From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1999). — J.R.
Pushing 100, Portuguese writer-director Manoel de Oliveira is our oldest living film master, which makes it all the more astonishing that he’s averaged one feature a year since the ’80s. His finest work is bound to literature and theater, and this eccentric triptych (1998) is one of its absolute peaks. It consists of a one-act play (Prista Monteiro’s The Immortals) and a story by Antonio Patricio about four people who attend it, one of whom recounts the third story, Agustina Bessa-Luis’s The Mother of the River. The theme of this exquisite masterpiece, linking all three parts, is existential identity, played out in each case by two characters — father and son, playboy and prostitute, young village woman and ancient witch. The witch is played by Irene Papas, and de Oliveira can be seen dancing with his wife in the middle episode. In Portuguese with subtitles. 114 min. (JR)
From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 2002). It was great to see this amazing, radical masterpiece on TCM, even if Ben Mankiewicz consistently mispronounced the director’s name and gave almost completely erroneous information about it. — J.R.
Teinosuke Kinugasa’s mind-boggling silent masterpiece of 1926 was thought to have been lost for 40 years until the director discovered a print in his garden shed. A seaman hires on as a janitor at an insane asylum to free his wife, who’s become an inmate after attempting to kill herself and her baby. The film’s expressionist style is all the more surprising because Japan had no such tradition to speak of; Kinugasa hadn’t even seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when he made this. Yet the rhythmic pulsation of graphic, semiabstract depictions of madness makes the film both startling and mesmerizing. I can’t vouch for the live musical accompaniment by Pillow, an unorthodox quartet that’s reportedly quite percussive, but its instrumentation — clarinet, dry ice, tubes, electric guitar, accordion, contrabass, cello — sounds appropriate. 75 min. Presented by Columbia College and Chicago Filmmakers. Columbia College Ferguson Theater, 600 S. Michigan, Friday, February 1, 8:00, 773-293-1447.
From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 2002). — J.R.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1958 adaptation of the Graham Greene novel certainly makes hash of its anti-American, procommunist elements, but this story about a disillusioned British journalist (Michael Redgrave) and an idealistic American (Audie Murphy) battling over the heart, mind, and body of a Saigon woman was sufficiently provocative for Jean-Luc Godard to declare it the best film of the year. The fact that Mankiewicz cast Italian actress Giorgia Moll as the woman suggests how remote he was from Vietnam, yet the scene in which the American asks the Brit to translate his marriage proposal into Vietnamese must have struck Godard: five years later he cast Moll as an interpreter in Contempt. Though The Quiet American may seem a curious cold war artifact today, it embodies Mankiewicz’s talky cinema in all its measured ambiguity. 120 min. (JR)