From the May 29, 1998 Chicago Reader.. — J.R.
Taste of Cherry
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed and written by Abbas Kiarostami
With Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolhossein Bagheri, Ali Moradi, Hossein Noori, and Ahmad Ansari.
I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That’s what gives the theatre meaning: when it becomes a social act. — Orson Welles, 1938
Much of what’s been called innovative in the art of movies over the past half century has at first been seen by part of the audience as boring or as representing a loss — usually because it has somehow redefined the shape and function of narrative. When Jean-Luc Godard introduced jump cuts in Breathless (1959) some viewers saw a loss in continuity; and when he got actors to spout literary quotations — which sometimes undercut the verisimilitude of his characters and plots — many thought he was opening the door to chaos. The next year Michelangelo Antonioni made the apparent heroine of L’avventura disappear about a third of the way through the picture and never explained what happened to her; the audience at Cannes, where the film premiered, responded with angry catcalls, insisting that the emperor had no clothes. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 16, 1998). — J.R.
Jour de fête
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed by Jacques Tati
Written by Tati, Henri Marquet, and Rene Wheeler
With Jacques Tati, Paul Frankeur, Guy Decomble, Santa Relli, and Maine Vallee.
Every Tati film marks simultaneously (a) a moment in the work of Jacques Tati; (b) a moment in the history of French society and French cinema; (c) a moment in film history. Since 1948, the six films that he has realized are those that have scanned our history the best. Tati isn’t just a rare filmmaker, the author of few films (all of them good), he’s a living point of reference. We all belong to a period of Tati’s cinema: the author of these lines belongs to the one that stretches from Mon oncle (1958: the year before the New Wave) to Playtime (1967: the year before the events of May ’68). There is hardly anyone else but Chaplin who, since the sound period, has had this privilege, this supreme authority: to be present even when he isn’t filming, and, when he’s filming, to be precisely up to the moment — that is, just a little bit in advance. Tati: a witness first and last. Read more
This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.
Eric Rohmer’s least typical film, Perceval might also be his best: A wonderful version of Chrétien de Troyes’ 12-century epic poem, set to music, about the adventures of a callow and innocent knight (Fabrice Luchini). Deliberately contrived and theatrical in style and setting -– the perspectives are as flat as in medieval tapestries, the colors bright and vivid — the film is as faithful to its source as possible, given the limited material available about the period.
Luchini, who would later play Octave in Rohmer’s much more characteristic Full Moon in Paris (1984), called Perceval “a scholarly project, touched by insanity.” That is both its charm and its ineffable strangeness, enhanced by the fact that it represents an almost complete departure from the carefully crafted realism of Rohmer’s other films. As Australian critic G.C. Crisp has described this realism, “The cinema is a privileged art form because it faithfully transcribes the beauty of the real world….Any distortion of this, any attempt by man to improve on [God’s handiwork], is indicative of arrogance and verges on the sacreligious.” Read more
From the Chicago Reader, April 9, 1993. — J.R
FILMS BY MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI
Jean-Luc Godard: The drama is no longer psychological, but plastic . . .
Michelangelo Antonioni: It’s the same thing.
— from a 1964 interview
Just for my own edification, I’ve put together a list of the 12 greatest living narrative filmmakers — not so much personal favorites as individuals who, in my estimation, have done the most to change the way we perceive the world and are likeliest to be remembered and valued half a century from now. The names I’ve come up with are Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Federico Fellini, Samuel Fuller, Jean-Luc Godard, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Nagisa Oshima, Alain Resnais, and Ousmane Sembene.
Only five have had their most recent feature distributed in the U.S. — Bergman, Bresson, Kubrick, Kurosawa, and Sembene. Fellini may have recently earned a special Oscar, but that doesn’t mean we can expect to see his latest film anytime soon, and though Godard’s next-to-last feature, Nouvelle vague, has finally come out on video, that doesn’t mean we can expect to see it properly, on a big screen.
We can, however, see nearly all of Antonioni’s work — 14 of his 15 feature films and most of the dozen or so shorts — in brand-new prints at the Film Center this month and next. Read more