THE MISSING PICTURE (L’IMAGE MANQUANTE) (Rithy Panh, 2013)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Tuesday, December 12, $15, 7:00
In conjunction with the December 15-16 U.S. premiere of Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia as part of the 2017 Next Wave Festival, BAM is presenting Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture on December 12 at 7:00, with Panh participating in a postscreening Q&A with Ford Foundation program officer Chi-hui Yang. Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes and nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, The Missing Picture is a brilliantly rendered look back at the director’s childhood in Cambodia just as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge began their reign of terror in the mid-1970s. “I seek my childhood like a lost picture, or rather it seeks me,” narrator Randal Douc says in French, reciting darkly poetic and intimately personal text written by author Christophe Bataille (Annam) based on Panh’s life. Born in Phnom Penh in 1964, Panh, who has made such previous documentaries about his native country as S21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell and wrote the 2012 book L’élimination with Bataille, was faced with a major challenge in telling his story; although he found remarkable archival footage of the communist Angkar regime, there are precious few photographs or home movies of his family and the community where he grew up. So he had sculptor Sarith Mang hand-carve and paint wooden figurines that Panh placed in dioramas to detail what happened to his friends, relatives, and neighbors. Panh’s camera hovers over and zooms into the dioramas, bringing these people, who exist primarily only in memory, to vivid life. When a person disappears, Panh depicts their carved representatives flying through the sky, as if finally achieving freedom amid all the horrors.
He delves into the Angkar’s propaganda movement and sloganeering — the “great leap forward,” spread through film and other methods — as the rulers sent young men and women into forced labor camps. “With film too, the harvests are glorious,” Douc states as women are shown, in black-and-white, working in the fields. “There is grain. There are the calm, determined faces. Like a painting. A poem. At last I see the Revolution they so promised us. It exists only on film.” It’s a stark comparison to cinematographer Prum Mésa’s modern-day shots of the wind blowing through lush green fields, devoid of people. The Missing Picture is an extraordinarily poignant memoir that uses the director’s personal tale as a microcosm for what happened in Cambodia during the 1970s, employing the figures and dioramas to compensate for “the missing pictures.” Like such other documentaries as Jessica Wu’s Protagonist and In the Realms of the Unreal, Michel Gondry’s Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol, and Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer, which incorporate animation, puppetry, and/or miniatures to enhance the narrative or fill in gaps, Panh makes creative use of an unexpected artistic technique, this time concentrating on painful history as well as personal and collective memory.
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Run ended November 26
“A novel or a play cannot really be about Time. (And I ask the reader to remember that I am a man who is widely credited with having written ‘Time plays,” although I never made any such claim myself),” British playwright J. B. Priestley wrote. “Time is a concept, a certain condition of experience, a mode of perception, and so forth; and a novel or a play, to be worth calling one, cannot really be about Time but only about people and things that appear to be in Time.” Among Priestley’s Time plays are An Inspector Calls, I Have Been Here Before, and Time and the Conways, which was just revived by the Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway. As the title implies, Time is like a character unto itself in the show, which begins in 1919, shortly after the end of WWI. The Conways, led by their widowed matriarch (Elizabeth McGovern), are celebrating the twenty-first birthday of Kay Conway (Charlotte Parry), an aspiring novelist. The family is immersed in a game of Charades, which is going on in another, unseen room. Among those participating are Kay’s sisters, Hazel (Anna Camp), Madge (Brooke Bloom), and Carol (Anna Baryshnikov); their brothers, dullard Alan (Gabriel Ebert) and the swashbuckling Robin (Matthew James Thomas); and family friend Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts). They are soon joined by their solicitor, Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narciso), and his odd pal, a businessman named Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer), who has a creepy liking for Hazel. (“Ugh. I’d just as soon marry a — a ferret,” Hazel tells Joan.) The word they are trying to convey to their guests is “pussyfoot,” which, appropriately enough, means to evade commitment, emblematic of how the Conways avoid facing reality. “Just when everything is very jolly and exciting, I suddenly think of something awfully serious, sometimes horrible — like Dad drowning — or that little mad boy I once saw with the huge head — or that old man who walks in the Park with that great lump growing out of his face,” Carol says, to which Hazel responds, covering her ears, “I’m not listening. I’m not listening.” Mrs. Conway essentially covers her ears when Beevers advises that she accept a generous offer for her house, but the family will have none of it.
When Mrs. Conway says, “I’m not used to happiness,” she’s not kidding, but she’s also not about to do much to change things and face reality. The play then shifts to 1937, as the Conways all have to deal with the decisions they’ve made, most of which have not been for the better. The stern Madge, explaining that she has come to the house just because she was in the neighborhood, tells Kay, “I’ve no further interest in these family muddles, financial or otherwise.” When Gerald is about to deliver some bad news, Kay complains, “When you turn on that legal manner, I can’t take you seriously — I feel you’re still acting in one of our old charades.” But it’s the Conways who can’t come to terms with what his happening. The third act returns to 1919, picking up just where act one left off, cleverly filling in some holes to explain how things got to where they were eighteen years later. Time and the Conways, which is rarely revived and has been made into a film twice, a 1984 Russian drama and a BBC version starring Claire Bloom, is reminiscent of the Roundabout’s 2013 expert production of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, which also ran at the American Airlines Theatre and dealt with a family facing a dilemma. Priestley’s play also evokes elements of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as the Conways face an uncertain future they’d rather not think about. The ten-person cast is superb, with precise, confident direction by rising star Rebecca Taichman (Indecent, Familiar) on Neil Patel’s engaging drawing-room set. Frank Ventura is credited with etiquette and period movement, which is appropriately proper. “Some novelists and dramatists may be unusually aware of Time, but they have to write about something else,” Priestley explained. In Time and the Conways, he has done just that in telling the fateful story of a dysfunctional family that refuses to look in the mirror.
THE FALLEN IDOL (Carol Reed, 1948)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, December 9, $15 (includes same-day museum admission), 3:00
Series continues through December 29
Through much of Carol Reed’s classic 1948 thriller, The Fallen Idol, you’ll be begging for poor little rich boy Phile, played by newcomer Bobby Henrey, to keep his mouth shut, whether he’s lying or desperately trying to tell the truth to nearly every adult around him. But what is the truth? That is the mind-spinning question that cinema has provoked since a train headed down the tracks at an audience and every editor’s cut altered a story. On December 9, Henrey, who made only one other film, Karl Hartl’s 1951 Wonder Boy, before becoming an accountant and deacon, will be at the Museum of the Moving Image, telling the truth about his memories of the role and his life to longtime Film Forum repertory programmer extraordinaire Bruce Goldstein after the 3:00 screening of the film as part of the series “Rialto Pictures: 20 Films for 20 Years.” The first of three collaborations between Reed and Graham Greene — it would be followed the next year by The Third Man and in 1959 by Our Man in Havana — The Fallen Idol, adapted by Greene from his short story “The Basement Room,” is set in London, where eight-year-old Philippe, known as Phile, lives in a mansion with his rarely present parents, the French ambassador (Gerard Heinz) and his ill wife. He is ostensibly being raised by the erudite butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson, in one of his most elegant and nuanced performances). Baines, who plays games with Phile and takes him on walks through the park, is married to a nasty, shrewish woman (Sonia Dresdel) who runs the large household with a cold iron fist. When Phile espies Baines with another woman, Julie (Michèle Morgan), the boy, not fully understanding the lovers’ relationship, agrees not to say anything about it to Mrs. Baines. But she eventually finds out what is going on, leading to a tragedy that Phile misinterprets, thinking that he witnessed a murder. He wants someone, anyone, to listen to him, from doctors to policemen, not knowing that what he has to say could lead to the wrongful imprisonment of his beloved Baines. The ending is a doozy, taking the old axiom “Children should be seen and not heard” to a whole new level.
Nominated for Oscars for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, The Fallen Idol is a gripping, complex film that questions what we think we see, onscreen and in real life, with sharp editing by Oswald Hafenrichter that relates directly to how Phile views his surroundings, especially the vast, often threatening embassy with its haunting spiral staircase. Phile is often shot behind railings and gates, as if imprisoned, not yet ready for the adult world, which is bathed in shadowy chiaroscuro by cinematographer Georges Périnal. Henrey is a natural as the boy, innocently grabbing cockatoos’ tails at the zoo, asking for an extra pastry at a café, and petting his beloved pet snake, McGregor. Everything is a learning experience for him; there’s nothing he doesn’t want to touch, to know more about, wide-eyed innocence laced with a hint of suspicion. Henrey was the only child interviewed for the role; Reed spotted him in a jacket photo of a book by his mother, a well-respected author who initially wrote under her husband’s name. Despite the changes Reed made to the original story, Greene, the master of moral subtlety, called Reed “the only director I know with that particular warmth of human sympathy, the extraordinary feeling of the right face for the right part, the exactitude of cutting, and not least important the power of sympathizing with an author’s worries and ability to guide him.” Human sympathy is evident in nearly every shot of The Fallen Idol, as a boy attempts to find his place in a world that is not ready to accept him as anything more than a silly child. “Rialto Pictures: 20 Films for 20 Years” continues through December 29 with such other fab pictures as Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday, Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour, introduced by Annette Insdorf, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburge’s Tales of Hoffmann, and Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, with Whitman on hand to discuss the film.
RIFIFI (DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES) (Jules Dassin, 1955)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Friday, December 8, $15 (includes same-day museum admission), 7:00
Series continues through December 29
In 1997, Bruce Goldstein, the master repertory film programmer, archivist, and historian at Film Forum, founded Rialto Pictures, which focuses on exhibiting classic movies that were not in distribution in America. Now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, Rialto has revived more than 120 films, which first are shown in art houses before being released on DVD. The Museum of the Moving Image is paying tribute to the company with the terrific series “Rialto Pictures: 20 Films for 20 Years,” comprising twenty films from their ever-growing catalog. One of the best is Rififi, screening December 8 at 7:00. After being blacklisted in Hollywood, American auteur Jules Dassin (The Naked City, Brute Force) headed to France, where he was hired to adapt Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes, a crime novel by Auguste le Breton that he made significant changes to, resulting in one of the all-time-great heist films. After spending five years in prison, Tony le Stephanois (Jean Servais) gets out and hooks up again with his old protégé, Jo le Suédois (Carl Möhner), who has settled down with his wife (Janine Darcy) and child (Dominique Maurin) for what was supposed to be a life of domestic tranquility.
Joined by Mario Farrati (Robert Manuel), a fun-loving bon vivant with a very sexy girlfriend (Claude Sylvain), and cool and calm safecracker César le Milanais (Dassin, using the pseudonym Perlo Vita), the crew plans a heist of a small Mappin & Webb jewelry store on the Rue de Rivoli. Not content with a quick score, Tony lays the groundwork for a major take, but greed, lust, jealousy, and revenge get in the way in Dassin’s masterful film noir. The complex plan gets even more complicated as César falls for Viviane (Magali Noël), a singer who works at the L’Âge d’Or nightclub, which is owned by Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici), who has taken up with Tony’s former squeeze, Mado (Marie Sabouret), and is trying to save his brother, Louis Grutter (Pierre Grasset), from a serious drug habit. (The club is named for Luis Buñuel’s 1930 film, which featured the same production designer as Rififi, Alexandre Trauner.) As the plot heats up, things threaten to explode in Dassin’s thrilling black-and-white film, which takes a series of unexpected twists and turns as it goes from its remarkably tense and highly influential heist scene to a wild climax. Dassin, who went on to make another of the great caper movies, 1964’s Topkapi, was named Best Director at Cannes for Rififi. “Rialto Pictures: 20 Films for 20 Years” continues through December 29 with such other fab pictures as Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday, Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour, introduced by Annette Insdorf, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburge’s Tales of Hoffmann, and Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, with Whitman on hand to discuss the film.
Watching a talky play with relatively few characters, say, only two or four, can be like watching a tennis match. When the writing and directing is exceptional, it’s like seeing a championship bout between Nadal and Federer, Borg and McEnroe, Evert and Navratilova, your head going back and forth as the shifting dialogue consists of aces, expert passing shots, exciting net play, and thrilling overhead smashes. Of course, just as every play is not going to qualify for award status, not every tennis match is going to be memorable, something I can vouch for, having attended the U.S. Open for more than twenty years. Brooklyn-born playwright Anna Ziegler serves up both ends of the spectrum with two current off-Broadway shows, Actually and The Last Match, both of which involve the characters breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience, with very different results. The Manhattan Theatre Club production of Actually, continuing at City Center’s Stage II through December 10, is a timely, intense look at what actually happened the night two Princeton freshmen, Tom (Joshua Boone) and Amber (Alexandra Socha), hooked up at a party. While Tom believed their coupling was completely consensual, Amber thinks it turned into rape and reported it to the university.
Tom is a black classical pianist who says, “In some ways, I’ve been on trial my entire life.” Amber is white and Jewish, a mediocre squash player who explains, “We all fill some stupid niche, which reduces us to something much less than what we are, but that’s the way it goes.” The play begins with them playing the game Two Truths and a Lie; Tom is reluctant, but Amber demands he participate if he wants to sleep with her. For ninety taut minutes, they reenact events from that night and share their thoughts with the audience, discussing consent, race, religion, Title IX, gender, and other key topics, turning viewers into a kind of jury of public opinion. When Amber says that her default state is “this zone of wanting something and not wanting it at the same time,” it really hits home, getting to the core of how so many people feel. Boone (Holler If You Hear Me, Mother Courage and Her Children) and Socha (Spring Awakening, Fun Home) are outstanding caught up in a long deuce, each one taking, then losing, the advantage as they volley back and forth. Ziegler’s (Photograph 51, Boy) dialogue is sharp and focused, while Obie winner Lileana Blain-Cruz (Pipeline, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World) directs with pinpoint accuracy on Adam Rigg’s spare set. Actually is no mere Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King, he said / she said contest; it is a powerful exploration of possible sexual misconduct in an age when Americans learn more and more about the issue every day, as more and more predators are revealed.
THE LAST MATCH
Laura Pels Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 23, $79
Unfortunately, the Roundabout production of The Last Match, running at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 23, is not nearly as incisive and gripping as Actually. It’s the semifinals at the U.S. Open, and six-time champion Tim Porter (Wilson Bethel), who might be on the downside of his career at the tender age of thirty-four, is playing younger up-and-comer Sergei Sergeyev (Alex Mickiewicz), a hotheaded Russian who wants to dethrone the even-tempered American star and crowd favorite. They serve and volley on Tim Mackabee’s tennis court set, with the familiar blue, white, and green colors of the Open and scoreboards on either side, while Bray Poor’s audio design includes the sound of imaginary swinging rackets striking imaginary yellow balls. In between and during points, Tim and Sergei argue with each other in ways that don’t feel real during a live match; share their thoughts directly with the audience; and reenact scenes from their past, primarily Tim’s relationship with fellow tennis player Mallory (Zoë Winters) as they marry and try to have a baby, and Sergei’s courtship of the fiery Galina (Natalia Payne). The women cheer their partners on from the sides of the stage as the men fight it out. But whereas Amber and Tom in Actually were complex characters who had their charms along with their shortcomings, both gaining the audience’s sympathy at different times, only Mallory is able to elicit much catharsis in The Last Match.
“You don’t want people to know you’re an asshole. But anyone who does this sport at this level is gigantic asshole of worst gigantic asshole variety,” Sergei says early on, adding, “You have to care only for yourself.” It’s hard to care about Sergei, Galina, and Tim, who are self-obsessed; Ziegler (A Delicate Ship, The Wanderers) and director Gaye Taylor Upchurch (Animal, The Year of Magical Thinking) give them back stories that don’t help humanize them but turn each one into more of a caricature. While Actually made smart, subtle references to societal issues and did not proclaim any grand statements about who was right, The Last Match is melodramatic and obvious, like a love match in tennis. “So many game points, on my racquet,” Sergei says. “This should be my game so many times over. I have earned it! But life does not actually work that way. You actually have to win.” But you’re likely to decide who you want to win from the very start, rendering the competition relatively mute. “Some people don’t even love their babies right away so it’s just relentless and boring. And we already have tennis for that, right?” Mallory asks Tim, who replies. “Well, I don’t find tennis boring.” But any tennis match, like any sporting event, can be relentless and boring. Just like any play.
Japan Society’s four-part “NOH-NOW” series, which began with Luca Veggetti’s Left-Right-Left and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Rikyu-Enoura, continues with SITI Company’s adaptation of Yukio Mishima’s Hanjo, running December 7-9. (SITI presented a staged reading of Hanjo at Japan Society in May 2007.) Freely adapted by Japanese author, poet, and filmmaker Mishima (The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, Madame de Sade) from Seami Motokiyo’s fourteenth-century noh play about love and betrayal, the work features three characters, the mad girl Hanako, the spinster Jitsuko, and a young man, Yoshio, performed in rotation through three iterations by Akiko Aizawa (who just appeared in Ripe Time’s adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Sleep at BAM), Gian-Murray Gianino, and Stephen Duff Webber. Leon Ingulsrud directs the bilingual production from his translation, with live music composed and played by violist Christian Frederickson, sets and lighting by Brian H Scott, costumes by Mariko Ohigashi, and choreography by Wendell Beavers. Founded by Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki in 1992, the company has previously staged such inventive works as Chess Match No. 5, bobrauschenbergamerica, Steel Hammer, and Bob and, in its early years, were regulars at the Toga Festival in Japan. The December 7 show at Japan Society will be followed by a reception with members of the company, while the December 8 performance will be followed by a Q&A with the artists. “NOH-NOW” concludes January 11-14 with Satoshi Miyagi’s Mugen Noh Othello as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival.