Last month, the section of the Cannes International Film Festival known as the Semaine Internationale de la Critique held its fortieth edition. Officially founded during the Cannes Festival of 1962, the Semaine was organized by the Union of French Film Critics to focus attention on emerging directors worldwide, selecting significant first or second features for acknowledgment. This concentration on the discovery of young talent extended to the American cinema as well, and the Semaine soon became a major venue for each new wave of our own independentsEmile de Antonio and John Sayles, Jim McBride and Paul Morrissey, Shirley Clarke and Philip Kaufman. When the Caméra dOr award for best first feature was instituted in the late 1970s, it was such American independent features in the Semaine as Alambrista and Northern Lights that won this new honor.
On the occasion of the 40th International Critics Week, the Harvard Film Archive joins a number of international archives and festivals in mounting an homage to this uniquely important event. Each program will be introduced by a Boston-area film critic. Special thanks for their advice go to José María Riba, General Delegate for the 40th Semaine, and to Klaus Eder of Fipresci. Next fall we will be pleased to present a touring version of the Semaine 2001 international selections.
June 1 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by the Winterfilm Collective
US 1972, 16mm, b/w, 93 min.
Winter Soldier is a compelling oral history based on the testimony that more than two hundred soldiers, sailors, and marines gave at the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation in Detroit about atrocities committed by U.S. forces in Vietnam. Made by a collective of more than a dozen independent documentary makers, the film combines this often harrowing testimony with newsreel footage and still photographs. What emerges is a wrenching portrait of what critic Vincent Canby aptly described as men trying to make some sense of an experience that to them clearly makes no sense.
June 1 (Friday) 9 pm
Directed by Shirley Clarke
US 1961, 35mm, b/w, 110 min.
With Warren Finnerty, Jerome Raphael, Carl Lee
Shown at Cannes the year before the official advent of International Critics Week, the out-of-competition screening of The Connection nevertheless served as the model for what the Semaine was to become. Clarkes debut feature was a canny adaptation of Jack Gelbers celebrated Off-Broadway play about a group of heroin addicts waiting for their connection. While the original Living Theater production had used a play-within-a-play strategy for its narration, Clarke devised a more cinematic frame involving a documentary director at work on his cinema-vérité portrait of the drug scenea technique which, as the distinguished French critic Georges Sadoul pointed out, works brilliantly in this film. While the film garnered rave reviews at Cannes (even the conservative American trade journal Variety noted that it would be a hit in enlightened spots), it faced a withering censorship battle back in the States that delayed its release by a year and a half.
June 2 (Saturday) 7 pm
Directed by Philip Kaufman and Ben Manaster
US 1965, 35mm, b/w, 85 min.
With Lou Gilbert, Ellen Madison, Thomas Erhart
After spending a year at Harvard Law School, Philip Kaufman embarked in the early 1960s on a European trip that would ultimately lead him into the cinema. Inspired by the emerging New Waves in Europe, he returned to his native Chicago to direct two independent features of his own. The first of these films, Goldstein, is a quirky urban tale about a young sculptor whose pregnant girlfriend resolves to have an abortion and exit the relationship. Nonplused, the artist embarks on a journey through the streets of the city to find the titled character, a bearded prophet dressed like a silent-era tramp who rises up from the depths of Lake Michigan. The film itself had a no less miraculous entry into the world when it emerged at Cannes to share the coveted Prix de la Nouvelle Critique with Bertoluccis Before the Revolution.
June 2 (Saturday) 9 pm
The second feature by writer-director Sayles, Lianna presents a very contemporary tale of a philandering college professor whose wife finds solace in the arms of another woman. Sayles focuses on the repercussions of Liannas switch of sexual preference and the prevailing double standards that govern attitudes even within the seemingly enlightened academic community. (In one of the films lighter moments, Sayles appears as a womanizing film instructor who tries to seduce Lianna, unable to comprehend that she is simply not interested in men.) As with his earlier The Return of the Secaucus Seven, the raw quality of the films low-budget production adds what critic Kevin Thomas termed a heightened sense of authenticitya quality that in turn complements the works progressive tone and bemused, humane sensibility.
June 7 (Thursday) 7 pm
Both an art film in its own right and a parody of the genre of the European art film, Hallelujah the Hills details in nonlinear fashion the story of a romantic triangle set in rural Vermont. Jack (Beard) and Leo (Greenbaum) both love Vera, whom Mekas has cast with two different actresses to capture each mans image of the ideal woman. Filled with cinematic homages to silent comedy, the work of the New Wave, and even the samurai cycle of Kurosawas cinema, the film parallels the romantic pursuits with a critical portrait of western machismo. While Mekas was a Lithuanian émigré, his film was recognized by the British film journal Sight and Sound as one of the most completely American films ever made.
June 7 (Thursday) 9 pm
Directed by John Hanson and Rob Nilsson
US 1978, 35mm, b/w, 95 min.
With Robert Behling, Susan Lynch, Joe Spano
With Robert Behling, Susan Lynch, Joe SpanoOne of the first regionally produced American independent features to receive broad exposure and critical acclaim, Northern Lights is a saga of grassroots politics set during early years of the First World War in the vast farmlands of North Dakota. Told in flashback, the film follows a young Scandanavian farmer who is radicalized by the crushing conditions of an unusually harsh winter and the even more devastating consequences of unregulated banking practices. He joins up as an organizer for the emerging Nonpartisan League, which becomes an effective political force for change. Fluidly intermixing actors with a cast of North Dakota nonprofessionals and filming in a quasi-vérité style, Hanson and Nilsson achieved a unique form of American neorealism that earned them the Caméra dOr at Cannes and accolades by critics such as Roger Ebert, who lauded them for accomplishing a small miracle on a smaller budget.
June 8 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by Henry Jaglom
US 1976, 35mm, color, 92 min.
With Dennis Hopper, Taryn Power, Dean Stockwell
A key work in the American independent feature movement of the 1970s, Tracks is set on an eastbound train carrying the remains of an American soldier killed in Vietnam and the nearly deranged army sergeant (Hopper) who has been assigned to escort the coffin. On board, the sergeant encounters a microcosm of an America that has all but forgotten the war: a college coed en route to a vacation on the Cape, assorted hipsters and schmoozers hanging out in the smoking car, and an older woman who brielyy comforts him. As critic J. Hoberman once noted, Visceral and discomforting, Henry Jagloms ambitious independent production is both a terminal road film and the first post-Vietnam movie.
June 8 (Friday) 9 pm
Directed by Jacques Rivette
France 1984, 16mm, color, 127 min.
With Geraldine Chaplin, Jane Birkin, Jean-Pierre Kalfon
French with English subtitles
Kramers first full-length feature focuses on a group of young New York intellectuals and activists, one of whom has decided to assassinate the President in response to what he sees as the enormous criminality of the Vietnam War. His friends oppose his plan and try to persuade him that such an act would endanger the larger goals of their cause. French critic Jean-Pierre Jeancolas contrasted Kramers approach to that of Sidney Lumet, and hailed the new director and his astonishing team of actors for their instantaneous portrait. . . perhaps the only true one of the intellectual left. Shown at the controversial Cannes of May 1968, The Edge earned Kramer the Prix Georges Sadoul.
June 9 (Saturday) 7 pm
Directed by Sara Driver
US 1986, 35mm, color, 78 min.
With Suzanne Fletcher, Ann Magnuson, Dexter Lee
This debut feature by Sara Driver, producer of Jim Jarmuschs Stranger than Paradise, focuses on the hybridized cityscape of lower Manhattan. The urban mix of the burgeoning Soho art world (represented by a cast including performance artist Magnuson and playwright Harvey Perr) and a traditional Chinatown finds its embodiment in the figure of Nicole (Fletcher), a blonde computer typesetter at a high-tech downtown printing company and freelance Chinese translator with an Asian son. In a modernist neo-noir plot twist, Nicole becomes implicated in the handling of a stolen manuscript of an ancient Chinese tale, unsettling and fantastic details of which begin to seep into the present day story. The resulting work was, according to critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, the most visually ravishing American independent film of its year.
June 9 (Saturday) 9 pm
Directed by Paul Morrissey
US 1970, 35mm, color, 103 min.
With Joe Dallesandro, Geri Miller, Holly Woodlawn
One of the most successful of the Morrissey-directed Andy Warhol features, Trash is a modern sex farce set in the waning days of the 1960s urban counterculture. The decidedly episodic narrative revolves around a strikingly handsome but sexually ineffectual junkie named Joe (Dallesandro) who is pursued by a succession of female characters, including the superstar trans-vestite Woodlawn. Deflecting seduction, Joe divides his day between pursuing his next fix and nodding out. For his part, Morrissey makes Joes inaction a source for both humor and pathos. For critic Dave Kehr, Trash was the best of this cycle of post-Warhol films, and while he noted that Morrisseys deployment of the Warholian long-take, fixed-camera stare might represent the height of noninvolvement, the film itself was curiously intimate.
June 10 (Sunday) 7 pm
Directed by Michael Oblowitz
US 1997, 35mm, color, 100 min.
With Billy Zane, Gina Gershon, Sheryl Lee
One of the key figures in the New York independent film scene of the 1980s, South Africanborn Oblowitz (Minus Zero, King Blank) shifted coasts (to Los Angeles) and media (as a successful music video director) before returning to feature filmmaking in the late 1990s. This World, Then the Fireworks is his potent adaptation of the Jim Thompson story about a twin brother and sister (Zane and Gershon) who suffer childhood trauma by witnessing a murderous primal scene. With the brother narrating, the story fast-forwards thirty years to the time in which he has become a muckracking reporter and his twin sister a prostitute. For critic David Edelstein, Oblowitz made a refreshingly unapologetic adaptation . . . that skillfully evokes a novella so compressed that reading it, in the words of the wrier Max Allan Collins, is like drinking a can of frozen orange juice without adding the water.
June 10 (Sunday) 9 pm
Directed by Barry Hershey
US 1996, 35mm, color, 118 min.
With Norman Rodway, Joel Grey, Camilla Soeberg
Detached from historical time, The Empty Mirror imagines a postwar Adolf Hitler holed up in an underground bunker, dictating his memoirs and confronting the demons of his own psyche. Through haunting images, Hitler encounters apparitions of his fiendish confidant, Joseph Goebbels; his enigmatic mistress, Eva Braun; the mastermind of his military campaigns, Hermann Goehring; Jewish psychologist Sigmund Freud; and the mysterious Woman In Black. Through stream-of-consciousness soliloquies and Hitlers exchanges with his phantom guests, Hershey creates a terrifying primer on genius and psychosis, domination and destruction. As Varietys Todd McCarthy noted, For anyone willing to ponder the specifics of Hitlers twisted mind and acts, there are elements here to engage the interest.