From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 2002). — J.R.
I saw this French mystery thriller, the first feature of writer-director Gilles Mimouni, shortly after its 1996 release, and it left little residue. However, it has Romane Bohringer (Savage Nights), and that’s definitely a plus. Just before leaving Paris for Tokyo, the hero (Vincent Cassel), who’s engaged, thinks he spots an old flame (Monica Bellucci) in a cafe. He becomes obsessed with seeing her again, finds out where she lives, and hides out in her apartment — though he winds up having sex with Bohringer instead. In French with subtitles. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 1996). — J.R.
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed and written by Tran Anh Hung
With Le Van Loc, Tony Leung-Chiu Wai, Tran Nu Yen Khe, Nguyen Nhu Quynh, Nguyen Hoang Phuc, and Ngo Vu Quang Hai.
Tran Anh Hung’s first feature, The Scent of Green Papaya, redefined what we mean by “inside” and “outside,” architecturally as well as socially and psychologically. The same could be said about the vastly more ambitious and even more impressive Cyclo, which was shot in Ho Chi Minh City — unlike The Scent of Green Papaya, which was shot in a studio outside Paris — and is set in the present.
The Scent of Green Papaya — the first and so far only Vietnamese film ever nominated for an Academy Award — was inspired by the filmmaker’s memories of his mother and was set in 1951 and 1961. Tran said that his next feature would be based on recollections of his father. This led me to expect another period film, which Cyclo isn’t — but there’s no question that it’s a film about patriarchy. The first and last things the 18-year-old hero (Le Van Loc) says offscreen concern his late father — a pedicab driver who was run over by a truck — and there’s the sense throughout that he’s stuck in an endless cycle of male misery passed from one generation to the next.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader, June 1, 2002; slightly tweaked in 2014. — J.R.
One reason Paul Schrader’s Calvinist obsessions have become tiresome — even when someone else is partially responsible for the writing, as is the case here — is that he seems more invested in their perpetuation and exploitation than in their exploration. Yet I have to concede that he’s become an unusually skillful and sensitive director of actors, and the inventive performances — Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane (the wholesome star of Hogan’s Heroes who became a sex addict) and Willem Dafoe as his seedy sidekick and fellow pornographer — keep this story interesting in spite of its puritanical framework. Watchable, but not very insightful (2002, 107 min.). Written by Michael Gerbosi; with Rita Wilson and Maria Bello. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2002). — J.R.
Around 1950, after seeing his own ideas rejected time and again, the great Soviet director Alexander Dovzhenko undertook this grotesque piece of kitsch, which was inspired by the defection of U.S. journalist Annabelle Bucard after she discovered that the U.S. embassy in Moscow, where she worked, was a nest of spies. Dovzhenko’s script went through countless drafts, and when Stalin terminated the project (for reasons that are still obscure), the director learned the news only when the electricity was abruptly shut off on the soundstage where he was working. The film was finally released in 1995, with commentary on the missing pieces and material about its arduous birth, and it’s morbidly fascinating as an example of Stalinist filmmaking (Dovzhenko’s style is nowhere in evidence). Considering the director’s stature, the most depressing aspects of this are that even the commentator isn’t sure whether it’s sincere and that ultimately it doesn’t matter much. In Russian with subtitles. 73 min. (JR)
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