Jodorowsky Makes Triumphant Return to the Silver Screen

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Also See: ‘Ida’ and 'Young & Beautiful', 'The Grand Seduction' and Repertory Notes


film.reviews.reality.story
Photo: Pascale Montandon-Jodorosky
Chilean-French writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky examines his troubled but colorful childhood in "The Dance of Reality."

As renowned Chilean-French writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky's first film since 1990's "The Rainbow Thief," unreleased in the United States, the American premiere of "The Dance of Reality" was one of the most eagerly anticipated screenings at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

Jodorowsky — whose reputation was built by surrealist cult classics such as "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain" — is one of those directors with an outsize reputation despite having made very few films; "The Dance of Reality" is only his seventh completed feature. He's also famous for films he didn't make, such as his failed attempt in the 1970s at adapting Frank Herbert's epic "Dune," the top-selling science-fiction novel of all time, as chronicled in the recently released documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune." Going beyond the tradition of Latin American magic realism, Jodorowsky's work is frequently compared to that of the Italian auteur Federico Fellini, especially his later, more surrealist films.

In the autobiographical "The Dance of Reality," Jodorowsky, now 85, delves into his Chilean roots and the tough childhood he suffered. Nominally, that is not an uncommon storyline, but in Jodorowsky's hands, the result is just as outrageously surrealist as his legendary body of work. It's sure to please his long-time fans. For viewers unaccustomed to his work, Jodorowsky might admittedly be a bit of an acquired taste. "The Dance of Reality" goes beyond the norm with a palette of bright colors, crazy costumes, copious nudity, a dwarf and a mother who only sings her lines in opera. Though certainly dark in subject matter, the film offers idiosyncratic notes of positivity.

"The Dance of Reality" is shot on location in Tocopilla, the small town on the coast of Chile where Jodorowsky was born to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. Jodorowsky's angry father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky), a former circus performer, is an idealistic if ineffective communist who attempts to assassinate a powerful, wealthy general. To counter the anti-Semitism they face, Jaime is domineering to his son, Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits playing the boy), in an attempt to make them both seem manlier. Jaime forces the lad to cut his long blond hair and suffer through dental work without anesthesia. In contrast, his buxom mother Sara (Pamela Flores) dotes on her boy, whom she believes to be her late father's reincarnation, to the point of being overly protective.

"The Dance of Reality"
("La Danza de la Realidad")
(Spanish with subtitles; 129 min.)
Landmark's E Street Cinema

4 out of 5 stars


Startling 'Ida'

film.reviews.ida.story
Photo: Music Box Films
Agata Trzebuchowska makes a powerful screen debut as a young Polish woman discovering her roots in "Ida."

British writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski ("Last Resort," "My Summer of Love"), who was born in Poland, makes a film set in his native country for the first time with "Ida," a startling work that is one of the finest films of the year.

In 1962, 18-year-old novice Anna (newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska in an amazing introduction to the silver screen) has led a sheltered existence in an isolated Polish convent that is the only home she's ever known after being orphaned as an infant. Before she takes her vows to become a nun, her superiors tell her that she must visit her only living relative, her late mother's sister Wanda (veteran Agata Kulesza), who's refused contact with her niece. Reluctantly, Anna travels to the town where Aunt Wanda lives.

Wanda, who's quite worldly, reveals that she and Anna, whose birth name is Ida, are Jewish. Wanda is amused by the notion of her Jewish niece as a Catholic nun. At first dismissive of her niece, Wanda eventually agrees to help her naïve, inexperienced niece find her parents' gravesite. Though not easy, the quest is aided by Wanda's background as a famously tough prosecutor, known for her success obtaining death sentences for convicted enemies of the communist state, including Catholic priests. The journey transforms both family members as they get to know each other, dig deep into their pasts, and confront their identities, affecting the path each takes forever.

"Ida" succeeds as a formally structured film in which Pawlikowski's streamlined, precise direction moves the action along efficiently without the movie seeming too stagy. Crisp black-and-white cinematography, crafted from carefully composed shots, create a haunting, otherworldly mise-en-scène. The spare screenplay, well written by Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, straightforwardly lays out the plot — brought to life by fine performances from the two lead actresses, Trzebuchowska and Kulesza.

"Ida"
(Polish with subtitles; 80 min.)
Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema

5 out of 5 stars


Matter-of-Fact Prostitution

film.reviews.young.story
Photo: The Independent Film Channel LLCs
French model-turned-actress Marine Vacth casually becomes a call girl in François Ozon's "Young & Beautiful."

At only 47 years old, prolific French writer-director François Ozon has developed a diverse body of work spanning multiple genres ("Swimming Pool," "8 Women," "Potiche"). His latest feature to be released, "Young & Beautiful," takes the viewpoint of a very attractive 17-year-old French girl, but this is not the usual coming-of-age story. In a controversial twist, our young heroine Isabelle delves into prostitution, for no particularly apparent reason.

Comparisons are inevitable with Spanish auteur Luis Buñuel's 1967 French classic, "Belle de Jour," in which Catherine Deneuve, famous for her mysterious, distant characters, plays a young prostitute. Ozon's seemingly effortless direction is unnoticeable, which means it does not get in the way of the story being told in a matter-of-fact manner, based on his intelligent screenplay. In actuality, the director deserves much credit for extracting honest performances out of his cast, particularly the younger, less experienced actors.

Luminous French model-turned-actress Marine Vacth, who was nominated for a French César Award for Most Promising Actress, has a star-making turn in her first lead role as aloof Isabelle. The camera loves Vacth, which is a very good thing since she is on screen in nearly the entire film. For playing Isabelle's mother Sylvie, Géraldine Pailhas was also nominated for a César Award for Most Promising Actress. The rest of the cast provides solid supporting performances.

"Young & Beautiful" is structured into four parts, with a soundtrack of a different pop song following a season of the year in the life of Isabelle, beginning with her 17th birthday when she is on summer holiday with her family, including her mother, stepfather Patrick (Frédéric Pierrot) and younger brother Victor (Fantin Ravat), with whom she shares an unusually open relationship. She chooses to let a handsome German boy take her virginity, but does not really have any interest in him after the deed is done. Back in the city, we see Isabelle resume her life as a high school student.

Outside of academics, she picks up an extracurricular activity as an online call girl, which has its ups and downs while she figures out the ropes. Why? That's the million-dollar question. She doesn't do it because she needs the money or affection, as her family provides ample support in both categories. It seems to be a part of her sexual awakening and exploration, certainly an unusual choice, but Ozon does not pass judgment, leaving that up to other characters and the viewers.

"Young & Beautiful"
"Jeune & Jolie"
(French and German with subtitles; 94 min.)
Landmark's E Street Cinema
Opens Fri., June 20

4.5 out of 5 stars

Predictable 'Seduction'

film.reviews.seduction.story
Photo: Duncan de Young / Max Films
Canadian heartthrob Taylor Kitsch plays a doctor who becomes a small town's last hope for survival in "The Great Seduction."

With "The Grand Seduction," Canadian director Don McKellar ("Last Night," "Blindness") finally succeeds in completing a long-running project and delivers a gentle, crowd-pleasing comedy.

The plot is rather predictable and relies on a bunch of stock characters. Nonetheless, the movie succeeds in giving audiences what they want, which is a bunch of laughs, even if they know they are being manipulated as bluntly as Dr. Paul Lewis, the target of "The Grand Seduction" on screen.

Canadian heartthrob Taylor Kitsch is expectedly appealing as Dr. Lewis, while Irish star Brendan Gleeson dominates the proceedings as Murray French, a regular guy determined to save his hometown from extinction. Kitsch and Gleeson are backed by a strong ensemble cast that brings to life the multiple characters, including lovable eccentrics, inhabiting the story's world. Liane Balaban shines in the small role of a postmistress who acts as a love interest for the visiting doctor.

The plot starts out in a dark and despondent place. Tickle Cove is a tiny harbor in rural Canada long past its prime. Nearly everybody is unemployed, the community survives on the dole, and town meetings are scarcely attended. Murray's wife moves to the mainland to take a job. Even the mayor gives up and skips town with his family, under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night.

Out of desperation, Murray takes over as acting mayor and executes a long-shot plan to lure a factory to Tickle Cove, the dying town's last hope. The international petrochemical corporation looking to place the factory requires the presence of a resident town doctor. Unusual circumstances compel Dr. Lewis, a plastic surgeon, to come to town on a temporary tour of duty. Murray and his fellow citizens in Tickle Cove scheme to trick Dr. Lewis into making his stay permanent so the town can land the factory contract, bringing the saving grace of plentiful jobs to revitalize Tickle Cove's economy.

 "The Grand Seduction"
(English; 115 min.)
Theater TBA
Opens Fri., June 13

3.5 out of 5 stars


Repertory Notes


EuroAsiaShorts

The annual festival "EuroAsia Shorts 2014: Travel & Journeys" presents the following programs: "China-Germany" (Mon., June 2, 6:30 p.m.) at the Goethe-Institut; "Korea-Italy" (Tue., June 3, 6:30 p.m.) at the Korean Embassy's KORUS House; "Japan-Spain" (Wed., June 4, 6:30 p.m.) at the Japan Information and Culture Center; "France-Vietnam" (Thu., June 5, 6:30 p.m.) at the Alliance Francaise; and "All Countries" (Fri., June 6, 6:30 p.m.) at the Italian Embassy.

http://awoj15.wix.com/euroasia-shorts
www.goethe.de/ins/us/was/ver/en12564475v.htm

Goethe-Institute

The series "Film|Neu Presents" (through July 7) continues with the best of new films in the German language..

(202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/ins/us/was/ver/enindex.htm

Freer Gallery of Art

The "Asia After Dark: Bollywood and Beyond" program screens Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bollywood musical "Ram-Leela" (Sun., June 8, 2 p.m.).

In conjunction with the National Museum of African Art, the series "China and Kenya on Film" presents "Nairobi Half Life" (Fri., June 27, 7 p.m.) and "Beijing Bicycle" (Sun., June 29, 2 p.m.).

The series "Here Comes the Night: Cinema Nocturnes" feature films exploring cities at night as part of the Sackler exhibitions "Kiyochika: Master of the Night" and "An American in London: Whistler and the Thames."

(202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre

The 2014 DC Labor FilmFest (through June 23) includes British director Julian Jarrold's "Kinky Boots" (Mon., June 2, 7:30 p.m.) and British director Stephen Daldry's "Billy Elliott" (Mon., June 16, 7:30 p.m.).

The retrospective "Independent Reality: The Films of Jan Němec" continues through June 29, reviewing work by the rarely seen Czech New Wave filmmaker.

The series "Studio Ghibli Encore" (through July 2) presents more classic anime films. The retrospective "Charlie Chaplin: The Tramp Turns 100" (through June 29) commemorates the 100th birthday of the beloved British filmmaker-actor. The series "Shakespeare Cinema, Part I" (through June 29) presents major cinematic adaptations from works by the most important English playwright.

The retrospective "Action! The Films of Raoul Walsh, Part 2" (through July 2) continues reviewing the career of the American director. The retrospective "Burt Lancaster, Part 2" (through July 2) continues AFI Silver's review of the career of the American movie star. The retrospective "Jane Fonda AFI Life Achievement Award Retrospective" (through June 25) honors the American leading lady.

(301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver

"Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema"

Co-presented by the AFI Silver Theatre and the National Gallery of Art, "Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" continues through June 29, featuring newly restored prints of landmark Polish films.

(301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver
(202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/calendar/film-programs.html

National Gallery of Art

Presented with support from the embassies of Poland, Croatia and Serbia, the series "Artists, Amateurs, Alternative Spaces: Experimental Cinema in Eastern Europe, 1960-1990" (through June 14) looks at seldom-seen work by avant-garde filmmakers in the former Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.

Produced in conjunction with the exhibition "Garry Winogrand," the film series "On the Street" (through June 15) showcases cinéma vérite works about the streets of New York City.

(202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/calendar/film-programs.html


About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer of The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on May 29, 2014

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