I’d like to blame the recall election and the fervor of the Bush vs. Kerry campaign for the fact that two provocative and artfully made political films from 2003 and 2004 have never before screened in Los Angeles. It seems like new documentaries on hot-button issues were opening every week back then, so perhaps there simply wasn’t room for a chamber drama about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact or an operatic account of the Achille Lauro hijacking. More likely, distributors didn’t see a buck to be made. Whatever the reason, this situation is finally being corrected by the Los Angeles Film Festival, which has again partnered with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the UCLA Film and Television Archive to give two long-undistributed films — Eric Rohmer’s Triple Agent and Penny Woolcock’s The Death of Klinghoffer — their belated local premieres. Triple Agent has many of Rohmer’s hallmarks: beautiful Continental women, lots of intellectual banter and, of course, even more that’s left unsaid. But like only a few of his films (L’Anglaise et le Duc, La Marquise d’O), it’s also a period piece — complete with Pathé newsreel footage — set in Paris during the lead-up to WWII. One can see the influence of Notorious on Rohmer (who wrote an early book about Hitchcock) in this tale of love and espionage shot in the old-style, full-frame aspect ratio. Triple Agent boasts Nazis, sustained suspense and a sudden, twist ending, all handled in Rohmer’s slow, transparent, seemingly effortless style (no memorable tracking shots here). Woolcock’s film adaptation of John Adams’ 1991 opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, also has effortless moments in its mixture of oratorio and cinema. Klinghoffer has often been called a “CNN opera,” and indeed Woolcock uses news-style editing and hand-held cameras to make this stagy work seem surprisingly natural onscreen. Unfortunately, her grasp of politics is shakier than her camera. She hijacks Adams’ controversial work and makes it unambiguously (and often naively) pro-Palestinian. What could have been a watershed for filmed opera is instead an ambitious, if often cringe-inducing, curiosity. The Death of Klinghoffer screens Mon., June 25, 9:30 p.m., at the Billy Wilder Theater. Triple Agent screens Tues., June 26, 7:30 p.m., at the Billy Wilder Theater.
—James C. Taylor