Movie Reviews: The White Ribbon, Gigante, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, 3 Idiots
GIGANTE The title refers to Jara (Horacio Camandule), a swaybacked lug who stands a head taller than his co-workers at a warehouse-size Montevideo supermarket, making it easy for him to amiably tune out their attempts at conversation. His graveyard-shift security beat consists of monotonously clicking through surveillance feed, making sure the after-hours crew doesn’t steal from the store. One night, Jara lingers on the image of a girl on the mop brigade, Julia (Leonor Svarcas). Next, instead of playing video games with his only confidante, a chubby preadolescent cousin, Jara spends his off-hours tailing Julia, too paralyzed with shyness to speak to her. Gigante begins with a double-bass pummel of thrash metal — afterward, the music is heard hummed, or coming muffled from Jara’s screwed-in earbuds. The idea is that his opaque deadpan hides turmoil, and his hulking body, an unknown capacity for harm. But director Adrián Biniez doesn’t tease out that uncertainty, as Jerzy Skolimowski did in recent stalker film Four Nights With Anna, a masterful balancing act of ambivalence. With potentially lethargic materials, Biniez has made a quiet, intent, involving film, a moony-innocent urban alienation fairy tale of bashful ogre and village beauty — and it never quite crests. (Nuart) (Nick Pinkerton)
THE LOSS OF A TEARDROP DIAMOND Consider: If Tennessee Williams’ script for Joseph Losey’s 1968 turkey Boom! (an adaptation of his play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore) saw the light of day, just how bad must a Williams screenplay unproduced for decades be? Actress Jodie Markell, directing her first feature after an earlier foray into Southern Gothic territory with her 1998 short of Eudora Welty’s Why I Live at the P.O., is not allergic to dust and mold, apparently. In 1920s Mississippi, Bryce Dallas Howard as unbalanced heiress Fisher Willow struggles to sustain a credible Dixie accent while delivering lines steeped in the excesses of bonkers belle-dom: “I’m not going to crack up again! I must be with people who do things.” She rents out Jimmy (Chris Evans, almost as catatonic as his character’s mother, locked up in the loony bin), the son of a worker at her father’s plantation, to escort her to Memphis parties, where she will be humiliated by weird twins but find life’s answers from bedridden, opium-addicted Ellen Burstyn. If Markell’s instincts for script exhumation are questionable, she’s the victim of even worse timing: Who thought releasing her film 10 days after Liv Ullmann and Cate Blanchett’s praised-to-the-high-heavens A Streetcar Named Desire closed in New York was a good idea? (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Melissa Anderson)
GO 3 IDIOTS A superstar for more than two decades, Aamir Khan has never been more popular than he is today, in his mid-40s. His 2008 release Ghajini quickly became the highest-grossing Indian movie of all time. So there must be something besides commercial necessity at work in Khan’s determination to keep on playing mischief-making undergraduates. In writer-director Rajkumar Hirani’s tuneful, enjoyable college comedy, 3 Idiots, Khan plays “Rancho” (Ranncchoddas Chanchad),an engineering student so brilliant he barely has to break a sweat to place first in his class. Rancho always has plenty of energy left over to wage a guerrilla-prank war against the institution’s emphasis on rote memorization — and to tweak his less-gifted classmates as humorless swots. Coming from a natural-born genius, this seems ungracious, at the very least. There’s a pro forma mystery surrounding the character, and some anecdotes of early struggle, but ultimately, Rancho is a Hindi-cinema superhero in terms of intellect if not upper-body strength, while his nemesis, a professor played as a lisping buffoon by Boman Irani, is a slapstick pushover. In the ingenious extended finale, Rancho serves as a deus ex machina guru/savior to the ordinary mortals he has befriended along the way, including roommates R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi and g.f. Kareena Kapoor. Hirani (Munna Bhai MBBS) embraces melodramatic convention with open arms, but he is also a crafty entertainer who smoothly choreographs his overpopulated storyline. (Culver Plaza; Fallbrook 7; Naz 8) (David Chute)
GO The White Ribbon is Michael Haneke’s first German-language film since the original Funny Games (1997), and it’s his best ever. A period piece set on the eve of World War I in an echt Protestant, still-feudal village somewhere in the uptight depths of Northern Germany, The White Ribbon is as cold and creepy and secretly cheesy as any of Haneke’s earlier films, if not quite as lofty. Instead of sermonizing, Haneke sets himself to honest craftsmanship. The White Ribbon’s original title identifies the movie as “A German Children’s Story,” and, recounted by the village schoolteacher 40 or 50 years later, this dark fable has a mock legendary aspect. The tale may not reflect “the truth in every detail,” the elderly narrator announces. Many questions are unanswerable, he admits, and yet “the strange events that occurred in our village ... may cast a new light on some of the goings-on in this country.” No need to speculate on what those goings-on might be. The first strange event occurs seconds into the action, when the irascible village doctor is thrown by his horse. Thereafter, this quiet town, nestled into a peaceful landscape yet seething with hidden resentments, is subjected to an escalating series of inexplicable accidents and unsolved incidents of terror, most of which are discussed but never shown. Haneke’s use of narrative uncertainty may be standard-issue, but there’s no denying The White Ribbon’s seriousness. The severe, withholding culture that Haneke critiques is precisely mirrored by his methods. (The Landmark) (J. Hoberman)
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