Monthly Archives: April 1994

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

If you know much about pianist and musical visionary Gould, this intelligent Canadian feature (1993) by Francois Girard may leave you feeling somewhat dissatisfied, and if you know much about avant-garde film, you’ll recognize this as a popularized simplification and dilution of the much better work of conceptual artists like Michael Snow, not as anything especially new. But if you fit neither category, this is a fascinating and easy-to-take set of musings on a fascinating artist. Whether the sequences actually number 32 is a moot point, but the frequent shifting of stylistic gears between various fictional and documentary formats, a performance by Colm Feore as Gould that doesn’t try to re-create any of his keyboard behavior, and a lot of good music on the sound track all help to make up for the middle-class and middlebrow pitches about the inscrutable genius of eccentric artists. Don McKellar collaborated on the script. (JR) Read more

The Retired General

A savage indictment of the greed and materialism overtaking postwar Vietnam, this 1988 adaptation of Nguyen Huy Thiep’s controversial short story of the same title, directed by Nguyen Khac Loi, is a grim satire laced with black humor that recalls some of the Mexican comedies of Luis Bu Read more

The Ref

A pretty funny satire (1994) about a dysfunctional, argumentative American family, headed by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey, going ballistic at Christmastime. A jewel thief played by Denis Leary kidnaps the quarreling couple and winds up functioning as a combined family therapist and comrade-in-arms when the horrid in-laws turn up for dinner. What makes most of this work is the brio of the acting, though the direction by Ted Demme and the script by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss certainly don’t hurt. With Glynis Johns, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., and Raymond J. Barry. R, 93 min. (JR) Read more

Raining Stones

The best Ken Loach movie I’ve seen, this energizing and subversive 1993 English tragicomedy about an unemployed Catholic man on the dole in a Manchester suburba scam-meister who, along with an unemployed friend, specializes in petty thefts and small jobs such as cleaning drains to support his familydeservedly won a special jury prize at Cannes and was an audience favorite at Locarno. Inspired by the real-life experiences of screenwriter Jim Allen, the plot hinges on the hero’s desperate efforts to retain his self-respect against all odds after his partner’s van is stolen. He’s supposed to somehow get his daughter the traditional white dress, shoes, veil, and gloves for her upcoming first communion, and complications and emotions escalate. The movie has a terrific payoff. With Bruce Jones, Julie Brown, Ricky Tomlinson, Tom Hickey, and Gemma Phoenix. (JR) Read more


This college gross-out comedy (1994) is good, amusing, disreputable fununtil it starts getting solemn and preachy. In keeping with the usual checks and balances of Hollywood exploitation, the ribbing of various campus protest groups is eventually balanced by the obnoxiousness of the neocons, and the hero’s closing (and rather class-blind) sermon on the virtues of democracy is immediately, cheerfully illustrated by the entire student body virtually turning into a lynch mob (which is OK as long as the lynch victim is a neocon villain). Directed by actor Hart Bochner (not badly) from a script by Zak Penn and Adam Leff; with Jeremy Piven, Chris Young, and David Spade. 79 min. (JR) Read more

On The Bridge

A fascinating documentary (1992) that’s much easier to watch than you’d think. Filmmaker Frank Perry (David and Lisa, Mommie Dearest) charts his own determined fight against inoperable cancer, and the amazing thing is how cheerful it makes him seem. Part of his philosophy (and the film’s) is that state of mind influences state of body, which means that he tries out all sorts of alternative healing methods, many of which seem to work; perhaps even more important is the attitude he takes toward his search and his joyful sense of discovery. The film is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what it includes (we learn nothing about his family or his closest friends, apart from his cameraman and sound person), but what it includes seems like very strong medicine. (JR) Read more

Max Mon Amour

With the possible exception of Kurosawa, Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses, Empire of Passion, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) is the greatest living Japanese filmmaker. Unfortunately, most Americans’ knowledge of the modernist Japanese cinema doesn’t include Death by Hanging, Boy, The Man Who Left His Will on Film, The Ceremony, and many other Oshima masterworks. Max Mon Amour (1986) isn’t as good as those movies, but then what else is? This dry drawing-room comedy about an English diplomat’s wife (Charlotte Rampling) who has a serious affair with a chimpanzee was produced by Serge Silberman, producer of Bunuel’s last films, and written by Bunuel’s cowriter on the same films, Jean-Claude Carriere. Much of this film’s ongoing humor derives from the human couple’s sense of decorum; in a game effort to preserve his marriage, the diplomat (Anthony Higgins), who has a mistress of his own, arranges to have the chimp moved into their flat. Even for a filmmaker who essentially changes style with each pictureand has a reputation as a taboo breakerthis is uncharacteristic: the poker-faced surrealism of civilized people attempting to be mature about a woman’s passion for a chimp seems, not surprisingly, more like Bunuel than Oshima. (JR) Read more

The Little Girl Of Hanoi

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Hai Ninh’s 1974 Vietnamese propaganda feature, partly filmed during the U.S. bombing of Hanoi in 1972, is how strong and accomplished and beautiful it is, given the almost impossible circumstances under which it was made. The simple but powerful story centers on a little girl wandering through the rubble of the city looking for her parents, until a soldier takes her under his wing. Told partially through flashbacks and incorporating everything from animation to documentary footage to studio rear projection, the film is remarkable not only for its sincerity and emotional directness but for its accomplished visual style. And though it was clearly designed to boost morale, its anti-American feeling is remarkably mild given what we were doing to Vietnam at the time, especially compared to the anti-Vietnamese sentiments expressed in The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter; there’s even a sympathetic American character, a nurse shown caring for wounded Vietnamese. (JR) Read more

Kristina Talking Pictures

A 1976 experimental narrative feature by former dancer Yvonne Rainerwitty, word happy, and at her most Godardian (as well as abstruse) as she traces the relationship between a middle-class female artist and her lover through fragmented (and fragmentary) texts, postcard collages, various actors (including Rainer) playing the same roles, and vintage Rainer wisecracks. 90 min. (JR) Read more

Knocks At My Door

Adapted from a successful play, this tense Venezuelan political thriller (1992), directed with craft and discretion by Alejandro Saderman, follows the principled decision of a nun to shelter a fugitive from armed rebels during a civil war, the ambivalent cooperation she elicits from a fellow nun, and the price they both have to pay for their courage. Saderman sticks to the claustrophobic feeling I assume the original play had, while still conveying a detailed sense of the surrounding community, from mayor to bishop to shopkeeper. Wisely, he tends to veer away from close-ups when he wants certain dramatic points to register; indeed, many of this film’s finest momentsmost of them related to the performance of Veronica Oddo, who plays the more committed nuntranspire in long shot. (JR) Read more

Jimmy Hollywood

Yet another step down the ladder from Diner by writer-director-producer Barry Levinson. This is an unconvincing tale of a would-be Hollywood actor (Joe Pesci) who, with his slow-witted sidekick (Christian Slater), becomes a vigilante bringing petty thieves and dope dealers to justice and turning into something of a TV news hero as a consequence. The conceit is ripe for glib homilies and generalizations, and Levinson lets us know how profound it’s all supposed to be. What one mainly comes away with is tons of condescension designed to flatter a middle-class audience; with Victoria Abril. (JR) Read more


A striking 1983 independent short film by Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) about a light-skinned black woman in Hollywood during the studio era. 34 min. (JR) Read more


Alternately wise and very funny in its treatment of tribalism and in its grasp of neocolonial corruption, Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene’s seventh feature (1992, 115 min.) has so much to say about contemporary Africa that you emerge from it with a sense of understanding an entire society from top to bottom. A political activist and Catholic figurehead known as Guelwaar (which means the noble one) dies from a beating after delivering an impassioned speech against foreign aid and its attendant corruptions, and when friends and family gather for his funeral they’re shocked to discover that his body is missing. It emerges that he was accidentally buried in a Muslim cemetery, and the tribal, political, and cultural disputes that arise from this constitute the remainder of this beautifully told story. (A lot of significance is attached to when the characters speak French and when they speak Wolof, the principal language of Senegal.) In French and Wolof with subtitles. 115 min. (JR) Read more

The Girl On The River

This lyrical, bitter 1987 Vietnamese feature, directed with style and distinction by Dang Nhat Minh, focuses on two womena prostitute working on a boat on the Perfumed River in central Vietnam during the war who winds up sheltering and having an affair with a wounded Vietcong leader, and a reporter hearing her tell her story in the present. A blistering attack on both censorship and the changes in Vietnamese society since the war, it offers a provocative juxtaposition of past and present, even if it reaches for a rather outlandish plot coincidence in doing so. (JR) Read more

Frosh: Nine Months In A Freshman Dorm

A fascinating 1993 documentary by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine that follows eight freshmen living in a Stanford University coed hall over an academic year. Unless Muzak is perpetually heard on the Stanford campus, inserting it on the sound track throughout insults everyone in the audience; but in other respects, including the use of topic headings for various sections, the film does an admirable job of organizing 250 hours of material into a brisk 97 minutes. The eight teenagers are ethnically diverse, as are their sexual attitudes and class and religious backgrounds, all of which are discussed at length. What emerges isn’t exactly profound, but it’s still highly interesting. (JR) Read more