Thursday, June 28, 2007

Film Review #109: Been Rich All My Life
Director: Heather MacDonald
Cast: Bertye Lou Wood, Fay Ray, Elaine Ellis, Cleo Hayes, Marion Coles

The legendary Cotton Club’s current owner, John Beatty, lets them practice there each week. Making their way north through Manhattan by bus and subway to Harlem, dancers Fay Ray, Cleo Hayes, Marion Coles, Elaine Ellis and Bertye Lou Wood – ages 84 to 96 when this film was completed – by turns look mild-mannered, stylish and sassy. Whether baseball-capped or mink-coated, there’s no doubt these elders are ladies. On-stage, once the music and foot-lights go up, the Silver Belles are also “very flirty,” says the choreographer Mercedes Ellington. The Duke’s granddaughter, who knows a thing or two about such matters, adds, “The audience goes crazy!”

The Community Folk Art Center here in Syracuse recently screened Heather MacDonald’s Been Rich All My Life (2006), about the lives and fortunes of the Silver Belles, 1930s and ‘40s-era chorus line tap-dancers extraordinaire, who reunited in 1985 and are still dancing. Since CFAC’s monthly movie coincided with opening ceremonies of this year’s Juneteenth at City Hall, there wasn’t a big crowd. Not to worry: carries the movie’s DVD and the locally-owned Emerald City Video was happy to order it.

Been Rich All My Life is a treasure, and it’s really not one story but several.

First, it relates the reunion of five vivid, opinionated, self-possessed women who met in the 1930s at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where Bertye Lou Wood was dance captain of the chorus line. In 1985 Wood and Geri Kennedy, who has served as their manager ever since, looked up the others and formed the Silver Belles. They may be unique, but they’re no passing novelty act. MacDonald’s film picks up seventeen years later to follow this enduring late-life career through rehearsals, performances, reminiscences, dance classes for sharp, appreciative younger performers and raucous stops at Nikki’s Bar.

In an early scene, one Belle stops mid-wisecrack and asks, “This is gonna be edited, right? We don’t want any arguments in it.” Life provided unplanned difficulties in the two-year shoot – loss of partners, a tumble down subway steps (followed by rehearsing temporarily with a walker), cancer treatments, a new pacemaker. Bertye’s a hospital stay ends in her decline and passing. But as the film goes on, you’re just grateful that MacDonald – who has some award-winning PBS documentaries under her belt – was there at the right moments to record scenes ranging from intimacy to triumph.

The earlier lives of the Silver Belles personify an era roughly bounded by World Wars I and II. This means the Harlem Renaissance and more. Been Rich contains abundant archival photos, clippings and footage of the dance clubs and entertainers. Behind the glitter, the Apollo Theater strike in February 1940 established the American Guild of Variety Artists, the first performers’ union with clout (“Sixteen chorus girls closed down this theater!” relishes Cleo Hayes). After Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, Cleo and Bertye, with Eubie Blake’s band, were part of the first Black USO tour to US Army bases – at Fort Bliss, Texas, they weren’t allowed to use the post’s restaurant or toilets.

These women’s lives also recall a fluidity in US life that might surprise us now. They came from all over. Fay Ray, who started dancing in front of a mirror while her family was at church, hopped a freight train at age 12 from Shreveport, later toured Beirut and Vietnam with the USO during the 1960s, and fit in working the Alaska pipeline too. Paris and Buenes Aires made the dance itinerary too. Composer Pete Whitman of the jazz sextet Departure Point furnishes a dazzling score that surveys the musical styles of those decades, which he describes in the DVD’s interview.

Been Rich All My Life both emphasizes and illustrates passing these steps and traditions on to younger dancers, who seem to be legion. One is Karen Callaway Williams, already a tap star in her own right, whose red shoes fly in a spectacular mid-chorus solo at Bertye’s wake. Footage of the Belles’ rehearsals provides uncommon detail about how dances are put together. The DVD’s generous bonuses include a “dance lesson” in which Williams learns tap’s “national anthem,” the Shim Sham Shimmy, one sequence at a time.

There’s something triumphant about tap dancing and the people who do it. You can see it in this movie. You saw it last weekend at the Civic Center too, when Cheryl Wilkins Mitchell’s Onondaga Dance Institute students gave their annual recital, triumphing over the late-semester loss of their dance space to construction. Either one will lighten your own step, along with deepening your appreciation for the other.

This review appeared in the 6/28/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent films that did not open theatrically in Syracuse & older films of enduring worth.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Film Review #108: Where the Rivers Flow North
Director: Jay Craven
Cast: Rip Torn, Tantoo Cardinal, Michael J. Fox

When you think about it, the storyline of Vermont-based indie filmmaker Jay Craven’s Where The Rivers Flow North (1993) is very American – something told and re-told in a land populated by descendants who still nurse the sting of remembered dispossession, eviction and removal. How many movies are there where somebody – the railroad, the cattle barons, the bankers – wants this old codger off his scrap of land and he answers with a shotgun? It’s not always an old codger (after all, there’s Scarlett O’Hara), and every place has some local history that adds special resonance (say, an interstate through the heart of town or a gargantuan mall project).

This film is the first of Craven’s “Vermont frontier trilogy,” all based on the novels of his old friend, Central New York native Howard Frank Mosher. It’s 1927 and the Boston-based Northern Power Company’s hydro-electric project is going to flood 10,000 acres of the Kingdom River’s cedar-forested watershed. Cigar-chomping, mustachioed executive Farnsworth (Michael J. Fox), sadistic enforcer “New York Money” (Mark Margolis), and opportunistic, brogue-accented company agent Wayne Quinn (the marvelous and versatile Bill Raymond, a Craven regular) represent the forces of progress.

Old logger Noel Lord (Rip Torn), who ekes out a living distilling cedar oil from a shack overlooking a cold, marshy part of the river, is the last hold-out. Despite escalating offers to buy out his life-time lease and declining cedar oil prices – he survives a carnival’s brutal “chain fight” to win the cash he needs for his annual lease payment – Lord resists, holding up the whole project. Lord’s ace up the sleeve is a secret, deluded plan to light out for another frontier – Oregon.

Besides resulting in his own downfall, Lord’s stubbornness, temper and schemes create a serious rift with his Native American “house-keeper,” Bangor (Tantoo Cardinal of Smoke Signals in an incandescent performance). Lord’s nick-name for her combines a lewd pun with the city where he found her working as a stripper. Though real tenderness between them emerges, this detail is part of the film’s well-developed, sometimes biting portrayal of deeply ingrained prejudice against such unions as well as the harsh desperation that poor, rural women faced as the US sank into the Great Depression. Though beautifully shot, these forests are often brooding, wet and cold, and snow flies as Bangor does Lord a last favor.

The trilogy’s second film, A Stranger in the Kingdom (1999), about the racism an African American minister and his son face in this same Vermont town circa 1952, contains an even darker, more raw depiction of relations between the races and sexes in the bleak fate of mail-order bride Claire LaRiviere.

Howard Frank Mosher is a graduate of Cato-Meridian High School and Syracuse University who moved to Vermont in 1964 with his wife Phillis. Her work as a teacher supported his early writing. They still live in the town of Irasburg in Vermont’s “northeast kingdom,” a corner comprising the three counties of Essex, Orleans and Caledonia. Mosher has written ten novels, starting with Disappearances (1977). His latest, On Kingdom Mountain, comes out next month, coinciding with the DVD release of Craven’s 2006 screen version of Disappearances. This 1932 tale of cross-border whiskey smuggling completes Craven’s Vermont trilogy and stars Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold, and William Sanderson (Deadwood) as Muskrat Kinneson.

Where the Rivers Flow North is part of this larger saga. For example, various Kinneson clan members appear throughout the Mosher novels, set in fictional Kingdom County. This recalls William Faulkner’s mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, with its web of associations, memory, family allusions, betrayals and undertow of racial mingling and conflict stretching over generations and a string of novels. The Kingdom County tales occur amidst cross-border lawlessness and privation that also replicate a kind of Wild West frontier that is not so remote, in either circumstances or mindset, as we sometimes think. In adapting Mosher’s novels, Craven is not making Green Acres knock-offs. And even in specifying their New England regionalism both subtly echo other American myths.

Craven teaches film at tiny Marlboro College, runs a summer camp for teen filmmakers, and his indie company, Kingdom County Productions, commemorates Mosher’s imagined territory. Familiar, well-regarded actors – Gary Farmer, Martin Sheen, Ernie Hudson, Carrie Snodgrass, Henry Gibson, Martin Mull, Luis Guzmán, to name some more – routinely work with Craven, who road-tests his movies before national theatrical release with Vermont-wide summer screenings in church basements, school cafeterias and Grange halls. American film-making for American stories.

This review appears in the 6/21/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing recent films that did not have a regular theatrical run in Syracuse & older films of enduring worth.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Film Review #107: Army of Shadows
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Simone Signoret, Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse

Director Martin Scorcese called Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, about World War II’s Italian Resistance, “the most precious moment in film history.” Who can forget Anna Magnani as Pina, dashing into that street, and her shattering fate? Rossellini’s film was made so soon after the 1945 liberation that Fascists still prowled some parts of Rome – this situation provided the surreal moment during filming of one street scene when riders on a passing bus stopped to rescue the characters being “attacked” by Gestapo. I recently watched Rome, Open City again and it scarcely seems possible to imagine vast territories of modern cinema without it.

Now another film belongs in the same league. I say “now” with qualification. It’s hard to explain what took so long for Jean-Pierre Melville’s legendary film about World War II’s French Resistance, Army of Shadows, to reach the United States. Last April, thanks to Film Forum’s programmer, Bruce Goldstein, Army of Shadows opened in New York City in a new 35 mm print, restored by its original cinematographer, Pierre Lhomme. So it was that – 37 years after premiering in France – Army of Shadows was voted Best Foreign Film of 2006 by the New York Film Critics Circle, and by year’s end was on many US reviewers’ overall top five. Though never in wide release – at most on seven screens in any one week – Army of Shadows was in US theaters continuously until late April 2007.

This film relates the activities, fortunes and dilemmas of a small French Resistance cell between October 20, 1942, when Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), second to the shadowy chief, Luc Jardie (Paul Meurisse), is transported to a Vichy-run prison, and February 23, 1943, when Gerbier insists that the punishment for traitors must apply equally to his counterpart, the magnificent, brave and daring Mathilde (Simone Signoret). It’s set in Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and, briefly, the French Resistance’s London office, where the real head of that operation, Andre Dewavrin, plays himself in the film. Early, after Gerbier escapes from prison, he and three cell members capture the young man who betrayed Gerbier. It’s their first execution, they must strangle this pleading boy, and it’s almost too much for them. This execution is one half of a pair, and what a road these patriots travel by the time they reach the other one.

This is a long film – 145 minutes – shot in austere tones, mostly at night or during rain, and often at a slower pace than we’re now used to. Since even its public settings are mostly denuded of other people, even the occasional extraneous passer-by is startling. DP Pierre Lhomme says its pace profoundly respects the audience, giving us time to think and feel. It works. By the time her fellows argue Mathilde’s fate – she has reason for her apparent betrayal, she’s saved all their lives at some point and we've seen what they risk – your stomach’s in a knot. Few films have you wondering so acutely what you would do in their characters' shoes.

On May 15, Criterion released Army of Shadows on a two-disc DVD set. The terrific bonus disc includes new interviews with the cinematographer and with the editor, Françoise Bonnot (whose mother had edited most of Melville’s previous films), several archival interviews with Melville (he died five years after making this film) and with several cast members. These include Simone Signoret, who divulges that Lucie Aubrac, the Resistance member upon whom Signoret’s character, Mathilde, is based, was her own history professor before the war.

In contrast to Rossellini's Rome, Open City production, Melville waited twenty-five years to make Army of Shadows, based on a 1943 novel by Joseph Kessel. It was a departure for Melville, who adored American gangster and detective films, drove around in a white Camaro, wearing a white Stetson because it reminded him of Texas, and inspired younger directors like Godard by his fiercely independent and meticulous filmmaking. Melville was in his early 20s during World War II and made three films about the Nazi Occupation. US audiences, if they now him at all, know cult films like Bob le flambeur (1956), Le Samurai (1967) or Un flic (1972). In 2002, Neil Jordan directed a remake of Bob le flambeur, entitled The Good Thief, starring Nick Nolte and crediting Melville as a screenwriter.

Despite enormous media interest in Army of Shadows during the shoot – Melville’s other films were popular, he finally had a big budget, and he’d staged a controversial reenactment of Nazis marching past the Arc de Triomphe – the film opened to a difficult mood. In 1969, the student strikes of the previous May still reverberated in Paris and beyond. Charles DeGaulle – revered in the film – was being toppled. And Marcel Ophüls’ monumental The Sorrow and the Pity was about to expose flaws in the Resistance’s purity (much as Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book is now revisiting the Dutch Resistance). But Army of Shadows has continued to surface, re-releasing elsewhere in Europe in 1978, again in 1988 and, after the film’s significant and painstaking restoration, in 2005. It’s a sobering thought, that we’ve done without this film for so long. You have to see it.

This review appeared in the 6/14/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing recent films that did not have a theatrical opening in Syracuse & older films of enduring worth.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Film Review #106: Billo: il Grand Dakhaar
Director: Laura Muscardin
Cast: Thierno Thiam, Susy Laude, Paul D’Nour

This is a marvelous film about double lives. Of course, it’s always been possible to see that we contain whole multitudes through the figure of the immigrant, who crosses cultures and writes a new destiny. You can still see that grand idea in the very images that open Billo, a film about Senegalese-born Thierno Thiam, a real-life Hip-Hop fashion designer with his own brand label based in Rome. The movie starts with the night Thierno leaves Africa. There’s a fire on a vast, dark beach where he waits for a very small boat. Reflections of those flames fill his eyes and his eyes fill the screen. Then, a pale dawn sky above another beach and, suddenly, Thierno’s head, rising from his prayers, fills the horizon.

Part of the immigrant story’s grandeur was sailing forth and never returning, never looking back. Of course in countless ways this isn’t true, but it’s a notion we favor in the United States with our hunger for shedding the past and starting from scratch. Billo is all about looking backward in the midst of reinvention – about what director Laura Muscardin says she learned is common, if largely undiscussed, at least among Senegalese seeking work in Italy and the rest of Europe. Here, Thierno finds himself with two families because he loves two women, one whom he has known since childhood (Fatou, played by Carmen De Santos) and the other the younger sister of an Italian friend (Laura, played by Susy Laude), and he is unwilling to relinquish either one.

One of the marvelous things about Billo is that you can dip into this film nearly anywhere and find some echo of the doubling of Thierno’s loves and identity, so thoroughly does the idea permeate the film’s style and so carefully has the story been constructed. So in this amended life Thierno plays himself. Billo itself is a name Thierno makes up for himself outside a Roman disco and gives a woman he doesn’t trust with his real name. Good hunch, since later she stalks him, hilariously clad in leopard-spots but doing him real injury. In a film about a fashion designer, there is meticulous attention to clothing. Thierno’s attire changes gradually, the addition of baseball caps and Western shirts tracking his negotiation of a new culture in quite subtle ways scene to scene, and the colors found in Senegal – the turquoise, white and ochre of his teacher’s courtyard wall and his mother’s clothing – repeat later in Laura’s choice of clothing too. Thierno’s craft, with everything it might imply metaphorically, is shot with great respect, close up attention and real visual beauty.

Doubling underpins many of the film’s comic aspects, for example the gay couple Paolo and Paolo (Marco Bonini and Paolo Gasparini), who first appear by almost colliding from opposite sides of the frame as they rush to answer their doorbell. “At last, a man who is thoughtful!” exclaims the first Paolo as he sees the armful of flowers Thierno has brought to the party given by their roommate, Pap (Paul D’Nour), a sort of big brother to Theirno who acts as bridge between cultures. Then each of the two mothers – Thierno’s mother Diara (Daba Soumarè) and Paolo and Laura’s mother (Luisa De Santis) – has her stereotypes of life on the other continent. At a family dinner, Laura’s mother asks Thierno whether he misses the animals in the jungle, while Diara focuses on warnings about the evil allure of white women.

What develops is an environment that lends richness and resonance to clean, naturalistic performances, some by non-professionals. In mirroring scenes, both Fatou and Laura confront Thierno as he’s packing his suitcase for the other continent, demanding to go with him and failing to move him. In the wake of learning Thierno’s married Fatou from Pap and rashly announcing it, Paolo 1 has hair-raising back-to-back arguments, first with his sister (“How dare you! Thierno must tell me, and I decide if I want to know!”), then with his mother, who slaps her son in the face and rearranges his notion of tolerance.

Then there is the placement of memories. A key such recollection is deceptively simple. Not quite midway through the film, at a difficult point in his early days in Rome, Thierno recalls sitting at his family’s outdoor hearth back in the village of Mballing one night with his mother, Diara. She was doing the supper dishes next to a roaring fire – we know it's like the one that blazed on the beach the night he left – while Thierno was performing a little of the nominal help that mothers the world over know is the excuse to raise some difficult subject. “What’s up?” she asks. “What are you doing here? You’ve never washed the dishes.”

“I want to go to Italy,” he says. He has been secretly planning this for a dozen years or so, since he asked his mother whether he could overcome their social standing and marry Fatou if he became rich. Applying himself diligently in apprenticeship with the village tailor whose Italian fashion magazines he swipes, Thierno knew even then how this could happen. Thierno has loved Fatou since he passed her in the street. In fact, emblematic of their whole relationship, their first interaction occurs as he looks back over his shoulder at her and she looks after him.

“Italy,” answers his mother, looking at him suddenly in the firelight, her voice not loud but going up on the first syllable. Half question, half muted exclamation, her inflection packs this single word with astonishment at his outlandish idea and enough restraint that, with luck, he’ll hear an encouraging curiosity and tell her more. But pretty soon she’s asking Thierno if he wants to be like his father (she woke up one day and he’d disappeared), insisting she never liked his cousin with the same name (who can arrange smuggled passage), pleading, “Our destiny is written.”

A lesser film would tell Thierno’s story chronologically, so this scene about seeking what’s above one’s place would occur earlier and its impact subside into cliché. Instead, a lighting designer might almost have put this scene where it is, illuminating what comes before (Thierno’s stint in jail, mistaken for a terrorist by a nervous, harassing justice system and his fight with Pap over whether to embark on some shady dealings) and what follows – a long look in the mirror and a new job.

The film’s structure, with alternating segments set in one country and then the other, gives us first one side and then the other of Thierno’s double life. There are almost two dozen such segments, give or take, depending on whether you count several obvious, very brief flashbacks. These chunks of narrative work back and forth in time. Besides just providing back story, new segments answer questions raised by the previous one and insert reversals or complications such as engagement agreements and pregnancies. Gradually Thierno’s past pulls even with his Roman present and, increasingly, transitions between Senegal and Italy happen in real time – over cell phones and on planes and buses – rather than in memory. Destiny is rather more provisional that either Diara or her son have imagined. And if he ever leaves his day job, Thierno Thiam could have a future on-screen.

Billo: il Grand Dakhaar
screens on Monday, June 11, at 2:00 and 6:15 p.m. at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, part of “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.” Tickets at

This review appeared in on 6/5/07. Find the accompanying interview with Laura Muscardin at

Friday, June 01, 2007

Film Review #105: The Secret Life of Words
Director: Isabel Coixet
Cast: Sarah Polly, Tim Robbins, Julie Christie

The young Canadian actor Sarah Polley can do remarkable things with a simple walk down a hallway. On board a crippled oil rig in a wintry, squall-tossed Irish Sea, Polley’s Hanna is a refugee from the Balkan Wars of the early 90s. She’s resettled into a dreary English factory job where she sleep-walks through her days. Unable to relax into a forced, off-season vacation in the North of Ireland – on a gray, deserted beach, she sits watching what looks like a burning ship on the gray horizon – she volunteers for a temporary nursing job when she overhears a cell phone conversation in a Chinese restaurant. Soon a helicopter lands her on the rain-swept rig where she meets its handful of remaining crew, including Josef (Tim Robbins), who was badly burned when he tried to rescue a fellow worker after the recent explosion and fire. Because Josef can’t see her – his corneas were burned too – his need to speak, and his desire that she answer him, has an extra urgency. Hanna resists at first. She concludes their first exchange by telling him he can call her Cora (the name of a woman he’s just talked about). She adds that her hair is red, in response to Josef’s searching comment that she has a “blonde voice” (when Josef gets his sight back later, writer-director Isabel Coixet wryly provides a different nurse with a huge red mane as the first person Josef sees).

After this first exchange Hanna heads for the galley to get Josef’s supper. Down that hallway, she hears a boom box playing Italian pop songs. The rig’s chef, Simon (Javier Cámara), occupies himself by cooking from a different national cuisine daily and playing music to match. So today he has made some gnocchi with sauce, beef with fresh basil and a mascarpone dessert. With only three or four movements – echoes of movement, really – Hanna hesitates, her body turns away defensively, she takes a step back, swings her jaw slightly. Then it seems she wills herself forward. Though we might assume she was merely fending off a new introduction, we learn some time later what associations Italian pop songs have for her – a happy time, but then letting any memory back threatens to let them all slip in as well. In another scene, Hanna returns Josef’s tray down the same hallway. He’s sent it back unfinished because she won’t answer his incessant questions, though she does share that she eats only chicken, white rice and yellow-skinned apples. Again she hesitates, sits down on a step, haltingly takes a bite, then eats as though famished – a hint that her wall is cracking.

Hanna seems like someone traumatized and so she is. Eventually she and Josef, having imperceptibly moved past some frontier, tell one another their worst secrets. Each involves betrayal and the subsequent shame of remaining alive when another has died. This exchange occurs quite late in the film and is only possible following such quiet, nuanced performances. Josef confesses an affair with his best friend’s wife – the fellow worker he failed to pull from the fire may have been that man. Hanna reveals that she and another young nursing student, trying to return from Dubrovnik to their home village during the break-up of Yugoslavia, were intercepted by “our own soldiers” and held in one of that era’s make-shift rape camps. How much of the narration of their treatment and Hanna’s friend’s death is really Hanna’s own story – fractions of it made just bearable by assigning them to others in her own recollection – is a mystery.

Coixet, who has made two other features in English, wrote Hanna’s part with Polley in mind. Polley starred in Coixet’s 2003 film, My Life Without Me, about a young married mother who keeps a terminal illness to herself and sets about fulfilling a private wish list during her remaining months. Coixet constructed The Secret Life of Words from three elements that intertwine on-screen and might spell trouble were it not for the performances of her cast. Surface comparisons with von Trier’s 1996 film, Breaking the Waves (which also involves an oil rig) are too easy. Coixet filmed an off-shore documentary for Shell Oil in Chile a decade ago and says she has “daily” wanted to make a film in that setting, because its isolation prompts such shared intimacies. This story’s rig may be delicate and lovely from a distance, a self-contained and glittering mirage on stilts against a pink horizon at sunset, but up close it’s damp, battered by freezing winds, echoes with hollowness and ferries those who want mostly to be left alone.

Coixet also wanted to make a film about victims of political torture, following her visits to Copenhagen’s International Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (IRCT) and its counterpart in Sarajevo. When Josef, having recovered his sight and health, searches for Hanna, he follows scraps of clues in her abandoned backpack to IRCT’s home office. There, he meets with her former trauma counselor, Inge (Julie Christie), modeled on the physician Inge Genefke. In an exchange that educates Josef and provides a framework about the IRCT’s work of treating and documenting torture, Coixet’s script and Christie’s performance manage to avoid preachiness and present instead a memorable cameo of the real IRCT founder, who answered Amnesty International’s 1973 global call to physicians to assist torture victims.

Besides dedicating the film to Genefke, Coixet thanks the English writer and art critic John Berger for providing her with “new ways of seeing the world.” This references Berger’s 1972 book, Ways of Seeing – a volume glimpsed on Josef’s desk at one point – about the ways in which visual images have functioned to depict women and how they assume that the “ideal spectator” is always male. The Secret Life of Words upends that assumption with a hero temporarily blinded and, in Berger’s own comments on the film, the “shared salvation of common suffering” that comes of such leveling.

One can’t be sure how much it reflects US film-going tastes or marketing assumptions, but this film, produced by Agustín Almodóvar’s Madrid-based El Deseo, released so far in over twenty countries and the winner of four Spanish Goyas, made just a little over $20,000 in its abbreviated US theatrical run last winter in New York, Los Angeles and, curiously enough, Lincoln, Nebraska. Now it has a second chance with US audiences, released on DVD just four days after Sarah Polley’s well-regarded directing debut, Away From Her.

This review appears today in The Secret Life of Words released on DVD on May 8th. Coixet is currently directing Elegy, the screen version of Philip Roth’s novel, with Ben Kingsley and Penélope Cruz, due in November.