Monthly Archives: April 1999

It Happened Here

This speculative 1966 feature by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo exemplifies English independent filmmaking at its most resourceful and intransigent. Paralleling Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which imagined what North America might have become had Hitler won, the film portrays what England might have been like in 1944 had it been invaded and occupied by Germany four years earlier. Fanatically dedicated to period detail and refusing to fall back on stock footage, Brownlow started the film in 1956 at age 18, some time before enlisting military scholar Mollo as a full collaborator and a full decade before the film was finally released. Their decision to use real English fascists and proto-Nazis to express the views of their 1944 counterparts on Jews and euthanasia led to the film’s most interesting sequence being suppressed in the 60s, and it took Brownlow over 30 years to regain the rights to the film so he could restore it, making this the Chicago premiere of the film’s full and original version. As narrative it can be dry and unemphatic (most of the actors are nonprofessionals), but as speculation it’s highly convincing and endlessly fascinating. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography is by Peter Suschitzky, who went on to work for John Boorman, Ken Russell, George Lucas, Tim Burton, and most recently David Cronenberg. Read more

The Adopted Son

A striking first feature (1998) from Kyrgyzstanin fact, the first independent feature ever made in that countryabout everyday life in a rural village, including the pastimes of little boys. The young hero discovers that he’s adopted, following a local tradition of large families giving babies to childless couples. The beautiful cinematography is mainly in black and white, but every shift to color feels like a small miracle, and filmmaker Aktan Abdikalikov is equally adept at building his nuanced sound track piece by piece. (JR) Read more

Western

An interesting, offbeat 1997 French road movie by Manuel Poirier, about a Spanish lady-killer (Sergi Lopez) and a Russian immigrant (Sacha Bourdo) traveling and quarreling their way through Brittany. A rambling but ultimately rather affecting comedy-drama by a talented filmmaker who’s almost completely unknown here, this has a deft feel for lower-middle-class life in rural France that registered strongly on its home front. (JR) Read more

Brother

Another Russian gangster film, you may groan at first, as I did at the onset of this 1997 feature by writer-director Alexei Balabanov (who made the remarkable 1995 short Trofilm). But the further this movie develops, the better it gets — not only as a hard-edged look at Russian life today but also as a finely nuanced psychological study. Starring Sergei Bodrov Jr. (Prisoner of the Mountains), this follows the ups and downs of a young man who returns to Saint Petersburg after leaving the army and discovers that his brother is a hit man. In Russian with subtitles. 99 min. (JR) Read more

Bird On A Wire

Mel Gibson plays a state’s witness in hiding who runs into his college girlfriend (Goldie Hawn), now a prominent lawyer, who thought he died in the 60s. They wind up fleeing cross-country together from two murderous corrupt DEA agents (Bill Duke and David Carradine), who are using the government’s computer technology to track them down. John Badham directed this romantic comedy-adventure romp from a script by David Seltzer, Louis Venosta, and Eric Lerner; it isn’t exactly art but it works pretty well as entertainmentat least until the overproduced and undernourished conclusion, where formulaic predictability sets in, along with certain gaps in logic and continuity (e.g., escaping from the deadly killers, the couple write them a note explaining where they’re going). Hawn and Gibson work well together, and both are encouraged to show a lot of leg; with Stephen Tobolowsky and Joan Severance, who manages to shine in a small part despite some far-fetched dialogue. (JR) Read more