Film Festivals


By • Oct 23rd, 2003 • Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

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“Some things that happen for the first time/seem to be happening again”
Lorenz Hart

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Yogi Berra

These epithets of recurrence apply both to Claude Chabrol’s fiftieth film, THE FLOWER OF EVIL, which is yet another murder mystery, and his previous, PASS THE CHOCOLATES. As usual, EVIL concerns conniving among a coven of haut bourgeois provincials who practice those social no-no’s, incest and murder, which keep recurring in successive generations of the old, middle-aged, and young of two securely rich families. Even the oldsters (represented by the great French actress Suzanne Flon) and the easy-on-the-eyes, amorous young (Benoit Magimel, with a superb aquiline nose, and Melanie Doutey) fail to redeem the hard-to-follow back-story of this creaking effort.
Whether EVIL is an homage to Chabrol’s tenacity or to the profligate number of his films, I couldn’t say. But it seems to me unworthy of a Festival which could have booked Sofia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION in its stead.
I hadn’t realized that anyone, but the old-fashioned Chabrol, still shot day-for-night. But in this one, there is a hint of brilliant blue sky at the top of the frame, reminding us of why this filmmaking convention has become so outmoded.
When Chabrol attempted to imitate his idol, Hitchcock, he paradoxically came into his own. Now, alas, he is only imitating himself.

The Festival revival this year was the British Film Institute’s brilliant restoration of PICCADILLY (UK, 1929/ DVD – Milestone Film), by the noted, ex-patriot, German director E.A. Dupont. Ewald Andre (E.A.) made this Jazz Age drama in London, on the cusp of the sound era, following his greatest success, VARIETY (1925), a German sexual triangle set backstage at the circus. Both VARIETY and PICCADILLY manifest all of the characteristics of Germany’s shadowy UFA style, although the latter’s sexual triangle has a London cabaret background.
Although I disagree with Festival Chairman Richard Pena, who termed this picture one of the landmark late silents, (equivalent to Murnau’s SUNRISE), PICCADILLY is a glorious treat, featuring the 21-year-old, Chinese-American Anna May Wong as a sinuous exotic dancer. Ms. Wong is discovered dancing on the counter of the vast scullery of London’s Club Piccadilly. When she is spotted by the Club’s impresario (Jameson Thomas), he promptly throws over his mistress, the Club’s star (Gilda Gray), for the erotic hand gestures and wide eyes of the truly stunning Ms. Wong, whom American racism doomed to mere crossword-puzzle fame.
Two highlights of the picture for me were the early screen performance of the young stage great, Charles Laughton, as the “Greedy Nightclub Diner,” vehemently protesting a dirty dish, and the elegant ballroom dancing of Cyril Richard, known in the 50s and 60s as the superb musical star and director he became in New York.
Famed novelist and playwright Arnold Bennett receives credit for the clichéd, romantic-triangle script, although it seems unworthy of him. However, the print of PICCADILLY is so vivid and the new jazz score by Neil Brand so good (for a 7-piece orchestra, with Brand playing grand piano) that the DVD is bound to become a collector’s item.

YOUNG ADAM (Scotland/Sony Pictures Classics) is a wan, although reasonably accomplished first film about a sexual cad, Joe, played by the hot Scot, Ewan McGregor. The film’s writer/director is the 36-year-old Scottish, David MacKenzie, adapting a popular Scots novel of the Fifties. The picture has been cannily publicized for its steamy sex scenes and for McGregor’s brandishing his great “sword” once more. In fact, the only unusual sex scene is the one in which Joe pours a white custard he has made (his only accomplishment of the day) all over Cathie (Emily Mortimer), his bedmate of the moment. Not pleased with the pallid look of the all-white custard cutie, he adds a bottle of ketchup to make Cathie more colorful and edible. As for McGregor’s mighty member, I only saw it briefly, at half-mast, in dim light.
Full frontal male nudity is still a no-no for American distributors who apply their fig leaves by dismemberment – not the rapier itself, of course -but the offending shots of one. Colin Farrell in “A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD, is the most recent to be snipped, (after every interviewer asked the new star about having displayed his piece). We, the public, are infinitely curious yet prudish about penises, which are, after all, as common to men as noses.

There is, however, a lot of rutting by Joe, a love’em-and-leav’em bloke, who quits Cathie the moment she announces her pregnancy. Joe is also inadvertently responsible for Cathie’s death, when she accidentally falls into a Glasgow quay, after being rudely brushed aside by Joe, who is fleeing her pursuit. Conscience-stricken, Joe delays writing an anonymous letter to exonerate Cathie’s innocent boyfriend (after Joe), who is condemned to hang for Joe’s deed. Joe sends the letter to the court, only after a fatal sentence has been pronounced, so that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing. By playing such a despicable bloke, the affable McGregor challenges his usual, engaging screen persona. Among Joe’s conquests, Tilda Swinton as a worn-out captain’s wife, and Emily Mortimer as the beauty who gets terminally wet, are both outstanding. However, there is an implicit conflict between Joe’s indecent character and the decent craft of MacKenzie’s filmmaking.

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