Irish Band’s Concert Doc: Even Better Than the Real Thing?
Well, here’s something completely different. “U2 3D” is not your father’s concert film. Long known for its innovative use of technology in the production and presentation of concerts, Irish rock group U2 deploys the latest in digital three-dimension (3D) to document seven shows of its 2006 “Vertigo” tour in South America. The filmmakers shoot with the largest number of 3D cameras ever used for a single project, and the result is like nothing you’ve ever seen before (unless you caught the one-hour preview version at Cannes last May).
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I dare say that “U2 3D” might even be a more pleasurable experience than a live U2 concert, which I have attended twice—perhaps a case of “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” as the U2 song goes. What’s the big deal? At most concerts, you can barely see the performers unless you have the fortune of scoring expensive up-close seats. Even the Jumbotron monitors are relatively low resolution and look small from a distance. “U2 3D,” however, is about more than just routine close-ups in a concert film.
The audience members feel like they’re right in front of the band. The result is very intimate, an experience I’ve never had from any concert in an arena. The 3D effect is used with sparing effectiveness, building up to a memorable climax. And the 5.1 surround sound is great. I imagine the music is the best of the South American tour and has been cleaned up in the studio, too. (One caveat: The 3D glasses, at least when worn by me, left distracting red and blue tinting over the images.)
To get the film’s amazing visuals, all those 3D cameras needed two directors. Irish co-director Catherine Owens adroitly expands on her previous experience shooting music videos for U2, while American co-director Mark Pellington, also a U2 music video veteran, uses his background in feature films (“Arlington Road,” “The Mothman Prophecies”) to ensure that the direction is steady throughout the running time. Of course, “U2 3D” doesn’t quite have exactly the same excitement of being there live—but it comes close, and it looks and sounds even better. Plus the wait to get out of the venue is much shorter!
U2 3D (English; 85 min.; IMAX 3D) National Museum of Natural History
4.5 out of 5 stars
Romania Rides New Wave
“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” marks the peak of the Romanian New Wave’s rise to respectability, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Typical of the Romanian New Wave, the film employs a steady camera with long takes by director of photography Oleg Mutu (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”). The mise-en-scène, acting and dialogue are very naturalistic. Nothing feels out of place, and everything seems to be happening in real time. In fact, young helmer Cristian Mungiu’s triumph is one of the most stunning films in memory.
“4 Months” eerily evokes life behind the Iron Curtain in 1987 Romania, taking place during a day in which a university student, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), helps her roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) obtain an illegal abortion. During Ceausescu’s regime, that was an offense punishable by a long prison sentence, particularly for later-term abortions. And finding a provider willing to take that risk was just one hurdle to the process.
Gabita is understandably not feeling well, so Otilia takes up much of the logistics. Getting a hotel room is a Kafkaesque nightmare. Despite having a confirmation, Gabita’s reservation isn’t honored by the hotel upon Otilia’s arrival. After securing another hotel, they have less money to pay the abortionist, Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), who’s unhappy with both scenarios—plus the fact that Otilia showed up to meet him, not Gabita.
Otilia is really the emotional centerpiece of the story, even in a scene when she does nothing but mentally squirm during her boyfriend’s mother’s birthday party—while Gabita is waiting in the hotel for the abortion to conclude. A huge part of the film’s success is due to a tour-de-force performance by Marinca, who is riveting as Otilia and keeps the audience entranced. She’s backed up by solid acting from the ensemble cast.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile) (Romanian and English with subtitles; 113 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4.5 out of 5 stars
The influential 1981 noir-thriller-romance “Diva” hits the big screen again courtesy of Rialto Pictures, a steadfast distributor of re-released classics. The success of “Diva” helped to propel future foreign language movies in the United Kingdom and the United States.
The stylish debut from director Jean-Jacques Beineix (“Betty Blue,” “Mortal Transfer”) was a big splash the first time around, wowing critics and audiences with its jaw-dropping cinematography by Philippe Rousselot. Pauline Kael, arguably the most influential film critic of all time, even compared Beineix to Orson Welles, whose debut was “Citizen Kane.”
Like Welles, Beineix uses sharp, distinctive camera angles that look from the floor, from the ceiling, through glass, against a mirror, etc. Even those who considered all this to be relatively empty style-over-substance fodder were impressed with the technical achievements. Not that the film is lacking story—there’s more than plenty of plot, which is presented via beautifully composed images.
Jules (Frédéric Andréi) is a young opera-crazy courier who idolizes American singer Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), who’s never been recorded because she believes in the ephemeral nature of her art. His stalker-like behavior includes covertly recording her show in Paris and then stealing her gown when he goes backstage to meet her. Subsequently, two Taiwanese record company reps doggedly seek the tape to force Hawkins into a recording contract by threatening to pirate it.
Coincidentally, a hooker uses Jules’s bike as a hiding place—before her untimely death—for her own tape, which identifies her crime-lord boyfriend, “Mr. Big.” So now, two killers are also after Jules for that tape. As you might imagine, the tapes get confused by everybody. Along the way, Jules is helped by the enigmatic Gorodish (Richard Bohringer) and his Vietnamese roller-skating companion Alba (Thuy An Luu).
Diva (French with subtitles; 123 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4.5 out of 5 stars
Please see International Film Clips for detailed listings available at press time.
Tadanobu Asano at the Freer “Rebel, Artist, Superstar: The Films of Tadanobu Asano” runs Feb. 1 to 10 at the Freer Gallery of Art in conjunction with the “JAPAN! culture + hyperculture” festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. According to the Japan Information and Culture Center in Washington: “His riveting, rebellious screen presence has made him a star at home and abroad, earned him comparisons to Johnny Depp, and prompted ‘Time’ magazine to dub him Japan’s ‘collective Mr. Hyde.’” Writing in Variety, David Rooney said that in the film “Vital,” “Asano holds the drama together with his hypnotically driven, emotionally wounded performance.” Catch the iconic actor in person as he appears for the Freer screenings of “Vital,” as well as “Last Life in the Universe” and “Sad Vacation” (Feb. 1-3). (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp
‘István Szabó’s 20th Century’ at NGA From Feb. 9 to March 2, with support from the Embassy of Hungary, filmmaker István Szabó is honored by the National Gallery of Art in celebration of his 70th birthday. The NGA series examines Szabó’s variety of films, which mostly examine 20th-century Central Europe, portraying how the currents of history intersect with individual lives. The screenings include rare early works as well as prestigious recent titles. Szabó will introduce the concluding weekend’s films (March 1–2). (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film.shtm
‘Ingmar Bergman Remembered’ at AFI Silver “Ingmar Bergman Remembered” at the AFI Silver Theatre honors the Swedish psychological auteur after his death last summer. Part 1 (Feb. 8-March 4) focuses on Bergman’s films from the 1950s that captured international attention at Venice and Cannes. Bergman scholar Peter Cowie has noted that these films often explore ethical themes using period settings. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/Silver
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.