Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Wheeling and Dealing

By Rob Nelson, Noel Murray, and Jim Ridley

OCTOBER 6, 1997:  Banned in its native Vietnam, this kaleidoscopic portrait of street life in Ho Chi Minh City reveals the darkest side of "third world" capitalism. Known only as "the cyclo," the protagonist is an 18-year-old rickshaw driver (Le Van Loc) who, after his vehicle is stolen by thugs, is forced to repay the debt to his "boss lady" (Nguyen Nhu Quynh) by taking lessons in heroin smuggling and murder. His mentor is the Poet (played by Hong Kong star Tony Leung-Chiu Wai), a smooth gangster who also indoctrinates the cyclo's older sister into prostitution before falling in love with her. Director Tran Anh Hung (whose first film was The Scent of Green Papaya) creates a fierce tension between the savagery of the events and the vibrant beauty of his cinematography--and, by extension, between the conventions of neo-realism and family melodrama. As this tension erupts in waves of unspeakable violence, the film unleashes a devastating impact all its own. (RN)

It's hard to imagine that film thrillers about cuckolded husbands, bored wives, and opportunistic drifters could have anything new to say, but this one gets by on strong camp and steamy sex scenes. The husband is the easygoing, oblivious Joe (Edward James Olmos), who presides over a Brooklyn fish store (hence the title's double entendre). The wife is Betty (Maria Conchita Alonso), who hopes that Joe will accept an offer to sell his business for a million dollars. The drifter is Nick (Arie Verveen), a literally hungry man whom the couple invites to work at the fish shop and to take up residence in their house. In a scene that's been filmed a hundred times before, Nick surprises Betty in a hot shower, which leads to a torrid affair. Director Robert M. Young (The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez) renders this story as a combination of two seemingly incompatible genres: cinema-verit drama and deadpan film-noir parody. The familiarity of both is the film's chief appeal. (RN)

From the Journals of Jean Seberg
In Rock Hudson's Home Movies, director Mark Rappaport abandoned fiction and documentary conventions by placing commentary over footage from old Rock Hudson films to illuminate truths about Hollywood's subtle exploitation of homosexuals. In his latest piece, Rappaport takes the methods he developed in Rock and uses them to create a work of stunning breadth and insight. Mary Beth Hurt is the voice of the late actress Jean Seberg, who takes the viewer on a tour of her movies and her scandalous personal life. Rappaport's ostensible purpose is to compare Seberg's career with Jane Fonda's and Vanessa Redgrave's, and to talk about the way the three actresses were used both for their fame as cover girls and their infamy as political activists. Along the way, he touches on the perverse obsessions of directors Otto Preminger and Roger Vadim, the racism of the FBI, and the multiple ways that a blank expression can be interpreted. The result is a film that doesn't feel like a film; it's more like an entertaining evening spent with a knowledgeable, articulate sociology professor. (NM)

The title speaks volumes. Writer-director James Mangold's debut film is about a heavy man--a self-conscious short-order cook (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who lives and works alongside his overbearing mother (Shelley Winters). This is also a heavy film--a near-silent meditation on loneliness and grief. Mangold, who went on to make the overwrought Copland, stripped this film of all unnecessary dialogue and exposition, putting his focus instead on the reactions of his lead. Vince does not let Mangold down. He's often painful to watch, as he torturously contemplates what to say to the people who belittle him. He's too shy even to acknowledge when a family member has died, preferring to keep the departed's last breakfast intact and uneaten on his kitchen table. When he finally does mourn--over a box of Entemann's doughnuts that he has hidden in a supply closet--the noiseless blubbering is enough to break your heart. (NM)

Highway Patrolman
Having succumbed to exhaustion from fighting the powers that be, director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) made this modest comeback film in 1994, which plays like the metaphoric autobiography of an exiled survivor. The title character is Pedro (Roberto Sosa), a Mexican cop entrusted with upholding law and order through a set of rigid rules: Ticket quotas must be maintained, unquestioning loyalty to the force is essential, and citizens, regardless of the circumstances, "have always broken the law." Pedro, feeling more sympathy with the criminals than with the law, begins taking bribes in exchange for transportation permits and enacts a plan to take from the rich and give to the poor. The director's feat here is no less audacious: Spurning the industry clout generated by his former cult hits, the British Cox used a largely Mexican crew to make this modestly budgeted Spanish-language feature. The film's DIY ethos is captured by a road sign in the final shot that reads, "Paying Taxes is Participating." Like Pedro, Cox knows the consequences of working within the system and, commendably, he's having none of it. (RN)

Off the wall--an alternative to new releases

Donald in Mathmagic Land With the rerelease of Sleeping Beauty--the pinnacle of Disney's fairy-tale filmmaking--I recommend gathering the whole family and making an event out of an evening in front of the VCR. Start the night with one of Disney's entertaining and educational short films; since the wondrous Toot, Whistle, Pluck and Boom is sadly unavailable, pick up this mind-expanding look at the recurrence of mathematical patterns in the everyday world. From Pythagoras' "golden section" to the physics of billiards (and beyond), this elaborate combination of animation and live-action builds a near-delirious case for the divine order of the universe. And for lovers of the ironic (and for Disney conspiracists), the short offers a remarkable image--everyone's second-favorite cartoon duck raising his hand to reveal the "perfect" pentagram etched on his palm. (NM)


Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live) (Criterion, $49.95) In his prime during the 1960s, Jean-Luc Godard made most directors seem asleep to the possibilities of the camera. Though slowly paced, this 1963 "film in 12 episodes" is shockingly impulsive and alive--especially for a story about depravity and death. As an actress turned prostitute, Anna Karina lines up tricks, argues philosophy, watches Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, and meets a jarringly offhand fate--though not before she performs a hip-swinging dance that makes Uma Thurman's twist for Tarantino look bashful. Godard is aware throughout that he himself is using Karina as both subject and object; the fact that the two were married at the time adds another layer of provocation. What can't be denied is the tenderness and fascination with which the director studies her face, and the way Raoul Coutard's camera alights on her every flickering mood. The filmmaking has the spontaneous ingenuity of a jam session; seductive pans shanghai our attention, staggered cuts accompany a burst of machine-gun fire. If this is modern despair, sign me up. (JR)

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