It isn’t necessary to have seen anything by Jean-Marie Straub and the late Daniele Huillet to appreciate this sublime and often hilarious 2001 account of their editing a film together. (Even so, it’s a pity the 1999 film they’re editing, Sicilia!, isn’t being shown as well.) This quarrelsome, loving, eccentric couple and director Pedro Costa are avant-gardists with an unusually keen understanding of so-called classical cinema (Chaplin, Ford, Hawks, Mizoguchi, Ozu), and this becomes clear in Straub’s monologues, Huillet’s precise cuts (which we observe in detail), and Costa’s beautiful way of capturing them both. Australian film critic Adrian Martin calls this probably the best documentary of any kind I have ever seen; it’s certainly the best film ever made about editing. Thierry Lounas codirected. In French and Italian with subtitles. 104 min. (JR)
Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s 2006 tearjerker concerns a successful advertising salesman pushing 50 (Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe) who discovers he has Alzheimer’s around the same time his only daughter is about to get married. Despite Watanabe’s skill in conveying this character’s growing desperation, he has to compete with such a hectoring, melodramatic score and so much directorial nudging that I emotionally checked out of this at the end of the first half hourafter which the film still had another hour and a half of solid grief to go. Some nuances persist, but they tend to get smothered. In Japanese with subtitles. 122 min. (JR)
Todd Haynes’s multilinear treatment of Bob Dylan’s early career encompasses no less than six actors and characters: an 11-year-old black musician calling himself Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), a white folksinger (Christian Bale), an actor who plays the folksinger in a movie (Heath Ledger), a poet who invokes Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), a rock icon in swinging London (Cate Blanchett), and a western outlaw known as Billy the Kid (Richard Gehr). What emerges is a speculative, critical essay about the 60s, weighted down in spots by political correctness and a conflicted desire to mock Dylan’s denseness while catering to his hard-core fans, but otherwise lively, fluid, and watchable. Even if Haynes never comes up with anything as fleet or as funny as the Subterranean Homesick Blues sequence at the beginning of Don’t Look Back (a source he plunders repeatedly), he gives us plenty to chew on. With Charlotte Gainsbourg and Julianne Moore. R, 135 min. (JR)
After his charmingly painful Kicking and Screaming (1995) and Mr. Jealousy (1998) and his more painfully autobiographical The Squid and the Whale (2005), writer-director Noah Baumbach announces No more Mr. Nice Guy in this hysterically hyperbolic and unpleasant if still witty dissection of family traumas. The neurotically judgmental title heroine (Nicole Kidman), a successful fiction writer, takes her son (Zane Pais) to the country to attend the wedding of her estranged, New Agey sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a confused slacker she’s recently met (Jack Black). Apart from John Turturro in a cameo, all the characters are monsters and/or basket cases (and the next-door neighbors are a nightmare projection of the family’s class and ethnic fears). Though no family on earth is likely to be as dysfunctional as this one, realism is no longer Baumbach’s register. It’s almost as if Woody Allen had shifted his allegiance from Bergman to Strindberg while tripling his skill in handling actors. R, 93 min. (JR)
My favorite Pedro Costa feature to date, an inviting “Open, sesame” to all his work, is his second (1994), a very personal remake of Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked With a Zombie (1943). It follows an obscurely motivated Lisbon nurse (Ines de Medeiros) accompanying a construction worker in a coma (Isaach de Bankolé) back to his native village, on a spectacular volcanic island in Cape Verde, once a hub of the slave trade. (The film’s original and much better title is “Casa de Lava,” or “House of Lava”). While she waits for him to wake she gets to know some of the villagers, including another European (the terrific Edith Scob) who unlike her has succeeded in going native. Gorgeously shot, with fabulous Creole music, this mysterious and voluptuous spiritual adventure has afforded me far more pleasure than any new film I’ve seen this year. In Portuguese and Creole with subtitles. 110 min.