Smack the crap out of anyone who says there's nothing playing at the movies this week. Starting tomorrow at Green Hills and other area theaters is the best new movie I saw last year, Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men
, along with Little Children
, The Painted Veil
and Tom Tykwer's movie version of the German novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
. That's not a bad week in itself, but the Belcourt has upped the stakes astronomically with its "50 Years of Janus Films"
series—essentially three masterpieces of world cinema a day for the next two months.
Last night's kickoff, with the best print I've ever seen of Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game
, was a total success: great crowd, lots of laughter, terrific conversations in the lobby afterward. So what next? Here's the rest of the week at the Belcourt:
Cleo from 5 to 7
(today through Jan. 7) One of the key works of the French New Wave, Agnes Varda's 1961 film follows a pouty gamine (Corinne Marchand)—described wonderfully by critic Ed Halter as "the kind of deeply superficial character Sofia Coppola thinks she makes movies about"—through the streets of Paris as she anxiously awaits the results of a cancer test. Watch for cameos by Nouvelle Vague icons Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina (in a silent movie), composer Michel Legrand, future Alphaville
private eye Eddie Constantine and Band of Outsiders
co-star Sami Frey. In French with English subtitles; shown on a double bill with Zero de Conduite
(see below)—talk about a once-in-a-lifetime pairing. (Note: Nashville Film Festival Artistic Director Brian Gordon, who was hanging out last night at Rules of the Game
, introduces the 7:30 show tonight.)Zero de Conduite
(today through Jan. 7) A playful, free-wheeling 1933 assault on propriety at a boys' school staffed by twits, bumblers and a dwarf in a ridiculous beard. It's one of only four films by director Jean Vigo, who died of tuberculosis at age 29 in the midst of editing his 1934 film L'Atalante
—thus depriving the movies of endless surprises. Photographed by Boris Kaufman, brother of Soviet experimental filmmaker Dziga Vertov (Man with a Movie Camera
) and later the Oscar-winning cinematographer of On the Waterfront
. In French with English subtitles. Sansho the Bailiff
(today through Jan. 8) In Kenji Mizoguchi's 1954 classic, set in medieval Japan, the wife and children of a compassionate governor are dragooned into prostitution and slavery after he opposes the brutal ruler. His grown son must decide which legacy to embrace, that of his father or of the ruthless tax collector Sansho (Eitaro Shindo). In Japanese with English subtitles. Kwaidan
(Jan. 7-9) Four beautifully stylized tales of the macabre from director Masaki Kobayashi (Samurai Rebellion
), adapted from turn-of-the-century stories by Lafcadio Hearn, the American journalist who became a devotee of Japanese folklore. Among the stories: a destitute samurai gets a chilling comeuppance when he leaves his wife for a wealthy woman; a wintry wraith spares a woodcutter's life, but only if he vows never to mention her; a man is haunted by a face that stares back from his cup of tea—and in the most celebrated vignette, a blind balladeer is tormented by the ghosts of the fallen warriors he sings about. With samurai-film legend Tatsuya Nakadai and Katsuo Nakamura. In Japanese with English subtitles. The Earrings of Madame de...
(Jan. 8-11; pictured above) If you love movies about tragic romances, if you love movies about lovers who chafe against social conventions—hell, if you love movies
—do not miss Max Ophuls' sumptuous 1953 romantic drama. A fickle wife (Danielle Darrieux) pawns a pair of earrings from her jealous husband (Charles Boyer) only to receive them again at the hands of her true love (Vittorio de Sica), with calamitous results. It contains one of the most famous setpieces in all of movies: the exquisite ballroom sequence, in which Ophuls' gliding camera whirls Darrieux and De Sica from dalliance to grand passion in a dance that melts away time. In French with English subtitles. Knife in the Water
(Jan. 10-13) In a number of ways, Roman Polanski's first feature is his most influential: it anticipated the seafaring-as-macho-pathology satire of Jaws
by more than a decade, and it spawned an entire waterlogged subgenre of tense, triangular thrillers (of which Dead Calm
is the most obvious descendent). It also established the then-29-year-old Polanski as an expert manipulator of screen space, a director whose macabre wit and elegant perversity reached the screen fully formed. En route to a sailing vacation, a middle-aged writer (Leon Niemczyk) and his faintly bored wife (Jolanta Umecka) nearly run over a hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz). The husband invites the virile thumb-tripper onto their sailboat, thinking he'll humiliate the younger man; but as their rivalry intensifies, he fails to see that he's practically giving his wife's sympathies over to the handsome stranger. Polanski would subvert this formula in his underrated comedy-of-embarrassment Bitter Moon
. But here, emphasizing the watery isolation and the proximity of flesh, he turns manly brinkmanship into sinister sport. Whoever has the upper hand dominates the frame as well, and the wife's shift from prize to player is measured by her position onscreen. As an exercise in erotic unease, and as a purely cinematic dissection of a dying marriage at a (literal) crossroads, this is among Polanski's most impressive films. In Polish with English subtitles. (Note: FilmNashville co-founder Andy van Roon introduces the 7:30 p.m. show.)
See you anywhere but third row center—that's my seat.