A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries
This unusually charming and touching Ismail Merchant-James Ivory film feels closer to memoir than fiction; it’s drawn from an autobiographical novel by Kaylie Jones (daughter of novelist James Jones), but Ivory, working with his usual screenwriting collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, reportedly fleshed out the story with some of his own experiences. In “Billy,” the first of the film’s three sections, an expatriate novelist in Paris (Kris Kristofferson) and his wife (Barbara Hershey) adopt a six-year-old French boy who’s initially resented by the couple’s natural daughter. “Francis,” set a few years later, recounts the daughter’s friendship with an eccentric American schoolmate (Anthony Roth Costanzo), and Jane Birkin has a field day as his doting single mother. Yet these last two characters, as well as the family’s maid (Dominique Blanc) and her boyfriend (Isaac de Bankole), disappear in “Daddy,” which follows the family’s return to the States once the siblings are teenagers and the father’s health is deteriorating. The three parts add up to a rather lumpy narrative, and the characters are perceived through a kind of affectionate recollection that tends to idealize them, but they’re so beautifully realized that they linger like cherished friends. This is Ivory’s best film since Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, beautifully acted and inflected, with many first-rate French actors (including Macha Meril, Nathalie Richard, and Virginie Ledoyen) in smaller roles. Esquire, Evanston.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.
John Waters’s laid-back comedy and ultimate anti-New York statement (1998) concerns a young sandwich maker (Edward Furlong) whose amateurish photos of his working-class life in Baltimore are discovered by the New York art world (mainly through a dealer played with wonderful understatement by Lili Taylor). Waters builds to a didactic message that he underlines with Disney-esque dream dust (in various colors), as if to protect his sincerity with the disclaimer of self-mockery. Always a better writer than director, Waters makes me laugh even when he’s dawdling, and though this is no Hairspray there’s a lot of good-natured funny stuff here about the hero’s sugar-addicted kid sister, his fag-hag older sister (Martha Plimpton), the girlfriend who runs a laundromat (Christina Ricci), and other local eccentrics. It’s a low-key effort compared to a hyperraunch festival like There’s Something About Mary, but that movie could never have existed without Waters’s shining example. (JR)
Talking Pictures: Scott MacDonald on Cinema 16
During its penultimate season I was lucky enough to be a member of the groundbreaking New York film society Cinema 16, where I got my first taste of Robert Bresson and Jacques Rivette. Run by Amos and Marcia Vogel between 1946 and 1963, Cinema 16 was special because it presented all kinds of “marginal” works that no one else was showing at the time. This lecture-presentation by Scott MacDonald–a specialist in independent and experimental film who’s edited a collection of scripts and three invaluable volumes of his own interviews with filmmakers–will include not only a historical account of Cinema 16’s work but a selection of remarkable shorts shown there, including Stan Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving (1959), Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947) and Eaux d’Artifice (1953), Willard Maas’s Geography of the Body (1943), Robert Breer’s Cats (1956), and, from abroad, Arne Sucksdorff’s A Divided World (1948) and Georges Franju’s The Blood of the Beasts (1949). Franju’s film, a late addition to the program, is an extraordinary documentary about the everyday workings of a Paris slaughterhouse that manages to be shocking, lyrical, and highly moral–a good example of the great work Chicagoans almost never get to see. Chicago Historical Society, Clark at North, Tuesday, September 15, 7:00, 312-642-4600. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Blood of the Beasts film still.