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Jack Angstreich

From the Film Comment Selects Series: "Accident"

directed by Pou-Soi CheangPoster from Accident
produced by Johnnie To

starring Louis Koo, Stanley Fung, Michelle Ye, Lam Suet
In my view, To is one of the greatest living directors and his dark stylings and mordant wit seems detectable in this new film he has produced about a gang of hired assassins who cleverly disguise its killings as accidents. When a series of unexpected events intervene, the narrative and protagonist become possessed by the question: is this a conspiracy or is this mere coincidence?

The brilliance of this movie rests largely upon the formal means by which what seems to be incipient madness is conveyed by an excess of meaning rather than by its loss -- and the name of this mental disorder is paranoia. This terror is reminiscent of the Hollywood conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, such as The Parallax View, but the narrative structure here -- predicated upon a suspension between two interpretive alternatives -- also recalls that of the fantastic genre classically analyzed by structuralist critic, Tzvetan Todorov; and director Cheang remarkably succeeds in sustaining this tension to the last moments of the film.

The screenplay of Accident is subtly and beautifully structured and transitions between reality and memory are effected elliptically, eliciting a disorientation in the viewer which reinforces the film's thematics. The film's cinematographer Yuen Man Fung displays an excellent understanding of the limitations of lighting for digital-intermediate -- thus, the transfer to 35-millimeter here is of superior quality.

From the Film Comment Selects Series: "Persecution"

directed by Patrice Chereau
starring Romain Duris, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jean-Hughes Anglade
The new film by one of France's best contemporary directors is both a moving character study of a tormented soul and a portrait of a relationship holding its own against the sad prospect of disintegration. Duris, who has moved from strength to strength as an actor, here engages in some of his finest work to date. He inhabits the role of a volatile young man who lashes out at everyone around him but who is, paradoxically, nearly always touchingly earnest in his desire to be kind to those he meets. He encounters his psychic match when a bizarre stranger -- Chereau stalwart Anglade -- becomes obsessed with him.

Chereau consistently has been an excellent director of actors and is well-served by a first-rate cast, but superb performances and an intelligent screenplay take second place to his dynamic mise-en-scene, with unbalanced widescreen compositions stitched together by brisk editing. The one disappointment here is the cinematography, less than scintillating as seen here in a transfer from digital to 35-millimeter -- Persecution would be an even more haunting story if screened in digital.

From the Film Comment Selects Series: "The Victors"

The Victors
directed by Carl ForemanThe Victors Poster
starring George Peppard, George Hamilton, Rosanna Schiaffino, Romy Schneider, Senta Berger, and Elke Sommer
Blacklisted screenwriter Foreman placed his personal stamp upon many films he wrote and produced but he did direct one ambitious feature, the very rarely screened The Victors. Running nearly three hours in length, with an impressive all-star cast, it is beautifully photographed in widescreen black-and-white by the unsung cinematographer, Christopher Challis. The film follows the dispiriting exploits of the members of a World War II American fighting unit from Sicily through France and Belgium, and finally, in occupied Germany at the end of the war.

On a scene-by-scene basis, the direction of The Victors is not inestimable but the writing, as in other Foreman screenplays, suffers inordinately from didactic heavy-handedness. The film is also diminished by an unwieldy parataxis in the construction of the story; one doesn't experience a unified, developing narrative so much as a mere unity of theme. There is some graceful acting, sometimes surprisingly so -- Peppard has an unusually moving moment, for example -- and it is certainly a further pleasure to enjoy Ms Schiaffino, Schneider, Berger, and Sommer, all in a single movie. The Victors was presented in a handsome UCLA archival print, one that reportedly belongs to the director.

From the Film Comment Selects Series: "Over the Edge"

Over the EdgeOver The Edge
directed by Jonathan Kaplan
written by Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter
starring Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano
The Film Comment Selects series at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater opened with a special screening of the cult film, Over the Edge. Inspired by real incidents, the film is about a group of disaffected teenagers in a suburban housing development who decide to take the town's adults hostage. Kaplan, the film's director, has attracted the interest of auteurist critics as a genre specialist who began by directing exploitation movies; it is perhaps ironic that he later made a couple of prestige pictures.

The one work of Kaplan's that I had seen previously, Unlawful Entry,  was distinguished by a unity of style and an impressive command of the norms of classical Hollywood filmmaking; by contrast, Over the Edge, although not without its low-budget virtues, is not an especially impressive work of cinema. The strongest aspects of the film concern the portrayal of the teenagers themselves, both in the often hilarious dialogue and by virtue of a few of the performances -- including, most memorably, a charismatic debut by Dillon.

The film was presented in a fine print -- reportedly a director's cut -- a notable event in a film series ostensibly consisting, with very few exceptions, almost entirely of either videos or transfers from digital-intermediates. But, an additional bonus was a post-screening Q & A with several of the film's actors, the screenwriters, the producer, and the woman who discovered Dillon cutting class in a Larchmont High School.

Hunter, one of the co-writers of Over the Edge -- who later became a noted director and who emerged out of an auteurist background -- proclaimed, "Long live Nicholas Ray!" as he disavowed any direct influence from Rebel without a Cause in the script's conception; one of the actors interestingly revealed, however, that Kaplan had told her that the red shirt of the film's protagonist was the director's homage to James Dean's character in the Ray masterpiece Rebel Without A Cause.

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