Viridiana. In 1960, Luis Bunuel returned to his native Spain after a 25-year exile to make this provocative film. It follows the odyssey of a crusading young nun who upon leaving her convent for the home of a perverse uncle, naively tries to turn the estate into a home for reforming a band of low-lifers and beggars. But the patronized riff-raff don't buy it, and when she absents herself they make their new home the scene of a wild feast and orgy. In the end, the idealistic man compromises with the forces of the evil reality that surrounds her. The themes--a bitter anticlericalism and a grim view of social and sexual decadence--are similar to many of Bunuel's previous films, but his treatment here is much more mature and humane. Still, it was all too much for the Spanish government. Even after Viridiana won the Palme D'or at the Cannes film festival, the Franco regime banned its showing, and it wasn't until 1963 that Bunue found a U.S. distributor
Cries and Whispers. By direct contrast with the starkness of his Persona-period films, this is easily the most visually lush Bergman movie I have seen. But the rich colors and textures of the large Victorian house that serve as the setting of the drama only accent all the more disturbing. Bergman's story of the psychological dynamics between a woman dying of cancer and the two sisters that look after her in her final weeks. The flashback sequences in this film are some of the most cruel and haunting that Bergman has ever realized.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This film version of Ken Kesey's fable about a lunatic asylum in the Pacific Northwest lacks all the subtlety and tension that marked the novel in its best moments. But it does offer a brilliant performance by Jack Nicholson perfectly cast as Randle Patrick McMurphy, the hard-living con man who sparks the inmates to rebel against the psychologically castrating Head Nurse only to find himself out-conned in the end.
Alice's Restaurant. Arther Penn does a nice job of turning Arlo Guthrie's half-hour long ballad, about hanging out in western Massachusetts and ingeniously resisting the draft, into a loose, rambling, amiable film. The first half works particularly well. The second half drags on a bit too long and is broken by some incongrously depressing sequences, but the movie still remains one of the best film portraits of what life was like for the draft-board-baiting bohemian back-packers of the '60s.
Annie Hall. Even though it's based on his real-life relationship with co-star Diane Keaton, Woody Allen's latest--and arguably best--film is far more than cinema a clef. Allen's sensitive, sometimes painfully realistic portrait of a failed love affair between a neurotic but lovable New York Jew and a flaky midwestern WASP marks a generally successful departure in thematic approach: Annie Hall goes much farther in exploring human relationships than any of Allen's previous films. Still, the best moments in the film are the deliberate send-ups in which Allen unleashes his scathing wit against such deserving targets as Los Angeles and the Beautiful People, the too-chic Manhattan aesthetes and intellectuals who religiously study The New Yorker.
Aguirre: The Wrath of God. Many people don't like this Werner Herzog film, which is based on the true story of Aguirre the Madman, a mutinous conquistador who led an expeditionary force down the Amazon River on a disastrous search for gold and glory. Critics complain that Herzog treats his subjects too mechanically, and that the film is visually stunning but thematically vacuous. But such criticism misses the point: Herzog's relentlessly realistic re-enactment of the trip--of the assumption of power by a ruthless brute who rapidly develop into a raving megalomamac and whose subordinates lack either the courage or moral strength to overthrow him--is precisely what makes this film so horrifying.
Stroszek. The latest film bearing the stamp of the trendy German director, Werner Herzog, is an appropriate exhibit of what happens when the filmmaker pours his innards into the camera and lets the script slide. This would-be saga abouty three losers who flee the slums of Berlin for the promise of America delivers some startling imagery all right, but the story's fascination with the daily trampling of a society's outcasts serves precious little creative purpose. Witnessing the humiliation and coldness meted out to whores and alcoholics does not do your head much good, and the gratuitous--and clumsy--satire of the Midwest is guaranteed to turn you off on Herzog's trek through our social mire.
The Spy Who Loved Me. Roger Moore may make a great James Bond to simply look at, but Connerly's sheer style continues to be missed. Big on ever more ingenious gimmickry for Her Majesty's superspy. The Spy Who Loved Me will delight devoted 007 fans, but it remains a faint shadow of its earlier forerunners. The film never asks to be taken seriously, but Moore's amazing feats and affected bravado wear thin after awhile. Where we once gasped oohs and ahs we can now only giggle.
Outrageous! Only Woody Allen at his best could outdo some of the one-liners in Richard Benner's brilliant comedy about a female impersonator's rise to stardom and the whacked-out woman behind his success. Craig Russell's unabashedly gay hairdresser has graced us with a character we will not soon forget, completely stealing the show in the movie's plot and the movie itself. His series of famed singers and actresses belting out "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" will bring down any house, so carefully honed are his Channings and Ellas. Co-star Hollis McLaren is inevitably overshadowed by Russell's stagewise presence, but the delicate treatment she gives to her Crazy Liza perfectly complements her outlandish buddy.
This weekend the Center Screen at Carpenter Center opens its fall film series with Dusan Makavejev's 1968 film Innocence Unprotected. A visiting professor at Harvard this year, the Yugoslavian filmmaker has achieved international reknown with such films as Man is Not a Bird (1966). A Love Affair: Tragedy of a Switchboard Operator(1967), WR: Mysteries of the Organism(1971), and Sweet Movie(1974). Recognized for the vitality and independence of his hotch potch style--juxtaposing science and eroticism, matching up a switchboard operator with a rat exterminator--Makavejev is an exciting addition to Harvard's film department. He will be present at the Friday night screening to introduce and discuss his film.