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Film and the Arts

Film Series Review—Open Roads: New Italian Cinema

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Series runs through June 7, 2017
The annual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series—now in its 17th year—has always been a valuable addition to New York’s cinema calendar, but nowadays it’s even more so because it may be the only way to see new films from Italian masters like Ermanno Olmi (whose Greenery Will Bloom Again was a highlight two years ago) or Marco Bellocchio (whose Dormant Beauty headlined the 2013 edition) in this fractured world of releases where even streaming isn’t a guarantee of seeing what one wants to.
Giovanna Mezzogiorno in Gianni Amelio's Tenderness
Bellocchio is back this year with Sweet Dreams, which I haven’t seen, but another great director, Gianni Amelio—best known for an unbroken string of excellent films from Open Doors and Stolen Children to Lamerica and The Way We Laughed in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s—has returned with his subtle and probing psychological study, Tenderness, that provides insights into the complicated relationships of an elderly father and his two emotionally distant adult children with Amelio’s customarily acute sensitivity. He’s aided by incisive performances by Renato Carpentieri (father), Arturo Muselli (son) and the always impressive Giovanna Mezzogiorno (daughter).
Another director, Marco Tullio Giordana—he of the absorbing epic underworld chronicle The Best of Youth—comes a cropper with Two Soldiers, a flimsy and underwhelming drama about a young woman grieving over her fiancé’s battlefield death in Afghanistan who finds herself caring for a wounded thug holed up in her empty apartment. Aside from the expressive Angela Fontana’s sympathetic heroine, Two Soldiers is as clunky and obvious as its title.
Other forgettable entries include Irene Dionisio’s debut feature Pawn Street, a by-the-numbers melodrama revolving around the people who work at and go to a local pawn shop: its many characters who are scarcely differentiated and end up not being worth remembering. Equally scattershot is Ears, Alessandro Aronadio’s absurdist comedy about a man who runs into ever more lunatic characters and situations; but even Aronadio’s increasingly desperate visuals—including shifting aspect ratios—can’t cover up its fatiguing laboriousness.
Much more successful is Deliver Us, an eye-opening documentary by Federica Di Giacomo, who follows a Sicilian priest as he performs rites of exorcism to try and toss out the “demons” that inhabit many of the Catholics who seek him out as a hope of last resort. Without any condescension or commentary, Di Giacomo intelligently shows how religion, whatever its flaws, can provide needed spiritual and psychological comfort.
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2017
Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, NY

The Golden Cockerel Rises to the Occasion at Lincoln Center

Stella Abrera in The Golden Cockerel. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor


Another peak in the current remarkable season at Lincoln Center of the American Ballet Theater was the thrilling revival of The Golden Cockerel, one of the most fully satisfying productions in the company's repertory, which I attended on the evening of Thursday, June 1st. The ingenious and witty choreography is by Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky—the finest dance creator of his generation—inspired by the original production by the legendary Michel Fokine, while the marvelous score is by the unsurpassed colorist, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The terrific set and costume design is by Richard Hudson, inspired by the originals of the great Natalia Goncharov.

The cast was equally extraordinary , featuring the lovely Stella Abrera—who was superb the previous week in the New York premiere of  Ratmansky's Whipped Cream —who wasexcellentas the alluring Queen of Shemakhan, and James Whiteside at his hammy best as the Astrologer. Most dazzling of all, however, was Skylar Brandt, replacing Cassandra Trenary, in the title role, which will surely prove to be one of the greatest performances of the season.

The secondary cast was also exquisite—above all as seen in the brilliant turns by the stellar Jeffrey Cirio and Joseph Gorak (who was memorable the previous week in Giselle) as the Princes Guidon and Afron respectively. The splendid Christine Shevchenko was faultless as the leading Persian Woman and received expert support from Joo Won Ahn and Patrick Frenette as the Persian Men. Roman Zhurbin was an effective comic presence in the character role of Tsar Dodon. And the elegant precision of thecorps de ballet once again astonished.

The American Ballet Theater's Giselle at Lincoln Center

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns in Giselle. Photo: Gene Schiavone


The second week of American Ballet Theater's new season at Lincoln Center fulfilled the high expectations elicited by the opening night performance of Don Quixote, first with the stunning New York premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream —which we hope to review next month—and, second, with an exquisite presentation on the evening of Thursday, May 25th, of the engrossing and perennially popular Giselle, set to the immortal score by Adolph Adam. Kevin McKenzie's staging with scenery by Gianni Quaranta is wholly conventional although not without its felicities, such as the lovely tutus of the supernatural wilis in the second act, designed by Anna Anni.

The beautiful and mesmerizing Hee Seo, who excelled on opening night as Mercedes in Don Quixote,astonished in the lead role. Her partner, Cory Stearns, who impressed as Basilio in Quixote,made a strong showing as Count Albrecht. The magnificent Veronika Part was riveting as Myrta, Queen of the Wilis.

The secondary cast was solid, with Patrick Ogle effective as Hilarion and Luciana Paris and Joseph Gorak both superb in the delightful Peasant Pas de Deux. Equally extraordinary were Katherine Williams and Zhong-Jing Fang as the otherworldly Moyna and Zulma, respectively. The superlative corps de ballet were simply resplendent.

May '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 

Get Out

After nearly $200 million and near-universal critical praise, Jordan Peele’s writing-directing debut can’t hope to live up to such excessive audience and reviewer hype, and it doesn’t—it’s an effective little horror comedy that tries far too hard to hit both its jokey and scary beats, all at the service of a heavy-handed metaphor for current race relations. Such a combo is a tall order for any filmmaker, and Peele, for all his talent, tips his hand far too early and ends up grasping for bizarre and unique moments and settles for well-worn horror-movie tropes, from skittering, atonal music a la The Shining to “normal” suburban dwellers a la The Stepford Wives. The film has a crisp, vibrant look on Blu-ray; extras include Peele’s commentary, Q&A with Peele and cast, making-of featurette, and deleted scenes and alternate ending with Peele commentary.
The Climber
Cops vs. Thugs
Wolf Guy
Say this for Arrow Video: they keep seeking out and finding obscure and, in many cases, forgotten genre films, usually crime dramas or thrillers from Europe or the East. Sometimes, they hit a bulls-eye; others are a near-miss; and still others are whiffed on completely. These new releases—all made, coincidentally, in 1975—are a mix of near- and total miss. The Climber is a no-nonsense piece of Italian gangster cinema with hyped-up action but little resonance, Cops vs. Thugs is a superficially stylish yakuza picture from Japan, and Wolf Guy is a brutal but bloodless Japanese actioner. All three films have excellent hi-def transfers, as always with Arrow; extras include interviews with directors, stars and producers, and video essays.


French director Jacques Audiard makes audacious films that skirt the line between gritty reality and over-the-top melodrama, like his best-known features A Prophet and Rust and Bone; his latest follows a family fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka that finds the Parisian projects they’ve moved into resembles their homeland in more ways than one. Audiard’s sympathetic eye and ear are coupled with authentic unprofessional actors who are often mesmerizing, but Dheepan is too on the nose in its depiction of wartime struggles breaking out in a new, supposedly more civilized, home. The Criterion Blu-ray has a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras include a commentary by Audiard and cowriter Noe Debre, deleted scenes with their commentary, new Audiard interview and interview with lead actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan.
The Jacques Rivette Collection
(Arrow Academy)
I’ve never been simpatico with the jerky rhythms and crudely improvisatory feel of Jacques Rivette’s films (even if his stature has grown over the years), and this collection of three of his features—1976’s Duelle, 1976’s Noirot and 1978’s Merry-Go-Round—does nothing to upwardly reappraise him: if anything, these scattershot, diffuse, often dreary and seemingly endless pictures drop him down a few more pegs. Aside from La Belle Noiseuse and the two-part Joan of Arc—which, to be sure, were brightened considerably by the presence of magnificent performers like Emmanuelle Beart, Michel Piccoli and Sandine Bonnaire—I’ve found little of substance or interest in nearly every other Rivette film. At least there’s Arrow’s now-expected outstanding presentation— gorgeously-designed boxed set with splendid new hi-def transfers, informative bound book, new interviews with Duelle actresses Hermine Karagheuz and Bulle Ogier, appreciation by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and 50-minute archival Rivette interview.


Omnibus films are almost always hit-or-miss, and this four-parter of creepy tales by a quartet of female directors (a notable feat in itself) is no exception. Best are Jovanka Vuckovic’s The Box, an intense bit of family fright, and Roxanne Benjamin’s straight-out horrific Don’t Fall. Annie Clarke’s debut The Birthday Party and Karyn Kusama’s Her Only Living Son have great payoffs following middling set-ups. Overall an enjoyably unsettling set (connected by Sofia Carrillo’s stop-motion animation), and there’s one great performance: Natalie Brown as the mom in The Box. The hi-def transfer is superior; extras are director interviews and on-set featurettes.
DVD of the Week
Birth of a Movement
The outright racism of D.W. Griffin’s 1915 film classic The Birth of a Nation stung right from the start, as this insightful PBS documentary makes clear, along with the still difficult balancing act for many scholars of defending Griffith’s numerous cinematic innovations while dealing with his explicitly anti-black, pro-KKK stance. Talking heads like Spike Lee, Henry Louis Gates and Reginald Hudlin discuss the film’s impact on them both personally and professionally, and many clips from the film itself demonstrate both Griffith’s genius and bigotry.

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