This first feature by Erick Zonca is more typical than exceptional as an example of French cinema’s recent trend toward realistically depicting regional life, and its sex scenes have been trimmed to satisfy the puritanical, studio-run Motion Picture Association of America (which wouldn’t dream of interfering with the genocidal mayhem of the blockbusters). But this story of the wavering friendship between two young working-class women who meet at a clothing factory in Lille (Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier) is well worth a look, above all for its nuanced performances. Bouchez and Regnier deservedly shared the best-actress prize at Cannes last year, and most of the secondary characters are equally well realized (I especially liked the concert and nightclub bouncer played by Patrick Mercado). But what really holds this film together is its fidelity to the ways people live and relate to one another, a realism seldom offered by commercial American fare. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, April 30 through May 6.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.
A father invites his estranged son and the son’s friends to a weekend at his ski lodge, in a stupefyingly awful, in-your-face independent comedy that makes Where the Boys Are look like Love’s Labour’s Lost. Robert Downey Jr. turns up sporting a very phony and unfunny Bavarian accent that is exercised, like our patience, at great length, and the sophomoric sex gags (gay as well as straight) would do dishonor to a frat-house video. Directed by George Haas, who scripted it with Neill Barry. With Stephen Baldwin, Danny Nucci, George Newbern, Claudia Schiffer, Alison Eastwood, and Suzanne Cryer. (JR)
Tesis (1995), the first feature of Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, is an adroit and imaginative slasher movie set at a film school. This more ambitious if less satisfying second feature, one of the top grossers in Spain in 1999, shows he still has an uncanny flair for producing dread. A wealthy young man (Eduardo Noriega) finds himself in a psychiatric prison for committing a murder he can’t clearly remember, and flashbacks take us into his dark recent past, in which he snubs an old girlfriend (Najwa Nimri) in order to pursue another (Penelope Cruz), is disfigured in a suicidal car accident staged by the old girlfriend, and discovers that the new girlfriend has changed into the old one. The experience of going mad, conveyed so vividly by pulp writer Cornell Woolrich, is the main bill of fare, and as with Woolrich, it works better than the denouement explaining what brought it about. Even if the script (written by the director and Mateo Gil) and direction are patchy, the obsessive theme is grippingmuch more so than in Vanilla Sky (2001), the Tom Cruise remake. In Spanish with subtitles. 117 min. (JR)
Sean Connery remains the closest thing we have to Cary Grant, which helps to explain why he often gets teamed with leading ladies a third his age. But he brings off the conceit with more polish than Clint Eastwood, and it’s the romantic sparring with Catherine Zeta-Jones as another glamorous thiefnot the unsuspenseful heiststhat makes this silly thriller lightly bearable. The multiple double crosses tend to be more fun, if no less predictable, than the hyperbolic action sequences because the stars are more at ease (and we’re not watching stunt doubles). Some of the locations (London, rural Scotland, Kuala Lumpur) add spice to the mixture, and Ving Rhames and Will Patton provide the formulaic secondary cast. Jon Amiel directed the script by Ron Bass and William Broyles. (JR)