by Jeff Niesel
The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great movies this weekend. Here are capsule reviews of just a few of them.
The Barefoot Contessa (US, 1954) A title that calls to mind a fluffy Doris Day or Sophia Loren pastry is actually a tart-tongued Hollywood-insider tragedy from illustrious writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Ava Gardner plays a Spanish dancer “discovery” of 1950s Hollywood, scoped out in Madrid by a control-freak movie mogul (Mankiewicz denied he used actual celebrities as his models, but the joyless tycoon is said to be based on Howard Hughes) and turned into an overnight sensation on celluloid, not dissimilar from Loren, Anita Ekberg, Brigitte Bardot or any number of international sex-goddess icons. Despite the jet-set lifestyle, the heroine remains seemingly aloof from romantic love, and it’s an ill omen that we’re watching this all in flashback at her funeral, narrated by three key men in her life (Humphrey Bogart playing the foremost, an alcoholic director and father-confessor figure). It’s full of memorably rueful (if thickly overwritten) wise-guy dialogue that sometimes sounds like “Mank” talking to himself. One could do a lot worse for Algonquin roundtable-type entertainment, and Gardner is they-don’t-make-them-like-that-anymore breathtakingly gorgeous. At 7 p.m. Thursday, June 11 and 9 p.m. Friday, June 12. ** (Charles Cassady Jr.)
Cherry Blossoms (Germany/France, 2008) Winner of the audience award when it showed recently at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Doris Dörrie’s film is a touching story about Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) and Rudi (Elmar Wepper), an elderly Bavarian couple who try to reconnect with their children. They first visit two of their kids, now grown up, in Berlin, but when it’s apparent they’re not welcome, they take a trip to the Baltic Sea. When Trudi unexpectedly dies, Rudi has to go back home by himself. He can’t adjust to life without his wife, so he goes to Tokyo to see his son. That doesn’t go so well either, but after he meets a young homeless Japanese girl, he suddenly gets in touch with his spiritual side. The movie, a loose retelling of the 1953 film Tokyo Story, has compassion at its core and is beautifullly shot, but it often opts for sentimental crutches (several heavy-handed metaphors) that just seem forced. At 4 p.m. Sunday, June 14. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
The Party (US, 1968) This enjoyable, if not terribly profound comedy, was one of those slapstick marathons (along with the later Pink Panther sequels) that gave Peter Sellers the reputation as a master of pratfalling. That’s rather a pity, since the actor’s true genius lay in mimicry and characterization, rather than knockabout Three Stooges stuff. The simple setup — practically a throwback to the two-reelers of silent-comedy days (undoubtedly an influence on director Blake Edwards) — has Sellers as a friendly but disastrously clumsy “Bollywood” actor, somehow employed in Hollywood as an extra, who is accidentally invited to a house party by the studio tycoon who hates him. The well-intentioned Indian stumbles from one calamity to another in the high-tech, tricked-up mansion of his trendy host and hostess. An Anglo actor doing this blackface bit today would draw protests; back then even filmmaker Satyajit Ray thought Sellers convincing enough to solicit him for such roles. And the outdated 1960s “groovy” atmosphere is laid on pretty thick. Still, we defy you not to laugh or feel like saying “birdie num-nums” at inappropriate moments for weeks afterwards. At 7 p.m. Friday, June 12 and 9:20 p.m. Saturday, June 13. *** (Cassady)
The Window (Argentina/Spain, 2008 The latest feature from Argentine director Carlos Sorin (El Perro, Intimate Stories) opens with a dream in which Antonio (Antonio Larreta) imagines meeting the young woman and remembering her face some 80 years later. He wakes up to find himself bed-ridden, awaiting a visit from his son Pablo, with whom he hasn’t spoken in years. To prepare for his visit, he has the piano tuned (Pablo is a world-class pianist), gets a haircut and tries to take a walk on his estate. That proves to be a mistake as he’s just not healthy enough for it and he collapses, shortly before his son’s arrival. He revives just in time to speak briefly to his son, but it’s clear he doesn’t have long to live. Filmed on the Patagonia countryside, The Window is a beautiful movie that never becomes too sentimental, thanks to Larreta’s fine performance as a cranky-yet-loveable old man. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 13 and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 14. *** (Niesel)