Daily Archives: August 27, 2004

Vanity Fair

Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) directed this adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s best-known novel. It’s no Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 take on Thackeray), but the first half is better than average for an opulent Classics Illustrated film, thanks to realistic period detail, brisk storytelling, and Reese Witherspoon as the saucy rags-to-riches antiheroine Becky Sharp. Then the whole lumbering weight of the production catches up with the filmmakers, slowing the proceedings to an interminable crawl. With Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Romola Garai, Gabriel Byrne, and Bob Hoskins; written by Matthew Faulk, Mark Skeet, and Julian Fellowes. PG-13, 137 min. (JR) Read more

The Last Emperor (director’s Cut)

Bernardo Bertolucci’s visually ravishing spectacle (1987) about the life of Pu Yi (1905-’67) is a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time. Pu Yi (played by three children at ages 3, 8, and 15, and by John Lone as an adult) remained an outsider to contemporary China for most of his life, and Bertolucci uses his remoteness from China as an objective correlative of our own cultural distance as Westerners (virtually all of the dialogue is rendered in English). Working with visual and thematic rhymes, Bertolucci is interested in charting the gradual substitution of the state for the familyand two key agents in this process are the father figures of his Scottish tutor (Peter O’Toole) and a governor at a Chinese prison. This 219-minute director’s cut, a full hour longer than the U.S. release version that won Oscars for best picture and directornever before seen theatrically in Chicago, though long available on DVDfills out this pattern in much greater detail. (JR) Read more

The Blonds

Filmmaker Albertina Carri was four in 1977, when she lost her leftist parents to Argentina’s dirty war. In this thoughtful and witty 2003 experimental documentary she uses an actress (Analia Couceyro) playing herself to question the neighbors about her family during that era, sometimes joins her on-screen, and reflects on the elusiveness of memory and truth. In Spanish with subtitles. 89 min. (JR) Read more


My all-time favorite movie, this 1967 French comedy by actor-director Jacques Tati almost certainly has the most intricately designed mise en scene in all of cinema. Dave Kehr had it right: “Tati attempted nothing less than a complete reworking of the conventional notions of montage and, amazingly, he succeeded. Instead of cutting within scenes, Tati creates comic tableaux of such detail that, as Noel Burch has said, the film has to be seen not only several times, but from several different points in the theater to be appreciated fully. Within the film’s three large movements, Tati’s M. Hulot goes from fear of his ultramodern, glass-towered environment to a poetic transcendence of it.” This restored 70-millimeter version, with four-track DTS sound, expands the possibilities of becoming creatively lost in Tati’s vast frames and then finding one’s way again. His studio-constructed vision of Paris begins in daytime with nightmarishly regimented straight lines and right angles and proceeds to night with accidental yet celebratory curves of people instinctively coming together. It peaks in an extraordinary sequence, set in a gradually disintegrating restaurant, that comprises almost half the film: once various musicians start to perform, the viewer’s gaze inevitably follows the customers in a kind of improvised dance, collecting and juxtaposing simultaneous comic events and details. Read more