“Jealousy,” the current release from French writer-director Philippe Garrel (“Regular Lovers,” “Frontier of the Dawn”), feels very French with its black-and-white cinematography and melancholic story centering on love, infidelity and artists struggling to make a living from their craft. Yet “Jealousy” turns out to be one of Garrel’s films that is relatively friendly to American audiences.
Despite serious subject matter, the tone is noticeably more upbeat than standard Garrel fare. Though still free flowing, the smart script includes more defined plot structures than is usual in Garrel’s films. Still, the narrative is not what makes “Jealousy” tick.
The film thrives on the vitality brimming from the actors’ extraordinary performances. The audience feels deep in their bones how alive the characters are, even when they are exhausted from the trials and tribulations handed to them by life. Utilizing a range of shots including ample close-ups, cinematographer Willy Kurant sharply captures the rawness of their emotions, while Garrel’s laidback direction seems to effortlessly convey the rhythms of life.
As the film opens, our bohemian protagonist Louis (Louis Garrel, Philippe’s son), a sporadic theater actor, is shown at home in an unremarkable domestic scene with his wife, Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), and precocious 8-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milshtein). Clothilde has abandoned her own artistic ambitions to take an office job to support the family.
Shortly thereafter, Louis leaves his family’s home to move in with his new girlfriend, intellectual Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), a fellow actor who has not worked in six years despite her apparent talent.
Despite the separation, Louis works to maintain a good relationship with his daughter, Charlotte, taking Claudia along for the visits. He also spends quality time with his sister Esther (Esther Garrel, Philippe’s daughter).
As Louis and Claudia’s honeymoon period fades, she begins to resent their cramped existence in what she calls their “hovel,” a tiny apartment at the top of a walk-up building. She considers taking a non-acting job to supplement their meager income. They both become entangled in extracurricular liaisons, some more threatening to their relationship than others.
(French with subtitles; 77 min.; scope)
The Avalon Theatre
4.5 out of 5 stars
Renowned British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip to Italy” is a pleasantly successful sequel to 2010’s innovative “The Trip,” in which comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon mostly improvise their way through northern England’s Lake District on a road trip checking out top restaurants. Coogan and Brydon had previously joined forces in Winterbottom’s “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.” Though Winterbottom is known for his extremely versatile range (“Welcome to Sarajevo,” “24 Hour Party People,” “A Mighty Heart,” “The Road to Guantanamo”), this time he basically sticks to the same comedic formula that worked before.
In round two, Brydon has been tapped by The Observer to be its restaurant reviewer on assignment, and he brings along his dour sidekick, Coogan. In “The Trip to Italy,” Coogan and Brydon once again more or less play themselves, improvising witty dialogue and eating their way through beautiful Italian landscapes. In a Grand Tour of Italy from Liguria to Capri, they follow the trail of the English Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. The second round certainly has better-looking scenery, which is gorgeously captured with crisp cinematography by James Clarke.
Lacking the startling originality of “The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy” does not quite leave the same impact, but it is still quite a ride. At first, audiences may feel disoriented in this alternate world dominated by Coogan and Brydon’s endless banter, but most viewers should acclimate soon enough. Coogan and Brydon have expert command of the dry humor for which the British are famous. Their bromance continues as they talk about nothing, Seinfeld-style, including trivialities such as the teenage girl-friendly angst of Canadian singer-songwriters Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne.
Before we know it, the subjects of conversation have suddenly swerved into more serious topics such as the ultimate worthiness of a career in the arts, family and marital tensions, and other issues of life and death. Coogan has a love-hate relationship with his international stardom. Though Brydon enjoys domestic fame, he’s largely unknown outside the United Kingdom, compelling him to seek a part in a Michael Mann Hollywood action film.
Coogan’s son joins them for part of their travels. Coogan talks to his son about moving closer so that they can spend more time together, lamenting the time they have been apart while Coogan has built his career. Brydon admits that he’s cheated on his wife during this trip. Coogan observes that the pretty young women smile at them like they would smile at their uncle.
“The Trip to Italy”
(English; 108 min.)
Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4 out of 5 stars
After its highly regarded area premiere at AFI Docs film festival, the mesmerizing feature “Last Days in Vietnam” returns to D.C. for a well-deserved theatrical release. Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s (“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” “Ethel”) latest film takes a look at the little-reported stories behind the U.S. military’s evacuation of Saigon in April 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War. “Last Days in Vietnam” provides a timely flashback as the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon comes closer.
In an era of documentary innovation, “Last Days in Vietnam” is by no means a cutting-edge non-fiction film. Not surprisingly for a production of PBS’s “American Experience” historical series, it depends — probably too much — on all the usual public television documentary techniques, including archival footage, reenactments, a plethora of talking heads, loud musical score, etc.
Kennedy’s work manages to overcome its stock origins and limitations with a compelling tale and astounding images of the evacuation of South Vietnam before the rapid approach of the North Vietnamese Army. An unforgettable highlight is the remarkable historical footage of U.S. marines pushing helicopters off the sides of U.S. aircraft carriers to make room for more choppers dropping off the next round of evacuees.
The film opens with the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, which brokered a ceasefire followed by the withdrawal of most American troops from Vietnam. After former U.S. President Richard Nixon was forced to resign in 1974 to avoid impeachment in the wake of the Watergate scandal, communist North Vietnam took advantage of the fallout and violated the peace treaty by making a military advance into South Vietnam. U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Graham Martin failed to acknowledge the rapidly forthcoming defeat, compounding the U.S. government’s lack of proper planning for the eventual evacuation of the remaining U.S. personnel, as well as South Vietnamese partners who would face execution and detention by the communist regime.
Without U.S. government authorization to evacuate non-American citizens, State Department official Joseph McBride and Army Capt. Stuart Herrington took the initiative to smuggle refugees out of the country on cargo planes and ships. Meanwhile, Richard Armitage of the Pentagon schemed with South Vietnamese Navy Capt. Kiem Do and others to clandestinely move 30,000 South Vietnamese refugees on departing U.S. military ships.
Joining an array of former American officials and veterans, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is perhaps the film’s most prominent interviewee. Avoiding much confrontation, Kennedy generally lets him skate by on the controversial aspects of his involvement as a primary architect of the Vietnam War.
A not inconsiderable shortcoming is that “Last Days in Vietnam” does not show much from the Vietnamese point of view, talking to only a few Vietnamese people within a big roster of interview subjects. Disclosure: This writer was a South Vietnamese refugee who was evacuated — as a toddler dependent of a civilian U.S. Embassy employee — out of Saigon in the final days before the city’s fall.
“Last Days in Vietnam”
(English and Vietnamese with subtitles; 97 min.)
Landmark’s E Street Cinema
Opens Fri., Sept. 12
4.5 out of 5 stars
American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre
Programmed by cultural attachés from D.C. embassies, the 2014 AFI Latin American Film Festival (Sept. 18-Oct. 8) returns to perennially packed audiences.
The “Cinema and the Great War” series (through Sept. 17) presents World War I films.
The “Mario Bava Centennial” retrospective (through Sept. 17) showcases the Italian horror master’s bloodiest work.
The “Alec Guinness Centennial” retrospective (through Sept. 15) looks back at films starring the British acting legend, Sir Alec Guinness.
(301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver
Freer Gallery of Art
Cosponsored by the Royal Thai Embassy, the retrospective “Dreams, Hallucinations, and Nightmares: The Films of Pen-ek Ratanaruang” (Sept. 7-28) reviews the work of one of the most lauded Thai directors. Ratanaruang discusses in person the following programs: “Headshot” (Sat., Sept. 13, 2 p.m., preceded by refreshments at 12:30 p.m.) and “Monrak Transistor (aka Transistor Love Story)” (Sun., Sept. 14, 2 p.m.).
(202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp
ASEAN Film Festival
The ASEAN Women Circle (AWC) presents the inaugural ASEAN Film Festival (Sept. 5-14), screening at the Freer Gallery of Art, the University of the District of Columbia, the American University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
DC Chinese Film Festival
The 2nd Biennial DC Chinese Film Festival (Sept. 4-7) unspools films across D.C. at the Freer Gallery of Art, Landmark’s E Street Cinema, the Wilson Center, the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center, the Goethe-Institut, the American University’s Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater, Busboys and Poets, and Silo.
National Gallery of Art
Presented in partnership with the Embassy of Finland, the Finnish Film Foundation and the Finnish Film Archive, the retrospective “A Sense of Time and Place: Peter von Bagh” (Sept. 6-20) screens at the National Portrait Gallery’s McEvoy Auditorium and at the NGA’s West Building Lecture Hall. Esteemed Finnish filmmaker von Bagh introduces his films on Sept. 7.
Mark Kendall’s Guatemalan documentary “La Camioneta” (Sept. 17, 19, 1 p.m.) screens at the NGA’s West Building Lecture Hall.
Ramuntcho Matta introduces “Intimatta” (Sun., Sept. 21, 4:30 p.m.), his documentary about his father, Chilean painter Roberto Matta, at the NGA’s West Building Lecture Hall.
In collaboration with the Embassy of Italy, Roberto Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy” (Fri., Sept. 26, 7 p.m.) and Dino Risi’s “Il Sorpasso” (Sun., Sept. 28, 4:30 p.m.) play at the American University’s Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater.
(202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/calendar/film-programs.html
Peter Roloff, project manager of the exhibition “Utopia: Revisiting a German State in America,” introduces Edgar Reitz’s “Home from Home – Chronicle of a Vision” (Wed., Sept. 10, 6.p.m.).
As part of the series “World War I: Film Captures the Great War” (through Oct. 6), Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” (Mon., Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m.) is introduced by Marion Deshmukh, a professor at George Mason University.
F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” (Mon., Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m.) boasts a new score performed by Michael Obst, German composer and pianist.
(202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/ins/us/was/ver/enindex.htm
The Washington Jewish Film Festival Year-Round Screenings include the “The Gift to Stalin” (Tue., Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m.), with a presentation from Ambassador of Kazakhstan Kairat Umarov; the Israeli sociopolitical drama “Life According to Agfa” (Sun., Sept. 14, 11 a.m.) and the Polish saga “Run, Boy, Run” (Tue., Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m.).
The 11th Annual DC Shorts Film Festival (Sept. 11-21) will present 135 films from 25 countries — as well as the DC Shorts Screenplay Competion and Filmmaker Workshops — at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, the U.S. Navy Memorial Burke Theater and the Angelika Film Center at Mosaic. The City View Party (Fri., Sept. 12, 9 p.m.) opens the weekend on a rooftop at Carroll Square. The Grand Bash (Sat., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.) unwinds at the the U.S. Navy Memorial.
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer of The Washington Diplomat.