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Writer/director Andrew Bergman's latest script (he wrote "The In-laws" and others) makes for a one-joke movie with a few extras. It's enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying. This is the film that was trounced by one of its stars, Marlon Brando, a few months before it hit the screen. He later recanted, but you have the sense that Mr. Brando, too, was unsatisfied with the results.
That one joke involves Mr. Brando, who plays a New York businessman with a rather shady agenda. People in the movie keep mentioning how much he resembles Vito Corleone -- the legendary screen character, of course, that Mr. Brando himself created in "The Godfather." Mr. Bergman threatens to over-use the joke, as he does with most of the film's gags, but the joke is a good one, and it's enjoyable to see Mr. Brando spoofing himself.
The freshman in question is a young film student from Vermont named Clark (played well by the talented Matthew Broderick) who arrives in Manhattan overconfident, but is instantly conned by the wily Victor Bruno Kirby, who then fixes Clark up for a job with his uncle Carmine (Mr. Brando).
The befuddled Clark, out of any recognizable element, soon finds himself making deliveries for this guy who's probably in the mob and does indeed look like Vito Corleone. The plot, which involves endangered species and a particularly twisted notion of gourmet dining, starts out weird and becomes increasingly deranged until the very end, when it disintegrates altogether.
Mr. Bergman's parody of New York University film school life, meanwhile, is only occasionally amusing. On the plus side, he and his actors have fun with the idea that Clark is increasingly disturbed by the strange goings-on, while everyone else, including Mr. Brando's daughter (played by Penelope Ann Miller) can't figure out what he's getting upset about. Another good bit is Bert Parks, playing himself, warbling Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" at a posh dinner party. It's unexpected, and funny.
MY LIFE TO LIVE
New Yorker Home video
ZAZIE DANS LE METRO
New Yorker Video
THE STORY OF WOMEN
New Yorker Home Video
"My Life to Live" is French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard's fourth film, released in 1963, and in it, he cast his then-wife, the beautiful and talented Anna Karina, as a failed prostitute. This is one of Mr. Godard's best early films, which attempts, often successfully, to break down the conventions and rules of cinema. It was quite far ahead of its time, and remains a compelling viewing experience.
Anna Karina plays Nan, a Parisian sales girl who separates from her husband and decides to become an actress. When that doesn't work out she gives prostitution a try -- as opposed to the much more conventional forced-into-it-against-her-will scenario. She ends up working for a pimp (played by Saddy Rebott) who sells her to another pimp. The ensuing tension and bad blood lead to violence and tragedy, although Mr. Godard handles neither element in a familiar cinematic or emotional manner.
The film is as much a sociological study of prostitution as a plot-driven vehicle. Its 12-part structure includes statistics, voice-over narration by Mr. Godard himself, allusions to books and other films, and musings on the nature of life from philosopher Brice Parain. Furthermore, he continues his successful experiments with visual and aural techniques (long takes, jump-cuts, and totally natural sound recording). The result is a jarring, honest type of cinema-verite. What may appear to be completely arbitrary decisions on first viewing are revealed to be quite sophisticated ideas on closer examination.
Mr. Godard's films, even the early relatively coherent ones such as this, often threaten to descend into chaos and anarchy. And yet they never fall apart completely. Experiencing them is to see filmmaking on the edge.
New Yorker Video is also releasing two other modern French classics on the same date, Claude Chabrol's 1988 film "The Story of Women" and Louis Malle's 1962 film "Zazie Dans Le Metro," a key film of the French New Wave. "Women" stars Isabelle Huppert in a dark World War II drama based on a real-life criminal case. It's rendered with the appropriate stark realism and complexities by Mr. Chabrol. Ms. Huppert won the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her portrayal of Violette, a beautiful, child-like woman whose life is changed when she performs an abortion for a neighbor.
Zazie is an 11-year-old girl with a foul mouth and lots of opinions about everything (amusingly played by young Catherine Demongeot) who comes to Paris and immediately turns the town upside down. As a homage to Chaplin, Keaton, et al., the film filters traditional slapstick sensibilities through the innovations of the New Wave. Zazie, sent to Paris to stay with her uncle (played by "Cinema Paradiso's" Philippe Noiret) while her mother goes off with a new lover, wants nothing more than to ride the Paris Metro. But a workers' strike --es her hopes, and she takes it out on Mr. Noiret by leading him through the city on a wild goose chase. The film is filled with many superb comic moments -- a fine early work from the director of "Atlantic City" and "Murmur of the Heart."