Foreign-language films triumphed over English-language movies in 2006, so it's no surprise that Cinematheque is kicking off its winter season with a bunch - 17 in all - of local premieres from around the globe. One of them, Gela Babluani's 13 Tzameti, opens commercially next week, but you might not see the rest for a while, even on DVD shelves.
VERS MATHILDE (Claire Denis, France). 84 minutes. Subtitled. Saturday (January 13), 6:30 pm, Wednesday (January 17), 8:45 pm. Rating: NNN
Untraditional dance documentary or tacky amateur home movie? It's hard to tell watching Vers Mathilde, Claire Denis's (Chocolat, Beau Travail) look at choreographer Mathilde Monnier as she prepares a non-narrative dance work for the Centre Chorégraphique National de Montpellier.
The striking Monnier is at the head of Europe's avant-garde scene, and dance aficionados will eat up this intimate look into her creative process. We see her improvising and warming up but also become a fly on the studio wall as she communicates with her designers and dancers. Most fascinating is watching her in rehearsals as she tries to describe movement to her dancers while not wanting them to mimic her.
Unfortunately, there's not much structure to the film, and the grainy Super-8 and 16 mm is often difficult to watch. Worse, Denis sometimes inexplicably zooms in on tiny details of a dancer's body, obscuring the movement.
HONOR DE CAVALLERIA (Albert Serra, Spain). 111 minutes. Subtitled. Sunday (January 14), 6:30 pm, January 18, 8:45 pm. Rating: N
Honor De Cavalleria is an eight-minute experimental short expanded to feature length.
Non-actors Lluís Carbó and Lluís Serrat play, respectively, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as they traverse the Spanish countryside while doing... what, exactly? They swim, cut grass and shoot the breeze, but mostly they look up into the sky or sit through endless minutes of complete darkness waiting for some sign from God.
The film was acclaimed at Cannes, but it's a test of patience and doesn't offer up much insight into Cervantes's touching and very funny picaresque novel.
Casting non-actors worked for Bresson, whose name (along with Ozu's) is hilariously dropped in reference to the film in the program guide. This makes Waiting For Godot seem like a thriller.
Brothers and balls
GARPASTUM (Alexey Guerman Jr., Russia). 118 minutes. Subtitled. January 22, 8:30 pm. Rating: NNN
Nobody does gloom like the Russians, and young Alexey Guerman Jr.'s impressive follow-up to his 2003 feature The Last Train features bleak, drizzly landscapes and lots of requisite melancholy among its characters.
The big surprise is that it centres around two brothers' love of soccer in pre-first world war St. Petersburg. Andrey (Evgeny Pronin) and Nikolai (Danil Kozlovsky) hatch a plan to build a soccer stadium in their town, so they raise cash to buy the land by challenging others to games, including a group of priests.
Guerman's got an unforced way of unravelling his tale and captures the period well, immersing us in muddy fields and courtyards and giving the film an atmospheric sepia tint. The characters consistently surprise, especially Andrey's tempestuous girlfriend, who coolly lights up a cigarette during sex, and the dialogue's playfully suggestive.
The soccer matches feel real and unrehearsed, but the director has trouble shifting tone to foreshadow the war, usually relying on a tinkling piano for a quick hit of poignancy.