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La Bete Humaine

Jean Renoir’s generous sensibility seems at odds with the sterile determinism of the Zola novel on which this 1938 film was based. Jean Gabin is an epileptic train engineer drawn to the stationmaster’s young wife (Simone Simon). The couple murders a man who tried to seduce her; Gabin witnesses the killing and begins an ambiguous […]

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Les biches

Claude Chabrol’s humor and irony aren’t much in evidence in this 1968 work, his first “art film” after five years of genre work. The title (less racy in translation—“The Does”) refers to Stephane Audran and Jacqueline Sassard, two women living out an enigmatic relationship in the south of France. Sex enters with the appearance of […]

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Romancing the Stone

Director Robert Zemeckis displays such dazzling cinematic know-how that it’s genuinely depressing when this 1984 film falls off into the usual self-ridicule. It sometimes seems that the main task of filmmakers in the 80s was to placate the smart-asses in the audience; Zemeckis wins them over through a plot (romance novelist stumbles into an adventure […]

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Glen or Glenda?

Ever since screenwriter David Newman wrote it up for a Film Comment article on his “Guilty Pleasures,” this grungy exploitation film from 1953 has been a staple of the underground screening circuits. The director, Edward D. Wood, was himself a transvestite (he boasted of wearing women’s underwear throughout his hitch in World War II), and […]

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Spoiled Children

Bertrand Tavernier’s 1977 film plays off the traditions of the French Popular Front cinema of the 30s; it’s a simply told, optimistic story of a group of high-rise tenants who come together to fight an exploitative landlord. Michel Piccoli plays Bernard, a film director who seems to have made many of Tavernier’s own films; he […]

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Romeo and Juliet

Franco Zeffirelli’s athletic production of Shakespeare’s love story stars Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, with Michael York as Tybalt. Garish and goopy—a kind of West Side Story reworked into its original form—with narration by Laurence Olivier (1968).

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Lumiere

Jeanne Moreau is the director, star, and, more or less, subject of this story about an actress and her circle of friends, all trying to cope with the problems of celebrity, feminism, and romance. Despite a murky narrative, it’s an interesting exercise in egoism (Moreau’s main influence seems to be Jerry Lewis), while for a […]

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The Stranger

Luchino Visconti stifles his operatic voice and prostrates himself before the altar of Camus. The result is a totally schematic vulgarization of Camus’ philosophical treatise in novel form. It’s not Visconti’s “fault” exactly, nor is it the fault of Marcello Mastroianni as Meursault. But Camus’ desperate either/or existentialism is perhaps better left not visualized.

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Beau Pere

A variant on the Lolita myth by Bertrand Blier (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs), with Patrick Dewaere as a philosophical nightclub pianist who finds himself with an amorous 14-year-old (Ariel Besse) on his hands. Though the film has a disturbing tendency to lay all the sexual aggression off on the girl (thus taking the male off […]

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Passion

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1982 film is centered on a Godard-like director (played by Jerzy Radziwilowicz, the Polish star of Man of Iron) who divides his time between re-creating classical painting for a movie he is making and contradictory love affairs with Hanna Schygulla (the wife of a factory owner) and Isabelle Huppert (a virginal proletarian). The […]

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The Bounty

Roger Donaldson’s film of the classic tale of discipline and revolt in the British navy (1984) is far better than its predecessors, despite the dim wattage of Anthony Hopkins (as Captain Bligh) and Mel Gibson (as Mister Christian). Robert Bolt’s screenplay was originally prepared for David Lean, and it contains a lot of Bolt-ish/Lean-ish disquisition […]

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Valentino

A strangely warm-hearted Ken Russell movie, portraying the silent star (played by Rudolf Nureyev) as a man of dignity and charm—if not a whole lot of smarts—beset by baroque horrors of the sort that could only arise in a Ken Russell vision of Hollywood. Russell’s supercamp sensibility is not for all tastes, but this is […]