Daily Archives: December 1, 2000

The House Of Mirth

If she slipped she recovered her footing, and it was only afterward that she was aware of having recovered it each time on a slightly lower level. Edith Wharton’s encapsulation of the narrative form of her tragic (and sexy) 1905 novel, describing the progressive defeat of socialite Lily Bart by the ugly indifference of Wharton’s own leisure class, is given an extra touch of Catholic doom in Terence Davies’s passionate, scrupulous, and personal adaptation, which to a surprising degree preserves the moral complexity of most of the major characters. It’s regrettable if understandable that the Jewishness of social climber Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia) is no longer an issue, and Lawrence Selden, Lily’s confidant, is somewhat softened by a miscast Eric Stoltz, but the cast as a whole is astonishingespecially Gillian Anderson as Lily and Dan Aykroyd in his finest performance to date. Davies feels and understands the story thoroughly, giving it a raw emotional immediacy that would be unthinkable in the shopper-friendly adaptations of Merchant-Ivory and their imitators, and the film’s feeling for decor and costumes, derived from both John Singer Sargent paintings and Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons, is exquisite. With Terry Kinney, Laura Linney, Elizabeth McGovern, and Eleanor Bron.… Read more »

Smoking And No Smoking

The consequences of a housewife smoking or not smoking a single cigarette branch out into a dozen separate destinies and parallel universes, each with its own conclusion, in these two French features by Alain Resnais. Adapted and translated from six of the eight comic plays comprising British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, they can be seen alone or together, and in either order. The project, a tour de force for two actors playing multiple roles (Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azema), succeeded at the box office when released in France in 1993, and as a unit the two films swept the Cesars (French Oscars) for best picture, director, actor, and set design. They’ve taken quite a while to surface here; some Americans are put off by the curiosity of typical Yorkshire residents speaking French and by the extreme stylization and deliberate artificiality of the sets. Not everyone will like this interactive experiment, but like every other Resnais film, Smoking (135 min.) and No Smoking (142 min.) are definitely worth checking out. (JR)… Read more »

Holiday Inn

Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire costar in this 1942 musicalwhich is closer to a revue, without much plot but with loads of Irving Berlin tunes. Mark Sandrich directed; with Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Love Letters

By reputation at least, this 1945 romantic melodrama, produced by David O. Selznick, is one of director William Dieterle’s more potent features. Jennifer Jones plays a woman who suffers amnesia from war shock and falls in love with Joseph Cotten. The famous theme song is by Victor Young, the script by Ayn Rand (adapting Chris Massie’s novel Pity My Simplicity); Lee Garmes did the reportedly lush cinematography. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Marie’s Counter

Film editor Sophie Tatischeff, the second oldest child of Jacques Tati, was born during the shooting of Jour de fete and a few years back helped to restore the color version. This 1998 feature, Le comptoir, marks her debut as a director, and to her credit she’s pretty much her own person as a filmmaker. Apart from a penchant for long shots, the only thing Tati-esque about this is its lighthearted nostalgia for traditional French life and its curiosity about the changes brought to it by technology. Marie (Mireille Perrier) purchases a bar for her family’s tavern when she moves into a village in Brittany, and much of the film follows the history of this imposing object and the village, before and after the arrival of electricity, during wartime and the occupation, and after the arrival of tractors. Tatischeff seems more comfortable in portraying the present than in imagining the past, and her film suffers at times from its dispersed focus. But this is a likable, low-key effort with an especially good feel for locale and landscape. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Wind Will Carry Us

From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 2000). — J.R.

This ambiguous comic masterpiece (1999, 118 min.) could be Abbas Kiarostami’s greatest film to date; it’s undoubtedly his richest and most challenging. A media engineer from Tehran (Behzad Dourani) arrives in a remote mountain village in Iranian Kurdistan, where he and his three-person camera crew secretly wait for a century-old woman to die so they can film or tape an exotic mourning ritual at her funeral. To do this he has to miss a family funeral of his own, and every time his mobile phone rings the poor reception forces him to drive to a cemetery atop a mountain, where he sometimes converses with a man digging a deep hole for an unspecified telecommunications project. Back in the village the digger’s fiancee milks a cow for the engineer while he flirts with her by quoting an erotic poem that gives the movie its title. Over half the major characters — including the crew, the dying woman, and the digger — are kept mainly or exclusively offscreen, and the dense and highly composed sound track often refers to other offscreen elements, peculiarities of Kiarostami’s style that solicit the viewer’s imaginative participation. What’s most impressive about this global newspaper and millennial statement is how much it tells us about our world — especially regarding the acute differences in perception and behavior between media experts and everyone else.… Read more »

The Lemon Drop Kid

Bob Hope stars as a racetrack con artist who has to pay off gangsters in a 1951 comedy adapted from a Damon Runyon story. The direction is credited to Sidney Lanfield, but in fact this is the feature debut of Frank Tashlin, the screenwriter, who did most of the work. With Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, Fred Clark, and William Frawley; the film is often remembered today for its Christmas song, Silver Bells. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

Family Values [REQUIEM FOR A DREAM]

From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 2000). — J.R.

Requiem for a Dream

**

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Written by Hubert Selby Jr. and Aronofsky

With Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald, and Louise Lasser.

Darren Aronofsky’s first feature, Pi (1998), had more style than substance — or perhaps it’s just that the only thing I now remember with much clarity is its razzle-dazzle style. The black-and-white cinematography and the jazzy editing were pretty attractive in a disposable sort of way, though critic Bill Boisvert had a point when he suggested in these pages that the attitude of this metaphysical thriller was “profoundly anti-intellectual,” rightly adding that this was “true of most indie genius films.” (He may have been more right than he realized. His second example was the 1997 Good Will Hunting, directed by Gus Van Sant, who’s been offering us nothing but anti-intellectual holiday releases about geniuses ever since — with Alfred Hitchcock rather than Norman Bates as the prodigy in the 1998 Psycho remake and Robert Brown taking the equivalent role in Finding Forrester, which opens on Christmas day.)

When I belatedly caught up with Aronofsky’s second feature, Requiem for a Dream, it was with the hope of seeing something more than just fancy style.… Read more »