Adapted from a successful play, this tense and effective Venezuelan political thriller (1992), directed with craft and discretion by Alejandro Saderman, follows the principled decision of a nun to shelter a fugitive from armed rebels during a state of civil war, the ambivalent cooperation she elicits from a fellow nun, and the price they both have to pay for their courage. Saderman sticks to the claustrophobic feeling I assume the original play had, while still conveying a detailed sense of the surrounding community, from mayor to bishop to shopkeeper. And wisely, he tends to veer away from close-ups when he wants certain dramatic points to register; indeed, many of this film’s finest moments–most of them related to the performance of Veronica Oddo, who plays the more committed nun–transpire in long shot. Three Penny, Saturday, April 23, 6:30; also Facets Multimedia, Monday, April 25, 7:00.
From the Chicago Reader (April 2002). — J.R.
The whiff of amateur theatricals in The Phantom Menace, imparting a personalized clunkiness to the proceedings, is back in force in this aptly titled fifth installment, but this time the exposition is so thick that everyone except acolytes may tune out. Though the look aspires as usual to be both otherworldly and familiar, there’s nothing that doesn’t reek of southern California plastic, including the characters. Whatever showmanship director George Lucas brought to the earlier episodes has been paved over by calculation (Christopher Lee is about the only actor who looks comfortable). But Lucas is enough of a businessman to know that the earlier chapters helped foster the celebratory mood that greeted the previous gulf war (mainly by promoting the glee to be extracted from supposedly bloodless annihilation, delivered chiefly to faceless reptiles in desert settings), and the livelier final stretches here seem designed to help pave the way for more. PG, 138 min. (JR)
It’s a matter of some dispute whether Roman Polanski’s letter to the darker side of the romantic impulse–a French-English production made in 1992–represents him at his best or worst (I’d say the former), but there’s little question that this is his most emotionally complex movie to date. With its American, English, and French characters representing the three cultures Polanski has known since he left Poland, it’s also quite possibly his most personal film–and certainly his most self-critical. The major focus of the plot, told in flashbacks, is the perverse relationship that develops in Paris between a failed, well-to-do American writer (Peter Coyote) who becomes crippled and a young French dancer (Emmanuelle Seigner); their encounter with a British couple (Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott-Thomas) on a luxury liner on the Black Sea forms the present-tense story. This uneasy combination of comedy and tragedy, frank pornography and caustic antipornography, sexual fun and games and mental cruelty doesn’t allow the audience a comfortably detached viewpoint from which to judge the proceedings. Chances are you’ll either love it or despise it. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, April 15 through 21.