Dan Turgeman’s 2004 Israeli feature is a passable warmhearted middle-class soap opera, though I could have done with less of the comic relief, which reeks of warmed-over Yiddish theater, and more of the music, which is restricted to the weddings in the first and last scenes. Set in a northern farming village where a Jewish-Moroccan family operates a pastry-baking business, the movie makes use of a hokey, grandmotherly shaman but fails to spell out the story’s ethnic and geographical specifics. In Hebrew with subtitles. 97 min. (JR)
In 1910 a fanatical Brazilian settler drags his pregnant wife (Fernanda Torres) and her mother (Fernanda Montenegro) to his new patch of land, a sandy spot in northerly Maranhao, and despite the wife’s serious misgivings, she remains there for six decades. This pretentious 2005 art movie is somewhat interesting for its wide-screen photography of the striking locale, but the storytelling is awkward and confusing. Director Andrucha Waddington cast his own wife and mother-in-law in the leads, and his decision to give Torres a second role as the wife’s daughter proves disastrous, making both characters seem more stereotypical. Only samba star Seu Jorge (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou), as a descendant of a runaway slave, manages to escape the allegorical typecasting. In Portuguese with subtitles. R, 104 min. (JR)
Set at a Florida retirement community and focusing on a local “bereavement club,” this funny, nervy, and pointedly unrated geriatric sex comedy is both enhanced and occasionally limited by being targeted at baby boomers. The sound track abounds with golden oldies (”Love and Marriage,” “Papa Loves Mambo”), the story culminates in a sock hop, and sometimes the ensemble portrait even recalls teen flicks of the 50s and 60s. So part of the kick–along with seeing Dyan Cannon, Joseph Bologna, Brenda Vaccaro, and Sally Kellerman thrive in this special context–is generational nostalgia. Writer-director Susan Seidelman, who made her name with Desperately Seeking Susan but has been working in TV for more than a decade, based this on the experiences of her mother, Florence (who also coproduced and worked on the script). With Len Cariou and Michael Nouri. 104 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Esquire.
Steven Spielberg’s first film following The Color Purple performs a comparably misplaced act of adapter’s piety: taking a novel whose distinction largely rests on its absence of sentimentality and converting it into a three-handkerchief weepie (1987). The source of this Spielburger is J.G. Ballard’s remarkable autobiographical novel about his experiences as a child in Shanghai during World War II; apart from a few sentimental adjustments, Spielberg and screenwriter Tom Stoppard remain surprisingly faithful to the letter of the book while almost completely betraying its spirit. Turned out with the director’s characteristic craft and slicknesswith able performances from Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, and Nigel Haversthe film also has a certain De Mille-like touch of sweeping spectacle. But the pseudomystical vagueness that seems to be Spielberg’s stock-in-trade stifles most of the particularity of the source. PG, 152 min. (JR)