From the Chicago Reader (December 9, 1994). — J.R.
With this epic account of a Chinese family from the 40s to the 70s, Zhang Yimou seems to have abandoned the high aestheticism of his Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, and Raise the Red Lantern for a more popular and didactic kind of filmmaking (The Story of Qiu Ju can be seen as a transitional work). To Live (1994, 125 min.) is masterful in its own right, and filled with so many barbs at the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath that Zhang was forbidden to make any films in China with foreign financing for two years (though the stated charge against him was illegal distribution of this film). Adapted by Yu Hua and Lu Wei from Yu’s novel Lifetimes, the film focuses on a wealthy gambling addict (comic actor Ge You) with a pregnant wife (Gong Li) and young daughter who loses his family’s fortune and becomes a shadow puppeteer shortly before civil war erupts; ironically, it’s his recklessness as a gambler that eventually saves him from execution, the first of many sociopolitical paradoxes the movie has to offer. Some of the story’s details recall Farewell My Concubine and The Blue Kite, but Zhang has his own story to tell and his own points to make.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (October 31, 1995). — J.R.
A lot of talented people are involved in this atrocity in one way or another — not only French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, whose doomed relationship forms the core of the plot, but writer Christopher Hampton, director Agnieszka Holland, and lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio (Rimbaud), David Thewlis (Verlaine), and Romane Bohringer — so it’s hard to know who to blame. I suspect that Hampton is the guiltiest party: piling on the lurid, middlebrow, middle-class shock values inherent in the material, and jettisoning practically all the poetry of both writers, he comes up with a script that’s well-nigh impossible to transcend. This isn’t exactly boring, but for anybody who cares about these actors and much of the earlier work of Holland, it’s a painful lesson in how far gifted people can go in deluding themselves. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (October 28, 1994), subsequently updated a little. — J.R.
An immensely charming and energetic comedy (1994, 97 min.) by Wong Kar-wai, one of the most exciting and original contemporary Hong Kong filmmakers. Though less ambitious than Days of Being Wild (1990) or Ashes of Time (1994) and less hyperbolic than Fallen Angel (1995), this provides an ideal introduction to his work. Both of its two stories are set in present-day Hong Kong and deal poignantly with young policemen striving to get over unsuccessful romantic relationships and having unconventional encounters with women (a mob assassin and an infatuated fast-food waitress respectively). Wong’s singular frenetic visual style and his special feeling for lonely romantics may remind you of certain French New Wave directors, but this movie isn’t a trip down memory lane; it’s a vibrant commentary on young love today, packed with punch and personality. In Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles. (JR)
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DVD AWARDS 2016
XIII edition (Il Cinema Ritrovato)
Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Lucien Logette, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti (chairman), and Jonathan Rosenbaum. (Although Mark McElhatten wasn’t able to attend the festival this year, he has continued to function as a very active member of the jury.)
1. BEST SPECIAL FEATURES:
NICO PAPATAKIS BOX SET (France, 1963-1992) (Gaumont Vidéo, DVD)
A comprehensive and cogent presentation of a neglected filmmaker from Ethiopia and a singular cultural figure in postwar France who ran an existentialist cabaret, produced major films by Jean Genet and John Cassavetes, gave the German singer Nico her name, and made many striking films over four decades. (JR)
2. BEST DVD SERIES:
COLLECTION 120 ANS N.1 1885-1929 (France, 1885-1929) (Gaumont Vidéo, DVD)
To celebrate its 120 years of activity in the film industry, Gaumont has published a series of nine beautiful box sets that summarize the whole history of cinema. Divided by decades, the box sets consist of twenty to thirty-five DVDs with the most representative films marked with a daisy symbol. The editions include films made by Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade, Dreville, Duvivier, Gabin, Louis de Funès, Pialat and Deville but also masterpieces made by Losey, Fellini or Bergman that the French company co-produced.… Read more »
This article appeared in the February 22, 1991 issue of the Chicago Reader, about three months after the UN Security Council authorized the use of “all means necessary” to eject Iraq from Kuwait and roughly a month after the U.S. Congress cheerfully authorized our going to war, with all flags waving. I’ve rarely felt as alienated from the taste and desires of the mass audience as I did when I reviewed The Silence of the Lambs — an experience made all the more painful by my admiration for much of Jonathan Demme’s previous work — at least until the release of No Country for Old Men during a second and (ultimately, but not initially) much less popular Gulf war. And it wasn’t until I saw John Gianvito’s The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein that I found my own emotions about the war reflected in an American feature. —J.R.
PRINCES IN EXILE
Directed by Giles Walker
Written by Joe Wiesenfeld
With Zachary Ansley, Nicholas Shields, Stacie Mistysyn, Andrea Roth, Gordon Woolvett, Chuck Shamata, and Alexander Chapman.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Ted Tally
With Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, and Ted Levine.… Read more »