This week’s roundup is highlighted by a half-dozen classic films by the Hungarian master director Miklós Jancsó, at the Metrograph in Brooklyn and streaming, and a four-disc boxed set of films featuring the European sex symbol Sylvia Kristel, out on Blu-ray from Cult Epics.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Miklós Jancsó X 6 (Metrograph)
Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó, who died in 2014 at age 92, was a true original, and his six films that make up this January series at the Metrograph in Brooklyn (and online at metrograph.com)—“The Roundup” (1966), “The Red and the White” (1967), “The Confrontation” (1969), “Winter Wind” (1969), “Red Psalm” (1971), and “Electra, My Love” (1974)—provide a case study in intelligent, uncompromising filmmaking, a real instance of “they don’t make them like this any more.” Jancsó uses elaborate camera choreography to dynamic psychological and dramatic effect throughout these visually and aurally remarkable films, which tackle events from Hungarian history, both remote and recent, with an uncanny sense of movement that most other directors couldn’t hope to approach.
The exception, “Electra, My Love,” is a highly stylized interpretation of the ancient myth that transposes the locale from Greece to a Hungarian field that’s a master class in cutting within the camera shot—the entire film comprises 12 distinct shots. (All of Jancsó’s films have far fewer shots than any director would dare nowadays.) What’s amazing about Jancsó’s long career is that his last half-dozen films were as carefree and playful as these half-dozen were exacting and serious—but they all should, ideally, be seen on the largest screen one can find.
Diary of the Grizzly Man (Shout Studios)
The story of legendary bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell—whose life (and that of his girlfriend) ended horrifically in the wilds of Alaska in 2003—was told sympathetically in Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man,” and this three-part 2008 series dives even deeper into Treadwell’s own daring (many would say reckless) study of bears while living among them in Katmai National Park. A voluminous amount of Treadwell’s own video and audio tapes as well as notebooks create a compelling if uneasy portrait of someone who was doing what he loved to do, even though it also led him directly to his untimely death at age 46.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
Dune (Warner Bros)
Frank Herbert’s colossal sci-fi epic novel hasn’t been well-served in the movies: David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation was fatally flawed by then-newcomer Kyle McLachlan’s vapid presence in the lead role of youthful savior Paul Artreides; in Denis Villenueve’s new stab at adapting the book, Timothee Chalamet fares better but is still a cipher. Otherwise, Villeneuve’s visual sense is more conventional than Lynch’s, but with more improved technology at his disposal, it looks like a staggeringly imaginative visual achievement. Unfortunately, much of the drama fizzles out early on, and the movie staggers to its non-conclusion that paves the way for (or threatens, depending on your appreciation) more sequels. The 4K transfer looks simply beautiful; the accompanying Blu-ray disc includes an hour of extras, mainly on-set featurettes and cast, crew and director interviews.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Sylvia Kristel—1970s Collection (Cult Epics)
Best known for her appearances in the softcore “Emmanuelle” films that made her an international sensation in the mid-’70s, Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel was usually cast as the willing young woman, even into the ’80s in such vehicles as “Private Lessons” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” She never seemed able to show off her talent as well as her attractiveness, although the four movies in this boxed set give glimpses of her acting ability along with her body. Only 1974’s “Julia,” in which Kristel plays a nymphet who is seduced by her boyfriend’s father, relies almost exclusively on her erotic charms.
The other films are a grab bag for Kristel fans. Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “Playing with Fire” (1975) stars the appealing French actress Anicée Alvina alongside Jean-Louis Trintignant and Phillipe Noiret, with Kristel in a brief appearance. She has a bit more to do in the WWII Dutch resistance “Pastorale 1943” (1978) and the Knut Hamsun adaptation “Mysteries” (1978), the latter moodily shot by cinematographer Robby Muller and starring Rudger Hauer, whose character falls for Kristel’s elegant wife. All four films have fine hi-def transfers; extras include archival interviews with Kristel (who died in 2012), new and archival interviews of cast and crew, and audio commentaries on all films except “Julia.”
Only the Animals (Cohen Media)
In Frederik Moll’s cynically unpleasant crime drama, the death of a woman named Evelyn leads to glimpses of the lives of five people she’s—for the most part peripherally—connected to, from young Marion, whom Evelyn has a brief affair with, to farmer Michel, who thinks he’s been flirting with Marion online, to Michel’s wife Alice, who’s carrying on an affair with another man, Joseph, who finds Evelyn’s body. Moll adroitly moves among these people, but the utter contrivance of their relationships—I don’t know how much is in the underlying novel—makes the film risible from the get-to, despite its self-seriousness and extremely capable acting, especially by Nadia Tereszkiewicz (Marion) and Laure Calamy (Alice). The film looks excellent on Blu.
DVD Release of the Week
Joy Womack—The White Swan (Film Movement)
In their study of a passionate young American ballet dancer, the first non-Russian to graduate from the Bolshoi Theatre’s training program, directors Dina Burlis and Sergey Gavrilov get up close and personal with an artist following her own path despite the skepticism of others that she’ll be able to dance “like a Russian.” Womack’s story never unfolds as she hopes or expects—her marriage to a Russian dancer, partly one of convenience, ends, as does her association with the Bolshoi—but Burlis and Gavrilov’s intimate documentary takes its leave of Womack in the midst of a burgeoning career. Extras include additional interviews with Womack and other dancers as well as a behind the scenes featurette.