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The Films That Got Away

Movie freaks dream of programming the multiplex, or at least the local art house, and the American Cinematheque has momentarily granted the L.A. Film Critics Association the power to do so. For this minifestival, four LAFCA critics (including L.A. Weekly film editor Scott Foundas) will screen several undistributed films that they love, beginning with Mary, an intense, multilayered drama from Bad Lieutenant director Abel Ferrara. Forrest Whittaker, Matthew Modine and Juliette Binoche give fierce performances as, respectively, a TV talk-show host, a movie director and an actress, each of whom is dealing with the public and private repercussions of Modine’s controversial new film about Christ. Steeped in fury and bewilderment, Mary dares to wonder if it’s possible to acquire and keep faith in a world that’s forever turning Jesus into a political and commercial commodity. Modine is scheduled to appear after the screening. French director Chris Marker is rightfully known for his magnificent 1962 short La Jetée, but at 86, he has a rich catalog of memorable films, including his most recent, the witty film essay The Case of the Grinning Cat (2004). Intrigued by the sudden appearance around Paris of wall paintings of a yellow cat, Marker begins walking the city with his video camera, and ends up with a love letter to Paris, a city that roiled with political upheaval in the months after the 9/11 attacks. The American war in Iraq that emerged from that time brings renewed relevance to Marker’s The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, a brilliantly compact short film shot during the October 1967 Washington protest march against the Vietnam War. To say the least, watching young people with flowers in their hair stare down police and soldiers with guns is humbling. There’s a soothing beauty to Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Elsewhere (2001), a documentary structured as 12 20-minute shorts about community life in the most remote corners of the world. Due to projector difficulties, I wasn’t able to view the film in its entirety, but the portions I saw lived up to a description given to me recently by Foundas, who called Elsewhere “ravishing and magical.” Finally, from Portugal, there’s the undeniably long, maddening and gloriously crazy Come and Go (2003), the last film of director João Caésar Monteiro, who died shortly before its Cannes premiere. He stars as an amazingly spry old man whose erotically charged conversations with beautiful Lisbon women form a playful meditation on the politics of family, sex, and dying itself. The final shot is as remarkable an exit for a renegade director as any I’ve seen. Altman would have bowed in envy. (American Cinematheque at the Aero; Fri.-Sun., Oct. 19-21, and Wed., Oct. 24.)

—Chuck Wilson


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