Season 42 (2007-2008)

  • Manhattan (1979)
    September 9, 2007
    Manhattan  IMDB
    USA, 1979, 96 min, B&W, R
    Directed by Woody Allen; Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway

    Woody Allen finished his first decade of filmmaking with one of his most deliberately artistic films, a love song to his home, Manhattan. Although the acting and writing is some of the sharpest of Allen's career, what is truly memorable about Manhattan is its romantic view of New York City. Allen and his longtime cinematographer Gordon Willis decided to shoot the film in black and white and in a wide-screen format to aesthetically accentuate iconic images of the city. Allen added a soundtrack consisting of classic George Gershwin songs that add grandeur and sweep to the film. Roger Ebert called Manhattan "one of the best-photographed movies ever made," and it is a movie that begs to be seen on a big screen.

    Read Roger Ebert's review of Manhattan at Great Movies.
  • Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1988)
    October 14, 2007
    Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser  IMDB
    USA, 1988, 90 min, Color, PG-13
    Directed by Charlotte Zwerin; Starring Jimmy Cleveland, Harry Colomby, John Coltrane, Ray Copeland

    Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser, produced by jazz aficionado Clint Eastwood, is an intelligent portrait of Thelonious Monk centered on lost footage that was rediscovered in the 1980s. The footage was shot by cinematographers Michael and Christian Blackwood during six months in 1967-68, and reveals a lot about Monk's personality, including his dramatic mood swings, eccentric behavior, and keen sense of humor. The Blackwoods followed Monk "behind the scenes" in the studio and on tour in Europe. The generous video catalogue of Monk songs is alone worth watching, but the film is rounded out with interviews with Monk's friends, family, and fellow musicians, giving us a glimpse at the private life of a legendary jazz artist.

    Film Notes (Gerry Folden): It's not often, if ever, that The Cinema, Inc. can present a documentary about a man for whom an asteroid is named. Additionally, as we come together to celebrate the genius of this man from Rocky Mount, we do so just four days past his 90th birthday. Monk's family moved to New York when he was five. By the age of 13, he had won the amateur contest at the Apollo Theater so often he was barred from entering. When only 19, Monk joined the house band at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem. There, along with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, he developed the style of jazz known as bebop.
    In 1947, he married his long-time love Nellie Smith. They had two children, Thelonious, Jr. and Barbara. In 1964, Monk became only the fourth jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time magazine. By the early 1970s, he limited himself to rare performances at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Newport Jazz Festival.
    Produced by jazz aficionado Clint Eastwood, this film makes use of long-lost footage rediscovered in the 1980s, shot during six months in 1967-68. It shows Monk's dramatic mood swings, eccentric behavior, and keen sense of humor. Most enjoyable are the behind-the-scenes shots in the studio and on tour in Europe. Also featured are interviews with Monk's friends, family, and fellow musicians.
    Born Thelonious Sphere Monk, it was alway easier to refer to him by one of his many nicknames: Melodious, The High Priest of Bebop, The Mad Monk, The Genius of Modern Music. To call Monk a 'genius' is no misrepresentation. He was likely the most cerebral of jazz musicians. Giving his fellow musicians the credit he thought they deserved, he is quoted as saying "All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians." In contrast but entirely as a put-on to a jazz critic who asked what he thought of polls, Monk answered "I have a lot of respect for the Polish people, especially the way they can drink vodka."
    Last September 18, the world's greatest jazz musicians filled the stage of the Kennedy Center to culminate in a weekend of festivities paying tribute to the 20th anniversary of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Founded two years after Monk's death in 1984, the Institute is the world's leading organization for jazz education. The celebration began with the President hosting a White House dinner and concert (later broadcast by PBS).
    The archive of his music is at the Smithsonian and a postage stamp immortalized his contribution to music. Inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1980, Monk remained a man of the people, never removing his name from the Manhattan telephone directory. Despite living all but his first five years in New York, his son said he continued to think of himself as a North Carolinian.
    On the occasion of his 90th birthday, the importance of Monk to North Carolina was not lost on jazz enthusiasts at Duke University. Currently ongoing and ending October 28, events too numerous to list here will celebrate the man who had an indelible impact on jazz everywhere.
    Please don't miss Monk.

  • The Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia di Algeri) (1966)
    November 11, 2007
    The Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia di Algeri)  IMDB
    Algeria/Italy, 1966, 121 min, B&W, Not Rated, French w/subtitles
    Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo; Starring Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi, Brahim Hadjadj, Tommaso Neri

    Exploring the Algerian people's struggle to liberate themselves from France between 1954 and 1962, many themes of this film have relevance to the current day. The Boston Globe said of The Battle of Algiers, "The chafing, mutually uncomprehending collision of Western occupiers and Muslim-occupied has never been captured with such dispassionate, thrilling clarity." Director Gillo Pontecorvo creates a stunning illusion of realism by combining actual newsreel footage with staged sequences featuring amateur and professional actors playing characters based on real people. The film's depiction of violence, political torture, insurgency and counter-insurgency was revolutionary at the time, and just as startling today as 40 years ago.

    Film Notes: In 1962, after more than 130 years of French colonial rule, Algeria became independent. Gillo Pontecorvo's Algiers shows the decade leading to that liberation in a powerful story about Muslims asserting their rights through violence, hiding, and plotting in the Kasbah, a demiworld of narrow, winding, seemingly endless alleys that are the only protection the rebels have from the eyes of the French. The re-release of the 1965 black and white film is a convincing story of a people who do not want to be occupied and will give their lives so their families can one day be free.
    The story centers on a couple of Muslim leaders, the charismatic colonel of the French forces, and the bombings and shootouts that at one point averaged just over four per day. The film's sympathy is with the Muslims, but the Colonel has moments of reflection that could be sympathetic, especially with the revelation that he was a member of the resistance in WWII and may have suffered in a concentration camp. The director shows the influence of Italian neo-realists such as Roberto Rossellini (Paisan) by shooting in documentary style on location, using non-actors (except for the Colonel), and generally avoiding an agitprop angle.
    But the film's sympathy in the end belongs to the occupied people. When three rebel women change appearance to look French, infiltrate, and plant bombs, the irony obvious to American audiences in their current struggle is a tribute to the strength of the narration and characterization and the universal dislike of occupation and subjugation.
    The torture of the Muslim prisoners is the most poignant relevance to the recent scandal in Iraq. The Colonel's justification for the practice to gain life-saving information is classic 'ends-justify-the-means' logic still being used by great nations. In fact, the Pentagon reportedly had seen this film during the first days of the second Iraq War; some say they learned nothing from the film, which is an unforgettable study of occupation and defeat.

    A film review by Roger Ebert, May 30, 1968
    At the height of the street fighting in Algiers, the French stage a press conference for a captured FLN leader. "Tell me, general," a Parisian journalist asks the revolutionary, "do you not consider it cowardly to send your women carrying bombs in their handbags, to blow up civilians?" The rebel replies in a flat tone of voice, "And do you not think it cowardly to bomb our people with napalm?" A pause. "Give us your airplanes and we will give you our women and their handbags."
    The Battle of Algiers, a great film by the young Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, exists at this level of bitter reality. It may be a deeper film experience than many audiences can withstand: too cynical, too true, too cruel and too heartbreaking. It is about the Algerian war, but those not interested in Algeria may substitute another war; The Battle of Algiers has a universal frame of reference. Pontecorvo announces at the outset that there is "not one foot" of documentary or newsreel footage in his two hours of film. The announcement is necessary, because the film looks, feels, and tastes as real as Peter Watkins' The War Game. Pontecorvo used available light, newsreel film stock, and actual locations to reconstruct the events in Algiers. He is after actuality, the feeling that you are there, and he succeeds magnificently; the film won the Venice Film Festival and nine other festivals, and was chosen to open the New York Film Festival last November.
    Some mental quirk reminded me of The Lost Command, Mark Robson's dreadful 1965 film in which George Segal was the Algerian rebel and Anthony Quinn somehow won for the French. Compared to The Battle of Algiers, that film and all Hollywood "war movies" are empty, gaudy balloons.
    Pontecorvo has taken his stance somewhere between the FLN and the French, although his sympathies are on the side of the Nationalists. He is aware that innocent civilians die and are tortured on both sides, that bombs cannot choose their victims, that both armies have heroes and that everyone fighting a war can supply rational arguments to prove he is on the side of morality.
    His protagonists are a French colonel (Jean Martin) who respects his opponents but believes (correctly, no doubt) that ruthless methods are necessary, and Ali (Brahim Haggiag), a petty criminal who becomes an FLN leader. But there are other characters: an old man beaten by soldiers; a small Arab boy attacked by French civilians who have narrowly escaped bombing; a cool young Arab girl who plants a bomb in a cafe and then looks compassionately at her victims, and many more.
    The strength of the film, I think, comes because it is both passionate and neutral, concerned with both sides. The French colonel, himself a veteran of the anti-Nazi resistance, learns that Sartre supports the FLN. "Why are the liberals always on the other side?" he asks. "Why don't they believe France belongs in Algeria?" But there was a time when he did not need to ask himself why the Nazis did not belong in France.

    A film review by Jules Brenner, Copyright © 2004
    In 1965 Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo made this film tracing the efforts of the native population in Algeria, the second largest nation in Africa, to rise up and liberate themselves after their French colonialist masters reneged on a promise to cut them loose. As much for its style as its even-handedness, his film raised a stir, received recognition, honors and condemnation, and went on to influence cinematic story-telling technique. Its re-creation of how terrorist movements grow and how they might be eliminated is, apparently, applicable enough to the current resistance in Iraq for the Pentagon to screen it privately for its military personnel.
    Because of that relevance, new prints from the original negative have been struck for theatrical re-release, that we might all judge and reconsider its instructions and its messages. One of these is that the battle for hearts and minds can't be won so easily by a rebellious people when sympathetic observers can taste the malice behind the deaths they cause, no matter what the political context.
    In a prologue, French military interrogators apply pressure to an old Algerian nationalist until he reveals the hiding place of the last remaining guerrilla leader, Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag). When his hideout is efficiently surrounded, La Pointe hides in a blind behind a wall, which is quickly discovered. He's given a choice to come out or die. As he contemplates his options, we flash back three years, to the point of origin of the conflict, when the National Liberation Front, the NLF (aka FLN), issued a proclamation calling the population to unite in a struggle for independence.
    Soon thereafter, the strutting heroic figure of French Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), a character based on Jacques Massu, the actual commander of the French forces, arrives with his elite force of French paratroopers to deal with the problem. In a strategy virtually paralleling the one that Colonel James Hickey used in Iraq to find Saddam Hussein, Mathieu outlines for his troops the cleverly compartmentalized structure of the Algerian NLF's command and charges his men to find the foot soldiers of the rebellion. Through coercion and torture, they will force these lower level terrorists to identify the leader of their cell and his location amidst the native sympathizers.
    In this way, the French troops gradually expose the hierarchy of tactical cells and eliminate them one by one, though not without some loss to themselves. When the story leads back to the last of them, La Pointe chooses death over surrender and The Battle of Algiers ends. While this squashing of a persistent enemy force represented a victory for the French, the cause of the revolution didn't die. The complaints of inequality and suppression remained, and the roots of rebellion sprouted again three years later leading, finally, to Algeria's independence in 1962.
    Pontecorvo's characters are political figures first and foremost. While they tend to be two-dimensional archetypes, they serve to concentrate our interest and arouse complex sympathies. The balance of viewpoints is the most stunning accomplishment of Pontevorvo's film, elevating its effect far more than if it had told the story from only one side.
    High-speed cutting; amateur actors culled from the environment; extraordinary coverage in the streets, back alleys, and safe houses of Algiers' Casbah; details of the grassroots movement as it grows into a well organized instrument of mortal danger – all of these elements lend the film the aura of a documentary and the sense of historical accuracy. The drama it develops tends to overcome what might appear to a modern eye as awkward formality in the characterizations.
    Underlying the film's insights is the fact that some of the actors were actually involved in the Algerian struggle, most notably, producer Yacef Saadi's part of El-hadi Jaffar, which is based on his real-life role as a general in the NLF. It was Saadi's original treatment for the film – written in an Algerian jail after capture by the French – which provided the basis for Pontecorvo's and co-writer Franco Solinas' screenplay. The tense score was composed by Ennio Morricone.
    This lesson in modern warfare is not only instructive to the Pentagon's military but is of considerable value to any generation's fascination with law, order, anarchic behavior, and classic storytelling technique.

  • Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) (2001)
    December 9, 2007
    Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi)  IMDB
    Japan, 2001, 125 min, Animated, PG, English (dubbed)
    Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Kirk Wise; Voices of Daveigh Chase, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette

    Spirited Away is the animated tale of Chihiro, a young girl who embarks on a strange adventure while moving with her parents to a new home in an unfamiliar town. Reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Spirited Away's stunningly beautiful handcrafted animation reveals a cast of fascinating characters and surreal settings that follow a bizarre yet engaging logic. In 2002, Spirited Away overtook Princess Mononoke, also directed by Hayao Miyazaki, to become the most successful film in Japanese cinema history.

    Film Notes (Ian Krabacher): Spirited Away is a critically acclaimed film by the Japanese amine studio Studio Ghibli and is written and directed by famed animator Hayao Miyazaki. The film has received many awards, including a 2001 Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture, the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and a Golden Bear award (First Prize) at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival. From its opening in 2001, Spirited Away has become the biggest Japanese release in history. It is available in North America, both dubbed and subtitled, the dub being produced by Disney.
    The film is the story of a young girl named Chihiro. She and her family are on their way to their new house in the suburbs when her father decides to take a shortcut along a lonely-looking dirt road. After getting out of the car and walking along a path for a while, they discover an open-air restaurant filled with food but with no workers or customers present. Mom and Dad don't hesitate to sit down and dig in, but Chihiro senses danger and refuses. As night falls, she is terrified to see the area fill with faceless spirits, but when she runs to find her parents, she discovers that they have been turned into pigs. She is found by a mysterious boy named Haku, who promises to help her. He gets her a job working in a nearby building, which turns out to be a bathhouse for the thousands of Japan's gods and spirits. Though the work is hard and the people strange, she does as well as she can. Her parents, however, are still waiting in the hotel's stockyard, and Chihiro must find a way to break the spell on them before they end up as the main course of some guest's dinner.
    Spirited Away, like many of Miyazaki's films, is powerful in its signature imagery and in its mastery in creating a dream world complete of every twisted, whimsical detail. A few of Miyazaki's characteristic fixations feature prominently: his fascination with flight, ecology, elaborate buildings, strong girl protagonists, weary gods, overbuilt machinery, and empowering labor. Some suggest that the film is an allegory on the progression from childhood to maturity and the risk of losing one's nature in the process. The main character Chihiro could be seen as a sullen, spoiled, and very modern Japanese ten-year-old being forced to grow up when faced with more traditional Japanese culture and manners. Miyazaki himself has said that there is an element of nostalgia for an older Japan in the film. The film also offers thematic comments on the ill of human greed and advocates an environmental awareness.
    Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement to make this film after meeting the daughter of a friend, on whom the main character is based. Miyazaki had remained largely unknown to the West, outside of animation communities, until Miramax released his 1997 Princess Mononoke. By that time, his films had already enjoyed both commercial and critical success in Japan and East Asia. Spirited Away, by becoming the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, further solidified Miyazaki's name within the filmmaking world.
    Miyazaki's films have generally been financially successful, and this success combined with his 1985 co-founding of Studio Ghibli has invited comparisons with American animator Walt Disney. However, Miyazaki does not see himself as a person building an animation empire, but as an animator fortunate enough to have been able to make films with complete creative control.
    In 2005, Miyazaki received an award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival. In 2006, Time magazine voted Miyazaki as one of the most influential Asian people of the past 60 years. Other Miyazaki-directed animated films that have won the Animage Anime Grand Prix award have been Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Kiki's Delivery Service (1989). It has been reported that Miyazaki's next and final film project will be I Lost My Little Boy, based on a Chinese children's book.

  • To Be and To Have (Être et avoir) (2002)
    January 13, 2008
    To Be and To Have (Être et avoir)  IMDB
    France, 2002, 104 min, Color, Not Rated, French w/subtitles
    Directed by Nicolas Philibert; Starring Georges Lopez, Alizé, Axel Thouvenin, Guillaume

    To Be and To Have is a beautiful and inspirational film concerning a dedicated and gifted teacher whose world is a one-room schoolhouse in the French countryside. It charts the teacher, George Lopez, and his class over the course of one academic year, and takes a warm and serene look at the primary education process at its best. Director Nicolas Philibert's camera is a casual observer, choosing to capture, in an unfettered manner, Lopez's special way with the students – whether teaching math or mediating shoving matches. To Be and To Have is ultimately a stirring and bittersweet portrait of Lopez, a 20-year teaching veteran on the verge of retirement. Critic Andrew Sarris said that the film "contains some of the most stirring footage I have ever seen on the act and art of teaching children."

    Film Notes (Katherine Reynolds): Être (to be) and avoir (to have) are two verbs that all French students must learn to conjugate. The documentary film Être et Avoir is one that all teachers and anyone who has ever been a student should see.
    Nicolas Philibert and his crew of three capture the spirit of the students, ages four through eleven, and teacher George Lopez in their tiny rural French schoolhouse, revealing a simpler, more humanistic approach to education than in these days of No Child Left Behind.
    Philibert spent seven months (and shot over 600 hours of film) with the students and Monsieur Lopez and managed to make the children oblivious to the camera so the audience can be the proverbial fly on the wall watching the routines of the school day. He takes the camera into the homes of some of the students and on several field trips. One of the field trips is to a middle school where the older students will go the next year, a frightening place without the strict but compassionate teacher they are used to.
    This wonderful documentary received the Jury Award at the 2003 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham and the 2004 Best Documentary Award from the National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA among other well deserved awards and recognitions.
    In his New York Times review, A. O. Scott says, "The film is as quiet, patient, and tenacious as Mr. Lopez himself, who approaches his difficult, endless work with remarkable serenity and discipline."
    Give yourself a New Year's treat and join The Cinema, Inc. for this beautiful, funny, and poignant look at what the artist as filmmaker and the artist as teacher have created.

  • Delicatessen (1991)
    February 10, 2008
    Delicatessen  IMDB
    France, 1991, 99 min, Color, R, French w/subtitles
    Directed by Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Starring Pascal Benezech, Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus

    Both directors Caro and Jeunet were successful TV commercial and music video directors before their feature-film debut of Delicatessen. Their flair for visual communication and humor shows through in this bizarre, dark comedy. The story is of a post-apocalyptic society where food is so valuable it is used as currency, and people sometimes turn to cannibalism. Louison, a sweet-natured clown, moves into a run-down apartment building with a deli on the ground floor, and falls in love with the butcher's daughter Julie. When it turns out that Julie's father is butchering human beings and selling the meat to the tenants of the building, Julie must decide if she will remain loyal to her father's business or save Louison from becoming the next victim. Director Jeunet continued his very visual style in other somewhat more conventional movies, most notably 2001's Amèlie, but Delicatessen was his most influential, spawning a wave of directorial imitators (see the visual styles of Like Water for Chocolate or Death Becomes Her).

    Film Notes (Ian Krabacher): In Delicatessen, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro present a dilapidated apartment building in a rural post-apocalyptic setting reminiscent of 1950s France. Food is in short supply, grain is used as currency, and animal populations are dwindling, having been hunted to extinction. At the foot of the apartment building is a butcher shop, run by the landlord Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) who posts job opportunities in the local paper as a means to lure victims to the building, whom he murders and butchers as a cheap source of meat.
    Following the departure of the last building worker, unemployed circus clown Louison (Dominique Pinon) arrives to apply for the vacant position. During his maintenance routine, he gradually befriends Julie Clapet (Marie-Laure Dougnac), a relationship that slowly blossoms into romance. Aware of her father's motives and Louison's imminent murder, Julie descends into the sewers to make contact with the feared Troglodytes, a vegetarian sub-group of French rebels, whom she convinces to help rescue Louison.
    Delicatessen is a feast of hilarious vignettes, slapstick gags, and sweetly eccentric characters, including a man in a swampy room full of frogs, a woman doggedly determined to commit suicide (she never gets it right), and a pair of brothers who make toy sound boxes that "moo" like cows. It doesn't amount to much as a story, but that hardly matters. This is the kind of comedy that springs from a unique wellspring of imagination and inspiration, and it's handled with such visual virtuosity that you can't help but be mesmerized. Upon Delicatessen's release, it was celebrated by critics for its production design, editing, and writing. Consequently, it was nominated for over 20 international awards and won a total of 12, including 4 French Cesars, a Gold Award from the Tokyo International Festival, and a European Film Award.
    The title credit for Delicatessen reads "Presented by Terry Gilliam," and it's easy to understand why the director of Brazil was so supportive of this outrageously black French comedy from 1991. Like Gilliam, French co-directors Jeunet and Caro have wildly inventive imaginations that gravitate to the darker absurdities of human behavior, and their visual extravagance is matched by impressive technical skill.
    In a manner somewhat atypical of North American cinema, the original American trailer for Delicatessen simply presented the comic "squeaky spring" sequence in full. The sequence depicts a montage of the butcher/landlord making love to his mistress on a noisy bed, while the rest of the building's tenants perform activities (painting ceilings, knitting, playing the cello, assembling animal calls) at an increasing pace, with the squeaks from the bedsprings dictating the tempo. The trailer ended with the butcher climaxing, each tenant's activity ending (rather violently), and then a sudden cut to the title logo and the 'swinging pig' emblem from the film's opening credits.
    About the Filmmakers: Jean-Pierre Jeunet was born in Roanne, Loire, France. He bought his first camera at the age of 17 and made short films while studying animation at Cinémation Studios. He befriended Marc Caro, a designer and comic book artist who became Jeunet's longtime collaborator and co-director. Together, Jeunet and Caro directed award-winning animations. Their first live action film was The Bunker of the Last Gunshots (1981), a short film about soldiers in a bleak futuristic world. Jeunet also directed numerous commercials and music videos and the tandem had each enjoyed considerable success before their feature debut, Delicatessen (1991). The richly textured black comedy set in a famine-plagued post-apocalyptic world impressed audiences and propelled their careers to even higher regard.

  • Moolaadé (2004)
    March 9, 2008
    Moolaadé  IMDB
    Senegal, 2004, 124 min, Color, Not Rated, Bambara/French w/subtitles
    Directed by Ousmane Sembene; Starring Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Hélène Diarra, Salimata Traoré, Dominique Zeïda

    Washington Post film critic Desson Thomas wrote, "In Moolaadé, six African girls refuse to undergo ritual clitoridectomy and unwittingly cause a revolution in their village. In Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene's hands, what could have been merely exotic spectacle becomes something astonishing, timely and deeply moving." Sembene is thought of as the father of African cinema, and Moolaadé is his crown jewel. He filmed it at the age of 81, and he imbued it with the strong feminist consciousness that marks his other works, most notably Faat Kine in 2001. While the subject matter of Moolaadémay repel squeamish viewers, skipping it would be a missed opportunity to experience the embracing, affirming, world-changing potential of humanist cinema at its finest.

    Film Notes (Andrea Mensch): You may well ask yourself why you should see an African film dealing with the controversial and painful subject of female circumcision. As I am writing this, prominent members of the US administration are on a trip through a number of African nations and while gestures of paternalistic goodwill and financial generosity have been made, there is still a great deal that we Westerners don't understand about the many diverse and complex cultures in this part of the world. (According to his wife, the president intends to take his daughters on a safari to the "dark continent" after his term is over.) Ousmane Sembene's 2004 film Moolaadé provides us with a deeply moving and aesthetically rewarding way of encountering Senegalese culture that challenges Eurocentric notions and the touristic impulse for adventure, while presenting ethical questions that transcend individual cultures. It is a film that contains much visual beauty and inspiring examples of how ordinary people can act heroically. Having won a number of prestigious international awards, it is also the most widely seen film of one of the world's greatest directors and has been acknowledged as an important moment in the history of world cinema.
    Ousmane Sembene began his career as a novelist and by the 1960s he had risen to considerable prominence as one of Africa 's leading intellectual figures. His commitment to reaching larger audiences beyond the verbally literate motivated him to start making films at the age of 40. His narratives La Noire (1966), Xala (1975), and Faat Kine (2000) have examined the problems of postcolonial hybridized cultures by looking at the role of women both at home and abroad, the difficulties presented by old and new hierarchies of village life, and the power of money and religion. In the medium of film, he was able to create memorable characters and stunningly beautiful imagery. Moolaadé was intended as the second film of a trilogy presenting strong female characters engaging in the many cultural changes that are occurring in West Africa, but Sembene's much-lamented death on June 9, 2007, made this his last film.
    In the Senegalese village depicted in Moolaadé, six girls refuse to subject themselves to the "purification" ritual of clitorectomy. Two run away to an uncertain fate and the remaining four seek shelter with Colle Gallo Ardo Sy (Fatoumata Coulibaly), a woman who is thought to have mystical powers and has given the four girls the "moolaadé", the spell of protection. She ties a rope across the entrance of her home and all are forbidden to cross it until she releases the spell by uttering the correct words. We find out that Colle previously refused to have her daughter Amasatou (Salimata Traoré) submit to the "cutting" and Amasatou is called a "bilakoro", a woman who is unclean and whose prospects for marriage are very unlikely. Nevertheless, Amasatou is planning on marrying the son of the tribal chief, Ibrahima (Moussa Theophile Sowie), a financially successful Westernized African who is due to return from Paris.
    Colle's moolaadé provokes the anger of the Salidana, a group of crones dressed in red gowns who perform the ritual. She is also forced to stand up to the intimidation of her husband, his brother, and the male elders in the village who see her as a threat to their values. In an attempt to maintain control, the men confiscate the women's radios, their main source of contact with the world outside of the village. Vehemently defending their traditions, they also turn against an itinerant merchant they call Mercenaire (Dominique Zeida) who, in an unexpected act of moral courage, comes to the aid of Colle. As the conflict intensifies, more and more women begin to side with Colle, whose determination in the face of apparently overwhelming opposition is of heroic proportions.
    Moolaadé is not simply a feminist polemic against so-called barbaric practices. As one reviewer put it: "The film is multi-layered and the characters are complex individuals who are much more than symbols of right and wrong. According to Dr. Nahld Toubia, a physician from Sudan, 'It is only a matter of time before all forms of female circumcision in children will be made illegal in Western countries and, eventually, in Africa.' Moolaadé shows us the way and few will leave the theater unmoved."

    Read Roger Ebert's review of Moolaadé at Great Movies.
  • Gallipoli (1981)
    April 13, 2008
    Gallipoli  IMDB
    Australia, 1981, 110 min, Color, PG
    Directed by Peter Weir; Starring Mark Lee, Bill Kerr, Harold Hopkins, Mel Gibson

    The films of Peter Weir are often studies of male bonding, men in danger, and anxiety over the violence that those men commit against one another. Witness, Master and Commander, The Year of Living Dangerously, and, especially, Gallipoli, illustrates these points. Gallipoli relates the events surrounding the ill-fated World War I battle of the same name, in which Australian and New Zealand troops set out to capture Istanbul. We follow the characters of Archy and Frank before the war and during the battle that becomes a disaster for the Allies. Gallipoli's depiction of the horror, senselessness, and confusion of war (not to mention its movie poster) makes one believe that the film was very influential to other war movies, such as Oliver Stone's Platoon.

    Film Notes (Michael Theil/Karen Bender): Gallipoli is the story of two young enlisted men in the Australian Army who find themselves thrust into an ill-fated battle against the Turkish Army at Gallipoli during World War I. As such, Gallipoli manages to convey both an anti-war sentiment along with a true reverence for the sacrifices made by the brave men who suffered and died in this tragic battle. Featuring a very early performance by Mel Gibson, the film is directed by Peter Weir, one of the pioneers of the "Australian New Wave" in the 1970s and 80s. Gallipoli was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and netted Australian Film Institute awards for both Gibson (Best Actor) and Weir (Best Director), along with awards for Cinematography and Screenplay and additional nominations in acting and technical categories. This film could be a companion piece to the perhaps more familiar Breaker Morant, which was also produced during this singular period of history in Australian cinema.
    Director Peter Weir chose to focus his film on a few of the young men who participated in the bloody campaign. Only a few minutes of the film deal with actual combat. The rest deals with the coming of age of Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) and Archie Hamilton (Mark Lee), their friendship, their loss of innocence, and their participation in what many regard as a senseless campaign. Both Archie and Frank are runners, Archie the more committed athlete. Weir emphasizes the athleticism and ideals of these young men. He juxtaposes sport with war, noting both similarities and contrasts between the athletic life and that of a warrior. Archie's running, initially so purely physical, transmogrifies into a race against death.
    The actual fighting occurred over an eight-month period, during which the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces unsuccessfully attempted to roust the Turkish artillery that was preventing easy access for the Allied forces to the Black Sea. The plan, initiated by Winston Churchill, was adopted and resulted in severe casualties on both sides. Allied cemeteries near the shore of the peninsula now testify to the heavy price that the ANZAC troops paid in the futile attempt, one which eventually led to Churchill's loss of his Admiralty position. Whether justified or not, many consider the Allies' campaign a compounding of some of the greatest known military blunders.
    Weir is not intent on giving a historically accurate account of the campaign. He introduces historical inaccuracies and fictional characters within the command echelons. His main intent is apparently to celebrate the Gallipoli campaign and ANZAC day (April 25), one of the most important national occasions of Australia and New Zealand. In 2005, a documentary titled Gelibolu (Gallipoli) was issued by the Turkish filmmaker Tolga Örnek. It is said to be well done and for the most part an accurate portrayal of the battle.
    In passing, we note that a company owned in part by Rupert Murdoch produced the 1981 film. His father Keith Murdoch was a journalist during World War I. He visited Gallipoli briefly in September 1915 and became a vocal opponent to the British conduct of the campaign.

  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom) (2003)
    May 11, 2008
    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom)  IMDB
    South Korea, 2003, 103 min, Color, R, Korean w/subtitles
    Directed by Ki-duk Kim; Starring Yeong-su Oh, Ki-duk Kim, Young-min Kim, Jae-kyeong Seo

    This exquisitely simple movie was filmed at a single location – a remote and picturesque mountain lake in a South Korea wilderness preserve. In five sharp, concise vignettes that correspond to the seasons of the title, director Kim Ki-duk manages to isolate something essential about human nature. The narrative of the film concentrates on the relationship between a Buddhist monk and his young protégé, characters whose names are never spoken. Critic A. O. Scott said, "The subject of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is spiritual discipline, which the older monk distills into a set of lessons that are, like the film, self-evident and enigmatic. They also reflect aspects of Buddhism not always sufficiently appreciated in the West, often witty and occasionally harsh." The beautiful cinematography and attention to visual detail (such as using a different animal as a motif for each segment) complement the patient and gentle pace of the screenplay, creating a very original yet universal story of human nature.

    Film Notes (Pamela Winfield): Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring narrates the growing pains and life lessons of a young Buddhist monk who comes of age in an isolated temple in the Korean mountains. His secluded temple is set upon a platform which floats lazily along the surface of a mountain lake – a literal "floating world" that automatically invokes the Buddhist metaphor for life's impermanence and illusion.
    Under the watchful eye of his elderly master (Oh Yeoung-su), the young monk learns firsthand how Buddhism strives to overcome the three root delusions of ignorance, lust, and hatred. As a boy, he ventures out in Spring to play with nature's creatures. Out of sheer ignorance, he ties stones to their backs and gleefully watches them struggle, only to awake the next morning to struggle himself under a stone that his master has calmly tied to his back. In Summer, as a growing teenager, the young monk discovers the power of lust and attachment when a beautiful young woman comes to the temple seeking a cure. The old master calmly observes that their love-making among the cliffs has obviously provided her with the right medicine, but warns them of the dangers that extreme attachment can lead to. The two teenagers leave the temple, until one Fall day the now-thirtysomething novice returns. He has killed her out of jealousy, hatred, and anger for having cheated on him, and seeks sanctuary from the law. The old master calmly instructs him to carve out his anger by literally engraving the Heart Sutra on the temple's platform floor, but hands him over to the police so that he can experience and thereby purify the inevitable karmic consequences of his actions. In Winter the old master dies, the now-middle-aged man returns from prison, and the cycle begins again – but not without an inspiring final act of repentance and karmic payback in Spring.
    With minimal dialogue, stunning natural imagery, and award-winning cinematography, writer/director Kim Ki-Duk has created a visual meditation on impermanence, karma, and the power of redemption through self-cultivation. He alters traditional Buddhist symbolism slightly in his choice of animals to depict each delusion (ignorance=fish; lust=hen, and anger=cat), but to one attuned to their appearance on screen, such details carry this rich and rewarding morality tale along and teach the simple yet perennially profound lesson of the golden rule. Highly recommended.

  • The Trial (Le Proces) (1962)
    June 8, 2008
    The Trial (Le Proces)  IMDB
    France, 1962, 119 min, B&W, Not Rated
    Directed by Orson Welles; Starring Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Elsa Martinelli, Orson Welles, Akim Tamiroff

    Based on the Franz Kafka novel of the same name, The Trial follows the story of Joseph K., who wakes one morning and finds the police in his room. He is arrested and put on trial, but no one will tell him what he is accused of. Director Orson Welles provides the opening voice-over for the film, intoning, "It has been said that the logic of this story is the logic of a dream, of a nightmare…" It is the nightmare quality that Welles is emphasizing. Filmed in shadowy black and white, with angled close-ups, film noir-like compositions, cluttered and surreal interiors, and a plot that involves sinister authority figures and instruments of torture, The Trial is undeniably vivid and scary.

    Film Notes (Richard Shirk): Mention Orson Welles' name in a cinematic context and most movie-goers immediately think of Citizen Kane, his 1941 masterpiece – considered by many to be the finest film ever made. However, Kane was not Welles' favorite film, and in fact Roger Ebert once reported that Welles told him "he had made a great many films other than Kane and was tired of talking about it."
    Few of Welles' later films were commercial successes when first released, and The Trial was no exception. It opened in New York in February 1963, to generally poor reviews; critic Pauline Kael labeled it "an honorable try with some effective passages," while Bosley Crowther, in his New York Times review, wrote, "At best, it is another demonstration of the camera versatility of Mr. Welles; at worst, a further Kafka demonstration extending to the demanding medium of the screen." (Other than that, what didn't you like about the play, Mrs. Lincoln?) Today The Trial is an almost forgotten film, yet interestingly, by most accounts Welles considered it his favorite. And for his efforts, he received the 1964 Critics Award for best film from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics.
    The story concerns Joseph K (Anthony Perkins), an office clerk who wakes up one morning to find he has been accused of, and arrested for, an unknown offense, although he claims he has committed no crime. Determined to vindicate himself, K appears before a magistrate who will not even explain the nature of the charges. Then, in a baroque, dreamlike setting, K seeks the help of a bed-ridden advocate (Orson Welles). After many strange encounters and bizarre landscapes, K is apprehended by his executioners, whom he defies to the inevitable end. As in Kafka's 1925 existential novel of paranoia, despair, and frustration, The Trial is nightmarish and surreal, yet strictly logical. In fact, in a prologue, Welles describes the film as having the logic of a nightmare – a world in which nothing can be mastered.
    A number of exterior scenes were shot in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. But then, learning that production funding had ceased, Welles ordered cast and crew back to Paris. There, unable to rent studio space, he moved into the large old abandoned Gare d'Orsay, the train station on the Left Bank that would later become the famous Paris museum, the Musée d'Orsay. It was there that he created the surreal dream landscapes of Joseph K's world. And where, in the words of noted Welles historian Richard France, "economic circumstances necessitated creating a style which otherwise might not have manifested itself. The combination of modernist architecture, interlaced and juxtaposed with highly baroque settings, adds to the overall abstract quality of Kafka's original work and credits Welles' talent as a true cinematic innovator."
    As Roger Ebert noted in his 2000 review, "the black and white photography shows Welles' love of shadows, extreme camera angles, and spectacular sets… The Trial is above all a visual achievement, an exuberant use of camera placement and movement and inventive lighting." (Note: Ebert gave the film a 4-star rating.)
    For many years the only known negative for the film was thought to be lost, and available prints of the film were truncated and in very poor condition. But after film historian David Pierce discovered the negative in a New York office building, the film was restored in 1995 and has since been released (twice) on DVD.
    In describing The Trial, Newsweek magazine stated, "to the theme and spirit of the novel, to its atmosphere of frustration and absurd complexity, Orson Welles' film version is entirely, wonderfully faithful." For this reason, it's not a picture that can be absorbed and appreciated with a single viewing. Every time you see it, you see something new.

  • Rope (1948)
    July 13, 2008
    Rope  IMDB
    USA, 1948, 80 min, Color, PG
    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Starring James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Cedric Hardwicke, Joan Chandler, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick

    Rope marked a number of landmarks for Alfred Hitchcock: it was his first film in color, it featured two obviously gay lead characters, and of all his films it was his personal favorite. But these characteristics only scratch the surface of a unique Hitchcock masterpiece. Loosely based on a true story, two rich young men murder a colleague for the sake of the intellectual challenge of committing the perfect crime. To add to the amusement, they hide the body in a trunk that will serve as the dinner table for a party honoring the deceased. The film uses very long takes with no close-ups that both draw the viewer in to the dinner party and draw out the suspense. Rope was an experiment to Hitchcock, who was trying to find the cinematic equivalent of a play. That he could turn out brilliance while he considered himself to be merely playing around is a testament to Hitchcock's genius.

    Film Notes (Britt Crews): Cut from the opening credit sequence, an exterior shot of Brandon Shaw's (John Dall) Sutton Place apartment building including reportedly a brief but ubiquitous appearance of a certain rotund director, to a medium close-up of David Kentley's (Dick Hogan) face as he is strangled by a rope. Continuing over the next eighty minutes with a mere four additional dissolves and five cuts, Rope tightens around the viewer's neck as each of us remains trapped in that apartment with two killers and a corpse at a deliciously macabre and perverse dinner party. Only the two affluent homosexual lovers, Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan – and the audience – know what has occurred just before the guests arrive. This knowledge makes the viewer a virtual accomplice in the crime. There is no question whodunit, only the suspense of when and how the perpetrators will be caught.
    "The stage drama was played out in the actual time of the story; the action is continuous from the moment the curtain goes up until it comes down again. I asked myself whether it was technically possible to film it in the same way. The only way to achieve that, I found, would be to handle the shooting in the same continuous action, with no break in the telling of a story that began at seven-thirty and ends at nine-fifteen," Alfred Hitchcock later explained to Francois Truffaut.
    To achieve this illusion of a film unreeling in real time (actually the timeframe was slightly compressed) proved an enormous technical challenge. Hitchcock described Rope as being "precut." In a brilliantly choreographed dance uniting camera motion, actor position, set pieces, and composition, Hitchcock draws the viewer's attention to key plot and character points. The positioning of the behemoth Technicolor cameras as well as the actors was carefully blocked and rehearsed. Every piece of the set moved. The walls broke apart and slid out of the way on rollers; chairs disappeared moments after the actors rose from their seats. Thick cables snaked across the floor and had to be carefully negotiated. Rather than "opening up" the single-set stage play, Alfred Hitchcock believed "that the basic quality of any play is precisely its confinement within the proscenium… this is where the filmmakers often go wrong, and what they get is simply some dull footage that's been added to the play artificially." A film magazine only held about ten minutes of film so each of the continuous takes are about eight to nine minutes in duration. When the film magazine needed to be reloaded, often a character would pass in front of the camera. For instance, Hitchcock would end one shot on a close-up of a jacket with the next reel beginning precisely at the same point.
    Francois Truffaut pronounced Rope "a milestone" in Hitchcock's career for its technical achievement as well as marking the point when Hitchcock began producing as well as directing. Rope is Hitch's initial foray into color and James Stewart's first collaboration with the auteur.
    No one delivers murder and suspense better than Alfred Hitchcock. Over his cinematic career, the bodies, chills, thrills, and gallows humor made a splendid funeral pyre. Rupert Cadell, James Stewart's character in Rope, easily could have been describing Hitchcock when he noted: "After all, murder is – or should be – an art. Not one of the 'seven lively' perhaps, but an art nevertheless. And as such, the privilege of committing it should be reserved for those few who are really superior individuals."

  • Memento (2000)
    August 10, 2008
    Memento  IMDB
    USA, 2000, 113 min, Color, R
    Directed by Christopher Nolan; Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Jorja Fox

    The plot is straightforward enough: Leonard, an ex-insurance investigator, is trying to find the man who killed his wife. Complicating matters is the fact that Leonard suffers from short-term memory loss due to a head trauma. He knows everything up to the point of his brain injury, but can only remember everything after his injury for a few moments. Further complicating the story is the tour-de-force narrative style director Christopher Nolan brings to the movie: The story is told backwards. We see segments of the film in reverse chronological order, so that, like Leonard, we don't know the events that have preceded what is currently happening, and must figure things out on the spot. This unique movie will have you guessing until the surprising ending that is, in fact, the beginning.

    Film Notes (Jeff Shoup): At the age of 28, little-known director Christopher Nolan showed his film Following at the 1999 Hong Kong Film Festival. He made the film a year earlier in his native London, on an ultra-low budget of $6000. Following is a modern film noir concerning a struggling writer who follows random strangers around London to see where they go and what they do. The film is short at 69 minutes, has no recognizable names in it, and was filmed over the course of a year on weekends because everyone involved had day jobs. But the film had been getting some notice at film festivals, mainly because of Nolan's direction and writing. The film has a definite atmosphere to it, a gritty and chilly quality that evokes the best noir, and the plot has some intriguing and thought-provoking twists to it. Since his film was resonating with audiences, Nolan made the bold decision in Hong Kong that after showing Following he would ask the audience to contribute money to his next film. His request resulted in major funding, albeit from a studio, for the film that became Memento.
    The screenplay for Memento was written by Nolan, based on a short story by his brother Jonathan. It revolves around the story of Leonard, a man who has a condition that makes it impossible to form new memories. He remembers his entire life up to the point of his wife's brutal murder, but since then, all new memories fade after a few minutes. Despite this enormous handicap, Leonard is determined to avenge his wife's death. Based on this convoluted premise, Nolan devised an ingenious method of telling the story of Memento. The story is essentially told backwards so that we, the audience, experience some of Leonard's trouble in that we don't know the events that precede each scene.
    The plot and the unusual telling of it, while thrilling and disturbing, becomes a method for Nolan to delve into the nature of memory and perception. In order to mitigate his handicap, Leonard comes up with interesting ways to help himself and his quest. He takes Polaroid pictures of anything or anyone he considers important, and he tattoos essential facts on his arms and torso. But given his memory problem, Leonard must constantly re-discover information, and leads a lonely existence of impossible friendship and the haunting memory of his wife's death.
    One criticism of Memento has been that Leonard's memory handicap presents plot problems, most notably that if the last thing Leonard remembers is his wife dying, then how does he remember that he suffers from short-term memory loss? Perhaps Nolan attempts to answer this problem during the course of the movie. Part of the way through the movie, Leonard reveals that he used to be an insurance investigator and his job was to determine if medical claims were real or fraudulent. He relates the story of Sammy Jankis, a man who apparently suffered from the same condition that now afflicts Leonard. Leonard was attempting to discover whether Sammy's condition was real or if he was faking it. The story of Sammy Jankis seems to beg the question: is Leonard's condition real? Without giving away too much, the last time Leonard sees Sammy, there is a crucial shot that adds a layer to the question. It only lasts about two seconds, so watch carefully.
    Nolan's career was cemented with Memento. The film was so successful, both financially and critically, that Nolan became a sought-after Hollywood director. He directed Al Pacino and Hilary Swank in his next film, Insomnia, and then went on to reinvigorate the Batman franchise with Batman Begins.