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Best Films of 1985
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The Big Red One
The Shining
'Breaker' Morant

After Hours
Full Metal Jacket
Dead Ringers
Monsieur Hire


BEST FILMS OF 1985 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

Cop au Vin
Claude Chabrol

The first of Chabrol's many collaborations with producer Marin Karmitz marks a return to form after the impersonal, terribly uninspired and unconvincing Jodie Foster dreck The Blood of Others. Chabrol is working more toward Henri-Georges Clouzot territory, creating a morally corrupt province full of spies controlled by an inspector with dubious methods. That said, like most solid Chabrol this is a much lighter and calmer work, working more on the level of irony. As usual the film starts slowly, introducing us to several silly unlikable bourgeois characters who have their little secrets to hide. The lower class Cuno family consists of a shy mamma's boy postman (Lucas Belvaux) typically suffocated by his possessive (wheel chair bound) mother's (Stephane Audran) overbearing influence. The more powerful elements are trying to force them out of their house, and they are up to much more as well due to their ability to sneak peaks at everyone's mail. There are no heroes here, but Chabrol somewhat sides with the Cuno's because they are out to shatter the bourgeois veneer of respectability. It's a typically minimalist work from Chabrol relying heavily on the setting, but the story continually folds in after the connections are established. However, with a surprising second murder Chabrol slowly switches the focus of this mystery to a newly introduced character Inspecteur Jean Lavardin. Jean Poiret delivers a sinisterly brilliant steely-eyed performance as this motiveless, seemingly roaming dick. Lavardin is something of a new breed of cop, crossing ruthlessly efficient brutal fascism with ironic detachment and utter cynicism. In a way, he's a Dirty Harry who doesn't enjoy it or believe in anything (he has no allusions that his goon tactics are for the good of the public). Poiret's portrayal went over so well that Chabrol immediately followed up with the sequel titled after his character. Then they made it into a TV series, which spawned a TV movie (directed by Christain de Chalonge, who did the series episodes Chabrol didn't direct) and probably would have led to more had Poiret not succumbed to a heart attack. [7/20/06] ***


Hour of the Star
Suzana Amaral

A metaphor for uneducated Brazilian country folk overwhelmed by the transition to the big city, Suzana Amaral's debut feature depicts the banality of solitude. Forced to take care of herself now that her Aunt has passed away, all that 19-year-old Macabea (Marcelia Cartaxo) has been deprived of quickly comes to roost. Lacking intelligence, culture, emotional outlets, and any manner of refinery, Macabea is woefully unable to connect. She manages to get a job as a typist, though she not only can't type but gets her greasy paw prints all over the papers. Amaral is not out to make fun of her vacuous star, who in a moment of revelation that further validates Jean-Luc Godard's spot on analysis of the direction the world was heading in Masculin-Feminin declares "I'm a typist, a virgin, and I like Coca-Cola." On the contrary, Hour of the Star is in the neorealist tradition of making us see the humanity of a marginalized character no one else will produce a film about. There's no glory or nobility in Macabea's oppression; she accepts every sort of insult and hardship because she's oblivious to them. Macabea's insular nature protects her, allowing her to dream of better days everyone else knows won't come. In a sense, Hour of the Star is a relentlessly downbeat film because it doesn't shield us from Macabea's helplessness or ignorance, but she doesn't despair, she dreams. Hour lives and illuminates its star in her escapism. Macabea is something like Robert Bresson's Mouchette if Mouchette outgrew her disdainful rebellion and moved to a delirious form of evasion that allowed her some form of contentment with her singular existence. Unfortunately, Macabea's first something of a boyfriend Olimpico (Jose Dumont) is unfeeling and cruel, denying her even the fleeting pleasure Isabelle Huppert's character in The Lacemaker received before their differences (class) tore them apart. He knows her dreams are an unrealistic blend of what she's been able to absorb, but is too obtuse to see their necessity, that they're all she has. Though she's no picnic, the fact she endures this abusive man understates the depth of her despair; his appeal lies in the fact he's the only one who will bother with her at all. Clarice Lispector's final novel was narrated by a fictional male writer, but Amaral eliminates him, allowing us to learn everything through observation. Scenes like Macabea walking in between the photographer and his subject just as he's about to snap the picture show how unaware she is. Cartaxo doesn't give Macabea any crutches. She plays down everything to the point you not only know nobody is home, you wonder if the building was ever even wired for electricity. We can't see that Macabea knew anything of country life either, but no innocent human being deserves to be so devoid of human contact. The other characters do most of what talking there is, but the scenes reveal as much about Macabea, even though there's little to her, in the ways that she reacts or more often fails to. The ending is highly contrived, purposely breaking from the realism to make a comment, but the film is an honest look at loneliness and desperation. ***


Noon Wine
Michael Fields

Surprisingly spare, intense, and nuanced PBS American Playhouse version of Katherine Ann Porter's superb short story. A very mysterious and unpredictable work that cleverly builds to and sees through a chain reaction. Swedish immigrant Stellan Skarsgard arrives in a small town looking for any job, and through his handiness and tireless work he transforms Fred Ward's farm from poor to excellent. Ward quickly yields every notable task on the farm to Skarsgard, so though Ward becomes the most fortunate man in town, he owes all of it to the hired hand. Ward, who really only cares about his dignity and reputation, can't stop talking throughout the film. He's one of those b.s. artists who thinks he's plotting everything to perfection but he's actually quite dim and inept, tending to only make his case less convincing. His wife Lise Hilboldt is obviously not fooled by his shenanigans, but tolerates him because it's her duty. Skarsgard also demands nothing, which works well for Ward, but still the family would like him to become one of them. Skarsgard refuses to talk, more or less avoiding social contact and amusing himself in the brief time he isn't working by playing the same tune on the harmonica. All anyone knows about him is the harmonica is precious, touch it and he'll discipline you. The film seems to be building to him turning violent, but the shocking event comes a little more than halfway through and reorganizes the story entirely. Despite, or perhaps because of the small budget, the film works well as a period piece of turn of the century Texas; there's nothing showy or flashy but that suits the claustrophobic psychodrama perfectly. You are simply plunged headfirst into the life and asked to observe and draw your own conclusions. Both Ward and Skarsgard are excellent, with Skarsgard initially impressing with the enigma he brings to his character, but Ward seeming better in the end because his character is a lot more complex; it's not until you reflect upon Ward's work that you realize how well he set it up. Sam Peckinpah directed an earlier TV version in 1966 that biographer David Weddle considers one of his greatest and more proof of what he could have done if he wasn't pigeonholed into "Bloody Sam", but it's nearly impossible to find. [1/9/07] ***

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