Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great movies this weekend. Here are our reviews of just a few of them.

Brighton Rock (Britain, 1947) Adapted from a Graham Greene novel, this 1947 British gangster film was quite a shocker in its day (Mutilated bodies! Gangland warfare! Double-crossing snitches!). It’s still a solid piece of filmmaking by director John Boulting, even if some of the onscreen violence seems a bit tame by modern standards. After rackets runner Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) murders a rival, a boozy barfly (Hermione Baddeley) who was hanging out with the victim right before he was killed begins snooping around. Meanwhile, Pinkie tries to get his small-time gang some respect on the street and cozies up to a young, innocent waitress (a radiant Carol Marsh), who’s inadvertently connected to the crime. The script (co-written by Greene) is tough. So are the characters. Pinkie is ruthless, at one point tossing one of his cronies off a balcony. The film is also quite suspenseful, particularly during the long opening scene when thugs pursue an unfortunate victim through Brighton’s daylight streets and into a dark carnival funhouse. This brutal British noir is grittier than many of its contemporaries in the U.S, where it was originally known as Young Scarface. That title is earned. Brighton Rock’s lineage can be traced all the way to modern mob classics like The Godfather, Scarface and GoodFellas. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 and at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. *** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Disengagement (Germany/Italy/Israel/France, 2007) The main storyline in this film by veteran Israeli director Amos Gitai concerns Ana (Juliette Binoche), a French woman who, in the wake of her father’s death, leaves her husband and goes to the Gaza Strip with her half-brother (Liron Levo) to find the child she gave up for adoption years ago. It takes some time before she starts her journey, however, as we first see a couple harassed by a customs agent as they’re traveling on a train. Though a bit slow-going at times, the film is exquisitely shot and well acted. Set during the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, it accurately captures the tension of the period. And the 45-year-old Binoche — who has aged quite gracefully — is superb as a lonely but likeable woman attempting to come to terms with her past while simultaneously dealing with overwhelming political upheaval. At 9:35 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. *** (Jeff Niesel)

Mammoth (Sweden/Denmark/Germany, 2009) When Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson burst onto the art-house scene a decade or so ago, he seemed like one of the brightest new lights in contemporary cinema. Films like Show Me Love, Together and Lila 4-Ever were deeply humanistic, yet rigorously unsentimental evocations of life as we know/live it. Moodysson stumbled with 2005’s ghastly, well-nigh unwatchable A Hole in My Heart, though, and he continues his precipitous slide with the nearly as bad Mammoth, his first English language effort. Yet another “We-Are-the-World” collage movie from the globe-spinning Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Amores Perros) playbook, Mammoth is so banal and fussily over-determined that it almost makes Valentine’s Day seem profound by comparison. In the opening scene, New York City yuppies Leo (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Ellen (Michelle Williams) make such a fuss over their bratty eight-year-old daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) that you just know they’re overcompensating for something. Because both parents are workaholics (she’s an emergency room doctor; he’s some kind of internet mogul) most of Jackie’s life is spent in the care of her saintly Filipino nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito). At 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, and 8:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. * 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

Night and Day (S. Korea, 2008) Considering that most of South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s films (Turning Gate, Woman on the Beach and the deliciously titled Woman Is the Future of Man) have been so informed by French New Wave directors like Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, it’s only fitting that his 2008 film Night and Day was actually filmed in Paris. Not surprisingly, the cosmopolitan setting feels like going home again for the prolific Hong. After a minor drug bust, thirtysomething painter Sung-nam (Kim Yeong-ho) impulsively hops a plane to Paris. During his extended sabbatical in the City of Light, Sung-nam does a lot of moping and flirting when he’s not chatting long distance with his wife (Hwang Su-jeong) back in Seoul. Because Sung-nam is apparently irresistible to the opposite sex — at least to attractive Korean expats like himself — flirting becomes his primary activity while waiting to fly home. (His wife gives him regular updates on his legal status.) There’s a pair of comely art students (Park Eun-hye and Seo Min-jeong), as well as ex-girlfriend Min-seon (Kim Yu-jin) who’s now living in Paris with her (never-seen) French husband. The charming scenes between a clearly still besotted Sung-nam and the phlegmatic Min-seon recall Rohmer's Six Moral Tales at their most exquisitely verbose, and Sung-nam even begins to physically resemble Truffaut (and Godard) muse/alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud by the film’s midpoint. As always with Hong, it’s the subtle undercurrent of melancholy lurking beneath nearly every exchange that ultimately makes his characters so moving and relatable. Sung-nam may be nothing more than a South Korean Peter Pan, but his amorous adventures in the scintillating Neverland of Paris put most contemporary romantic comedies (particularly American rom-coms) to shame. Why Hong still hasn’t become as cherished a fixture on the domestic art house front as, say, Pedro Almodovar is as mystifying as it is sad. At 8:10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, and 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26. ** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden/Denmark, 1922/1968) This is the truncated, 76-minute 1968 re-release of the 104-minute silent documentary re-enactment of medieval-European views of the devil and all his works, with filmmaker Benjamin Christensen as a fat, long-clawed and tongue-lolling Satan, corrupting lust-afflicted clergy and wives in the 15th and 16th centuries. Christensen's intent was not to promote superstition but to debunk it, showing quivering old village crones and defenseless girls victimized by churchmen and baseless gossip; modern-science psychology explains it all in the end. But what sticks is imagery that depicts the primal fear and torture-forced confessions that fueled witch-hunt hysteria. Witches soar on broomsticks, cutout monsters chew sinners, some stop-motion and strikingly costumed demons throw convents into chaos, all like medieval woodcuts come to nightmare life. Nudity and morbid violence (actually quite mild on both counts) inspired this film's frequent banning, though this ’68 version, with narration by William S. Burroughs (neatly replacing long minutes of explanatory title cards) and a jazz soundtrack featuring the violin of Jean-Luc Ponty, borders on being more of “head” film than a hard-headed skeptical expose of the occult. Recall that the “Age of Aquarius” was in full swing, the Church of Satan was booming in San Francisco, and Parker Brothers Ouja boards outsold Monopoly. So much for irony as a teaching tool. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 and at 11:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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