Anais in Love

Digital Week – April 26


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This week’s roundup includes my reviews of new films, either in theaters or online, led by two strong French features directed by women (“Anais in Love” and the extraordinary “Petie Maman”), along with an eye-opening and extremely pertinent documentary from Ukraine (“The Earth Is Blue as an Orange”).

Streaming/In-Theater Releases of the Week

Anaïs in Love (Magnolia)

Anais In LoveIn a lesser actress’ hands, the character of Anaïs—a fluttery millenial who is perpetually late, perpetually self-centered, and perpetually on her own wavelength—would be pretty much unwatchable, but Anaïs Demoustier’s charming, winning onscreen presence compels the viewer to root for her even as she does the most insensitive, selfish, immature things like start sleeping with an older, married man, then make a beeline for his wife, a famous novelist, and begin an affair with her. Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet has written and directed a self-aware romantic comedy that follows its heroine with alternating amusement and bemusement, but thanks to Demoustier’s magnetism, it remains buoyant throughout.

The Duke (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Duke (Sony Pictures Classics)Don’t let the dullish title put you off: this beguiling film by director Roger Michell—who died last year at age 65—tells one of those “stranger than fiction” true stories that only needs a guiding directorial hand to put it through its immensely entertaining paces. In 1961, 60-year-old British retiree Kempton Bunton said that he stole Francisco Goya’s Duke of Wellington portrait from the National Gallery in London, keeping it hostage in exchange for the government ended the TV license fee to elderly pensioners. Michell’s light touch, Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s witty script, and the enormously appealing and sympathetic performances by Jim Broadbent as Bunton and Helen Mirren as his put-upon wife add up to a splendidly diverting tale.

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange (Film Movement)

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange (Film Movement)The members of the Trofymchuk-Gladky family in Krasnohorivka, a town in the war-torn Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, decided to record themselves—they all love cinema—to show their everyday existence during frequent periods of bombing by Putin’s Russia. Iryna Tsilyk won the best director award at the 2020 Sundance Festival for this moving portrait of survival and creativity, focusing on a single mother and her four children, who have made their home a safe haven from the outside mayhem that has defined their lives for several years.

Petite Maman (Neon)

Petite Maman (Neon)The best film at last fall’s 2021 New York Film Festival was, unsurprisingly, French director Celine Sciamma’s emotionally precise and ingenious followup to her brilliant “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” the best film of the 2019 NYFF. In this understated but shattering chamber piece, an eight-year-old girl whose beloved grandmother has just died meets and befriends a familiar-looking young girl while accompanying her parents to clean out the grandmother’s house. Sciamma, probably the most accomplished and confident filmmaker working today, has created a movie that’s almost impossible to describe: “The Twilight Zone” meets “Ponette” gives a broad outline, but Sciamma works on such a fragile, delicate canvas that the effect is of a master miniaturist working at the very height of her powers, like a Vermeer or a Fauré, one with insights into the thinking of children of all ages—as well as their parents.

4K/UHD Release of the Week

Singin’ in the Rain (Warner Bros)

Singin’ in the Rain (Warner Bros)Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s 1952 musical is a joy from start to finish: no one’s been able to equal Kelly’s extraordinarily cinematic choreography—with the possible exception of Bob Fosse—and Kelly’s co-stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds are unmatched, even by their directors’ exacting standards. This all-time classic looks quite luminous in its new UHD transfer; extras comprise a 50-minute documentary ported over from the 60th anniversary Blu-ray edition (too bad nothing else from that stacked release was included) and an audio commentary by Reynolds, Donen, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and others.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Cosi fan tutte (Naxos)

Cosi fan tutte (Naxos)Mozart’s delectably comic chamber opera for six characters, which follows two couples that after many trials and tribulations are finally reunited, is distinguished by Mozart’s masterly music and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s witty libretto, both of which remain front and center in director Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s impressive staging last year in Florence, Italy. Of course, a terrific cast helps immeasurably, particularly the trio of delightful women, Valentina Nafornita, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya and Bendetta Torre; the agless American Thomas Hampson holds it all together as the regal Don Alfonso. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.

Dementia
Jigsaw (Cohen Film Collection)

DementiaThese low-budget shockers are as different as can be. 1953’s “Dementia,” by director John J. Parker, is a 56-minute stream-of-consciousness piece of avant-garde juvenalia about a woman who, beset by memories of a damaged childhood, may or may not have committed a murder. It’s scored to Georges Anthieul’s moody music, and its jittery images make an impression, although not what Parker would have wanted. Val Guest directed 1962’s “Jigsaw,” a minor mystery about detectives looking for the perpetrator in a particularly gruesome killing, which succeeds more atmospherically than as an edge-of-your-seat whodunit. Both B&W films have fine hi-def transfers; the lone “Dementia” extra is “Daughter of Horror,” which adds explanatory narration.

DVD Release of the Week

Writing with Fire (Music Box)

Writing With FireThis bracing if at times tense documentary by writer-directors Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas follows the intrepid journalists in India who run its only women-run newspaper, “Khabar Lahariya,” which is moving from print to online. These women unflinchingly go into every possible difficult situation, smartphones at the ready, to uncover and report news to an increasingly skeptical public. Seeing the private lives of the women and how their careers affect them beyond the newsroom is eye-opening, especially in times of extreme uncertainty for journalists, even in supposed bastions of free speech. Extras include a making-of featurette and interview with both directors.

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