In some ways more obscure and difficult than Jean-Luc Godard, with whom she has collaborated in various capacities since 1972, Anne-Marie Mieville continues to puzzle even as she sharpens her mise en scene. This 80-minute feature from 1997 is the most interesting solo effort of hers I’ve seen, though I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, especially during the third and final sequence. In the first and most impressive sequence, an extract from Plato’s Gorgias is dramatized inside a bourgeois household, with Callicles (Bernadette Lafont) performing various household chores as she quarrels with Socrates (Aurore Clement). In the second, Godard turns up on a theater stage to rehearse a monologue condensed from a passage in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism below a huge photograph of Arendt as a young woman, an image that recalls the opening of Bergman’s Persona. In the third and most puzzling, Clement and Godard play a couple who go out for dinner and return home while she bellyaches about everything he does and he apologizes; whether or not this is supposed to correspond to Mieville and Godard’s relation in real life is anyone’s guess, but in this segment Godard was reportedly a last-minute replacement for another actor. Whatever the three episodes signify, Godard’s performance is the most interesting thing in the picture, especially when he’s reciting Arendt. In French with subtitles. (JR)
Fritz Lang’s only film in CinemaScope (1955, 89 min.) is one of his most neglected features, at least in this country. (In France there’s a deluxe edition on DVD made especially for high school students.) A kind of 18th-century fairy tale about an orphan in Dorset (Jon Whiteley) who’s adopted, after a fashion, by a smuggler (Stewart Granger), this classy MGM production was adapted from a novel by J. Meade Faulkner by Margaret Fitts and Jan Lustig, and its dreamlike sense of wonder is equaled only in Lang’s German pictures. John Houseman produced, and Miklos Rozsa wrote the stirring score; the fine secondary cast includes George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, and Viveca Lindfors. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Saturday, September 28, 7:00, and Wednesday, October 2, 6:00, 312-846-2800.
The fourth feature made by Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira since he turned 90, this 2001 film is set in Paris (which has seldom looked better or been evoked more affectionately) and concerns a famous French actor in his 70s (Michel Piccoli at his best) learning to cope with solitude after an auto accident has claimed the lives of his wife, his daughter, and his son-in-law. The film shows its protagonist at workcostarring with Catherine Deneuve in Ionesco’s Exit the King, playing Prospero in a French production of The Tempest, and trying to speak English in a film adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses, directed by John Malkovich. But Oliveira is equally attentive and respectful as the hero enjoys such everyday rituals as playing with his grandson or reading the newspaper over his daily expresso. For a film about bereavement this is surprisingly light, and while its simplicity is deceptive, it may be Oliveira’s most accessible work to date, a masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. In English and subtitled French. 90 min. (JR)
Underrated all-star western by Richard Brooks about four soldiers of fortune hired by Ralph Bellamy to rescue his wife (Claudia Cardinale) from Jack Palance down in Mexico. This 1966 film was eclipsed in many people’s minds by The Wild Bunch three years later, but it’s a good, solid job, and with Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode, how could you miss? Adapted from Frank O’Rourke’s novel A Mule for the Marquesa, with cinematography by the great Conrad Hall. 117 min. (JR)