Daily Archives: November 1, 1995

If Only I Were An Indian

A straightforward Canadian documentary by John Paskievich on a bizarre and fascinating subject: three aboriginal elders from Manitoba pay a visit to the former Czechoslovakia to meet several hundred Czechs and Slovaks who dress and live like 19th-century North American Indiansa community the film explores sympathetically and in some detail. The passion and sincerity of these ersatz Native Americans are never in doubt and are fully respected by the visiting elders; the film also has plenty to say about the price these mavericks pay for their unconventional convictions. (JR)… Read more »

The Voice Of The Moon

Federico Fellini’s last feature (1990)–uncharacteristically adapted from a novel, Ermanno Cavazzoni’s Il poema dei lunatici–is diffuse as narrative, like all of his later pictures, but often touching as poetry. Fellini built a set of a village square, then improvised the script day to day using two well-known Italian comics, Paolo Villaggio and Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful), to play his main characters. Fellini’s feeling for his small-town roots pays off intermittently, though this is decidedly a cut below Amarcord. If you care a lot about the director’s work you should definitely check this out. (JR)… Read more »

The Middleman

A moving story about a sincere college graduate (Pradip Mukherjee) in Calcutta who gradually enters a life of corruption, made by Satyajit Ray in 1975 and adapted by Ray from Sankar’s novel Jana Aranya. It has the best performances of any Ray film I’ve seen and a milieu that may remind you of both Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and John Cassavetes’s Faces. With Satya Banerjee, Dipankar Dey, and Rabi Ghosh; the effective score is by Ray himself. (JR)… Read more »

The Kingdom

I’m tempted to call this 279-minute 1994 Danish miniseries by Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves) a Scandinavian Twin Peaks, but that would be a serious injustice to David Lynch. The arch, smart-ass humor of this supernatural soap opera set in an allegorical hospital tends to be a lot less droll (though it has its moments), and thanks to crude video transfers the visual interest is relatively minimal, apart from the novelty of using documentary techniques to handle fantasy material. Codirected by Morten Arnfred and cowritten by Niels Vorsel and Tomas Gislason, this might be more fun on TV once a week, which is what it was designed for; the plot involves ghosts, seances, organ transplants, voodoo, hypnosis, a secret lodge of doctors, and a bizarre pregnancy, among other crosscutting plot developments. Presiding over much of the action are a petulant Swedish doctor (Ernst-Hugo Jaregard) who hates Danes and a medium disguised as a patient (Kirsten Rolffes) who holds seances. (JR)… Read more »

Casino

Simultaneously quite watchable and passionless, Martin Scorsese’s three-hour dissection of power in Las Vegas (1995), set principally in the 70s, sometimes comes across like an anthology of his previous collaborations with Robert De Niroabove all GoodFellas, though here the characters are high rollers to begin with. By far the most interesting star performance is by Sharon Stone as a classy hooker destroyed by her marriage to a bookie (De Niro, in the least interesting star performance) selected by the midwest mob to run four casinos. There’s an interesting expositional side to the film, with De Niro and Joe Pesci’s characters both serving as interactive narrators, but the film never becomes very involving as drama, and the appropriation of Georges Delerue’s theme from Godard’s Contempt is the tackiest hommage since the use of Singin’ in the Rain in A Clockwork Orange. With James Woods, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, and L.Q. Jones. (JR)… Read more »

Curfew

Writer-director Rashid Masharawi offers a visually striking, dramatically effective depiction (1994) of 24 hours in the life of a Palestinian family living in a refugee camp on the Gaza Strip in 1993, shortly before the beginning of peace negotiations. An indefinite curfew is announced while a young boy in the family reads aloud a letter from his older brother, who’s studying in Germany; the effect of the occupation on the community as a whole as well as on a single family is explored in some detail. Recommended. (JR)… Read more »

Eyes Without A Face

As Dave Kehr originally described it, a classic example of the poetry of terror. Georges Franju’s 1959 horror film, based on a novel by Jean Redon, is about a plastic surgeon who’s responsible for the car accident that leaves his daughter disfigured; he attempts to rebuild her face with transplants from attractive young women he kidnaps with the aid of his assistant. As absurd and as beautiful as a fairy tale, this chilling, nocturnal black-and-white masterpiece was originally released in this country dubbed and under the title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, but it’s much too elegant to warrant the usual psychotronic treatment. It may be Franju’s best feature, and Eugen Schufftan’s exquisite cinematography deserves to be seen in 35-millimeter. With Pierre Brasseur, Edith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Francois Guerin, and Claude Brasseur; Maurice Jarre composed the music. In French with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

Toy Story

Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios join forces on an entertaining computer-generated, hyperrealist animation feature (1995) that’s also in effect a toy catalog. Given all the details in this G-rated picture about plucked-out eyes and severed limbs, the assumption appears to be that toy characters aren’t real enough to be disturbing, though they certainly tend to be more lifelike here than the humans. (There’s even a stirring climax when an assortment of mutilated and grafted-together mutant toys threaten to take revenge on the sadistic human boy who created thema moment recalling The Island of Dr. Moreau and Freaks.) The main toy characters here are a cowboy and a space cadet, though there’s the usual Disney-style collection of secondary roles. The voices of some of the toys are delivered by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, and Jim Varney; directed by John Lasseter from a screenplay by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Starting Place

An American radical based in Paris since the 70s, Robert Kramer is an important independent filmmaker who has been almost completely ignored in this country, though many French critics regard him as one of our major artists. His best known work includes such ambitious fiction features as The Edge, Ice, Milestones, and Route One, as well as documentaries, including The People’s War, which he shot in Hanoi during the height of the Vietnam war. Kramer did something some years ago that few Americans, hawks or doves, had thought of doing at the time: he went back to Vietnam. This personal essay film (1993), narrated by the filmmaker, dares to confront and reflect on the multifaceted implications of such a visit, and shows us the people he encountered therea varied crew of Vietnamese and Americans. Beautifully and evocatively edited, with a grace that recalls Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her, the film thoughtfully, provocatively, and movingly engages a subject that’s been an enforced blank spot in this country’s consciousnessa denial made more obvious by such ersatz Vietnam movies as Casualties of War and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, as well as depictions of the war without Vietnamese, as in Forrest Gump.… Read more »

Voyage-surprise

This 1947 French comedy about a mystery tour on a ramshackle busmade by the Prevert brothers, director Pierre and writer Jacques, both first-generation surrealistsis widely regarded as a classic. The cast includes Maurice Baquet, Martine Carol, and Etienne Decroux. (JR)… Read more »

I Live In Fear

A 1955 feature by Akira Kurosawa and one of his most underrated, starring Toshiro Mifune as an aging patriarch who, frightened by the prospect of a nuclear war, decides to sell his family business and move to a farm in Brazil. Along with Kurosawa’s sublime Rhapsody in August, which also deals with the atomic bomb, this was probably the most poorly received work of his entire career, but I persist in finding it among the most memorable: eerie, troubling, and haunting. In Japanese with subtitles. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

Short Films By Federico Fellini

Three sketches by Fellini from portmanteau films of the 50s and 60s. I no longer recall The Marriage Agency, which comes from the 1953 Love in the City, but The Temptations of Dr. Antonio (1962), from Boccaccio ’70, the principal model for Woody Allen’s contribution to New York Stories, and Toby Dammit (1960), from the Poe anthology Spirits of the Dead, are striking and exceptional fantasies. (JR)… Read more »

Working Girl

Melanie Griffith plays Tess McGill, an ambitious secretary from Staten Island who dreams of making inroads as a big-time executive broker, in this movie directed by Mike Nichols from a screenplay by Kevin Wade. Although executed with polish, this is basically a corny Hollywood success story with a female Horatio Alger, an easily recognizable Prince Charming (Harrison Ford), and a wicked-witch villain (Sigourney Weaver). But Griffith’s talent, energy, and sexiness give it some drive and punch. With Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Philip Bosco, and Olympia Dukakis (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Rights And Reactions

Phil Zwickler and Jane Lippman’s documentary tape about the recent, successful fight for a gay rights ordinance in New York. A world premiere, to be shown with the British Framed Youth: Revolt of the Teenage Perverts, about lesbian and gay teenagers eliciting public opinion on homosexuality, produced by the teenagers themselves.… Read more »

Revanche

An effective mood piece from Greece, directed by Nikos Vergitsis. A young man is shaken (literally) out of his apathy when an earthquake strikes his apartment building; he resolves to finally make his move on his best friend’s girl, whom he has worshiped from afar. There aren’t many surprises in the script (which might have served any young director of the French New Wave), but Vergitsis keeps it percolating with striking atmospheres and sudden leaps into stylization. (JR)… Read more »