DVD of the Week – ‘Belle Toujours’ – June 24, 2008

belletoujoursdinner.jpgManoel de Oliviera’s “homage to Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere” is less a sequel than a remembrance of a beloved film, as imagined through a character revisiting the story 40 years later. Piccoli reprises his role as the cocky libertine Husson and Bulle Ogier takes over the Deneuve role as Séverine Serizy, the one-time loving housewife and part-time hooker. Now a society dowager who has long ago moved on, she dodges Husson but finally gives in to his persistence (one might call it stalking) and agrees to a dinner.

The pace is leisurely and patient, as if de Oliviera (98 years young himself at the time of the film’s release) is savoring every moment in an old man’s life that has been rekindled through invigorating memories and casual cruelty, but there’s a spry wit and sly sensibility behind the quietly elegant direction. His direction of their dinner as the sun sets and the candles burn out on their awkward conversation is masterful. It’s a game for him, tossing the past back at her, as if to coerce her into affirm his psychological interpretation of their shared history, like a critic or a beloved fan meeting the author of a beloved work from long ago, a work the author rejects but the fan still celebrates. And that’s what the film has to offer: no provocative commentary or stunning insight to Bunuel’s classic, merely a conversation about memory, about aging, about remembrance.

I review the DVD on my MSN DVD column here.

cityofvice.jpgMy unexpected find of the week is the British mystery series City of Vice, an ingenious transformation of real history into fascinating crime drama, reviewed in the TV section of the column.

After a successful career as one of the most influential novelists of his day, author Henry Fielding was appointed London’s chief magistrate and, with his younger half-brother John, created London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners, in 1749. Why is this bit of trivia of note? Because it’s the inspiration for this ingenious British TV series starring Ian McDiarmid (the Emperor in the “Star Wars” films) as Henry and Iain Glen as John, his blind brother and partner in law enforcement (he can recognize more than 3,000 known criminals by voice alone). This is an overcrowded London of impoverished masses, where the crime is rampant and corruption the order of the day (“The only thing that can be said to be organized is crime,” remarks Henry), and where upholding the law isn’t always the same as seeing justice done. The series does wonders in suggesting the period on a budget, and its sensibility is a near perfect balance of modern perspectives and period sensibilities.



Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: The Spiderwick Chronicles, Charlie Bartlett and the romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe:

Ryan Reynolds is a doting dad who, on the eve of his divorce, casts the tale of the loves of his life as a bedtime story for his daughter (Abigail Breslin). He changes the names of the three women who rocked his world (played by Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz) to transform the story into a postmodern romantic mystery (which one will he marry?), a gimmick saved largely by chemistry and charisma. Yet the high-concept tale of modern love is also sweet and sour in the best ways. We share his journey from youthful idealism to adult resignation to the compromises of life, riding the romantic highs and rocky lows to the genuinely charming ending.

TV: Early Edition: The First Season, starring Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights”):

“What would you do if you got tomorrow’s news today?” For Chicago stockbroker Gary Hobson (Kyle Chandler), knowing the future becomes an obligation that overtakes his life. Every morning a newspaper (accompanied by an insistent cat) lands on his doorstep with stories about deaths and disasters that he has the power to stop. He takes the responsibility seriously, and not without a little resentment, as he spends his days playing the reluctant hero with the assistance of his blind friend Marissa (Shanesia Davis-Williams), who sees it all as a gift from God, and his best buddy Chuck (Fisher Stevens), who sees only the potential for easy money to be made from the information. To answer the question “why me?” he tracks the clues provided by the restless cat, a fortuitous picture book of Chicago history (left by the same mysterious paperboy who delivers his fate every morning?) and the legacy of the late Mr. Snow, a newspaper copy editor who died the day before Gary received his first paper.

thefuries.jpgSpecial Releases: two classics from East Germany, Berlin – Schonhauser Corner and Solo Sunny, and Anthony Mann’s 1950 western The Furies:

… a genre hybrid: a psychological Western by way of a gothic melodrama, with a dark, shadowy style right out of Mann’s earlier film noirs. Barbara Stanwyck is Vance Jeffords, the tough, fierce daughter of land baron T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston), a flamboyant, self-made man who has taken to issuing his own currency. That arrogance turns out to be his downfall when the playful clash of wills between father and daughter turns hostile after widower T.C. returns home with an equally strong-willed woman (Judith Anderson). The psychological tensions and Freudian undercurrents are right on the surface of Charles Schnee’s screenplay (adapted from the Niven Busch novel). The director was far more subtle in his later Westerns, but the stark, striking imagery of the unforgiving landscape and the vibrant personalities on the screen are pure Mann.

Read the complete review here.

Blu-ray: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, her animated adaptation of her acclaimed, autobiographical graphic novels:

It’s such a pleasant surprise to see this title, a foreign-language animated film with a monochrome palette, arrive in the Blu-ray format, which is so often reserved for big-budget spectacles and innocuous box-office hits. The image quality is gorgeous and the pop-up Blu-ray menus are nicely designed and easy to navigate.


The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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