With Sabine Azema, Isabelle Nanty, Audrey Tautou, Pierre Arditi, Jalil Lespert, Daniel Prevost, Lambert Wilson, and Darry Cowl
Alain Resnais’ latest feature, Not on the Lips (2003), apparently won’t be shown in commercial theaters in this country. I can’t think of another French movie that’s given me as much pleasure in years—it’s his best since Melo (1986) and surely his most accessible to American audiences. It is showing twice this week in the Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union festival, and its U.S. distributor, Wellspring, will bring it out on DVD on March 22. DVDs are now more profitable than ticket sales, so I suppose it’s understandable that Wellspring doesn’t want to spend a fortune on a theatrical release. But this movie’s gorgeous visuals are still best seen first on a big screen.
In any case, this delightfully eccentric film of a 1925 French operetta, with its English subtitles laid out in rhyming couplets, can be enjoyed in any format. It has a harmonically rich score, which Resnais calls “brisk and hilariously jubilant,” and it’s brilliantly orchestrated by Bruno Fontaine, featuring counterpoint by Maurice Yvain that’s as lively as the wordplay in Andre Barde’s lyrics. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (February 20, 2004). — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Written by Gilbert Adair
With Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel, Robin Renucci, and Anna Chancellor.
Nostalgia is highly selective, abridging the past and adjusting it to fit the terms of the present — and often becoming an ideological con job in the process. Those who wax nostalgic about the radicalism of their youth usually imply that the values that made it so attractive back then also make it impossible to hold on to today.
Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, set in Paris over three months in early 1968, focuses on an American student, Matthew (Michael Pitt), who becomes intimately involved with a French brother and sister, Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), whom he meets at the Cinémathèque. Invited into the siblings’ flat just before their parents leave on vacation, he gets drawn into their perverse and vaguely incestuous games, which combine charades involving movies, sex, and ultimately politics. Their interactions run parallel to the French government’s firing of the disorderly director of the Cinémathèque, Henri Langlois, and the ensuing outcry among cinephiles and filmmakers. Street demonstrations led to clashes with the police — and turned out to be dress rehearsals for the student demonstrations and workers’ strikes that May, which came dangerously close to shutting the country down. Read more
In retrospect, Bernardo Bertolucci’s highly influential fifth feature (1969) — ravishing to the eye but less than fully satisfying to the mind — can be regarded as the lamentable turning point in an extremely promising career that ultimately chose stylishness over style and both over content. Following on the heels of his much superior The Spider’s Strategem and adapted from an Alberto Moravia novel set in 1938, this political thriller follows an Italian professor (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who’s recoiling from his own homosexual impulses as he agrees to work as a police agent during his honeymoon in Paris and assist in the assassination of his former mentor, now a dedicated antifascist. With Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda, Gastone Moschin, and Pierre Clementi. In Italian and French with subtitles. 115 min. (JR)
“Rene Fontaine” and “Sergei Petrov,” the credited screenwriters of this mannerist fantasy, are pseudonyms for star Bob Dylan and director Larry Charles, a veteran of Seinfeld. In fact, every character talks like Dylan, and his character, a legendary singer called Jack Fate who turns up between prison terms to perform a benefit concert, is a fanciful but recognizable version of his own persona. Set in a contemporary America that suggests an endless skid row, with such Latin American trimmings as an ongoing civil war and a dying dictator whose likeness hangs everywhere, this is at once a spin on Dylan’s mythology, an excuse to feature as many of his songs as possible, and an unblinking look at American greed, corruption, and self-absorption. And for all its pretensions and avant-garde narrative dislocations, the star-studded cast — including Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Val Kilmer, Mickey Rourke, and many others in cameos — keeps this buzzing. 106 min. Music Box.
Truly original art tends to defy generic categories, and Pat O’Neill’s 35-millimeter, 73-minute The Decay of Fiction (2002), which Chicago Filmmakers is presenting this Saturday night at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema, is no exception. Inarguably an experimental work, it also reeks of classic Hollywood. The credits list O’Neill as producer, director, and editor and George Lockwood as cinematographer and sound designer, but no one is credited as the screenwriter — even though the film contains as much dialogue as any commercial feature, most of it apparently original. Forty-five cast members are cited alphabetically in those same credits, with no indication of who plays the most significant roles. Eight years in the making, the film partakes equally of the past (roughly the 1920s through the 1960s) and a disquieting version of the present.
It was filmed in and around LA’s Ambassador Hotel, which closed in 1989 and was slated for demolition at the time the film went into production in 1994 (although it was still standing when the film premiered last fall). The Decay of Fiction is both a color documentary about that crumbling edifice (where the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929, and where Robert F. Read more