Short Takes 

This week in local theaters.
LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD Back in the day, literal-minded audiences had great fun pretending to be baffled by this artiest of European art films. Basically, Last Year at Marienbad, which Alain Resnais directed from an original screenplay by “new novelist” Alain Robbe-Grillet (who died earlier this year), is a situation. The politely avid X (Giorgio Albertazzi) pursues the mysteriously diffident A (Delphine Seyrig) through a huge, mirror-encrusted chateau, complete with formal garden—“a universe,” as Robbe-Grillet described it, “of marble and stucco, columns, moldings, gilded ceilings, statues, motionless servants.” Gloomy organ music underscores the proceedings as X insists against A’s protestations that a year ago she’d promised to leave her husband, M (the cadaverous Sacha Pitoëff), and go off with him. The tension is never resolved: Is X casting a spell or breaking one?

One thing is certain: Breathtaking in her slouch, the irresistible Seyrig, whose only previous film appearance had been as the put-upon beatnik wife in the entirely different arthouse hit Pull My Daisy, transforms the noun “arabesque” into a verb. (Later, the Method-school actress would reveal that many of her poses were improvised on the set.) This languid, elaborately coiffed and bejeweled creature—her beyond-Dietrich outfits were designed by an uncredited Coco Chanel—embodies obsession. Is she married to Death, who never loses the version of pickup sticks that would thereafter be known as the “Marienbad game”? Or is it Death who woos her? In either case, the spectator is similarly obliged to surrender to the movie’s incantatory rhythms and sublimely maddening mannerisms—or else leave the theater.

Hopelessly retro, eternally avant-garde, and one of the most influential movies ever made (as well as one of the most reviled), Marienbad is both utterly lucid and provocatively opaque—an elaborate joke on the world’s corniest pickup line and a drama of erotic fixation that takes Vertigo to the next level of abstraction. It’s a movie of alarming stasis—elegant zombies positioned like chess pieces in a hypercivilized haunted house—and unsurpassed fluidity. The hypnotic dollies elaborate on those of Resnais’ earlier Hiroshima Mon Amour; the montage effortlessly synthesizes past and present, flashback and flash-forward, svelte shock cuts and shock match cuts. Marienbad eludes tense. The movie is what it is—a sustained mood, an empty allegory, a choreographed moment outside of time, and a shocking intimation of perfection. —J. Hoberman (Opens Friday at The Belcourt)

BABY MAMA Could swear I’ve seen this episode of Baby Mama before—like sometime in January 2007, when it was originally titled “The Baby Show” and aired on the other prime-time series starring Tina Fey, 30 Rock. (Waitaminute—you say Baby Mama’s a movie and not a TV show? Seriously? Coulda sworn….) It was funny the first time around when Fey, as late-night-TV exec Liz Lemon, suddenly found herself drawn to the sound of cooing and the scent of baby powder. Baby Mama extends the joke, then softens it, then smothers it in its crib—an unpleasant picture, perhaps, but no more disagreeable than the phrase “Produced by Lorne Michaels.” Ultimately, that’s all this shrugging disappointment is: an SNL sketch stretched a good hour past its breaking point. It even pairs Fey with her former “Weekend Update” co-anchor Amy Poehler, who shows up as mercenary womb-provider Angie, who’s really just Amy Poehler barely trying to maintain a hillbilly accent. Ultimately, the movie exists solely to reunite a winning comic duo: two women so singularly in sync that, during their stint on “Weekend Update,” they genuinely laughed at each other’s jokes despite their no doubt well-worn familiarity come showtime. Kate and Angie are just Tina and Amy goofing around—drunk-dancing, crooning along to video-game karaoke, and once more finishing each other’s sentences. —Robert Wilonsky (Opens Friday)


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