The New Babylon

Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg’s exciting, extremely physical 1929 film about the 1871 Paris Commune takes its name from a huge Paris department store at the center of an armed struggle between working-class communards and French soldiers. It’s odd that the movie isn’t as famous as the revolutionary classics of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, because it’s every bit as stirring and richly detailed. (Appropriately, it received a major rerelease in Paris soon after the civil unrest of May 1968.) A large-scale production, it grew out of the groundbreaking Soviet theater-and-film workshop Factory of the Eccentric Actor, better known as FEKS. It’s brutally honest about class hatred, using its lightning-quick montage to clarify the connections between all the characters (ranging from the department store’s proprietor to a shopgirl and from a washerwoman to a soldier), and its dazzling tricks with lighting and focus dramatize Paris’s opulent high life as well as its poverty. 80 min. (JR)

Published on 27 Feb 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Chronicle Of The Years Of Embers

Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina’s 1975 Algerian feature in ‘Scope, about a peasant joining the Algerian war of independence, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but has seldom been seen or discussed since. In Arabic with subtitles. 177 min. (JR)

Published on 20 Feb 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Outskirts

A group of Russian farmers discover that their land has been sold for oil excavation without their knowledge and go on a rampage of torture and killing to extract more information from party officials. This grim, phantasmagoric view of recent and not-so-recent Russian history (1998, 95 min.), directed by the late Petr Lutsik, has the same Russian title as Boris Barnet’s first sound film, Okraina, and is showing as part of Facets Cinematheque’s Barnet retrospective, though it has little thematic, stylistic, or formal relation to that masterpiece. Critic Ray Privett’s comparison of the film with Dead Man comes closer to the mark, at least regarding the striking black-and-white cinematography, the slow fade-outs, and the gallows humor about land grabbing and rustic violence. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)

Published on 06 Feb 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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The Extraordinary Adventures Of Mr. West In The Land Of The Bolsheviks

Soviet film teacher and theorist Lev Kuleshov was a spirited amateur director, and this first full-length feature (1924, 88 min.) from his experimental workshop shows him and his students at their most manic and inventive. As with some of their other projects (By the Law, The Great Consoler), the inspiration is largely American: a flag-waving YMCA director from the U.S., with horn-rims and a raccoon coat suggesting Harold Lloyd and a Wild West bodyguard acrobatically played by future director Boris Barnet, is hoodwinked by a gang of disreputable Russians into seeing all the horrors he expects in the wake of the revolution. Americans come in for some ribbing, but the thuggish Bolshevik pranksters, even more hilarious, aren’t exactly role models either. (JR)

Published on 06 Feb 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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