"The Princess of Montpensier," "Imperialists!," More

"The finest Western you'll see this year is set in aristocratic 16th-century France, in the heat of Counter-Reformation," declares Nick Pinkerton. Segueing into his interview with Bertrand Tavernier, Aaron Hillis, also in the Voice, sums up the gist of The Princess of Montpensier: "Adapted from Madame de la Fayette's classic novel, the film concerns a nubile, wealthy heiress (Mélanie Thierry) who loves a rugged hothead from the wrong clan (Gaspard Ulliel), but is forced by her father to marry another prince (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), leaving her to dwell on the too-modern desire for free will — defiantly bucking against the rigid traditions of her breed." Back to Pinkerton: "The setting always serves the performers rather than vice versa — though the film is also greatly enhanced by the costuming, the rugged French countryside photographed in outdoor-adventure CinemaScope, and Philippe Sarde's baroque-tribal score, its martial and romantic poles matching a tale of love (corrupted) and war (pointless)."

 

Saul Austerlitz for Moving Image Source: "Opening with a sweeping shot of dead bodies on the field of battle, and a blast of angelic choir music, Montpensier begins with a sequence that, other than the costumes, could have been lifted from the series of war films Tavernier has been making, on and off, for two decades: Life and Nothing But (1989), Capitaine Conan (1996), and Safe Conduct (2002). Like its predecessors, Montpensier prefers to begin near the end; the war is almost over, but the battles at home have only just begun. Tavernier's sweeping, romantic, lush, and often despairing war films are antithetical to much that the New Wave stood for. Perhaps this is why they still require defending."

At Fandor, Steve Erickson, too, considers Tavernier as an "Unlikely Master of War Movies": "François Truffaut once said that no war films avoid the trap of glorifying battle. In The Princess of Montpensier, war is presented as an exciting, if potentially lethal, boys' adventure. By contrast, Life and Nothing But, set in the aftermath of World War I, never shows warfare itself, just its devastating consequences. It's a genuine anti-war film."

One more slight digression, here from Andrew Schenker in Slant: "For the self-conscious auteur, the period piece poses a special set of problems: how to tackle that middle-brow art-house staple without giving into to the easy normalizations of its more anonymous practitioners, directors who make the past seem both safely past and, in experiential terms, no different from the present… In The Duchess of Langeais, Jacques Rivette employed such Brechtian measures as self-conscious intertitles and intentionally creaky floorboards, but ultimately crafted a sneakily moving drama out of Honoré de Balzac's novella. Meanwhile, in his final film, The Romance of Astreé and Céladon, fellow New Wave vet Eric Rohmer imagined Honoré d'Urfé's 17th-century text, set in the fifth, as something unfolding in a world utterly foreign to our own, yet brimming over with delicious, easily graspable pleasures." In Montpensier, "Tavernier relies less on distanciation than his fellow countrymen, while still refusing to normalize the historical setting." Tavernier "ensures that his 16th-century setting maintains its degree of foreignness to the viewer, even as the director colors his world with precise details. And yet, Tavernier also refuses a radical Brechtianism in favor of an immediate, passionate mode of storytelling."

More on Montpensier from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Manohla Dargis (New York Times), Marcy Dermansky, David Fear (Time Out New York, 3/5), Noel Murray (AV Club, B+), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nicolas Rapold (L), Vadim Rizov (GreenCine Daily) and Carlos J Segura (Cinespect). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and the Ferroni Brigade. Viewing (37'27"). David Poland talks with Tavernier and Ulliel. At the Hollywood Interview, Alex Simon talks with Tavernier while Terry Keefe meets Ulliel. Gillian Mohney chats with both for Interview. Nigel M Smith interviews Ulliel for indieWIRE.





Bill Weber in Slant: "An immigrant's movie, The Imperialists Are Still Alive! follows Asya (Élodie Bouchez), a self-described 'conceptual' artist who poses sober Iranian women with a rifle (and stocking-tucked pistol) in her Manhattan studio, on her rounds of uninspiring gallery openings, parties frequented by models toting clutch purses and gift bags, and clubs and secret bars populated by human waxworks. 'Jordanian/Lebanese, Bosnian/Palestinian, born in Paris,' she habitually recites to pedicurists and taxi drivers inquiring about her lineage, an identity that solidifies when a onetime lover is rumored to have been detained for rendition by the CIA, and her Beirut-dwelling brother attempts to escape an Israeli bombardment."

"A fluid 16mm mood piece, The Imperialists Are Still Alive! reveals writer-director Zeina Durra's eye for loaded tableaux and her talent for gleaning one-liners from both the subtle racial profiling woven into everyday life and highly specific examples of culture clash bordering on the absurd," finds Karina Longworth in the Voice.

"Like kindred class chronicler Whit Stillman (who cameos as a creep pogoing to 'Psycho Killer'), filmmaker Zeina Durra doesn't feel obliged to either make us respect her characters or judge them," notes Eric Hynes in Time Out New York. "Such poker-faced ambiguity can be an asset when exploring the lifestyles of the rich and aimless, but becomes a problem once it extends to storytelling that's less artfully diffuse than dramatically uncertain."

For Alison Willmore, writing at the AV Club, "Imperialists! is at its best when it examines the guilt, ineffectualness, and isolation Bouchez and her friends feel over enjoying the benefits of the US while nurturing a sense of spiritual opposition — they know they're having their cake and eating it, too… Imperialists! is less effective in aiming at the broad target that is the downtown sphere."

More from Stephen Holden (NYT) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE). Interviews with Durra: Mark Asch (L), Mary Anderson Casavant (Filmmaker) and Stephen Saito (IFC).





"Plot fans will be delighted with The Double Hour, an Italian thriller that introduces a new wrinkle every 10 minutes, and takes its time to explain how they all fold together," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "First-time feature director Giuseppe Capotondi and a trio of credited screenwriters do their best to weave all the disparate pieces of the story into a study of faith and trust, and how both can change as a situation evolves. But in the end, The Double Hour remains the kind of movie where the heroine gets drugged and dragged into a shallow grave in the woods, and the viewers think, 'Jesus, what now?'"

Time Out New York's David Fear: "Hotel chambermaid Sonia ([Kseniya] Rappoport) hooks up with Guido (Vincere's [Filippo] Timi), a former cop, at a speed-dating function. After an inexplicable post-coital blow-off, romance eventually blooms; soon, the two wind up canoodling while he's at work guarding a house full of priceless artworks and artifacts. (Because what screams gettin' it on more than that?) The place gets robbed, and Guido is murdered. Oh, wait, maybe he wasn't killed but, like, she was! Or maybe this is all a dream. Also, what's up with the obsession over temporal patterns like 11:11 pm? Here's the thing: We enjoy a good mindfuck lark as much as the next filmgoer, but such fluid tomfoolery eventually has to add up to something, and The Double Hour ultimately doesn't."

More from Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 3/4), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 8.5/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Ryan Wells (Cinespect) and Armond White (New York Press).





"Given that it has zero reason to exist and caters to our cynicism by acknowledging as much in every scene, Wes Craven's Scream 4 is a pretty fair hall-of-mirrors horror ride," finds New York's David Edelstein.

"There may be a point in a horror-film series where self-referential becomes self-reverential, but Scream passed that long ago." Time's Richard Corliss: "Back in 1996, when director Wes Craven filmed Kevin Williamson's all-knowing, mostly joking script, the innovation was that, for once, the people on screen were as aware of horror-movie clichés and twists as the people in the audience. With its masked murderer (nicknamed Ghostface) following such angels of serial death as Halloween's Michael Myers and Friday the 13th's Jason, as well as Craven's own dreamweaver Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Scream series twisted the genre rules in a pop-modernist way that complimented the movies' fans for their hipness even as it eviscerated their on-screen doppelgangers. The series dribbled out after three episodes, in 2000 — the same year as the first of four Final Destination scare-a-thons, and long before any of the seven Saw films, the four Resident Evils or the Hollywood tart-ups of Japan's Ju-On (The Grudge) and The Ring cycles. After 11 years and the proliferation of these and many other movie-wise horror series, what's left to say or show?"

An answer from Movieline's ST VanAirsdale: "From its first scenes dismissing the Saw series as a one-note torture-porn bloodbath, Scream 4 has more than a decade's worth of new flesh for the flaying. Back at their respective helms, Williamson and Craven do so with gusto — literally and metaphorically, slaughtering modern horror's sacred, sequelized cows (including their own) while eviscerating an ensemble young enough to have still had baby teeth in 1996."

At Newcity Film, Ray Pride finds Scream 4 "content to be the best Scream since Scream." More from Shaun Brady (Philadelphia City Paper, C+), Josef Braun, Kyle Buchanan (Vulture), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/4), Nigel Floyd (Time Out London, 3/4), Mike Hale (NYT), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 2.5/5), Sarah Mankoff (Film Society of Lincoln Center), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2/4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, C), Tim Robey (Telegraph, 2/5), Nick Schager (Slant, 1.5/4), Justin Stewart (L), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3/5) and Mike Wilmington (Movie City News). Interviews with Craven: Kyle Buchanan (Vulture) and Jen Yamato (Movieline).

 

BRIEFLY


"Bruno, the peevish sad sack at the center of the charming Italian comedy The First Beautiful Thing, has all the fixings of a decent life, including a stable job teaching at a vocational school and a faithful live-in girlfriend who seems more entertained than annoyed by his stubborn eye for the half-empty glass." Ella Taylor for NPR: "Bruno's real mission in life is to nurse old grievances while muddling through the day on prescription drugs illegally obtained at a local park — which also offers convenient amenities for lying down and staring at the sky. But the etiquette of redemptive drama demands an end to this mopey stasis, and as in many movies offered up by their countries for Best Foreign Film, self-actualization lurks just beyond a sharp uptick in current adversity and a difficult childhood recollected in flashback." More from Diego Costa (Slant, 2.5/4), Neil Genzlinger (NYT) and Michelle Orange (Voice).

"Danish director Janus Metz's widely acclaimed Armadillo (winner of the Critics' Week prize at Cannes last year) arrives in a crowded field and belongs to a familiar genre," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Meet a group of ordinary, likable guys — and then go with them into hell. It isn't in English and reflects a non-American perspective, which only makes it less likely that it will find any kind of audience here. That doesn't change the fact that it's a brilliant work of cinema, a nonfiction film as intense and visceral as any drama, and an emotional and moral experience that feels horrifying and exhilarating at almost the same moment." More from Mark Holcomb (Voice), Eric Hynes (TONY, 4/5), Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2.5/4), AO Scott (NYT), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B-) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 5/10). Interviews with Metz: Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily, audio, 17'02"), Matt Singer (IFC) and Damon Smith (Filmmaker).

"Phillip (Brian Hasenfus) is an aimless landscaper, pushing 30 (though he looks older, and it's implied that he's lying about his age), who spends most of his time drinking beer, snorting coke, and sleeping with teenage girls," writes Chuck Bowen in Slant. "Filmmaker Garth Donovan dresses Phillip the Fossil up with intentionally amateurish camera tricks that are probably meant to call attention to the film's authenticity, but only reaffirm an inexperienced director's insecurity." Still, he "occasionally shows understanding of his subject… American cinema is sorely lacking stories of the small-town middle-to-lower working class that aren't mired in condescending art or pop-film clichés, so here's hoping that Donovan learns from his mistakes." More from Michelle Orange (Voice). At Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater.

"Grauman's Chinese Theatre is the epicenter of Old Hollywood glamour as well as an irresistible magnet for those who desperately dream in widescreen in Footprints, a fairy tale written and directed by Steven Peros (The Cat's Meow playwright) about a woman (Sybil Temtchine) who awakens, without her memory, on the movie palace's celeb-imprinted front courtyard." Nick Schager in the Voice: "Rife with classic-cinema shoutouts, the film is a cutesy, toothless variation on Mulholland Drive, one whose attempts to pay tribute to movie magic are ultimately undercut by stagey aesthetics and narrative theatricality." More from L Caldoran (Cinespect), Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2/4), S James Snyder (TONY, 2/5) and Alison Willmore (AV Club, D).

"Innocuous but never inspired, Rio covers much of the same turf as [Carlos] Saldanha's Ice Age: The Meltdown in warmer climes," writes Time Out Chicago's Ben Kenigsberg. "The Carnival setting adds a fun samba backbeat, although the songs themselves feel like an afterthought — a way of addressing some demographic not yet courted. Compared to Pixar's Up, a more organic story about making friends in far-flung places, Rio simply feels rote." More from Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 1.5/4), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3/5), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 3/4), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C), Nick Schager (Voice), Megan Seling (Stranger), Andy Webster (NYT) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 6.5/10). Jada Yuan talks with Jesse Eisenberg for Vulture. James Rocchi meets both Anne Hathaway and Eisenberg for MSN Movies.

"Fox News, which may well found its own awards ceremony to head off Oscar's inevitable snubbing, would have you believe that Atlas Shrugged is 'the movie Hollywood doesn't want you to see,'" writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "If that's the case, it will be helped immeasurably in its campaign by this lifeless adaptation, which virtually grabs viewers by the lapels and intones woodenly, 'This is what will come of Obama's socialism.' After four decades in development hell, during which names from Farrah Fawcett to Angelina Jolie have been attached, Ayn Rand disciple John Aglialoro has finally brought the book to the screen as a planned trilogy. Tolkien this ain't, however; in its nighttime soap-level acting and direction (by One Tree Hill actor Paul Johansson), this feels like the première episode of a lackluster new TV series." The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips finds it "crushingly ordinary in every way, which with Rand, I wouldn't have thought possible." For the Sun-Times' Roger Ebert, it's "the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone's vault." More from Zoe Chace (NPR) and Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago, 2/5).

Roundup local events: Ty Burr in the Boston Globe and, for Angelenos, Phil Coldiron (Weekly) and Susan King (Times). Update, 4/16: Criterion's posted its fine weekly roundup of repertory events happening around the world and Brian Darr points to several events in the San Francisco Bay Area. Also, should've mentioned yesterday that the roundup on Robert Redford's The Conspirator is going on here.

 

IN THE UK


Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show sees a re-release in the UK and, for Neil Young, it "more than lives up to its exalted reputation as an American masterpiece: achingly beautiful, strikingly confident and piercingly mature — and a class above anything else Bogdanovich achieved in his long, wayward career (many credit his partner, co-scriptwriter Polly Platt, with capturing the specifics of place and ambience.)" More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 5/5) and Anthony Quinn (Independent, 5/5).

 

 



Johnnie To's Sparrow is "a sprightly comedy caper about a pickpocket gang that pays eccentric homage to French cinema," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "But it's not Bresson. The movie on which it's modelled is, of all things, Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." More from David Jenkins (Time Out London, 4/5) and Danielle Richardson (Little White Lies).

Kate Stables for Sight & Sound on Meek's Cutoff: "Philip French once dubbed the western genre 'a voracious bastard of a form, open equally to visionaries and opportunists.' Kelly Reichardt's austere, resolutely enigmatic and desolately beautiful pioneer fable suggests she's both at once, paring the western audaciously back to the bone and infusing it with her trademark minimalism." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 4/5), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph, 3/5), Emma Simmonds (Arts Desk) and Adam Woodward (Little White Lies).

"Despite its low-key sensibility, the mumblecore movement is proving surprisingly adaptable," writes Tom Huddleston in Time Out London. "Following kids-in-a-cabin horror Baghead and squeamish sex comedy Humpday, Cold Weather is perhaps the most successful attempt yet to bolt the key facets of mumblecore — improvised dialogue, naturalistic performances, a tiny budget —on to a contradictory genre. [Aaron] Katz's characters are beautifully observed, the autumnal photography of downtown Portland is lovely, and the tension is expertly maintained: the final act, as the mystery deepens and Doug [Cris Lankenau] sinks deeper into obsessive behavior, is nail-biting." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2/5) and Julian White (Little White Lies).

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