Both fans and detractors of Quentin Tarantino should check out films by his great predecessor, the French writer-director Jean-Pierre Melville, whose "Army of Shadows," a summer hit at the Charles several years ago, plays like an adult riposte to "Inglourious Basterds."
Beginning Saturday, the Charles Theatre showcases a terrific introduction to Melville's work. "Doulos: the Finger Man" is a 1962 crime film that conveys his hard-boiled love for genuine mavericks and their individualistic styles. Melville, who died in 1973, was himself an original. A loner who wore dark suits with Stetsons or fedoras like his beloved American action-movie heroes, Melville inspired the French New Wave with ingenious, low-budget techniques. He won international acclaim for adapting Jean Cocteau's "Les Enfants Terribles" (1949). He devoted most of his later career to quirky crime movies - including "Bob le Flambeur," remade by Neil Jordan as "The Good Thief" (with Nick Nolte).
One of the best is "Doulos: The Finger Man." Here Melville plays a game of macho bluff, staging despicable acts in his brute-elegant style (legato builds, staccato payoffs), then divulging his thugs' often righteous motives. That's not exasperating (the way it often is in Tarantino) because Melville brings to every scene the tension of emotion held in check.
The filmmaker cast two skillfully ambiguous actors in the key roles: Serge Reggiani as a thief who sets off a convoluted chain reaction of betrayal and revenge, and Jean-Paul Belmondo as his friend, a criminal fixer who's also a police stoolie. Melville brings conviction and a geometric beauty to his story's code-of-the-street mystique: the precision of the triangulated violence anticipates directors as different as Michael Mann and Walter Hill. It co-stars Michel Piccoli and was adapted from a novel by Pierre Lesou; Nicholas Hayer did the surgically sharp cinematography.
"Doulos: The Finger Man" screens at noon Saturday, at 7 p.m. Monday and at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Charles, 1711 N. Charles St. For more information, go to thecharles.com or call 410-727-3456.
Anime at College Park : "Evangelion: 1.0" is the movie sequel to the blockbuster anime TV series "Neon Genesis Evangelion," which has earned about $1.4 billion since it made its video debut a dozen years ago. Among animation fans, the "Evangelion" franchise is so revered and familiar that the mad geniuses behind "The Simpsons" included a reference to it in the episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo," confident that a big portion of their viewers would delight in the joke of Homer fantasizing about skippering a huge purple robot. The plot to "Evangelion: 1.0," which carries the subtitle "You Are Not Alone," takes place after a catastrophe known as "the Second Impact" has killed half the world population. A father summons his 14-year-old son to Tokyo-3, the one surviving city in Japan, where the boy must unravel the meaning behind the mysterious attackers known as Angels, who seek to eliminate humanity, and the humanoid weapons system that survivors have developed to combat them.
"Evengelion: 1.0: You Are Not Alone" makes its local premiere tonight and stays for a weeklong engagement at the Stamp Student Union on Campus Drive at the University of Maryland, College Park. For more information, call 301-405-0569 or go to www.union.umd.edu/hoff.
HEAP US 'ROUND OUR RUINS : Ben Balcom and Josh Weissbach, the rare cutting-edge directors who still make movies on film, have chosen the Creative Alliance at the Patterson as the Baltimore stop on their latest multistate tour. On Monday, Weissbach will be showcasing an avant-garde documentary, "interiors of the liquid gap," about the experiences of Cuban exiles at every step of their journey (the "liquid gap" is the water between Cuba and the U.S.), and Balcom will introduce creations that (to quote Creative Alliance) "employ optical printing and hand processing to shape his 16mm films into poetic visions teetering on the line between reality and dream."
The "Heap Us 'Round Our Ruins" program on Sept. 14 starts with a 6 p.m. Happy Hour Talk with Balcom and Weissbach; the screening starts at 7 p.m. The Creative Alliance is at 3134 Eastern Ave. For more information call, 410-276-1651 or go to creativealliance.org.