King of Hearts. Except for the possible exception of a moviehouse in Minnesota or somewhere that has been screening Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude for the past five years straight, the Central Square Cinema probably holds the modern record for a consecutive run of one film and this Phillip deBroca farce is it. About a World War One soldier who liberates the patients in a country nursing home and joins them in a jolly romp around about the streets of a small town, it is the perfect parable of Cambridge life. Free and freaky--but within bounds, harmless and unsubversive. The kooks return to the asylum at the end; the students and shag-hairdoed hippies go from the bars and cafes home to their nice, warm, high-rent beds. Alan Bates has lots of mischevious fun as the soldier, and deBroca's direction is free-wheeling; the film tickles, like a feather. And just think; by concentrating hard enough on the delight of going to a unconventional film like this, you can convince yourself that you're just as filled with bottled-up inspiration and love of life as the charming lunatics in deBroca's fantasy.
The Sin of Father Mouret. This Franju film begins like a color version of Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest. A fragile, handsome young priest just out of seminary has taken on the parish of a provincial town full of peasant atheists. He wants to believe that by the strength of his fervent faith alone he will convert even the most cynical, irreverent non-believers. His fasting, like that of the priest in Bresson's film, makes him weaker and weaker; but instead of succumbing to tuberculosis, he develops amnesia. There the parallels end. The rest of the movie carries him through an idyllic romance with a flower-child of the neighborhood--a courtship full of walks through the fields and accompanied by soupy music, much like the middle third of Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. Just as they consumate their love, however, he recovers his memory. He abandons her for his celibate priesthood and she dies of a broken heart. In the Emile Zola novel on which the film is based, this ending was clearly intended as an anti-clerical attack. Unfortunately, the sentimentality and lack of reality in the film's portrayal of the priest's return to Eden undermines the contrast between his two lives. And the power of the film fizzles out as a result.
Woodstock. This Academy-Award winning documentary can be justifiably dubbed the definitive rock film, with a nod of acknowledgment to the Mayles brothers' Gimme Shelter. The dazzling galaxy of performers who rocked and rolled the assembled 400,000 earned that designation by itself: everybody from John Sebastian to Country Joe and the Fish to Santana put in an appearance over the course of the three-day festival to end all festivals. Michael Wadleigh's integration of crowd scene footage into the basic frame work of the gig-by-gig sequence of bands has never been matched by any subsequent film chronicling the events of a music concert, rock or otherwise. Never has a three-hour chunk of celluloid flown by so quickly in recent memory, and I include the Godfather epics in that statement. Joan Baez' rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" usually elicits a few catcalls from the rowdies who always show up for a showing of Woodstock, but the film hasn't another rough spot in it. And the concluding ten minutes prove byond any remaining shadow of a doubt that Hendrix does indeed live.
Z The very timely release of this film-as-indictment in the wake of the Greek Junta's 1967 seizure of power in the cradle of democracy paved the way for a favorable reception of Z in the West, but the movie has a lot more going for it besides. None of Costa-Gavras subsequent tracts has come close to capturing the gut-rending tension that glues the viewer of Z to the edge of his seat. Yves Montand turns in yet another tour de force as the pacifist legislator whose brutal assassination triggers the investigation that inexorably leads to the top layer of the Junta: Bear in mind, however, that no Watergate-style denouement awaits the generals. Irene Pappas' brooding widow adds little to the film; the role limits her to a couple of disconsolate weeping sessions and some blank stares. But Jean-Louis Tritignant provides the needed complement to Montand as he relentlessly pursues the Truth in his capacity as the prosecutor who smells something fishy somewhere. Some viewers may find Costa-Gavras' sledge-hammer polemicizing a bit much, but he does, after all, have the right line.
Nashville. It's all been said before, but we'll repeat it for the umpteenth time: Nashville comes as close to breakthrough as a film can these days, and it will come to rub shoulders with 8 1/2, Grand Illusion and other charter members in the pantheon of cinema. Robert Altman reveals the bankruptcy of the American psyche without one blink of the eye, using the country music world of Nashville as his chosen microcosm. Lily Tomlin made a giant leap towards her current cover-story stardom in the role of the gospel singer who staves off Keith Carradine's rakish advances. Both Geraldine Chaplin and Shelley Duvall are wasted in limiting characters that flirt with the stereotypical throughout the film; in any case, it is not the acting that makes Nashville, but rather Altman's perfection of the difficult slice-of-life narrative structure, The gratuitous conclusion turned this stomach during the initial screening, but it fails to ruin an otherwise brilliant work of art--the ultimate testimony to the genius of the preceding 150 minutes. Incidentally, try to make it on time, because the opening credits are not to be missed.
Network. With spring comes tolerance (revisionism, actually), and I have agreed to let a more gullible filmgoer play devil's advocate this week in response to my review of this movie last week. He says: "It is well worth seeing." Critics have said that Paddy Chayevsky's script about a network news announcer who goes berserk and climbs to the top of the ratings is 'out of control' but that is its beauty. The film is widely satirical--the very insanity of its premise (that the network keeps the insane commentator on the air because of his ratings--makes film funnier than Eric Severaid. Faye Dunaway plays a programming executive who is without an ounce of compassion; William Holden plays a deposed news executive who gambles on her capacity for love--and loses. Holden is a little dull, but Dunaway and Peter Finch, the crazed commentator, manage to carry off the film's roller coaster ride of high-level network looniness." Well, as veterans of the Lincoln brigade might have said in response to Franco sympathizers during the Spanish Civil war: go to the front yourself and see what line you come away with.
Providence. Alain Resnais has always trafficked exclusively in cinematographic style and psychological complexities, and many find his work inaccessible, or pretentious, or both. But if the intellectual and the self-consciously artsy in the film so not automatically put you off, this movie is a wonder. It revolves around a belligerently dying writer, played by John Gielgud, and the elaborate world of dreams, nightmares and artistic fantasies through which he carries out his suspicions, guilt jealousy and resentment toward his family. Gielgud's son, who is his fantasmagoria becomes a monstrously callous and emotionless lawyer and husband, is played with cruel, aristocratic brilliance by Dirk Bogard; the casting could not have been better. Ellen Burstyn, meanwhile, does not quite convince as the lawyer's wife; she's supposed to growl like a trapped domestic pet and take gleeful pleasure in taking on a lover to spite her husband, but somehow Burstyn comes on like Dinah Shore trying to play Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. The performances, however, are really peripheral to Resnais' fascination, haunting insights into fantasy, conveyed both in the movie's dialogue and in its visual composition. A chit-chat review cannot do it justice; see it, and discuss it.
Harlan County, USA. Barbara Kopple's Oscar-winning documentary of miners and a coal strike in Harlan Country, Kentucky is very worth seeing. Kopple skillfully weaves a pastiche of film clips from the 1930s, when the county was known as "Bloody Harlan," footage of UMWA leaders from John L. Lewis to Tony Boyle, Jock Yablonski, and Arnold Miller, and always the 13-month strike that didn't end until miner Lawrence Jones was murdered by scabs. The music is first-rate--all old union songs, some by local hero David Morris of Ivydale, West Virginia, Kopple's camera is discreet; there is no voice-over narration, and the people of Harlan tell their own sad story. They win the battle of Harlan, forcing Duke Power to negotiate, and this film leaves you with the idea they'll win the battles ahead too. Very highly recommended.