An unintentional parody of a particular kind of European art moviethe kind that often garners Oscar nominations, as this 1998 film did. An illiterate, overweight, virginal Swedish farmer in his early 40s (Rolf Lassgard) advertises for a young housekeeper who might also keep him company. Lo and behold, a beautiful, mysterious, compliant woman from the city (Helena Bergstrom) turns up. Her presence threatens the farmer’s much younger friend (Johan Widerberg), an insensitive lout who’s been swindling him blind. To be fair, all three lead actors are adroit; but the story, adapted from a short story by H.E. Bates, is both contrived and not very well told. Director-producer-cowriter Colin Nutleywho, incidentally, is married to Bergstromseems to cut away to extraneous details whenever he doesn’t know what to do next, which is often. There’s also a very hard-sell Irish music score by Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains, sex in the rain, and loads of decorative nature photography. 118 min. (JR)
Writer-director Eva Gardos, best known as a film editor, takes on a fascinating autobiographical subjectthe Americanization of a little girl (Kelly Endresz Baniaki) who arrives in the U.S. in the 50s from communist Hungary and grows up during the 60sand treats it competently, though without much freshness or imagination. The movie becomes more interesting when the heroine insists on visiting Budapest as a teenager, and Ghost World’s Scarlett Johansson manages to make her character something more than the usual rebellious movie adolescent. With Nastassja Kinski and Tony Goldwyn. 106 min. (JR)
Made in 1967 but released only in 1986, Kira Muratova’s acclaimed Soviet feature is about two womena party official (Muratova herself) and the maid she hires (Nina Ruslanova)who have both loved the same man, a geologist (popular Russian folksinger Vladimir Visotsky). As a huge fan of Muratova’s postglasnost The Asthenic Syndrome (1989) and Three Stories (1997), each an angry, despairing, and extremely stylized work in color, I wasn’t quite prepared for this quiet, touching, and basically realistic black-and-white drama, interesting at least in part for what it conveys about everyday Russian life in the 60s. I haven’t yet determined whether that’s what led to the film’s being banned for almost 20 years. In Russian with subtitles. 96 min. (JR)
The prolific Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has been at work for nearly two decades, sometimes making straight-to-video features but more recently receiving some belated international recognition. This month the Film Center will show 35-millimeter prints of a half dozen of his recent thrillers, made between 1996 and 2000, and I can recommend all three that I’ve seen–though not without certain caveats. All three are fairly grisly, though Kurosawa’s frequent long shots impart a cool, detached tone to the cruelty and violence. And his plots can be difficult to understand, though his visual style is so riveting you might not mind. Eyes of the Spider and Serpent’s Path, rhyming companion pieces made in 1997, both star Shoh Aikawa and involve yakuza intrigues and a father tracking down the men who kidnapped and killed his little girl; I often couldn’t figure out who was doing what to whom, but I didn’t much care, because the visual sweep of the former and the claustrophobia of the latter were both compelling. The engrossing Cure (1998), which is getting an extended run, stars Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?, The Eel) as a troubled detective exploring a series of murders committed through hypnotic suggestion (as in The Manchurian Candidate), and while its creepy mystery plot is easy enough to follow even when it turns metaphysical, it’s unsatisfying as a story precisely because it aspires to create a mounting sense of dread by enlarging questions rather than answering them. Stylistically these are the most inventive Japanese features I’ve seen in some time, much more unpredictable than Takeshi Kitano’s recent yakuza exercises. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Friday, August 17, 8:00 (Cure); Saturday, August 18, 3:45 (Cure), 6:00 (Cure), 6:15 (Eyes of the Spider), 8:00 (Serpent’s Path), and 8:15 (Cure); Sunday, August 19, 6:00 (Cure); and Tuesday and Thursday, August 21 and 23, 6:15 and 8:30 (Cure); 312-846-2600.