From the Chicago Reader (October 27, 2000). — J.R.
Alain Resnais’ first feature in English (1977, 110 min.) focuses on the imagination, dreams, and memories of an aging British novelist (John Gielgud) over one night as he mentally composes and recomposes his last book, using members of his immediate family — Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn, David Warner, and Elaine Stritch — as his models. Although David Mercer’s witty, aphoristic script can be British to a fault, the film’s rich mental landscape is a good deal more universal, with everything from H.P. Lovecraft’s werewolves to a painted seaside backdrop providing the essential textures. Like all of Resnais’ best work, this is shot through with purposeful and lyrical enigmas, but the family profile that emerges is warm and penetrating, recalling the haunted Tyrones in Long Day’s Journey Into Night rather than the pieces of an abstract puzzle. The superb performances and Miklos Rozsa’s sumptuous Hollywood-style score give the film’s conceit a moving monumentality and depth, and Resnais’ insights into the fiction-making process are mesmerizing and beautiful. This is showing in a 16-millimeter print, but later in the evening the Film Center will present 35-millimeter prints of Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Muriel (1963). Along with Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Melo (1986), these three powerful works are Resnais’ greatest features. Gene Siskel Film Center, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 28, 3:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
I had fun with this Harold Ramis remake of the 1968 Stanley Donen comedyabout an obnoxious nebbish who strikes a Faustian bargain with the devilas long as I didn’t worry about the character of the nebbish, played by Brendan Fraser, who starts off unbelievably stupid and winds up ridiculously enlightened. Much more believable and witty is the devil, incarnated by Elizabeth Hurley as a steamy babe, while the beautiful and ethereal woman the nebbish dreams about, adequately played by Frances O’Connor, isn’t much more than a prop. Each of the seven wishes the nebbish is granted yields a separate comic sketch in which he fulfills his fantasy but doesn’t gain his prizethe same structure as the original, which was British and basically consisted of sketch humor by Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. The only washouts are the sketches in which the hero is supposed to be sensitive or intelligent and witty, these being nothing but assemblies of stupid stereotypes. In other words, this is well crafted and mindless in the best Hollywood tradition. Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan collaborated with Ramis on the script. 93 min. (JR)
This seminal 63-minute experimental film by French director Jackie Raynal kicks off Facets Multimedia Center’s weeklong retrospective on the “Zanzibar collection,” a group of mainly political films financed by heiress Sylvina Boissonnas between 1968 and ‘70. Raynal, a film editor working for most of the French New Wave directors, made Deux fois in black-and-white 35-millimeter during a visit to Barcelona and its environs, with herself as the main performer in practically every sequence. Instead of a story it offers a flow of sequential events that formally rhyme with each other, so that the title (”two times”) becomes a succinct reference to her method–though some things in the film appear three, four, or five times, always with distinct variations. Years later, faced by a team of feminist film theorists, Raynal admitted that the film is partially about “the representation of the image of woman as a sign,” but apparently in the more footloose, less gender-conscious 60s she was more interested in exploring the sexy forms of duplicity between various sequences, their secret points of accord and strongest points of tension. It’s a film about coupling (a man appears with Raynal in many of the sequences) but also about flirting with camera and spectator alike. If I wanted to convey the excitement of France in 1968, this brave, pleasure-driven provocation would undoubtedly carry me part of the way. Raynal and series curator Sally Shafto will attend the Saturday screening. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Chicago, Friday, October 13, 7:00; Saturday, October 14, 8:45; Monday, October 16, 7:00; and Wednesday, October 18, 8:30; 773-281-4114.
I haven’t read Herman Melville’s Pierre, or the Ambiguities, but it’s reportedly director Leos Carax’s favorite novel. What there is of a plot to this 1999 modern-dress adaptation, which Carax wrote with Lauren Sedofsky and Jean-Pol Fargeau, concerns a wealthy author (Guillaume Depardieu, son of Gerard) living in Normandy in semi-incestuous content with his mother (Catherine Deneuve). Upon encountering a soulful eastern European war refugee (Katerina Golubeva) who claims to be his half sister, he runs out on his wealthy fiancee (Delphine Chuillot) and retreats to a funky part of Paris to write another novel. There’s clearly some sort of self-portraiture going on here. A 19th-century romantic inhabiting a universe as mythological as Jean Cocteau’s, Carax (Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood, The Lovers on the Bridge) has a wonderful cinematic eye and a personal feeling for editing rhythms, and his sense of overripeness and excess virtually defines him. He’s as self-indulgent as they come, and we’d all be much the poorer if he weren’t. Characteristic of his private sense of poetics is this film’s final dedication, near the end of the closing credits, “to my three sisters”–it appears on-screen for less than a second. Pola, incidentally, is the acronym of the French title of Melville’s novel; X alludes to the fact that Carax used the tenth draft of the script. 134 min. Fine Arts.
If you’re intrigued by notions of virtual sex in cyberspace, this Belgian-French SF effort by Pierre-Paul Renders seems calculated to exhaust that fascination. The eponymous, agoraphobic hero in the not-so-distant future hasn’t left his home in eight years, and after his on-line psychoanalyst signs him up with a dating service and his insurance broker hooks him up with specialized prostitutes, a procession of real or virtual potential sex partners appears on his computer screen. The minimalist conceit of this movie is that Thomas is heard but never seen; his subjective stand-inas in Robert Montgomery’s 1946 Lady in the Lake and in Orson Welles’s unrealized screenplay adapting Heart of Darknessis the movie camera. Such a gimmickcamera eye equals Ibecomes particularly monotonous when the camera doesn’t move: Thomas is a couch potato as well as a recluse, and a terminal bore to boot. The women, real and simulated, are only slightly more interesting, and then only when they talk back. 97 min. (JR)