Home Video Releases for December 1999
Nitrate Online explores a sampling of the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of December. Titles are followed by original country and year of release, as well as release date (if known). Street dates change constantly and often differ from format to format, so check with your favorite online or brick-and-mortar supplier for up-to-date information.
Beyond the A-list:
(Post-coitum, animal triste, France, 1997, 97
American art-house audiences may remember this raw, immediate feature as Post Coitum, the abbreviated release title of the full French moniker, which was Post coitum, animal triste (literally, “after sex, animal sadness”). It is directed by and stars Brigitte Rouan as Diane, a 40-something French book editor who has a tempestuous (for her, anyway) affair with a hydraulic engineer some 20 years her junior. Rouan’s raw, courageous performance -- animal sadness indeed -- is undercut somewhat by an interesting but oblique narrative approach that often plays more like a sketch for a movie than an actual film. An actor named Patrick Chesnais shines as the cuckolded husband, leavening Diane’s inexplicably intense swings of mood and motivation with a grief that is at once recognizable and heart-rending.
Brothers Quay Collection (UK, 1984-1993, 104
minutes)/Institute Benjamenta (UK, 1995, 101 minutes)
The tape package for this collection promises “ten astonishing short films,” and they’re not kidding. Complex, often impenetrable and utterly fascinating, these meticulously created stop-motion flights of fancy were created by Timothy and Stephen Quay, reclusive identical twins who draw upon the strong Eastern European influences of their rural Pennsylvania upbringing to lure the viewer into bizarre and unforgettable works composed entirely in Koninck, their London studio. The collection includes their most famous works, The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (the Czech animator is perhaps their most important influence) and the astonishing Street of Crocodiles, as well as two music video collaborations with His Name is Alive (the Quays apprenticed in advertising and contributed to Peter Gabriel’s legendary “Sledgehammer” video). No less fascinating but a good deal more challenging is their 1995 feature Institute Benjamenta, an atmospheric meditation on servitude and fairytales with the quite logical secondary title “This Dream People Call Human Life.” Once experienced, the work of the Brothers Quay can never be forgotten -- or explained.
Carpati: 50 Miles, 50
Years (USA, 1996, 80
Leonard Nimoy narrates this shot-on-video documentary about
the Carpathian Jews of the Ukraine, a culture so buffeted by the cruel politics
of history that one Zev Godinger, the industrious tour guide of the film, is
able to say “I had my bris in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, my bar mitzvah in
Czechoslovakia, my divorce in the Soviet Union and I’ll be buried in the
Ukraine, but I’ve never left my hometown.” Filmmaker/musician Yale Strom
(who made a vibrant music documentary called The Last Klezmer) and
co-producer David Notowitz have once again captured the unextinguishable spirit
of a people and culture which survives against overwhelmingly poor odds and
faces an uncertain future with faith, humor and spirit.
Chambermaid on the Titanic (France,
1997, 96 minutes)
Trained as a graphic artist, the improbably named but erotically mischievous Barcelona-born director J.J. Bigas Luna is responsible for some of the steamiest and most inventive films of the 1990s, including the 1992 film Jamon, Jamon and the beguilingly sexy 1994 saga The Tit and the Moon. This 1997 French-Spanish-Italian coproduction, while less sexually graphic than his previous films, is no less inventive. When a French foundry worker wins a trip to watch the megaliner embark on its maiden voyage, he has a brief liaison with the domestic worker of the title that, through inventive storytelling, snowballs into an intense melodramatic fling worthy of, well, any of Luna’s previous films. Aitana Sanchez Gijon, who played opposite Keanu Reeves in A Walk in the Clouds, is lustily sensuous as the title character (the chambermaid, not the boat), and Oliver Martinez is marginally better in the male lead than he was in the curiously static The Horseman on the Roof. Cleverly yet quietly spoofing that other movie about the doomed ship’s fateful maiden voyage (in fact, the movies were in production at about the same time), The Chambermaid on the Titanic is a cleverly written and satisfying film and a splendid introduction to the work of Bigas Luna.
The Crazy Stranger (Gadjo Dilo, 1997, 97 minutes)
Exuberantly earthy, The Crazy Stranger follows the journey of a young Parisian in search of a gypsy singer somewhere in Romania. The further he goes, the more exposed he becomes to the often harsh contradictions of the gypsy lifestyle. This is familiar ground for Algerian-born Tony Gatlif, who explored the Romany experience in 1993’s Latcho Drom (“safe journey”) and 1996’s Mondo. Poor and shunned, gypsies also have a colorful, devil-may-care approach to life that is abundantly evident in their music, dance, and copious alcohol consumption. Since they’re also by nature transient and unpredictable, Gatlif’s logical approach is to employ a semi-documentary style that suits the material perfectly and allows him to film celebrations of extraordinary beauty and vigor alongside gritty and emotional passages of criminal aggression. That’s just the way it is, he says, and this veracity gives The Crazy Stranger a refreshing immediacy.
Joan the Maid: The
Battles/The Prisons (Jeanne la Pucelle,
France, 1994, 228 minutes)
In a career full of little-seen but formidable
masterpieces, Facets Video’s release of Jacques Rivette’s first film after
the American art-house success La Belle Noiseuse is shrewdly timed to not
only enhance the career of this magisterial filmmaker but refute Luc Besson’s
MTV maid The Messenger at the same time. Distilled from its orginal six
hours, the two films which comprise Joan the Maid tell in meticulous detail the
journey of Joan from rural maid to reluctant martyr by focusing on the spaces
between the familiar events of the story. Thus, this Joan is vulnerable, human,
headstrong and, finally, empathetic in a way, say, Preminger’s never was. And
Facets’ two-tape set is technically stunning, with William Lubtchansky’s
crisp photography preserved in a gorgeous letterboxed transfer and Florian
Eidenbenz’ rich sound palette preserved with admirable fidelity. The tapes are
available individually or as a stylish boxed set.
Rose Hotel (USA, 1999, 93 minutes)
On-again, off-again genre director Abel Ferrara is off again with this typically lurid and annoyingly fragmented adaptation of cyberpunk godfather William Gibson’s short story about high-tech corporate intrigue in the near future. The cast is led by Christopher Walken and his peculiar brand of joyous dissolution, with a curiously subdued Willem Dafoe and cult Italian director Dario Argento’s daughter Asia as another in a series of aloof hookers who seem to be so essential to what Ferrara is doing these days (question: how could the same guy have made the frighteningly provocative Bad Lieutenant and the excruciatingly awful Blackout? Answer? Who the heck knows?). Music fans can also see Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto (The Last Emperor) and lounge lizard-turned-fishing-show host John Lurie in support. Fittingly, New Rose Hotel hardly played at all outside New York City, where recently departed and soon-to-be-sorely missed New York Times film critic Janet Maslin advised her readers that the film includes “profanity, nudity, sex, violence and decadent situations. It couldn’t exist without them.” Sadly, it seems Ferrara can’t do without these things either.
Disaster in the Atlantic (UK, 1929, 90 minutes)/The
Titanic Chronicles (UK, 1999, 55 minutes)
If The Chambermaid and the Titanic whets your
appetite all over again for all things Titanic (or if you never quite got around
to reading up on the true story of the luxury liner’s short life), this
two-tape box set (it’s also available on DVD) is a good place to start. Tape
one features director E.A. Dupont’s 1929 British film about the sinking, a
creaky drama that rises above cliché in a riveting final act. The Titanic
Chronicles uses photographs and clippings to recreate the U.S. Senate
hearings into the disaster, with such actors as Tim Curry, Marilu Henner and
Cloris Leachman reading from quotes and transcripts. Even a few veterans of
James Cameron’s blockbuster get into the act, as Eric Braeden essays dastardly
boat owner J. Bruce Ismay and Oscar-nominated Gloria Stuart reads from the
reminiscences of survivor Helen Bishop. Both tapes are introduced by David
McCallum, who shot to fame as Illya Kuryakin on the television show “The Man
from U.N.C.L.E.” but also played plucky telegraph operator Harold S. Bride in
the 1958 British film A Night to Remember -- which is, of course, about
the sinking of the Titanic.
Faso/Switzerland/France, 1989, 90 minutes)
New Yorker Films is to be commended for making director Idrissa Oudraogo’s landmark 1989 film available to the public. In the language of Moorea “Yaaba” means grandmother, and this elegant, beautiful film explores the growing friendship between Bila, a young village boy, and Sana, an elder who has been banished under suspicion of being a witch. Based in part on the director’s memories of his own childhood, Yaaba has an epic sweep that is nicely balanced with the universal quirks of rural life and the details of Bila’s life. The film won the Gold Award at the 1989 Tokyo Film Festival. Subsequently, Oudraogo directed Tilai (1990), Samba Traore (1993), and the dryly funny Kini & Adams (1997).
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