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Cosmic Echoes

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Moon' Paints Impressive, Dystopian Homage to'2001'

At the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, “Moon” made its mark as one of the most highly regarded entries. The debut feature from writer-director Duncan Jones (who happens to be the son of David Bowie) impressively pays homage, whether intentionally or not, to Stanley Kubrick’s legendary masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Like “2001,” “Moon” is a science fiction tale presenting a spare vision of a future in which space travel’s practical limit has advanced far beyond the present. “Moon” also features a space station (in “Moon,” it’s technically a lunar station) controlled by a computer speaking with an eerily monotone voice.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works for a company that provides Earth’s energy needs by mining Helium-3 from the soil of the moon. He’s nearing the end of a three-year contract in which he serves as the sole employee in the company’s mining station on the far side of the moon. The mining process is mostly automated, controlled by a computer named Gerty (the voice of Kevin Spacey) who talks to the lonely Sam. At times, Sam leaves the station in a rover to perform maintenance and repair tasks that require a human. Waking up after an accident that leaves him unconscious, Sam returns to the station only to discover another Sam Bell.

Rockwell distinctively portrays the two Sam Bells, each slightly different from the other. The first, suffering from serious injuries, is going crazy after nearly three years of solitary service in the cramped station. The second thinks he’s just arrived from Earth, and the presence of another Sam Bell magnifies his culture shock. Eventually, the two Sam Bells become reluctant partners in figuring out the mystery, which is linked to Gerty and the robot’s mission to make sure someone always mans the station, whether clone or human. Eventually, the first Sam wonders whether he himself is a clone. “Moon” paints a disturbingly dystopian picture of a society in which humans are treated as just another expendable commodity.

Moon (English; 97 min; scope) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., July 10 4.5 out of 5 stars

Discovering ‘Séraphine’ At the 2009 “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema” series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Martin Provost’s “Séraphine” was a clear standout. It lived up to its reputation as a winner of seven French César Awards, including Best Film, Original Writing, Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, and Music Written for a Film. Though the breadth of the César Awards indicates the many strengths of the film, its core asset is a stunning portrayal of the title character by Belgian-born actress Yolande Moreau.

Anchored by her tour-de-force performance, “Séraphine” is an astonishingly evocative portrait of the self-taught “modern primitive” painter Séraphine de Senlis, whose work adorns many museums. A painting might require many brushstrokes before an image becomes apparent to someone who is looking at it. Similarly, it takes quite some time before the audience can make out the picture in this film. That’s by no means a criticism. The rewards are great for the patient viewer who sticks around as “Séraphine” richly develops.

In 1914, in the small French village of Senlis, Séraphine Louis ekes out a meager existence toiling as a house cleaner and laundress. Her employers typically treat her like the dirt that she scrubs off the floor. She’s silent, eccentric, plain-looking and heavy. The only time people notice her is to mock her. Yet she exudes a quite dignity and sense of purpose, reinforced by a religious devoutness that drives her to paint her visions. She saves her pennies to buy paint, supplementing that with homemade concoctions from clay, butcher’s blood, and the like. At night, she’s compelled to create paintings of fruits and flowers.

Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German art dealer and critic who was an early collector of Pablo Picasso and Henri Rousseau, happens to be taking a break from Paris in Senlis. In the house where he’s renting a room, he stumbles upon one of Séraphine’s paintings, which is dismissed with indifference by his landlady. Uhde buys the painting and asks Séraphine if she has any more. He becomes Séraphine’s supporter and eventual patron, a partnership interrupted first by World War I and finally by Séraphine’s descent into insanity.

Séraphine (French with subtitles; 125 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., July 17 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sexy But Staid ‘Girl from Monaco’

The backdrop of Monaco’s mythical image as a lush holiday resort for the idle rich provides a fairytale context of unreality to Anne Fontaine’s “The Girl from Monaco,” which was also featured at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 2009 edition of “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.” The film takes a look at the potential pitfalls of a relationship between a successful older man and a much younger beauty, a story that has often been told before. “The Girl from Monaco” works as an OK sexual melodrama, but it’s nothing special in the end.

The venerable Fabrice Lucini (“Molière”) plays Bertrand, a prominent middle-age Parisian attorney who comes to Monaco to represent Édith (Stéphane Audran), a socialite charged with murdering a man reportedly associated with Russian organized crime. To protect Bertrand from a possible hit by the mobsters, Édith’s son hires Christophe (Roschdy Zem), a quiet and disciplined bodyguard who imposes himself into Bertrand’s daily movements. Bertrand also meets sexy Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), an unrefined, tacky girl and wannabe actress who turns out to be Christophe’s ex-lover.

Succumbing to the relaxed standards of his surroundings, Bertrand falls for Audrey despite knowing better, especially after being warned by Christophe. Audrey, whose bedroom features images of Princess Diana, treats Bertrand with alternating adoration and indifferent disrespect. Bertrand becomes obsessed with the tart, distracting him from his professional duties. He knows he’s losing control, but he can’t do much about it. Audrey is one danger from which Christophe can’t protect his client, as the trio form an awkward sort of love triangle.

In different ways, the three leads deliver decent if more or less stock performances. Lucini is relatively low-key even when Bertrand is grumbling or unraveling. Zem’s stoic character, Christophe, manages to stay focused on duty despite the turmoil around him. In contrast, Bourgoin (a real-life weather girl) is ridiculously over the top in her portrayal of the outrageous bimbo. Unfortunately, the story just isn’t that interesting.

The Girl from Monaco (La Fille de Monaco) (French with subtitles; 95 min.; scope) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., July 3 3 out of 5 stars

Repertory Notes

Please see International FilmClips for detailed listings available at press time.

Salute to “Le Festival des 3 Continents” The citywide “Le Festival des 3 Continents” program celebrates the 30th anniversary of the annual film festival in Nantes, France, that looks to “discover” films outside the mainstream from Africa (through July 17 at La Maison Française), South America (July 4-19 at the National Gallery of Art), and Asia (played in June at the Freer Gallery). (202) 944-6091, www.la-maison-francaise.org/cinema.htm (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film

American Film Institute Silver Theatre “The Films of François Truffaut, PART 1” (July 3-Sept. 3) surveys the work of the French auteur, a leader of the French New Wave. Like every summer, David Lean’s sweeping epic “Lawrence of Arabia” in 70mm plays Sundays at 7:30 p.m. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver

Freer Gallery of Art The popular Made in Hong Kong Film Festival returns to the Freer, opening with Johnie To’s fun comedy “Sparrow” (July 5 and 12). Another highlight is a second chance to see Wong Kar-Wai’s impressionistic “Ashes of Time Redux” (July 17 and 19). (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

National Gallery of Art In addition to the salute to “Le Festival des 3 Continents” (July 4-19), “From Vault to Screen” (July 11-Aug. 30) presents restored treasures from international archives. (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film

Goethe-Institut “Europe Laughs” (through July 13) offers intercultural comedies from European countries, including immigrant populations. (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/ins/us/was/kue/flm/enindex.htm

About the Author

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

Last Edited on July 7, 2014