The title of Bertrand Tavernier’s well-turned 146-minute French thriller (1992) refers to the article from the French Code of Public Health that forbids “all offenses linked to the possession, traffic, and consumption of narcotics.” Cowritten by former narcotics officer Michel Alexandre, this film takes a realistic approach, following the everyday routines and bureaucratic frustrations of a Parisian narc, well played by Didier Bezace. The character never quite says “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it,” but this is the general idea, and with an able if not very well-known cast Tavernier makes an absorbing and authentic-looking movie out of it. More to the point, he implicates the audience in the sliminess of certain police operations in a way that has challenging and potent political ramifications–which is probably why this movie has been assailed by both the left and the right in France. See it and make up your own mind. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, January 27, 7:45; Saturday, January 28, 6:00 and 8:30; and Sunday, January 29, 6:00; 443-3737.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Still.
Written and directed by Cuban exiles Nestor Almendros and Orlando Jimenez-Leal, this documentary amasses a lot of talking-heads testimony to human rights violations by the Castro government. The chief target of oppression seems to be Cuba’s gay population, which proves—if any proof were needed—that Marxism doesn’t cancel out machismo. Though the film is more than enough to shake whatever romantic notions of Cuba you may be harboring, the filmmakers’ reliance on unsupported interview material and the rather awkward, undramatic structure of their argument severely compromise the project. Neither extreme enough to make good propaganda (if such a thing exists), nor reasoned enough to qualify as good reportage, the film barely seems to have earned the storm of controversy that surrounded it. (JR)
Based on a true story, Ken Loach’s powerful and disturbing British drama about a single working-class mother with four children from four different fathers is made unforgettable both by stand-up comedian Crissy Rock’s lead performance and by the filmmakers’ determination to make the story as messy and as complex as life itself. After many abusive relationships, Maggie, the heroine, settles down with a gentle Paraguayan refugee (beautifully played by Vladimir Vega), but then has to contend repeatedly with the state taking away her children. This sounds like a simple antiwelfare polemic, but Loach doesn’t allow us to walk away from the movie with any settled or monolithic message. As written by Rona Munro and played by Rock, Maggie is a volcanic conundrum, and the deeper we become involved in her fate, the less sure we become about anything. Highly recommended. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, January 20 through 26.
With the help of Rafael Yglesias and Ariel Dorfman, Roman Polanski has adapted Dorfman’s three-character play about a former political prisoner (Sigourney Weaver) kidnapping a doctor (Ben Kingsley) whom she believes was her torturer, while her lawyer husband (Stuart Wilson) serves as a go-between. Even though he’s psychologically expanded his source, the material is a bit too schematic to work as much more than a scaled-down thriller. By plunking three characters down in a remote location beside a body of water Polanski revives some of the triangular tensions found in his Knife in the Water and portions of his Cul-de-sac, but this comes across as a less personal work than either of those films or Bitter Moon, and is intermittently hampered by the mental adjustments that have to be made in order to accept English and American actors playing South American characters. Even so, Polanski certainly gets the maximum voltage and precision out of his story and actors, keeping us preternaturally alert to shifting power relationships and delayed revelations. It’s refreshing to see this mastery in a climate where there’s so little of it around. Water Tower.