Heroes and People
February 18, 2009

Defiance Paramount Of Time and the City Strand Releasing EDWARD ZWICK’S FILM Defiance is based on Nechama Tec’s book of the same title. Tec told a wondrous factual story of World War II, a history so close to incredible that it is awesome. In Belarus in 1941, two young Jewish brothers named Bielski organized a life-saving mission for Jews that, after much hazard and suffering, rescued twelve hundred lives from the Holocaust. The principal means of salvation was the immense forests of the region.

Films Worth Seeing
February 16, 2009

Cherry Blossoms. A German couple leave home to visit their grown children (as in Ozu’s Tokyo Story) and discover more than they expected. The husband ends in Japan with his son and an enlightening dancer. The director Doris Dorrie blends cultures movingly and to rewarding purpose. (Reviewed 2/4/09)Defiance. Basically the true story of two Polish Jewish brothers--not particularly noble characters--who during World War Two rescued 1200 Jews from the Germans. Edward Zwick, who directed, has wrapped the facts in cinematic embroidery, but he lets the central truth emerge victorious.

Guiding Spirits
February 04, 2009

Silent Light -- Palisades PicturesCherry Blossoms -- Strand ReleasingYet again, and again impressive, comes a film with a nonprofessional cast. Like such recent pictures as Ballast, The Pool, and August Evening, all of which gloried in film's power to transform sincerity into art, Silent Light presents people who have not been actors but who have committed themselves with their entire beings. But Silent Light is markedly different from comparable films.

December 31, 2008

Adam Resurrected--Bleiberg Entertainment Theater of War--White Buffalo Entertainment Dust--Icarus Films Like some European film-makers, Paul Schrader began his career as a critic. In 1972 he published Transcendental Style in Film, a perceptive study of Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer. He then proceeded to write and direct some untranscendental films, such as The Yakuza, about Japanese gangsters; Blue Collar, about union workers; and Hardcore, about porn. But grit was not to be his sole metier.

Taking Risks
December 24, 2008

A Christmas Tale -- IFC Films Wendy and Lucy -- Oscilloscope Pictures Every director needs at least some courage, but Arnaud Desplechin has quite a lot. With his new film, A Christmas Tale, he bravely took on a trite form, hoping that he could vitalize it. He succeeds. He also gave the picture a title that risks the corny, apparently sure that it would come to seem ironic. Eventually it even transcends irony. Born in Roubaix, an industrial city in northern France, Desplechin, with coauthor Emmanuel Bourdieu, sets his story there.

Presidents and Others
December 03, 2008

W.--Lionsgate Stages--Lemming Film Oliver Stone is, for me, the most adventurous and exciting American director of his time. Struck by some of our era's soul-chilling events and forces, he has seized them with electrifying art. No other American director has so consistently explored large political and social ravages of the day. This is not a matter of civic duty. Stone's best films are, in complex and helpful ways, discomforts. His new film, W., is about George W. Bush. Among his major films, two have also been on presidential subjects.

Finding Out
November 19, 2008

One Day You'll Understand Kino International Dear Zachary: A Letter to A Son About His Father Oscilloscope Pictures Jeanne Moreau has reigned in French films since 1950, sensual, brainy, wryly dangerous, free. She was a woman whom men sometimes didn't dare to fantasize about, and for some women she figured as an agent of reprisal. All these qualities were heightened by her talent and technique. (Before she entered films, she was schooled in the theater, an ingénue at the Comédie Française.) But time has had its way with Jeanne Moreau, too, and now she appears as a grandmother.

Departure, Arrivals
November 05, 2008

Paul Newman Stranded: I've come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (Zeitgeist Films) Let the Right One In (Magnet Releasing) Three kinds of performers appear in films: actors, stars, and star actors. Some very good actors lack the looks and personality to become stars. Some stars, iconic though they may be, have just enough talent to get by. Then there are the actors who have both talent and charisma.

Triad and Tumult
October 22, 2008

Ballast (Alluvial Film Company) Elite Squad (IFC Films)    Still another extraordinary new American director comes along--the third in just a few months. After Courtney Hunt with Frozen River and Chris Eska with Autumn Evening, here is Lance Hammer with Ballast. Though these three directors have little in common stylistically, all three of their films deal with working-class people. Hammer's film, which he also wrote and edited, is his first feature. Set in the Mississippi Delta, its three principal characters are black, yet the first person we see is white.

Matters of Belief
October 08, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Metro Goldwyn Mayer and the Weinstein Company) A Secret (Strand Releasing) Two young American women, Vicky and Cristina, go to spend a summer in Barcelona. Dining one night in a restaurant, they see a good-looking man across the room. Soon the man, a Spanish painter fluent in English, comes over to their table, says that he is about to fly to Oviedo to look at a favorite sculpture there, and invites them to come with him. To their own surprise, they accept.