Onscreen: Lithgow and Molina Shine; Brosnan and Thompson Return Seeking Wider Audience; Three Films by Cinema Masters in Revival
By: Ellis Nassour
LOVE IS STRANGE: Official selection, 2014 Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals
Times aren’t changing as quickly as some thought in Love Is Strange [Sony Pictures Classics; 98 minutes]. George [Alfred Molina] and Ben [John Lithgow] wake on their special day. At last, after 40 years in a relationship and now in their late 50s to early 60s, they head out of Greenwich Village into a new world o tie the knot.
Oh, happy day; and then…: The Catholic school where George is a beloved music teacher gets wind of the marriage and the principal [John Cullum, in an extended cameo] reluctantly [but on orders from a higher-up] fires him.
Ben attempts to sell his paintings, as George desperately seeks employment. Money is so tight, they sell their co-op, apply for hard-to-come-by subsidized housing, and face life-changing decisions. Ben humbles himself in a move as a much unwanted guest with a nephew, his wife [Marisa Tomei] and their teen son, who, angrily, has to share his room with Ben. George is taken in by two gay NYC policemen who lead a rather ribald social life. George and Ben are not only separated but their world is turned upside down. For every progressive step forward, misery and financial hardship takes them two steps back.
Director Ira Sachs, who married his partner, artist Boris Torres, when same-sex marriage became legal, builds suspense as turmoil mounts and George and Ben hit brick walls. He deftly addresses the bitter sweetness of the deteriorating situation, and makes us care. Lithgow and Molina are masters of their craft and deliver brave, heartbreaking performances as the plot segues from fairy-tale new beginning, past mid-life crises, to an ending that’s far from happy.
THE LOVE PUNCH: Maybe This Time?
In spite of Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson having marvelous onscreen chemistry, some pleasant if not earth-shattering reviews, and a scene-stealing supporting cast [veteran actor Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie, and the stunning French star Louise Bourgoin], when The Love Punch [Ketchup Entertainment/Canal; DVD; 95 minutes; SRP $21], a light-hearted caper rom-com set mostly in Paris and mainly on the French Rivera, opened in cineplexes in April, it tanked. Opening grosses were, sadly, horrendously embarrassing. In a perfect world, it should benefit from rediscovery in its DVD release.
Brosnan and Thompson as Richard and Kate are a squabbling divorced couple. As he sets about retirement to sail around the world, he sells his company to a French conglomerate, who liquidates all assets, which include their life savings, pensions, and the pensions of faithful employees. Donning his Remington Steele and James Bond persona, Richard, abetted by Kate and, eventually, their Brit neighbors [Spall and Imrie], though broke, sets up an elaborate revenge sting borrowing heavily from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief and Dassin’s Topkapi.
To steal it all back, they put their differences aside and hilariously penetrate the privileged world of the egotistical, unscrupulous French businessman, and his fiancée (the spirited Louise Bourgoin in top scene-stealing mode] as they mount a plan to steal the $10-million diamond he’s bestowed as a wedding present.
There’re enough holes to fill a doughnut shop, which adds to the fun; and, of course, in their limited circumstances, there’s no way they could actually pull off a scheme of this magnitude — but throw all concerns out, sit back, relax, and laugh.
The script by director Joel Hopkins is adult and witty and some of the caper heroics are downright LOTF, especially in the pristine comic performance by Bourgoin, a major presence in French cinema in romantic and dramatic roles, who here proves she’s a deft comedienne. Hopefully, her magical screen presence will get Hollywood’s attention.
Rep house, Film Forum, will host three exciting revivals by screen masters, all meticulously restored:
August 29 – September 4, a new restoration of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1971 masterpiece, the acclaimed operatic-like, voluptuously Art Deco-styled political thriller The Conformist [Kino Lorber, Minerva Pictures; 115 minutes], set in Mussolini’s Italy, based on Alberto Moravia’s international best-seller.
It stars Jean-Louis Trintignant [a brilliant and acclaimed portrayal],Dominique Sanda, and Stefania Sandrelli.
Trintignant’s Marcello is a repressed haut bourgeois trying to purge memories of a youthful homosexual episode and murder. In a desperate effort to fit in, he joins the Fascists. As "the reluctant Judas motors to his personal Gethsemane" (the assassination of his leftist mentor), he flashes back through an anthology of aspects of his life: a dance party for the blind, an insane asylum, and wife [Sandrelli] and lover [Sanda] dancing the tango
The Conformist boasts eye-popping production design by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, a dazzling score by Georges Delerue (Contempt, Jules and Jim) and ravishing color cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor).
September 5 – 11, a new restoration of Billy Wilder’s rarely-screened cynical 1978 French/German co-production, the Hollywood-themed box office disappointment, Fedora [Lorimar/Olive Films/Bavaria Media; 114 minutes], adapted by I.A.L. Diamond, Wilder’s long-time collaborator [Some Like it Hot; One, Two, Three], in a return to their earlier noir roots, from Thomas Tryon’s novella Crowned Heads. It boasts a memorable score by Miklós Rózsa. There are slight similarities to Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, which starred Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner; and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner at her most ravishing.
William Holden, as washed-up Hollywood producer "Dutch" Detweiler, and Marthe Keller, as reclusive Polish actress Fedora, a throwback to Garbo and her isolated life after Hollywood stardom, headline an A-List cast: William Holden, Michael York, José Ferrer, Frances Sternhagen, Stephen Collins, and, among others, Hildegard Knef. Told in flashback after the death of Fedora, "Dutch" somehow feels responsible for her death for badgering the mentally-unstable actress to return to the screen in a remake of Anna Karenia. Sternhagen, sensational, and Ferrer eat every bit of scenery, including the isle of Corfu, that isn’t nailed down.
September 12 – 25, in its first complete restoration, Roberto Rossellini’s riveting and raw1945 masterpiece Rome, Open City [Minerva/Excelsa Film], long-considered the watershed of Italian Neo-Realism and based on true events during the Nazi occupation and rabid Gestapo dragnets.
It’s a much-honored film: Grand Prize, Cannes; Oscar-nominated screenplay by Fellini and Sergio Amidel; and the New York Film Critics’ Best Foreign Film. For years, it has been seen only in tattered B&W prints with inadequate subtitles. The cinema landmark receives a long-deserved bottom-to-top restoration.
Amid food rationing, a vigilantly-enforced curfew, and edge-of-the-seat escapes across the rooftops of Rome by Resistance members, pregnant widow Pina [the magnificent Anna Magnani] prepares for her wedding to Francesco [Francesco Grandjacquet] as they are asked to hide another Resistance member as the city is caught up in intrigue, betrayals, and lethal ambushes. It was shot on the streets of Rome, cast mainly with non-actors, and is controversial for its hair-raising violence.
Magnani, already a star, but known for comedy, stunned critics with her electrifying performance, also based on true incidents. The role led to her breakout to international stardom.
For schedules and more information, visit www.filmforum.org.
On September 8, there’ll be a rare screening of interest to filmmakers and devoted moviegoers: Volker Schlöndorff’s three-hour, intensely-personal documentary Billy, How Did You Do It? at 7:45 with an introduction by the writer/director about his two weeks of video-taped conversation in 1988 with Wilder conducted in English and German. The title is a reference to prominently-displayed sign in Wilder’s office, which read "How Would Lubitsch Have Done It?" Wilder forbade showings during his life.