Brief Re-Encounters


Seattle Asian Art Museum, 1:30 p.m. Sun., March 2

You know a woman's in love when she declares, "One day, I'll kill a whale for you." The woman smitten in this 1998 seriocomedy from Shohei Imamura is a hooker who's also moonlighting as a nurse for a coastal village doctor. It's 1945, just before the end of WWII, by which time the villagers are thoroughly disgusted with the war and the army. As for Dr. Akagi (Akira Emoto), when he's not literally running between house calls, he's a physician with a mission: to wipe out hepatitis. To that end, he assembles a ragtag team of assistants, including the hooker, the drunken local priest, an opium-addicted surgeon, and even an escaped Dutch P.O.W. As with Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, Imamura is more interested in human behavior than plot, and Akagi does stumble rather haphazardly between events and characters. It's an uneven film, not so good as his The Eel, but its foibles are humanist foibles. And I loved the final showdown with the whale. (NR) BRIAN MILLER


Seattle Art Museum, 7 p.m. Fri., Feb. 28

The tension between the longing for love and the actual, realized article underlies most of Max Ophls' dramas. Appropriately, it's the melancholy center of his last movie (completed in 1955), the eponymous story of "the world's most scandalous woman"an actual 19th-century Irish courtesan (Martine Carol). Her life is framed at a veritable three-ring circus/ cabaret (where she ends up as a kind of sad, freak-show attraction), narrated by ringmaster/MC Peter Ustinov. Ophls' only color filmshot in CinemaScopecontrasts her scandalous reputation with tender offstage moments and poetic flashbacks of her "notorious" affairs. Swept along by gliding camera work, which floats through the film as if on the wings of angels, her life becomes a cinematic balletwith Ophls the choreographer and conductor. Problem is, Carol isn't particularly electrifying or convincing as Lola, whose quiet private demeanor manically alternates with public flamboyance and fits of pique. Yet Ophls paints a moving portrait of a woman who loved well, if not too wisely. (NR) SEAN AXMAKER


Grand Illusion, Fri., Feb. 28-Thurs., March 6

Made in 1985 on a shoestring budget in a dead-end Portland, Gus Van Sant's debut feature drifts hazily along with the foolhardy obsession of a convenience store clerk (Tim Streeter) for a homeless Mexican immigrant (Doug Cooeyate) and his friends. The film suffers from muddy sound and Van Sant's usual laissez-faire pacing, but it also has that lingering, memorably desolate humanity that marks the director's later work (until he imploded with Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). Helped in large part by John Campbell's melancholy black-and-white photography, the rarely screened Mala Nochepart Cassavetes slice-of-low-life, part Godardian dreamscapeis worth seeing to watch a novice filmmaker begin to shape his view of the world. The film begins the Grand Illusion's four-film, two-week Van Sant retrospective. (His latest, Gerry, will open here March 21.) (NR) STEVE WIECKING


Grand Illusion, Fri., Feb. 28-Thurs., March 6

Gus Van Sant's third masterpiece earned most of its money in Europe, and it's really a Euro-style art film (with Euro-star Udo Kier in a scary small part). Van Sant raises Portland bohemia to the aesthetic empyrean in this 1991 tale of the local Falstaff, Bob (Winter Kills director William Richert), his slumming Prince Hal-like pal Scott (Keanu Reeves), and Mike (River Phoenix), the hustler with a heart of gold who craves Scott's favors. Its Shakespeare pastiche fails, but Idaho wonderfully captures a dreamy mise-en-sc讥, and Van Sant elicits the performance of a lifetime from practically every actor under his spellmost famously Phoenix, but to get great work out of Keanu was sheer alchemy. Mike is a narcoleptic who continually falls asleep and jerks awake. Reeves actually shot some of his own footage, but he loaded the camera wrong, so the film also jerks at the start of his every shota stunning effect no professional cameraman could've achieved. The hallucinatory footage is not gimmicky, but it's deeply moving and cunningly deployed. (NR) TIM APPELO


Seattle Art Museum, 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 27

If there ever was a distaff equivalent to Charlie Chaplin, it's the great Giulietta Masina, who plays the title role of Cabiria in her husband Federico Fellini's 1957 Oscar winner. Masina (1920-1994) easily could've been a star of the silent era. Words are almost completely extraneous to her indelibly affecting performance as an innocent Roman hooker who longs for love and luck. Cabiria is a whore enduring constant hardship and indignity, which makes the movie a kind of grim, late entry in the neorealist canon. At the same time, Cabiria cuts a figure of waifish yet eternally optimistic pathos that silent-era audiences could've responded to (although the sexual subtext would've been censored). In either era, and ours, Masina simply breaks your heart with her character's forward-looking determination. In a sense, she's Italyimpoverished and humiliated, but still struggling for better days after the war. And her husband's love for her shows in every frame. (NR) B.R.M.


Varsity, Fri., Feb. 28-Thurs., March 6

Four different people confess to killing a lecherous old movie producer in Henri-Georges Clouzot's crisp little 1947 noir (which has been beautifully restored and newly subtitled after an absence of some 50 years from U.S. screens). But you'd feel like confessing, too, if you had Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) breathing down your neck. He's a man who inspires guilt; in fact, he seems to feed on the stuff, like some fungus of the Parisian underworld. The hookers, killers, thieves, and con men waiting to be interrogated at police HQwhich takes its slang name from its street address at 36 Quai des Orf趲es, or "Goldsmith's Embankment" line up like penitents at church. They need to confess. And Antoine needs them to need him, because he's got almost nothing else in his shabby little life. The movie producer case looks to be open and shut. The creep seems to have been whacked on the head by nightclub singer Jenny (Suzy Delair). But police suspicion also falls on her very jealous pianist husband, Maurice (Bernard Blier, father of the famous director Bertrand). Only the couple's downstairs neighbor, lesbian photographer Dora (Simone Renant), knows the truth, but she's intent on Jennynot justice. Famed for his crime and suspense classics like Diabolique and The Wages of Fear, Clouzot shows his early command of the camera in Quai with inky black-and-white compositions that recall the photos of Atget, Brassaﬠand Robert Doisneau. It's a romantic Paris, but the backstage milieu also is wonderfully seedy and comical. Everyone's bursting into song rehearsals; chorines wander about in garters and stockings; trained dogs cower at Jenny's vulgar belting. (She makes Ethel Merman seem tasteful and restrained.) Yet no matter what a hussy she is, Jenny still loves her adoring, ineffectual Maurice, whose moon-faced calm finally gives way to sweaty panic like Peter Lorre in M. With Inspector Antoine on your tail, you

wouldn't hold up much better. But it sure is fun watching Antoine catch the perpetratorwhichever one of the four it may be. (NR) B.R.M.

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