Cinejabber: The foreign alternatives
Welcome back to Cinejabber, your weekly open space to kick around whatever film-related thoughts you have on your mind. Who knows, some of them may even concern films that have nothing to do with Joss Whedon.
What, if anything, are you planning on seeing this weekend? Beyond "The Cabin in the Woods" -- on which I seem to be in the minority, finding it reasonably clever but not particularly revelatory -- the options aren't all that tempting. I haven't seen the Farrellys' take on "The Three Stooges," but in spite of better-than-expected reviews, can't muster up much enthusiasm for the idea. Over on my side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, the crowds are packing into "Battleship," which, as my Variety review explained, is pretty much exactly what you think it is -- for better and worse.
As is so often the case, then, the most rewarding options are to be found in the arthouses. Those of you still looking to complete your 2011 Oscar checklist now have the opportunity to check out Canadian director Philippe Falardeau's "Monsieur Lazhar," a gentle but perceptive classroom drama that I'd wager was the runner-up to "A Separation" in this year's foreign-language race, and may have come closer to toppling it than we might think.
Quietly detailing the crowing bond between an Algerian immigrant schoolteacher and the pre-teen class collectively traumatized by the suicide of their previous teacher, it's not as literate or as penetrating as "The Class," to which it's been rather routinely compared, but it's unsentimentally affecting, and graced with at least one truly astonishing performance -- that of the cherubic young Sophie Nélisse, as the most mature and most profoundly ruptured of the students. (She won a deserved Genie Award -- the Canadian Oscar -- for Best Supporting Actress.)
However, the best release of the week is, unfortunately, for the eyes of New Yorkers only: Pablo Larrain's "Post Mortem," a tonally equivalent but formally superior follow-up to 2008's way offbeat "Tony Manero," opened on Wednesday for a two-week engagement at the Film Forum, and I implore those of you in a position to see it to do so. Longtime readers may recall that the Chilean film, a midnight-black comedy set around the country's 1973 military coup overthrowing President Allende, made my 2010 Top 10 list after wowing me at that year's Venice Film Festival. (My short festival review offers more details.) It's taken its time reaching American shores, but it's worth the wait; the timing's handy, too, since there's a possibility Larrain's next film, "No," may pop up in next week's Cannes lineup.