Thursday, February 26, 2009

Film Comment Selects 2009 Review Round-up

The 2009 edition of "Film Comment Selects," the Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual survey of world cinema, selected by the editors of Film Comment, screens at the Walter Reade Theater through March 5. Below are some brief reviews.

A l'aventure (Jean-Claude Brisseau)

One of the more baffling quirks of “Film Comment Selects” programming is the continued fascination with the films of Brisseau, which are an awkward mix of soft-core sex tableaux and long stretches of pseudo-philosophy. Brisseau delivers his silliest and least accomplished film yet, following a woman’s search for “freedom,” which in this film’s conception consists of following a decidedly ethically-challenged psychotherapist and his coven of women searching for the perfect orgasm. The ridiculous dialogue is delivered woodenly, and the sex scenes just barely succeed in keeping the viewer awake, but they do nothing to make this film much more than a waste of time. The story, such as it is, concerns Sandrine (Carole Brana), a sexually unfulfilled young woman whose relationship with her boyfriend collapses when he becomes shocked, shocked, that Sandrine likes to augment their lovemaking sessions with her vibrator. She soon becomes involved with Greg (Arnaud Binard), the aforementioned psychotherapist, and after meeting him in a café to discuss psychoanalysis, they retreat to a hotel room together. After promptly telling her boyfriend about it, she leaves him, quits her job, and accompanies the good doctor in his bondage sessions with a succession of willing paramours. The proceedings are interrupted periodically by Sandrine’s bull sessions with a philosophical cab driver (Jocelyn Quivrin). Nothing here bears the slightest resemblance to recognizable human behavior or logical sense. Brisseau, based on this film and his previous work, The Exterminating Angels (2006), would be well-advised to go into full-blown pornography – that at least would be a little more honest in its aims than the false profundity he indulges in here. (Feb. 28, Mar. 4)

Jerichow (Christian Petzold)

Petzold’s gloss on The Postman Always Rings Twice is an economical, un-flashy work, with some intriguing twists on its fairly standard plot. Thomas (Benno Furman), a taciturn ex-soldier, at the outset has his money taken away from him by a pair of creditors, and he struggles to find work. This soon puts him in touch with Ali (Hilmi Sozer), who runs a candy vending machine business. Thomas soon catches sight of Ali’s attractive German wife Laura (Nina Hoss), and any one who’s seen the original film or, for that matter, any similar noir-derived plot, can quickly do the math. In fact, Ali practically drives Thomas into Laura’s arms, commenting on how he noticed Thomas glances her way, and even drunkenly exhorting them to dance together. This, of course, makes Ali’s inevitable outrage at discovering their affair more than a little absurd. A late twist to the plot, which throws some monkey wrenches in the lovers’ murder plot, is played quite cleverly. Ali is much more than the typical film noir heavy; his status as an immigrant and outsider is drawn in a way that makes one sympathetic to him, even though he is a crudely violent drunk who beats his wife regularly. Interestingly, Petzold mostly eschews neo-noir theatrics (except for a stormy-night love scene) in favor of a more unadorned, naturalistic style. Jerichow is a solid, unfussy film that doesn’t exactly wow one with cinematic brilliance, but is quite diverting nonetheless. (Feb. 27, Mar. 2)

Lake Tahoe (Fernando Eimbcke)

Eimbcke’s second film is a slice of wryly deadpan humor made up of a succession of static tableaux. As in his previous film Duck Season, Eimbcke excels in capturing the feel of a lazy summer day, suffused with youthful ennui. Juan (Diego Catano, who also appeared in Duck Season) crashes his car into a pole and searches for help in fixing it. Along the way he runs into such characters as Don Heber (Hector Herrara), an eccentric, elderly mechanic with only a dog as a companion; Lucia (Daniela Valentine), a single mother who runs an auto-parts store with David (Juan Carlos Lara), a martial-arts enthusiast who loves to quote Shaolin monks and Bruce Lee. Along the way, we learn that Juan and his younger brother recently lost their father, leaving their mother a catatonic, depressive wreck, basically leaving her children to fend for themselves. The story is as slender and slight as can be, and is perhaps a tad too derivative of masters of the deadpan Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki. However, the film is quite visually arresting and nicely constructed, benefiting from Alexis Zabe’s elegant cinematography. (Feb. 27)

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