In January 2005 I received a copy of a special edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It was inscribed by the author, and the inscription began: Dear Stan, A lifetime ago—summer 1953—you flew to L.A. to feed me ice cream and advice on how to finish this novel! What a grand summer! Actually we were together only four days, but it was grand, and there was ice cream. In 1953 I was the editor-in-chief of Ballantine Books, and when we acquired Ray’s manuscript, his agent warned me about proofs. Ray, he said, was notorious for fussing with them at length.
Patience (After Sebald) Polisse Bonsái If we were to choose the fine modern novelist whose work is least apt for screening, it would probably be W.G. Sebald. His novels are meditative, pensive. If we were to choose the least apt among his works, it would probably be The Rings of Saturn. It has no cogent narrative. Here is a film made from that novel, called Patience (After Sebald), that confirms, though it somewhat buffets, our prejudgment. Grant Gee, the Englishman who made the film, is known for his work on music documentaries, but he was a university student of geography.
Elena I Wish Naturalism lives. If Zola were a Russian in Russia today, he might have written Elena. Zola being absent, the director Andrei Zvyagintsev has written this screenplay with Oleg Negin, looking at lives with that combination of candor and regret that marks the best naturalist work. This approach in itself is a novelty in Russian films. Another is the milieu. The history of naturalism is closely woven with suffering, with the impulse to inform the disregarding world of social or economic oppression.
Goodbye First Love Elles Monsieur Lazhar First love, a term that often has a touch of the patronizing, is a moving truth in a new French film called Goodbye First Love. The writer-director, Mia Hansen-Løve, whose third feature this is, has addressed her subject with complete emotional confidence. She knows how it is often “understood” and disprized; she also wants us to see some aftereffects. Camille is a fifteen-year-old student in Paris when we first see her—nude, as her beloved boyfriend, the nineteen-year-old Sullivan, pulls the covers off her.
Gerhard Richter Painting We Have a Pope Jiro Dreams of Sushi Only a few months after a German documentary about a famous artist, Anselm Kiefer, here is another from Germany about a famous artist. Gerhard Richter Painting is, like the earlier film, a kind of residence with its subject rather than a report. Corinna Belz, the director, in fact spent three years off and on with Richter, with his beginnings of works, his changes, his resumptions, his conclusions. She had made an earlier short film about Richter, and evidently she had his full confidence.
The Hollywood Western, as a genre, is a realm of fantasy. Once Upon a Time in the West is, in its pseudo-realistic way a fantasy superimposed on that general fantasy. Sergio Leone is the best-known of the European makers of Westerns that we’ve been getting lately, mostly from Italy. I haven’t seen his previous films, but veteran Leonists tell me that this new one is like them, only very much more so.
Footnote The Deep Blue Sea This Is Not a Film From Israel comes a film of contrasts. Footnote uses sophisticated style to deal with an ancient subject. Joseph Cedar, the writer-director, tells a story about Talmudic studies and couches it in cinematic brio. This verve also counterpoints the drama. Along with the talk about deep scholarship comes this visual approach that is a kind of modern complement.
The Kid with a Bike Michael A mistake. A few weeks ago, reviewing the distinguished film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, I said it had won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival last year. In fact, it shared the prize with another film, The Kid with a Bike, which is of equal distinction. What an occasion. The second film is by the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, who in 1996, after some twenty years of making documentaries in their native Belgium and in France, ventured into fiction.
The Salt of Life Hipsters The Forgiveness of Blood Italian film has done us another favor—it has sent us Gianni Di Gregorio again. Several years ago, it was Mid-August Lunch, his first film, although he was almost sixty. Now we get The Salt of Life, which, like his first picture, he wrote, directed, and stars in. What is factually extraordinary about Di Gregorio is that he trained as an actor but spent most of his screen life as writer and assistant director.
The film of My Fair Lady is worth every penny of the $17 million it reportedly cost because it preserves Rex Harrison’s performance. Whatever one thinks of the musical, of the very idea of the musical, his performance is clearly a flower of artistic elegance with its roots in three-hundred-year-old comic styles, a miracle of ease that results from a lifetime’s training of superb talents. One had only to see others in this part to see a) imitators of him; b) actors who had stepped into it rather than grown into it, relying mostly on superficial suavities.