Monthly Archives: June 2002

Femme Fatale

Try to imagine a synthesis of every previous Brian De Palma film; you’ll come up with something not very different from his first made-in-France movie, a personal project for which he takes sole script credit. I enjoyed every minute of it, maybe because De Palma took such obvious pleasure in putting it all together. If you decide at the outset that this needn’t have any recognizable relationship to the world we live in, you might even find it a delight. With Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas, and Peter Coyote. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Cross Of Lorraine

World War 2 propaganda set in a POW camp by the neglected if uneven Tay Garnett and featuring an intriguing offbeat cast: Jean-Pierre Aumont, Gene Kelly, Cedric Hardwicke, Richard Whorf, Joseph Calleia, Peter Lorre, and Hume Cronyn (1943, 90 min.) (JR)… Read more »

Jacques Rivette, The Night Watchman

Claire Denis’ first-rate video documentary (1990) about filmmaker Jacques Rivette, produced for French television, has many things to recommend it. The main interviewer is the great critic Serge Daney, who, two years before his death, converses with Rivette while relaxing in a cafe and strolling around Paris (Denis interjects a few questions toward the end); since both men were former editors of Cahiers du Cinema, not to mention groundbreaking and highly articulate critics, they have a lot to discuss apart from Rivette’s filmmaking. Clips from many of Rivette’s major films are included, as are interviews with some of Rivette’s actors, such as Bulle Ogier and Jean-Francois Stevenin. Best of all, the film beautifully captures Rivette the man, as both solitary cinephile and exploratory filmmaker. In French with subtitles. 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Grey Zone

Director Tim Blake Nelson adapts his own play, which was partly based on a memoir about Auschwitz’s 12th Sonderkommandoone of the special squads of Jewish prisoners awarded privileges and a few extra months of life in exchange for helping to exterminate the other Jews in the camp. This is grueling to watch and to think about, which doesn’t necessarily make it edifying, though the actors (including Nelson, David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, and Natasha Lyonne) certainly do serious work. The questions of how the holocaust can be responsibly represented on film have been resolved provisionally only by Night and Fog and Shoah. This film, proceeding as if such questions don’t exist, serves up so many peripheral details about Auschwitz that I wondered whether the feel-good tactics of Schindler’s List were any worse than the feel-bad tactics here. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Russian Ark

One of the most staggering technical achievements in cinemaa single shot lasting 95 minutes while moving through 33 rooms in the world’s largest museum, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (which also encompasses the Winter Palace). Part pageant and museum tour, part theme-park ride and historical meditation, it also traverses two centuries of czarist Russia, with offscreen filmmaker Alexander Sokurov engaged in an ongoing dialogue with an on-screen 19th-century French diplomat. Sokurov used close to 2,000 actors and extras and three live orchestras in making what may be the world’s only unedited single-take feature as well as the longest Steadicam sequence ever shot. The problem with these feats is that they threaten to overwhelm the film’s content, both as complex historical commentary and as aesthetic and theoretical gesture. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Why Daney Still Matters

A panel discussion about the late Serge Daney, often and plausibly cited as the most brilliant and important French film critic since Andre Bazin. Participants will include Bill Krohn, the Los Angeles correspondent for Cahiers du cinema (which Daney edited and wrote for) and author of the invaluable Hitchcock at Work filmmaker Jackie Raynal (Deux fois, Hotel New York), a close friend of Daney’s, and Steve Erickson, a New York-based film critic who has made much of Daney’s work in English available on his web site (www.home.earthlink.net/~steevee); the only reason why it won’t include me, who’s erroneously listed on the schedule, is that I’ll be participating in another panel discussion taking place in Chicago at the same time. (JR)… Read more »

Faust

The great F.W. Murnau directed only one real blockbuster in Germany, just before coming to America to make his masterpiece, Sunrise; extravagant in every sense, Faust (1926) is laden with references to Dutch, German, and Italian painting and was rivaled only by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in driving the UFA studio toward bankruptcy. Like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, this extraordinary piece of artistry and craftsmanship integrates its dazzling special effects so seamlessly that they’re indistinguishable from the film’s narrative, poetry, and, above all, metaphysics. It’s based mainly on the first part of Goethe’s play, and though some of the performances (notably Emil Jannings’s Mephisto) can be ham-fisted, particularly when the film tries its hand at low comedy, Camilla Horn makes a striking Marguerite, and G… Read more »

Pat And Mike

One of the better Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn comedies (1952, 95 min.)not so much for the screenplay by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, which lacks the bite and sophistication of Adam’s Rib, as for the relaxed and graceful interplay of the stars. Tracy’s a hustling trainer who grooms Hepburn’s gifted gym teacher to be the world’s greatest woman athlete. George Cukor directed; with Aldo Ray and Jim Backus. (JR)… Read more »

Scaramouche

Fruity and colorful 1952 MGM swashbuckler, based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini and set in 18th-century France, with a very extended climactic swordfight. Directed by the underrated George Sidney; with Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer, and Eleanor Parker. 118 min. (JR)… Read more »