This week’s roundup includes my reviews of the re-release of an unforgettable B&W film from 1990 by Hungarian director György Fehér; and two new films: “Other People’s Children,” showcasing the great Belgian actress Virginie Efira; and Ray Romano’s NYC family chronicle, “Somewhere in Queens.”
In-Theater Releases of the Week
Twilight (Arbelos Films)
Hungarian director György Fehér, an associate of Béla Tarr—whose use of slow tracking shots and stark B&W camerawork became ubiquitous in his films—made his debut with this strikingly composed procedural. Although he only made one more film (“Passion,” a 1998 adaptation of “The Postman Always Rings Twice”) before his death in 2003 at age 63, the accomplished Fehér has made a resonant exploration of a detective who investigates horrific child murders. Instead of Tarr’s existential dread, Fehér zeroes in on society’s alienation; there are several extraordinary sequences—shot by master cinematographer Miklós Gurbán, who also did the grading of this brand-new, beautifully restored print—including very unsettling close-up “interviews” with two young girls.
Other People’s Children (Music Box Films)
Virginie Efira won the best actress Cesar (the French version of the Oscar) for her devastating performance in “Revoir Paris” (opening in June), which makes that film seem more penetrating than it is. Efira performs a similar miracle in Rebecca Zlotowski’s film, playing Rachel, a schoolteacher without children of her own who loves her boyfriend Ali’s young daughter Leila as if she is her own—until his ex-wife initiates a reunion that might squeeze Rachel out of their lives altogether. Zlotowski’s delicate writing and directing provide Efira with another showcase for her emotionally shattering acting; ideally, she should have won the Cesar for her draining portrayals in both films.
Somewhere in Queens (Roadside Attractions)
Ray Romano has not gotten his hit TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond” out of his system, as this sitcom-ish feature he wrote, directed and stars in proves for 105 middling minutes. Multiple generations of a Queens extended family are always quarreling and eating—but always circling the wagons when necessary. It’s amusing but rarely biting, providing little of substance for actors as good as Laurie Metcalf (who plays Romano’s cantankerous cancer-survivor wife) and Tony Lo Bianco (who plays Romano’s cantankerous father). Romano always falls back on stereotypes and clichés, wasting the usually delightful Jennifer Esposito (as a neighboring widow) and Sadie Stanley (as Romano’s son’s erstwhile girlfriend) in nothing parts.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge (Shudder)
For those waiting with bated breath for the sequel to “Scare Package,” it’s finally arrived: I haven’t seen the original, but it seems obvious that the sequel trods pretty much the same ground, using a thread of a plot—the death of Rad Chad, a horror movie buff whose funeral becomes a series of death traps for the attendees—as an excuse for an anthology of short genre parodies. The sequences, directed by Aaron B. Koontz, Alexandra Barreto, Anthony Cousins, Jed Shepherd and Rachele Wiggins, are tongue-in-cheek homages that are definitely hit-or-miss, as these sorts of things tend to be. The package itself is presentable: there’s a fine hi-def transfer; and the extras are a directors’ commentary; making-of; bloopers and deleted scenes; and other cheeky bonus material.
Time of Roses (Deaf Crocodile)
Hot on the heels of the label’s last resurrection, last month’s “The Assassin of the Tsar,” Deaf Crocodile now unveils another restored, rarely-seen film: Finnish director Risto Jarva’s brooding 1969 sci-fi opus, set in the then near-future of the year 2012. It’s an antiseptically perfect world whose key word is “progress,” so when a journalist looks into the death of a nude model a half-century earlier for his TV program, he belatedly discovers that this perfect world is not nearly as progressive as he thought. It’s a thought-provoking concept that comes across onscreen as less than full formed; still, Jarva—who died in a 1977 car accident at age 43—made a major contribution to aesthetically interesting sci-fi. The film has been beautifully restored in hi-def.
Tosca (C Major)
In Giacomo Puccini’s classic—and tragic—love triangle, the intense emotions in the music are put across superbly by the trio of singers who take on these roles in Davide Livermore’s traditional but gripping production at Milan’s La Scala in 2019. Francesco Meli as Tosca’s lover, the painter Cavaradossi, Luca Salsi as the evil antagonist, Scarpia, and Anna Netrebko as the heroine, Floria Tosca, are all startlingly effective under conductor Riccardo Chailly’s baton, as are the La Scala orchestra and choir. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.