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If.... & O Lucky Man!

Sponsored by neither Her Majesty’s Government’s Department for Education nor the Confederation of British Industry, this scabrous double bill by the late Lindsay Anderson comes to the New Beverly as an early primer for the coming school year. If . . . . won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1968, the year of unruly youth. Shot at Anderson’s own alma mater, the elite private boot camp of Cheltenham College, it’s an insurrectionary fable that gives the “two-fingered salute” to the old-school militaristic imperatives of discipline, deference, conformity and co-optation, while hymning violent revolution and the communion of revolt. What does an enterprising young tyke do once school’s blown out? In Anderson’s follow-up, O Lucky Man! (1973), Malcolm McDowell reprises the role of If . . . . head rebel Mick Travis, now assigned to tout for the Imperial Coffee Company in the English North East (then a bastion of tea-drinking, like the rest of the country). After making the acquaintance of local civic dignitaries at a backroom sex party, he’s abducted by secret police outside a military-testing zone, quizzed something Kafkaesque (“Do you believe the children are the future? Think carefully . . .”), then nursed by a succulent vicar’s wife after an apocalyptic explosion, before a close shave with a Moreau-like experimental doctor. And so it goes, for three hours, through trade corruption, judicial hypocrisy, working-class fatalism and Skid Row depravity. As the film’s French title, The Best of All Possible Worlds, suggests, O Lucky Man! is meant as a Candide for postcolonial Britain, a picaresque journey to Zen accommodation with the trinkets and bromides of the modern age. Too often, its social commentary falls under the shadow of sharper movie minds — Buñuel, Fellini, Kubrick. (Vincent Canby called it an “homage to liberal clichés.”) But the film looks the part of shabby ’70s Britain, and its formal conceits remain surprisingly effective, from the multiple-role casting to the pop Brechtian Chorus led by ex-Animals keyboardist Alan Price, whose songs provide the bite and irony mostly lacking in David Sherwin’s screenplay. (New Beverly Cinema; Fri.-Sat., Aug. 18-19. www.michaelwilliams.com/beverlycinema)

—Nick Bradshaw

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