Though I liked his criticism for Cahiers du Cinema in the 60s, on the basis of five of his early films I haven’t been a big fan of Andre Techine. But this wonderful and masterful feature (1994), his 12th, suggests that maybe he’d just been tooling up. It’s one of the best movies from an excellent French television series of fiction features on teenagers of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s, and it’s the first to be released in the U.S. If Techine’s French Provincial (1974) evoked in some ways the Bertolucci of The Conformist, this account of kids living in southwest France in 1962, toward the end of the Algerian war, has some of the feeling, lyricism, and sweetness of Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution–though it’s clearly the work of someone much older and wiser. The main characters, all completing their baccalaureate exam at a boarding school, include a boy struggling with his homosexual desire for a close friend, an older student who’s a right-wing opponent of Algerian nationalism, and a communist girl, the daughter of one of the teachers, who befriends the homosexual and falls for the older student in spite of their violent political differences. One remembers these characters and others as vividly as old friends, and Techine’s handling of pastoral settings is as exquisite as his feeling for period. Winner of Cesar awards (the French equivalent of Oscars) for best picture, director, screenplay, and “new female discovery” (Elodie Bouchez). With Frederic Gorny, Gael Morel, Stephane Rideau, and Michele Moretti (who’s best known for her work with Jacques Rivette). Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 28 through August 3.
Director Irwin Winkler, who’d previously given us a political movie without politics (Guilty by Suspicion) and a remake of a classic noir without atmosphere or flavor (Night and the City), here gives us a thriller without thrills, though Sandra Bullock in the lead and the putative themethe paranoid possibility of deleting people’s public profiles from computer networksmay keep you intermittently interested. Bullock plays a lonely freelance hacker who accidentally stumbles upon a conspiracy that wipes out her identity during a vacation in Mexico. What’s really terrible here is the script credited to John Brancato and Michael Ferris and apparently written by a computer with identity problems of its own. Winkler doesn’t know how to transcend or circumvent it, and the mechanical music by the omnipresent Mark Isham doesn’t help much. With Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller, and Diane Baker. (JR)
A much better-than-average comedy-adventure and animal picture from Disney, set in South Vietnam in 1968 and inspired by a true story, about the mission of five Green Berets to transport an 8,000-pound elephant through 200 miles of jungle. This logistical nightmareinvolving travel by plane, parachute, truck, and boat as well as by footwas carried out for Montagnard villagers after the elephant they’d planned to use in a ceremony was accidentally killed. Leading the mission are two captains (Danny Glover and Ray Liotta) at temperamental loggerheads, and leading the elephant is a war orphan (Dinh Thien Le) suspicious of both of them; part of what makes this picture distinctive is a humanist treatment of the Vietnamese characters, North as well as South. Simon Wincer (Free Willy) does a fine job of keeping things both mobile and scenic, and the script by Gene Quintano and Jim Kouf has an old-fashioned sense of character and story development that kept me entertained; even when this picture is corny, it’s corny in a likable way. With Denis Leary, Doug E. Doug, and Corin Nemec. (JR)
You’ve probably never heard of this crime picture and love story (1994), but it’s almost certainly the best American genre movie released so far this year–the sort of beautifully crafted personal effort that would qualify as a sleeper if our film industry still allowed sleepers to function as they did in the 50s. Given the kinky (and highly erotic) sex scenes and the quirky comedy, the expert handling of actors and the playful experimenting with both narrative form and genre expectations, one is tempted to compare writer-director Mark Malone to Quentin Tarantino. But in fact he stands Tarantino squarely on his head; this movie, originally titled Killer (and scripted for contractual reasons under a pseudonym), about the unexpected overnight awakening and humanizing of a cold-blooded hit man (Anthony LaPaglia) by his willing victim (Mimi Rogers) puts back the tenderness and conscience that Tarantino removed from his pulp sources, and does it with soul as well as style. Apart from the wonderful leads, Matt Craven and Peter Boyle are both inspired–and often very funny–in secondary parts. The story may wind up haunting you for days. Like the ad writers, I’m tempted to call this movie a noir, but since it isn’t misogynist that would be misleading. Just go see it before it disappears. Pipers Alley.