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.
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)
From the looks of it, screenwriter and costar James McManus based his story and its details on a sizable reading list of novelists: not only Malcolm Lowry and Graham Greene (both cited in the dialogue), but also James M. Cain and probably David Goodis to boot. The story involves a would-be American novelist (Eric Roberts) who finds himself broke and stranded in a Mexican village. He falls in love with a 17-year-old local (newcomer Tara Crespo) he’s never met, and gets hired by another gringo (McManus), who’s working for a local philanthropist (Joaquim de Almeida), to settle a grudge match by killing another wealthy local (Victor Rivers). The dialogue tends to be wordy and pretentious, but the actors are resourceful enough to keep this watchable and the plot has a reasonable number of twists; Jack Perez is the director. (JR)