PICKS OF THE WEEK
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (A-)
Sweden; Niels Arden Oplev, 2009, Music Box
A terrific, smart Swedish mystery thriller, based on one of the late Steig Larsson's posthumous blockbuster novels; this one is about Nazis, serial killers and cold-case murder mysteries on an isolated island -- with an incredible performance by newcomer Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, a black-leather, bisexual computer expert on the trail of misogynists and monsters, and strong support from Michael Nykvist as Mikael, a Larsson-like left-wing investigative journalist (in temporary disgrace) and Sven Bertil-Taube as a rich industrialist who wants Mikael to solve the decades-old disappearance of his daughter. Larsson's book was originally called Men Who Hate Women, and the movie is, likewise, a full-throttle assault on violent sexism, to the extent that some viewers may flinch or get repelled and disturbed. But, like The Silence of the Lambs, this is a shocker that turns misogyny inside out. (In Swedish, with English subtitles.)
Yesterday Girl (A-)
Germany; Alexander Kluge, 1966, Facets Video
One of the great breakthroughs for what became the post-war German Movie New Wave, was the Special jury prize victory at Venice of Alexander Kluge's semi-realist, semi-Godardian film about a girl from East Germany, foundering in love and work, as she tries to adjust to the West. The star is writer-director Kluge's Anna Karina-ish sister and star actress Alexandra Kluge, who's quite a camera-catcher. The story is ultimately grim, and Kluge, a critically praised writer and novelistm, went on to become one of the major figures of the German film avant-garde and a model for writer-directors like Herzog, Fassbinder and Wenders -- and to his cinematographer on this film, Edgar Reitz, who went on to write and direct one of the great achievements of German cinema, the Heimat series. (In German, with English subtitles.) (Extras: Kluge shorts "Brutality in Stone" and "An Experiment in Love"); newsreel footage from 1966 Venice Film festival.)
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Collector's Edition (A)
France/U.S.; Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, 1937-2005, Arthouse/New Video, 2 discs
Henri Cartier-Bresson was an anonymous-looking, intense, and very aware little Frenchman who prowled the streets of Paris and elsewhere with his camera and his matchless eye and reflexes, snapping pictures. He was also one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century.
Cartier-Bresson, one of the best and most instinctual of French visual artists, had a gift of imparting both life and high style to his pictures, and an immense range of subject matter that stretched from country to country, class to class, culture to culture, person to person. But he was also a painter, a sketcher, and an occasional filmmaker. His mentor/teacher was the best, Jean Renoir (whom Cartier-Bresson loved). And among the Renoir films on which he worked were two great ones: 1936's A Day in the Country and 1939's The Rules of the Game.
Cartier-Bresson also made short films and featurettes himself, and this beautiful little set contains six of them, including his masterpiece on returning World War II prisoners of war, La Retour (1945), as well as one documentary and five featurettes on Cartier-Bresson and his work. The hour-long documentary, the 2003 Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye, by Heinz Butler, is one of the best "portraits of an artist" I've seen. And the quick-fingered Frenchman, with his little camera, may be one of the best artists I've seen as well. The set, as a whole, is a treasure. (Extras: booklet with Serge Toubiana essay and film notes.)
Victory of Life (B)
France: Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1937
One of two Cartier-Bresson documentaries done in fervent support of the anti-fascist Spanish government forces in the Spanish Civil War. The less propagandistic, it focuses on hospitals and healing. (In French, with English subtitles.)
Spain Will Live (B)
France: Cartier-Bresson, 1938
More of a polemic, but also more informative. (In French, with English subtitles.)
La Retour (A)
France/U.S.: Cartier-Bresson, 1945
A great, powerfully humanistic short documentary on the prisoners returning home from the Nazi camps after World War II. (Cartier-Bresson was interred himself.) One scene, where a collaborator has her face slapped, is legendary. (In French, with English subtitles.)
California Impressions (B)
U.S.; Cartier-Bresson, 1970
One of two short pieces, both in color, done for CBS News. Shot in L.A., it's a memorable gallery of sunny pleasures and strange culture.
Southern Exposures (A-)
U.S.; Cartier-Bresson, 1971
The second and better of the two. Shot in Mississippi, it quietly exposes a culture of oppression and brutalism, masked behind gentility. I wish there were more of these; I also wish they were shot not in color, but in Cartier-Bresson's best metier, black-and-white.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye (A-)
Germany; Heinz Butler, 2003
In his sunny Rue de Rivoli apartment/studio, Cartier-Bresson, who says he's now devoted to painting and drawing, talks feelingly of the "joy of geometry' (the perfect mix of spontaneity and rigor that characterizes his photographic method). He leafs through mountings of his classic black-and-white photographs, and shows and discusses many of his most familiar and best. Behind him: the music of Bach and Chopin. Besides Cartier-Bresson, the interviewees include Henri's publisher Robert Delpire, Josef Koudelka, Arthur Miller and Isabelle Huppert. One of the best, most brilliant and lyrical of recent documentaries on art and artists. (In French and English, with English subtitles.)
The Modern Adventure (Henri Cartier-Bresson) (B)
France; Roger Kahane, 1962
Fine TV documentary reportage. We see the rather camera-shy Cartier-Bresson, spruce yet unobtrusive-looking, shielding his small camera, on the prowl and seizing the moment in his '60s prime for photos in a Paris street market, and also discussing his work and methods around a table with knowledgeable and sympathetic interviewers Jean Bardin and Bernard Hubrenne. (In French, with English subtitles.)
Flagrants Delits (A)
France; Robert Delpire, 1967
Robert Delpire again, presenting and editing a stunning montage of Cartier-Bresson's uncommon, brilliant photographs -- unforgettable street scenes in Paris, China and New York; haunting portraits of William Faulkner, Coco Chanel, Igor Stravinsky, Saul Steinberg and many others; historical tableaux of the frenzied turmoil at Gandhi's funeral and the quiet before the fall of the Berlin Wall; and everywhere, delightful or profoundly moving images permeated with a deep humanity, a playful wit and a sense of beauty that pours out of each perfectly composed black-and-white frame. Bravo! If you don't concede after this film that Cartier Bresson is one of the greatest (maybe the greatest, period) of all monochrome still photographers, you must be blind. The anxious, percussive music score is by Diego Masson.
France; Robert Delpire, 1994
A view of Cartier-Bresson's contact sheets, the troves from which he and collaborators like Delpire cull his images. (In French, with English subtitles.)
A Day in the Studio of Henri Cartier-Bresson (B)
France; Caroline Thienot Barbey, 2005
Cartier-Bresson in his studio in 1989, painting and drawing nude models and girlfriends: his hand swift, his eye unswerving. (In French, with English subtitles.)
Lest We Forget: Letter to Mamadou Ba (A-)
France; Henri Cartier-Bresson/Martine Franck, 1991
Cartier-Bresson's open letter to the president of the Mauritanian Republic: In his own voice and words, and over images from his photographs, he publicly protests the murder of two young Mauritanians (including Ba, a shepherd), by that country's national guard. A powerful social/political document, it reminds us that this great photographer/artist, with his keen-eyed sense of humanity, was also a man with a strong social conscience, courage and principles. (In French, with English subtitles.)
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Brooklyn's Finest (B)
U.S.; Antoine Fucqua, 2010, Overture Films/Anchor Bay
Brooklyn's Finest, the new police melodrama from Antoine Fucqua (Training Day), is a neo-noir with lots of visual punch and swagger. Swooped along through the mean streets and dingy hallways by Fucqua's gaudy repertoire of crane and tracking shots, it's an urban crime thriller that gives us three interweaving stories about three bad-news cops. As if in a three-part Departed, we follow, by turns, impending retiree Eddie (Richard Gere), whose gal pal is a whore and who's so depressed he wakes up and puts a gun in his mouth for practice. Then there's narc/family man Sal (Ethan Hawke), a father of five (with two in the oven), who has medical and home repair issues suffered along with wife Angela (Lili Taylor), and who augments their depleted income by rubbing out dealers and crooks (like Vincent D'Onofrio's Calo) and confiscating loot.
Finally there's quiet, rebellious, had-it-up-to-here Tango (Don Cheadle), who's been undercover with the gangs so long, including a current gig with buddy/mobster Caz (Wesley Snipes), that his dreams of a nice, safe desk job seem to be vanishing forever -- especially when he has to lock horns with boss Hobarts (Will Patton) and supervising federal agent Smith (Ellen Barkin, at her meanest). All these actors give high-grade performances, with the edge maybe going to Cheadle. And I liked Hawke and D'Onofrio in their opening Brando-Steiger-style front-seat rip.
The movie's three main guys don't hang around together. But they're obviously all headed for Crash-style multiple trouble.
Visions of Ireland (B)
U.S.; Roy A. Hammond/Sam Toperoff, 2007, Acorn Media
Another of the WLIW "Visions of..." series, which take us on tours of the world's picturesque city and country sights, with splendid aerial photography (directed here by Hammond and shot by Grant Bieman), local music (including, in this case, Bing Crosby crooning "Galway" and "I'll take You home Again, Kathleen"), and brief but engaging historical chatter, written by Toperoff. Some may dismiss these at modern "As the sun sets slowly in the west" kitschy travelogs. But I like them. And they're especially good for older viewers, who may feel they'll never get much chance to travel again.
Night Train to Munich (B)
U.K.; Carol Reed, 1940, Criterion
Don't expect The Lady Vanishes, and you should enjoy this early World War II-set thriller from the screenwriters of Hitchcock's 1938 classic. Screenwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder put pretty British rose Margaret Lockwood back on a train, this time with Sexy Rexy Harrison, since the original choice, Vanishes' Michael Redgrave, was otherwise engaged. They bring back those sublimely dotty, cricket-obsessed British travelers, Charters and Caldecott (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), sign on Paul Henreid as urbane replacement villain for Paul Lukas, but still come nowhere near the magic of Hitchcock's Vanishing act -- despite a more-than-adequate substitute suspense director in Carol (The Third Man) Reed.
Nothing works quite as well, including, sadly enough, Charters and Caldecott, who seem a bit fagged. There is a smashing cliffhanger ending. The moral: The Lady Vanishes is indeed inimitable. Never underestimate the power of Hitchcock. And Harrison enjoys himself far too much playing at Gestapo. (Extras: video conversation between authors and Gilliat-Launder-Reed experts; booklet with Philip Kemp essay.)