Sexual politics are on the menu in this week’s roundup, from Brazil’s absurdist Bacurau and the 19th century frontier in The World to Come to Tennessee Williams’ once-scandalous Baby Doll and a contemporary menage a trois in Show Me What You Got.
VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week
Bacurau (Kino Lorber)
As a followup to his strangely compelling if overlong 2016 drama Aquarius, Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho returns—with Juliano Dornelles co-writing and co-directing—for another strangely compelling if overlong film that gleefully jumps around among several genres for a bemusing but sometimes exhilarating mashup. A small village, which has been erased from Google maps, sees all sorts of weird goings-on after the death of its nonagenarian matriarch, including a ludicrous band of foreign mercenaries and the appearance of flying saucers. Familiarity with Brazil’s current political situation isn’t necessary to enjoy this wild assemblage of often unrelated and absurdist sequences, even though—as Filho did in Aquarius—there’s so much stuffed into 135 minutes that after awhile, the dramatic and comedic returns become more and more meager.
Show Me What You Got (Screen Forward)
Svetlana Cvetko’s playful look at a menage a trois between an L.A. gal and two guys—one Italian and the other Iranian—is fine when concentrating on the trio’s unself-conscious and open sexuality, but when it digs at deeper truths (like a badly judged dragging-in of an actual terrorist attack), it founders. Luckily, Cvetko—who also handles the sumptuous B&W photography—is greatly aided by her lead performers: Mattia Minasi, Neyssan Falahi and—most especially—the winning and gifted Cristina Rambaldi make us believe in this most unusual relationship.
The World to Come (Bleecker Street)
Vanessa Kirby and Katherine Waterston are the main reasons to watch this slow-moving and fairly ordinary study of two women who fall in love on the 19th century American frontier in plain sight of their baffled husbands. Director Mona Fastvold smartly concentrates on the women but never incisively explores their relationship. The sleepwalking acting of Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott isn’t especially damaging but, despite Waterston and Kirby’s persuasive and impassioned portrayals, the movie remains inert.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Baby Doll (Warner Archive)
Tennessee Williams’ story of a 19-year-old virgin holding out on her frustrated husband until she turns 20 yet is succumbing to the charms of his rival right under hubby’s nose may have been shocking in 1956 (indeed, the Catholic Church condemned it) but today it’s simply a well-written, explosively acted and superbly directed (by Elia Kazan) exploration of the usual Williams characters. Carroll Baker is revelatory as the title character and Karl Malden (husband) and Eli Wallach (other man) aren’t far behind; Boris Kaufman’s shimmering B&W cinematography looks especially enticing in Warner Archive’s sparkling new hi-def transfer. Lone extra is a short featurette including interviews with the actors.
Beethoven’s lone opera, 1806’s Fidelio, a flawed masterpiece with crude dramatics but stirring music, was staged by Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz in Vienna last year before the pandemic shut everything down: Waltz avoids hammy flourishes but his performers aren’t nuanced enough to compensate, maybe because the curved staircase on which the action occurs (by set designer Barkow Leibinger) has made them tentative: one false move will land someone in the pit face first. Still, Nicole Chevalier is in fine voice as Leonore, who disguises herself as a man to free her husband from prison, and the Vienna Symphony and Arnold Schoenberg Choir sound splendid under conductor Manfred Honeck. The hi-def video and audio are pristine.
Mandabi (Criterion Collection)
Legendary Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène’s second feature, this piercing 1968 black comedy based on his own short story follows an ordinary man receiving a money order worth 25,000 francs from a nephew in Paris: once word is out, he discovers who his real friends are as well as those who want to cash in on his supposed windfall. Sembène’s deadpan amusement and headshaking anger over the corruption of a society damaged by French colonialism remains potent and pertinent. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is magnificent; extras include new interviews with experts discussing the film’s impact and importance; Praise Song, a documentary short comprising interviews with admirers and other experts; Sembène’s 1970 short, Tauw; and a new translation of Sembène’s original short story.
A Tale of Two Cities (Warner Archive)
Two of the biggest Hollywood spectacles of the ‘30s get new Warner Archive releases. San Francisco’s tale of a tentative romance between a club owner (Clark Gable) and an up-and-coming singer (Jeannette MacDonald) is a pretext to lead into the 1906 earthquake, which is dramatized with primitive but effective visual effects. Gable is always Gable, MacDonald shows off her beautiful voice in Gounod and Puccini operas in this creaky but entertaining drama. 1935’s A Tale of Two Cities distills Dickens’ sprawling novel to 135 minutes by centering around Ronald Colman’s persuasive Sydney Carton, who slowly gains a conscience as innocent people are led to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Both B&W films look robust in stunning new transfers; San Francisco extras are an alternate ending, 1996 Gable profile hosted by Liam Neeson, classic cartoon and two San Francisco-themed shorts; and Tale extras are a radio adaptation starring Colman, two classic cartoons and a classic short.