Yearly Archives: 2002

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


Also known as Memory and Memorandum, this 2001 documentary by Mostafa Razzagh Karimi and Mojalal Varahram about the geography, history, and diverse cultures of Iran proceeds without narration or dialogue. It certainly offers an eyeful (as well as an earful, considering the striking music score), though there are times when one feels a propagandistic tourisman all-too-official rubber stamp of approvalcalling some of the shots. The running time is 97 minutes, though as I recall, the film ran somewhat longer when I saw it at the Fajr film festival. (JR) Read more

Documentaries About Forugh Farrokhzad

To understand the status of poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad in Iran, one would have to combine the mythologies of Maya Deren, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, and Bessie Smith, but even that might not communicate her importance as a feminist martyr and literary pioneer. Nasser Saffarian’s two fascinating hour-long video documentaries about Farrokhzad (1935-’67), Forugh Farrokhzad: The Green Cold (2001) and The Mirror of the Soul, ultimately do more for her legend than for her work. Speaking to Farrokhzad’s mother, siblings, friends, and fellow poets (but not to Ebrahim Golestan, her friend, lover, fellow writer, and filmmaking mentoronly a son is interviewed), Saffarian presents a wealth of valuable material, though his tendency to cut between the shortest of sound bites often limits the discourse. I was grateful to hear Farrokhzad reading from her work, to see snippets of Bernardo Bertolucci’s TV interview with her, and to learn that filmmaker Darius Mehrjui once translated some of her work for the Paris Review. But practically every clip from her great short The House Is Black is mutilated in some fashion (usually by replacing the sound track with voice-over), and her poetry is mainly represented by scattered lines quoted out of context. (From this standpoint, The Mirror of the Soul is an improvement over The Green Cold.) Read more

Jacques Rivette, le veilleur

Claire Denis’ first-rate 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 (some of which remain difficult to see, like the legendary Out 1) 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. Showing as part of the Block Museum’s invaluable series “Serge Daney: 10 Years After,” which started last month and ends in early December. In French with subtitles; to be projected from Beta SP video. 125 min. Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston, Saturday, October 26, 3:00, 847-491-4000. Read more


It’s been over a quarter of a century since I saw Robert Kramer and John Douglas’s epic 16-millimeter feature about the American counterculture (1975, 195 min.) at the New York Film Festivalfar too long ago for me to summon up a coherent account or opinion of it today (which is why, contrary to the Block Museum schedule, I won’t be introducing this rare screening). But at the very least, this highly ambitious political film on 60s communal lifestyles should be a provocative and revealing period piece. A radical independent influenced in part by Jacques Rivette, Kramer wound up living in Paris when his early films (In the Country, The Edge, Ice) had a much bigger impact there than in the U.S. He returned home on occasion to make some of his most memorable work, such as Route One (1989), though tragically his films are scarcely known here. The great French critic Serge Daney was especially taken with Milestones, calling it the anti-Nashville; this program is part of a series related to Daney and his work, which continues next weekend with several precious and rarely screened films. (JR) Read more

In Praise Of Love

Jean-Luc Godard’s best feature since Nouvelle Vague (1990) is in some respects as difficult as that film, though visually it’s stunning and unique even among Godard’s work. The first part, set in contemporary Paris, was shot in black-and-white 35-millimeter, while the second, set in Brittany two years earlier, is in floridly oversaturated color. A young man (Bruno Putzulu) interviews men and women for an undefined project called Eloge de l’Amour, which will involve three couples (young, adult, and old) experiencing four stages of love (meeting, physical passion, separation, and reconciliation). One young woman he spends time with is the granddaughter of a couple he’s met earlier, former members of the French resistance negotiating to sell their story to a Hollywood studio. As in his magnum opus, Histoire(s) du Cinema, Godard is centrally concerned with the ethics of true and false representation and with the lost promise of cinema, which leads to some anti-American reflections ranging from reasonable to over-the-top. This is a twilight film, dark and full of sorrow, yet lyrical and beautiful as well (2001). In French with subtitles. 94 min. (JR) Read more


Despite a mainstream thrust that suggests Hollywood in its conventional blandness, this first feature by writer-director Nasser Refaie has a prototypical Iranian art movie orientation. It’s a comedy about a crowd of young women waiting to take a university entrance exam that never strays outside its schoolyard locationa graceful tour de force that’s limited by a reluctance to move beyond predictable character types. Unfolding over 80 minutes of real time, it evokes the modernist style of The White Balloon, and the focus on women determined to receive higher education is mildly feministthough the propensity of recent Iranian features for staging all their action in exteriors is at least partially a consequence of censorship laws requiring women in film interiors to wear chadors, however implausible. The giggles and prankishness of many of the exam takers are refreshing, yet it’s symptomatic of the overall mildness that the liveliest moments ensue when someone’s pet monkey gets loose and climbs a tree. In Farsi with subtitles. 80 min. (JR) Read more

The Green Light

Adapted by Milton Krims from a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas (whose work also inspired Magnificent Obsession and The Robe), this 1937 feature stars Errol Flynn as a dedicated doctor who abandons his practice. Frank Borzage (A Farewell to Arms) directed, which may be the best reason for seeing this; with Anita Louise. 85 min. (JR) Read more

Eye Openers

Film festivals are a lot like travel, in that they can greatly enhance our sense of the world as a diverse yet interactive community in a relatively short time. But I’ve just returned from a spate of actual travel (some of it film-related, some of it not) during which it became more apparent to me than ever that this community is livid about the direction Bush’s so-called war on terrorism is taking–and this is already starting to have an impact on the important cultural exchanges that the festivals foster.

In New York, where I was attending a conference on Iranian cinema at Lincoln Center, word came through that Abbas Kiarostami would not be able to attend the New York Film Festival, which is running concurrently with Chicago’s: he had been told in Paris that because he’s from an Islamic country, under new U.S. security measures a three-month background check would be required before his visa could be approved. While I was in London, an estimated third of a million people–about as many as read this paper–turned out to demonstrate against a U.S. invasion of Iraq. And then, on a brief vacation in Paris, I ran into my old friend Peter von Bagh, a Finnish film critic and programmer, who told me that Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki had just refused to attend the New York festival himself as a gesture of solidarity with Kiarostami. Read more

Big Night

A movie about two Italian immigrant brothers (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, both in fine form) who open a New Jersey restaurant called the Paradise; Shalhoub plays the artistic and temperamental chef, Tucci the more practical-minded manager (1996). Tucci wrote the script with his cousin, Joseph Tropiano, and directed it with one of his costars, Campbell Scott. Apart from offering what may well be the best advertisement for Italian cooking in movies, this little picture charms by virtue of its craft and patience; it moves at times more like a European movie than an American one, allowing its characterizations to grow on us, and the effort pays off. It also succeeds as a story about art and idealism and cultural assimilation. Others in the cast include Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Marc Anthony, and Allison Janney. R, 107 min. (JR) Read more

The Leopard Man

This economically constructed and haunting chiller (1943, 66 min.) from the inspired team of producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur doesn’t have the reputation of the two other films they worked on together in the early 40s, Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie. In part that’s because its ending is a bit abrupt and unsatisfactory–but it’s still one of the most remarkable B films ever to have come out of Hollywood. Adapted from Cornell Woolrich’s novel Black Alibi by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, the film employs an audacious narrative of shifting centers, thematically related by a string of grisly murders in a small town in New Mexico. Depending for much of its effect on a subtle and poetic nudging of the spectator’s imagination, the film has a couple of sequences that are truly terrifying. With Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, and Jean Brooks. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Monday, October 7, 6:00, and Wednesday, October 9, 8:30, 312-846-2800. Read more

Hot Links

The Toronto film festival is traditionally held in early September, about a month before the festival here, and in the 20-odd years I’ve been attending I’ve never been so aware of the ideological gulf between Canada and the U.S. as I was this year. It was evident on-screen, in, for example, the pointed comparisons between the two countries in one of the best films there, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, which takes up issues such as why people shoot one another, keep their doors locked or unlocked, and (more implicitly) do or don’t have national health care. It was also apparent offscreen, in the frequent anti-American slant of headlines and stories in Toronto newspapers. And it was visible in the feuding between a couple of high-profile American reviewers, Roger Ebert and Variety’s Todd McCarthy, who both expressed anger about not getting into certain press and industry screenings, and several members of the local press, who called the two spoiled and arrogant for making such a fuss.

Some of the tension was a symptom of war nerves, and it sharpened national stereotypes, making Americans seem pushier than they often are and Canadians meeker, in their willingness to queue up and behave and be more egalitarian. Read more

We’re All Still Here

In some ways more obscure and difficult than Jean-Luc Godard, with whom she has collaborated in various capacities since 1972, Anne-Marie Mieville continues to puzzle even as she sharpens her mise en scene. This 80-minute feature from 1997 is the most interesting solo effort of hers I’ve seen, though I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, especially during the third and final sequence. In the first and most impressive sequence, an extract from Plato’s Gorgias is dramatized inside a bourgeois household, with Callicles (Bernadette Lafont) performing various household chores as she quarrels with Socrates (Aurore Clement). In the second, Godard turns up on a theater stage to rehearse a monologue condensed from a passage in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism below a huge photograph of Arendt as a young woman, an image that recalls the opening of Bergman’s Persona. In the third and most puzzling, Clement and Godard play a couple who go out for dinner and return home while she bellyaches about everything he does and he apologizes; whether or not this is supposed to correspond to Mieville and Godard’s relation in real life is anyone’s guess, but in this segment Godard was reportedly a last-minute replacement for another actor. Read more

I’m Going Home

The fourth feature made by Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira since he turned 90, this 2001 film is set in Paris (which has seldom looked better or been evoked more affectionately) and concerns a famous French actor in his 70s (Michel Piccoli at his best) learning to cope with solitude after an auto accident has claimed the lives of his wife, his daughter, and his son-in-law. The film shows its protagonist at workcostarring with Catherine Deneuve in Ionesco’s Exit the King, playing Prospero in a French production of The Tempest, and trying to speak English in a film adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses, directed by John Malkovich. But Oliveira is equally attentive and respectful as the hero enjoys such everyday rituals as playing with his grandson or reading the newspaper over his daily expresso. For a film about bereavement this is surprisingly light, and while its simplicity is deceptive, it may be Oliveira’s most accessible work to date, a masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. In English and subtitled French. 90 min. (JR) Read more

The Professionals

Underrated all-star western by Richard Brooks about four soldiers of fortune hired by Ralph Bellamy to rescue his wife (Claudia Cardinale) from Jack Palance down in Mexico. This 1966 film was eclipsed in many people’s minds by The Wild Bunch three years later, but it’s a good, solid job, and with Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode, how could you miss? Adapted from Frank O’Rourke’s novel A Mule for the Marquesa, with cinematography by the great Conrad Hall. 117 min. (JR) Read more