Daily Archives: January 1, 1998

For Ever Mozart

Jean-Luc Godard takes on the Bosnian war in this 1997 French-Swiss production, broken into four segments: Theater, You Don… Read more »

Divided Heaven

Konrad Wolf’s 1964 East German feature was reportedly influenced by Hiroshima, mon amour in both its form and its juxtaposition of a female search for identity with an important historical eventin this case the building of the Berlin Wall. Criticized prior to its release for being too experimental, the film went on to become a popular and critical success, though it’s seldom screened in these parts. In German with subtitles; the running time is about 110 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

The Surf Is At Rest

A 1997 video documentary by Reza Allamehzadeh, an exiled Iranian filmmaker living in Holland, about the persecution of Iranian intellectuals by the shah’s secret police. Most of the testimonies here from other Iranian exiles living in Europe relate to the arrest of a dozen writers, artists, and filmmakers in 1972 for an alleged plot to kidnap the crown prince and queen; two were executed, and three others, including Allamehzadeh, received life sentences that were suspended during the 1979 Iranian revolution (although Allamehzadeh’s further difficulties with the new Islamic government led to his exile four years later). Dutch students who protested the original arrests are also interviewed, as are such writers as Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani, Faraj Sarkuhi, and Abas Maroofi. (JR)… Read more »

Kundun

Recounting the life of the 14th Dalai Lama prior to his departure from Tibet, this highly uncharacteristic feature by Martin Scorsese (1997) is still his best since The King of Comedy, but you can’t profitably approach it expecting either the violence or the stylistic punchiness of something like GoodFellas. Scripted by Melissa Mathison (in close consultation with the Dalai Lama and his family) and cast almost exclusively with Tibetan exiles, this nonreligious movie about a religious leader is beautiful, abstract, charged with mystery, but never pretentious. Far from dictating a position on the Dalai Lama, the film doesn’t even define a particular point at which the spoiled toddler is transformed into a holy man; a good deal of the historical, political, and religious context is implied rather than explained, and most of the major events occur offscreen. Despite the questionable wallpaper score by Philip Glass, Scorsese’s delicate, inquisitive style has an inevitability and a rightness all its own. 134 min. (JR)… Read more »

Jour De Fete

Jacques Tati’s first feature, a euphoric comedy set in a sleepy village, was meant to be the first French feature in color; it was shot in 1947 using two cameras, one color and one black and white. But the new Thomson-Color process failed to yield results that could be printed, so in 1949 the film was released in black and white. Fifteen years later, Tati released a recut version in which a few details were colored by means of stencils, the version generally available ever sinceat least until Tati’s daughter Sophie, a professional film editor, and film technician Francois Ede decided to restore the original color in 1994. Their meticulous work took well over a year, and what emerges is truly precious: a color print that looks like 1947 itself. As in all of Tati’s features, the plot is minimal: during Bastille Day festivities, Francois (Tati), the local postman, encounters a newsreel about streamlined postal delivery in America and attempts to clean up his act accordingly. But the exquisite charm of this masterpiece has less to do with individual gags (funny though many of them are) than with Tati’s portrait of a highly interactive French village after the wara view of paradise suffused with affection and poetry.… Read more »

The Murderers Are Among Us

Hildegard Knefdescribed as the thinking man’s Marlene Dietrich back when machocentric definitions were more acceptablewon her first starring role in this 1946 feature, playing a concentration-camp survivor who tries to bring a Nazi war criminal to justice. Wolfgang Staudte… Read more »

East Side Story

The words communist musical may call to mind tractors and factoriesboth of which are certainly in evidence herebut this fascinating and enjoyable 1996 documentary by Romanian-born filmmaker Dana Ranga and American-born independent Andrew Horn presents the singular genre as a conflict between capitalist glitz and socialist poetry, revealing both the Marxists’ tragicomic attempts to beat the West at its own game and the homegrown folksiness of their efforts. Reportedly only 40-odd musical features were produced in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, and Romania prior to the collapse of communism, and roughly half of them are excerpted here. Ranga and Horn interview writers, directors, stars, and ordinary viewers of communist musicals, as well as one prestigious film historian (Maya Turorskaya, best known here for her book on Andrei Tarkovsky). The selection of clips isn’t everything it might have beenI regret the absence of any examples by Alexander Medvedkin, some of which are glimpsed in Chris Marker’s The Last Bolshevik, and eastern European critics have cited other omissions. But Ranga and Horn’s insights into communist film production and their story of how the communist musical triumphed or withered in its various settings offer plenty of food for thought. It’s a grand subject, worth considering for more than its camp value.… Read more »

The Ice Storm

From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 1998). — J.R.

The-Ice-Storm

Onetime independent producer James Schamus adapted this 1997 feature from Rick Moody’s novel about sexual confusion and hypocrisy in Connecticut, set during Thanksgiving 1973. Existentially speaking, this is puritanical Hollywood yuppie-think, right down to its inevitable retribution reel. Its characters ride the same commuter trains as Whit Stillman’s, but the higher forces placing them there are less up-front about their neocon refusal to see beyond their own class-bound hides. I can’t deny director Ang Lee’s sensitivity with actors or the fine cast strutting its stuff (including Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, and Sigourney Weaver); some of the period details are fun, and Lee offers some nicely observed moments. But the tragic and highly “symbolic” death toward the end, which is supposed to illustrate the sins of the parents being visited upon their children, barely resonates at all, because most of the insights are strictly incidental. The film elicits guilty, lascivious chuckles, not analysis. (JR)

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