But, back to it, now with movies I watched once I returned from my Maine visit in January...
An Enemy of the People (1989) directed by Satyajit Ray
Ray, as always subtle and solid, does Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and it fits him mostly perfectly.
Beautiful acted and well-staged, it's nearly up there with my favorite Ray films, but an odd pulling back at the end mars it for me, though at the same time, it would probably be unbearable with the completely depressing end that seems most logical, but is avoided -- there is also a slightly hopeful ending to Ibsen's play, but it doesn't feel quite as upbeat as what Ray does here. Three Stars
Revenge (1989) directed by Yermek Shinarbayev
Sublime and close to indescribable. Should be seen, and now that it's restored and even streaming on Hulu, will be, I hope.
A short and obscure (in a good way) story about strength and friendship is followed by a longer one about revenge (deserved, some would say) being planned and fostered and accomplished across years and generations. It is epic (though the film is fairly short for that) and inexorable, though one never knows how the fated end will occur, only that one is sure that it will. And when it comes, it is as perfect and unexpected as all that proceeds it. And a sunset coda seals it all in place. Beautiful. Four Stars
The Match Factory Girl (1990) directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Whew. Well, beautiful and unremitting. I'm not one who ever feels the need for uplift and happy ending, but jesus...
Of Aki Kaurismäki's "Proletarian Trilogy," I admire this one maybe the most for its focus and economy, but I liked Ariel more all-around for being a little less self-serious, with a hair of hope. This is amazing for its realistic-but-somehow-stylized tone, but it's on the edge of comic in being so depressingly "Scandinavian." Three Stars
Black Rain (1989) directed by Shôhei Imamura
Beautiful study of the lives of three people caught near the bombing of Hiroshima showing its effect on them in the immediate moments/days after and several years later, jumping between the two. Perhaps horribly predictable in some ways, in the ways that slow death by radiation poisoning is predictable (if you've done, as I had to do, some small study of the subject), but never not fascinating and gripping, moment by moment -- and seeing a extremely realistic (yet, with Imamura's camera, still poetic) recreation of the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima is powerful and valuable. Great performances all around.
NOTE: The DVD contains the original, planned final 19 minutes of the film, which are in color and jump the story ahead anther 15-20 years (and, I believe, eventually to the 1989 present of the film). This original ending is excellent in its own way, but correctly cut by Imamura -- it doesn't really fit the film that was to precede it (though the ending left on the film winds up being just a hair lacking as a result). I recommend watching this ending but NOT (as I did, unfortunately) immediately after the finished feature -- it DOES diminish the film's power. Three Stars
The Seventh Continent (1989) directed by Michael Haneke
God. My first Haneke film, and his first. Brilliant, perfect, cruel, precise, heartbreaking, hideous, and correct. An accumulation of too-ordered details that widens until everything must be destroyed. Everything.
I have somewhat avoided Haneke in the past because I found most of his public statements to be simplistic and asinine (though there are plenty of filmmakers I like who are exactly the same). I still always had the feeling I would like his work, for some reason, and at least here I was right. Very inspirational -- the first two thirds are a lot like things I've always wanted to shoot, but dismissed as subjects no one would be interested in but me. Glad that someone did it, and did it right. Don't know if I could stand to go through the whole thing again anytime soon, though. Five Stars
Lost in New York (1989) directed by Jean Rollin
Surprising and shockingly touching. Short featurette in which Jean Rollin seems to examine his filmic obsessions in the form of a kind of fairy tale -- little girls find magic item that allows them to be grown women traveling the world, they do so, return, years later as old women they are able to magically become girls again. There is some play about a magic item allowing the transformations and travels, but in the end it is obvious that Rollin is talking about Film here, allowing mind and body to transcend time and space and become a kind of Otherlife, if not an Afterlife. Sweet and mournful, an expression of love from someone too old to believe in the platitudes about it, but innocent enough to pretend for a while. Three and a half Stars
The Two Jakes (1990) directed by Jack Nicholson
Well, whaddya know? Not as bad as I remembered (I'm not sure I've seen this since the night it opened, when ALL film students ran out to catch it). Not even as mediocre as I thought it would be to come back to. A serviceable little neo-noir that suffers from comparison to Chinatown, but whose core is inextricable from it. Terrific cast, some ported in from the first film other than Nicholson, and great dialogue, but no sense of real pace or momentum. The film ambles, for chrissakes, and that's just wrong for the style and story. It feels like the three drafts of Chinatown I've read from before Polanski got to it, shaggy and unfocused. But if the whole isn't all that much, there are a lot of great parts along the way. I'll actually probably give it another go on some lazy afternoon in a couple of years or so. Three Stars