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Film Series Review—“Jeanne Moreau, Cinéaste” at Film Forum

Jeanne Moreau, Cinéaste
Through March 23, 2023
Film Forum
209 West Houston Street, Manhattan
The series Jeanne Moreau, Actrice, at Film Forum for the past two weeks, was a superb reminder of how seminal Moreau was onscreen, playing so many memorable roles in films by Francois Truffaut (Jules and Jim), Luis Bunuel (Diary of a Chambermaid), Louis Malle (The Lovers, Elevator to the Gallows), and Michelangelo Antonioni (La Notte). 
The quintessential French woman onscreen, Moreau was sophisticated and sensible, intelligent and sensual. But her brilliance wasn’t relegated to merely acting, as Film Forum’s current series, Jeanne Moreau, Cineaste, collects the trio of films she directed between 1976 and 1984 to give viewers the opportunity to watch her develop her own directorial voice.
The three films are features Lumière (1976) and The Adolescent (1979) as well as a documentary, Lillian Gish (1984). Her first film, Lumière, stars Moreau as a middle-aged actress relaxing at her rural estate with three good friends, also actresses. Gentle and modest, the film at times is too casual in its observation of the intersecting relationships and attendant rivalries, affections and jealousies. But Moreau, thanks to excellent acting from her quartet and the judicious use of flashbacks, creates an insinuating portrait of the complications of womanhood.
The Adolescent
The same could be said for The Adolescent, another low-key character study about complex female relationships. The protagonist, Marie, is a 13-year-old who spends the summer of 1939 with her parents at her beloved grandmother’s home in a rural village. Moreau the writer and director sympathetically shows Marie’s childish nature, budding sexuality and the growing rift between her father and mother—who soon begins an affair with the local doctor, whom Marie also has an unrequited crush on. Although the great Simone Signoret is the grandmother, the astonishing young actress Laetitia Chauveau is rightly the focus of Moreau’s camera throughout.
Lillian Gish
Moreau’s interview with a movie legend makes up the entire running time of Lillian Gish, a touching portrait of old Hollywood that also includes clips from Gish’s silent-film career—including D.W. Griffith’s early epics Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Moreau’s warmth and Gish’s very presence make this a nice hour of nostalgia for film buffs.

NYC Theater Review—“The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” with Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan at BAM

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window 
Written by Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Performances through March 24, 2023
BAM Strong Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY
Rachel Brosnahan and Oscar Isaac in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window
(photo: Julieta Cervantes)
By turns amusing and melodramatic, cringy and tragic, Lorraine Hansberry’s sprawling The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window—the author’s follow to A Raisin in the Sun, which took Broadway by storm in 1959—is an intelligent but flawed mess that still feels relevant, six unsettling decades later.
Written in 1964 and set in a West Village flat, the play follows a couple, Sidney Brustein and his wife Iris, as they come to terms with the limits of their idealism. Sidney’s latest venture, running a small Village Voice-like weekly, takes the place of his most recent failure, running a nightclub. Iris is a failed actress still desperately hoping for her big break as she slings hash at a local diner. Their days and nights are filled with smoke, drink and ongoing arguments in which Sidney devastatingly insults his wife about her lack of either acting talent or true ideals, which he usually walks back.
When they’re not at each other’s throats, Sidney and Iris welcome guests to their apartment in a revolving-door fashion, akin to a sitcom. Alton, a young radical who’s also a light-skinned Black man; David, a brooding playwright from the upstairs apartment; Wally, another longtime radical who’s running for city council; Max, a colleague who designs the the new weekly’s cover for Sidney; and Iris’ sisters—the older and seemingly straitlaced Mavis, and the younger Gloria, a “model” in Florida—all hover around the couple, each entering or exiting so Hansberry can show another angle of the couple’s volatile relationship along with the limits of being a real liberal.
As in A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry treats serious subject matter with a light touch—not superficially but also not ponderously. The problem with The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window is that, unlike Raisin’s laser focus, it encompasses so much—idealism, racism, sexism, misogyny, political corruption, for starters—that it shortchanges itself. Supposedly, Hansberry might have tweaked parts of Brustein if she wasn’t battling the pancreatic cancer that would kill her at age 34 as the play’s first Broadway production was closing. 
It’s rarely been rarely staged since, instead accumulating the baggage of a white elephant in intervening 60 years. Anne Kaufmann, who directed a production in Chicago a few years ago, does the honors in Brooklyn, with a nicely-paced rhythm that keeps things moving for a still too-long three hours. The particulars of the Brusteins’ world are well developed: the collective dots’ authentically lived-in set, Brenda Abbandandolo’s spot-on costumes, John Torres’ incisive lighting and Bray Poor’s imaginative sound design.
There’s the occasional directorial misstep, as when Kaufman has Iris and Mavis sit in front of the audience and watch the sad meeting between Sidney and Gloria that leads to an intimate kiss after she admits that Alton—who was head over heels in love with her—is cutting her off after discovering that she is a sex worker. Otherwise, Kaufmann makes sure that the actors honestly serve Hansberry’s words, and the harmonious supporting ensemble is led by Miriam Silverman, whose forceful Mavis emerges as fully-realized character rather than the stereotype she could have been in lesser hands. 
Oscar Isaac’s Sidney and Rachel Brosnahan’s Iris are a believably authentic couple, imperfect but loving. The play’s final scene speaks shatteringly in its pauses and silences between the barely uttered words, as Isaac, Brosnahan and Kaufman get to the heart of the poetry in Hansberry’s uneven but compelling exploration of humanity. 

March '23 Digital Week I

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Film, the Living Record of Our Memory 
(Kino Lorber)
In director Inés Toharia’s cautionary chronicle about the urgency of film preservation—in one of the film’s many eye-opening statistics, it’s noted that more than three-quarters of all films from the silent era are gone forever—archivists, filmmakers and historians discuss an unexciting but concerning subject for any cinema lover.
It’s also pointed out that saving films digitally isn’t a panacea, since—as anybody who has tried to watch a movie on an older DVD can attest—digital media deteriorates as badly as film does. What to do? That’s the question, and whatever the answer, it had better happen soon: we are in danger of losing a lot of more of our shared film history. Among the articulate talking heads are directors Ken Loach, Wim Wenders and—of course—the ubiquitous Martin Scorsese.
The Forger 
(Kino Lorber)
Set in Berlin in 1940, director Maggie Peren’s tense but playful drama follows Cioma Schönhaus, who joins the burgeoning underground to uses his expertise at forging documents for other Jews trying to escape the Nazis before it’s too late—but his bold, even reckless, flaunting of his own excitement for life, even falling in love with an unavailable woman, puts a bullseye on his back.
Peren’s engrossing film from a real-life subject reflects its protagonist’s almost carefree joie de vive but never loses sight of its tragic center. Louis Hofmann is excellent in the lead role, a deceptively complicated character.
 Free Skate 
(Indiecan Entertainment)
Set in the cutthroat world of figure skating, Roope Olenius’ rugged feature concerns a young Russian—called only the Figure Skater—who goes to Finland to live with her grandmother while taking up skating again, but as she ascends to greater heights on the ice she sees that her position is precarious, especially when it comes to those who would use her for their own ends.
Veera W. Vilo, who is impressive in the lead, also wrote the scathing script, which never shies away from showing the worst of the sport: from physical and emotional bullying to sexual assault, it’s all here.
Gods of Mexico
Helmut Dosantos’ visually rich documentary, which unveils the natural beauties of the director’s beloved homeland, alternates between crisp black and white and richly textured color as it shows the indigenous denizens of varied rural areas at work and at leisure, in a sense resisting the modernization that has become the norm elsewhere.
Dosantos (who is also his own cinematographer) has made a nearly abstract visual and aural essay that at times becomes didactic and repetitious but retains a compelling fascination throughout.
Still the Water 
(Film Movement)
Japanese writer-director Naomi Kawase makes intimate dramas about relationships, like this 2014 feature about teenage lovers who, after discovering a dead body floating in the sea, discover a new-found maturity that may help them on the path to adulthood.
As always, Kawase too often relies on sentimentality and contrived plotting but, unlike an affecting film like True Mothers, here she has made what isn’t much more than a well-acted soap opera. Certainly, it’s not the masterpiece the director herself thought of it at its premiere at Cannes.
Blu-ray Release of the Week
La vie parisienne 
(Opus Arte)
French operetta composer Jacques Offenbach reached his storytelling zenith with this work about quotidian life and love in the greatest of all cities—it’s not titled “Parisian Life” for nothing. And this delectable staging at, appropriately enough, the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, is frothy, fizzy fun.
Director Christian Lacroix’s dazzling sets and costumes perfectly complement Offenbach’s beguiling music (played by Les Musiciens du Louvre under the baton of conductor Romain Dumas), and it’s charmingly sung by a superlative cast. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.
CD Release of the Week 
Alexander Scriabin—The Poem of Ecstasy/Symphony No. 2
Alexander Scriabin gets short shrift among his Russian contemporaries, possibly because he didn’t write operas like Mussorgsky, Borodin or Rimsky-Korsakov. But his music has a voluptuousness all its own, and the two orchestral works on this disc show off how his rapturous style evolved.
The aptly titled The Poem of Ecstasy and his Symphony No. 2 were written within a few years of each other in the early 1900s, but Ecstasy is far more chromatic; JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in rousing performances that catch all the nuances of these towering works.

February '23 Digital Week V

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week 
The Quiet Girl 
The first film from Ireland to be nominated for the best international film Oscar, writer-director Colm Bairéad’s warm character study follows Cáit, a 9-year-old girl sent home to her pregnant mother’s cousin and husband so Cáit’s parents can deal with the impending birth of their latest child.
Bairéad burrows into the daily life of this girl in scenes of intimacy and insight, and Catherine Clinch’s acting rings unerringly true in every sequence. The film ultimately falls victim to melodrama but remains touching thanks to Bairéad, Clinch and two other pitch-perfect performances: by Carrie Crowley as Eibhlína and Andrew Bennett as Seán, her summer guardians, who are harboring a secret.
(Shout Studios)
In this tantalizingly ambitious comic drama, a sympathetic Jim Gaffigan plays Cameron, a put-upon husband and father hosting a failing late-night children’s science show whose midlife crisis manifests itself in ever stranger ways after a relic from the space race falls into his backyard.
Although director-writer Colin West has a few potentially interesting ideas, the surreal events that pile up lead to a finale that is more jumbled than organic; nonetheless, Gaffigan (in two roles) and Rhea Seehorn as Cameron’s exasperated wife lead a fine cast that keeps Linoleum from jumping the proverbial shark.
(Breaking Glass Pictures)
Middle-aged Felice returns to his native Naples neighborhood after being away for 40 years—he left at age 15 for Egypt, built a business, got married, became Muslim and learned Arabic—and that causes his long-dormant relationships—especially with the head of the local crime syndicate, his best friend decades ago—to come to a head in Mario Martone’s intermittently powerful drama.
While skillfully put together, and featuring a strong Gianfrancesco Favino in the lead, Martone’s film is so singlemindedly insistent on pounding the title idea into every frame that it cannot see the forest for the trees. It also doesn’t help that it all leads to a final sequence that can be seen coming from a mile away, which ends the film on a less than scintillating note. 
4K Releases of the Week
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 
(Dark Sky Films)
Tobe Hooper's 1974 low-budget shocker—made when the world was to going to hell in a handbasket (Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, for starters)—is anything but artful, but it has much less gore than one thought it had and its tidy 83 minutes strip away anything extraneous, which keeps the shocks coming right until the nervy ending.
The new 4K edition features a superb new transfer and four (!) commentaries, including two with Hooper. There’s also an accompanying Blu-ray with the film, commentaries, several vintage featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, blooper reel and an all-new retrospective documentary, The Legacy of ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’.
Training Day 
(Warner Brothers)
Denzel Washington won a best actor Oscar for his flashy portrayal of Alonzo, an arrogant renegade L.A. narcotics officer showing the ropes to new partner Jake, played with quiet confidence by Ethan Hawke, in Antoine Fuqua’s exciting if overblown 2001 crime drama.
Memorably frenzied moments abut more risible ones, but Washington, Hawke and a solid supporting cast led by Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Eva Mendes keep things interesting. The 4K transfer looks splendid; Fuqua’s commentary is on both the 4K and Blu-ray, which also includes Pharoahe Monch’s and Nelly’s music videos, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and alternative ending.
Blu-ray Release of the Week
The Inspection 
Writer-director Elegance Bratton’s intensely personal film based on his own life concerns Ellis, a gay Black man misunderstood by his own mother, Inez, and bullied and feeling out of place, joins the Marines almost on a whim and finds that, despite entrenched armed-forces homophobia, he can succeed in life on his own terms.
Although the boot camp sequences mine territory familiar to anyone who’s seen other war movies, there’s a self-analytical honesty that overcomes any obstacles, along with towering portrayals by Jeremy Pope as Ellis and Gabrielle Union complicated Inez. The film looks fine on Blu-ray; extras are Bratton’s commentary, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
CD Release of the Week 
Kurt Weill—Symphonies 1 & 2
German composer Kurt Weill (1900-50) is best known for his theater music, from Mahagonny and Street Scene to his most famous work, The Threepenny Opera. But his concert music also has the confident wit and spiky rhythms that his stage music does, and this disc represents the best of both worlds. It begins with excerpts from his 1933 stage work Der Silbersee—Ein Wintermärchen (The Silver Lake—A Winter's Fairy Tale): the sprightly overture and two vocal pieces.
Then we storm into his compact but propulsive first symphony, followed by a second symphony, Fantaisie symphonique, that’s filled with jazzy and bluesy invention. HK Gruber not only adroitly conducts the Swedish Chamber Orchestra but also gruffly intones the Silbersee vocal pieces.

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