The Eighth Day

My candidate for the most disgusting feature at Cannes in 1996, this French-Belgian film by Jaco van Dormael is shameless. The obvious precedent is Rain Man, but that film’s opportunism hinged on the decision of a famous star, Dustin Hoffman, to play an idiot savant alongside Tom Cruise. Here the recipe consists of casting a star, Daniel Auteuil, alongside a person who really has Down’s syndrome, Pascal Duquenne. The danger of such calculation is that the pseudoreality of the star and the hyperreality of his costar might clash, a possibility cleverly avoided through the use of an expanding magical realism that turns both characters into animated cartoon figures, so that the best reference may be neither Rain Man nor the lachrymose Zorba the Greek but the overblown child’s landscape of the tear-jerking Dumbo. In awarding the actor’s prize jointly to both leads, the Cannes jury took the bait, and the tearful standing ovation in the Palais seemed to express a self-congratulatory recognition that a handicapped person is just as lovable as a movie star, that a movie star is just as real as a handicapped person, and that genuine innocence can’t survive in the worldexcept it does, because this film exploits it. (JR)

Published on 09 May 1997 in Featured Texts, by admin

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The Picture Of Dorian Gray

The underrated Albert Lewin (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The Moon and Sixpence), a sort of Val Lewton who had the run of the MGM backlot, adapted Oscar Wilde’s novel and directed his own script in a skillfully somber and haunting version of the metaphysical fable about a man whose painting ages and records his moral corruption while he retains his youthful appearance. With Hurd Hatfield memorably playing the title part, this 1945 film also includes juicy performances by George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, and Donna Reed. Deeper and creepier (that is to say, better) than anything turned out by Merchant-Ivory, this is both very Hollywood and very serious in a manner calculated to confound the Hey, it’s only a movie! crowd. (JR)

Published on 01 May 1997 in Featured Texts, by admin

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My Name Is Ivan

Andrei Tarkovsky’s powerful 1962 first feature, also known as Ivan’s Childhood and The Youngest Spy, is his most conventional as narrative, though it contains some remarkable dreamlike interludes that anticipate his later work. Shot in black and white, it follows the adventures of a boy serving as a spy on the front lines during World War II. In Russian and German with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)

Published on 01 May 1997 in Featured Texts, by admin

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