Film Reviews

And then there were some

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Tatie Danielle. You say old people are the most underrepresented minority in cinema these days? Don't tell that to director Etienne Chatiliez and veteran stage actress Tsila Chelton, who collaborated on this pitiless laughfest from France that explores the wide chasm between how we talk about the elderly and what we truly think of them. In the case of the title character (the brilliant Chelton), it's difficult not to badmouth her: She's a hateful, selfish, reckless, manipulative, backstabbing golden-ager forced to live with her great-nephew and his family after she (accidentally?) causes the death of the old woman who's looked after her for years. Like most great satire, Tatie Danielle works as both raucous dark comedy and shameful confession. Like all groundbreaking cinema, it exposes the hypocrisies beneath the polite conversation we hold most dear--in this case, our condescending treatment of seniors. Tsila Chelton as Tatie Danielle gets away with her horrible behavior because the in-laws around her refuse to hold a "frail, dependent" woman in her 80s responsible for her actions--until she sends them all down the river.

A Wedding. Writer-director Robert Altman has alternately enjoyed his status as The Greatest Living American Filmmaker and The Most Pretentious Misanthrope Alive. Skip over Altman standards like M*A*S*H, Nashville, and The Player and head straight for this hysterical comedy about a marriage between members of families of tragically different classes. A Wedding boasts all the Altman trademarks--lots of zoom shots and few closeups; a mixture of unknowns and a celebrity who's-who (Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Lillian Gish, Vittorio Gassman) as cast members; and a rancorous refusal to judge even the most obnoxious characters. Yet it boasts a mixture of frivolity and devilishness rare in this acclaimed director's career. With the senile bishop who oversees the ceremony and the adulterous affair brewing between two unlikely members of the opposing families (Burnett and Pat McCormack, the latter of whom declares in their most passionate scene, "Right now your mouth is the most important opening on your body"), this is vintage Altman insanity not given its proper due upon release.

Zentropa. Rarely has German Neo-Expressionism been so thoroughly immersed in surreal imagery as in Zentropa, a bizarre dream-image fantasy thriller. The movie begins methodically, whisking you to 1945 Germany immediately after the war. Leopold Kessler, an American of German descent, decides to help rebuild Germany in the most grass-roots manner possible--by becoming a conductor of the famed Zentropa Company sleeping-car line--leading to an increasingly labyrinthine series of plots and melodramas. It's a puzzle movie meant to indict the morally undermined position that ennui plays in a political system: Does Leopold belong to one side of the political fight or the other? If not, isn't it preferable for him to make any choice rather than becoming paralyzed with indecision? Zentropa's complexity might seem off-putting, but it's never boring.

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Jimmy Fowler
Arnold Wayne Jones