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OCTOBER 27, 1997: 

Z

Costa-Gavras's political thriller returns to us after nearly three decades in a beautiful new print that restores Raoul Coutard's crisp yet textured cinematography and underscores the staccato editing rhythms. The movie keeps tap-tapping in your head as you walk out of the theater. This is the film that established Costa-Gavras, a Greek émigré working in France, as a first-rate craftsman; it also helped publicize the cause of Greek democracy, which had been overthrown by the junta two years earlier, in the wake of the shocking Lambrakis affair.

Z (the title is explained in the coda) never mentions Greece, but it makes no bones about whose story it's dramatizing -- especially since Mikis Theodorakis's theme music invokes his homeland in every phrase. Yves Montand, in a graceful performance, plays the Lambrakis character, a distinguished foreign peacenik who's brutally assaulted after he makes a speech at a rally. The corruption brought to light during an investigation of the incident indicts the entire military establishment.

Costa-Gavras is neither subtle nor profound here; those are qualities that would crop up later, in movies (The Confession, released the following year, and 1989's Music Box) that no one paid much attention to. In Z he's a technician operating a politically loaded gun. But what a technician! He stages the crowd scenes impeccably and uses jump cuts and leaping continuity to make it appear that the case, under the expert supervision of the investigating judge, is literally breaking open. (As the judge, Jean-Louis Trintignant springs his performance with tiger-like suppleness and precision.) But he knows exactly when to pause: on Montand, suddenly recalling a moment of domestic betrayal, or on the magnificent Irene Papas, who, as his wife, has perhaps 10 minutes of screen time and fewer than five lines yet manages to create an entire character and suggest a breathtaking emotional range.

In 1969, Z made left-leaning audiences laugh in appreciation at the bumbling, self-aggrandizing military bureaucrats. (One of them, arrested at last for his role in the attack, answers the disingenuous question of a young photojournalist -- "Are you a victim of injustice, like Dreyfus?" -- with the indignant protest, "Dreyfus was guilty!") The change in political climate hasn't dampened the film's pleasures (including Jorge Semprun's witty dialogue), or loosened its grip. At the Brattle this Friday and Saturday, October 24 and 25.

-- Steve Vineberg


Telling Lies in America

Before he became the arch-hack of Hollywood screenwriting (Showgirls, anyone?), Joe Eszterhas, if his quasi-autobiographical Telling Lies in America can be believed, was a teenage immigrant outcast in early-'60s Cleveland adrift in the rock-and-roll-addled backwaters of the American Dream. Directed by Guy Ferland, Lies does conjure the angst and atmosphere of pre-Beatles teen culture and the peculiar agonies of coming of age in an all-male Catholic high school. In its second half, however, it sinks into half-baked clichés and platitudes.

Brad Renfro, as uncertain as his Hungarian accent, is Karchy, who hopes to achieve popularity and success by acting as a gofer for Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon in a grittily layered performance), the soiled and cynical DJ at a local radio station. In fact, Karchy is the unwitting bagman for Billy's payola (even Catholic high-school students in the '60s weren't that naive), and he ultimately has to choose between surrogate dad Billy's glitz and real dad Maximilian Schell's hoky straight-and-narrow. Uncompelling despite its relentless goldie-oldie soundtrack, Telling Lies doesn't uncover any truths. At the Janus.

-- Peter Keough


Playing God

Here's a baffler for agents Scully and Mulder: why did X-Files star David Duchovny ever accept the lead in Andy Wilson's wretched feature-film debut? The thinking girl's heartthrob plays a hot-shot surgeon who loses his medical license thanks to a pesky amphetamine habit. But the MD's not about to throw in the scalpel just yet. To satisfy his itch to stitch, he goes on call for the mob, patching up a Tarantino-esque freak show of dolts and thugs, per order of smirky gangster Timothy Hutton.

When not dodging spurting arteries, Duchovny fine-tunes his squint. Occasionally, he works his rumpled, gee-shucks charms on moll Angelina Jolie (actor Jon Voight's daughter), who herself aces a taxing number of lipstick changes. Comatose acting aside, director Wilson has cobbled a hodge-podge of look-at-me tricks; most appalling -- and sometimes unintentionally hilarious -- are the noirish voiceover, slo-mo shots, and dizzying, double-exposed takes (the doc's on drugs, get it?). Duchovny best beware: another film like this goner and it will be his big-screen career that lands in intensive care. At the Copley Place, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Alicia Potter


Nanette et boni

Claire Denis's first film, Chocolat (1988), was an anti-colonialist tale set in French West Africa, but with enough attention paid to the white colonialists, and to the jungle scenery, to attract an American arthouse audience. Since, Denis's films have been as unwanted here as they've been uniformly excellent: hardboiled sagas of France's underweb of Third World illegals and marginals trying to make a go of it in their mother-of-an-adopted country. S'en fout la mort (1989) was about African cockpit workers; J'ai pas sommeil (1994) was a politically incorrect story of an African-in-Paris serial killer.

In her tender, mesmerising new Nenette et Boni, Denis switches locales, to Marseilles, but her sibling protagonists are, again, among society's seeming losers. Boni (Grégoire Colin) is an 18-year-old school dropout who runs a pizza wagon, sells contraband fishing rods from Taiwan, and has vivid masturbatory dreams of fornicating with the baker's wife (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi); Nenette (Alice Houri) is his sour, darkly beautiful, deeply pregnant 15-year-old sister. They've lived apart, and estranged, since their parents split. He's inherited a slum apartment from his recently deceased mother. She's stayed on with her weak-spirited father (Jacques Nolot), though she runs away when she discovers herself with an unwanted child. As Nenette et Boni proceeds, the reticent brother and sister slowly edge together, though nothing is said. This is a quiet, quiet movie of moods, glances, penetrating looks. Ultimately, there's a lovely, unexpected sacrament, and Claire Denis's most (tentatively) benign ending. At the Kendall Square.

-- Gerald Peary


I Know What You Did Last Summer

Screenwriter Kevin Williamson follows up Scream with a script that's not as wink-wink, nudge-nudge as last year's collaboration with Wes Craven, but one that still assumes audiences -- and the film's characters -- have seen all this crap before. I Know What You Did Last Summer, directed by Jim Gillespie, is also quite creepy, thanks to a plot that could conceivably happen to any American adolescent. Four teens (including Party of Five's Jennifer Love Hewitt as college-bound Julie and Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- the TV show, not the opera -- star Sarah Michelle Gellar as town beauty queen Helen) accidentally run over a man and then throw the victim into the ocean. When Julie returns home the following summer, she finds that a mysterious someone dressed in a black fisherman's slicker is out to seek revenge.

The ending doesn't approach Scream's level of perversity. Neither does Last Summer benefit from references to past horror flicks. But it would have been a mistake to cover this once-funny ground again and create a Scream 2 (which is coming out soon). Instead, the humor here more generally and more sporadically mocks the genre -- like Julie sarcastically telling her beau, "I feel your pain." At the Cheri, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Mark Bazer


Devil's Advocate

Lawyers as agents of Satan? Well, not all of them, just those who work for John Milton's international New York law firm. Even off screen, Milton's unearthly presence hovers like white noise, composing a deadly siren song that lures Florida hotshot lawyer Kevin Lomax (a smartly restrained Keanu Reeves) to his firm. Lomax and his wife, Mary Ann (played with cumulative intensity by Charlize Theron), pursue the lotus of status and decadence, but it's Kevin who chases it outright, unaware that Milton (Al Pacino in top form) is pulling from the other end.

Thanks to the direction of Taylor Hackford, it's hard to be objective about Kevin's fate. Hackford's film is like one prolonged seduction: ripe textures and bedroom lighting everywhere. He rewards your emotional investment by avoiding static courtrooms and spiking the cardiac pace as Kevin sinks further into a diabolic pit of vanity and lust. And between voodoo spells and demonic possessions, Hackford even manages to air some pressing social issues (if a religious overtone is the only way Hollywood can suggest that lawyers are the root of all evil, so be it). By the film's end, you're feeling a bit spent, which is probably why Hackford has Pacino camp it up . . . with questionable results. Nonetheless, despite the absence of profound revelation as you head for the exit, Devil's Advocate is one hell of a ride. At the Cheri, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Robert Furlong


Anthem

Michael Moore, the dyspeptic documentarian of Roger & Me, need not worry about any competition in the crankiness department from twentysomethings Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn. Their Anthem, in which they drive cross-country to interview celebrities and activists about the American Dream, has all the bite of a junior-high-school civics assignment.

Perhaps their first subject is the best: a conference with then presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos is interrupted mid sentence by a call from the big guy himself. Unfortunately, everybody else gets to finish his or her thoughts, and what unfolds is a long litany of platitudes punched up with bouncy hand-held photography, lots of arty landscapes, time-lapse photography, and many shots of disheveled motel rooms. A long "heavy" encounter with Michael Stipe is embarrassing; even a surefire subject like John Waters comes off bland and banal. Perhaps Hunter Thompson emerges with the most dignity; drugged into incoherence, he doesn't utter an intelligible sentence. If this is Generation X optimism, I'll stick with the cynics. At the Coolidge Corner.

-- Peter Keough


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