(The films featured in this issue's Bijou Beat are likely no longer in theatres but are well worth seeking out at your local video store. -- Ed.)
In a summer of giant lizards attacking Manhattan and asteroids advancing menacingly upon the Earth, the most memorable movies of the season were both subtler and subtitled.
Un Air de Famille
Regular readers of this humble little rag know that I was utterly charmed by Cédric Klapisch's When the Cat's Away, and I'm pleased to report that the director avoided the sophomore jinx in a big way with Un Air de Famille (Family Resemblances). Shot in widescreen format, the film is nonetheless a claustrophobic look at the secret resentments, jealousies, and shortcomings that lie behind all family relationships. At first glance, the family depicted in this film are a reasonably content clan. But when they gather, one Friday night, at the small café operated by the bitter, sputtering, quick-tempered Henri to celebrate the birthday of his prosperous go-getter of a brother, Phillipe, the family's history is slowly but surely revealed, and we come to understand what makes each person -- from the two brothers to their now-absent father, their imperious mother, and her rebellious thirty-something daughter -- tick.
Un Air de Famille was first a play, written and staged by the same troupe of actors seen in the film. They lived with these characters for months during the play's successful run and it shows in the film. They are a remarkable ensemble, and Klapish, with his understated direction, gives them ample freedom to bring these characters to vivid life on screen. Thought-provoking, insightful, and entertaining, Un Air de Famille is a must-see.
Remarkably, another French production filmed in Cinemascope made my summer's top 3, too: Western is a quirky Gallic offering that combines two of Hollywood's favorite genres: the buddy picture and the road movie.
It concerns two immigrants, one of whom, a Catalonian Spaniard named Paco, has managed to successfully assimilate into French society. He has a decent job and an effortless charm that women cannot resist. His unlikely traveling partner, Nino, is a small Brillo-haired Russian who bears an resemblance to the young Bob Dylan. Nino has not managed to make a home in his adopted country. His awkward manner, pidgeon French, and wanderlust keep him from settling down.
Nino and Paco are an extremely unlikely duo, and the manner in which they are paired and the slow growth of their affection for each is a delight to watch. Wonderful acting and a funny insightful script make this perhaps-fifteen-minutes-overlong movie a richly rewarding rental.
Nights of Cabiria
Recently, I indulged in a movie marathon, seeing five, count'em, 5 movies in one day (and in the process shattering my previous record of 3 films in a 24-hour period). All 5 were worthwhile but the last one, Fellini's Nights of Cabiria was sheer heartbreaking magic. I knew little of the film going in, thank goodness, and found it utterly memorable, even after 4 other movies. See it, and soon! Even if you've seen it before. One unforgettable scene, unjustly excised in 1957 at the insistence of the Church, has been restored and is, on its own, worth the price of admission. I'm hoping against hope that this restored footage will be included in future video releases of the film.