PICKS OF THE WEEK
France; Martin Provost, 2008, Music Box
Great movies can pour light onto darkness, take us into worlds and lives that might otherwise lie hidden from us. Martin Provost's Seraphine -- which won seven 2008 Cesars (or French Oscars), including Best Picture and a richly deserved Best Actress prize for Yolande Moreau as Seraphine -- reveals one such shadowy life, one such unjustly neglected little world.
Directed and co-written by Provost, it's the moving real-life tale of a brilliant but tragically marginalized French naive painter, a woman who lived in obscurity and won major recognition only after her death: Seraphine Louis (1864-1942) lived her life as an impoverished cleaning lady and maid, eking out a living working for the rich or bourgeois household heads of the French provincial town of Senlis.
By day, in the years just before World War I, Seraphine, a plump, fiftyish spinster and house-servant, bustled from house to house, bringing baskets of washed linen and cooking, or spotlessly cleaning the floors and rooms. At night by candlelight, or on off-hours, she painted: small and large canvases filled with wildly colorful flowers and ferocious-looking, reptilian plants, executed with a skill, passion and style that remind you of Van Gogh or Rousseau.
And, as she painted her flowers on the floor, as the lush vegetation bloomed and swirled on her canvases, Seraphine sang: offering up hymns of praise to God.
In Seraphine's life, she was mostly ignored or treated with condescension. It took a rare connoisseur to discover the art in her work: Paris art dealer and critic Wilhelm Unde (Ulrich Tukur), who sees one of her paintings accidentally, when he is invited to display artsy knowledge at a dinner of local bourgeois, including one of Seraphine's employers.
From then on, he becomes her discoverer and "angel" -- praising, buying and selling her works, planning Parisian exhibitions, and later arranging for a stipend so she can stop working and devote herself to her art.
Yet, in a way, and not intentionally, Unde is a destructive angel. Seraphine is in love with him, hopelessly, but he is a bourgeois esthete, gay and unavailable. Eventually, he leaves town when World War I looms. (His German origins put him at risk.) And the stipend he arranges for Seraphine on his return dries up when the World Depression hits, and when Seraphine spends improvidently on things she's never had: a home and a wedding dress.
Finally, Seraphine is lodged in an insane asylum, where she screams in anguish at her exile from her private Eden, and where her painting, she says, leaves her in the night. Unde's patronage is reduced to paying for a better single room for her in the asylum, and to finally arranging an exhibition -- after her death.
This film rends your heart, partly because of the story's sadness, and the power of Seraphine's paintings, and also because of Moreau's extraordinary acting. The actress brings Seraphine to life, conveying luminous simplicity and troubling complexity without a false step -- or a sloppy brushstroke. Moreau's Seraphim is alive, whether she is silently going about her household chores, or walking across vast green country fields on her way to work, stopping to lie in the grass, or rest in the tree branches, watching the play of sunlight through leaves that she will later remember and paint. There, an ecstatic expression suffuses her face.
This is a film about art, and social inequity. But it is also, very much, a film about loneliness -- about the sadness and pain of alienation, the rapture of solitude, how the isolation of a van Gogh or a Seraphine can actually help inspire art and individual expression -- but can destroy a life as well. (In French, with English subtitles.)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (A-)
U.S.; Wes Anderson, 2009, Fox
Foxy, foxy! A deliciously wry animated movie of Roald Dahl's tart, funny and amusingly nasty children's book about suave Mr. Fox (seductively voiced by George Clooney), his admirable wife Mrs. Fox (a maternally luscious Meryl Streep), and Fox's poultry-stealing war against the three rich nabobs of the area, Bunce, Boggis and Bean. Michael Gambon is (naturally for him) Bean, the worst and deadliest of the trio. The style of Fox is deliberately nave-looking stop-motion puppetry (reminiscent at times of the Czech genius Jiri Trnka or of the Brothers Quay in a Saturday morning kiddie show mood). The supporting cast includes Jason Schwartzman (as a little Fox), Bill Murray (as Badger), Willem Dafoe (as Rat), Brian Cox (as an Action 12 TV News Reporter) and Owen Wilson (as Coach Skip). I don't like this movie as much as Toy Story 2, but it's still another prime example of the current Golden Age of Animation.
Howards End (A)
U.K.; James Ivory, 1992, Criterion
Merchant-Ivory: What a world of cinematic elegance, irony and period beauty that name now summons up! From the 1960s, when producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory first cracked the international art film market with The Householder (1963) and then with their first big hit Shakespeare Wallah (1965), until producer Ismail Merchant's death in 2005, the Merchant-Ivory imprimatur was a hallmark of exquisite taste and high literacy in English language filmmaking.
Howards End, Merchant-Ivory's 1992 adaptation of E.M. Forster's tragic-romantic 1910 novel, is their supreme achievement: the high-water mark for Indian-born Merchant and American-born Ivory, and also for the third member of their main team, German-born, Polish-Jewish-descended novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Here, they all joined together in their primes to adapt for the third time (after 1985's "A Room With a View" and 1987's "Maurice") the Edwardian-era novelist Forster, whom they loved and served well, but who had never allowed any of his novels to be adapted for the screen before his death.
In any case, "Howards End" is one of the great movie literary adaptations: a brilliantly scripted, beautifully mounted, perfectly cast gem. Emma Thompson, sparkling with her usual goofy-smiling, brainy high spirits, plays the liberal Edwardian belle Margaret Schlegel; Anthony Hopkins is her wealthy, smitten but all-too-orthodox and inwardly hard suitor Henry J. Wilcox. Helena Bonham Carter is a ravishing pre-Raphaelite siren as Margaret's sister Helen. Samuel West is the impoverished but super-sensitive clerk Leonard Bast, a would-be poet who comes under Margaret's protection. James Wilby is the bigoted, class-bound and somewhat deranged Wilcox brother Charles. Prunella Scales (West's real-life mother) is a fussy Schlegel aunt, Juley. And Vanessa Redgrave, in a performance of crystalline radiance, is Henry's fragile wife Ruth, whose hideaway, Howards End, a pretty little cottage on the estate, precipitates the crisis, tragedy and redemption of Forster's story.
All these characters, richly drawn and played with immaculate intelligence, are thrown together in the furious social tempest. Every minute of the film, richly shot by Tony Pierce-Roberts and scored by Richard Robbins, seems splendidly planned and realized. Both Forster's book and the movie are indictments of Great Britain's besetting vice, class prejudice, and Howards End also remains a crown jewel in the lasting legacy of Merchant-Ivory -- and Jhabvala. For some, they'd almost become a one-liner for jaded critics to re-use in old recycled Masterpiece Theatre jokes. Now, we miss Merchant-Ivory -- as Forster probably missed Edwardian England. (Extras: an appreciation of Ismail Merchant by James Ivory; documentaries "Building Howards End" -- a "making of" chronicle with interviews with Merchant, Ivory, Bonham Carter, and others, and "The Wandering Company"; featurette; booklet with essay by Kenneth Turan.)
The African Queen (A)
U.S.; John Huston, 1951, Paramount
In 1951, two Hollywood friends and legends-to-be, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, joined another pal, director John Huston, and Bogie's off-camera wife Lauren Bacall, for an African cinematic location adventure that ultimately became one of the best-loved of all American movies: Huston's and screenwriter James Agee's smart, sophisticated, romantic and action-packed adaptation of C.S. Forester's novel The African Queen, about an African voyage down river, during World War I, with Bogey as rough-hewn, unshaven Captain Charlie Allnutt, and Hepburn as prim British spinster Rosie Sayre, fleeing Germans, and crocodiles and heading toward a rendezvous with glory on Allnutt's ramshackle riverboat "The African Queen."
Filled with memorable scenes and gorgeous scenery (photographed by Jack Cardiff), this is the best-loved of all Huston's movies, including those other Bogart-Huston classics The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of Sierra Madre and Key Largo. It's one of both Bogey and Kate's best-loved as well.
Defying expectations, those two prove a match made in movie heaven. Bogie, who won his only Oscar for "The African Queen" (beating out both Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire and Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun") is an outwardly hard-boiled, inwardly soft-hearted skipper. Hepburn -- who was told by Huston to play the part as if she were Eleanor Roosevelt -- perfectly suggests the kind of woman who could tell Bogie, "Human nature, Captain Allnutt, is what we were put on Earth to rise above," and then turn into quite a gal, eyes shining and blood pumping, when the rapids start running.
The supporting cast includes Robert Morley as Rosie's brother (he has a great, unusually understated mad scene), Theodore Bikel, Peter Bull, and lots of African wildlife, including the cinema's most memorable set of leeches.
The African Queen doesn't seem to have suffered from it at all. It's one of those movies that, no matter how many times you may see it, always thrills and entertains. And, if you've never seen it, you're in for a real African treat.
Toy Story (A-)
U.S.; John Lasseter, 1995, Walt Disney
Toy Story 2 (A) (Four Stars)
U.S.; John Lasseter, 1999, Walt Disney
In many ways, the most important American movie release of 1995 was director/co-writer John Lasseter's Toy Story, the first animated feature from Pixar -- which scored a big audience hit with this bouncy, funny tale of a community of toys who (just as we always expected) all come alive when their boy-owner Andy (voiced by John Morris) and his mom (Laurie Metcalf) leave the room. Among the delightfully computer-animated gang: stalwart cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), timid dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), excitable Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), lovelorn Ms. Bo Peep (Laurie Potts) and the newest arrival, intrepid cosmonaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) -- whose arrival creates a surfeit of heroes, a potentially dangerous rivalry between Woody and Buzz.
Toy Story seduced both audiences and critics, and it was succeeded by Toy Story 2 -- in which Buzz and the gang have to save Woody from an evil toy seller Al (Wayne Knight) and a life in the Al's Toy Barn toy warehouse museum, with yodeling Cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) and gabby old coot Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). It's one of the rare sequels that is both a totally logical outgrowth of the original, and even better than its predecessor as both art and entertainment.
Both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 boast song scores by that song-writing genius, evil Angeleno, and seeming nemesis of short people and long red lights, Randy Newman. His "You've Got a Friend in Me" (from the first) is a great kid anthem. And his abandoned toy ballad "When She Loved Me" (sung by Sarah McLachlan in T2) is a real heart-tugger. (Extras: featurettes, deleted scenes; animated studio stories.)
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
The Films of Amos Gitai (A)
Israel; Amos Gitai, 1995-2003, Kino
The greatest living Israeli director -- and the one who has created the most praise and stir at international film festivals -- is Amos Gitai, subject of this excellent six-film box-set. Gitai, like many of the best Israeli filmmakers, is a liberal who casts a sharp and sometimes critical eye on his country's politics and policies, as well as an artist whose perspective is broad and whose sympathies are humane. Gitai is also deeply interested in the esthetics of film, an innovator and stylist who specializes in realistic (or sometimes highly theatrical) performances and virtuosic long camera takes reminiscent of Theo Angelopoulos or Max Ophuls.
These six movies present a picture of Israel that's kaleidoscopic, lovingly drawn and memorable -- focusing on a rich human gallery, from ordinary street folk, immigrants and refugees, to merchants, policemen and soldiers, to the Orthodox Jewish community, and to the art-and-politics-minded middle class to which Gitai himself belongs -- and ranging from modern times to the post-World War II founding of the Israeli state itself. Overall, Gitai's work is unique in Israeli cinema, and rare in international film. If you don't know his films, this is a perfect introduction. (All six films are in Hebrew and sometimes English, with English subtitles.)(Extras: documentary; featurettes; trailers.)
Israel; Amos Gitai, 1995
Set in Tel Aviv on the day of a funeral, Gitai's film follows Goldman and his two buddies (Amos Schub and Moshe Dayan's actor son Assi Dayan) on a voyage into their city and themselves. Based on Ya'ackov Shabatai's novel.
Yom Yom (A-)
Set in Haifa, a compassionate examination of love, conflict and divided loyalties in a mixed Jewish-Arab family in Haifa. With Moshe Ivgy, Hanna Meron and Yussef Abu Warda.
Gitai's most celebrated film. Set in the Mea Sherim area of Jerusalem, it's a powerful look at the plight of a well-loved but childless Jewish Orthodox wife, Rivka (Yael Abecassis) -- driven away from her marriage and family, because of tradition and a harsh, strict rabbi. With Yoran Hattab. (These three films, taken together, are regarded as Gitai's "City Trilogy.")
Superb war film, set in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. With Liron Levo and Tomer Ruso.
Gitai's scary look at Israel in 1948, a terrifying fable-like chronicle of the dangerous pilgrimage of a band of European Jewish refugees. With Andrei Kashkar, Helena Yaralova and Warda.
With Abecassis, Uri Klaussner and Hanna Laslo. Set in a lower middle-class apartment complex in Tel Aviv, and based on a novel by Yehoshua Kenaz ('Returning Lost Loves'), it's a well-acted Altmanesque ensemble piece.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
The Blind Side (B)
U.S.; John Lee Hancock, 2009, Warner
Here's another heart-warming sports movie: the story of football phenom Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a huge, quiet, castaway kid with an absent father and a crack mother, who's adopted by wealthy, feisty Southerner Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock) and her colorful family. Somehow Michael, who can drop in swishes on the basketball court, never learned to play football, though he's as big by himself as an average high school blocking line. Then Mrs. Touhy takes him in hand. She plays on his protective instincts by telling him to protect the quarterback. Varoooom!
Sandra Bullock won almost every best actress award in sight for playing the real-life character of Leigh Anne, (winning over one of Meryl Streep's better parts, as Julia Child) -- and she won them all despite the handicap of having been visible the same year in the horrendous comedy All About Steve.
Indeed, it's an admirable performance -- mostly because of Leigh Anne's attractively kick-ass attitude toward the local bigots and bullies. I didn't see the Oscar coming back when I first reviewed and low-rated Blind Side. But Oscars are given for a variety of reasons, and one thing that can't be argued here is that audiences and critics in many places loved Bullock's portrayal of this fair-minded, tough, sexy Southern belle.
Was I blindsided by the memory of All About Steve? Maybe. And maybe I'm getting surfeited with heartwarming sports success movies. Still and all, Blind Side, on re-viewing, did warm my heart just a bit. And Bullock is pretty damned good. She also had a good Oscar acceptance speech.
The Men Who Stare at Goats (B)
U.S.; Grant Heslov, 2009, Overture/Anchor Bay
George Clooney is beginning to become a genre to himself: the patent-holder and reliable purveyor, as star, director or producer, of his own house brand of wry, liberal comic realism, served up with a healthy dollop of machismo and male bonding, a dash of horny humor and a toss-down swig of jocular-jock irreverence.
Here's another of the kind of movies we might call "clooneys" -- straight from the star/co-producer himself and Grant Heslov, his writing partner on the estimable black-and-white anti-McCarthy clooney Good Night, and Good Luck. They take a nonfiction book, Jon Ronson's Crazy Rulers of the World, and use it to whip up a satirical action-comedy clooney about what might happen if the U.S. Army, from Vietnam to Iraq, tried to use New Age and hippie-ish psycho-babble techniques to fight our secret wars and checkmate our enemies.
It isn't true, of course. But the credits insist that more of Goats comes from life than we might imagine. Clooney plays Lyn Cassady, the happy-go-lucky star pupil of a covert band of counterculture commandos taught and led by Jeff Bridge's beamingly good-humored warrior Bill Django, a Vietnam hero who got sidetracked by the summers of love, and now is back in the army to mold his own breed and band of warrior monks, to fuse alternative consciousness with martial mastery. (Talk about a perfect Jeff Bridges part. Dude!)
Whence the title? Well, these guys, these monks, especially Lyn, can simply stare at goats and make them drop dead: a strange talent, especially if you like goats or have any taste for their fine cheese. And back then, nobody could wire into the great telepathic switchboard with Cassady's reliability and panache -- as war reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) discovers when he runs into Lyn (now calling himself "Skip") in Iraq. Soon we're plunged into a full-blooded, if not always successful, adventure-comedy-clooney, with the two instant buddies wandering all around the desert, and into and out of Lyn's past --and finally into a current incarnation of Django's New Earth Army, now run by a jealous and destructive usurper, the anti-Clooney himself, Larry Hooper -- played in full smirk by Kevin Spacey.
Hard to get better star leads than this. But there are kinks in The Men Who Stare at Goats (not a very good title; even Staring at Goats might have been better).
It somehow loses its edge while moving toward its unsatisfying would-be-epiphany ending. Not everyone, not even the star of that estimable war-comedy clooney Three Kings can master the art of making a true anti-war comic clooney -- in the vein of M*A*S*H or Catch-22. Even getting halfway there earns these warrior movie clooney monkeyshines some points.
U.S.; Jim Sheridan, 2009, Lionsgate
Not as good as it could have been, and probably not as good as the film that inspired it -- Brodre by the great Swedish director-screenwriter team Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen -- this war-at-home saga of the good brother soldier, Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire), his bad-brother ex-jailbird Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the wife, Grace, caught between them (Natalie Portman), has its moments of power and grief.
It's not one of Sheridan's best. (He may never top My Left Foot.) But it's decent, admirable work. And it has a marvelous cast, including Mare Winningham and Carey Mulligan of An Education, who pops up as another war-wife. Sam Shepard, as the brothers' gruff but vulnerable dad, is one or two big scenes away from a great performance.
Red Cliff (A-)
China/Hong Kong/Japan; John Woo, Magnolia
Huge armies facing each other across immense battlefields, thousands of warriors in gorgeous robes, ships aflame, arenas of war drenched in carnage and blood, hails of arrows, swords slashing in sunlight, ballets of death and martial arts exploding across vast frescos and panoramas of ancient beauty and ceremony.... That's what we get in John Woo's latest film, his partly triumphant return to Asian moviemaking, Red Cliff.
But are we getting all we should? This Asian battle film super-spectacle -- a mammoth, visually breathtaking period epic based on China's legendary 208 Battle of the Three Kingdoms, and starring Hong Kong's Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Japan's Takeshi Kaneshiro -- keeps building and building, and the battles keep rising until the final near-apocalyptic combat between the forces of tyranny and the supposedly rebel warlords. But it all goes by too fast. It's a cut version of the original Chinese version.
Much of what we see here is amazing. But, personally, I was disappointed -- not by Woo and company, but by the strategy of their local distributors. Red Cliff may be the most expensive, elaborate historical adventure China (along with production partner Japan) has ever made. But the version now playing in our western theaters is only a fraction of what we should be seeing: a two-part, five-hour movie reduced for the West to two and a half hours. (The original "Red Cliff" is soon being released on DVD as well.) (In Chinese, with English subtitles.)
The People Speak (B)
U.S.; Chris Moore/Anthony Arnove/Howard Zinn, 2009, New Video
Famed radical historian Howard Zinn (whose A People's History of the United States is a great alternative U.S. history chronicle), presents and co-directs this all-star historical review, based on the speeches and letters in his companion volume Voices of a People's History of the United States. The original "voices" include Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Muhammad Ali; the actors giving them a new voice include Invictus costars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, plus Don Cheadle, David Strathairn, Kerry Washington, Jasmine Guy, Danny Glover, Marisa Tomei, Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson and Harris Yulin -- plus songs and music from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Pink and others, and narration by Zinn himself. Watching this DVD is a good way to commemorate Zinn's recent passing.
The words are inspiring and so are many of the speakers. But I have a problem with Zinn's approach: I question his tendency to downplay or even diss the standard liberal American icons, like Lincoln, FDR, or JFK, the better to celebrate admittedly too-often-neglected voices of the common people, and the better to point out the way mass movements drive history.
I see his point. But tarnishing big left-wing historical stars and, as here, letting more conservative icons get off scot-free, is the kind of screw-the-liberals strategy that's failed leftists again and again. (Extras: interviews; behind the scenes at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.)
We Live in Public (B)
U.S.; Ondo Timoner, 2009, Interloper Films
A great subject -- how the Internet has changed society and us -- as seen through the weird life and times of Internet TV pioneer Josh Harris, whose rise and fall makes a fascinating cautionary tale. I question the film's elevation of Harris to visionary status. (He himself more modestly claims "artist" credentials, which I question too.) But it's a hell of a ride -- including Harris' creation of Pseudo.com (the first Internet TV network), his bizarre alter-ego Lovie the Clown, his all-on-camera-all-the-time experiment in mass voyeuristic communal living ("Quiet") and his doomed peek-a-boo 24-hour-a-day we're-on-the-Net love affair. Bad idea. (Extras: commentaries with Timoner and Harris; featurettes; trailer.)
France; Cedric Klapisch, 2007, IFC Films/MPI
From the writer-director of L'Auberge Espagnol and When the Cat's Away: Another Altmanesque ensemble piece (they're can't be too many, in my opinion), this time set in Paris, revolving around a perhaps fatally ill dancer (Romain Duris), his discontented sister (Juliette Binoche), an erotically challenged professor (Fabrice Luchini), his big student crush (Melanie Laurent), and many others. Very good of its kind; Klapisch is good at this inter-weaving stuff. (In French and English, with English subtitles.) (Extras: "making of" featurette; discussion; trailer.)
The Road from Coorain (A-)
Australia; Brendan Maher, 2001, Acorn Media
This beautifully scenic coming-of-age tale, set in the 1930s and afterward on a New South Wales sheep ranch, is based on the autobiographical chronicle by Jill Ker Conway, the tale of her childhood on the farm and her gradual break from the past and her tight-knit, tragic family. The landscapes are hot and bewitching, the psychology sometimes tormented. Road won eight Australian Film Institute TV awards, including best feature, best script (Sue Smith), best direction (Brendan Maher) and best actress (Juliet Stevenson), and numerous other prizes as well. Katherine Slattery is very good as the (to me) brainy but unsympathetic Jill; Juliet Stevenson is remarkable as her mother Eve, a seemingly indomitable woman who cracks. (Extras: Conway biography and Stevenson filmography.)
U.S.-U.K.; Shekhar Kapur, 1998, Universal, Blu-ray
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (B-)
U.S.-U.K.; Shekhar Kapur, 2007, Universal, Blu-ray
Cate Blanchett as Britain's Elizabeth I holds the screen regally in one of Bette Davis' favorite roles (Cate is better than Bette) in these dramas of Liz's early and later career. Kapur, director of both the first film and the splashier sequel, has an acrobatic camera, an often frenzied pace and a taste for scintillating décor. With (combined casts) Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Fanny Ardant, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans and Daniel Craig. (Extras: commentary by Kapur, featurettes.)
Five from Barska Street (A)
Poland; Alexander Ford, 1954, Polart/Facets
Alexander Ford's strong thriller/social drama about crime and rebuilding in post-war Poland, Five from Barska Street won two awards (including the International Prize) at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. And it's still quite an eyeful. Shooting in color, with a highly mobile camera and lots of deep-focus wizardry, writer-director Ford -- the most important Polish filmmaker in the generation before the Wajdas and the Polanskis, and a mentor/teacher to many of them -- has a compelling visual style that reminds you of some of the Polish Ford's best international contemporaries, like Robert Aldrich, Nicholas Ray, Carol Reed, Samuel Fuller and Michael Powell, as well as some of the great Polish directors who followed and were definitely influenced by him, like Andrzej Wajda (who was Ford's assistant director on Barska Street).
Ford, who helped foster the Polish New Wave of the '50s and '60s (as head of Film Polski and one of the founders of the Lodz Film School), is a genuine rediscovery. And so is this film. Barska Street follows five juvenile delinquents who fall into the arms of the law, are put on probation in the new Communist state, get involved in an unsolved murder, get rebuilding jobs, fall into the clutches of a reactionary supervisor, and wind up in a furious climax in the Warsaw sewers that. The cast includes bombshell Alexandra Slaska and street guys Tadeusz Janczar and Andrzej Kozak.
It all veers toward over-the-top melodrama, of course (there's even a vodka orgy), and "Barska Street" is also hampered by obvious state propaganda. But Ford is a true cineaste, and the lusty, exciting visuals and robust performances he gets in scene after scene -- in the rubble of the bombed city, the scrappy building site, a half-destroyed hide-away building, a rowdy ballroom, the brawling streets and, of course, the dark and menacing sewer canals -- almost blow you away.
Almost none of you will have heard of Alexander Ford, or seen any of his films. That's why you should make a point of seeking out this unjustly forgotten movie, with its weird title. Five from Barska Street. Remember that. (In Polish, with English subtitles.) (Extras: Ford biography and filmography.)