I probably could enjoy Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes performing the Manhattan phone directory—which might be almost as edifying as this partly fictionalized HBO movie about Doris Duke, the socialite and philanthropist who died in 1993, and Bernard Lafferty, the gay Irishman who became her butler and best friend. Director Bob Balaban, known mainly as an actor, performed wonders with his features Parents (1989) and The Last Good Time (1994); he’s been directing TV ever since, and he does what he can with Hugh Costello’s arch script. 102 min. (JR)
Just as Woody Allen now omits the early What’s Up, Tiger Lily? from his filmography, Japanese director Shohei Imamura might have been insulted by the idea that anyone could prefer this modest farce (1958) to his vastly more ambitious comedy The Profound Desire of the Gods, made a decade later. But its story about the dream life of a henpecked nerd who works at his wife’s Tokyo pharmacy is perfectly suited to the director’s high-spirited vulgarity. The performances of the title pop tune, with its borrowings from the Western alphabet, are especially giddy. Also known as Nishi Ginza Station. In Japanese with subtitles. 52 min. (JR)
One of the best and most ambitious features by Shohei Imamura, this farcical fable (1968), set on a tropical island, probably won
From the Chicago Reader (January 24, 2008). — J.R.
The fifth feature by Jia Zhang-ke, China’s greatest contemporary filmmaker, is set in the vicinity of China’s immense Three Gorges, where the ongoing construction of the world’s largest dam has already forced the relocation of almost two million people. Against this epic canvas, their paths crisscrossing but never intersecting, a coal miner and a nurse (both from Jia’s home province of Shanxi) search for their former mates. This 2006 drama may seem to be worlds apart from the surreal theme-park setting of Jia’s previous film, The World, but there are similarities of theme, style, scale, and tone: social and romantic alienation in a monumental setting, a daring poetic mix of realism and lyrical fantasy, and an uncanny sense of where our planet is drifting. In Mandarin and Shanxi with subtitles. 107 min. (JR)
Turkish filmmaker Reha Erdem has a feel for the light, shade, colors, and textures of a scenic mountain village, which he shoots gracefully in ‘Scope, often following people along various passageways. He also has a leisurely and not always convincing way of dealing with the troubled lives of three village kids, and his taste for pretentious music and portentous section headings suggest he doesn’t always know when to leave well enough alone. This 2006 feature works better in terms of mood than storytelling. In Turkish with subtitles. 110 min. (JR)