Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Janus Films: Week Seven

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2007 at 4:42 PM

A remarkable week at the movies as the Belcourt's "50 Years of Janus Films" series nears the end of its run. The films, after the jump—with a little Kurosawa to get your pulse racing. ՠBEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946) (Feb. 18-21) Jean Cocteau's surreal, enchanting version of the classic fairy tale, with Josette Day as Belle and the director's lover Jean Marais as the fearsome Beast and the foppish prince within. As in the Disney remake, the prince is a disappointment compared to his animal self: at an early screening in Paris with Cocteau, Marlene Dietrich is said to have taken one look at the effete post-transformation Marais and demanded back her Beast. Rene Clement (Purple Noon) filled in for the ailing director in some scenes; Henri Alekan (Wings of Desire) was the cinematographer, Georges Auric composed the score, and Pierre Cardin fashioned the men's costumes. In French with English subtitles.

ՠDAY OF WRATH (ends tonight) Not to be missed. Shot during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, this 1943 drama of repression, betrayal and religious hysteria was the great Carl Theodor Dreyer's first feature after the 1932 horror classic Vampyr. In a witchcraft-obsessed 17th century village, a pastor's young wife (Lisbeth Movin) lusts for her grown stepson; to the superstitious, paranoid townfolk, her passion looks like the mark of the Devil—especially after it brings about her husband's death. "We bear the frightening knowledge that genuine evil resides in this confined world," critic Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, "but without a capacity to locate it in literal sorcery, we paranoiacally find it everywhere and nowhere—in a kind of collective virus infecting a whole community without ever being clearly traceable to a single individual." In Danish with English subtitles.

ՠTHE 400 BLOWS (Feb. 16-18) In 1959, just 10 years after his own stint at age 17 in a Parisian reform school—the partial result of his stealing a typewriter from the French Boy Scouts and selling it to fund his movie-screening club—the young film critic Fran谩s Truffaut released his first feature. It's a semi-autobiographical account of a troubled boy, Antoine Doinel (14-year-old Jean-Pierre Leaud), hemmed in on all sides by bickering parents, uncaring teachers and rigid bureaucrats. Fast, funny and cinematically adventurous in ways that are still influential, from its stunning location shooting to its legendary final freeze-frame, the movie holds up beautifully. Truffaut turns Paris into a gigantic playpen and a maze of adult mysteries, and he records Antoine's quasi-delinquency without judgment or sentiment. (For one thing, the film gets the impish tone of kids' humor and hanging out just right.) The movie remains a key work in the revolutionary early canon of the Nouvelle Vague, the "new wave" of French cineastes-turned-filmmakers that included Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. Leaud and Truffaut would revisit the Antoine character in four subsequent films, concluding 20 years later with 1979's Love on the Run; for this screening, the film's paired with "Antoine et Colette," a segment from the 1962 omnibus feature Love at Twenty that follows the teenage Antoine's pursuit of his first love (Marie-France Pisier from Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating and The Other Side of Midnight). With Patrick Auffray, Claire Maurier, Albert Remy, and uncredited appearances by Truffaut, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg director Jacques Demy and Jeanne Moreau; cinematography by Henri Decae (Bob le Flambeur). In French with English subtitles.

ՠTHE HIDDEN FORTRESS (Feb. 16, 19 & 21; see above) Great fun. Two greedy, bickering peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara, whose characters were the acknowledged inspiration for C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars) escort a woman (Misa Uehara) through perilous territory in hopes of a golden payoff, unaware that she is really a princess passing through enemy lines. Luckily for all of them, she's got a resourceful companion: Toshiro Mifune, her loyal general, a bad-ass swordslinger who isn't fazed by a few hundred adversaries. Akira Kurosawa's 1958 adventure is a rousing mix of broad comedy and heroic action: it was his first feature in widescreen Tohoscope (the earlier films just seem that huge in memory), and he uses the larger canvas to stage virtuosic horseback chases, spear fights and battle sequences. In Japanese with English subtitles.

ՠWILD STRAWBERRIES (Feb. 19-21) A simple, beautiful and resonant human drama that remains one of Ingmar Bergman's best and most accessible films: like Kurosawa's Ikiru, it's a movie that you revisit over the years to take measure of your own life. The Swedish silent-film actor-director Victor Sjostrom had his last film role as an elderly professor who takes a road trip to receive an honorary degree; accompanied by his son's estranged wife (Ingrid Thulin), he replays a life of lost love, marital misery and bitter professional regrets as he ponders his remaining years. In synopsis, it sounds dire. But it's leavened with humor and affecting supporting performances—watch for Max von Sydow, fresh from Bergman's The Seventh Seal the same year (1957), in a warm cameo as a small-town pump jockey—and its dream theater and symbols are handled with piercing directness. And Sjostrom's craggy yet grandfatherly face (he was 78 and frail) is an entrancing subject. With Bergman regulars Gunnar Bjornstrand and Bibi Andersson. In Swedish with English subtitles.

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