerpt):
A recent screening of eight Ozu films at the Cinémathèque was, for Paris, an event of some importance. To date, not a single film by Ozu has received distribution in France, and local ignorance about his work extends to such places as Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif, which in their combined 368 issues have failed to publish a single article about him.
A particular revelation was WIFE FOR A NIGHT, which contradicted at least half of the received ideas that have been circulating about Ozu elsewhere. One of the ten silent films that he made in 1930, this remarkable American-style thriller begins and ends mainly in exteriors: a desperate robbery and escape at night, the criminal being led away at dawn. Virtually all of the intervening action is contained in the robber’s one-room flat, where he, his ailing daughter, his wife, and a policeman stand nervous vigil over one another for the night’s duration.… Read more »
In his first three films Bela Tarr — conceivably the most important Eastern European filmmaker currently working — betrays an impatience with cinematic style, focusing almost exclusively on content, but that tendency was radically overturned with this 1984 feature, whose taste and intelligence are specifically (and exquisitely) cinematic and revealed Tarr as a master stylist. Set entirely in an apartment inhabited by an elderly woman, her son, his former teacher, the old woman’s nurse, and the nurse’s lover, the film consists mainly of intense two-part dialogues and encounters largely concerned with the old woman’s money. The remarkable use of color depends on a lighting scheme that divides most areas (and characters) into blue and orange, and the elaborately choreographed mise en scene is consistently inventive and unpredictable, making use of highly unorthodox angles and very slow camera movements. As in Damnation (1987), the mise en scene often seems to be composed in counterpoint to the action, but the drama itself (whose Strindbergian power and sexual conflicts are realized with an intensity and concentration that suggests John Cassavetes) carries plenty of charge on its own. 119 min. (JR)
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A Chicago Reader capsule (1990). — J.R.
I saw the Living Theater’s legendary production of Jack Gelber’s play (directed by Judith Malina) three times during its initial run in the early 60s, and no film adaptation half as long could claim its raw confrontational power. Echoing The Lower Depths and The Iceman Cometh, it’s about junkies waiting for a fix (among them a performing jazz quartet with pianist-composer Freddie Redd and alto sax Jackie McLean), and spectators were even accosted in the lobby by one actor begging for money. Shirley Clarke’s imaginative if dated 1961 film uses most of the splendid original cast (Warren Finnerty is especially good), confining the action to the play’s single run-down flat. It’s presented as a pseudodocumentary; the square neophyte director, eventually persuaded to shoot heroin himself, winds up focusing his camera on a cockroach. The film retains the same beatnik wit that the play effectively distilled, as well as a few scary shocks, and the music is great,. With Carl Lee, Garry Goodrow, and Roscoe Lee Browne. 105 min. (JR)
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