ELENA AND HER MEN (PARIS DOES STRANGE THINGS) (ELENA ET LES HOMMES) (Jean Renoir, 1956)
Riverside Park, Pier 1
500 West 70th St.
Friday, July 28, free, 8:30
Series concludes September 7
The tenth anniversary of the Films on the Green series, in which such artists as Wes Anderson, Wanda Sykes, Jim Jarmusch, Laurie Anderson, and Saul Williams selected French films to be shown for free in parks around the city, continues July 28 with Isabella Rossellini’s pick, Jean Renoir’s intriguing, lesser-known 1956 “musical fantasy,” Elena and Her Men, starring her mother, Ingrid Bergman. In this small gem of a film, also known as Paris Does Strange Things, Bergman plays Elena Sokorowska, a splendiferous Polish princess living the high life in fin de siècle Paris, quickly running out of money and strongly advised by her aunt to find a rich husband. After dispatching one lover, composer Lionel Villaret (Jean Claudio), the princess has a trio of suitors: the much older Martin-Michaud (Pierre Bertin), a stuffy, aristocratic shoe mogul; the heroic General François Rollan (Jean Marais, playing a character based on the real-life General Georges Boulanger), who is being celebrated on Bastille Day; and the playboy Count Henri de Chevincourt (Mel Ferrer), who instantly falls madly in love with her — and wishes to take her home the very day he meets her. It’s 1915, and the streets are filled with French men, women, and children singing the praises of General Rollan while wondering what will come next for the government, with talk of a coup and a dictatorship making the rounds. In the middle of it all is Princess Sokorowska, whose lavish charm beguiles nearly everyone she meets, except, of course, the general’s mistress, Paulette Escoffier (Elina Labourdette). As the men fight over her, the princess hands out daisies to bring various people good luck.
Elena and Her Men was Bergman’s first film after leaving Roberto Rossellini (Isabella’s father), and French was the fourth language she’d spoken onscreen, following Swedish, English, and Italian. Renoir and cinematographer Claude Renoir, Jean’s nephew, bathe Bergman in an effervescent glow, as if she is an angel making her way through her would-be lovers and the always-crowded Paris. The film is not a musical in the traditional sense; no one suddenly bursts out into song to further the plot or flesh out characters. Instead, all of the singing is natural, from the princess playing piano to people singing in the streets to a visit to the opera. The color is sensational, with bright and cheerful rainbow hues popping up everywhere; the spectacular costumes — and oh, those amazing hats on Bergman — are by Rosine Delamare and Monique Plotin. This is Renoir, so there is plenty of social and political commentary as well, with a healthy dose of dark comedy and cynicism, evoking the auteur’s masterpiece, The Rules of the Game, but it’s primarily a wild farce that has fun playing with the image of Frenchmen as suave and sophisticated, especially when Eugène (Jacques Jouanneau), a goofball who’s engaged to Martin-Michaud’s daughter, Denise (Michèle Nadal), repeatedly chases after Elena’s alluring maid, Lolotte (Magali Noël), like he’s Harpo Marx. More than love and war, the film is about sex and power, as the men want it, and the women decide who is going to get it. It’s also about having faith in humanity, which is what drives the princess. “This is ridiculous! I’m ending this farce,” Henri says at one point; thank goodness Renoir keeps it going, full speed ahead, even if it often gets too silly. Elena and Her Men is the third in an unofficial trilogy, following 1953’s The Golden Coach and 1955’s French Cancan, that Criterion has packaged as “Stage & Spectacle,” as it’s also about art and the theatricality of film, which is by its very nature a fantasy, not reality. Elena and Her Men is screening with Georges Méliès’s 1902 classic, The Trip to the Moon, July 28 at 8:30 at Pier I in Riverside Park; the celebration of a decade of Films on the Green skips August, concluding September 7 with François Truffaut’s The Wild Child, selected by James Ivory.
FESTIVAL OF NEW JAPANESE FILM: ANTI-PORNO (ANCHI PORUNO) (アンチポルノ) (Sion Sono, 2016)
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Sunday, July 16, 8:45
Festival runs July 13-23
“I’m a virgin. A virgin, but a whore,” successful novelist, painter, and fashion designer Kyoko (Ami Tomite) says at the beginning of Sion Sono’s bizarre, deliciously candy-colored and anarchic Anti-Porno, making its East Coast premiere July 22 at 10:30 in Japan Society’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Cinema. You never know what to expect from Siono, whose previous films include the wild and wacky Love & Peace, the wild and crazy Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and the strangely beautiful and touching Himizu. Anti-Porno is part of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno Reboot Project, a celebration of the forty-fifth anniversary of the studio’s Japanese softcore films, which began in 1971 with Shōgorō Nishimura’s Apartment Wife: Affair in the Afternoon and continued through 1988 with Daisuke Gotō’s Bed Partner. In true Sono style, he honors the format by confusing fiction with reality, star characters with minor newbies, and the past with the present in ways that are as exhilarating as they are confounding. The story takes place primarily in a spectacular apartment decked out in bright yellows, blues, and reds, with large-scale paintings and a lushly alluring open bathroom. Kyoko is a self-obsessed terror who abuses her dedicated assistant, Noriko (Mariko Tsutsui) — or is it the other way around? “I want to be a whore like you,” Noriko begs. There’s fetishism galore, plenty of nudity, a lizard trapped in a bottle, incest, an audience of girls in Sailor Moon outfits, sycophantic hangers-on, a mysterious sex film, and then a man yells, “Cut!” Soon you’re not sure who’s in charge, who’s the lead, and whether you’re watching a movie, a movie-within-a-movie, or a novel-within-a-movie-within-a-movie. “This isn’t my life!” Kyoko screams. Or is it? Sono, who also wrote the script, uses the porn format to question ideas of sexuality, misogyny, freedom, abuse, feminism, exploitation, dominance, art, power, and pornography itself, resulting in a rousing, er, climax. The gorgeous production design is by Takashi Matsuzuka, with striking cinematography by Maki Ito, raunchy costumes by Kazuhiro Sawataishi, and an inventive, wide-ranging score by Susumu Akizuki. Because of the film’s graphic nature, no one under eighteen will be admitted to the Japan Society screening, which will be preceded by Sawako Kabuki’s hysterical three-minute X-rated animated vomitfest Summer’s Puke Is Winter’s Delight.
Oscar- and Emmy-winning director Kirk Simon’s The Pulitzer at 100 boasts a remarkable cast and some of the best lines ever written in the history of American arts and letters. It’s also a self-congratulatory bore. Simon celebrates the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize, first awarded by Columbia University in four categories in 1917, by speaking with a vast array of winners from the worlds of journalism (Carl Bernstein, Martin Baron, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, Sheri Fink, David Remnick), fiction (Toni Morrison, Michael Chabon, Junot Díaz, Jeffrey Eugenides), drama (Tony Kushner, Paula Vogel, Ayad Akhtar), music (Wynton Marsalis, John Adams), biography (Robert A. Caro), poetry (Yusef Komunyakaa), photography (John Filo, Nick Ut), and more. He also films Martin Scorsese, Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, Liev Schreiber, John Lithgow, and Yara Shahidi performing selections from the works of some of their favorite writers, including Philip Roth, Harper Lee, and Eugene O’Neill. Interspersed between all of the literary lathering are interesting tidbits — delivered by such historians as Cyrus Patell, Theodore L. Glasser, Roy Harris, and James McGrath Morris — from the life and times of one Joseph Pulitzer, an Austro-Hungarian merchant’s son who came to America as a mercenary to fight in the Civil War. Pulitzer eventually got involved in newspaper publishing, had yellow-journalism battles with William Randolph Hearst, and left money for Columbia to start the Graduate School of Journalism.
Simon lets the prize winners glory in their success, explaining what winning the award meant for their careers; the journalism awardees also delve into the stories they covered to win the trophy, including Kent State, Watergate, Hurricane Katrina, the Vietnam War, Tiananmen Square, and 9/11. While there are some fascinating revelations — particularly by Ut, describing how he took the famous photo of young Vietnamese girl Kim Phuc running from a napalm blast, then poured water over her back to help her (Kim also appears in the film) — most of the news stories are already overly familiar to the viewer, with not enough time to really tackle the subjects properly here. Of course, that’s not really what the film is centrally about, anyway. And it gets especially glib when several of the winners poke fun at the physical award itself, as if it’s really no big deal. Meanwhile, the performances by the stellar actors are far too serious and feel like their readings are just time fillers. Simon (Chimps: So Like Us, Strangers No More) can’t seem to decide what kind of film he’s making. It would have been more interesting learning further about Pulitzer himself rather than listening to terrific writers lavish praise on themselves, their colleagues, and their forebears. Oh, the film, which has no voice-over narration, does put to rest one important part of the Pulitzer legacy: Only one of the speakers says “Pyew-litzer,” while all the others pronounce Joseph’s last name as “Pull-itzer.” The Pulitzer at 100 opens July 21 at Lincoln Plaza, with Simon participating in Q&As at the 7:00 shows on Friday and Saturday night.
THE FENCER (MEIKKAILIJA) (VEHKLEJA) (Klaus Härö, 2016)
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway between 62nd & 63rd Sts., 212-757-2280
Opens Friday, July 21
Based on a true story, Finnish director Klaus Härö’s The Fencer is a compelling and moving film about a man on the run who suddenly finds himself in a situation that unexpectedly suits him. Estonian actor and comedian Märt Avandi stars as Endel Nelis, a real-life fencing champion who has escaped Stalinism in Leningrad and is hiding out as a teacher in a school in Haapsalu, Estonia, with a new last name. Initially dour and stand-offish, Endel is assigned by the school principal (Hendrik Toompere), a strict party loyalist, to run the sports club, and he soon decides to teach them how to fence, using homemade foils. His interaction with the children, especially Marta (Liisa Koppel), Jaan (Joonas Koff), Lea (Ann-Lisett Rebane), Toomas (Egert Kadastu), and Tiiu (Elbe Reiter), many of whom have been orphaned because of the German and Soviet occupations of Estonia and the continuing presence of the Soviet secret police, lead him to take a personal interest in their lives, as well as reevaluating the meaning of his own. He grows close with fellow teacher Kadri (Ursula Ratasepp), but when his old friend Aleksei (Kirill Käro) tells him that he needs to leave because the police are on his trail, Endel has some critical decisions to make, and not just about himself.
The Fencer is the fourth of Härö’s five feature films to be selected as Finland’s submission for the Academy Awards. The first screenplay written by Finnish novelist and sculptor Anna Heinämaa, the film is tenderly directed by Härö with an acute visual sense (the sharp cinematography is by Tuomo Hutri), which comes about at least in part because of language barriers — he speaks Finnish, Swedish, and English, but the actors, including the children, speak Estonian and Russian. Härö (The New Man, Mother of Mine) steers clear of turning The Fencer into a historical drama, instead concentrating on the human aspects of the story rather than focusing on how the Soviets invaded Estonia after the war and rounded up men who had been drafted by the Nazis. He also handles what could have been a clichéd fencing competition with a gentle touch, the matches evoking a different kind of battle in which participants don’t end up dead. Resembling a young Max von Sydow, Avandi is excellent as Endel, an intensely private man who is suspicious of everything, keeping to himself until he becomes involved in something bigger than his own fears. He turns into a different person when he picks up his foil, suddenly ready to face a world that might not be quite as bitter and harsh as he thinks, where a man can stand up for what’s right, prepared to face the consequences.
TALKING PICTURES: THE CINEMA OF YVONNE RAINER
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Amphitheater, Francesca Beale Theater
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
144 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Monday, July 24, free, 7:00
Series runs July 21-27
In 1965, Yvonne Rainer wrote the “No Manifesto,” publicly saying no to “spectacle, virtuosity, transformations and magic and make-believe, the glamour and transcendency of the star image, the heroic, the anti-heroic, trash imagery, involvement of performer or spectator, style, camp, seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer, eccentricity, and moving or being moved.” It will be difficult, if not impossible, for audiences to maintain many of those ideals when the legendary eighty-two-year-old dancer, choreographer, actor, director, performance artist, and writer comes to the Film Society of Lincoln Center for a week-long celebration of her celluloid career. “Talking Pictures: The Cinema of Yvonne Rainer” runs July 21-27 at the Francesca Beale Theater, with shorts and features made by and/or starring Rainer, along with works that inspired and influenced her. The roster includes Rainer’s Lives of Performers, Film About a Woman Who . . . , Journeys from Berlin/1971, The Man Who Envied Women, and Privilege, among others, along with her collaborations with Maya Deren, Hollis Frampton, and Charles Atlas (who will introduce Trio A/Rainer Variations) in addition to Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, Andy Warhol’s Paul Swan, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Naked Spaces — Living Is Round, and Ulrike Ottinger’s Madame X: An Absolute Ruler. On July 24 at 7:00, the California-born Rainer will sit down with novelist, cultural critic, and Woodmere native Lynne Tillman (Haunted Houses, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?) in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater in a discussion focusing on Rainer’s film career; admission is free and first-come, first-served. It’s a real treat to see Rainer’s work and to listen to her in person, so don’t miss this very special opportunity.
THE LANDLORD (Hal Ashby, 1970)
209 West Houston St.
Sunday, July 23, 12:30, 4:30, and 8:30
Series runs through July 27
When rich kid Elgar Winthrop Julius Enders (Beau Bridges) finally decides to do something with his spoiled life of privilege, he takes a rather curious turn, buying a dilapidated tenement in a pregentrified Park Slope that resembles the South Bronx in Hal Ashby’s poignant directorial debut, The Landlord. At first, the less-than-worldly Elgar doesn’t quite know what he’s gotten himself into, believing it will be easy to kick out the current residents and then replace the decrepit building with luxury apartments. He pulls up to the place in his VW bug convertible, thinking he can just waltz in and do whatever he wants, but just as his car is vandalized, so is his previously charmed existence, as he gets to know wise house mother Marge (Pearl Bailey), the sexy Francine (Diana Sands), her activist husband, Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.), and Black Power professor Duboise (Melvin Stewart), none of whom is up-to-date with the rent. Meanwhile, Elgar starts dating Lanie (Marki Bey), a light-skinned half-black club dancer he assumed was white, infuriating his father, William (Walter Brooke), and mother, Joyce (a delightful, Oscar-nominated Lee Grant), who are in the process of setting up their daughter, Susan (Susan Anspach), with the white-bread Peter Coots (Robert Klein).
Based on the novel by Kristin Hunter, The Landlord is a telling microcosm of race relations and class conflict in a tumultuous period in the nation’s history, as well as that of New York City, coming shortly after the civil rights movement and the free-love late ’60s. The film is masterfully shot by Astoria-born cinematographer Gordon Willis (Klute, Annie Hall, Manhattan, all three Godfather movies), who sets the bright, open spaces of the Enderses’ massive estate against the dark, claustrophobic rooms of the dank tenement. Screenwriter Bill Gunn (Ganja and Hess) and Ashby avoid getting overly preachy in this at-times outrageous black comedy, incorporating slapstick along with some more tender moments; the scene in which Joyce meets Marge is a marvel of both. And just wait till you see Coots’s costume at a fancy fundraiser. The Landlord began quite a string for Ashby, who followed it up with Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There in a remarkable decade for the former film editor (In the Heat of the Night) who died in 1988 at the age of fifty-nine. The Landlord is screening July 23 at 12:30, 4:30, and 8:30 in Film Forum’s terrific “Ford to City: Drop Dead — New York in the 70s” series, which continues through July 27 with such other Gotham favorites as Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, Saturday Night Fever, and Marathon Man and such inspired double features as Shaft and Super Fly, Across 110th Street and Cops and Robbers, Dressed to Kill and Death Wish, Three Days of the Condor and The Eyes of Laura Mars, and The Warriors and Escape from New York.
NEWS FROM HOME (Chantal Akerman, 1977)
209 West Houston St.
Wednesday, July 19, 8:30, and Tuesday, July 25, 5:40
Series runs through July 27
In 1971, twenty-year-old Chantal Akerman moved to New York City from her native Belgium, determined to become a filmmaker. Teaming up with cinematographer Babette Mangolte, she made several experimental films, including Hotel Monterey and La Chambre, before moving back to Belgium in 1973. But in 1976 she returned to New York City to make News from Home, a mesmerizing work about family and dislocation, themes that would be prevalent throughout her career. The film consists of long, mostly static shots, using natural sound and light, depicting a gray, dismal New York City as cars move slowly down narrow, seemingly abandoned streets, people ride the graffiti-laden subway, workers and tourists pack Fifth Ave., and the Staten Island Ferry leaves Lower Manhattan. The only spoken words occur when Akerman, in voice-over, reads letters from her mother, Natalia (Nelly) Akerman, sent during Chantal’s previous time in New York, concerned about her daughter’s welfare and safety. “I’m glad you don’t have that job anymore and that you’re liking New York,” Akerman reads in one letter. “People here are surprised. They say New York is terrible, inhuman. Perhaps they don’t really know it and are too quick to judge.” Her mother’s missives often chastise her for not writing back more often while also filling her in on the details of her family’s life, including her mother, father, and sister, Sylviane, as well as local gossip.
Although it was not meant to be a straightforward documentary, News from Home now stands as a mesmerizing time capsule of downtrodden 1970s New York, sometimes nearly unrecognizable when compared to the city of today. The film also casts another light on the relationship between mother and daughter, which was recently highlighted in Akerman’s final film, No Home Movie, in which Chantal attempts to get her mother, a Holocaust survivor, to open up about her experiences in Auschwitz. Nelly died shortly after filming, and Akerman committed suicide the following year, only a few months after No Home Movie played at several film festivals (and was booed at Locarno). News from Home takes on new meaning in light of Akerman’s end, a unique love letter to city and family and to how we maintained connections in a pre-internet world. News from Home is screening July 19 at 8:30 and July 25 at 5:40 in Film Forum’s terrific “Ford to City: Drop Dead — New York in the 70s” series, which continues through July 27 with such other Gotham favorites as Mean Streets, Gloria, All That Jazz, and Marathon Man and such inspired double features as Shaft and Super Fly, Across 110th Street and Cops and Robbers, Dressed to Kill and Death Wish, Three Days of the Condor and The Eyes of Laura Mars, and The Warriors and Escape from New York.