DVDs for 3/31/09 – Wong Kar-wai, Rossellini, Slumdogs and the family dog

Kino remasters a pair of Wong Kar-wai’s films from the 1990s for new special editions. Fallen Angels (1995), made in the wake of his breakthrough film Chungking Express, carves out and expands on a splinter story originally written for that film. Two stories of disconnected individuals cross paths, a hit man (Leon Lai) loved the woman (Michele Reis) who arranges his contracts but never meets him (though she does clean his apartment), and a mute ex-con (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who breaks into businesses at night to play at running them who meets a volatile girl (Charlie Yeung). Wong punctuates his rather melancholy narrative with odd humor and unexpected explosions of shocking violence, all shot in Doyle’s sensuous, oversaturated colors. Wong Kar-wai’s most emotionally volatile drama Happy Together (1997) brings an edgier dimension to his work. Hong Kong heartthrobs Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung take a chance playing angry, ecstatic, frustrated, vindictive, in fact everything but happy together lovers who travel to Buenos Aires and find themselves stuck in the strange land. Rarely has a director so convincingly explored a love-hate relationship. Shot in grainy, high contrast black and white that transforms into delirious dream colors, the film achieves an extravagant, overwrought emotional quality, more real than real.

Wong Kar-wai's nocturnal world of "Fallen Angels"
Wong Kar-wai's nocturnal world of "Fallen Angels"

Fallen Angels features a new interview with director of photography Christopher Doyle and three featurettes and Happy Together includes the new Q&A featurette Wong Kar-wai at the Museum of the Moving Image in addition to the previously released documentary Buenos Aires Zero Degrees. Both are mastered from fresh HD film transfers and look quite beautiful, which leads me to the obvious question: when will Kino enter the Blu-ray market?

Criterion releases Roberto Rossellini’s 1959 drama Il Generale Della Rovere, starring Vittoria De Sica as an Italian con man in World War II who profited in the margin between desperate Italian families and the German Gestapo who essentially policed the country. It’s a richly drawn drama of an opportunist whose conscience is reignited when opportunism becomes collaboration and De Sica’s performance is a model of understatement and ambiguity.

I knew that De Sica had been a matinee idol before the war, but only because it was part of the written history. And I knew that he continued to act in front of the cameras even after making his name as a director with Shoe-shine and Bicycle Thieves and maintaining a very busy career behind the camera right up to his death in 1974; the IMDb lists over 100 screen appearances since 1945, many of them in very quite frivolous productions. It’s only recently that I started to notice just how good he is, notably in reviewing the DVD of Max Ophuls’ Earrings of Madame De… and my debut viewing of Della Rovere. He is full of confidence and charm, understated in his playing, ambiguous in his intentions. His sense of aristocratic presence is unforced, assumed rather than stated, and in Della Rovere, he slips into his con artist rap so smoothly that it takes a few scenes to realize that pretty much everything coming out of his mouth is a line of bullshit, most of it apparently ad-libbed for the situation. De Sica makes it feel at once sincere and utterly false, and gives it the spontaneity of an impetuous storyteller, the gears grinding to work every situation.

Vittorio De Sica as the man who would be Rovere
Vittorio De Sica as the man who would be "Il Generale Della Rovere"

The big release this week is Slumdog Millionaire, an underdog hit at both the box office and the Oscars. I first saw the film near the end of my stay at the Toronto International Film Festival and I confess that I was taken with the energy and color and music of the Dickens-in-Bombay spectacle, but also less than impressed with the melodrama and the fetishization of poverty and predation for these orphaned kids.  My feelings haven’t changed but this film is loved, for whatever reasons.

I’m more impressed with a film that was less well received: Marley and Me, ostensibly a family dog comedy (in both meanings of the term) but in reality a portrait in the evolution of afamily, from ambitious professional couple with big career dreams to parents making their decisions based on what will serve their children best. What’s so wonderful about the film is how it eases both us and them into their realization that these detours have taken them to a life that they like.

For the rest of the highlights (including Tell No One from France, Timecrimes from Spain and the Czech New Wave rediscovery The Cremator from 1969), visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment, or go directly to the various pages dedicated to New Releases, Special Releases, TV and Blu-ray.

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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