Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Worker Rebellion

By Noel Murray, Rob Nelson and Jim Ridley

SEPTEMBER 22, 1997: 

La Ceremonie. This brilliant, near-diabolical drama by French director Claude Chabrol stays with you for days. The film follows Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), a sullen, nervous live-in housemaid who takes a job caring for the rich Lelievres family--led by matronly Catherine (Jacqueline Bisset) and her inhumane patriarch of a husband, Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel). Sophie can't read, nor does she appear to notice the family's condescending habit of psychoanalyzing her behavior. Evading their inquiries with defensive bursts of "I don't know," she holes up for hours in her attic bedroom. Then she meets Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), a pig-tailed, gum-smacking postal worker who casually advises her new friend to "Stand up to them!"--which, in her own way, she does. The class tension continues to escalate in this perfectly detailed film, calibrated by Chabrol to deliver maximum impact. (RN)

Paradise Lost. This unflinching documentary from the makers of Brother's Keeper confronts the murder and sexual mutilation of three preteen boys, asking the viewer to deal with the possibility that justice will never be done. Reasonable suspects are found--three high-school outcasts with a bent toward satanic iconography--but filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky show that the accused may be physically and emotionally incapable of the crime, and that they're being tried because they are "different." The purpose of this film, though, is not to tell another "innocents wrongly accused" story. While raising doubts about the boys' guilt, Berlinger and Sinofsky also show that the teens are disaffected enough to have done something horrible. The real point of the movie is buried in the captions--none of the family members interviewed seem to share the same last name. Both the accused and the victims are the children of divorce, set loose from their broken homes to prey or be preyed upon. What begins as a movie about a crime becomes, in the end, a study of the parents left behind. (NM)

Thieves (Les Voleurs). In some ways, this latest melodrama by the great French director Andre Techine (Ma Saison Prefre) does double duty as a crime film, although the only action per se occurs when an unfortunate car thief makes the mistake of peeking around a corner. Otherwise, Techine displays his near-incomparable gift for propelling stories through strong ensemble acting and colorful dialogue. As in Ma Saison Prefre, the drama emanates from a rotten core of family relationships--chiefly the one between a hard-boiled Lyon cop, Alex (Daniel Auteuil), and his gangster brother, Ivan (Didier Bezace). Yet it's hard to say who is at the plot's center, as the director alternates narrators, arranges a series of flashbacks, flash-forwards around one character's death, and repeatedly teases us with the notion that everyone who crosses the frame is a voleur of one sort or another. (RN)

Two Friends. It has been 10 years since this first feature by Jane Campion premiered at Cannes; it's finally out on video, in time to join the auteur's Portrait of a Lady on the new-release shelves. Although Campion made the film for Australian TV, her storytelling is about as cinematically innovative as it gets, charting the relationship between two 15-year-old best friends, Louise (Emma Coles) and Kelly (Kris Bidenko), in reverse chronology--beginning with their ultimate break-up and ending nine months earlier on a haunting image of childhood tenderness. The audacious form of Two Friends isn't just an arty experiment; it lends the film an aptly tragic dimension as it investigates the forces that contribute to an adolescent girl's withdrawal from the world. Campion's insight extends to her uncanny sense of camera placement, and to a style of editing that punctuates the many revealing details in the script and in the frame. The unique effect is akin to experiencing a movie twice in one sitting. (RN)

Waiting for Guffman. Christopher Guest--one of the creators of the classic "mockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap--employs a somewhat similar format for this winning comedy. Ostensibly a newsy portrait of a small-town theatrical production, Guffman follows eager director Corky St. Clair (Guest) as he rounds up the most talented dentists, travel agents, and salesclerks in Blaine, Mo., for a musical salute to the town's history. The knowing pokes at amateur thespians (played by Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, and Parker Posey) are side-splittingly funny, but they're handled with an almost profound sweetness. The key to unlocking the film's deeper resonance is understanding that it's not a true "mockumentary"; there is no visible interviewer tracking these would-be stars. If the players turn to the camera and talk about their dreams, it's only because they've imagined that someone is watching, and that their lives are worth filming. They'll get no argument here. (NM)

Off the wall--alternatives to new releases

My Fair Lady. Why would anyone want to rent the oppressive, bombastic Evita when just about every video store in the country has a copy of this lively classic on some dusty shelf? Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle straddles the gutter and the ballroom with a grace and charisma that Madonna's Eva Peron could never match, and Rex Harrison gives Henry Higgins a caddish upper-crust appeal that the phlegmatic Jonathan Pryce couldn't begin to impart to Juan Peron. Most importantly, Lerner and Loewe's score employs subtlety and charm in its dissection of class strictures, while Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice use anthemic rock and rhyme-free polemics. The choice is clear--when Eliza raises her eyes to the heavens and sings "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," she says more about poverty in one song than Evita says in its whole bitter libretto. (NM)


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Criterion, $49.95) A movie to melt the heart of the coldest cynic. Two young lovers, a mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) and an umbrella-store clerk (Catherine Deneuve), spend every spare moment together, until the mechanic is called away to military service. The clerk vows their love will last forever--a promise that is tested severely. Making the situation more poignant, Jacques Demy's unforgettable 1964 film is a musical, in which every line of dialogue is sung and the camera glides down streets that look like chalk paintings. The style seems disarming and quaint, but Demy uses the gloss of old musicals to equate young love with pop music and with color: intense and intoxicating in the moment, but ultimately shallow and fleeting. Criterion's disc edition is letterboxed a hair too short, but the colors in the restored print are spectacular, especially the soft blues and deep reds that bathe Deneuve. Keep a box of Kleenex handy for the ending, which is heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. (JR)

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