Film Reviews 

For the week of March 17 - 23

Wednesday, Mar 15 2006

DON’T TELL Nominated for best foreign-language film at this year’s Oscars, this breathless adaptation by Italy’s Cristina Comencini of her own novel about a young woman facing up to repressed trauma (guess what?) appears to have been put together under the impression that no one else has ever made a movie about childhood sexual abuse. That may be true in Catholic Italy (though I doubt it), but such tales are the issue du jour stateside, which makes Don’t Tell’s slavish adherence to Dr. Phil–inspired recovered-memory orthodoxies seem more than a touch ingenuous. Pretty young Sabina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) has all the accouterments of a complete life: a comfortable career on the fringes of the film business; a motherly boss (Angela Finocchiaro); and a sensitive boyfriend (The Best of Youth’s Alessio Boni) who kisses away her nightmarish flashbacks. Visiting her kind but emotionally constipated brother (Luigi Lo Cascio, who had much more to do as the anguished doctor in The Best of Youth) in Charlottesville, a pregnant Sabina forces the cat out of the bag and . . . well, you know. Don’t Tell is intelligent on the schizoid mental strategies of incestuous families, but its style and mood are so heavily drawn from television soap opera, I found myself more absorbed in the seriocomic lesbian subplot that rambles along entertainingly, if irrelevantly, on the periphery. (Sunset 5; Westside Pavilion; Town Center 5; Playhouse 7) (Ella Taylor)

 GO GILLES’ WIFE All but a silent movie, Frédéric Fonteyne’s strikingly atmospheric film — adapted by Philippe Blasband and Marion Hänsel from a 1937 novel — relies on the extraordinarily mobile face of Emmanuelle Devos to express the pain of a woman who has no language for her inner turmoil. Were Hitchcock alive, he’d surely claim the ripe and faintly sinister Devos as his muse. As the humble homemaker Elisa, she flags an almost cowlike passivity in her stoical acceptance of the passion between her husband, Gilles (Clovis Cornillac), and her sexy sister, Victorine (Laura Smet); but when her equivocal smile parts over frighteningly big teeth, she might be a killer. Elisa is a watcher and waiter, a cleaner-up of messes, even an accomplice to the uncomplicated bull of a man she loves unreservedly. In homage to the great French working-class dramas of the interwar years, cinematographer Virginie Saint-Martin brings an austere, painterly beauty (the lighting was inspired by Vermeer) to this intensely physical evocation of a woman with no resources beyond her tenacious loyalty to her family. Anachronistic though Elisa is in our own more egalitarian age, Fonteyne dares us to see her as a heroic, and possibly cunning, figure. But by the end, there’s no mistaking her for Ma Joad, for there comes an act of self-definition that will change everything you’ve thought this woman capable of — and guarantee that she’ll haunt you for days. (Fairfax; One Colorado) (Ella Taylor)

SORRY, HATERS It’s hard to tell whether Jeff Stanzler’s efficiently nasty little number about post-9/11 fear and loathing is being slunk into theaters without fanfare because distributor IFC Films is hoping for another Crash, or because it’s hoping no one will notice. Certainly Stanzler, directing his first feature since Jumpin’ at the Boneyard (1992), is bent on upping the ante of current anxieties to fever pitch, via a fateful nighttime encounter between Ashade, a Muslim New York cabby (played by prominent Franco-Tunisian actor and director Abdellatif Kechiche), and his fare, Phoebe (Robin Wright Penn), a skittish single woman who introduces herself as an executive at an MTV-like television company. One of them’s a psycho with a little thing for mail-order explosives, the other hopelessly compromised by subterranean urges. The intent, in the increasingly hairy subsequent encounters between these two troubled souls engulfed by jealousy and bitterness, is to develop two deep characters who run counter to received notions about Arabs and lonely singletons. But Sorry, Haters trades in glib reversals, not complexities — just about everyone is a crude stereotype turned on its head. Shot in DV, and to be released via on-demand cable television as well as in theaters, this rancidly exploitative movie is redeemed only by canny performances by both leads, as well as Sandra Oh in a supporting role as Phoebe’s friend. (Grande 4-Plex; Regency Academy) (Ella Taylor)

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