Film

Two Achievements
September 10, 2008

'I Served the King of England' (Sony Pictures Classics) 'Momma's Man' (Kino International) Jiri Menzel is back. This Czech director made a considerable splash in 1967 with Closely Watched Trains, but although he has been busy since then, his later work has not had comparable impact. Now comes I Served the King of England, and strangely, the intervening four decades whisk away. The new film has the same deceptive light touch as the earlier one, a lightness that partially masks the serious subject and yet explores it. The time frame is again around World War II.

Assorted Gifts
August 27, 2008

Man on Wire Magnolia Frozen River Sony Pictures Classics A Girl Cut in Two IFC On August 7, 1974, a man walked across a tightrope stretched between the roofs of two Manhattan skyscrapers. The buildings were the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The funambulist was a Frenchman named Philippe Petit, to whom the feat was much more than daredevilry. Man on Wire tells us how Petit came to do what he did and what it meant to him. The buildings had figured in his mind since he was a teenager.

Crime and Style
August 13, 2008

A Very British GangsterAnywhere RoadBoy AThe Weinstein CompanyThe base, the very source, of many documentaries is not often acknowledged-- the confidence that the people in the film have in the director. In A Very British Gangster, a criminal named Dominic Noonan, notorious in the extreme, talks on camera about his career with almost complete frankness. Murder he evades, though not the murders he has threatened. Everything else he talks about in a chatty way, as if he were discussing a conventional life.

Flauntings
July 30, 2008

The Last Mistress (IFC) Trumbo (Samuel Goldwyn and Red Envelope)   The French director Catherine Breillat uses plentiful sex in her films. This is notable not for its candor, a quality that is nowadays general, but for its cunning purpose. Her easy, open attitude toward sex makes the viewer wonder (this seems to be Breillat's plan) what the difference is between her films and pornography. So we consider the context of those naked scenes even more thoroughly, and we decide that the context gives her films a thematic texture that pornography never has.

Assorted Pleasures
June 25, 2008

MongolPicturehouseThe Edge of HeavenPyramidWhen Did You Last See Your Father?Sony Pictures ClassicsTolstoy was the source of an earlier Sergei Bodrov film, Prisoner of the Mountains, a subtly shaded drama about two Russian soldiers. Bodrov's new film, Mongol, could hardly be more different.

Wealth and Woes
June 11, 2008

Savage Grace (IFC) Sangre de Mi Sangre (IFC) The Battle for Haditha (DreamMachine) Rich people are the center of Savage Grace. This is not only a fact, it is the mode of the film's being. From first moment to last, the film breathes the attar of richesse. The rooms designed by Victor Molero, the costumes by Gabriela Salaverri, the lapping of them by Juanmi Azpiroz's camera--all these confirm that we are leagues above any pleasure-limiting care. This is not a historical film where extravagance is expected: Savage Grace begins in New York in 1946 and continues through a couple of decades.

Several Worlds
May 28, 2008

Roman de GareSamuel Goldwyn Stuff and DoughMitropoulos Up the YangtzeZeitgeist The leading man in Roman de Gare is middle-aged and short, with a jutting jaw. His presence in a role that is supposed to be magnetic and sexy is an immediate clue that something odd is en route. Another quick clue: the title translates as Train Station Novel (something like our phrase "airport novel").

Particular Places
May 07, 2008

Tuya's Marriage Music Box Flight of the Red Balloon IFC Jellyfish Zeitgeist Surprising things happen in Tuya's Marriage. A herd of sheep pushes across the screen, then the herdsman rides in--on a camel. We learn that the herdsman is actually a woman. Later, she rides out on that camel in a snowstorm to find her son, a storm that has been reported to her by radio. For a party in a big town, this woman, who lives in a crude house, goes to a luxe hotel whose name is displayed in English.

Reminders
April 09, 2008

Alexandra (Cinema Guild) The Unforeseen (Cinema Guild) Frownland (Frownland, Inc.) Galina Vishnevskaya, the renowned singer who is now in her eighties and who has hitherto acted principally in opera, plays the leading role in the Russian film Alexandra. Possibly this came about because the previous film by this director was a documentary on Vishnevskaya and her late husband, the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. That director is Alexander Sokurov, a man with a heavyweight reputation.

Films Worth Seeing
April 05, 2008

Alexandra. With surprising frankness, this Russian film explores the barbarities of war, especially in Chechnya (unnamed). The picture is much heightened by the performance of a former opera star as a grandmother who visits her soldier-grandson at his army base. (Reviewed 4/9/08) Body of Work. A documentary about an American soldier drastically wounded in Iraq and his life thereafter.

Pages