Monthly Archives: June 2001


A gripping, stylish, unpredictable, and provocative thriller from Spain (1995) by Mariano Barroso. Javier Bardem stars as an ambitious petty criminal who insinuates himself into the theater world of Madrid by convincing a celebrated film director that he’s his illegitimate and long-abandoned son, meanwhile planning with his two roommates to rob him blind; with Frederico Lupi and Silvia Munt. 93 min. (JR) Read more

La Belle Noiseuse

Winner of Cannes’ grand prix in 1991, Jacques Rivette’s absorbing if leering four-hour free adaptation of Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece concerns the work of a painter (Michel Piccoli) with his beautiful and mainly nude model (Emmanuelle Beart), plus the input and pressures of the painter’s wife and former model (Jane Birkin), the model’s boyfriend, and an art dealer who used to be involved with the painter’s wife. The complex forces that produce art are the film’s obsessive focus, and rarely has Rivette’s use of duration to look at process been so spellbinding; hardly a moment is wasted. Rivette’s superb sense of rhythm and mise en scene never falters, and the plot has plenty of twists. With exquisite cinematography by William Lubtchansky, beautiful location work in the south of France (mainly at an 18th-century chateau), and drawings and paintings executed by Bernard Dufour. The title translates roughly as the beautiful nutty woman; it’s also the title of the masterpiece the painter is bent on finishing. In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Bread and Roses

Who wants to think about Mexican janitors–illegal aliens, working in the buildings where movie stars do business with their agents, who decide to unionize to end their exploitation? Ken Loach–an unreconciled, unreconstructed Marxist–that’s who. And thanks to this stirring piece of agitprop, I do too. I’ve been hearing a lot of negative things about this picture from colleagues, but it seems like the principal crime Loach can be charged with–and it’s pretty serious–is being politically provocative and melodramatic. For me, that’s what makes Bread and Roses (2000) pretty exciting in spots. Gerald Peary, for instance, says the film “suffers from clumsy acting (mainly Hispanic amateurs), an obvious screenplay by Paul Laverty, and a simplistic view of the characters.” But I was struck by how compelling and believable many of those amateurs are (I especially enjoyed watching a black pro teach the heroine how to vacuum), and by the moral ambivalence and complexity of the heroine (Pilar Padilla). The screenplay is regrettably reluctant to offer certain details–such as management’s viewpoint of the labor dispute’s resolution–and it could have provided a more balanced and analytical view of the labor organizer’s tactics. That the movie aims at the gut bothered me less: that’s what many of the best political dramas do–such as Salt of the Earth, which this frequently brings to mind. Read more