by Matt Prigge
Asian Arts Initiative
Stiteler Hall, Room B-6, University of Pennsylvania, 208 S. 37 St.
JANG AUIR AMAN (2001): Controversial doc filmmaker Anand Patwardhan's latest will be given a one-time screening, showcasing his political chops vis-à-vis a three-hour exploration of India-Pakistan anti-nuclear activism and all its many facets (nationalism, oppression, religion, all that). The post-film discussion will be led by Penn State professor Amitava Kumar, who himself has lent a hand in the making of political documentaries. (Not reviewed.)
Tues., April 16, 5pm.
Chestnut Hill Film Group
Chestnut Hill Branch of the Free Library,
8711 Germantown Ave.
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) (Shown on film): That's South Street New York, by the way (though it was shot in Los Angeles--is that confusing?), where pickpocket Richard Widmark swipes the wallet of Jean Peters only to discover it contains a piece of top-secret microfilm wanted by the FBI and evil Commies. When people talk film noir, it's invariably the films of Sam Fuller they're talking about, particularly this early success of his--it's the perfect fusion of moody black and white photography, complicated plots, double entendre, subtexts on things like McCarthyism and nuclear war and just plain all-out meanness. (Watch as Widmark drags Richard Kiley's face down a flight of stairs, his chin hitting every step.) Once passed off as mere entertainment, Pickup has since been the subject of one of those reevaluations from people like the dudes in Cahiers du Cinema, pointing out the mathematical precision with which Fuller crafts a blunt, hard-edged machine out of what was an innocent studio quickie. Oh, and it has Thelma Ritter--that's always a plus. A
Tues., April 16, 7:30pm.
227 Bridge St., Phoenixville.
RIFF RAFF (1993): Robert Carlyle is in nice-guy mode (with the occasional head-butting and screaming) in Ken Loach's shaggy-dog tale of a wastrel who lands a job at a London construction site and gets a manic-depressive singer girlfriend around the same time. Shot in a documentary style that means the accents are so thick, American copies usually feature irritating subtitles, Loach's film has that slice-of-life vibe going for it--every actor gives their all, creating fully memorable characters. Being that Loach is hardly coy about his socialist leanings, Riff Raff is fanatically pro-union, though Loach wasn't able to fully work that in (which is a good thing for the film). He's too interested in merely observing wild characters as they yammer, goof off and occasionally lapse into talk of hard helmets being pretty useless if you fall from a broken scaffolding three stories up. Irresistibly working-class British, his film does falter at the end as he tries to wrap both the human and political stories up. But luckily not before he's wooed the shite out of you. B+
Sun., April 14, 2pm.
20 E. State St., Doylestown.
2002 BLACK MARIA FILM FESTIVAL: The annual smorgasbord of five- to 10-minute shorts returns, keeping you up to date on what's going on in the world of animation, experimental and documentaries. Mon., April 15, 7pm.
BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1955) (Shown on film): Screening just in time for it to be re-released on Criterion DVD, this early caper classic from Le Samourai director Jean-Pierre Melville sounds reminiscent of Ocean's Eleven, but given its reputation, will be closer in style to the remake. (Not reviewed.)
Wed., April 17, 4:15 and 9:15pm.
Cultural Film and Lecture Series
Villanova University, Connelly Center Cinema.
BUTTERFLY (1999): Butterfly is a piece of Euro-fluff which, like Life is Beautiful, captures the devastating effects of fascism on run-of-the-mill peopl. José Luis Cuerda's lyrical film focuses on the period between the formation of the Spanish republic and the Spanish Civil War, concentrating on the coming-of-age story of a young boy starting school. Precocious and far too smart for his grade, he befriends an aging teacher who, like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, is a rebel ready to be destroyed. Their relationship is naggingly ordinary: the sensitive boy (whom we know is sensitive because he's asthmatic) is taught the beauty of nature, that butterflies have tongues and that girls are really nothing be afraid of. In fact, so much of this film is steeped in the ordinary that when the changing of the guards finally does happen, it's barely been set up and offers nothing but a twist ending that's cheap, false and predictable. Miramax, naturally, distributed Butterfly in the States. Remember when that was a good thing? C
Sat., April 13, 7pm; Sun., April 14, 3:30 and 7pm; Mon., April 15, 7pm.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th St. and the Pkwy.
THE BAND WAGON (1953): There are those who consider this the absolute apex of movie musicals. If y'all say so. (And Singin' in the Rain even came out the same year.) Even if it isn't the absolute best, it is one of the better ones--with great musical sequences combined with better than usual filler. In that department, scribes Adolph Green and Betty Comden devised an eerily autobiographical story, with Fred Astaire playing a semi-washed-up Fred Astaire type who joins a comeback show. The show winds up being sabotaged by a pretentious director (Jack Buchanan) who wants to make it a modernization of Faust. A bit on the sloppy side for all the hoopla--by-the-numbers love story; last half-hour ditches the story altogether; high art vs. low art debate a little too cut-and-dry--but that could be me being too picky. B+
Wed., April 10, 7:10pm.
North Conference Room, Campus Center,
Third St. between Cooper Street and the Ben Franklin Bridge.
BURNT BY THE SUN (1994): Like a lazy day in Stalinist Russia that eventually ends in death, Nikita Mikhalkov's Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner takes a Kafkaesque premise and presents it as though channeling the spirit of Chekhov. Rambling, but amiably so, it spends a good hour and 45 minutes with nothing more than a vast family having a grand old time, milling about the house and the beach as though nothing could possibly go wrong. (Even his assassin, an ex-lover of the condemned's wife, gets quickly swept up in it all.) Ancient secrets are revealed, confessions of love are uttered and people play Liszt uproariously--all very Cherry Orchard. Though it has a numbing quality to it--it has been charged as inspiring naptime until the inevitable twisted conclusion--those who get into the rambling activities of people who are really joyful will feel violated and disturbed by the final half-hour. B+
Thurs., April 11, 3pm.
Olin Auditorium, Collegeville.
SILENCES OF THE PALACE (1994): Winner of the Camera d'Or at the '94 Cannes Film Festival, this Tunisian film from Moufida Tlati explores the suppression of a lowly servant girl who longs to take advantage of the only way to get out of the palace: by marriage. (Not reviewed.)
Mon., April 15, 7:30pm.