Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Meanwhile, At Your Local Arthouse Theater...

In a Summer filled with bombastic blockbusters noisily cramming into the multiplexes weekend after weekend it can be easy to miss what’s playing at your local arthouse theater. 

At my hometown theater, the Varsity (where I also work part-time), there are 2 new (well, new to my area) foreign films which just may be worth pulling yourself away from the glut of CGI McMovies to check out: 

TELL NO ONE (Dir. Guillaume Canet, 2006)

This French thriller’s tagline is one that a movie publicist would die for: “8 years ago, Alex’s wife was MURDERED. Today...she emailed him”. In the first few casually romantic minutes we are introduced to a pediatrician (François Cluzet) married to his long time love (Marie-Josée Croze) who we see in a flashback as kids carving their initials into a tree. The tree is near a lake where the couple often go skinny dipping. 

One fateful night Croze disapears in the woods and is brutally murdered while Cluzet is out cold from a blow to the head by an unseen assailant. As the tagline says, we cut to 8 years later and Cluzet is still emotionally wounded as he goes through his daily routines and still visits the parents of his deceased wife. 

He receives the shocking email with a link to a video showing his wife alive and the message: “Tell no one. We’re being watched”. The police have uncovered 2 new corpses at the scene of the crime, Cluzet is implicated and is forced to go on the lam.

It’s been called Hitchcockian though I think it has more in common with more modern works like Roman Polanski’s FRANTIC also sharing the unnerving tension of George Sluizer’s THE VANISHING (the original 1988 one, not the awful American remake). The pacing and stream-lined structure is gripping throughout even when the convolutions of the last third come close to throwing it off track. 

A chase as the cops close in through the streets of Paris is a stand out sequence really revving it up when Cluzet attempts to cross a multi-lane freeway on foot which actually doesn’t recall the mystery masters of yesteryear - it recalls Eddie Murphy’s mad-dash dodging motorists in BOWFINGER, and I mean that in the best possible way. 

The only downside is that TELL NO ONE would doubtfully survive multiple viewings. Some of the twists and turns can be sensed way in advance and the thrills of guessing would likely wear very thin. Movies that are by design so built upon plot manipulations are often extremely unappealing on a second viewing, I mean do you feel like watching THE SIXTH SENSE again? I didn’t think so. 

 Anyway, the cast is spot on with Cluzet’s intensely precise performance keeping the film grounded (for the most part) while Kristen Scott Thomas, the only name that most Americans would recognize in the cast) has some good almost comical moments as his sister’s (Marina Hands) lesbian lover. 

 The soundtrack has the goods too - Otis Redding’s “For Your Precious Love” sets the alluring tone at the beginning and the most moving use of a Jeff Buckley song I’ve witnessed on film occurs when “Lilac Wine” serenades a funeral cremation scene. As overused adjectives in movie reviews go I’ve never been a fan of “taut” but this is indeed a highly entertaining and, yes, a very taut thriller even if it is a bit of a throwaway. 

UP THE YANGTZE (Dir. Yung Chang, 2007)

The biggest hydroelectric dam in history, the Three Gorges Dam in China, is bringing massive changes to the region and customs of the residents on the edge of the Yangtze River. Chinese-Canadian director Yung Chang explores the paths of a couple of young people (Yu Shui and Chen Bo Yu) who are attempting to abandon the peasant farming life of their elders with jobs on a cruise ship offering “farewell tours” for wealthy tourists who Chang in his spare narration tells us are looking for a sort of “ancient China that doesn't exist anymore.” 

As the river rises and large communities are displaced, this documentary takes its time and makes no pat conclusions or damning statements, it simply lays out its subjects bare. Yu Shui (given the English name “Cindy” for her job on the Victoria Queen river liner) and Chen Bo Yu (renamed “Jerry" -likewise) learn their barings aboard while the folks ashore struggle to relocate and re-assimilate. UP THE YANGTZE is a mediation and may be too plodding and slow to capture many moviegoers minds as it rambles down some strains of daily life on the river. 

There are many pointed passages though and a concluding series of time lapse shots of Shui’s family home being engorged and completely drowned by the flooding water is greatly gripping illustrating Chang’s comment: “Imagine the Grand Canyon being turned into a Great Lake”. I’d definitely recommend UP THE YANGTZE but more for its educational content than its entertainment value though it’s hardly lacking on that front. 

More later...

1 comment:

Graham said...

I liked Tell No One alot, and I also compared it to Frantic.

I haven't seen Yangtze, and since I can't see it tonight, I guess I have no hope.