Stylistically distinctive (with a rhythmically inventive use of jump cuts), impressively acted (by Jean-Francois Stevenin, Yves Afonso, and Carole Bouquet), and simultaneously unpredictable and rather bewildering as narrative, Jean-Francois Stevenin’s second feature, made in 1986, looks like nothing else in contemporary French cinema. Stevenin, who is mainly known as a rather ubiquitous actor, plays a character who accidentally runs into a boyhood chum (Afonso); together they decide to pay a surprise visit to another mutual childhood friend who now lives outside Grenoble–a mysterious figure who never makes an appearance and the film basically charts their long wait together, largely in the company of the missing friend’s wife (Bouquet). Arresting visually as well as aurally (the film is in direct sound), Double Messieurs manages to make all of its characters and their behavior sad as well as mysterious; a sense of broken dreams and an irretrievable past lurks behind the fitful, random actions and picturesque settings. Crew members are utilized in the cast, and Stevenin’s bizarre notations on the “buddy” movie stay firmly lodged in one’s memory. A Chicago premiere. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3737)
Sara Driver’s first featurea luminous, oddball comic fantasy about ancient Chinese curses and Xerox machines, set in Manhattan’s Chinatown and its immediate environsmay well be the most visually ravishing American independent film of its year (1986). Set in an irrational, poetic universe that bears a certain relationship to Jacques Rivette’s Duelle, this dreamy intrigue breaks a cardinal rule of fantasy by striking off in a number of directions: an executive barks in the street, a young Frenchwoman (Ann Magnuson) loses her hair, and machines in a copy shop start to purr and wheeze on their own initiative. The moods that are established are delicate, and not everyone will be able to go with them, but Driver, the producer of Stranger Than Paradise, sustains them with beauty and eccentric charm. Suzanne Fletcher, who also starred in Driver’s previous 50-minute You Are Not I, makes a compelling (if unconventional) heroine, and Lorenzo Mans’s screwball dialogue develops some engaging hallucinatory riffs. (JR)
Research hasn’t been able to uncover the director of this 1958 short documentary feature, a German-American coproduction that includes interviews with Eva Braun and narration by Westbrook Van Vorhees (The March of Time), but the fact that the title misspells its subject’s first name isn’t very promising. (JR)
To celebrate its fourth anniversary of screenings, the Experimental Film Coalition at Randolph St. Gallery is presenting a lively and varied program of (mainly) comic shorts. Leading off the evening is Paul Bartel’s paranoid black comedy The Secret Cinema (recently remade by Bartel as an Amazing Stories episode), to be followed by Germaine Dulac’s seminal and silent avant-garde masterpiece The Smiling Madame Beudet, a brand-new animated film by Sally Cruikshank called Face Like a Frog, Ramon Rivera Moret’s comic Cha Cha Cha, the latest film by Midwest animator Christopher Sullivan (Master of Ceremonies), Two Films I Never Made by Berkeley filmmaker Herb de Grasse, and Watersmith by the late Will Hindle, to whose memory the entire program is dedicated.