Monthly Archives: September 1995

Sister My Sister

Given my unqualified admiration for Jean Genet’s The Maids, I’m not very sympathetic to the notion of another playwright going back to the crime in provincial France in the 30s that inspired Genet’s play and trying to wring something more out of it. The story concerns incestuous sisters who work for a tyrannical matron and wind up murdering her. The main contribution of Wendy Kesselman, adapting her play My Sister in the House, is to delve into the unhealthy relationship between the matron and her grown daughter. The actors impart a great deal of neurotic intensity to their roles, but the combination of an American writer, an American director (Nancy Meckler, whose main background is the English stage), and English actors all tackling a very French crime of passion failed to convince me. By and large, this is a stunt, and far too obvious in its telegraphed class contrasts (1994). With Joely Richardson, Jodhi May, Julie Waters, and Sophie Thursfield. (JR)… Read more »

Agatha

Subtitled The Unlimited Readings, this 1981 Marguerite Duras feature is one of her most strongly minimalist, consisting mainly of an offscreen poetic dialogue between a sister and brother about their memories and their incestuous feelings for each other (spoken by Duras and her companion Yann Andrea) and shots of empty beaches and a virtually deserted hotel lobby where one occasionally glimpses Bulle Ogier (and, less often, Andrea). The results are not devoid of interest, but far less absorbing and resonant than Duras’ India Song and Le camion. (JR)… Read more »

Nathalie Granger

A neglected early feature by Marguerite Duras (1972), produced by Luc Moullet, full of poker-faced, absurdist humor and deceptive sound cues. Jeanne Moreau and Lucia Bose sit around in a country house doing very little apart from listening to radio reports about two teenage killers in the neighborhood. Occasionally they’re joined by their two little girls (one of them named Nathalie Granger); more often we’re reminded of them by the offscreen sound of their piano lessons. On two occasions, a very young Gerard Depardieu turns up, trying to sell a washing machine and getting more than he bargains for. It’s hard to describe this beautiful miniature, but somehow it reduces the whole modern world to audiovisual shorthand; Duras’ verbal and visual terseness has seldom been put to better use. (JR)… Read more »

Such A Long Absence

Directed by Henri Colpieditor of Alain Resnais’ first two features, Hiroshima, mon amour and Last Year at Marienbadand coscripted by Marguerite Duras, this melancholy tone poem focuses on a woman who runs a workers’ cafe in a dingy Paris suburb and an amnesiac derelict she comes to believe is her long-lost husband, who apparently was deported to Germany during the war and may have died there. Decidedly pre-New Wave in its conventional narrative style, though attractively filmed in black-and-white ‘Scope, this picture, which won the grand prize at Cannes in 1961, is interesting today mainly as a haunting period piece. With Alida Valli and Georges Wilson. (JR)… Read more »

En Rachachant and Les Enfants

Two very different adaptations of the same children’s book by Marguerite Duras, Ah Ernesto!, about a seven-year-old boy who refuses to go to school. The first, earlier and to my mind better, is En rachachant (1982), a brilliant, rigorous, and hilarious nine-minute black-and-white short by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, shot by the great Henri Alekan. The second, Les enfants (1984), adapted and directed by Duras herself, is 94 minutes long and has a middle-aged actor (Axel Bougousslavsky) playing the part of Ernesto as well as a more ponderous way of wrestling with some of the same cosmic issues, though it’s still a fascinating, far from routine piece of work. Tatiana Moukhine and Daniel Gelin play the boy’s parents. (JR)… Read more »

Moderato Cantabile

In a performance that won her a best-actress prize at Cannes, Jeanne Moreau stars as a wife and mother living in a steel town near Bordeaux who witnesses a murder and later gets to know another person (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who saw the same crime. This seldom-screened 1960 feature was directed by Peter Brook from a script he wrote with Marguerite Duras, adapting her novel; it was Duras’ first screenplay after Hiroshima, mon amour and Brook’s first feature after The Beggar’s Opera, made seven years earlier. (JR)… Read more »

Le Camion

One of Marguerite Duras’ most radically minimalist features (the title means The Truck), this also happens to be one of her best, as well as one of her most accessible. Two kinds of material are intercut: a truck drives through a landscape as Duras reads aloud a script to Gerard Depardieu and replies to his questions about a truck driving through a landscape and picking up a female hitchhiker. Compared to many of this filmmaker’s other features, this might be described as Duras without duress; thanks to the skill of the writing and the filmmaking and the charisma of Duras and Depardieu, the expected monotony never entirely settles in because the play between sound and image (including the lovely Beethoven on the sound track) keeps feeding the imagination and the wit and the suggestiveness of the text are both infectious. The film also remains visually fresh throughout; even the shots of Duras and Depardieu with the script never seem purely illustrative. Check this one out. (JR)… Read more »

Crows

This creepy little fable by Dorota Kedzierzawska, one of the most talked-about features at Cannes in 1994, describes the adventures of a neglected ten-year-old girl whose mother, a factory worker, takes off with her boyfriend. The girl kidnaps a toddler and treats her more or less the way she feels adults have treated her. As affecting as this is in spots, it often seems overextended, even though it’s only 72 minutes long. Still, you’re not likely to forget it. With Carolina Orsona and Kasia Szcepanik. (JR)… Read more »

Buccaneer Soul

This 1994 feature about a friendship between two intellectuals and writers in the 50s and 60s doesn’t qualify as writer-director Carlos Reichenbach’s best work, but it’s an excellent introduction to one of the most interesting and creative Brazilian filmmakers around. His artistic interests and surreal imagination evoke Raul Ruiz as well as the French New Wave. (JR)… Read more »

Nadja

Dracula’s daughter–and more specifically Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936)–comes to Manhattan’s East Village in a quirky, lyrical independent feature by writer-director Michael Almereyda. It’s shot in luscious, shimmering black and white, with prismatic, pointillist interludes shot with a toy Pixelvision camera (also used by Almereyda in Another Girl, Another Planet, his previous feature), transferred to 35-millimeter without letterboxed framing. Produced by David Lynch, who turns up in a cameo, this offbeat horror item works much better as a dreamy mood piece with striking poetic images and as a semicomic appreciation of a few quintessential low-budget actors than as straight-ahead storytelling. In some ways it’s a throwback to the pathos of Twister, Almereyda’s first feature–a black comic treatment of various dysfunctional family members yearning for normality. With Elina Lowensohn, Martin Donovan, Peter Fonda, Galaxy Craze, Suzy Amis, Karl Geary, and Jared Harris. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, September 1 through 7.… Read more »

Double Happiness

This 1994 Canadian comedy by Mina Shum revolves around a 22-year-old aspiring Chinese actress (Sandra Oh), living in a North American city with her parents and younger sister, who has to choose between her ambitions and traditional family loyalties. I wouldn’t call the film an unqualified success–the acting is uneven, for instance–but I learned a whole lot more about Chinese traditions here than I did from the middle-class crowd pleaser The Wedding Banquet, and Shum kept me amused and engrossed besides. With Stephen Chang, Frances You, and Allanah Ong. Fine Arts.… Read more »