Mini Picks, Including a Classic!

Truly one of history's greatest films.

I had heard about it for decades and avoided it for all the reasons I generally avoid all things hyped. Take the word of one who was foolish but is now wiser: Les enfants du paradis (“Children of Paradise,” 1946, 163 mins. French with subtitles) deserves its status as among the greatest movies ever made. Directed by Marcel Carné at the very end of the German occupation of France during World War II, the film is set in Paris in the 1820s, a time in which class distinctions were as sharp as a noble’s sword. It centers on the character of Garance, a model/prostitute/courtesan and the four men who love her: a romantic mime, an egoistical actor, an arrogant duke, and an amoral criminal, each of whom is based on a real-life character. It is a film about the thin and porous lines between admiration and obsession, love and lust, ambition and egotism, passion and cruelty, and celebrity and notoriety. There are parts of the film that are more surrealistic than anything Fellini ever imagined, and others that are more sumptuous and sensual in black and white than a Crayola factory could manufacture. The film’s stunning final scene has been often copied, but never equaled. Don’t wait to see this, even if you think an old black-and-white film in French sounds dreary. There’s a reason why it has been praised to the skies.

Also in French is Sarah’s Key (2010, directed and written by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, PG-13, 111mins.) This one isn’t likely to make its way onto any classic films list and there are bits of it that are exceedingly contrived, but give it credit: it at least tries to do something new with the Holocaust. I mean nothing condescending in that remark, only that it’s hard to tell that story without drowning an audience in horror, pathos, and sadness. All three are present in Sarah’s Key, but the film humanizes the scale of the Holocaust in ways that, in many ways, makes the tragedy more impactful. The central character is Sarah Starzynski, a child rounded up in the seldom-discussed Parisian roundup of Jews in 1942. The story switches between Sarah in 1942, and investigative journalist Julia Jarmond in the present. The fully bilingual and always impressive Kristin Scott Thomas plays Jarmond. This film is still in theaters as well as on DVD. It’s worth viewing.

A music pick. If you want a night out that involves a break from the present and tongue-in-cheek mayhem, go see the Sweetback Sisters, a delightful retro band that culls the Country music backlist from the days in which slickness meant hair grease not studio tricks. We caught them in a West Whatley, MA concert recently and reveled in their hijinks, energy, tight harmonies, and crisp musicianship. Okay, we could have done with fewer histrionics from the lad playing electric guitar, but what’s not to like in a repertoire that draws from Patsy Cline, Hazel Dickens, and loads of other earlier Country and bluegrass stars and supplements them with superb originals?

Looking for something quite different musically? I just caught up with Wu Man recently, whom I had not seen in a while. Wu Man is the mistress of the Chinese pippa, a four-stringed, 23-frets instrument whose sound you will recognize, though you’ll not hear many who can play it like Wu Man. At times she makes her instrument sound like it came from some royal court thousands of years ago; at others she’s so wild and expressive that she’s been dubbed the “Jimi Hendrix of the pippa.”

No comments: