belle de jour (1967, Alliance Atlantis), dir. Luis Buuel w/ Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli. Rating: NNNNN
Belle De Jour is a chill surrealist comedy of manners about an unfulfilled young bourgeois wife (Deneuve) who finds satisfaction working in a brothel. Supremely of its moment in the pre-feminist and ultra-Freudian mid-60s, Belle De Jour also operates in some strange timeless space that only looks like contemporary France, with its autumnal colours and beautifully constructed fantasy sequences of inelegant degradation. Great performances by Michel Piccoli as the rakish Husson and by the exquisite Deneuve, all of 23 when she made this film.
The DVD matches the beautiful restoration that was made a few years ago, capturing the film's remarkable colours; this was Buñuel's first colour film, with Sacha Vierny as his cinematographer. An extensive commentary track by Buñuel scholar Julie Jones offers some interesting observations and a quick guide to Buñuelian motifs, but she mangles French names and gets other things wrong -- she refers to the Polanski film starring Deneuve as Repression rather than Repulsion.
EXTRAS: Scholarly commentary, original and reissue trailers, English dubbed version, English subtitles.
Big-screen rating: N/A
close-up (1989, Facets), dir. Abbas Kiarostami w/ Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Rating: NNNN
Before entering his Range Rover period, Iranian director Kiarostami made some interesting films, particularly this epistemological puzzler. It's based on a true incident, the story of a man who insinuated his way into a middle-class Tehranian family home by pretending to be director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, though he didn't seem to do it with any intent to defraud. The kicker is that Kiarostami uses most of the people involved in the event as actors in the film, so it teeters between the deadly torpor of recreation and the casual drama of documentary.
The result is an inquiry into the idea of celebrity and ambition in a society that doesn't really have celebrities as we understand them in North America. I'd hesitate to call it Kiarostami's best film, but it is certainly more formally and dramatically intriguing than the overrated A Taste Of Cherry.
EXTRAS: Interview with Kiarostami, filmographies. Farsi with English subtitles.
Big-screen rating: N/A
O (2001, Lions Gate), dir. Tim Blake Nelson w/ Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles. Rating: NN
O suffers from the problem of its source material, Shakespeare's Othello, whose protagonist isn't quite a tragic hero -- he's undone because he's set up, not because of a flaw within himself. Also, the fate of a high-school basketball team isn't quite as high-stakes as the fate of a nation, even for the most blinkered teen.
That said, Hartnett (Black Hawk Down) is a terrific, envy-consumed Iago, proving either that he's a better actor than he's gotten credit for or the part is actor-proof even when Shakespeare's dialogue is reduced to "Yo, dog, what's up?" Phifer has basically one note, a sort of sensitive-angry ostinato, and Stiles proves that not much can be done with a part as underwritten as this.
This Deluxe Edition offers an extra that's much more interesting than the film itself. Disc two is given over to the silent 1922 version of Othello, starring Emil Jannings (The Blue Angel) as Othello and Werner Krauss (The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari) as Iago. It was released last year by Kino International on its own disc, with a piano score; unfortunately, whoever composed the very dramatic orchestral score heard on this version is uncredited.
Also, watching and listening to director Tim Blake Nelson, you realize what a good actor he is -- he looks and sounds nothing like Delmar, the character he played in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
EXTRAS: Director's commentary, deleted scenes, cast interviews, trailers. Oddly, most of the extras are on both discs.
Big-screen rating: NN (JH)
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