December Films: Petzold, Pollack, and Pawlikowski
The most impressive filmmaker to emerge in Germany since the neue kino is given an overdue retrospective with “Christian Petzold: The State We Are In.” Petzold treats old movies as myths; he has an uncanny knack for creating phantom, historically resonant versions of familiar melodramas. The series includes a preview of his latest film Transit, freely adapted from Anna Segher’s novel of World War II refugees, and a program devoted to his mentor, the avant-garde artist Harun Farocki. Film Society of Lincoln Center, November 30–December 13.
A program devoted to one of the great leading men of post-neorealist Italian cinema, “Ugo Tognazzi: Tragedies of a Ridiculous Man” is well-stocked with the supremely amiable form of social satire known as commedia all’italiana. Tognazzi (1922–1990), who also wrote and directed, gave stellar performances in films directed by such notable directors as Pier Paolo Pasolini (Porcile), Marco Ferreri (La Grande Bouffe), and Elio Petri (Property Is No Longer a Theft). He also starred in Édouard Molinaro’s La Cage aux folles and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man, which gives the retrospective its title. Museum of Modern Art, December 5–30.
Shelved for forty-six years, Amazing Grace, Sidney Pollack’s affectingly low-tech documentary of Aretha Franklin’s live performances at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts (source of the best-selling live gospel album ever cut), is itself an amazing artifact, something even more than a recording of a genius performer. The congregation, augmented by the back-row presence of Mick Jagger, deserves a collective Oscar. Various reasons have been given for why Amazing Grace (originally intended by Warner Bros. to be on a double bill with Super Fly) was never released. One reason surely is that the movie is too real to be assimilated as entertainment. Film Forum, December 7–13.
One of the least recognized of Hollywood auteurs gets a welcome retrospective with “Jacques Tourneur, Fearmaker.” The son of pioneering French director Maurice Tourneur, Jacques Tourneur made B-movie producer Val Lewton’s greatest hit, Cat People (1942), and greatest film, I Walked with a Zombie (1944), as well as the classic noir Out of the Past (1947) and a number of notable Westerns, including the post-Civil War Stars in My Crown (1950) and the epic, pre-Civil War production Great Day in the Morning (1956). The survey includes a selection of his MGM one-reelers and Night of the Demon, an unexpected resurgence of Lewtonesque horror made in the UK in 1957, and The Fearmakers, an anti-Communist precursor of The Manchurian Candidate, released in 1958. Film Society of Lincoln Center, December 14–January 3.
Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Ida, uses a romance between two Polish musicians as a means the explore cultural life behind the Iron Curtain from the freeze of 1949 to the semi-thaw of 1964. Again, Pawlikowski makes a movie that might almost have been made during the period it depicts, but never could have been. Opens December 21, Film Forum and Film Society of Lincoln Center.