From giallo to the gallows
As promised last column, here’s a quick jaunt through recent releases from France and Italy, those sibling rivals of world cinema. Next time out: We stop testing the number of titles we can fit in one paragraph.
The small, whiny, “I hate subtitles” contingent can ease into Italian film gently thanks to Blue Underground, whose latest releases are presented in their English-dubbed versions with nary a subtitle in sight. While some cinephiles will take offense, it must be said that many hardcore fans of these genres — ’70s crime flicks like The Heroin Busters and Street Law; grisly and sexually twisted giallos like The Pyjama Girl Case and The Black Belly of the Tarantula — actually prefer to hear the often goofy dubbing they would’ve experienced back at the grindhouse. Folks at No Shame cater to purists, offering both dialogue versions on their recent Massacre in Rome and The Desert of the Tartars — allowing fans to switch, in the former, between hearing Marcello Mastroianni in his native tongue or hearing co-star Richard Burton in his.
Turning from cheap thrills and historical recreations to Italian cinema’s more refined treasures, Criterion offers Vittorio de Sica’s The Children Are Watching Us alongside Fists in the Pocket, a 1965 tweak of Catholic mores by Marco Bellocchio. More dicey on the extras/technical side, Koch Lorber’s reissues of Seven Beauties and Swept Away are still welcome; without them, customers would have to buy the Lina Wertmüller box set to get her two best-known features. (The company’s release of Pasolini’s bizarre Teorema does better by that film, with a nice wide-screen transfer and nearly hour-long interview about the filmmaker.)
Returning to the present, the raved-about Best of Youth (Miramax) arrived in February. An epic chronicling what four decades of Italian history do to two brothers, the film is more than six hours long; amazingly, the notoriously edit-happy mogul Harvey Weinstein trusted it was compelling enough to screen that way in America.
Speaking of Harv but moving to France, I thought 1991’s Tous Les Matins Du Monde was one of his until it was issued by Koch Lorber. A lush period piece full of romance, marquee names like the once-ubiquitous Gérard Depardieu, and gorgeous music, it’s exactly the kind of thing that was once Miramax’s definition of cultcha.
On the contemporary front, two noteworthy films had a hard time escaping the major markets but are now available on the couch-potato circuit: Triple Agent is a true spy story from an auteur, Eric Rohmer, best known for the philosophical inquiries of his “moral tales”; 5X2 is the latest from François Ozon, one of the most reliably engaging young filmmakers in France.
Ozon has dealt provocatively with sex, but that’s nothing compared to The Walerian Borowczyk Collection (Cult Epics). A group of three live-action features by an artist first known as an animator, the films delve into some pretty perverse obsessions — as demonstrated in The Beast, a sexually explicit reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast tale.
A more famous version of that fable, Jean Cocteau’s, was (without screen credit) co-directed by René Clément. Clément’s fans had reason to rejoice a while back with Criterion’s release of Forbidden Games (part of a Francophile orgy also featuring Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player and Renoir’s La Bête Humaine). Now they can greet his less-famous La Bataille Du Rail (Facets), a tale of railway workers in the French resistance that was actually shot with WWII still going on.
Criterion’s big Gallic crush right now, though, is on Louis Malle. Fresh out in stores is his debut feature, Elevator to the Gallows, a thriller starring Jeanne Moreau and excellently scored by Miles Davis. But that’s merely dessert to the recent 3 Films By Louis Malle, a bonus-heavy box collecting three sometimes autobiographical films of youth, including his 1987 arthouse hit, Au Revoir Les Enfants.
Finally, we flirt with returning to universal-language releases with a French title by silent star Louise Brooks. Unfortunately for the reading-averse, Prix De Beauté (Kino) is not silent but one of the first sound films made in France. It was also Brooks’ final starring role, as a typist who enters a beauty contest. An American who the year prior had gone to Germany for two fantastic films with G.W. Pabst, Brooks already knew that enough star presence transcends the language barrier.