Seattle Screens: Six Nights of Robert Bresson

Northwest Film Forum presents Notes on the Cinematographer: The Films of Robert Bresson, a series of six Bresson films (four of them never on DVD in the U.S.) screening on 35mm over the next two weeks. It’s a revisit, in a way, of a similar 1998 touring series organized (as was this one) by James Quandt in Toronto.

Four Nights of a Dreamer

Les Anges du Peche (1943), his debut feature, opens the series on Tuesday, May 1, with Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne on Wednesday and The Trial of Joan of Arc on Thursday. Next week is Lancelot du Lac (1974), Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971), and Une Femme Douce (1969). (The complete schedule is here.)

So no, it’s not in chronological order and it is certainly not a complete retrospective. NWFF notes that “Several of his other films have recently screened at Northwest Film Forum, and two more will screen in coming months for longer engagements in new 35mm prints.” What we have are some of his rarest films, those most difficult to see under any circumstances.

“Difficult” is a word that comes up all the time discussing Bresson – his films eschew the kind of dramatic spikes and psychological grounding of his contemporaries (the psychological intensity of Bergman seems downright flamboyant next to Bresson’s minimalist approach) – and even many cineastes are left cold by Bresson’s remove.

Insisting that cinema is properly not the marriage of photography and theater, but of music and painting, Bresson dismisses the tradition of film acting as “filmed theater.” He systematically strips affectation and method from his performers by relentlessly drilling them in rehearsals until they master the mechanical, uninflected motions and line deliveries. They aren’t actors but “models,” taking a term from painting to describe their function in his filmmaking practice.

Bresson seeks to reach the humanity of his characters, the soul if you will, by removing all barriers between the audience and performer. (Ironically, but not incompatibly, the vast majority of his films end with death, often suicide.) What we ultimately see on the screen aren’t drones or robots or flat, uninflected amateurs, but characters under the thumb of life who show so little emotion that the slightest tick becomes an enormous, exultant explosion. Throughout their benumbed cinematic existence they express themselves through their haunted eyes and their mechanically precise yet organically natural motions. Slowly, over the course of his films, these rote, flat performances come alive with a kind of truth very different from the psychologically motivated performances of even the greatest actors – not better or worse, but most assuredly different.

For more information, visit NWFF website.

***

The second week of Cinerama’s First Annual Science Fiction Film Festival, which runs through Wednesday, May 2, offers 16 more movies between Friday and Wednesday. There are 70mm prints of Terminator 2, Tron (the original, of course), Ghostbusters, and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and plenty of classic and cult movies from the seventies and earlier, from Forbidden Planet and the original Planet of the Apes to Soylent Green, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, all shown on 35mm. Tickets are $12 per screening. See the full schedule here.

Solaris

***

The Films of Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas brings the filmmaking team to Seattle to introduce and discuss three films at Northwest Film Forum. Jean Gentil, a Jury Prize winner at Venice, plays through the week and the directors will be in attendance Friday through Sunday. Cochochi, their debut feature, plays at 5pm only on Friday, April 27, and Ocaso, which they produced, plays on Saturday. Screening details at NWFF.

NFFY 2012, the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, plays at The Uptown over the weekend through Sunday, April 29. Amy Scott previews it for The Stranger.

The 7th Annual Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival opens Thursday, May 3 with the documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye at The Uptown. The festival plays through Sunday, May 6, at NWFF. Schedule and notes at Three Dollar Bill Cinema website.

Damsels in Distress

Openings

Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman’s first film in over a decade, is (in the words of Robert Horton) “a blissful movie-real place that sounds and looks not quite like the one we live in. Which is just fine.” Opens at Harvard Exit.

Mosieur Lazhar, a French-Canadian drama and on of the five Oscar nominees for best foreign-language film, comes to The Egyptian. John Hartl, writing for The Seattle Times, praises the film as ” a complex, multilayered tale that reveals new meanings as it introduces each new character.”

The Fairy, a whimsical romantic comedy from France, is ” a slight film… but it’s both sweet and refreshingly tart — and leaves you believing, if not in fairies, at least in a little bit of magic,” according to Seattle Times film critic Moira Macdonald. At The Varsity.

Whore’s Glory, the final feature in Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger’s Globalization Trilogy of documentaries, plays for a week at NWFF. Tom Keogh, writing for The Seattle Times, says the film “is like a stroll through Amsterdam’s red-light district at night. It’s an experience far more sad than sexy.”

Other documentaries opening this week include Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary about independent game designers, at SIFF Film Center and Murder Capital of the World, a survey of the drug-cartel violence in Juárez, Mexico, at Meridian (Jeff Shannon reviews it for The Seattle Times).

Repertory

Impaired: Movies Under the Influence is an adults-only program of shorts about booze, drugs, and sex, spanning seventy years. It plays one show at Grand Illusion on Friday, April 27.

Meanwhile, Grand Illusion’s music series concludes with the documentary It Came From Detroit, about the Motor City garage rock scene. Plays Saturday through Wednesday.

For those lovers of film and dance who don’t like 3D, Wim Wenders’ documentary Pina will play over the weekend in a 2D 35mm presentation at The Uptown.

“Avengers Assemble” in advance of next week’s release of The Avengers (directed by genre child Joss Whedon) with screenings of the five superhero films at The Uptown, beginning on Monday, April 30 with The Incredible Hulk (the Edward Norton version) and continuing through the week with Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (a double feature), Thor (in 3D), and Captain America (also 3D).

The Hammer films thriller Taste of Fear (released in the U.S. as Scream of Fear) plays in the “Shadow Street: The Best of British Film Noir” series at SAM on Thursday, May 3 on 35mm. Series passes are sold out but you can usually get tickets at the theater, but arrive early.

Monkey Business with The Marx Brothers plays Saturday and Sunday at SIFF Film Center as part of the Films for Families series.

Late night: Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness, with Bruce Campbell and his boomstick, plays Friday and Saturday midnight at The Egyptian. Gums, a 1976 Jaws parody, plays late night at Grand Illusion this weekend.

For more alternative screenings, read Moira Macdonald’s At A Theater Near You roundup at The Seattle Times.

Schedules and Showtimes

You can check your favorite independent cinemas, neighborhood theaters and multiplexes here.

Independent theaters:
SIFF Cinema
Northwest Film Forum
Grand Illusion
Seattle Art Museum
Central Cinema
The Big Picture
Majestic Bay Theatres
Cinerama

Multiplexes and Chains
Cinebarre
Landmark Theatres (Egyptian, Guild 45, Harvard Exit, Metro, Varsity and others)
Regal Cinemas (Meridian 16, Thornton Place and others)
AMC Cinemas (Pacific Place, Oak Tree, Alderwood and others)
Kirland Park Place
Lincoln Square Cinemas
Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinemas