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DECEMBER 8, 1997: 

Woman in the Dunes

Re-released in a restored new print, Hiroshi Teshigahara's fable remains as mystifying, serene, and provoking as when it was released in 1964. An amateur entomologist strolls over rolling dunes, his footprints tracing marks like calligraphy across the shifting blankness. He comes to rest in a boat sunken in the sand, where villagers tell him he has missed his bus and must take lodgings. They bring him to a woman whose house lies at the bottom of a deep pit accessible only by a rope ladder.

The next morning the ladder is gone; he's a prisoner. He learns that he must help the woman in her nightly labor of shoveling away the sand that threatens to bury them. At first he tries to escape, and the walls crumble beneath him. Rebellion, rage, and despair give way to a kind of existential triumph.

Minimal though the setting and the situation may be, the story unfolds with frequent surprises and epiphanies -- Teshigahara's imagery of the patterns and texture of sand, water, and sky touch on the ineffable, and the allegory unfolds with startling and satisfying resolutions. Mixing Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus with Sartre's No Exit and not a little of the earthy absurdity of Beckett's Happy Days, Woman shimmers with an ethereal radiance of its own, teaching in the end that it is futile to try to escape to the desert without before finding water in the desert within. At the Brattle this Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6.

-- Peter Keough


Mon Homme

The irrepressible Bertrand Blier does not disappoint with his latest offering, the offensive, incisive, and hilarious Mon homme. A raunchy, outrageous sex farce along the lines of Get Out Your Handkerchiefs and Mon père, Mon homme begs the question as to whether it's a bold parable about capitalism and sexual politics or the misogynistic wet dream of a dirty old man with a camera. As with most of Blier's work, it's a little of both. Simultaneously crude, sly, sexy, and obnoxious, it's bound to titillate and assault most sensibilities

Anouk Grinberg, who comes off as an earthier Juliet Binoche, is a tough-cookie call girl who brazenly flaunts her independence and the honesty of her trade -- in a sophomoric scene she declares marriage a more iniquitous form of prostitution as she enlists a shy housewife into her profession. She finds her match and her heart of gold, however, when she offers shelter from the rain to a hirsute homeless man. The guy is gross and abusive, and she loves it, howling in rapture as he ravishes her. Converted from dominatrix to submissive in one session, she makes the bum her pimp.

What follows is a kind of Irma La Douce as directed by Luis Buñuel with additional dialogue by the Marquis de Sade. A sordid exposé of the mutual destructiveness and exploitiveness of gender roles in a consumer society, Mon homme takes its greatest delight in being exploitive itself. At the Kendall Square.

-- Peter Keough


Lillies

Canadian director John Greyson has ambition, if not much to say. After making the first and probably only musical about AIDS -- the outrageous and nearly successful Zero Patience (1994) -- he attempts in Lilies to make a film in which all distinctions between art and reality, past and present, and male and female blur into the dizzying infinity of parallel mirrors. The effect is unnerving, frustrating, and ultimately silly as it becomes clear that there's not much of substance between those mirrors to be reflected.

It's 1952, and a Catholic bishop (Marcel Sabourin) arrives at a stark Quebec prison to hear the confession of Simon (Aubert Pallascio), a convicted murderer serving a long term. Sequestered in the confessional, the bishop gets locked in by the convicts and staff and is made a captive audience to a play written by Simon. It takes place 40 years before in the provincial village they grew up together in, telling of how he, the bishop, and an exotic woman named Lydie-Anne (Alexander Chapman) became involved in a strange love triangle that led to the crimes for which Simon was imprisoned.

The stark, Marat/Sade-like production shifts in and out of realistic flashbacks, though all the parts, both men and women, are played by the male convicts in drag. This ambiguity alternately ravishes and annoys, more often the latter as the performances are earnestly campy and the story is purple melodrama. Although Greyson has learned a lot from such filmmakers as Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, and Todd Haynes, his Lilies is more gilding than grit. At the Kendall Square.

-- Peter Keough


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