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January 6 - 17, 2006

The Film Experience: Existentialist Adaptations

Existentialism attempts to describe the nature of human experience in an unfathomable world, a theme that has long provided inspiration for countless filmmakers. To name a few, Truffaut, Bergman, Antonioni, and Allen have investigated the idea, articulated by Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1943 treatise Being and Nothingness, that "man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth." The films in this series look to key texts that either inspired (Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard) or expanded (Sartre, Camus) this philosophy, adapting its ideas for the screen, where free will, enacted without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad, resonates with particular force.

This series is co-presented with the American Repertory Theatre who present a new adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, running January 7-29.


January 6 (Friday) 7 pm

White Nights (Le Notti bianche)

Directed by Luchino Visconti
Italy, 1957, color, 107 min.
With Maria Schell, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Marais
Italian with English subtitles

Based on a Dostoyevsky story, White Nights is a fascinating tale of the obsessive and complicated love affair between a reserved clerk (Marcello Mastroianni) and an enigmatic young woman (Maria Schell). The two meet just after Schell's sailor lover (Jean Marais) has abandoned her, and their strange but passionate romance is mixed with melancholy and desperation. Featuring strong performances by all three leads, the film takes place in a dreamlike city modeled after Venice. Though the influence of neo-realism can be found throughout the film, White Nights is an important example of Visconti's transition away from that type of filmmaking.

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January 6 (Friday) 9 pm
January 8 (Sunday) 9:15 pm

The Condemned of Altona

Directed by Vittorio de Sica
Italy, 1962, B&W, 114 min.
With Sophia Loren, Maximilian Schell, Frederic March
Italian with English subtitles

A version of a play by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Condemned of Altona stars Frederic March as Albrecht von Gerlach, a wealthy German business owner with a disgraceful past as a Nazi collaborator. When Albrecht calls on his son Werner (Robert Wagner) to take over the family company, Werner refuses because of the firm's history of helping Hitler's war machine. An added complexity is Albrecht's other son Franz (Maximilian Schell), who was supposed to be tried and executed for his involvement with the Nazis but who is instead hiding from justice in the family's Altona estate.

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January 8 (Sunday) 7 pm

Fate (Yazgi)

Directed by Zeki Demirkubuz
Turkey, 2001, color, 119 min.
With Serdar Orcin, Zeynep Tokus, Demir Karahan
Turkish with English subtitles

Based in part on Albert Camus's novel The Stranger, Fate is the first film directed by Demirkubuz as part of a trilogy of films called "Tales About Darkness." Unable to make any decisions, office worker Musa (Serdar Orcin) absorbs the death of his mother, a passionless marriage, and his own imprisonment for a crime he didn't commit without any reaction. A portrayal of a passive man alienated from the world around him, Fate is an ambiguous and philosophical film about modern life.

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January 10 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Crime and Punishment

Directed by Joseph von Sternberg
US 1986, color, 88 min.
With Edward Arnold, Peter Lorre, Marian Marsh

In this adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel, Peter Lorre gives an outstanding performance as Raskolnikov, a man who murders an old pawnbroker and arrogantly thinks his crime is untraceable until he meets the intelligent police inspector (Edward Arnold) assigned to the case. As the inspector begins his investigation, he and Raskolnikov engage a sly battle of wits until Raskolnikov is finally overwhelmed by the torment of guilt he feels. A fascinating exploration of the psychology of a guilty conscience, Crime and Punishment is a low budget but compelling film constructed by the endlessly inventive von Sternberg.

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January 10 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Pickpocket

Directed by Robert Bresson
France, 1959, B&W, 75 min.
With LaSelle, Marika Green, Jean Pélégri
French with English Subtitles

The first film for which director Robert Bresson composed an entirely original script, this tale of a lonely young man who embarks on a career as a petty thief was to some extent inspired by Crime and Punishment. In Pickpocket, however, Bresson deals more directly with themes of submission and salvation: "With theft I entered by the back door into the kingdom of morality," the director stated. After being arrested, Bressonís novice thief reflects on the morality of a life of crime but, although temporarily deterred, he soon returns to his "vocation", after lessons from a master pickpocket. Voted by Cahiers du cinéma to be the greatest French film of the postwar era, Bressonís masterpiece has been praised by generations of fellow directors, including Louis Malle, who described it as "one of the four or five major events in the history of cinema." Print courtesy of Janus Films.

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January 14 (Saturday) 7 pm
January 17 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Proud Ones

Directed by Yves Allégret
France, 1953, color, 103 min.
With Michèle Morgan, Gérard Philipe, Carlos Moctezuma
French with English Subtitles

A Frenchwoman, stranded in a Mexican resort town after her husband dies from a bout of meningitis, falls for an alcoholic doctor struggling with a dark secret which she tries to help him overcome. Although Sartre was critical of all of the adaptations of his work, this take on his novel, L'Amour Rédemptuer, maintains Sartre's bleak worldview, inspiring strong performances from the lead actors. The film was recently rediscovered by Martin Scorsese, who organized its reissue.

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January 14 (Saturday) 9 pm

The Beats

This program presents a selection of films by American Beat writers who explored existentialist themes.

Pull My Daisy

Directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie
US, 1958, b&w, 30 min.
With Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Larry Rivers

Pull My Daisy is an improvisation based on a play by Jack Kerouac, and features members of the Beat Generation (Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky) as themselves. Railroad brakeman Milo (Larry Rivers) and his painter wife (Delphine Seyrig) love to hang around their New York City apartment with their poet friends, but conflict arises when "straight society" (in the form of the couple's bishop) pays a visit. Recorded without sync sound, the film is maniacally narrated in voiceover by Jack Kerouac, and features a jazz soundtrack written by David Amram. Pull My Daisy is a landmark film that inspired the underground film movements of the 1960s.

The End

Directed by Christopher Maclaine
US, 1953, b&w and color, 34 min.

The End follows six different people whose individual ends will either be self-inflicted or brought about by the world's imminent nuclear annihilation. Christopher Maclaine, a San Francisco beat poet, imparts their stories with dark humor and formal inventiveness. Print courtesy of Filmmaker's Coop.

The Man Who Invented Gold

Directed by Christopher Maclaine
US, 1957, b&w and color, 4 min.

Maclaine narrates an allegorical nonsense poem over the fable of an alchemist whose quest for gold will ultimately bring about his own transformation.

The Flower Thief

Directed by Ron Rice
US, 1960, b&w, 70 min.
With Taylor Mead

Taylor Mead starts as a homosexual beatnik who walks around San Francisco. With a stolen flower, a teddy bear and an American flag, he gets into a series of misadventures that lead him up a hill before he descends in a children's wagon. Filmed in 1959 through 1960, the incidents foreshadowed the hippie movement by several years. Claude Debussy's music is used for the soundtrack in this early counter-culture feature. Dan Pavlides, All Movie Guide

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January 17 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Notes from Underground

Directed by Gary Walkow
US, 1995, color, 88 min.
With Henry Czerny, Sheryl Lee, John Favreau

A highly original and unflinching adaptation of Dostoevsky's novella, Notes from Underground stars Henry Czerny (in a remarkable performance) as the alienated loner "The Underground Man." The location is changed from nineteenth-century St. Petersburg to present-day Los Angeles, and this modern context has The Underground Man confessing his own flaws, as well as his cruel opinions about the flaws of society in general, to a video diary. He is at once filled with self-hatred and arrogance, guilt and bitterness, and his failed attempt to change his attitude and connect with prostitute Liza (Sheryl Lee) reveals his complex humanity.
For more information, please contact Olive Films.

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