Daily Archives: August 1, 1994

Sankofa

The exciting thing about Haile Gerima’s lush, wide-screen folkloric feature about black slavery is its poetic conviction, backed up by a great deal of filmmaking savvy. Born in Ethiopia but based in the U.S., Gerima attended UCLA’s film school around the same time as Charles Burnett and Larry Clark, but Sankofa (1993) shows that he has a camera style and political vision all his own. A glamorous black model (Oyafunmike Ogunlano) posing for pictures outside an ancient castle in Ghana where slaves were once bought and sold provokes the ire of a self-appointed tribal guardian of this tourist spot; he hurls a curse that magically transports her into the role of a slave on a Jamaican plantation, where most of the remainder of the film is set. Beautifully shot and powerfully acted, the depiction of slavery is rendered mainly in English dialogue, with an intriguing score by David J. White that manages to encompass American jazz and blues as well as African elements. 124 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mazeppa

French director-costar Bartabas shows off his celebrated Zingaro horse theater in Aubervilliers as well as a lot of flamboyant, mannered film technique, in this speculative period account of the early-19th-century encounter between the French romantic horse painter Theodore Gericault and Franconi, horse trainer and master of the Olympic Circus. Winner of the technical prize for best visual achievement at the 1993 Cannes festival, this movie is often striking as spectacle, yet it’s too calculated and self-enamored about its effects to allow one to get very involved with the material. But if you like horses and horse acts, this is a must. With Miguel Bose and Brigitte Marty; written by Bartabas, Claude-Henri Bufford and Homeric. (JR)… Read more »

Calendar

Ironically, Atom Egoyan’s 1993 masterpiece is the most spontaneously generated of his features, one in which he plays the male leada petulant photographer whose marriage falls apart during an assignment to shoot a dozen historic Armenian churches for a calendar. The movie basically oscillates between two time frames: scenes with the photographer, his translator wife (Arsinee Khanjian), and their local guide (Ashot Adamian) in Armenia, and scenes in Canada afterward, in which the photographer repeatedly goes through the same romantic ritual with a number of other women. One of the best movies made anywhere about tribalism and its perils, this is at once hilarious and painful, fresh and beautifulan apotheosis of Egoyan’s preoccupations with identity, sex, and representation. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Woman Of Tokyo And That Night’s Wife

An exciting double feature of Yasujiro Ozu silents. The sacrificial theme in Woman of Tokyo recalls Mizoguchia young woman supports her brother through school by becoming a prostitutebut the elliptical and mysterious style is thoroughly Ozu’s. This 1933 film may be the most formally radical of his late silent pictures. 47 min. The earlier That Night’s Wife (1930), an uncharacteristic Sternbergian crime thriller, is mainly set inside a single cluttered flat, where a policeman, hoping to arrest a commercial artist who’s robbed an office, is held at bay by his gun-wielding wife. The results are tense, claustrophobic, and visually striking throughout. 65 min. Both films are in Japanese with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Where Now Are The Dreams Of Youth?

Yasujiro Ozu released this 1932 silent feature only four months after his masterpiece I Was Born, But . . . , and like the earlier film it begins as a comedy before its treatment of conformity and class difference grows tragic. A rich goof-off joins his less privileged schoolmates in cheating on exams; called home after his father dies, he takes over the family business, hires his friends, and eventually feels both devastated and angry when one of them breaks off his engagement in order to keep his job. Stylistically as well as thematically boldone whole sequence focuses on the characters’ handsthis isn’t an unqualified success, but it packs a wallop. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tokyo Chorus

A young functionary in a Tokyo insurance office stands up for a colleague, loses his job as a result, and ends up distributing flyers on the street, struggling to support his wife and three children. Film historian Tadao Sato has described this 1931 Japanese silent, a major work by Yasujiro Ozu, as a cheerful tragedy, and it shows Ozu’s sense of physicality at its most poetic. Striking in its similarity to Hollywood movies of the Depression era, it synthesizes much of Ozu’s previous work; in some respects I prefer his silent films over everything that followed, and this is an excellent introduction to them. In Japanese with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dragnet Girl

This silent gangster picture by Yasujiro Ozu (1933), about a typist determined to make her criminal boyfriend go straight, is one of the most striking of Ozu’s American-style silents. It stars the great Kinuyo Tanaka, who later played the title role in Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu and subsequently became a director herself (the first Japanese woman to do so). In Japanese with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Brainscan

Brainscam might be a more appropriate title. This high-tech horror story promises a lively rip-off of elements from both Videodrome and Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear, but soon clicks into automatic pilot. The post-Freudian notions of the return of the repressed might have been fresh around the time of Forbidden Planet, but by now they’re more evocative of repetition compulsion. Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong stars as a dysfunctional teenager with a morbid taste in slasher films who . . . too bad that Andrew Kevin Walker rather than John Waters wrote the rest. John Flynn directed; with Amy Hargreaves, Frank Langella, and T. Ryder Smith as Mr. Return of the Repressed himself, known in this case as Trickster. (JR)… Read more »