This week’s roundup is highlighted by two new films from female directors, both in theaters: the latest fascinating drama by one of France’s most adventurous filmmakers, Anne Fontaine, “White as Snow,” is a sly, modern take on Snow White; and Italian Emma Dante wrote and directed the painful memory piece, “The Macaluso Sisters.”
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
White as Snow (Cohen Media)
French director Anne Fontaine’s fiendishly clever updating of Snow White reveals its intentions slowly but memorably as it parses out a story that starts as a fairy tale but soon traverses territory that keeps redefining itself—as well as its heroine, a young woman whose beauty and apparent innocence soon has seven (get it?) men pining for her. Although Isabelle Huppert gets top billing and is her usual amusing self as the wicked stepmother, Lou de Laâge steals this satisfying feminist take on self-empowerment as Claire with a smart, sassy performance—and Fontaine’s camera loves her.
The Faithful (Fish in the Hand Productions)
Director Annie Berman fastidiously lays out the reasons why certain individuals—in this case, Pope John Paul II, Elvis Presley and Lady Di—become not only icons while alive but are venerated beyond reason after their death. In some ways amusing—Berman shows off the tchotchkes, trinkets and other memorabilia that have become all the rage with their likenesses on them—the film is also a sobering study of how people are always looking for a deity to worship, whether it’s a pope, pop star or royal princess, and Berman does not whitewash her own complicity, since she has imposing collections related to these individuals herself.
The Lost Leonardo (Sony Pictures Classics)
When a painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, “Salvator Mundi,” sold at auction for nearly half a billion dollars to an ultra-rich sheik, the insanity of the art world was brought into sharp focus, and Andreas Koefoed’s absorbing documentary follows the story from the artwork’s “discovery” at a Louisiana estate sale to the business of sellers, restorers and self-styled experts, which turned the painting from a badly damaged artifact into one of the most important works ever created. Is “Salvator Mundi” a real Leonardo? It depends on whom you ask—although it seems doubtful—but Koefoed isn’t interested in a definitive answer while laying bare the insular world of art where “authenticity” has more to do with money and publicity than actual authenticity.
The Macaluso Sisters (Glass Half Full Media)
Based on her own play, director-writer Emma Dante’s intimate drama about how tragedy affects the lives of five orphaned sisters has a chamber quality that perfectly mirrors the claustrophobia in these decades-long complicated relationships. What Dante charts is often moving as her script puzzles out what happened one summer day and how the surviving sisters deal with it; Dante pulls together memories by visualizing them succinctly, even startlingly. Even her overuse of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1” becomes a stroke of genius when it’s heard one last time in a different form from earlier cues. The actresses, who are led by a force of nature, Donatella Finocchiaro, make an unforgettable ensemble…or, rather, three ensembles.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Herculoids—The Complete Series (Warner Archive)
This cheesy Hanna-Barbara animated series, which aired from 1967 to 1969, has all the hallmarks of early TV animation in its crude drawings, even cruder plots and vivid primary colors. It’s now a cult item with a bizarre mixture of sci-fi and fantasy—the title creatures help a lone family trio protect their planet from assorted fantastical villains—that’s out-there enough to seem original. The series’ 18 episodes (which have been returned to their original state, unlike the previous DVD release) look good on Blu; lone extra is a retrospective featurette.
Die Tote Stadt (Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), best known for his lush movie music, did the same onstage in several operas, the most famous and lasting this potent but downbeat drama about a man whose memories of his dead lover are destroying his life, leading him toward madness and maybe murder. Korngold conjures intense dramatics out of soap opera characters through his luminous score, which sounds even more luscious played by the Bavarian State Orchestra under conductor Kirill Petrenko. And Simon Stone’s modernized 2019 staging couldn’t have better antagonists than German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and German soprano Marlis Petersen, who invest the leads with the naked emotion that makes Korngold’s fever dream a powerful experience. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.
Die Walküre (Dynamic)
The second part of Richard Wagner’s classic “Ring” tetralogy is the most performed, thanks to its intense brother-sister dynamic and the popular “Ride of the Valkyries,” which sounds completely different heard in the context of an exhilarating four-hour music drama. As part of the new “Ring” cycle in Sofia, Romania, Plamen Kartaloff’s production is certainly of a piece, sacrificing the Tolkien-like trappings of conventional stagings for a broader approach that’s well-sung by its cast and well-played by the orchestra. Although not earthshattering, it does look and sound great in hi-def.