The Off-Hollywood Film Guide: The Definitive Guide to Independent and Foreign Films on Video and DVDby Tom Wiener
The Off-Hollywood Film Guide cuts through the clutter of the thousands of films currently available on video and DVD by specifically catering to independent- and foreign-film enthusiasts. In addition to a list of essential must-see films, this guide includes hundreds of entries, each with brief commentary and a list of pertinent details, such as release date, cast, director, awards garnered, special DVD features, and double-feature suggestions. The listings are also cross-referenced by genre, director, actors, and country of origin.
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A NOS AMOURS
France 1984 C 102 min. R Drama
Dir: Maurice Pialat
C: Sandrine Bonnaire, Dominique Besnehard, Maurice Pialat
That an actress like Sandrine Bonnaire, with her impressive filmography, is almost totally unknown in this country is a sad commentary on how marginalized foreign films have become; graybeards can recall the days when Jeanne Moreau was known even to people who didn't bother going to films with subtitles. Bonnaire was seventeen when she made her debut here, playing a fifteen-year-old whose sexual activity reflects a fractured home life. Adolescence is tough enough, but throw in a mom who turns every event into a crisis, a dad who's fed up and about to move out, and a brother who's a bit too affectionate, and this girl is using every bit of her resources just to get through the day. A Nos Amours won France's César for best film.
Goes well with: Vagabond
U.K. 1986 C 107 min. PG-13 Musical
Dir: Julien Temple
C: Eddie O'Connell, Patsy Kensit, David Bowie, James Fox, Ray Davies, Mandy Rice-Davies, Sade Adu, Slim Gaillard
Music video directors like Julien Temple get knocked for making films that look like extended videos, but in this case, Temple hit on the perfect excuse-an exploration of the 1958 pop culture scene in Britain, based loosely on Colin MacInnes's novel. From its amazing opening shot (which rivals, at least in technique, the famed openings of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil and Robert Altman's The Player), Temple establishes that we're in his amusement park, and he's about to take us for
a roller-coaster ride. The story, about a naïve photographer (Eddie
O'Connell), the fashion designer (Patsy Kensit) he yearns for, and a slick advertising executive (David Bowie), is the usual fluff about breaking in, moving up, and selling out, but the plot is only the clothesline on which to hang a series of gaudy production numbers. O'Connell is forgettably blah, and Kensit is perky as a kind of junior Julie Christie, but the supporting players are the real stars: the ultra-suave James Fox, Bowie and fellow pop stars Ray Davies and Sade (billed under her full name, Sade Adu), jazz veteran Slim Gaillard, and Mandy Rice-Davies of Profumo scandal fame. Gil Evans, one of modern jazz's best arrangers, supervised the score. Best seen in widescreen for maximum impact.
CO10, DR23, MU2, XT7, XT8
Goes well with: Blowup
U.K. 1967 C 105 min. PG Drama
Dir: Joseph Losey
C: Dirk Bogarde, Jacqueline Sassard, Delphine Seyrig, Michael York, Stanley Baker, Vivien Merchant, Harold Pinter, Nicholas Mosley
The second of three collaborations between director Joseph Losey and writer Harold Pinter (following The Servant, preceding The Go-Between) is one of those Rotting Groves of Academe tales of a professor (Dirk Bogarde), his neglected wife (Vivien Merchant), and their various friends and colleagues. In The Servant, Bogarde played the title character, a butler who takes charge of his dissolute boss's life. Here Bogarde is the man whose life is spinning out of control, as he looks to compete with a brash and dashing colleague (Stanley Baker) for the affections of their student (Jacqueline Sassard). Gerry Fisher's camera lingers on the rot behind the characters' faces just long enough for us to notice. The supporting players are all excellent, including Pinter himself as a TV producer and Nicholas Mosley, whose novel Pinter adapted, in a small role.
DVD: Available only as part of three-disc Dirk Bogarde Collection, which includes The Servant and The Mind Benders.
Goes well with: The Servant
U.S. 1995 B&W 82 min. NR Horror
Dir: Abel Ferrara
C: Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli
New York-based director Abel Ferrara offers a reflective take on the vampire film. Lili Taylor plays a dedicated philosophy student who is mugged on the street one night-shades of Ferrara's Ms. 45-by a female vampire. She survives the assault, only to begin craving blood, without losing her taste for philosophical arguments. It sounds pretentious, but Ferrara pulls it off, thanks to a snappy running time, artful black-and-white cinematography, and a party scene that tops even the finale of Ms. 45. Also of interest: supporting roles for three future players in The Sopranos: Michael Imperioli, Edie Falco, and Annabella Sciorra.
Goes well with: Martin
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT
Australia 1994 C 102 min. R Comedy
Dir: Stephan Elliott
C: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce
Terence Stamp's first film role was as Billy Budd, and the young actor was perfectly cast in the 1962 film about Herman Melville's seaman whose androgynous beauty and innocence drive another man to murder. Thirty-some years later, Stamp gets to play another beauty, a transsexual who heads a minitroupe of three cross-dressing performers (his mates are played by Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce). This troupe specializes in mouthing the words to songs by ABBA, whose ongoing popularity down under surely deserves attention from some cultural commentator. The film is a road picture in the spirit of the Crosby-Hope films, and although Bing and Bob never did The Road to the Outback, they did wind up in drag in several of their films. The locations offer director Stephan Elliott and cinematographer Brian J. Breheny a magnificent backdrop for the boys on the bus (the bus being the colorfully decorated title character). Lizzy Gardiner and Tom Chappel's outlandish costumes won them an Oscar, and Gardiner, in a dress which seemed to be made up entirely of American Express gold cards, was one of the 1995 Academy Awards show's few memorable winners. Too bad Stamp didn't get to wear that outfit in the film.
CO8, CO10, XT5
Goes well with: Farewell, My Concubine
U.S. 1997 C 114 min. R Drama
Dir: Paul Schrader
C: Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, James Coburn, Mary Beth
Hurt, Marian Seldes
Writer-director Paul Schrader's bumpy career hit a high point with this drama adapted from Russell Banks's novel of a small-town screwup (Nick Nolte, winner of the New York Film Critics best actor award) and his abusive father (Oscar winner James Coburn). Grim and unrelenting, yet flashing moments of tenderness and even humor, the story careens toward an ending you know is coming but almost can't bear to watch. Spacek is fine as Nolte's patient lover, but Dafoe, as Nolte's younger brother, seems like an appendix to the action. Schrader seems to be at his best when he's dealing with conflicted loners, as in his script for Taxi Driver and his direction of Mishima and Light Sleeper.
DR11, DR29, DR34
Goes well with: Character
U.S. 1985 C 97 min. R Comedy
Dir: Martin Scorsese
C: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Thomas Chong, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, John Heard, Cheech Marin, Catherine O'Hara
After Paramount Pictures pulled the plug on his production of Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese decided to get back to his roots: he took to the nighttime streets of New York and made a low-budget, independently produced film. Joe Minion's script, written for a screenwriting class at New York University (Scorsese's alma mater), is a nightmare vision of New York that's leavened by large helpings of dark humor. Griffin Dunne plays a meek computer programmer who lives an uneventful life on the Upper West Side. All that changes in one long night when he ventures into terra incognita-downtown Manhattan-in search of love. He loses his money, finds a corpse, is pursued by a mob that thinks he's a criminal, and winds up encased inside a plaster sculpture. Dunne is perfect as the quintessential New York nebbish, and the crazy-quilt cast (from Linda Fiorentino and Rosanna Arquette as a couple of spooky femme fatales to Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong as a pair of inept burglars) all play their roles with gusto. It's an amusing shaggy-dog story that won Independent Spirit Awards for Best Feature and Director. Scorsese did get to make the more ambitious and artistically risky Last Temptation three years later for another studio.
Goes well with: Stranger Than Paradise
AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD
West Germany/Peru/Mexico 1972 C 94 min. NR Drama
Dir: Werner Herzog
C: Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro, Helena Rojo
Director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski began their fruitful series of collaborations with this amazing true story of a Spanish conquistador's hapless search through the jungles of Peru for Eldorado. Like Erich von Stroheim obsessing over the underwear his actors wore, Herzog proved to be a filmmaker with an almost pathological need to imitate reality in his art, driving his cast and crew through hazardous conditions on dangerous locations, as if he were a reincarnation of Aguirre. Kinski gave almost as good as he got, as evidenced in the superb documentary, My Best Fiend, about the two men and their stormy relationship. Aguirre was the breakthrough film for both, establishing Herzog as a leading light of the New German Cinema movement and Kinski as an actor uncommonly gifted at playing obsessives and madmen.
DR1, DR21, DR24
Goes well with: My Best Fiend
Soviet Union 1938 B&W 107 min. NR Drama
Dir: Sergei Eisenstein
C: Nikolai Cherkasov, Nikolai Okhlopov, Alexander Abrikossov
There are battle scenes, and then there's the battle on the ice in Alexander Nevsky. Sergei Eisenstein's epic tale of the thirteenth-century Russian prince who repulsed a Teutonic invasion was commissioned by Joseph Stalin as a not-too-subtle signal to Adolf Hitler that Mother Russia didn't take kindly to invaders of any kind, especially Germans. Making Alexander Nevsky proved to be a good political move for Eisenstein; he was coming off a project in Mexico which, because it had nothing to do with singing the praises of the Soviet Union, hadn't endeared him to Stalin. The film's release was temporarily delayed when Stalin and Hitler agreed to a nonaggression pact, but Eisenstein's film eventually proved to be an exceptionally timely piece of propaganda as well as a lasting work of film art. Nevsky's decisive battle, fought in the winter of 1242, is a set piece that displays Eisenstein's eye for grand and small detail and his matchless sense of editing rhythm. And if the visuals aren't enough, the film also boasts one of the greatest scores ever written, by Sergei Prokofiev.
Goes well with: Ivan the Terrible, Part One
ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER
Spain/France 1999 C 101 min. R Drama
Dir: Pedro Almodóvar
C: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Peredes, Penélope Cruz, Antonia San Juan
A New York Film Critics Circle and Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, All About My Mother was Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's first critical and box office success since his 1988 breakthrough, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. And like that film, it's a paean to the resiliency of women. Cecilia Roth plays a single mom whose teenage son is killed in a traffic accident. She moves to Barcelona to sort things out with the help of an old friend who, like her estranged husband, is a transvestite. Don't rent Mother expecting the wackiness of Women; it's a straight (give or take a few characters) story about acting (on stage and in film) and role-playing (in everyday life). Roth also becomes involved with an aging stage actress whom her late son idolized, and with a pregnant nun, played with unusual demureness by Penélope Cruz. Well, it wouldn't be Almodóvar if the film didn't pile on the subplots.
DVD: Includes "making of" featurette.
DR4, DR11, DR39
Goes well with: Lola Montès
Italy/France 1974 C 127 min. R Comedy-Drama
Dir: Federico Fellini
C: Magali Noel, Bruno Zanin, Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia, Giuseppe Iangiro
Federico Fellini's most ingratiating film, a well-deserving Oscar and New York Film Critics Circle winner, is a series of sketches about his youth in a seaside town in the 1930s. No Fellini picture would be complete without a gallery of grotesques, but here, those faces serve material that is generally lighthearted and playful. An uncle with a predilection for climbing trees and refusing to come down, a buxom tobacconist who inspires adolescent fantasies, an ocean liner that is greeted by a flotilla of townspeople, a peacock that spreads its plumage in the midst of a snowstorm: Amarcord contains more memorable scenes and images than any Fellini movie outside of 81Ž2. Not everything Fellini recalls is sweetness and light, though, as a new fascist regime threatens the town's sense of tranquility and, more important, its tolerance for diverse political opinions.
DVD: Includes restoration demonstration.
DR3, DR11, DR34, DR41
Goes well with: Au Revoir, Les Enfants
France/Germany 2001 C 121 min. R Comedy
Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
C: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Yolande Moreau, Urbain Cancelier, Dominique Pinon, André Dussollier (narrator)
The codirector of the dark fantasies Delicatessen and City of Lost Children turns to the light with this ingenious comedy about a Parisian woman whose rather odd upbringing (detailed in an amusing prologue) has left her acutely aware of the physical world and the needs of people in her Montmartre neighborhood. The film is set in the summer and early fall of 1997. When Amelie learns of the death of Princess Diana, her reaction is to dedicate herself to making the people she sees every day happy, without them learning their benefactor's identity. It sounds like a sappy feel-good story, but that's only half right. Jeunet loves nearly all of his characters, but it's a warts-and-all kind of love. He's clearly fascinated by the way people who live in a community interact, either by chance or choice, and in some cases the two are impossibly intertwined. Of course, Amelie needs to do herself a favor, too, and there is the matter of an attractive young man who holds down two jobs, in a porn shop and an amusement park. This is the kind of film you'll find yourself flashing back on at odd moments, in part because of its rich bounty of visual tricks and allusions and in part because the people in it, beginning with Amelie, are just so darn engaging.
CO9, DR16, DR36
Goes well with: Comfort and Joy
U.S./U.K. 1989 C 100 min. NR Documentary
Dir: Barbara Kopple
If Barbara Kopple hadn't already made the Oscar-winning Harlan County, U.S.A., it would be tempting to call American Dream the great American documentary about labor strife. In fact, Dream won Kopple her second Oscar in a category that has become more notorious in recent years for excluding films (The Thin Blue Line, Hoop Dreams) than for recognizing deserving efforts. American Dream (somehow the title doesn't seem pretentious in Kopple's hands) follows the travails of a group of workers at the Hormel meat plant in Austin, Minnesota, who are battling company hostility to their jobs and hard-earned benefits, as well as strife within their own union. Kopple is clearly on the workers' side, but the film never feels like it's proselytizing. She's a patient observer and her persistence pays in scene after telling scene. American Dream also won three awards at Sundance: the Filmmaker's Trophy, the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize.
Goes well with: Matewan
THE AMERICAN FRIEND
France/West Germany 1977 C 127 min. NR Thriller
Dir: Wim Wenders
C: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gérard Blain, Jean Eustache, Samuel Fuller, Nicholas Ray
Who would guess that Matt Damon and Dennis Hopper might wind up playing the same fictional character? Damon starred as mystery writer Patricia Highsmith's clever con man Tom Ripley in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Hopper plays an older incarnation in this adaptation of Ripley's Game. The story involves a terminally ill picture framer (Bruno Ganz) who agrees to assassinate a mobster at the behest of the well-connected Mr. R, now making his living as an art dealer. Director Wim Wenders seems less interested in narrative than mood, and he has the superb cinematographer Robby Müller on hand to create plenty of the latter. After a while, the film feels like a lesson in Film Noir 101, with cameos by French film director Jean Eustache and American filmmaker icons Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray.
TH9, TH13, XT3
Goes well with: Purple Noon
U.S. 1992 C 113 min. R Drama
Dir: Martin Bell
C: Jeff Bridges, Edward Furlong, Lucinda Jenney
A companion to Streetwise, Martin Bell's 1984 documentary about homeless kids in Seattle, American Heart shares the same setting, focusing on a teenager who's just one slip away from those same mean streets. Edward Furlong plays him, and Heart tells the story of his relationship with his father, just released from prison. Jeff Bridges is all tattoos and swagger as the ex-con; his attitude toward the son he barely knows is a mixture of affection and disdain. The push and pull between the two, one nearly a man and the other trying to learn how to be one, makes for affecting confrontations, and Peter Silverman's script doesn't take any easy outs. Bridges earned a well-deserved Best Male Lead trophy at the Independent Spirit Awards; sadly, Academy voters ignored what is arguably his most commanding and moving performance.
DR11, DR36, DR41
Goes well with: Streetwise
U.S./Canada 2000 C 97 min. R Drama
Dir: Mary Harron
C: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis, Chloë Sevigny
Bret Easton Ellis's 1991 novel about a Wall Street yuppie turned serial killer was a reviled book that also seemed virtually unfilmable, with its detailed descriptions of chainsaw murders and eviscerations. Director and cowriter Mary Harron wisely cut down on the violence and sex and pumped up the volume on the satire of late 1980s greedheads. This is the film, at least in part, that Brian DePalma's woebegone Bonfire of the Vanities wanted to be: a smart send-up of the New York Material Boy ego run rampant. The time frame is ultimately incidental: Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) and his ilk still walk the streets of Manhattan today. Chloë Sevigny (as Patrick's naïve secretary), Reese Witherspoon (as his mud-puddle-deep fiancée), and Samantha Mathis (as his drug-addled mistress) are good in essentially one-note performances, but it's Bale's show all the way, and he delivers, with his reptilian eyes and buffed bod and snarky voice. The funniest scene of a surprisingly funny movie: the war of the business cards.
DVD: Two editions, R-rated and unrated. Both contain "making of" featurette and interview with Christian Bale.
DR6, DR20, DR29, TH3, TH15
Goes well with: Pi
Mexico 2000 C 153 min. R Drama
Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu
C: Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo, Álvaro Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche
The only film whose disclaimer about animal mistreatment comes in the opening credits, Amores Perros earns that warning in the very first scene, a harrowing illegal dog fight in Mexico City. Amores Perros is translated as Love's a Bitch, a clever pun given that dogs are a common denominator among its three linked stories. Writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu have fashioned an engrossing and moving story of lost urban souls. Octavio (Gael García Bernal) is a young layabout who uses his brother's tough dog to gain access to the world of illegal fighting; he thinks the money he earns will help him woo his neglected sister-in-law, Susana (Vanessa Bauche). In the middle story, Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), a successful editor, deserts his wife and children for a young model, Valeria (Goya Toledo), but a horrific traffic accident and the disappearance of her small, beloved dog nearly prove to be deal breakers on their new relationship. The third and strongest story concerns El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), a street person with a pack of stray dogs and a mysterious past. He's seen as a background character in the other two stories, but Amores Perros saves its best writing and direction to flesh out his story in the film's concluding half hour. As details of El Chivo's past are revealed, the film surges strongly toward a hopeful conclusion.
DVD: Includes "making of" featurette; music video; audio commentary.
DR6, DR36, XT4
Goes well with: Los Olvidados
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
U.K. 1971 C 89 min. PG Comedy
Dir: Ian McNaughton
C: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Anyone reading this book who is not familiar with Monty Python's Flying Circus: This is your wake-up call for being oblivious to British comedy of the last thirty years. This collection of Python sketches, featuring the inimitable Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, is an essential document for those who would wish to discuss such events as the Upper Class Twit of the Year Race, or the invasion of our fair cities by the evil gang known as Hell's Grannies, or to learn the fine art of trying to return a dead parrot to a pet shop. It should be mentioned, for the record, that Mr. Gilliam, the only American in the group, generally does not appear in the film but contributes splendid and somewhat surreal animated sequences between the sketches.
Goes well with: Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
U.S. 1982 C 80 min. PG Science Fiction
Dir: Aaron Lipstadt
C: Klaus Kinski, Don Opper
Proving that there is life without Werner Herzog (his most frequent and successful director), Klaus Kinski plays a mad scientist in this enjoyable science-fiction fable. It's no accident that Kinski's wild-eyed appearance apes that of Rudolf Klein-Rogge in Fritz Lang's blueprint mad-scientist movie, Metropolis. As in that film, the story involves a creator's relationship with his mechanical android; Dan Opper plays an engineered marvel, Max 404, who resolves to thwart plans to dump him in the recycle bin. There are also sly references to Blade Runner's story of the mechanical man longing for a human life. Any sci-fi film whose budget is so low that it has to borrow sets left over from another film (as Android did, from a big-budget fiasco called Battle Beyond the Stars) better have something on its mind; director Aaron Lipstadt and his writers (Opper and James Reigle) do, and the result is a witty sleeper.
Goes well with: Metropolis
AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE
New Zealand/Australia/U.K. 1990 C 158 min. NR Drama
Dir: Jane Campion
C: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson
New Zealander Janet Frame built a solid reputation, starting with her debut in 1951 at the age of twenty-seven, as one of her country's leading poets and short-story writers. But it is her trio of memoirs, published between 1982 and 1985, by which most Americans know her, thanks to Jane Campion's adaptation. Originally shown in three parts on New Zealand television, the film follows Frame from her impoverished childhood to her beginnings as a writer. The central event of her youth was her confinement for eight years in a mental hospital (where she was treated with shock therapy) after a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia. The gifted Campion could have turned this material into a soppy story of a misunderstood artist, but she chooses to portray Frame as a prickly but hardly impossible young woman. Kerry Fox plays Frame as an adult, and she's mesmerizing, refusing to ingratiate her character to us and yet winning our sympathy. Angel is consistent with Campion's unsentimental view of women outsiders in such films as The Piano and Portrait of a Lady. The Independent Spirit Awards gave it their Best Foreign Film prize.
DR2, DR17, DR29, DR39
Goes well with: My Brilliant Career
ANGELS AND INSECTS
U.S./U.K. 1995 C 116 min. R Drama
Dir: Philip Haas
C: Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patsy Kensit, Jeremy Kemp
The suffocating strictures of Victorian society are on full display in this adaptation of A. S. Byatt's novel Morpho Eugenia. Mark Rylance is a naturalist whose research at the country estate of his patron, a wealthy insect collector, lands him squarely in the sights of Eugenia (Patsy Kensit), the family's spoiled daughter. But as Rylance becomes more involved in his work, Kensit looks elsewhere for sexual comfort. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a poor family relation who assists Rylance in his research and to whom he turns for comfort. Director Philip Haas and his cowriter and wife, Belinda, suggest that their rational man of science might as well have turned to the strange behavior of his fellow humans for study; the film's stylized costumes, created to make people resemble insects, were nominated for an Academy Award. The film was originally made for PBS's American Playhouse series, though
it's more sexually explicit than what you may be used to seeing on
DR5, DR11, DR18, DR24, DR29
Goes well with: Cousin Bette
Netherlands/Belgium/U.K. 1995 C 105 min. R Drama
Dir: Marleen Gorris
C: Willeke van Ammelrooy, Els Dottermans, Jan Decleir, Mil
A ninety-year-old woman looks back on her most unusual life on the day she decides to die. Marleen Gorris's Oscar winner (for Best Foreign Language Film) is about independent women of all types and ages, starting with its lead character. Antonia is widowed by World War II but decides to create an extended family, starting with her daughter, who is determined to have a child of her own, in spite of the fact that she's a lesbian. The story unfolds like something told by Gabriel García Marquez: it's magic realism, Dutch-style, and totally charming. Gorris's next film, in English, was about another woman examining her past, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.
DR11, DR16, DR21, DR39, XT4
Goes well with: Household Saints
India 1956 B&W 108 min. NR Drama
Dir: Satyajit Ray
C: Pinaki Sen Gupta, Smaran Ghosal, Karuna Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Ramani Sen Gupta
The second film in Satyajit Ray's masterful Apu Trilogy (bracketed by Pather Panchali and The World of Apu) takes Apu (Pinaki Sen Gupta) away from home for the first time. The family's struggles with poverty, dramatized in Pather Panchali, are now Apu's struggles to become educated at the university in Calcutta. Working a full-time job with a printer leaves him little time to sleep, but even after he's caught dozing and thrown out of one of his classes, he remains determined to better himself. The film's best sequence is a visit home; when he decides to miss the return train on purpose to spend one more day with his mother (the remarkable Karuna Banerjee), the joy on her face is eloquent beyond words. All three films deal with Apu's ability to weather the emotional storms created by the death of someone close to him; Ray's directorial touch in these scenes is especially skillful. Try, if you can, to see these films in order; they are available for purchase as a boxed set.
DR11, DR31, DR41
Goes well with: The World of Apu
U.K./Argentina 1988 C 124 min. R Drama
Dir: Martin Donovan
C: Colin Firth, Hart Bochner, Dora Bryan
The great Roommate from Hell movie, though Apartment Zero is a lot less gory than most other films in the "From Hell" subgenre. Martin Donovan directed and cowrote this creepy story set in Buenos Aires. A British movie buff (Colin Firth) with a dream job as a movie theater projectionist needs a roomie, and a handsome American (Hart Bochner) seems to fit the bill. Bochner plays off his pretty-boy looks to suggest a man who might literally charm you to death, and Firth's expressions alternate between rapture over and suspicion of his new pal. The movie's loaded with references and allusions to old films, but you don't have to be in on those jokes to get the central one: Be careful what you wish for.
DR19, DR21, DR27
Goes well with: Proof
U.S. 1997 C 134 min. PG-13 Drama
Dir: Robert Duvall
C: Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Miranda Richardson, Billy Bob Thornton, June Carter Cash, Todd Allen, Billy Joe Shaver
A personal project for actor Robert Duvall, who wrote it, directed it, starred in it, and, for all we know, helped with the catering, The Apostle is an honest attempt to deal with issues of faith and redemption. Duvall plays a preacher gone bad, in the American tradition of Henry Ward Beecher and Jimmy Swaggert. On the run from a sticky situation involving his use of a baseball bat on someone's skull, Duvall searches for a new congregation and, more important, a reconciliation with God. The film makes its points in a leisurely kind of way, with director Duvall letting actor Duvall and his colleagues carry on a bit too much at times. Among the supporting cast, the most surprising name may be that of country singer June Carter Cash, unless you know that in the 1950s she lived in New York and took acting lessons. Duvall dominated the 1998 Independent Spirit Awards, walking off with Best Picture, Best Male Lead, and Best Director.
DVD: Includes "making of" featurette and audio commentary
Goes well with: Priest
ASHES AND DIAMONDS
Poland 1958 B&W 105 min. NR Drama
Dir: Andrzej Wajda
C: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzanowska, Adam Pawlikowski
The concluding film in Andrjez Wajda's trilogy of World War II Poland (which began with A Generation and Kanal), Ashes and Diamonds takes place on the final day of the war in a small town. A resistance fighter, played by the charismatic Zbigniew Cybulski, is ordered to assassinate a local Communist Party official. Whose side are you on, the film's characters keep asking each other, and allegiances seem to shift almost by the minute. It's clear that the Russians are ready to replace the Germans as Poland's masters. Is resistance to them futile? Is there no end to this fighting? Cybulski, touted as the Polish James Dean, also has a touch of John Lennon about him-maybe it's those wire-rimmed glasses. Cybulski was killed in a railway accident, and, like Lennon, he died at age forty.
Goes well with: Kanal
AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS
France/West Germany 1987 C 103 min. PG Drama
Dir: Louis Malle
C: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette
As a youth at a Catholic boarding school in Occupied France, future director Louis Malle watched as three Jewish boys were concealed from the Nazis. It was an act of courage that he celebrated forty-some years later in one of his best films. The preadolescent boys in Au Revoir are more fascinated with their new classmates than fearful of the consequences of hiding them, but the film makes it clear how easily some youngsters will let the truth slip out to the wrong person. (As The Sorrow and the Pity demonstrated, collaborators were all too common in France.) Au Revoir isn't good just because it's such a personal work or because its heart is in the right place. Malle understands that overplaying his hand will cheapen the genuine emotion. The film won several Césars, France's equivalent of the Oscar.
DR3, DR28, DR31, DR38, DR41
Goes well with: Europa, Europa
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
Tom Wiener has been writing about films, TV, and popular culture for twenty-five years at publications such as American Film Magazine and Satellite Direct. His previous film guide, The Book of Video Lists, went through five updated editions. He is a book reviewer for USA Today and The Washington Post Book World.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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