The Chess Players, Far Side of the Moon, Seven Beauties
The Chess Players
Satyajit Ray burst spectacularly onto the International scene with festival favorite Pather Panchali, his first feature. Chess Players is set during British colonial rule of India in the 19th century, but was made during a repressive “State of Emergency” imposed by Prime Minster Indira Ghandi.
The late 70s Technicolor saturated grainy film stock is perhaps the ideal canvas for Ray’s oeuvre. The kingdom of Awadh is the setting and in Ray’s hands it shimmers with lush ruby reds adorning soon-to-be abdicated crowns and the sandy brown earth under the feet of indolent gentry. As Mr. Meer and Mr. Mirza play chess and suck on their hookah pipes, their verse-making king endures humiliation before the British Governor General— played with arrogance and bemusement by Richard Attenborough. What might have been nationalist propaganda or an empty period piece is rendered sublimel.
Scant production notes and poster art.
As good a place as any to introduce yourself to the director whose nickname is “God.”
Far Side of the Moon
Known in theatre circles for his large-scale ambitious stage performances seen around the world, Robert Lepage has since made the successful transformation to film (Le Confessionnal, Nô). Far Side of the Moon, based on his theatrical piece continues his interest in the tension between the mundane and the apocalyptic.
Lepage writes, directs and stars in a dual role as two brothers on opposite ends of the temperament spectrum. Phillippe is a pathetic doctoral student attempting to defend his ill-fated thesis on narcissism in relation to man’s quest to explore the universe. His brother André is a well-paid empty-suited weatherman, who after the death of their mother tries to forge a relationship with his daydreaming sibling. It contains searingly beautifuly imagery and Lepage’s skill at seamlessly weaving together drama, nostalgia and theories of the universe is nothing short of astounding.
Sparse. A short making of doc featuring interviews with Lepage’s key crew members.
The best new movie you probably haven’t seen.
There was, apparently, a brief window of history within which an Italian woman could snag a Best Director Oscar nomination by cutting away to a poster of Hitler during a sex scene between a scheming concentration camp prisoner and his grotesquely obese komandantress.
In Seven Beauties Lina Wertmuller indicts her country for permitting the rise of fascism via the person of small-time Neapolitan operator “Pasqualino Seven Beauties.” A natty pipsqueak played, gamely, by Giancarlo Giannini, Pasqualino’s outsized and ever less charming self-regard is the implicit audience for El Duce’s macho flattery, though he’s too mesmerized by his own vision of himself to care about politics. He’s successively a convict mental patient, soldier (to duck a rape charge), and finally deserter; the more nakedly his self-interest veers into desperation, the more Wertmuller’s anarchic gaze curdles. Hence, Hitler sex.
A 78-minute interview with the director.
The shame of a nation writ in nausea-inducing neon.