From the May 26, 2000 Chicago Reader. I must confess that I’m embarrassed by most of my other reviews of Claire Denis films on this site. Writing from the Trumsoe International Film Festival in Norway, where I resaw many of her films at a retrospective, I discovered how they invariably seem to improve on repeated viewings. (I also reprinted this piece on Beau Travail in Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition.)
Part of what’s both great and difficult about Denis’ films has been discussed perceptively by the late Robin Wood in one of his last great pieces, about I Can’t Sleep. And part of what I think is so remarkable about Claire, one of my favorite people, is a trait she shares with the late Sam Fuller, which might be described as the reverse of the cynicism of the jaundiced leftist who loves humanity but hates people. Fuller and Denis both show very dark, pessimistic, and even despairing views of humanity in their films, but their love of people and of life is no less constant. (Jim Jarmusch shows a bit of the same ambivalence in some of his edgier films, such as Dead Man, Ghost Dog, The Limits of Control, and Paterson.)Read more
Once again, I discover that the best movie of 2023 is one that I couldn’t see in 2023. It’s a first feature by a Vietnamese writer-director, Phạm Thiên Ân. It won the camera d’or in Cannes, and is so stunningly original that that itseems to have reinvented cinema on its own terms. At the same time, it illustrates Robert Bresson’s maxim that it took the advent of sound cinema to give us silence whiledemonstrating Raoul Ruiz’s contention that drama doesn’t have to be based on conflict. As the film’s title suggests, the struggle (or journey) of the young hero (Lê Phong Vũ) is internal, so it seems natural that his dreams and memories are often indistinguishable from his other activities.
A three-hour film that feels like a meditative bath without ever becoming in the least bit dull, Inside the YellowCocoon Shell proposes a psychic adventure in which butterflies are able toblossom, like the baby wrapped in a yellow blanket that the hero holds, and like the hero himself when he lies down in a stream.
If the above description sounds pretentious, the fault is mine, not the film’s.The best films often turn out to be the ones that challenge whatever we might want to say about them.Read more
With Emily Watson, Dermot Mulroney, Nick Nolte, Nathan Lane, Brittany Murphy, Lesley Ann Warren, Will Patton, and Stephen Lang.
[Trixie] is propelled by this need in her own personality to accomplish something and find the truth. But of course, the truth doesn’t exist anymore. The truth now seems to be whatever gets the most applause. — Alan Rudolph in an interview
Alan Rudolph’s previous feature, Breakfast of Champions (1999), probably his best since Choose Me (1984), is an abrasive, angry, formally imaginative, and generally faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s book of the same name. It has a lot going for it, including Bruce Willis, who helped finance it, as a blustering car dealer, one of his best performances to date; Barbara Hershey as his pill-popping wife; Nick Nolte as his sales manager and best friend, who guiltily harbors a fetish for lingerie; and Albert Finney as Vonnegut’s dark doppelganger, itinerant hack SF writer Kilgore Trout. It was easily last year’s most corrosive Hollywood movie about the American way of life, and it was especially good at showing the claustrophobic desperation of living in a small midwestern town and slowly going insane — a potent literary theme at least since Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. 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