Gina Carano in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, opening tomorrow. Photograph courtesy of Relativity Media.
Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest—one of the dizzying flurry of films he’s making as he barrels headlong toward his self-imposed retirement in 2013—is part quiet black-ops spy thriller and part ’80s-style action showcase. Fans of The Limey’s contemplative revenge story will find plenty to like here, as will those who enjoy crowd-pleasing, Ocean’s 11–mode Soderbergh, though anyone angling for just one or the other may be a little disappointed. Like any good ’80s franchise, this film is centered on a formidably talented physical presence—in this case, former Muay Thai and mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano. Carano isn’t trained as an actor, and doesn’t really need to be; Soderbergh only needs her to be tough and to be able to beat up a lot of people in a plot that disguises itself as a complex CIA-mercenary double-cross piece before simplifying things into a more singularly focused attack-and-retaliation vengeance study. The awkward hoops in place to keep the story on the rails are easily forgiven thanks to Soderbergh’s fantastic visual style and the eye-popping fight choreography he fills those frames with.
This Iranian film is easily one of the best of 2011, and, if there’s any justice, it’s a shoo-in for Best Foreign Language Film of the year at the Oscars. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s film begins as if it might be the Iranian equivalent of Kramer vs. Kramer, with a couple in the office of a judge negotiating a separation. The wife wants a divorce because she wants to leave the country, while her husband maintains that he can’t leave due to the responsibility of caring for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. Custody of their young daughter is a primary point of contention. There’s nothing flashy or shocking in the family drama that follows; this is simply a brilliantly crafted film that manages to remain intensely personal while directly addressing issues of class, religion, and culture within a country experiencing intense growing pains as those pressures push and pull at the interactions of its people.
This George Lucas–produced war movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the group of African-American pilots who flew together during World War II, has been in development for years. It was held up by what Lucas recently characterized as a reluctance on the part of major studios to put a lot of money into a large-scale action movie with an all-black cast, due to a perception in Hollywood that this kind of film can’t be successful. But the ever-tenacious Lucas got it made, and this week he’ll put that theory to the test, in what he’s stated may be the end of the line for him in terms of his involvement in big-budget filmmaking.
The Goethe-Institute’s annual celebration of German, Swiss, and Austrian film turns 20 this year, and presents 13 films over the course of seven days at Landmark E Street. Things kick off tomorrow with the East Coast premiere of Westwind, a German romantic comedy about twin sisters from East Germany who, in 1988, meet young men from the West while at a Hungarian summer camp. The weekend schedule includes nine of the 13 features—including, if you’re feeling attentive, a Sunday showing of all three parts of the Dreileben series, named for the rural area of Germany that provides the setting for each of the 90-minute, loosely connected films about a manhunt in the countryside.
Last Thoughts Before Vanishing from the Face of the Earth is the title of the unpublished fictionalized memoir of Louis Sarno, an ethnomusicologist who did just that after falling in love with a native woman while traveling to Africa to record the music of the Bayaka pygmies. Local filmmaker Lavinia Currier adapts that book into Oka!, which tells the story of the Bayaka through the eyes of this Westerner who lived and traveled with them, despite suffering from liver disease.
Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: Belle du Jour
This 1967 film, newly restored and remastered for a Criterion release this week, served as a defining piece of work for both its star and its director. For Catherine Deneuve, still in her early twenties, it moved her along the course started in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion just two years earlier, doing challenging works that placed great psychological demands on the actor. For a striking blonde ingénue who made her debut in as gorgeously romantic a film as 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, she could easily have coasted by on roles that would have led her quickly to Hollywood’s door. But with Belle du Jour, she took on the role of an unhappy bourgeois wife who turns to afternoons of prostitution and dark, sometimes violent sexual fantasies; and set about creating a career that eschewed surface work and the shallow stardom that might have accompanied it in favor of unusual and unforgettable projects.
Her director, Luis Buñuel, was on the opposite end of a career even more defined by the bizarre and the surreal. In this, his second-to-last film, he scored one of his biggest commercial successes, without ever compromising the unique voice, strident social commentary, and bluntly sexual material that had defined much of his 40-year career.
Special Features: Commentary from film scholar Michael Wood, a video piece featuring writer and sexual-politics activist Susie Bright and film scholar Linda Williams, a new interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, original French interviews with Deneuve and Carrière, and a booklet containing an essay by critic Melissa Andersonand the transcript of an interview with Buñuel.