Monthly Archives: September 1999

Voyage to the Beginning of the World

Voyage to the Beginning of the World

Born in 1908, Manoel de Oliveira is the only working director anywhere in the world who started his career in the silent era. For this meditative feature he enlisted the somewhat younger Marcello Mastroianni–in what proved to be Mastroianni’s last performance–to play someone very much like de Oliveira, an aging film director named Manoel setting out on a car trip with a few of his coworkers. Basically an exploration of the director’s Portuguese roots and the French and Portuguese roots of one of the actors, the film is laden with memories both personal and historical, and associations both cultural and familial; a moving (as well as slow-moving) road movie, it resembles many of de Oliveira’s other works in its paradoxical combination of 19th-century modernism and aristocratic Marxism. Not the least of its oddities is the fact that it starts out as a film about Manoel, then shifts focus halfway through to the French actor Jean-Yves Gautier, whose father was Portuguese and who’s meeting his Portuguese aunt for the first time. On the basis of a single viewing, I wouldn’t call this a great film on the level of de Oliveira’s Doomed Love or his recent Inquietude, but it’s one of his best since Valley of Abraham and one of his most accessible.… Read more »

Les bonnes femmes

Les bonnes femmes

Arguably the best as well as the most disturbing movie Claude Chabrol has made to date, this unjustly neglected 1960 feature, his fourth, focuses on the everyday lives and ultimate fates of four young women (Bernadette Lafont, Stephane Audran, Clotilde Joano, and Lucile Saint-Simon) working at an appliance store in Paris and longing for better things. Ruthlessly unsentimental yet powerfully compassionate, it shows Chabrol at his most formally inventive, and it exerted a pronounced influence on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz two decades later. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, September 11, 4:00, 6:00, and 8:00, and Sunday, September 12, 8:15, 312-443-3737.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »

Red Angel

From the Chicago Reader (September 3, 1999). — J.R.

redangel

A shocking and controversial masterpiece, Yasuzo Masumura’s no-bullshit antiwar film tells of an army nurse (Mizoguchi discovery and Masumura regular Ayako Wakao) in the Sino-Japanese war who sexually services an amputee and falls in love with a drug-addicted surgeon. Shot in black-and-white ‘Scope, this 1966 feature can’t be recommended to the squeamish or to viewers bound to the politically correct, but neither its nuanced eroticism nor its passionate, unpredictable moral focus can be easily shaken off. Roughly contemporary with M*A*S*H (as in Altman’s film, scenes of war-front surgery provide a corollary to Vietnam), it sometimes suggests a less comic treatment of the same theme — how to preserve one’s humanity amid impossible circumstances — but its ethics are considerably more developed. This single screening of a 35-millimeter print is an encore to Facets Multimedia Center’s revelatory Masumura retrospective last year, an opportunity equal to discovering Samuel Fuller, Nicholas Ray, or Douglas Sirk. In some respects Red Angel is the strongest Masumura film I’ve seen, and on September 25 Facets will screen his Hoodlum Soldier (1965), which I haven’t [yet] seen; both screenings are part of an ongoing series, “The Return of the Japanese Outlaw Masters.”… Read more »

Mumford

Folk wisdom is sprinkled immoderately into this comedy by writer-director-producer Lawrence Kasdan, about a popular psychologist named Mumford (Loren Dean) solving everyone’s problems in a small town of the same namethe old-fashioned charm and sweetness may remind you at times of stuff by John Ford starring Will Rogers. But the impression doesn’t last long, because most of the wisdom and the characters attached to it start to seem phony as soon as the movie’s over. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this while it lasted, especially for the cast: Jane Adams, Ted Danson, Hope Davis, Jason Lee, Mary McDonnell, David Paymer, Martin Short, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Alfre Woodard, and even Robert Stack in a funny cameo. (JR)… Read more »

For Love Of The Game

Near the end of his career, star pitcher Kevin Costner hurls a masterpiece while reviewing his life. Among the things he has to think about are Kelly Preston as the woman he loves and is losing, Jena Malone as her teenage daughter, and the serious hand injury he’s had to come back from. I can’t imagine what baseball fans will make of this protracted tearjerker and its tortured flashback structure, but fans of director Sam Raimi who welcomed his recent impulses to diversify (The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan) after making his name as a horror specialist may have second thoughts. The actual culprit may be Costner, so bent on giving himself maximum screen time that I doubt even Carl Dreyer could have made much of the results, though I’m told that Universal reedited Costner’s version after he reedited Raimi’s. For the first 100 minutes or so I found this hokey but serviceable; after that my watch became more meaningful than anything I could locate on-screen. Adapted by Dana Stevens from a novel by Michael Shaara; with John C. Reilly and Brian Cox. (JR)… Read more »

Desert Blue

Despite a good cast including Christina Ricci and amiably laid-back plot development, this feature by young writer-director Morgan J. Freeman (Hurricane Streets)not to be confused with the actor Morgan Freemandidn’t really grab me when I watched it on video. Set in and around a California road stop with a population of 89, the story focuses on an unexpected romance between a young local (Brendan Sexton III) and a TV actress (Kate Hudson) stuck in town when a tank truck crashes and the FBI, fearing a toxic spill, quarantines the area. There’s more charm than momentum, but maybe it works better on the big screen. With John Heard, Casey Affleck, and Sara Gilbert. (JR)… Read more »

Absentor Something Like That

An interesting, varied, and often appealing program of experimental short films and videos. Shuk-Shan Lee’s The Sky When It Is a Sunny Dayat 18 minutes, the longest entry in the bunchis a lyrical look at the lives and hobbies of a few blind people, and I especially liked one of the music videos by Kirstin Grieve, made for the band Low, which mixes close-ups of musical details with slow-motion footage of boys playing in piles of autumn leaves. Also on the program, Andy Grieve and Justin Allen’s Red Breath; Carolyn Faber’s Iota (1998); Mary Roland’s The Cabbie (1998); Akiko Iwakawa’s Swing/Everything I Wanted (1997); Amie Siegel’s silent Inclusum Labor Illustrat (1996), which is mainly about fetuses; and Chris Eichenseer’s Goodbye and Rewind (1998). (JR)… Read more »

The Raven

Bela Lugosi has an obsession with Poe (apparently the main excuse for the title) and Boris Karloff is the criminal he treats to a nasty face-lift. The direction of this clammy 1935 horror item is credited to Louis Friedlander, which is actually Lew Landers in hidingperhaps understandably. 62 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mad Monster Party

This 1967 spoof features stop-motion animation and the voices of, among others, Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller; Jules Bass directed. 94 min.… Read more »

Finger Of Guilt

The fourth feature directed in England by American Joseph Losey (1956), credited pseudonymously to Joseph Walton due to the Hollywood blacklist, this serviceable but rarely screened thriller was released overseas in a version ten minutes longer as The Intimate Stranger. Scripted by Casablanca’s Howard Koch (another blacklisted expatriate at the time, signing himself Peter Howard) and shot on a shoestring in a dozen days, it concerns an American film producer (Richard Basehart) working in London whose job and marriage are threatened by an American actress (The Wild One’s Mary Murphy) claiming to be his mistress. It’s less effective than the English thrillers made during the same period by the similarly blacklisted Cy Endfield, though the uses made of an English filmmaking milieu are both convincing and fascinating, and it’s interesting to see Roger Livesey, a Michael Powell regular, turning up in a central part. It seems a Losey specialty to make almost all of his characters unpleasant, but the assured engagement of his best American work and subsequent English films like The Damned is only fitfully apparent here. With Mervyn Johns and Constance Cummings. (JR)… Read more »

Late August, Early September

What’s unexpected as well as moving about this 1998 film by Olivier Assayas, at least in relation to his other recent features (Cold Water, Irma Vep), is how sweet tempered most of it is. Split into six chapters, with several weeks or months separating one section and the next, it follows a group of close friendsmainly a novelist who’s just turned 40 (Francois Cluzet) and is becoming ill, a writer-editor in his 30s (Mathieu Amalric), and their current and former lovers (Virginie Ledoyen, Jeanne Balibar, Arsinee Khanjian, and Mia Hansen-Love). What we don’t know about these charactersand what we don’t see in certain scenesis often as interesting and as important as what we know and see, and Assayas’s sense of how relationships evolve between people over time is conveyed with a rich and vivid novelistic density. With Nathalie Richard and Alex Descas. In French with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blue Streak

For me, a slightly better than average Martin Lawrence action comedy isn’t cause for celebration, just an occasion for yawning a little less strenuouslybut fans who think he’s the cat’s pajamas may be dancing in the streets. This time he’s playing a jewel thief who impersonates a cop in order to recover a diamond he once hid in the police station’s ventilation system. This occasions lots of gags about the innocence and gullibility of copsnot to mention the usual valorizing of guns and vigilante justice and tedious action sequences to begin and end the picture. Les Mayfield directs, while the script, predictably, is by several hands; with Luke Wilson, Peter Greene, and Dave Chappelle. (JR)… Read more »

Romance

French filmmaker and novelist Catherine Breillat is already a disputed figure for the frankness about sex and sexual desire and the lack of political correctness in many of her previous features (e.g., 36 fillette). Inspired in part by Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, this story about a young grammar-school teacher (Caroline Ducey) who starts sleeping around when her lover and flatmate (Sagamore Stevinen) loses interest in having sex with her is Breillat’s most explicit and controversial film to date (if not necessarily her best). The heroine’s voice-over, conventionally poetic and fairly constant, provides a kind of counterpoint to the sex. The story isn’t always believable, and some protracted bondage sequences may stretch your patience if you don’t pick up on their poker-faced comedy (the prosaic man tying the knots, who claims to have made love to 10,000 women, is the heroine’s boss). There’s also some hokey essentialism about motherhood that I could have done without, and when the film drifts off into fantasy at the end, Breillat’s tone becomes less confident. But the eroticism is powerful, and the documentary candor and directness of the sex scenes make this well worth seeing. (JR)… Read more »

The Haunting

A stinker. If a scare is what you’re after, hunt down the 1963 black-and-white ‘Scope version, directed by Robert Wise, which had more chills in its first ten minutes than this can manage from beginning to end. Maybe that’s because it had a storyderived, however loosely, from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. This has director Jan De Bont, who as we know from Speed, Twister, and Speed 2 does theme park rides better than stories or characters. This has a few cheap thrills, all thanks to special effects, but not much to string them together besides some distracting, disconnected leftovers from the Wise version. But at the screening I attended, the numerous awkward and hokey moments did provoke plenty of laughs. With Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and bits by Bruce Dern and Marian Seldes. The script was written by David Self. (JR)… Read more »