The American Cinematheque kicks off an essential series of rarely screened gems from the American film renaissance of the late 1960s and early 1970s with a well-paired double bill of movies touching on one of the era’s recurrent themes: people who appear to have it all, yet struggle with profound feelings of emptiness. In his superb debut feature, Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970), fashion-photographer-turned-filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg turns a caustic eye on the world of haute couture, as a former supermodel (Faye Dunaway, in one of her best performances) flashes back on a life filled with superficial glamour and busted-up relationships. As her past rushes before us in dizzying narrative fragments, Puzzle takes on the intriguing quality of a series of still photos projected in rapid succession — the settings always different, but Dunaway’s alabaster cheekbones and distant, mysterious gaze remaining the unassailable constant. In Irvin Kershner’s Loving (1970), a successful commercial illustrator (George Segal) feels himself and his marriage (to Eva Marie Saint) unraveling amid the chaos of the everyday: the demands of work, the needs of family, the allure of friends’ spouses. Beautifully played by Segal and Saint, and filmed by Kershner with a freedom of form reminiscent of Cassavetes and Altman, Loving ranks among the boldest of ’70s movies in its preference for character over narrative and its intrepid charting of the terrain of male-female relationships. The final third of the movie is given over to an extraordinary set piece — a long, drunken party that culminates in an unbearable moment of public humiliation, and the realization of how two people might go out for the evening a couple and return home strangers. (American Cinematheque at the Egyptian; Wed., March 15, 7:30 p.m. www.americancinematheque.com)
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