This gripping and well-acted theatrical duet (1993) evokes a kinder, gentler Oleanna; the setting is the apartment of a paralegal assistant (Karen Sillas) and the circumstance is her first date with a coworker (writer-director Tom Noonan). Neither character is quite who she or he appears to be, and a subtly modulated power shift between the two gradually takes place as each unveils an inner self. The film won a screenwriting award at Sundance, and the actors both seem to know what they’re doing every step of the way. Music Box, Friday through Tuesday, December 16 through 20.
The most oversold French movie of 1994, rivaled only by the previous year’s Germinal (which was directed by the producer of this one, Claude Berri). This unpleasant period spectacle of sweat, gore, grime, and dry humpingbased on Alexandre Dumas’ novel, and built around the bloody intrigues ensuing in 1572 from the forced marriage of Marguerite of Valois (Isabelle Adjani), the French king’s Catholic sister, nicknamed Margot, and Henri of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil), an unkempt Protestantwas reduced with the director’s input from 164 to 143 minutes, apparently to acquire an R rating. I haven’t seen the longer version, but they still haven’t cut out all the boring parts, and what anyone could have liked about this movie to begin with is a mystery to me. Patrice Chereau, the director, who wrote the script with Daniele Thompson, has a reputation as one of the best opera and theater directors around, and his previous feature, L’homme blesse, has many defenders. But apart from the production values, I would never have guessed it on the evidence offered here. With Jean-Hugues Anglade, Vincent Perez, Virna Lisi, and Jean-Claude Brialy. (JR)
With this epic account of a Chinese family from the 40s to the 70s, Zhang Yimou seems to have abandoned the high aestheticism of his Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, and Raise the Red Lantern for a more popular and didactic kind of filmmaking (The Story of Qiu Ju can be seen as a transitional work). To Live (1994, 125 min.) is masterful in its own right, and filled with so many barbs at the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath that Zhang was forbidden to make any films in China with foreign financing for two years (though the stated charge against him was illegal distribution of this film). Adapted by Yu Hua and Lu Wei from Yu’s novel Lifetimes, the film focuses on a wealthy gambling addict (comic actor Ge You) with a pregnant wife (Gong Li) and young daughter who loses his family’s fortune and becomes a shadow puppeteer shortly before civil war erupts; ironically, it’s his recklessness as a gambler that eventually saves him from execution, the first of many sociopolitical paradoxes the movie has to offer. Some of the story’s details recall Farewell My Concubine and The Blue Kite, but Zhang has his own story to tell and his own points to make. His film grows progressively in meaning and resonance as it develops. Highly recommended. (JR)