Palatable: Illegally Yours

Illegally Yours (1988)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Max Dickens, Michael Kaplan
Produced by Peter Bogdanovich, George Morfogen, Steve Foley, William Pfeiffer, Peggy Robertson
Starring Rob Lowe, Colleen Camp, Kim Myers, Louise Stratten, Ira Heiden, Marshall Colt, Linda MacEwen, Harry Carey Jr., Jessica James, Kenneth Mars, Howard Hirdler, Tony Longo
For whoever can countenance Dante Spinotti's unexplainably shoddy photography, a few tackily tiresome tunes composed for Johnny Cash by Bogdanovich and Cash's perennial collaborator Earl Poole Ball, and hastily yattered, wholly superfluous narration, this slight yet feisty farce sports a stack of amusive antics, despite its representation of the embattled cineaste's return to his professional doldrums after the unqualified success of Mask. A surprisingly comic Lowe stumbles, stammers, goggles and flails through a rash of cockamamie contretemps as an ungainly, lovelorn juror in the trial of his juvenile crush, a belligerently dyspeptic peripatetic saleswoman (Camp) of cable television services wrongly arraigned for the murder of a millionaire's aide, and unwittingly in possession of an audiocassette containing exculpatory evidence coveted by her loquacious sometime swain (Colt), his lover and the wife (MacEwen) of the victim's wealthy employer (Mars) who accidentally committed the crime, and a pair of inefficient hitmen (Hirdler, Longo) contracted to terminate the deceased, all of whom are in turn mysteriously surveilled by a gawking, venturous collegial duo (Myers, Stratten). Notwithstanding its many flaws, this crime comedy's salvaged by practiced players, a pace as brisk as the multitude of car chases that punctuate its dense and involving assorted plots, and possibly the best pratfall executed for a major motion picture in the past thirty years. Likely flummoxed by its bewildering voice-over, audiences eschewed this slightly underrated travesty all but disavowed by Bogdanovich himself, but its interesting narrative convolutions and vigorous hilarity justify a modicum of reserved reappraisal.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Big Trouble.


Sublime: Missing

Missing (1982)
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Written by Thomas Hauser, Costa-Gavras, Donald Stewart, John Nichols
Produced by Edward Lewis, Mildred Lewis, Peter Guber, Jon Peters, Terence Nelson
Starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, John Shea, Melanie Mayron, Charles Cioffi, Janice Rule, David Clennon, Richard Bradford, Keith Szarabajka, Joe Regalbuto, Richard Venture
A tragic mystery associative to purges executed in the aftermath of a military putsch in unidentified Chile assumes a familial dimension when a curmudgeonly businessman (Lemmon) rendezvous with the wife (Spacek) of his son, an inquisitive filmmaker and freelance correspondent (Shea) who's suddenly vanished without trace or report. With the aid of his surviving friends (Mayron, Szarabajka), ingratiatory consuls (Clennon, Doolittle), a few eyewitnesses and an investigative presswoman (Rule), their inquiry unveils both the ultimate fate of their kin and extent of the U.S. State Department's intergovernmental complicity and obscurantism. Costa-Gavras' skillful coalescence of interpersonal drama and political conspiracy is no less carking or captivating here for its moneyed polish than in his French pictures: graphic reenactments of Pinochet's sanguineous coup, the ructions and hecatombs of its tyrannic wake and a personal percontation prosecuted in homes, hospitals, an embassy and a charnel house in the Greek dissident's peak picture hit as hard as any he's fashioned, swelled by one of Vangelis' best synthesized scores. Neither did he forfeit any of his trademark craft or subtlety, demonstrating both innocent and deliberate contrarieties between account and actuality with cutbacks and narrations that further obfuscate the means by which the irrevocable's committed. Heading an invariably terrific cast, Lemmon and Spacek are superb, slowly and credibly transitioning from an adversarial to affectionate relation as the former's reproving yet principled father bonds with his daughter-in-law, perceives in his son's output his total substance, and realizes himself as naif for his initial credulity regarding his government's integrity as was his boy in the conviction that American identity is unconditionally salvational. Almost as unsettling as the outdoor omnipresence of soldiers, public plentiousness of cadavers and stridence of gunshots and helicopters conducing a miasmic evocation, Venture and Cioffi unnerve as an ambassador whose geniality turns to glacial severity and a creepily underhanded Navy captain, as does Bradford as a deviously obscure military operative, and one of the lost individual's last known interlocutors. As an allegorical denunciation of both the Pinochean junta and their American allies, and history of a pathetic incident, Gavras' most proclaimed feature also emphasizes a caveat of conduct: in an event of martial law, inquisition is less risky than suicidal.


Favorites: Sorcerer

Directed by William Friedkin (1977)
Written by Georges Arnaud, Walon Green
Produced by William Friedkin, Bud S. Smith
Starring Roy Scheider, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Bruno Cremer
From the flagrant wreckage of a sabotaged oil well in an unspecified South American jungle spans two hundred miles of muddy, rocky, rugged, flexuous road fraught with slaughterous rebels, ramshackle platforms and bridges, and seemingly insurmountable obturations to a sordid slum where an unstable cache of nitroglycerine selected to extinguish that site's unrelenting blaze is loaded onto two battered, refurbished cargo trucks driven by a quartet of lammed malefactors: a Latino hitman (Rabal), French banker (Cremer), Palestinian terrorist (Amidou) and American mob driver (Scheider). Friedkin's sweaty, savage adaptation of Arnaud's The Wages of Fear is at least as enthralling as Clouzot's chef-d'oeuvre, embracing profuse excitation and substance in equal measure by grippingly graphic depictions of desperate men galvanized by the challenges, frustrations and fatal rigors of their supremely exigent enterprise and all its attending cruel vagaries to perseverance, greatness, furor and madness. Exploiting his chief assets -- an eximiously expressive lead cast and locations of Elizabeth, Veracruz, Jerusalem, Paris, La Altagracia, New Mexico's Bisti Badlands and the wilds of the Dominican Republic -- to amplify the realism of this fantastic conveyance, Hurricane Billy judiciously curbed most of his cinematic flourishes and resorted to an unobtrusively observational style, his every shot maximizing harrowing tension and suspense of a potency that persists in repeat viewings. Withal, those thrills of parlous remotion and transport constituting the picture's second half are anteceded by expository turpitudes: a contumeliously unorthodox heist, the fulmination of an Israeli bank inciting the IDF's blistering reprisal, and a fiery provincial riot provoked by the unceremonious delivery of rig laborers' weltered and charred corses to their village. A soaring synthesized score of pulsing arpeggiation by Tangerine Dream underscores apprehension and anticipation in sparing application, never diverting viewers from the pitfalls its protagonists hazard. Regrettably, this beau ideal of action cinema was eclipsed by the grand umbra of George Lucas' coterminous and pivotal phenomenon to evanesce, but contemporary acclaim by cineastes and Friedkin's faithful swell its revival annually...


Execrable: The Stendhal Syndrome

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Graziella Magherini, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Produced by Dario Argento, Giuseppe Colombo
Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli, Julien Lambroschini, John Quentin
Would that Asia were born a decade earlier, so that she might've starred in those last of her father's best pictures rather than this byword of the gaucherie so individual of his latter work. Sadly, she's cast as a Roman detective investigating a rash of rapes and murders spread from the capital to Florence, where she swoons before Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery whilst suffering the titular disorder's psychosomatic hallucinations shortly before the perpetrator (Kretschmann) she's tracking seizes her for a vicious bout of rape and torture. His overt demise hardly slows a mounting body count, but even those most obtuse viewers who can't prognosticate this tardy thriller's "surprise" twist will probably be too restive for its conclusion to care. That a major motion picture helmed by an auteur whose experience spanned a quarter-century could be so amateurishly shot and cut bewilders Argento's casual admirers and devotees alike. A few imaginative moments that recall Argento's masterful past can't counterpoise silly rotating shots and shabby CG, never mind cheesy dialogue that's hammily dubbed in the mode of an anime distributed by U.S. Manga Corps -- an unusually ill-advised attempt to engage Anglophone audiences, especially considering the Engish fluency of its leads, and most of the supporting players...all of whom are horrendously directed. A repetitive minacity inherent of Morricone's score is euphoniously arranged, but the vocals of its monody are as risible as anything else heard in the soundtrack. This is the threshold of Argento's degradation, as unfortunate for the decline of a genre innovator into a cheapjack of mozzarella as for its simultaneity to the blossom of his loveliest, most gifted offspring.


Palatable: Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Written by Julie Maroh, Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
Produced by Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua, Laurence Clerc, François Guerrar
Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Mona Walravens, Salim Kechiouche, Alma Jodorowsky, Jérémie Laheurte, Benjamin Siksou, Sandor Funtek, Fanny Maurin, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot
If this cynosure of Cannes in 2013 were a tenth so tremendous as industry and press acclaim annunciated, Kechiche might be apotheosed a second coming of Bresson to deliver French cinema from its Americanized doldrums. It isn't at all, but his vision of Maroh's graphic novel narrating a sapphic romance's euphoric commencement, endurance of heartfelt dedication, decline in languorous divergence, tumultuous dissolution and listless aftermath is gorgeous withal, suffused with ambience resounding the breathless intoxication of young love and photographed with a lambence as lovely as its stars. Diffident secondary junior Exarchopoulos quits her perfunctory relationship with an insipid yet sincerely affectionate classmate (Laheurte) who's underwhelmed her, only to be rebuffed by another (Jodorowsky) while dreaming of an older, boyish art student (Seydoux) who she's publicly espied, and finally meets at a dyke bar. Their succeeding affair blossoms slowly into a first true love of mutual exploration and adoration as they attain professional success, but infidelity issuing from neglect and restiveness devastates in a week all they'd lovingly nurtured for years. Kechiche emphasizes a fundamental aestheticism with his celebration of natural, physical and painterly beauty in long, luminous shots where environmental irradiance reflects sportive perfervency. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux produce a coupled vitality that transcends mere chemistry: together, they're incandescent in conversation and coitus alike, never exceeding a realism almost belied by the dynamism of their shared portrayal. Unsparingly graphic but never gratuitous, copulative sequences in which their lovemaking's exhibited with unadorned, amorous ardor emanate an eroticism unimaginable in the quasi-pornographic pap of Noe or Trier. That titular color's recurrently conspicuous in its torrid designation as chromatic emblems: bedclothes, vesture, nail polish, ingresses, coastal waters and Seydoux's pili during the picture's first half...but never more so than its absence. Scenes in which both girls break bread first with the artist's Falstaffian mother and stepfather (Loiret, Pilot) and then with the budding pedagogue's stiflingly conventional parents (Recoing, Salée) seem to bode their respective futures; a temperamental variance benefits their relationship, but from discordance of their ambitions, a certain divarication's inevitable. Rich visual contrast is no less patent, for Sofian El Fani lenses every scene to beautify the vibrancy of exteriors, attire, flesh, solar effulgence and tenebrious boudoirs. To exploit his leading lady's naturalism, Kechiche shot a plenitude of Exarchopoulos as her character navigates classrooms and bedrooms, protest marches, parties and pride parades, and though not one among her scores of close-ups seems superfluous, the mundane vapidity that proves her hamartia is occasionally too evident. To observe such an impassioned glorification of the tenderest vehemence championed by vulturine Spielberg to advance his exploitative politics is to know nausea, but the means by which Maroh's and Kechiche's story was popularized diminishes neither its quality nor verity: love obliges not only an intensity natural to youth, but a troth and trust of which it's typically innocent.


Favorites: Le Sauvage

Le Sauvage (1975)
Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Written by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Élisabeth Rappeneau, Jean-Loup Dabadie
Produced by Ralph Baum, Raymond Danon, Jean-Luc Ormières
Starring Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve, Luigi Vannucchi, Tony Roberts, Bobo Lewis
The tranquil isolation of a rugged yet refined French expatriate (Montand) domiciled on an island off the coast of Caracas is disrupted by a fortuitous encounter with a mercurial newlywed (Deneuve) fleeing her brutish, oleaginous husband (Vannucchi) and an American nightclub owner whose original Toulouse-Lautrec she's abstracted in redress of his arrearage. An accomplished cast makes the most of their unidimensional roles: Deneuve is as beguiling (and bleached!) as ever, Montand exerts his prodigious presence to exude a curbed fervency, and Vannucchi and Roberts play their farce to the hilt. No less diverting is a fine production design, replete with homemade mechanisms and agriculture demonstrating the inspired functionality of this hermit's insular lifestyle. It's as compelling, riotous and romantic as French genre pictures come, parrying prognosis with a novel plot twist every twenty minutes, though its leads' destined denouement is as ineluctable as satisfying.


Execrable: Miami Connection

Miami Connection (1987)
Directed by Woo-sang Park, Y.K. Kim
Written by Woo-sang Park, Y.K. Kim, Joseph Diamand
Produced by Y.K. Kim, William P. Young, Joseph Diamand, Eddy A. Sirhan, Woo-sang Park
Starring Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Kathy Collier, Maurice Smith, Joseph Diamand, Angelo Janotti, William Ergle, Si Y Jo, Woo-sang Park
When they aren't attending courses at the University of Central Florida or entertaining thirtysomething fans as a rock outfit whose lyrics commend the virtues of camaraderie and constancy, a quintet of orphaned, calculatedly multiethnic taekwondo practitioners find themselves persistently beleaguered by a gang of thugs assembled by a rival band (resembling the partners of an accounting firm) whose act theirs supplanted, a cocaine ring lead by the psychotic, bewhiskered brother (Ergle) of their frontwoman (Collier) and a clan of biker ninjas governed by a necessarily evil Japanese (Jo) who support the latter party by annihilating rival narcotics dealers. Uniformly hammy performances of preposterous dialogue, atrocious dubbing, overzealous foley, a gaping plot hole collateral to every twist and a plethora of goofy visages form the dense layers of inanity that render every other shot of co-director/star Kim's ambitiously wacky chopsocky a hysterical delight for enthusiasts of B-movies. Prefiguring the landmark schlock of fellow immigrants Wiseau and Nguyen, Park's and Kim's conception of American culture and cinema is as stereotypical as silly, a medium for their anti-ninja bias, and perfectly harmonious with no few preteen fantasies. Nearly ninety minutes of barbaric combat sprinkled with vignettes of contrived drama and risible posturing conclude with a title card heralding an irenicist proposition for the abolition of violence. Huh!
Recommended for a double feature paired with Samurai Cop or the NES version of Ninja Gaidan.


Palatable: Gomorrah

Gomorrah (2008)
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Written by Roberto Saviano, Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Roberto Saviano
Produced by Domenico Procacci, Laura Paolucci
Starring Salvatore Abbruzzese, Toni Servillo, Salvatore Cantalupo, Simone Sacchettino, Ciro Petrone, Marco Macor, Gianfelice Imparato, Vincenzo Fabricino
Iniquities reverberate throughout Neapolitan quarries, littorals and rookeries in this categorically unromantic adaptation of Saviano's sedulously researched Camorran crime novel, embodying five stories concerning an aging bursar (Imparato) whose peripatetic remitments expose him to escalating peril during a gang war, a teenage grocery boy (Abbruzzese) whose want for induction to a crime family similarly endangers him, the marginalization that compels an expert tailor (Cantalupo) who designs indistinguishable postiches of haute couture to surreptitiously instruct Chinese laborers for a considerable fee and heretofore unyielded appreciation of his talent, a seemingly legitimate service managed by a mob insider (Servillo) who negotiates bottom rates with manufacturing firms to dispose of their toxic waste in spent quarries and other excavations, and the violent petty thefts committed by a pair of susceptible yet audacious street punks (Macor, Petrone) in the territory of a mob boss (Carlo Del Sorbo) whose patience for their recurring and asinine effrontery is ultimately exhausted. Fine photography shot on location and portrayals of naturalistic excellence maximize the realism of felonious enterprise depicted and all its collateral calamities, to the exhilaration of which its youngest participants are addicted and by which its eldest are either irked or terrorized. Saviano and Garrone have redirected the popular focus regarding organized crime from cause to consequence, patefying a mortal toll viciously extorted in squalid Scampia as a wage horribly paid for the contamination of its blood, soil and souls.


Favorites: Sex is Comedy

Sex is Comedy (2002)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit, António da Cunha Telles
Starring Anne Parillaud, Grégoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida, Ashley Wanninger
Of the many romans a clef Breillat's realized as novels and features, none are so satisfying or swollen with the feminist iconoclast's insight as this fictionalized account of the Fat Girl shoot initiated immediately sequent, which exceeds both its subject and most other pictures treating of filmic production. Parillaud enacts a slimmer, sexier Breillat simulacrum with correspondent coiffure and sable ensemble, wrangling her onerous pair of pouting young actors: an insubordinate leading man (Colin, presumably interpreting Libero De Rienzo) opposite frigid Mesquida (as herself, essentially), whose mutual enmity discomfits their director's undertaking and especially her ambition to actualize an exquisitely unsavory scene of seduction and sodomy. Channeling her directress, the Parisian player exactly exhibits her anxieties, adamance, longanimity, vagaries, prejudices and voracity to bare her unexpurgated temperament and experience to an audience with uncommon, commendable candor. Some of the Fat Girl staff were again employed here, and crew members are often featured in histrionic capacities performing their designated tasks. Nigh so amusing as illuminating, Breillat's budget masterwork relates the delicate, deviling trials of filmmaking, and the thrilling triumph of a conception committed to film by one of the most pertinacious living auteurs.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Fat Girl.


Sublime: Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)
Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Produced by Steve Matzkin, Rick Ross, Marshall Persinger, Susan Heimbeinder, F.X. Feeney, Jonathan Montepare, Leslie Lowell, Alison Palmer Bourke, Ed Carroll
Starring Jerry Harvey, F.X. Feeney, James B. Harris, Vera Carlisle Anderson, Robert Altman, Stuart Cooper, Henry Jaglom, Douglas Venturelli, C.L. Batten, James Woods, Paul Verhoeven, Theresa Russell, Charles H. Joffe, Kevin Thomas, Alan Rudolph, Alexander Payne, Charles Champlin, Jacqueline Bisset, Penelope Spheeris, Bob Strock, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Vilmos Zsigmond
For cinephilic Angelenos, seven years of incomparable entertainment and edification broadcast by L.A.'s early subscriptive telecast Z Channel encompassed an international sweep of commercial blockbusters, celebrated classics, exploitation flicks, neglected chefs-d'oeuvre, softcore pornography: the boundless and omnibus orbit of its disturbed, innovative program director Jerry Harvey, briefly a spaghetti western's screenwriter and pioneer of the commercialized director's cut who successfully screened The Wild Bunch with Peckinpah's ministration as the luminary had intended it at the Beverly Canon Theater, not too many years before an irate epistle to Z Channel evincing his expertise concerning televised presentation won him there his managerial berth. Cassavetes' comprehensive account of Harvey's uproarious life and ruinous demise embodies press clippings detailing every phenomenon that the channel induced and weathered, abundant scenes from features which subtly demonstrate the amenity and allure of content that Harvey so avidly aired while paralleling narrative tenor, and an embarrassment of interviews with his ex-wife (Anderson), friends, collaborators and subjects, all interspersed with excerpts from a radio interview in which Harvey articulated with some inhibition many of his objectives, passions and disappointments. Perhaps the most gratifying highlights of this mass are instances in which surviving filmmakers (Harris, Altman, Jaglom, Rudolph, Cooper, Spheeris, Verhoeven), actors (Woods, Russell, Bisset) and critics (Feeney, Thomas, Champlin) who Harvey celebrated, popularized and befriended explicate the aesthetic apercus by which he discerned great cinema, and how his engaging programming monopolized an audience. Z's worldwide televised premieres of director's cuts presented the erst abbreviated Heaven's Gate, Berlin Alexanderplatz and Once Upon a Time in America to audiences who had seen only contracted cuts in theaters; thematic marathons showcased accomplished filmmakers and stars whose renown was limited beyond their native France, Japan, Italy, Netherlands, etc.; classics and their remakes were cablecast in consecution; beset visionaries from Cimino to Altman to Friedman were exclusively interviewed and solicited for projects that had enjoyed scant if any distribution. During a period when New Hollywood was winding down, Harvey was eager to screen its many brilliant flops...or sebaceous sex comedies, jidaigeki, silent obscurities, early Technicolor epics...the universal breadth of feature films transmigrated to television for transfixed audiences was both his secret weapon successfully deployed against the impingement of HBO and Showtime in the L.A. market, and mechanism by which he curated a vast panoply of filmic works to a local subscriber base. This singular dedication to the endorsement of motion pictures unfortunately proceeded from the same dysfunctional formative years as the melancholy that haunted Harvey lifelong: son of a callous Catholic judiciary hardliner who routinely administered capital punishment and phlegmatic mother, and brother to two sisters who capitulated to suicide, the glowering alcoholic's mercuriality was as familiar to his circles as his generosity. Compounding frustrations fomented the execution of Harvey's adored second wife an hour before his own suicide served as a sick expiation for his iniquity. If Harvey's sad, short life seemed destitute of course or satisfaction, his secondhand vision nonetheless communicated a sprawling reverence for the cinematic art that no TV broadcaster had theretofore expressed. Fellow cineaste Cassavetes does her eminent patronym no disrepute with this exhaustive assessment of a supremely sagacious cognoscente who strove to publicly chart a medium from its heart of intrigue to its thrilling fringes.


Execrable: Lila

Lila (1968)
Directed by Sanford White
Written by William Rotsler, Sanford White
Produced by Sanford White, Harry H. Novak
Starring Susan Stewart, Steve Vincent, James Brand, Vic Lance, Stuart Lancaster
Ignited by her distaste for fruits and vegetables in the stupor of maddening acid trips, a sweetly stunning go-go dancer (Stewart) seduces sleazeballs in her father's warehouse with sultry dancing to her plodding theme song ere sloppily slaying them with a screwdriver and meat cleaver. Novak's first sexploitation hit is far more funny than sexy, its daft, stiffly delivered dialogue (replete with hippie lingo) boosted by invariably cheesy acting. To compensate for his story's scanty and incoherent plot -- in which a pair of loquacious detectives (Vincent, Brand) investigate these macabre murders with no headway whatsoever until their receipt of a single tip during the flick's last ten minutes -- White shot bountiful footage of nubile ladies (whose writhings are mere similitudes of what our species terms dancing) constituting approximately 60% of the movie's content. Further temporization was interposed as an extradiegetic scene scored with syrupy, neo-romantic orchestral music, in which a go-go bar's managing barkeep makes tender, protracted love to one of his aspiring dancers. White's perfunctory style arouses zero eros, tension or excitement during the critical enthrallments and contiguous executions, and banal effects (patterned projections, whirling multihued lights, space echo) image our murderess's addled perspective to embellish these sequences half so much as Stewart's sillily clipped diction and goofy accent. It fails as a crime drama, psychedelic romp or softcore porn, but stag aficionados who appreciate the comedy of its stilted elocution will savor every jiggling gyration and botched line of White and Novak's cult crap classic.


Palatable: Fort Saganne

Fort Saganne (1984)
Directed by Alain Corneau
Written by Louis Gardel, Henri de Turenne, Alain Corneau
Produced by Samuel Bronston, Albina du Boisrouvray
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Roger Dumas, Michel Duchaussoy, Sophie Marceau, Catherine Deneuve, Saïd Amadis, Jean-Louis Richard
Essentially the French answer to Lean's Lawrence, this handsomely staged and shot enactment of Louis Gardel's novel narrates the military ascent of a peasant Legionnaire (Depardieu) whose valorous feats in the Saharan front secure regional French imperium and his reputation as a prominent jefe. His personal life's ironically more troublous: tragedy eventuates from a strained fraternity, and his affections are divided for a politician's spoilt and sour daughter (Marceau) and an alluring journalist (Deneuve). Depardieu's larger than life, exuding stoic heart and heroism as the dauntless officer, which is just as well: his is the only character who's adequately defined. Corneau accurately conveys France's prewar zeitgeist, but wastes his stars (especially Deneuve) by pretermitting most character development in favor of decidedly shallow relationships. Philippe Sarde's typically fine score is also mawkishly overused in ably realized yet musically overheated combat scenes that can't compare to those unforgettably silent, such as an Arab warrior's (Amadis) grisly amputation, or a lovesick valediction where Depardieu and Deneuve communicate more with a few expressions than the totality of their discourse. Ultimately, Saganne's as unsatisfying as photogenic, but its conclusion's so poignant and production's so immersive that less discriminating or demanding aesthetes may not have cause to care.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Lawrence of Arabia.


Favorites: Mauvais Sang

Mauvais Sang (1986)
Directed and written by Leos Carax
Produced by Denis Chateau, Philippe Diaz, Alain Dahan
Starring Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Hans Meyer, Julie Delpy, Carroll Brooks
Verbally and visually, Carax's sophomore feature film is among the most beautiful yet produced, a tragic masterwork comprehending the auteur's conceptions of impassioned folly personified by a brilliant cast and exquisite composition conveyed via Jean-Yves Escoffier's photography of supreme resolution and bursting chromatic vibrancy. Exorbitantly indebted to a crime boss (Brooks), a career criminal reduced to recreance (Piccoli) and a natty former physician (Meyer) contrive to filch from the French branch of an American pharmaceutical multinational their culture of a lethal virus afflicting loveless coital partners with debilitating symptoms akin to those of AIDS, so to sell it to a rival firm. To circumvent the target corporation's security measures, they enlist the abetment of a late accomplice's son (Lavant), an alacritously adroit conman who exploits this engagement to desert his devoted dulcinea (Delpy), only to stumble into true love with his lesser employer's lovely, kindly girlfriend (Binoche, as much a jewel of fragile pulchritude in her youth as she's remained in middle age). This premise constitutes the plot's nigh-entirety, but that vaccinal culture's a mere MacGuffin of thematic accordance impelling characters yet never diverting Carax's audience from so many crucial cesuras of ardent silence portending grief, disconcertion and adoration too infrequently depicted in cinema. Lavant's withy, vital yet crude physicality artfully belies his recidivist's romantic heart, betrayed by stirring soliloquies and the music of Prokofiev, Britten, Bowie and Chaplin to signify inexpressibly perfervid amatory swells. Not a frame of this picture isn't gorgeously shot to beautify its localities and plurality of slickly executed devices: staggering smash cuts, decelerated and accelerated shots, momentary morsels of reverse footage, focal variance, an aerial stunt as flurrying as any from a Bond flick, and striking close-ups of shoelaces, tissues, telephones, elevator numerals, nimbly shuffled playing cards and every expressive physiognomy of its photogenic players. Curiously, many of of Carax's early exponents derided and dismissed this love letter to the evanescent New Wave as a glossy pastiche of those most experimental styles prosecuted by its ornaments during that summit, disregarding that Godard's contemporaneous output hadn't a smidgen of the ambition evinced here. Nathless, Carax tantalizes eyes and emotions only to emphasize the fruitless fervor of unrequited love, caprices of which illustrate how those most indomitable obstacles crumble before obstinacy, terror neutralizes affection, inhibition relents before infatuation, and all probity is voided by these passions.