A review from the May 26, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
POULET AU VINAIGRE
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Dominique Roulet and Chabrol
With Jean Poiret, Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, Jean Topart, Lucas Belvaux, Pauline Lafont, Jean-Claude Bouillaud, and Caroline Cellier.
In 1985, after seeing Claude Chabrol’s Poulet au vinaigre at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, I remember thinking: At last! The petit-maître is back in form, doing what he knows how to do best; here’s a Chabrol movie that’s sure to get an American release. (At that point it had been about seven years since Violette Nozière — which wasn’t one of my favorite Chabrol films — had opened in the U.S.) Poulet au vinaigre had sex, violence, dark wit, a superb sense of both the corruption and meanness of life in the French provinces, a good whodunit plot, Balzacian characters (including an interesting detective), and very nice camera work by Jean Rabier, Chabrol’s usual cinematographer. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but at the very least it was a well-crafted and satisfying entertainment that surely, I thought, would be enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, it already was being enjoyed by the audience I was seeing it with in Toronto. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 1991) — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Guy Maddin
Written by George Toles and Maddin
With Kyle McCulloch, Kathy Marykuca, Ari Cohen, Sarah Neville, Michael Gottli, and Victor Cowie.
Amnesia is a subject we associate with film noir of the 40s and 50s, and social commentators tend to link its use in such films — with their gloomy and murky moods, their amnesiac heroes’ helplessness — to some version of postwar angst. Now it appears that amnesia — both as subject and as metaphor — is making a minor comeback as a postmodernist theme. An early instance of this trend can be found in the fate of Tyrone Slothrop, the hero of Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow, who gradually gets phased out of the book as a visible presence once he starts shifting his attention from his inscrutable, troubling past to his immediate present. We learn that “‘personal density is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth….Temporal bandwidth’ is the width of your present, your now … [and] the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are. It may even get to where you’re having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago, or even — as Slothrop now — what you’re doing here, at the base of this colossal curved embankment…”
It’s a paradoxical hallmark of postmodernist art to be preoccupied with certain aspects of the past while being closed off — whether through indifference or ignorance or (real or metaphorical) amnesia — to certain other aspects. Read more
Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1897-1968) made eight films, all between 1927 and 1935, and apparently some of these are lost. (He was fired from the early talkie Raffles — which seems to retain a few d’Arrastian qualities — and replaced by George Fitzmaurice, and reportedly he also did some uncredited work on Wings.) I’ve seen three of his films — the two briefly described below (both for the 2009 catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna) and Topaze (1933) — and all of them are pretty remarkable. (The latter is a Pagnol adaptation with one of John Barrymore’s most touching performances.) As far as I know, the only one who ever wrote about this figure in any detail was Herman G. Weinberg in Saint Cinema. According to Pierre Rissient, who knows a lot about d’Arrast (and passionately denies that he was antisemitic — a gossipy accusation I’ve sometimes heard about him, presumably as a partial explanation for why he fought as often as he did with producers), d’Arrast also had a lot to do with the preparation of one of my favorite musicals, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum! (1933), which wound up being directed by Lewis Milestone.
The following capsules were written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in June 2009. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 19, 1998). — J.R.
A reductio ad absurdum of the recent trend of idea-starved producers to plunder 19th-century English fiction — a movement that to my mind has justified itself only with Clueless, and in this case makes Charles Dickens look like a weak second cousin to John Grisham. In fact, so little of the novel is dealt with in this updated adaptation, and so much of that little is mauled, that it might have made more sense to do a remake of Youngblood Hawke, the sort of wet dream this movie is really craving to approximate. Ethan Hawke plays a young gulf-coast artist (formerly known as Pip) lured to the Big City, Gwyneth Paltrow plays cruel Estella (the only character allowed to keep the same name), and Anne Bancroft can’t be blamed for the incoherent version of Miss Havisham assigned to her by Mitch Glazer’s stupid script (though perhaps Robert De Niro, playing the convict, can be blamed for reminding us of Cape Fear). A horrendous effort all around, though a couple of the locations — notably a Venetian Gothic mansion on Sarasota Bay — are suggestive. Alfonso Cuaron, who did a far better job with A Little Princess, directed. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (May 1,1995). — J.R.
I’m not sure whether this sensitive 1995 adaptation of a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden) from Warners is quite the miracle some of my colleagues claimed, but it blows most Disney competition out of the water and is enjoyable for grown-ups as well. Set during World War I, it follows the adventures of an imaginative and resourceful little girl (Liesel Matthews) raised in India and then deposited by her father at an exclusive New York boarding school, where she soon becomes the victim of a mean headmistress (Eleanor Bron). Directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron in his American debut and scripted by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King) and Amy Ephron, the film uses studio resources to create an entrancing world both in New York and in the heroine’s fantasies about India. G, 97 min. (JR)