This week’s roundup features an illuminating documentary, “Lourdes,” about the annual pilgrimages to the fabled French town (in theaters) and an incisive new drama, “Les Nôtres,” which follows a pregnant teen in a small Quebec town (streaming).
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Lourdes (Distrib Films)
Each year, millions make the pilgrimage to the French city of Lourdes to be blessed and healed by the Virgin Mary (who supposedly appeared to a young local girl in 1858), and Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai’s riveting documentary follows several French pilgrims who make the journey—both youngsters and adults, injured, sickly, frail, or accompanying others—as well as local religious and health aides who are the necessary backbone of the entire enterprise. There is something undeniably moving about people whose faith is so strong that they believe that praying, attending services and taking a dip in blessed water will lead to miracles. It’s easy to be cynical in the face of such desperation, but since Demaizière and Alban Teurlai record these people without commentary, their realness is never in doubt.
Les Nôtres (Oscilloscope)
Although director Jeanne Leblanc walks a thin line in her marvelous movie about a pregnant teen in small-town Quebec who refuses to name her baby’s father—a decision with irreversible consequences—she gives her protagonist, high school sophomore Magalie, agency to deal with a widowed mother, close male friend and the local mayor, who lives next door with his wife—her mom’s best friend—and has always been very friendly. Although her subject matter is dicey, Leblanc never shies from having Magalie confront each difficulty plausibly and, thanks to a fierce and flawless portrayal by actress Émilie Bierre, “Les Nôtres” is a rare honest glimpse at teen life.
The Birthday Cake (Screen Media)
Despite its authentic recreation of a slice of Brooklyn Italian-American existence, cowriter-director Jimmy Giannopoulos’ drama about a young man whose family is knee-deep in the local mob scene feels recycled and tired. The central set piece—a memorial for our hero’s dead father in which the title cake takes center stage—is filmed, edited and acted with an urgency the rest of the film lacks. Shiloh Fernandez is competent, if uninspired, in the lead, while the likes of Val Kilmer, Lorraine Bracco, Ewan MacGregor and Ashley Benson fill supporting roles admirably.
Summer of ’85 (Music Box)
In François Ozon’s semi-autobiographical feature, set in 1985 when the writer-director was 18, teenager Alexis falls in love with the older, worldlier David, only to be confused by David’s ambivalence and then turned upside down when tragedy strikes. Ozon strikes a nice balance between sentiment and camp—sometimes the downfall of his other movies—but despite correct details of era and characters, something doesn’t quite click: what should be devastating and deeply moving isn’t. The acting is, for the most part, unexceptional, except for Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (David’s mom), who’s mainly overly emotive.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
These opera recordings gain immeasurably from superb singing, starting with Richard Strauss’ shattering “Elektra,” which, in director Krzysztof Warlikowski’s grab bag of a modernist staging at Salzburg last summer (during the epidemic!), has a superlative cast led by Ausrine Stundyte in the title role and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as Clytemnestra, while Franz Welser-Most brilliantly conducts the orchestra and chorus. French composer Charles Gounod’s “Mireille,” a sentimental tragic romance that’s rarely staged, has a solidly old-fashioned 2009 Paris production by director Nicolas Joe and lovely vocal performances by Inva Mula in the title role and Charles Castronovo as her lover. There’s excellently hi-def video and audio on both releases.
Guns for San Sebastian (Warner Archive)
French director Henri Verneuil made this 1968 western on location in Mexico: set in 1746, it’s about Leon Alastray, a Mexican army deserter, who appears in a remote village posing as a priest, and who soon helps the locals defend themselves against savage attacks. Despite Verneuil’s vigorous directing and the always boisterous Anthony Quinn in the lead, the drama sputters for much of its 120-minute length. A young Charles Bronson is the main antagonist, while Anjanette Comer—an actress I was previously unfamiliar with—winningly plays Quinn’s love interest. The film looks terrific on Blu; lone extra is a vintage on-set featurette.
It Happened at the World’s Fair (Warner Archive)
An Elvis vehicle that’s a cut above despite its creaky, corny sentimentality, Norman Taurog’s 1963 romp through Seattle’s famous fairgrounds includes a stop at the top of the Space Needle, for starters. The flimsy plot finds Elvis plotting to win an attractive nurse (Joan O’Brien) who resists him—until she sees he’s playing foster father of sorts to an adorable little girl (Vicky Tiu). Elvis sings “One Broken Heart for Sale” and his personality and chemistry with both O’Brien and Tiu are enough to carry such an overlong vehicle. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer.
Visions of Eight (Criterion)
With eight directors filming their own glimpses of the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, this bumpy omnibus feature suffers from the segments’ variable quality: Milos Forman’s offputtingly jokey short about the Decathlon, for example, pales next to John Schlesinger’s sober look at the Marathon, the lone segment to mention the elephant in the room, the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. Watching athletes push their bodies and minds to punishing levels is always fascinating, but not highlighting what these games are remembered for is a no-win situation. But here, even with directors like Kon Ichikawa (whose “Tokyo Olympiad” is a masterpiece), Arthur Penn and Claude Lelouch, this remains blurry and ineffectual. The film looks good and grainy in hi-def; extras include an audio commentary, a 55-minute retrospective documentary, and a vintage featurette about the film.
Not really “Lord of the Flies” in space, writer-director Neil Burger’s ambitious sci-fi drama follows a several youngsters on a spaceship sent to a distant planet to discover whether it’s habitable—after years away from civilization, the now teenage astronauts take sides, discover sex and violence, and are just, well, as flawed and foolish as their compatriots on earth. In theory, this is captivating stuff but Burger’s clinical approach smooths things out and render it all dully predictable, despite a few good scenes and imaginative visuals. There’s a fine Blu-ray transfer; extras are a Burger commentary and several featurettes.
Ziegfeld Follies (Warner Archive)
The last of the onscreen Ziegfeld spectacles, this 1946 entertainment—co-directed by Vincente Minnelli among many other hands, including inventive dance director Robert Alton—consists of an enjoyable selection of song-and-dance numbers with comic breathers in between, all in sparkling Technicolor. Obviously, it’s hit-or-miss, but the best moments are Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire’s duet, “The Babbitt and the Bromide,” and Judy Garland—Minnelli’s new wife—in “The Great Lady Has an Interview.” There’s a spectacular hi-def transfer; extras include several audio outtakes, the featurette “Ziegfeld Follies: An Embarrassment of Riches,” a pair of vintage cartoons and a live-action short.