Gerard Brach

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Repulsion Review


Essential
Today's lesson: Don't leave the crazy lady alone with a straight razor.

Roman Polanski's Repulsion has been rightly hailed as a chilling examination of a woman going mad. With unnerving intensity, it places us in the shoes of Catherine Deneuve's fragile beautician, whose unexplained trauma and sexual repression induce bizarre, frightening hallucinations that ultimately drive her to murder. But just as powerful is its notion of an outside world incapable of aiding her. Polanski's penchant for exploring helplessness and indifference has seen more overt expression in other films, but here it forms a haunting counterpoint to the central drama, a statement both on insanity and the banal monstrosities which enable it.

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Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

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Identification of a Woman Review


Terrible
Michelangelo Antonioni's 1982 film Identification of a Woman never saw release... and now we know why! Making its way to video after close to 20 years, Identification is a long-winded and oh-so-serious tale of a famous film director who, after being dumped by his wife, fools around with a couple of women as he tries to imagine a way to make a movie out of his sad sad life. The problem is not only that the two woman look and act so much alike there's little to differentiate them from each other, but our "hero" is also kind of a jerk with nothing new to say about female sexuality, which is purportedly what the movie is supposed to be about. Like most of Antonioni's work, Identification is very long and doesn't stray very far from the holding pattern it locks itself into, and only die-hard fans are likely to get much out of enduring its 2+ hour running time.

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Tess Review


OK
Hunkering down with any movie adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel (Jude, The Claim) invariably means you're in for a long, depressing look at life. Tess stands as one of the longest and saddest of the lot -- this one offered up by Roman Polanski as one of a handful of adaptations of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, one of those famous high school assignments that you didn't get around to reading.

Tess Durbeyfield (Nastassja Kinski) is a naive English country girl sent to do good by her family. She's not two feet out of her cottage when she encounters the aristocratic Alec d'Urberville (Leigh Lawson). Legend has it the similarity in names is no coincidence -- the two families descended from the same royals centuries ago. Never mind the incest, though, here comes the lovin', and before you know it, Tess isn't just taking care of chickens at d'Urberville manor, she's pregnant to boot.

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Frantic Review


Excellent
It's a common nightmare. A simple mistake -- a mixed-up bag at the airport -- lands you in a world of shit far away from familiar surroundings. In this case, Harrison Ford plays an American in Paris whose wife goes missing while he's in the shower at their hotel. Soon he's mixed up in a drug ring and a smuggling gig, with a sexy vixen (Emmanuelle Seigner, wife of director Roman Polanski) along for the ride. Polanski paces the film very deliberately, with Ford in almost every scene, proving he's an exceptional actor. It's surprisingly taut, quite realistic, and worth watching. It isn't Polanski's greatest work, but it's a great success.

Blueberry Review


Excellent
Moebius, aka Jean Giraud, is best known as the artist who revolutionized Continental comic books in the 1960s and 1970s. His work, highly stylized and fittingly surreal, is synonymous with science fiction illustration and the premier adult fantasy comic magazine, Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal, in the states.) While he began his work as an illustrator for various French magazines and fanzines, it wasn't until the 1970s, when he adopted the pen name Moebius, that his work became internationally recognized. Despite his frequent forays into science fiction and fantasy, his western strip Blueberry (with Jean-Michel Charlier) is perhaps his best-known work. While Mike Blueberry, the cowboy hero of the eponymous strip, has traveled the dusty back roads for over 30 years there has not been a film adaptation of his adventures until now.

Jan Kounen, the Dutch cause celebre responsible for the hyperactive cult film Dobermann, tackles the epic story of Blueberry with a careful, almost blissed out style - much to the dismay of fans of his earlier work. Blueberry is a meditative work, a somnambulist's ramble through western history and psychedelica. The film is slowly paced but crescendos in a special effects blowout, a literal celluloid peyote trip, which would make Alejandro Jodorowsky jump with joy. (That isn't a random aside, Blueberry is as close an homage to Jodorowsky's El Topo as a big budget western can get.)

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The Tenant Review


Excellent
Another classic Roman Polanski freak-out, new to DVD. It's The Tenant, the ultimate look at paranoia and real estate.

In the film, Polanski plays a quiet man who moves into a small apartment recently vacated by a woman who committed suicide by jumping out of the window -- for unknown reasons. Polanski's Trelkovsky quickly becomes embroiled in mysterious goings-on, including a dalliance with a stranger (Isabelle Adjani) he encounters at the hospital while visiting the former tenant's death bed, endless creepy apartment-mates, and a slow descent into insanity as he becomes obsessed with the life of the former tenant.

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Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

Continue reading: Jean de Florette Review

Cul-De-Sac Review


Good
Roman Polanski's character study is strange, creepy, and often compelling. The freaky foursome in the film are a pair of criminals on the run and a husband and wife in whose home they uninvitedly take up residence. The criminals (including Lionel Stander, the butler from Hart to Hart) turn the husband (Donald Pleasence) into a snivelling fool, while the wife (Françoise Dorléac) is alternately a vamp and a freaked-out basket case. How they interact -- and how this all ends up -- is devilishly interesting, though it's ultimately not terribly believable.

Bitter Moon Review


Excellent
Certainly a case of deja vu for Hugh Grant, Bitter Moon finds the big Hugh playing hide the little Hugh with a girl he meets on a ship to Istanbul (Emmanuelle Seigner). The only problem is that the wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) doesn't really approve. And then there's the matter of the girl's husband (Peter Coyote), who sends Grant on the chase to start with.

Why is he bound to a wheelchair? How did the innocent couple turn so perverted? Coyote's story talks about bondage, golden showers, and even ends up with Coyote crawling around on the floor, grunting while he wears a pig mask.

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The Fearless Vampire Killers Review


Good
Even when he's at his most serious (The Pianist), his most stately (Tess), his most gruesome (Macbeth), Roman Polanski is a director with a keen, sardonic black wit. The "real" world, for Polanski, is one in which you might find human teeth embedded in the walls, where the neighbors might happen to be Satanists, where Donald Pleasance appears in drag. It's scary, but for Polanski (who lived through unimaginable horrors himself), it's blackly funny, too. And if the material is ostensibly quite heavy, as it is in The Pianist, so much the better. Weren't Nazis a kind of monster after all? How absurd was their rise to power? And how absurd the situations in which his protagonist found himself obliged to live?

Still, there are few declared comedies in Polanski's filmography. The best of these, 1967's The Fearless Vampire Killers (known outside the U.S. as Dance of the Vampires, and the basis of a recent, successful, European stage musical), is newly available on DVD.

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The Name of the Rose Review


Weak
Franciscan and Benedictine monks are dispatched to a remote monastery to resolve a dispute over doctrine in The Name of the Rose. When William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) and his novice Adso (a very young Christian Slater) arrive, they find the discussions have been stalled by the death of a young, talented scribe. The resident monks are all atwitter, wringing their hands and worrying that the murder is a sign of the apocalypse. Their fervor reaches a fever pitch as more of their brethren begin to turn up dead, describing some choice passages of Revelations. So William fires up his logic, ceaselessly name checks Aristotle and begins to piece together a mystery that involves secret secular knowledge, a labyrinthine library, and a struggle between wild religious superstition and cold reason.

Based on Umberto Eco's dense and demanding bestseller, The Name of the Rose, is basically a love letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unfortunately, the film version never passes up an opportunity to remind us of that fact.

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