From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1998). — J.R.
The fascinating thing about this award-winning feature-length documentary (1996) by Duan Jinchuan from mainland China is that it often seems to approximate the work of Frederick Wiseman in showing us the everyday workings of contemporary society — although the society in this case is one we generally know little about. The focus here is on a neighborhood committee in Lhasa, Tibet, where citizens go to settle family disputes, petty thieves and other delinquents are chastised and advised, community finances are computed, and street vendors are regulated, among many other activities. This doesn’t register like a thesis-driven film, though the preparations for an official ceremony celebrating the Chinese occupation of Tibet towards the end certainly has its creepy side, and one that implicitly rhymes with the other forms of patriarchal rule that one has witnessed in most of the preceding segments. (JR)
A potentially charming, almost fairy-tale premise for a romantic comedya Hollywood tour-bus driver (Jeremy Piven) who cruises past the homes of celebrities meets a movie star (Sherilyn Fenn) and pretends to be a screenwriter, thus ushering him into a potential romance and a taste of the local high lifeprogressively loses its air and becomes a mainly lugubrious experience because the script (by Stan Williamson) is so formulaic and threadbare. Andrew Gallerani, in his first feature as a director, does a pretty good job with the actors, but they need better material than they’re handed here. With JoBeth Williams, Alex Rocco, Jeffrey Sams, and Wallace Shawn. (JR)
The title of Tony Gatlif’s 1997 French feature is Romany for crazy stranger; the stranger, our main point of identification, is a young scholar and music buff from France who scours the Romanian countryside looking for a legendary singer until a direct and extended encounter with Gypsy culture throws him for a loop. The third part of Gatlif’s Gypsy Trilogyafter Latcho Drom (which I revere) and The Princes (which I haven’t seen)this is a pretty good romantic comedy with neither the formal originality nor the musical excitement of Latcho Drom, though it’s certainly watchable and entertaining throughout. In French with subtitles. 121 min. (JR)