Highly controversial and troubling but undeniably powerful and impossible to dismiss, this French feature cowritten (with critic Jacques Fieschi) by, directed by, and starring the late Cyril Collard follows the last reckless days and nights of a 30-year-old cinematographer and musician who discovers he is HIV positive but continues to have sex with strangers as well as with his two more regular lovers. Based on Collard’s autobiographical novel Les nuits fauves, Savage Nights won Cesars (the French equivalent of Oscars) for best picture, best first picture, most promising actress (Romane Bohringer), and best editing a few days after the 35-year-old filmmaker died of AIDS in March 1993. These honors can’t simply be written off as sentimental: stylistically and dramatically, this is an accomplished piece of work. If Collard’s driven hero often seems far from admirable–unconsciously misogynistic beneath his apparent bisexual “tolerance,” and, as his masochistic behavior often implies, full of self-loathing–the film seems admirably unpropagandistic in permitting spectators to make up their own minds about him. It also gives full voice to the agony of unrequited adolescent love (Bohringer’s volcanic performance), and, for better and for worse, offers a treatment of AIDS that’s the other side of the moon from Philadelphia–politically incorrect with a vengeance. Whether you like this or not, you’ll have a hard time shaking it loose. With Carlos Lopez. Pipers Alley.
The anarchistic and unpredictable English director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker) goes bilingual in this 1992 Mexican picture, spoken in Spanish throughout. In some ways it’s his best work to date–a beautifully realized tale about the life of a Mexican highway patrolman who’s neither sentimentalized nor treated like a villain: he takes bribes, but has a sense of ethics. Wonderfully played by Mexican star Roberto Sosa, he’s a more believable cop than any Hollywood counterparts that come to mind. Starting off as a sadsack comedy with black overtones, the film gravitates into grim neorealism, but Cox also displays a flair for surrealist filigree (worthy of Bunuel in spots) and straight-ahead action, and does some marvelous things with actors and the Mexican landscape. In some respects, this is a return to the funky, witty pleasures of Repo Man, but the virtuoso long-take camera style–there are only 187 cuts in the entire movie–and emotional depth show a more mature Cox. (I hope the other Mexican feature he made around the same time–a masterful, baroque black-and-white adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’s “Death and the Compass” done for the BBC, with a camera style suggesting Touch of Evil–will eventually be imported as well.) Music Box, Friday through Thursday, March 18 through 24.
The charm, humor, and healthy eroticism of Australian writer-director John Duigan (The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting) are back in force in this pleasantly recounted tale, set in the 30s, about a newlywed Anglican clergyman and his wife, freshly played by Hugh Grant and Tara Fitzgerald, who stop off at the remote home of a controversial (i.e., erotic) painter (Sam Neill). The clergyman has been asked by his bishop to try to persuade the painter to remove one of his sexy paintings from an upcoming exhibit, and when the couple unexpectedly have to extend their stay, the sensual lures of both the scenic setting and the bohemian household–which largely consists of the painter’s female models–have a subtle but indelible effect on them, the wife in particular. With Elie Macpherson, Portia De Rossi, Kate Fischer, and Pamela Rabe; Duigan himself has a cameo as a local minister. Pipers Alley.