Daily Archives: October 22, 2004

Proteus

Known for his work on gay subjects and for his neo-Brechtian strategies, Canadian filmmaker John Greyson teamed up with South African video activist Jack Lewis for this eclectic period narrative, based on a 1735 sodomy trial that led to the execution of a Dutch sailor (Neil Sandilands) and a Hottentot (Rouxnet Brown). The original trial transcript was translated from Middle Dutch to Afrikaans and then into English; the translation process is part of a distancing strategy that also includes deliberate anachronisms and, for better and for worse, periodically recalls some of the archness of Peter Greenaway. Greyson directed a script he cowrote with Lewis, who also produced. In Afrikaans and Nama with subtitles. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Burning Soil

Although the great director F.W. Murnau shifted his style from film to film, he’s often better known for his expressionism and use of sets (as in The Last Laugh, Faust, and Sunrise) than for shooting on locations (as in Nosferatu and Tabu). Released in 1922, just after Nosferatu, and long believed to be lost, this tale about two rural brothers is often discussed as a major early work of the second type, and the extracts I’ve seen are impressive. In German with subtitles. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Vera Drake

Mike Leigh paints a warm and tragic portrait of the title character (Imelda Staunton), a good-hearted wife and mother in 1950 London who works as a cleaning lady but also as an unpaid abortionist. Much of the film’s potency derives from its personal edge–the passion for precise period decor, the title dedicating the film to Leigh’s parents (a doctor and midwife), and even the childlike classification of many characters as either good souls or villains. Leigh evokes British director Terence Davies in a brief cinemagoing scene, and the same innocence Davies brought to his stories of postwar Britain informs this parable of a person whose good works land her in prison (also the great theme of Roberto Rossellini’s Europa 51). The detailing of Vera’s family is close to perfection. With Richard Graham, Eddie Marsan, Anna Keaveney, and Alex Kelly. R, 125 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »

Undertow

In all three of his features to date–George Washington, All the Real Girls, and now Undertow–David Gordon Green, who’s still under 30, brings a poetic sensibility to portraits of working-class southerners in which storytelling generally plays second fiddle to character and ambience. This time he’s experimenting with a fairy-tale thriller that only superficially resembles the work of Terrence Malick (the film’s coproducer) and The Night of the Hunter (two kids flee across the wilderness from a murderous adult), two references frequently cited by critics. To these one might add Huckleberry Finn–but the absence of any clearly defined place or period makes Undertow more fanciful than any of them. Despite a few narrative confusions, I found it pure magic. 107 min. Esquire, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »