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The Best of the Past

The Seven Madmen

While the spotlight is logically on the “new” at the Los Angeles Film Festival, much of the essential action springs from the “old,” thanks to numerous retrospective screenings of films both classic and obscure.
Chief among them are two films about the decline of the aristocracy in their respective countries: Luchino Visconti’s 1963 Italian blockbuster The Leopard with Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale on June 26 at the Orpheum, and India’s Satyajit Ray’s 1958 The Music Room on June 19 at REDCAT. Not an aristocrat but certainly the king of Hollywood independents, producer Roger Corman will be saluted at the Grammy Museum on June 25. And the great John Lithgow (call him an aristocrat from outer space) will appear with his episode from Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), and as the immortal Dr. Emilio Lizardo in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984). “Laugh while you can, Monkey Boy!” indeed.

Best of all, the festival will offer a miniretro at REDCAT of films by the unjustly neglected Argentina master Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, who in the late ’50s was a name to contend with, right along with Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut. A specialist in melodrama as refined as Douglas Sirk, Torre Nilsson excelled in turning gothic romances — most scripted by his wife, Beatriz Guido, and starring the lovely Elsa Daniel — into political allegories with more than a few touches out of the Latin American “fabulist” literary tradition of Borges, Bioy-Casares and Manuel Puig. The House of the Angel (June 18 & 26), The Fall (June 19 & 26) and Hand in the Trap (June 20 & 24) with Francisco Rabal are in this genre: lush Old Dark House–style dramas as Kafka and Poe might have imagined them. But neither of those great authors would have included critiques of the just-deposed Juan Perón regime as Torre Nilsson does, giving his seemingly “mainstream” films a highly subversive edge.

Best of all is his 1973 complete change of pace, The Seven Madmen ( June 20 & 26). Adapted from novels by Roberto Arlt, and shot in vibrant color, it stars Alfredo Alcón as a bedraggled office worker imagining himself destined for greater things, who falls in with a crew of anarchists intent on blowing up Buenos Aires. But rather than the usual left-wing radicals, this gang comes from the lower depths (pimps, prostitutes, thieves) and is led by a self-styled “Astrologer” (Jose Slavin) reminiscent of Jim Jones, whose Peoples Temple was then at its peak. As breathtakingly sharp as any of the films being made by Fassbinder, Rivette and Godard right around this same period, The Seven Madmen is a “find” in and of itself, and should rightfully inspire further exploration of the life and career of this truly extraordinary filmmaker.


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