Night on Earth
So The Death of Mr. Lazarescu arrives at last at a place of exhaustion and quiet, where the human animal is revealed in its bare material essence: a place of mystery. Every moment along the way has been vivid and convincing; every interaction, emotionally charged. And the deepest, most sustained of these interactions--the last relationship Lazarescu will ever have--turns out to be with Mioara.
At first, when he is still talking, she lets him converse with her only grudgingly, killing time on the road to the trauma center. She just wants someone to take him off her hands. But the more the doctors push her around, the more she pushes back, claiming this case as her own. The more Lazarescu weakens, losing contact with the world around him, the stronger grows Mioara's emotional bond with him. At the climax, in the neurologists' hospital, she rises to a level of heroic defiance against the doctors and their arrogance--while Lazarescu summons the last strength of his life to make a grand refusal, not only for himself but also, I suspect, for her.
Co-written with Razvan Radulescu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is the second feature to be directed by the 39-year-old Puiu, and the first in his projected six-film series on aspects of love, inspired by Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales. After winning a prize at the 2005 Cannes Festival (despite a reported defection at the press screening of all but a dozen viewers), The Death of Mr. Lazarescu provided last fall's New York Film Festival with a peak experience and is now opening for a theatrical run at New York's Film Forum, billed as a comedy.
It is funny, sometimes. But what really makes me throw back my head and laugh is not the film itself but the joy of seeing this magnificent picture now playing in a movie house.
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The world's first feminist pro-porn speculative biopic--that's hard to say, with false teeth--The Notorious Bettie Page poses Gretchen Mol fetchingly in a large collection of swimsuits, lingerie, black fetishwear and nothing at all, on the pretext of teasing out some insight into 1950s America and one of its most popular pin-up models. Since I didn't mind seeing Mol tritz around in swimsuits, etc., and since Lily Taylor and Chris Bauer have such fun playing the nice, homey smut dealers who employed Bettie, I've got very little to complain about. Then again: Bettie's character, as confected here, is a deliberately thin and poorly stirred mixture, compounded of one part psychosocial cliché (the abused girl who becomes sexually demonstrative), one part stereotype (the simple Jesus-loving Southerner) and one part surrogate (Mol, playing to the camera to show that Bettie did, too). You might think this slapdash approach to character is sophisticated, in its post-whatever insouciance. I think it's half-assed, three different ways. As for social commentary, the filmmakers seem to have felt they'd done all that was necessary by making the second 1950s-period feature to show a black-and-white David Strathairn orating into a microphone. The film was directed by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho) from a screenplay she wrote with Guinevere Turner (Go Fish). In the past, these two did substantial work. Now they play, so that audiences may have the double pleasure of enjoying their porn while feeling superior to it.
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David Zeiger's documentary feature Sir! No Sir! might be described as a therapeutic film, since it seeks to cure some small part of America's amnesia. The experience that's been forgotten--repressed, rather--is that of the Vietnam soldiers' antiwar movement, which spread and intensified throughout the 1960s. Zeiger's method for restoring the memory of this movement, appropriately enough, is to assemble an astonishing collage of archival material, then bring it up to date by interviewing many of the protesters and resisters you see in the old footage. I don't have space to give the entire honor roll, but you should know that it encompasses female and male, enlisted troops and officers, black, white and Puerto Rican, in every branch of the military. Perhaps Zeiger incorporates one too many snippets of Jane Fonda; and maybe, in his enthusiasm for the GI movement, he ultimately overstates its impact, when he gives the impression that a full-scale mutiny was brewing by the early 1970s. (I recall encountering plenty of veterans who hated what they'd been through but also hated the Vietnamese and the antiwar movement.) But enough quibbles. This would have been an important film just by virtue of existing. The way Zeiger has made Sir! No Sir!, it's outstanding. Sir! No Sir! has just begun a theatrical run at New York's IFC Center and will open in Los Angeles on May 5 at Laemmle's Monica 4.