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Nashville Scene French Twist

Reissue of 1973 film offers painful, if compelling, viewing

AUGUST 23, 1999:  In 1973, Jean Eustache's black-and-white 215-minute masterpiece, The Mother and the Whore, closed the coffin lid on both the French student radicalism of 1968 and the fragmented nouvelle vague. After two decades in near-limbo and a limited reissue last year, it's available on video for the first time. While TV isn't the ideal way to watch something this emotionally grueling--strapped down in a padded cell might be better--it's better than not seeing it at all.

Eustache follows a burned-out student activist, Alexandre (Truffaut/Godard alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud, cast as a slap in the masters' faces), as he mooches off one indulgent lover, Marie (Bernadette Lafont), and pursues another, the promiscuous nurse Veronika (Francoise Lebrun). In apartments, cafés, and uneasy three-ways, the principals chatter their lives and ideals away, and their conversations are as raw and bitterly sad as the one night of your life you'd most like to forget. Every bleeding moment of bad sex and talk, talk, talk appears ripped from firsthand experience, and its despair lends a cruel logic to Eustache's suicide in 1981.

Yet there's something heroic in the utter despondency. Today, with professional handwringers blaming the world's current woes on the 1960s, this looks like either the most conservative work of radical art ever released, or the most radical work of conservative art. Either way, it's a resounding blow to the heart. --Jim Ridley

My Name Is Joe. After fruitful excursions to Spain (Land and Freedom) and Sandinista Nicaragua (Carla's Song), neo-neorealist director Ken Loach returns to working-class Glasgow for this shattering portrait of a recovering alcoholic's stab at redemption. In a charming and achingly tender performance, Peter Mullan plays a typical Loachian hero, unpretentious and good-humored, handcuffed by his meager lot in life, yet resilient all the same. Ten months back on the wagon, without a steady job and approaching middle age, he nurtures a tenuous romance with a health counselor (Louise Goodall). As carefully measured and fragile as a 12-step program, their scenes together find Loach in exceptional form, revealing how two essentially decent, compatible human beings get snagged in the social fabric. --Scott Tobias

The Cruise. Director Bennett Miller has come up with the recipe for instant movie--just find an unusual, gregarious person and point a camera at him. For The Cruise, Miller tracks Timothy "Speed" Levitch, a New York City bus tour guide with an uncanny ability to find connections between Manhattan's architectural and literary history and his own daily struggle to get into a groove with the life-force. The film is essentially an hour and 10 minutes of Levitch at work and on the streets, delivering a long, jazzy monologue.

The hook is Levitch's remarkable expressiveness--his way with language and the eagerness with which he jumps from waxing rhapsodic about the city to describing the ways it cages its residents. The chief failing of The Cruise is that it offers us no more perspective on "Speed" than his own revelations. Luckily, the man himself is extremely vivid--by the end of the film, you'll wish you could be more like him, or at least take him out for a drink. --Noel Murray

Whatever. Ignored in its brief theatrical run, Susan Skoog's acutely observed coming-of-age drama begs to be discovered by the legions harboring worn video copies of Dazed and Confused. The suburban high-school keggers in Whatever have the authentic flavor of Linklater's stoner classic, but set a full decade later, the prevailing mood has shifted from sweet nostalgia to deep anxiety. The film has the phony arc of an afterschool special--will the protagonist, Anna (Liza Weil), follow her hard-drinking, promiscuous friend (Chad Morgan) down the path to self-destruction or leave town to pursue her interests in art? But Skoog steers clear of moral aspersions. Her characters flirt with catastrophe as readily as Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, but sometimes, a couple of hangovers are fair penance for an all-night bender. --Scott Tobias

Waco: The Rules of Engagement. This provocative documentary is primarily about the U.S. government's attempts to arrest Branch Davidian religious leader David Koresh. But there are at least two other agendas at work here. The first, and most controversial, is a scientific debunking of the government's contention that Koresh set his own compound on fire, effectively committing suicide. Infrared photography appears to show U.S. tanks firing into the building; although, to be fair, since Waco first started getting screened around the country three years ago, there's been evidence published that questions any conclusions reached via infrared footage.

This does not, however, completely discredit the film as a whole, especially given the second, more powerful agenda. By documenting the harassment and death threats delivered by the ATF and FBI to Koresh and his followers, Waco illustrates why the Branch Davidians didn't just come out with their hands up. They were convinced that the government was prepared to shoot them in cold blood, a notion that implies this tragedy may have been caused by simple authoritarian arrogance. --Noel Murray

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