Daily Archives: November 1, 2002

The Weight Of Water

Like Neil LaBute’s Possession, this melodrama features a lot of historical sleuthing in the present intercut with a lot of repressive sexual chicanery in the 1800s, as an English photographer (Catherine McCormack) sails to the Isles of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast to investigate the long-ago murders of two young women. But whereas Possession was relatively light on its feet, this is so overloaded from the outset that it can only sink. If all that interests you is the solution to the mystery story (which is pretty good, featuring Sarah Polley, Vinessa Shaw, Ciaran Hinds, and the late Katrin Cartlidge), then this will keep you engaged roughly half the time. If you’re more interested in the sexual machinations on board the sailboat (with Sean Penn as the photographer’s famous-poet husband, Josh Lucas as his brother, and Elizabeth Hurley as the latter’s flirtatious English girlfriend), then you may be irritated by the flashbacks that keep interrupting them. Even if you like both stories, you may be puzzled by director Kathryn Bigelow’s overwrought mixmaster effects. Screenwriters Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle adapted a novel by Anita Shreve. 114 min. (JR) Read more

Satin Rouge

While looking for her teenage daughter in a cabaret, a widowed seamstress (Hiam Abbas) befriends a belly dancer and winds up becoming a popular dancer herself in this sensual Tunisian feature about self-discovery. Writer-director Raja Amari, who grew up watching Egyptian musicals and once studied belly dancing, seems more interested in the film’s nervy female-empowerment fantasy than in depicting a social milieu in any detail, but that’s OK with me. Similarly, Abbas often comes across more as a performer than as an actress, but her beauty, her authority as a dancer, and the obvious pleasure she takes in her craft wind up counting for more than dramatic skill. In short, I never quite believed the story, but this movie is more about feeling than thinking. In Arabic with subtitles. 99 min. (JR) Read more

Songs From The Second Floor

Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, much of whose background is in commercials, has described the influences behind this highly depressive and highly stylized look at modern life as painterly. But his long takes and stationary camera setups also suggest the stagespecifically Ionesco’s absurdist theaterwhich is one reason this 2000 feature, with its endless traffic jam, its petty and multiple cruelties, its pasty-faced executives, and its surreal details often seems more old-fashioned than modern. The plot, in which a tired businessman whose son has been institutionalized burns down his own factory in a fit of despair, is finally less striking than some of the eerie images, which grow more monumental toward the end. In Swedish with subtitles. 98 min. (JR) Read more

Space Is The Place

In John Coney’s 1974 video the avant-garde jazz artist Sun Ra turns up in Oakland after years in outer space, rapping with ghetto youths and playing cards with the devil. Its lighthearted surrealist high jinks, dressed up with SF trappings and black-power rhetoric, make for pleasant enough viewing, but the music seems strictly incidental. 63 min. (JR) Read more

Histoire(s) Du Cinema

Well over a decade in the making, this eight-part, 264-minute video (1998) is Jean-Luc Godard’s magnum opus, but it’s never been widely seen; Gaumont, which produced it, has never cleared the rights to its many film clips and artworks shown outside of France, and even there the commercial release has only monaural sounda significant loss for a work that uses stereo so centrally. (Ironically, the proper sound track is available only in a CD set, accompanied by a translation of most of the text.) Daunting, provocative, and very beautiful, this meditative essay looks at the history of the 20th century through cinema and vice versa, mainly through a rich assortment of clips (sometimes superimposing more than one), sound tracks (sometimes paired with visuals from other films), poetic commentary (with plenty of metaphors), and captions. For better and for worse, it’s comparable to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in both its difficulty and its playfulness. In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more