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Film and the Arts

Actor Turned Director Diego Luna Celebrates "Cesar Chavez"

Photo by B. Balfour

Born on December 29, 1979 in Mexico City, Diego Luna Alexander lost his mother in a car accident when he was only two. So Luna became immersed in his father's passion for entertainment as Mexico’s most acclaimed living theatre, cinema and opera set designer. From an early age Luna began acting in television, movies and theater. Once he achieved international recognition, he expanded his resume to include writing, producing and directing as well.

This producer-actor-director’s full bio includes such highlights as big budget sci-fi thriller Elysium (2013),  the Oscar-nominated Milk (2008), Tom Hanks starrer The Terminal (2004), and provocative Y Tu Mamá También (2001). But his most recent directorial effort Cesar Chavez not outlines a slice of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer’s life (powerfully played by Michael Pena) but also chronicles the birth of a modern American labor movement. The film also tells the story of a man torn between family duties as a husband and father and his commitment to the fight for a living wage for farm workers. 

Passionate but soft-spoken, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in this struggle to bring dignity to his community and disenfranchised people in general. Chavez inspired millions of Americans who hadn’t worked on a farm or been to California to fight for social justice. His journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one person’s ability to change the world.

Buttressed by two incredibly strong women — wife Helen (America Ferrara) and Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson) — Chavez presciently foresaw the impact the Latino American community would have on this country as he drew attention to this long disenfranchised sector.

chavez posterQ: Once you got this idea, how long did it take you to do this film? 

DL: At the beginning I didn’t know I had to do it; I would’ve quit had I been told this was going take four years and a half of my life. When I started I thought, “Wow, it’s amazing that there’s no film about Cesar Chavez. But this is so powerful and comes in time for many reasons, and  since this community’s growing, everyone’s going to want to do this film.” 

I went out and started shopping as is done with films. You go to studios and sit down with executives and everyone gave us a chance to sit down which sounded like, “Okay it’s happening,” then they said, “Wow, this is great, we love that you’re doing this, we’re not going to join but once you have a film, come and show it to us and probably we’ll be part of it,” and we’re like, “No! We need the money to do it!” 

It’s not like I’m just going out and doing it. I heard things like, “Can you make it more sexy?” and I was like, “How can I make it more sexy? If it was sexier, farm workers would probably be living a different reality today.” 

They said, “What about A-List actors? Can you have Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem in it?” And I’m thinking, the man existed, there are pictures, there’s murals! You cannot just say, “Well now it’s just going to look like something else…” This is about a Mexican-American, a guy who was born in Arizona. Anyway, we found no support in this country. But by that point, I promised the family that I was going to deliver a film.

I promised that it was happening and then invested a year of my life into it at that point. We were working on the script with Keir Pearson, so I said to my partner Pablo Cruz, “Let’s go to Mexico and finance it the way we do in film.” 

We went to Mexico and in a week and a half we found the money. At least 70% that allows the comeback for the other 30%. Then we came back and found the perfect partners, Participant Media and Pantelion Films, two different kind of film [studios], but they’re both doing films that would be perfect for this market — one that we’re trying to prove exists. That’s how everything started in terms of putting it together. 

We wanted to come to the States and open a company and office here, so we said that we have to do a film that mattered on both sides of the border. It would allow us to work here but still do stories that connect us with where we come from and the community we belong to, to the point that my son who was born here, in the States, so he’s knows he’s a Mexican-American. In fact, he had an American passport before the Mexican one.

In a way, this was an attempt to tell a story that he would be able to use to find out where he comes from and what needed to happen for him to be where he is at the moment. That’s how everything started.

Q: Do you hope this film will change society’s perception of Latinos and the issues that concerns this community?

DL: There’s something that’s happened here before which is that all us Latinos, we have to learn from these guys that if we organize, if we’re united, we have the strength to change the world. That’s definitely a reality, because I don’t think we’ve been so well organized since then. Yes, there’s a lot of complaints that we have to this country, as a community, but I would start looking at ourselves in the mirror and [ask] why we haven’t done [anything]? 

We have a chance to send that message on the opening week, March 28th, which is, “We want these films to be out. We want our stories to be represented. We want our heroes to celebrated in film.” 

There’s two things that matter here. As Cesar said and showed us, one is that our strength is in our numbers, and they’re growing. So I don’t know why we, as a community, haven’t experienced that feeling of power [that] we actually have in hand. The other is that the film confronts you, not just us Latinos, but everyone in this country, with a reality that’s very uncomfortable, that today in the fields, the conditions still aren’t great. 

The struggle continues and consumers have also not been aware of what they’re part of when they buy a product since then. The amazing thing they did as a community, is that they connected with consumers, the rest of America, a community they didn’t think they had a connection with. They found a way to say, “Our story matters to you.” 

When you buy a grape, you’re supporting child labor. Moms listened to that, when a mother was in a store in Chicago, she found a farm worker saying, “When you’re buying that product, you have to remember that behind that product is the work of my six year-old. ” 

Mothers stopped buying grapes. So it’s about connecting, finding out what connects us, not what separates us. I think that’s a beautiful message about the film, and that applies not just for America, but for the world. It’s a nonviolent movement that said it’s about the responsibility of knowing we’re not here alone. The work of many has to happen so we can experience the life we have. It’s just being aware of that — that’s what matters. 

Q: Was it tough for actor Michael Peña to have this on his shoulders?

DL: I was walking coming with Rosario from having lunch, and she told me, ”It’s unbelievable how much Michael changed for this role. He’s just nothing close to what he portrayed here.” 

I always told him, “Michael, we have to be aware. We cannot do the Hollywood way, you know? We cannot say suddenly that Cesar was a great speaker, and the Martin Luther King kind of leader.” 

But he wasn’t. He was very humble and timid. As a result of the amount of urge he had for change to happen, he had to become the leader. If he would’ve had a chance to stand back and stay behind, he would have done it. He was a great listener. 

That’s why he could organize these people, because he came and took the time to listen to everyone’s story. This is a community that has been ignored for so long, that suddenly someone arrived that cared about their story and said, “Your story matters.” 

In fact, Mark Grossman, who traveled a lot through rallies and was Cesar’s PR person — he wrote the speeches for him — was very close to him and we worked a lot with him. He told me [that] the rallies were painful because he would stay until nine, 10 pm, and people left, and he was still talking to a woman in the back. He had time, he nothing else to do but this, and everyone realized he was giving his life. We have to remember, this is a man that got out of living in the city. He changed his life, he was wearing a suit, he had a job. But he said, “No, we have to go back to the fields, we have to change things from the inside. It’s not going to come from the outside.” 

He went back and sacrificed not just his reality but the reality of his family. I love when Fernando asks, “Who plays in Delano? You’re not taking me to a place that doesn’t have a major league baseball team, right?” And [Cesar] goes, “Yeah, we’re all going to sacrifice here, and we’re all going to go back to where we come from.” 

Q: You showed how he sacrificed his relationship with his older son. You spent more than four years working on this movie. How much did it affect your relationship with your own children?

DL: It does, it does. I’ve never had to go so far as he did. I was in Chicago on Friday, took the red eye, spent Saturday and Sunday with my kids, and I’m here on Monday. I would never give away the weekend, and stay for another interview. I think that’s what makes him heroic. I don’t know if I would be able to go that far. 

Q: How old are your kids now?

DL: Five and three. I don’t know if I would be able to go that far. These guys left for months. Besides everything we’ve talked about, the film is about a father and a son. To me, the reflection I’m making here is [that] there’s a sacrifice we fathers do. I did not understand until I had a baby. It changed the way I looked to my father. When I had a baby, I went back and said, “Damn, dad. You’ve done all of this?” 

My mother died when I was two, so my father had to play both roles and work and it’s that very unfair part of life where you know you have to do it. I do film because of my kids, I think about them every moment of my life. Every decision I make, they’re involved. Probably, they won’t know this until they have their own. 

That’s the gap that sometimes... Hopefully in life you have the time to bring it back together, but not many times it happens. For these characters, it took a long a long time. They had eight kids. Dolores Huerta had 11 kids. Imagine that and they managed to do all this as well. 

Q: Was it a conscious choice that you avoided his childhood? 

DL: The first script I got, [went] from the day he was born until the day he died. You can do that in a fictional film, it doesn’t matter, but with the life of someone I think that’s very unfair. It’s impossible in an hour and 45 minutes to tell of someone’s 64-year journey. I thought, “I’m going to concentrate in one achievement.” 

That’s the boycott was to me. I said, “If I can explain how the boycott happened, and why the boycott happened, and what [it brought] to the community, I’ll be sending the right message.” 

I didn’t want to do a film just about this community. I wanted to do a film about how this community managed to connect with the rest of the country. Because to me, the powerful message here is that if change ever comes, it’s because we get involved and we people connect with others. 

We find those who are out there and what connects us with them. So to me, that was the thing I wanted to focus on -- the personal struggle of a father. It’s the first film done about Cesar and the movement, so it’s unfair to ask one film to fill the gap of so many years where there was no film talking about it. Because if I was here, and there were another three films, I could focus in on a specific thing that none of the other films [did], but you cannot ask a film to tell everything that hasn’t been told. Hopefully this will [stimulate] curiosity and awareness so that people will go and investigate a little more about who they are and what’s behind them. 

Q: Why was the movie shot in Mexico instead of where the events happened? Did that have to do with where you found the money? Being a movie about a syndicated movement, with the actors’ unions very strong here, don’t know how it is in Mexico, but how much of the actors and the crew were unionized?

DL: We shot in Mexico because of two reasons. One, the film was financed in Mexico, so a lot of the financing came as support. We first went to California, but even if we would have shot in the States, we would not have shot in California, because the actual places have changed dramatically since the ’60s. So you cannot shoot there, you’d have to recreate the [conditions]. 

We found in Sonora that the fields there have that immensity. Sonora is the state that produces 80% of the table grape of Mexico. Mexico is a huge country, so the feeling when you’re there, it’s the same feeling you have in the valley in California. You really are a dot in the middle of nowhere. There’s this immensity, the feeling that those fields are feeding a world, 

In terms of the union, there’s no way to do a film this big non-union in Mexico. Every actor was paid through SAG; we also have a union in Mexico of actors and technicians. It would be very stupid to do a film about a union without the support of unions [laughs]. But you know what happened…? There was a whole debate on the extras. 

The extras are farm workers. That doesn’t mean they didn’t get paid. The point is, I wanted to work with real farm workers. You know those faces? There’s no way to put makeup on a face and make it look like they’ve been under the sun for so many years, under that condition of dust and wind. Those faces tell you the story. Just by looking at the face, you get many things that can’t be said in dialogue. 

Q: Were these farm workers from the area where you shot?

DL: Many farm workers joined. By the third day they realized that film isn’t glamorous and that the experience was as miserable as working in the fields [laughs]. Because we were in the fields, we put every penny we had in front of the camera, so the conditions we were shooting under were rough compared to the cliché of how Hollywood filmmaking is. 

Q: Did the workers themselves teach you anything, something that you never knew?

DL: The only thing is that they reminded me every day of why the film needed to be done. It just still makes no sense to me that those who are feeding this country can barely feed their families. And by listening to their stories, I got the necessary energy to keep going. No matter what our issues were, they don’t matter. I am lucky to be able to choose where I work, who I’m around, what I do, what stories I tell, I can’t complain. It was a great reminder on why this needs to be out. 

Q: The film deals with social issues. Is that also part of the marketing?

DL: Definitely, and we’re focusing a lot in kids. Before the proper promotion started, we did two weeks of going to high schools and universities. We went to Harvard, Berkeley, Irvine, UCLA, then we did a screening in the RFK High School. It was like a system. We did a screening where they taped it and then that’s going to be shown to kids around California. 

We’re pushing to do tons of little videos in social media and everything to raise awareness about Cesar Chavez and what the movement [stood] for. That’s where Participant comes in. They have an amazing reach in terms of a call-to-action. 

As part of our film, we are also making a petition to President Obama about making a Cesar Chavez National Day of Service. As the campaign goes, if you guys participate, it’d be great. There’s a page called takepart.com/cesarchavez and you can sign. If you sign the petition, we need a hundred thousand signatures to go to Obama. 

Film should be the beginning of something bigger. This film should trigger, hopefully, the curiosity of people to find out exactly what this movement was about. It’s difficult to inform in an hour and 45 minutes about everything they did and still entertain but it is pertinent to talk about this because the issues today in the field are even more complicated [than ever]. 

We thought also about a day of celebration... A few states today celebrate Cesar Chavez day, but we thought that a national day of service would be the way he would like to be remembered, a day where you work and give something back to your community, which is what they did from beginning to end. 

There [are] so many things happening at the same time, and there are so many things happening in Latin America. Because if few people know here the story of Cesar Chavez, you’ll go to Latin America and everyone thinks he’s a boxer. No one knows, and it’s something that hopefully the film, and everything happening around the film, might be able to change. Also, the foundation is working really close. 

Dolores Huerta has been promoting the film with us, and every time she grabs the microphone, she talks about it and the 10 other things that matter to her. If film can work for that to happen, if film can bring attention to the work of those that are still in the struggle, still out there, I’ll be very proud. But it’s definitely about kids.

You know an amazing thing that has been happening is that today there’s many Latinos in key positions and many have the chance to actually choose what they want to do in life. They have businesses and so many of these people are buying out theaters and giving them away to schools. 

For the first weekend, someone said, “I would like to share this film with every high school kid of the community I come from” which is an amazing thing. The distribution company Pantelion is getting these calls and managing to actually make it happen, where you basically buy out a theater and fill it with kids that normally wouldn’t go watch it, or will probably watch it two years later on their phone while doing another 20 things, which is how kids now watch films... so that’s also happening. People like Henry Moreno — he was the first one. 

Q: Is he one of the producers?

DL: No, no, no! He’s just a guy that cares about this. I was at an event in Washington, and Moreno talked about this, he was doing a show and he told me, “I’m buying out theaters to share with the kids, and this is happening, people are starting to react.” 

That’s fantastic. I did this film because I think I have some distance to the story. Generationally, I wasn’t around when this happened, so also that gives me some objectivity, I guess. But the angle which I’m telling this, it’s the perfect angle for people who don’t know the story, to listen [to] it for the first time.

Q: What did it teach you about yourself as a father, as a director, as an actor? 

DL: You know, I found a connection. It was through telling personal stories that they managed to bring the attention to something bigger. It was about a mother going out, as I said, a mother going out of a grocery store and telling another mother, “Behind that grape, there’s the work of my kid. Are you sure you want to be part of that?” 

Then that mother got hit so badly and so profoundly, that she’s gonna turn into an advocate for the movement. But it’s by telling personal stories that you can trigger that, and I think film has that power. Today, if I was sitting in a board meeting of this movement, I would say, “Let’s do short documentaries about each other’s experiences and get them out, because that’s the way to get people’s attention.” 

We do the same thing, in a way. At least film is capable of doing what these guys did. That was a connection that I found on the way. When I was out and everyone was like, “Oh, you’re doing the film about Cesar Chavez! I gotta tell you something. My grandfather, one day, he grew up and blah blah blah…” 

If I do a documentary where I tell you, “More than a 100,000 have been killed in the last eight years in my country because of the war on drugs that our president started, our former president started…” You’re going to go, “Oh, that’s a big number.” 

But if I tell you the story of a kid who lost his father and now has to work and had to get out of school to support his mother, and how the life these four people changed dramatically, not just his but his brother and his sister... The next day you’re going to care about the war we’re living there. So by telling personal stories you can trigger that attention and that’s something they were doing that was way ahead of us. 

 

"The Girls in the Band" Honors Music's Unsung Heroines

How many female jazz musicians can you name? Judy Chaikin's new documentary The Girls in the Band can help. By the time the credits roll, you will have met three generations of distaff players, composers, arrangers and GreatDayinHarlemconductors reaching back to the 1920s. Names like saxophonists Roz Cron and Peggy Gilbert, trumpeters Clora Bryant and Billie Rogers and drummer Viola Smith will roll off the tongue as readily as those of Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.

Read more: "The Girls in the Band" Honors...

Broadway Musical Review—“Flying Over Sunset”

Flying Over Sunset
Music by Tom Kitt; lyrics by Michael Korie
Book by James Lapine
Directed by James Lapine; choreography by Michelle Dorrance
Closes January 16, 2022
Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 150 West 65th Street, NYC
lct.org
 
Tony Yazbeck, Harry Hadden-Paton and Carmen Cusack in Flying Over Sunset


That Flying Over Sunset, the new musical by James Lapine, Tom Kitt and Michael Korie, is closing ahead of schedule (it was supposed to run through February 6 but it’s now shuttering this Sunday, January 16) is a sad commentary on the current state of theater. Not only because of COVID, even if that has a lot to do with it; but because of the uncommercial nature of the show itself. At the New Year’s Eve performance I attended, it was the smallest crowd I’ve seen at the Vivian Beaumont Theater since John Guare’s equally uncommercial Four Baboons Adoring the Sun 30 years ago. 
 
Some theatergoers are obviously not returning yet, especially during the holidays with omicron running rampant, and the musical itself—about LSD trips taken by Cary Grant, Clare Boothe Luce and Aldous Huxley in the 1950s, with no big stars—is not as obviously appealing to audiences as Hamilton, Company, The Lion King, etc. But that’s too bad: Lincoln Center Theater can afford to subsidize ambitious shows by big hits like South Pacific or The King and I, but when audiences don’t come, it might make the powers that be skittish about bankrolling another experiment that might not pan out commercially.
 
Still, for all its flaws, Flying Over Sunset is the kind of intelligent, original show we need more of, with characters and a storyline that can’t be summed up in a single sentence. Aldous Huxley, Clare Boothe Luce and Cary Grant encompass a world in which the arts, media, politics and popular entertainment intersected far removed from today’s social-media cacophony. The show itself, as Lapine’s musicals with Stephen Sondheim did, avoids standard musical clichés, like Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. They also followed a similar trajectory, their first acts a sort of conventional storytelling (George Seurat painting La Grande Jatte and fairytale characters acting out familiar stories) and the second acts exploding that (Seurat's great-grandson is introduced and Brothers Grimm narratives become grim realities. 
 
Sunset, too—as always with Lapine—is ingeniously mapped out. The first act introduces Clare Boothe Luce, U.S. ambassador/author/conservative married to Life magazine mogul Henry Luce; British writer/philosopher Aldous Huxley; and movie matinee idol Cary Grant, who announces his retirement from films. The three celebrities are each in a creative or personal funk and the LSD they take—Boothe Luce and Huxley through their good (and gay) friend Gerald, Grant through his wife’s analyst—provides an opening into another, perhaps fuller consciousness. 
 
After the trio meets and agrees to a shared trip, overseen by Gerald, the second act of Flying Over Sunset cleverly dramatizes their varied responses, but to increasingly diminished returns thanks to Kitt and Lorie’s songs, which don’t reach the ambitiously high bar of Lapine’s scenario. Although never tuneless, they are too often similar and saccharine; a happy exception is the lovely title sung.
 
On the plus side, Lapine has perfected his blocking (think of the characters moving into their correct places in the Seurat canvas in Sunday in the Park with George) with the sweeping movements of the cast, especially in the curtain-raiser, “The Music Plays On,” where Beowulf Buritt’s sleek but simple set design, Bradley King’s cannily evocative lighting, Toni-Leslie James’ spot-on costumes and Michelle Dorrance’s fresh and inventive choreography coalesce to create a truly mesmerizing opening.
 
Throughout the show, Dorrance’s choreography comprises thrilling but not bombastic movements that marry the musical’s “reality” and “acid trip” states, displaying a happy facility for never letting the show flag. The obvious instance is during Grant’s first LSD intake at the doctor’s office; he’s visited by his preteen self, Archie Leach, and proceeds to have a real rip-roaring tap-dance duet. Joel Yazbeck (Grant) and young Atticus Ware (Archie) tear it up, Yazbeck especially, and even though it’s show-offy, there’s so much exuberance in Dorrance’s moves and Yazbeck and Ware’s delight in performing it that the dance itself should go down in Broadway annals as a masterpiece of tap.
 
Yazbeck, Carmen Cusack (Boothe Luce) and Harry Hadden-Paton (Huxley) are all superb as the leads, singing and acting persuasively, but only Cusack gets the chance to really break loose vocally in the sentimental “final trip” moment when Clare meets both her deceased mother and daughter, culminating with Cusack meltingly singing “How?” Robert Sella holds his own as Gerald, but Lapine at times doesn’t know what to do with him: there’s an embarrassing “human centipede” moment when Gerald falls face first into Grant’s butt cheeks (don’t ask).
 
But if Flying Over Sunset doesn’t always live up to its dazzling moments, there’s much to admire, even enjoy, in a show that doesn’t want to be merely pleasant Broadway fodder.

January '22 Digital Week II

Miklós Jancsó's Electra, My Love

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Miklós Jancsó X 6 
(Metrograph) 
Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó, who died in 2014 at age 92, was a true original, and his six films that
The Red and the White
make up this January series at the Metrograph in Manhattan (and online, at metrograph.com, through January 31)—The Roundup (1966), The Red and the White (1967), The Confrontation (1969), Winter Wind (1969), Red Psalm (1971), and Electra, My Love (1974)—provide a case study in intelligent, uncompromising filmmaking,  a real instance of “they don’t make them like this any more.” Jancsó uses elaborate camera choreography to dynamic psychological and dramatic effect throughout these visually and aurally remarkable films, which tackle events from Hungarian history, both remote and recent, with an uncanny sense of movement that most other directors couldn’t hope to approach. 
 
The exception, Electra, My Love, is a highly stylized interpretation of the ancient myth that transposes the locale from Greece to a Hungarian field that’s a master class in cutting within the camera shot—the entire film comprises 12 distinct shots. (All of Jancsó’s films have far fewer shots than any director would dare nowadays.) What’s amazing about Jancsó’s long career is that his last half-dozen films were as carefree and playful as these half-dozen were exacting and serious—but they all should, ideally, be seen on the largest screen one can find, especially in these superlative new restorations by the National Film Institute Hungary—Film Archive.
 
 
 
 
 
Diary of the Grizzly Man 
(Shout Studios)
The story of legendary bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell—whose life (and that of his girlfriend) ended horrifically in the wilds of Alaska in 2003—was told sympathetically in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, and this three-part series dives even deeper into Treadwell’s own daring (many would say reckless) study of bears while living among them in Katmai National Park.
 
 
A voluminous amount of Treadwell’s own video and audio tapes as well as notebooks create a compelling if uneasy portrait of someone who was doing what he loved to do, even though it also led him directly to his untimely death at age 46.
 
 
 
 
 
4K/UHD Release of the Week 
Dune 
(Warner Bros)
Frank Herbert’s colossal sci-fi epic novel hasn’t been well-served in the movies: David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation was fatally flawed by then-newcomer Kyle McLachlan’s vapid presence in the lead role of youthful savior Paul Artreides; in Denis Villenueve’s new stab at adapting the book, Timothee Chalamet fares better but is still a cipher. Otherwise, Villeneuve’s visual sense is more conventional than Lynch’s, but with more improved technology at his disposal, it looks like a staggeringly imaginative visual achievement.
 
 
Unfortunately, much of the drama fizzles out early on, and the movie staggers to its non-conclusion that paves the way for (or threatens, depending on your appreciation) more sequels. The 4K transfer looks simply beautiful; the accompanying Blu-ray disc includes an hour of extras, mainly on-set featurettes and cast, crew and director interviews.
 
 
 
 
 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Sylvia Kristel—1970s Collection 
(Cult Epics)
Best known for her appearances in the softcore Emmanuelle films that made her an international sensation in the mid-’70s, Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel was usually cast as the willing young woman, even into the ’80s in such vehicles as Private Lessons and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. She never seemed able to show off her talent as well as her attractiveness, although the four movies in this boxed set give glimpses of her acting ability along with her body. Only 1974’s Julia, in which Kristel plays a nymphet who is seduced by her boyfriend’s father, relies almost exclusively on her erotic charms. 
 
 
 
 
 
The other films are a grab bag for Kristel fans. Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Playing with Fire (1975) stars the appealing French actress Anicée Alvina alongside Jean-Louis Trintignant and Phillipe Noiret, with Kristel in a brief appearance. She has a bit more to do in the WWII Dutch resistance drama Pastorale 1943 (1978) and the Knut Hamsun adaptation Mysteries (1978), the latter moodily shot by cinematographer Robby Muller and starring Rudger Hauer, whose character falls for Kristel’s elegant wife. All four films have fine hi-def transfers; extras include archival interviews with Kristel (who died in 2012), new and archival interviews of cast and crew, and audio commentaries on all four films.
 
 
 
 
 
Only the Animals 
(Cohen Media)
In Frederik Moll’s cynically unpleasant crime drama, the death of a woman named Evelyn leads to glimpses of the lives of five people she’s—for the most part peripherally—connected to, from young Marion, whom Evelyn has a brief affair with, to farmer Michel, who thinks he’s been flirting with Marion online, to Michel’s wife Alice, who’s carrying on an affair with another man, Joseph, who finds Evelyn’s body.
 
 
Moll adroitly moves among these people, but the utter contrivance of their relationships—I don’t know how much is in the underlying novel—makes the film risible from the get-to, despite its self-seriousness and extremely capable acting, especially by Nadia Tereszkiewicz (Marion) and Laure Calamy (Alice). The film looks excellent on Blu.
 
 
 
 
 
DVD Release of the Week 
Joy Womack—The White Swan 
(Film Movement)
In their study of a passionate young American ballet dancer, the first non-Russian to graduate from the Bolshoi Theatre’s training program, directors Dina Burlis and Sergey Gavrilov get up close and personal with an artist following her own path despite the skepticism of others that she’ll be able to dance “like a Russian.”
 
 
Womack’s story never unfolds as she hopes or expects—her marriage to a Russian dancer, partly one of convenience, ends, as does her association with the Bolshoi—but Burlis and Gavrilov’s intimate documentary takes its leave of Womack in the midst of a burgeoning career. Extras include additional interviews with Womack and other dancers as well as a behind the scenes featurette.
 
 
 
 
 
CD Release of the Week
Lennox Berkeley—The One-Act Operas 
(Lyrita)
After releasing a vintage recording of his three-act opera Nelson just last summer, the enterprising Lyrita label now sets its sights on the trio of marvelous one-act operas British composer Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) wrote in the ’50s and ’60s: the light comedy A Dinner Engagement (1954), the ravishing Biblical drama Ruth (1956) and the darkly comic Castaway (1967), the latter of which is heard during its premiere run at Benjamin Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival.
 
 
As good as Castaway is, the other one-acts are even better, especially as heard in BBC broadcasts from 1966 (Engagement) and 1968 (Ruth). A Dinner Engagement’s brilliant ensemble writing is Berkeley at his wittiest, while the gorgeous arias of Ruth—especially those sung by Alfreda Hodgson in the title role and the great Peter Pears—display Berkeley’s facility for memorably melodic writing. 

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