In Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s very best films, you know exactly what you’re getting — until the quiet dramatic pivot that gently ensures you don’t. In “The Unknown Girl,” only the first half of that assessment is true, though what we get is largely exemplary: a simple but urgent objective threaded with needling observations of social imbalance, a camera that gazes with steady intent into story-bearing faces, and an especially riveting example of one in their gifted, toughly tranquil leading lady Adèle Haenel. What’s missing, however, from this stoically humane procedural tale of a guilt-racked GP investigating a nameless passer-by’s passing, is any great sense of narrative or emotional surprise: It’s a film that skilfully makes us feel precisely what we expect to feel from moment to moment, up to and including the long-forestalled waterworks. Though it will receive the broad distribution practically guaranteed the Belgian brothers’ work these days, the film is unlikely to prove one of their sensations — more the healthy arthouse equivalent of a biennial checkup. Continue reading
Japanese director Seijun Suzuki solidified his growing cult following with this offbeat adaptation of Haruhiko Ooyabu’s crime novel. Jo Shishido stars as Det. Tajima, a smug investigator who nabs a pair of criminal gangs with flamboyant aplomb while the police remain baffled. Suzuki treats the rather hoary plotline as an excuse for dark-humored camp, and young audiences were delighted with his irreverent approach, which made him one of the few distinctive names in the ’60s assembly-line of Nikkatsu Studios. ~ (Robert Firsching, All Movie Guide) Continue reading
A street teenager from a dysfunctional family from a banlieue (HLMs) in Paris comes across a young dancer who turns her life upside down.
Isabel Stevens (Sight & Sound) wrote:
From the opening credits – a grainy breakneck tour of the lives of two teenage girls who lark about, posing and dancing via vertical-aspect cameraphone footage, I had a suspicion we were onto something special. Then comes the unusual opener: a hazy, abstract shot. Gradually, the interior of a mosque comes into focus. The smaller of the two girls, who only seconds ago stared us down and asked “You looking at me?” with full Taxi Driver-esque bravado, is outside trying to get her praying friend’s attention through a grate in the wall. Continue reading
“Le Poulpe” is adapted from one of a series of French crime novels, each written by a different author. They are quick reads and often of dubious quality. This film adaptation by Guillaume Nicloux is, however, a different matter.
Gabriel, dit Le Poulpe (The Octopus), played superbly by Jean-Pierre Darroussin, is a laid-back private investigator who works on cases for his own pleasure. He is drawn to the fictional Loire Valley port of Angerneau (St. Nazaire, Loire-Atlantique), with his lover Clotilde (the luscious Courau) who has been summoned by the police concerning the defacement of a deceased relative’s grave. Since Angernau is her home town, she wants to leave it as soon as possible to avoid old acquaintances, but Gabriel stumbles on intriguing events concerning the cargo of a ship in port. Central to the scheme of things is a drunken Scotsman (Faulkner) who seems stranded in the town. Continue reading
The Cuenca Crime (79) became a cause celebre for critics of the limitation on freedom of expression in Spain (the film is set in 1912 and is about an innocent peasant tortured by two members of the Civil Guard in order to extract a murder confession). The film was briefly suppressed and Miro was tried unsuccessfully for defamation. When released in 1981, it became the highest grossing film in Spanish box office history. Continue reading
Henri-Georges Clouzot (“The Raven”/”The Wages of Fear”/”“Diabolique”) directs one of his lesser efforts and co-writes with Jean Ferry an adaptation of Abbe Prevost’s 18th century lusty classic French novel ‘Manon Lescaut.’ It’s updated to immediately after World War II France. It was shoddily made, the characters were sketchily drawn, the lead couple is unlikable, the screenplay was ridiculously inept and the novel’s bawdiness was compromised to make it more Hollywood safe, nevertheless Clouzot’s craftsmanship and style made an impression at the Venice Festival and it won Best Film in 1949. It did a good job capturing the sleazy atmosphere of the low-life underground scene in a post-war Paris. Continue reading
Laurence Fishburne plays no-nonsense LAPD narc Russell Stevens, Jr., who has worked all his life to expunge the memory of his dope-addict father, whom he saw die in a liquor-store robbery. DEA agent Jerry Carver (Charles Martin Smith) orders Stevens to work as an undercover operative on a major case. The cop is to pose as a dealer in order to get the goods on South American drug lord. Stevens is so convincing as a dealer, that he fast works his way up through the ranks and gains the trust of lawyer and narcotics dealer David Jason (Jeff Goldblum) and his sinister associates, all lackeys to the kingpin who is the target of Stevens’ assignment. Through a series of fantastic but credible circumstances, Stevens eliminates the lower echelon, getting closer to his quarry, but in the process he finds himself so deep into the sinister and seductive world of the drug trade that he may never get out. In a surprise move, and just when he is about to bring the ringleader down, the DEA pulls the plug on his assignment, because the top dealer, an influential Latin American politician, may someday be useful to the State Department. allmovie,com Continue reading