Maurice Pialat’s last feature (1995) was cowritten by him and his wife, Sylvie Danton, and features a performance by their four-year-old son, Antoine; starring Gerard Depardieu again, it’s a brutal self-portrait of a troubled and violent man. In French with subtitles. 102 min. (JR) Read more
The beginning of this 2004 Brazilian drama anticipates a paranoid thriller like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window or Suspicion: a 65-year-old divorcee (Fernanda Montenegro), living alone in Rio’s Copacabana and participating in a neighborhood watch, witnesses what appears to be a murder in a flat across the street. Once she gets involved with the suspect, a retired judge, the movie fails to generate much suspense, but that emerges as the real point: writer-director Marcos Bernstein is more interested in how a melodramatic imagination can distort reality, a concept he explores with charm and tact. In Portuguese with subtitles. 98 min. (JR) Read more
Based on Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s nonfiction book The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, this absorbing and intelligent documentary by Alex Gibney presents the chronology and major characters of one of the greatest corporate swindles in U.S. history. Those who suspect that gangsters are taking over the country will find this a pretty lucid account of the methodologies employed. The only serious distraction and ethical lapse is Gibney’s sarcastic, cheap-shot use of popular songs like That Old Black Magic, Love for Sale, and God Bless the Child to underscore certain points; it seems almost to celebrate the shamelessness of the creeps being exposed. 110 min. (JR) Read more
This sequel to X X X (2002) brings back Samuel L. Jackson as a U.S. intelligence chief, though Ice Cube replaces Vin Diesel as the ex-con action hero. This time the skulduggery involves Willem Dafoe as the U.S. secretary of defense, who’s planning to assassinate his way to the presidency, but with more stuntpeople than characters, this borders on a free-for-all. Of course the movie’s real raison d’etre is watching Ice Cube tear up government facilities and blockades with a tank, spout Schwarzenegger-style kiss-off lines, and commandeer the kind of babes and high-tech cars that James Bond usually plays with. The silly script is by Simon Kinberg, the spotty direction by Lee Tamahori. PG-13, 101 min. (JR) Read more
The work of director Maurice Pialat (1925-2003) is sufficiently celebrated in France to have generated an exhaustive Web site (www.maurice-pialat.net) and two DVD boxed sets. But his name is far from familiar here, and this complete retrospective of his features–continuing Friday through Tuesday, April 29 through May 3, at Facets Cinematheque–is long overdue. All films are in French with subtitles; for more information and a complete schedule visit www.facets.org.
I’m partial to Pialat’s 70s output, but all of his movies are worth seeing, and some fans prefer the more mannerist late work screening this week. Police (1985, 113 min.) stars Gerard Depardieu as a cop chasing after drug traffickers; as Pat Graham wrote, his “sense of legality roughly mirrors that of the criminals he hounds, and Pialat follows him around with unflappable resolve.” Pialat’s next two features departed somewhat from his usual volatile realism: The dark, spiritual Under Satan’s Sun (1987, 97 min.), named best film at Cannes, adapts a novel by Catholic writer Georges Bernanos and features high-powered performances by Depardieu, Sandrine Bonnaire, and Pialat himself. Van Gogh (1992, 160 min.), with Jacques Dutronc in the title role, is Pialat’s longest, oddest, and most painterly feature, taking a revisionist and highly personal look at the artist’s last 67 days. Read more
This 1979 film by Maurice Pialat treats youthful sex as the only activity worth pursuing in the provinces, and the major obstacle to escaping from them. 85 min. In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more
The Mouth Agape (1974, 82 min.), my favorite film by Maurice Pialat, concerns a middle-aged woman dying of cancer and how her illness affects her husband and son; its details about sex as well as death are recognizable, embarrassing, moving, and occasionally funny. In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more
Maurice Pialat adapted his own autobiographical novel for We Will Not Grow Old Together (1972, 107 min.), a devastating chronicle of a long-term affair that can neither survive nor end, powerfully played by Jean Yanne and Marlene Jobert. In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more
A volatile realist who’s often been compared to John Cassavetes, Maurice Pialat started out as a painter and a documentary filmmaker, though in contrast to most realist works (as well as most paintings) his movies are too intimate to date very much. He was 43 when he made his first feature, Naked Childhood (1968, 82 min.), a nonjudgmental and unsentimental look at a troubled, abandoned ten-year-old boy who’s shuttled between foster parents. (Francois Truffaut served as coproducer, though Pialat was a sworn enemy of the New Wave.) In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more
It’s a bad sign when a sizable portion of a preview audience starts lurching for the exit before the final fade-out. This thriller involving a plot to assassinate a genocidal African dictator has Nicole Kidman in the title role as a UN interpreter and Sean Penn as a Secret Service agent. I suppose the absence of heat between them could be taken as a sign of the movie’s seriousness, but without a spark to ignite the proceedings even the actors’ craft and Sydney Pollack’s direction don’t count for much. Five people worked on the script; if there was ever any inspiration behind it, there isn’t now. PG-13, 128 min. (JR) Read more
Amanda Peet and Ashton Kutcher meet cute by having offscreen sex in an airplane lavatory as they’re flying from Los Angeles to New York. After that it’s all downhill, for them and for us. This interminable contest between two narcissists, stretched out over many miles and years, is supposed to have something to do with romance. Nigel Cole, the British director, also helmed Calendar Girls, but in that case he had a better cast and script to work with. With Kathryn Hahn and Kal Penn; written by Colin Patrick Lynch. PG-13, 107 min. (JR) Read more
French writer-actress Agnes Jaoui has a keen sense of middle-class aspirations and cultural self-consciousness, and though her work may be decidedly middlebrow, its verve and sensitivity make it entirely honorable. This follow-up to her 2000 debut, The Taste of Others, delves into the milieu of a well-known, self-centered author suffering from writer’s block (well played by Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jaoui’s writing partner and former husband) and his chubby grown daughter (Marilou Berry), who’s frustrated by his inattention. Jaoui plays the daughter’s voice teacher, and the movie is acute in its observation of how she and other characters are bent out of shape by their deference to the famous monster. The French title is Comme une image (like an image), but Tennessee Williams’s phrase the catastrophe of success seems more appropriate. In French with subtitles. PG-13, 110 min. (JR) Read more
The work of director Maurice Pialat (1925-2003) is sufficiently celebrated in France to have generated an exhaustive Web site (www.maurice-pialat.net) and two DVD box sets. But his name is far from familiar here, and this complete retrospective of his dramatic features–running Friday, April 22, through Tuesday, May 3, at Facets Cinematheque–is long overdue. Some fans prefer Pialat’s more mannerist late work, but I’d give the edge to his 70s output, covered this week. All films are in French with subtitles; for more information and a complete schedule visit www.facets.org.
A volatile realist who’s often been compared to John Cassavetes, Pialat started out as a painter and a documentary filmmaker, though in contrast to most realist works (as well as most paintings) his movies are too intimate to date very much. He was 43 when he made his first feature, Naked Childhood (1968, 82 min.), a nonjudgmental and unsentimental look at a troubled, abandoned ten-year-old boy who’s shuttled between foster parents. (Francois Truffaut served as coproducer, though Pialat was a sworn enemy of the New Wave.) Pialat adapted his own autobiographical novel for We Will Not Grow Old Together (1972, 107 min.), a devastating chronicle of a long-term affair that can neither survive nor end, powerfully played by Jean Yanne and Marlene Jobert. Read more
This 2003 erotic thriller, the first feature by writer-director Matthew Parkhill, coasts along pretty well on the strength of its attractive Latino leads, Gael Garcia Bernal and Natalia Verbeke, until it gets around to showing its hand with a repulsive plot twist that bends the characters out of shape. Its trickery might seem cute or clever to viewers who don’t take either movies or people very seriously, but to me it recalled cynical puzzle films like Memento and Irreversible, with no reason to exist apart from its gimmick. With James D’Arcy. R, 92 min. (JR) Read more
Jean-Luc Godard’s edgy, moribund reflection on the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola” had an exemplary vitality when it came out in 1966, with its currency, its mainly nonprofessional cast, and its determination to address anything and everything. It’s still a lively and interesting artifact, limited by its sexual politics, which are manifested in Godard’s attraction toward and contempt for women. Jean-Pierre Léaud, in one of his most touching roles, and his communist sidekick are the children of Marx, while Léaud’s girlfriend (rock singer Chantal Goya) and her pals are the children of Coca-Cola (few of the females are asked or even allowed to think). The jagged form should keep you on your toes; as Dave Kehr has noted, “Godard is very strict in his sloppiness.” In French with subtitles. 103 min.