I would nominate this as the worst of Woody Allen’s color comedies to date, though there’s a morbid fascination in the degree to which it exposes both his cynicism and his contempt for his audiencesomething expressed more directly in Stardust Memories, a more interesting picture. Here Allen plays a neurotic film director whose career is on the skids and whose ex-wife (Tea Leoni) campaigns to get him hired on a $60 million picture. Still in a rage over her leaving him for the studio boss (Treat Williams) she’s now engaged to and works for, the director goes psychosomatically blind just as the picture begins shooting, a fact that he and she contrive to keep secret. I’m sure Allen knows that blind people know which directions voices come from, just as I’m sure he knows that Jerry Lewis stopped being in vogue in France about 25 years ago. But he also knows that some people will laugh at gags predicated on misinformation about these matters and proceeds accordingly, as if to demonstrate how much he despises them for laughing. (For more than a decade it’s been Allen, not Lewis, whom French audiences have adored.) I only laughed once here, at a Treat Williams reaction shot; the rest of the time I was trying to figure out why Allen made this movie. With George Hamilton, Debra Messing, Mark Rydell, and Tiffani Thiessen. 114 min. (JR)
My exposure to Stan Brakhage’s massive oeuvre has been somewhat limited, but these four works made in 1998 are among the most exciting and ravishing I’ve seen, rivaling even Scenes From Under Childhood (1970). Aptly described by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice as “scratch-and-stain films,” these mainly nonphotographic works “are, among other things, a visual analogue to abstract expressionism.” Reel 1 (22 min.) registers as visual music in its development of motifs and its use of rests to divide the work into discrete sections–a music that pulses, throbs, and sometimes winks on and off like a strobe light. Reel 2 (15 min.) credits Sam Bush as the “visual musician” and Brakhage as the “composer”; more staccato, dramatic, and richly orchestrated than the first reel, it occasionally recalls early Stravinsky in its fierce rhythms. Reels 3 (15 min.) and 4 (20 min.) are my favorites: the former uses bursts of photography (water, sky, birds, forest, sand, a nude child, merry-go-round horses), and the latter often suggests animation, with a black field disrupted by tantalizing bursts and smears of color. Also on the program are two Brakhage works I haven’t seen–Coupling (1999, 5 min.) and Night Mulch & Very (2001, 7 min.). Presented by Chicago Filmmakers in conjunction with a special issue of the Chicago Review on Brakhage’s work; the filmmaker was planning to attend, but serious health problems have kept him at home in Colorado. Columbia College Ferguson Theater, 600 S. Michigan, Friday, April 26, 8:00, 773-293-1447.
Clare Peploe’s mainly traditional adaptation of Pierre Marivaux’s 18th-century gender-bending romantic comedy has many of the virtues one would expect from the woman who made the highly entertaining High Season and Rough Magic. But despite the wonderful conclusion, when the film turns into a musical performed before a live audience, as well as the pleasures of the cast and the screenplay — which Peploe, working from an English translation by Martin Crimp, wrote in collaboration with her husband, Bernardo Bertolucci, who’s the movie’s producer, and screenwriter Marilyn Goldin — I was periodically put off by a certain self-consciousness of delivery. Mira Sorvino stars as a princess who, along with her lady-in-waiting (Rachael Stirling), dresses in drag in order to get close enough to the crown’s true heir (Jay Rodan) to offer him the throne that is rightfully his. Others in the cast include Ben Kingsley and Fiona Shaw. PG-13, 107 min. (JR)
Like Yasujiro Ozu’s features with seasonal titles, Alexander Sokurov’s hallucinatory video elegies tend to be so similar, even in their running times, that they blur together in memory. Elegy of a Voyage (2001, 47 min.)–which might be more idiomatically titled Elegy for a Voyage–is a journey, a dream, a first-person narrative (visibly as well as audibly) that evokes the 19th century, and a hypnotic study in textures relating to fog, snow, and water that often entails a breakdown in the usual divisions between color and black and white (as well as fiction and documentary). It was commissioned by the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, which asked Sokurov to look at a work of art in their collection “like a night watchman in a deserted museum.” By the time Sokurov creeps into the museum to reflect on Brueghel’s The Tower of Babel and seven other paintings, he seems to have trekked across substantial portions of his native Russia as well as the Helsinki harbor. I was less captivated by Laura Waddington’s minimalist video diary Cargo (2001, 29 min.), which uses many still and slow-motion shots and similarly fragmented narration to illustrate a trip she took from Venice to the Middle East on a freighter whose exploited crew was an international assortment of men without landing papers. I haven’t seen Snowdrift, the nine-minute entry by Swedish video maker Gunvor Nelson that rounds out the program. Columbia College Ludington Bldg., Saturday, April 13, 3:00.