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The Artist, Shame, New Year’s Eve, Eye of the Storm, a new Herzog and an old Godard

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THE EYE OF THE STORM: We’re promised real wisdom about what happens when a parent dies and also a savage exploration of  family dynamics. What we get falls quite a bit short of that, more in the category of “haven’t we seen this before?” or “wouldn’t the Danes have made it more disturbing?”

This is from Australia, directed by Fred Schepisi and drawn from a novel by Nobel Prize winner Patrick White. An imperious matriarch (Charlotte Rampling) is on her deathbed; tended to by two nurses and a housekeeper and visited by two grown children more concerned with their inheritance than comforting mom in her last days. Her son (Geoffrey Rush) is back from London where he’s a stage actor. Mom bursts his pretensions by recalling the disastrous reviews he got for his King Lear. She also doubts whether her daughter (Judy Davis), now divorced from a French prince, can still call herself a princess.

Recriminations, disappointments and a shocking history all come out in the increasingly caustic dialogue and a series of flashbacks. The acting is excellent, but a few unintentionally funny elements, including a German housemaid who survived the Nazis and flamboyantly bursts into a cabaret song wearing a sequined dress, puncture the mood. (International Village) 3 out of 5

HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA: Most recently Werner Herzog introduced us to some “professional dreamers” in the Antarctic and let us study some ancient cave paintings in France. Now he takes us to a tiny village in Siberia and out into the wild with a couple of trappers. They’re the “happy people” because they’re truly free, with no phones, no taxes, subject only “to their individual values”. (And the rising cost of running their snowmobile).

“The enormity of solitude sets in,” says Herzog in his typically dramatic narration as the film follows them into the taiga. We see them at work through four seasons, making their own traps, fashioning skis out of freshly-cut wood, building and stocking a circuit of supply cabins and even carving out a dugout canoe. In voiceover translation, we hear them explain everything they’re doing. It’s a crisp 94 minutes culled from 4 ½ hours shot by  Russian filmmaker Dmitry Vasyukov and a fascinating glimpse into an ancient way of life. To justify their trapping, one says: “We are all killers or accomplices. Even those who have bleeding hearts and pity everything.”  (VanCity Theatre 3 ½ out of 5)

Check the theatre’s website (http://www.viff.org/theatre/ ) because the accompanying film varies. On two days it’s Herzog’s Antarctica film; on another it’s his Grizzly Man, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday it’s Akira Kurosawa’s great epic of wilderness survival, Dersu Uzala.

WEEKEND: Now that the Pacific Cinematheque has finished its European film fest, it’s showing two French classics in sparkling new 35mm prints. With 1968’sThe Bride Wore Black, François Truffaut makes like Hitchcock in a stylish revenge tale starring Jean Moreau. I haven’t seen that one, but I did see Weekend by Jean-Luc Godard years ago. I thought this strike at modern consumerism and capitalism was so overwrought that it was absurd.

 

Watching it again now, I still think it’s overwrought. Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne play a self-absorbed couple driving to visit his dying father (and make sure he dies so that they can get their inheritance). The road is littered with one bloody traffic accident after another. One causes a lengthy traffic jam that makes for a justifiably famous sequence in this film. Our protagonists don’t wait. They push on and drive by. They get into fights with other motorists. She’s raped; he doesn’t notice. They’re both captured by Maoist guerrillas. A figure from the French revolution lectures us on freedom and democracy and Emily Bronte is set on fire. It’s imagination run amok and firing at too many targets. Today it’s more interesting to watch it for Godard’s technique and use of symbols than as a satire of society or radical politics. (Pacific Cinematheque) 3 out of 5

Also now playing … 

THE SITTER: No local previews. That can’t be good. Even the story is recycled. Jonah Hill plays a suspended college student who takes on a job babysitting three difficult and foul-mouthed kids next door. He wants to get to a party to hook up with his girlfriend so he takes the kids along. A wild night ensues, including a pursuit by a drug dealer who’s owed money. Sounds a bit similar to but far less charming than Elizabeth Shue’s Adventures in Babysitting. (Oakridge, International Village and suburban theatres)

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