Tuesday, June 30, 2009

THE BEACHES OF AGNES (Varda) opens at Film Forum; it's a wonder in so many ways

TrustMovies is breaking his cardinal rule about never posting more than once a day. But Agnès Varda's brilliant documentary, THE BEACHES OF AGNES, which won a César earlier this year, opens tomorrow, Wednesday, at New York's Film Forum and is a must-see. At least for Varda lovers and film buffs who appreciate the work of this unique filmmaker.

I can't quite imagine what newcomers to Ms Varda (shown above and below), who was one of the original members of the Nouvelle Vague, might make of it, however. But I'd love for them to take a chance. For the rest of us, this film -- and she -- are rare treasures. You'll end the movie likely feeling that she's become an old friend -- so well will you get to know her and her loves during the course of this bizarre, funny, moving, and wonderfully encompassing docu-
mentary that honors life, family, passion, work, and movies. Really: Can it get much better than that? And, oh-- the connections, both subtle and obvious, that this woman is able to effortlessly make!

I reviewed The Beaches of Agnès last March when it was shown at the FSLC's Rendezvous with French Cinema (click here for that post, then scroll down past Seraphine, another terrific, César-winning movie). As good as Varda's "Beaches" seemed four months ago, it has only grown more wonderful in retrospect.

You can find upcoming play-dates for The Beaches of Agnès (distributed by Cinema Guild) in cities across the country here.

Very, very French (shall we say perverse): Anne Fontaine's THE GIRL FROM MONACO

Ah, Monaco: the lights, the bay, the glamor, the gambling! Yes -- and the sex, the murder, the eroticism (both homo and hetero)! There's more: A weather girl, her parents, a lawyer, his bodyguard -- and a new TV series devoted to celebrities and their pets. All of this is presented in a bright little package wrapped in colorful gauze tied with a loose and curly ribbon that simply begs you to open it. You do, of course --

who can resist Monaco? -- and it just keeps opening, like an onion, the insides of which you begin to suspect have gone rancid.

That's right: It's an Anne Fontaine film. This French writer/director, shown at right with her husband and star Fabrice Luchini, has been turning out dark divertissements (by the end of each you've often moved from smiling to feeling kicked in the teeth) since 1993, beginning with Love Stories Usually End Badly and continuing through Dry Cleaning, How I Killed My Father, Natalie and now THE GIRL FROM MONACO. (There are others in between which I've not seen.) Fontaine is transgressive; she enjoys snapping the underwear of the haute bourgeoisie, often literally taking her characters into a new realm of experience and feeling (Dry Cleaning), though things never end in quite the manner any of them might have planned. With Fontaine, one pays for one's transgressions, but the trip is often worth its price-tag -- for her characters and us viewers.

I've seen The Girl from Monaco twice and found the second viewing even more interesting. It is not a film from which you come away feeling awash in either happiness or depression; the connections evoked, along with the ironies, are more complicated and disturbing. Here, Fontaine has assembled a splendid cast (each performer so perfectly -- physically, mentally -- embodies his or her character), led by M. Luchini as the lawyer, new in town from Paris, who takes on the impossible-to-win case of an older woman (the wonderful Stephane Audran) accused of killing her younger lover. Because the case involves the Russian mob, a bodyguard (Roschdy Zem, above, left, and below, right) is hired to protect the lawyer. The bodyguard's ex girlfriend (Louise Bourgoin) happens to be the weather-person at the TV station in which Luchini is interviewed. Complications ensue.

Fontaine's movie does not, however, come close to French farce, for these complications involve some of the characters' learning and growing -- never an easy task. While there is a lot of fun (and sun, sand, sea and sex) to be enjoyed, what we're left with are very mixed feelings: surprise, doubt, sadness and also a kind of exhilaration at, well, new possibilities. Several critic friends have not particularly liked this film, and I can understand that, as Fontaine is tricky -- by design. I'd recommend giving it a try, however, if only for the crack cast.

Luchini (Molière, Intimate Strangers) is always good (don't miss him in the upcoming Paris, in which he has some of the funniest scenes in memory). Here, he does the fish-out-of-water to a fare-thee-well. Zem, looking younger and sexier than he has in years, brings such quiet, careful strength to his bodyguard that you'd hire him in a flash. And Bourgoin (above) is simply stunning: gorgeous, uninhibited and full of zesty life. Little wonder she was nominated for a César for Best Female Newcomer. As good as she is, however, she doesn't register as quite complete. This is not her fault, I think, but Fontaine's -- and by choice. In an interview with the actress (part of the press kit we were given at the screening), Bourgoin is asked if she thinks that her character is manipulative or simply truthful? She answers: "I performed her without knowing and without taking sides. In fact, Fontaine wanted me to emphasize the character's ambiguity: at times, she would tell me Audrey was really in love with Bertrand (Luchini), and at other times, that she didn't care about him and that she was a social climber." So much for depth of character -- yet this approach does manage to make Audrey a good foil for the two men.

Fontaine has always seemed more interested in men than women, perhaps because the guys have so much more of that "learning and growing" to do. In Dry Cleaning, the most important connection for growth and change is the relationship between the characters played by Charles Berling and Stanislas Merhar; here it's the connection between Luchini and Zem. In How I Killed My Father, the movie -- its ideas/themes -- belong to the Berling character; the women are satellites, at best. Even in Natalie, in which the women appear to be all-important, this is only because they exist as male fantasies. The Girl from Monaco continues down this road, with Luchini and Zem growing closer and more appreciative of each other. So where does this leave Ms Bourgoin? You'll find out.

The finale may have you grumbling a bit -- this is not a very "feminist" thing to do! -- but, believe me, it'll also leave you mulling things over as you gaze at the beautiful sea, sand, sun and shore. Ah, Monaco! Oy, the haute bourgeoisie! It isn't only Ms Audran who may bring to mind Chabrol. But Fontaine, bless her, has a rather unique "take" on all this.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yates, Mitchum & ensemble suggest a revisit to THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE

Just how difficult is it to lead a life of crime? Three adjectives from Thomas Hobbes -- nasty, brutish and short (to which I'd add just a little bit boring) -- pretty much sum up the answer provided by THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, a 1973 film directed by Peter Yates (shown below) and adapted by Paul Monash, journeyman writer for TV and screen, from the best-selling novel by attorney-turned-writer George V. Higgins.

When TrustMovies first saw the film the year it was released, he was disappointed but not dismayed. Seeing it a second time, 36 years later, he finds it holds up better than expected. Eddie Coyle is dialog-heavy (which is likely to send the younger set toward nap-time or the eject/stop button), but this dialog -- for which Higgins was primarily noted -- is generally first-rate and Monash seems to have kept as much of it intact as the movie will bear. Occasionally, however, the film's visuals betray its talk. On the page, where our imagination is creating these visuals in a secondary manner while our concentration is on the conversation (as it should be), this works well. But when, in the movie, two characters are unloading weapons into the trunk of a car in the middle of shopping mall parking lot -- while one character blithely babbles on about married life and how his younger cohort wouldn't understand it -- the dialog becomes problematic. As with real estate, so with film: Location is important, and for the visual equivalent of the novel, I might have chosen a more private place to stage this scene.

Yates is probably best remembered for the Steve McQueen action film Bullitt (or the Dustin Hoffman/Mia Farrow flop John and Mary) but he was a generally decent director in almost every type of film genre (fantasy: Krull; coming-of-age: Breaking Away; drama: The Dresser). He tended not to go with current styles and tropes, instead making use of whatever worked. Eddie Coyle is among Yates' better efforts, and it's probably one of Monash's best, as well. But because it flopped upon release, although Higgins published a number of other successful novels (this was his first-published, though not his first-written), Hollywood never came calling on the novelist again.

As the titular Eddie, the aging but still sloe-eyed, big-lug Robert Mitchum (above) plays a third-rate criminal trying to fend off going back to prison by dropping a dime for the Feds. Mitchum is excellent, as he often was (and, as was just as often the case, under-appreciated). Not too bright -- though he imagines he is, which is part of his lack of smarts -- he's at least a loving husband, if not a very good friend.

The "friends" of the title (an ironic usage indeed!) make up the ensemble cast, which is first-rate and includes the likes of Peter Boyle (above), as a bartender you'd probably want to leave alone; Richard Jordan (at left) as the primary Fed; Mitchell Ryan as Jordan's boss; Alex Rocco as one of the major criminals; Matthew Cowles as a would-be purchaser of guns; and a very young Steven Keats, he of the gap-toothed smile shown below, as the primary gun runner. Keats, who died an apparent suicide at age 50, is especially good in this, his first film role: Young, naive and rather likable, he attempts to please everyone from the seller to the end consumer, while still protecting his own posterior.

I should also mention the fine, jazzy and nicely unobtrusive score by Dave Grusin and the you-are-there cinematography of Victor J. Kemper. Although Criterion has recently given the film one of its first-rate transfers (Criterion's classier box art appears below, while art for one of the original posters is shown at top), I watched The Friends of Eddie Coyle as my first experience with "streaming movies" -- via a fairly new company called ireel. For $2.99 I piped in a good quality image which displayed nicely on my new wide-screen desktop monitor -- with decent sound quality, too.

In general, the "stream-
ing" experience was a good one, at a good price, so I'll probably try ireel again. The company seems to have a decent selection -- at least of Paramount films, at this point. One important note: Do not watch the trailer for Eddie Coyle until you have seen the film itself, because this "preview" stupidly spills the beans about the movie's biggest and final surprise.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Drugs & Love: Xiaoshuai Wang & Kristian Levring add novelty & zest to tired themes

If I tell you that Kristian Levring's new film FEAR ME NOT is about a man on a drug, while Xiaoshuai Wang's IN LOVE WE TRUST deals with how far a woman will go for love, will your brain hit its cliché button, sending your fingers clicking onward to another blog? Stay a moment, dear reader, because both films take oft-used themes to which their writer/directors add a story full of urgency and surprise -- plus a good deal of film-making skill.

With IN LOVE WE TRUST (Zuo you), Shanghai-born Chinese filmmaker Xiaoshuai Wang (shown below, who gave us Shanghai Dreams and Beijing Bicycle) tells an unusual tale whose ramifications are such that it could probably only happen in the China of today, where laws and culture would seem to work against what is the necessary and humane way to handle the particular problem posed here. The love in question is from a mother (below center, played with steel force by newcomer Weiwei Liu) toward her daughter (below, right: another newcomer, the sweetly pliable Zhang Chuqian).

What is so wonderful about the movie is that this love finally seeps into all the other characters (such as the stepfather -- shown below, left -- played by Taishen Cheng, who brings a sad reticence to his noble character), despite their having quite different agenda than does our loving mother. The "why" and "how" you will have to learn while watching this extremely moving film, which is full of fascinating and highly specific details of life in today's China, as well as excellent performances all 'round. The film is a little long, and I think it would have really devastated me at a slightly shorter running time. Yet it did its job well enough. I shall always remember this mother and what her love for her daughter leads her to demand of herself and those around her. (In case you're wondering, this is no Stella Dallas: the stakes are much higher here.)

Out this month on DVD from Film Movement (for purchase -- or you can join this DVD-of-the-month club, whose taste level is surprisingly and consistently high), In Love We Trust is also available for rental from Netflix and other sources who stock foreign language films.

FEAR ME NOT (Den du frygter) is the latest film from Danish director and co-writer (with Anders Thomas Jensen) Kristian Levring, shown at left, who earlier gave us The King Is Alive and The Intended.
This new film, the best of his that I have seen, is certainly worth your time and trouble. (Right now, it's available only from your local TV-reception provider -- On Demand -- as part of IFC's Festival Direct. Eventually, it should appear on DVD.)

In the film, we meet businessman Mikael, played by Ulrich Thomsen, the Danish go-to guy for any role requiring a sexy and very competent middle-aged actor (Brothers, Adam's Apples and Allegro in his home country; Hitman, The International and Duplicity abroad). Thomsen (shown above, right, and below, left) is always good and just different enough from role to role that he probably is not recognized that much here in the US. In Fear Me Not, he plays a somewhat depressed fellow with a wife (Paprika Steen, below, right) and daughter (Emma Sehested Høeg, above, left) he loves, who has taken a leave of absence from his job to try to recoup... well, something. When he learns of a study involving a new anti-depressant, he comes aboard -- with results that, along with the movie itself, continue to change, surprise and challenge both the character and us viewers.

That's all I'll say, plot-wise, for fear of saying too much. The acting is first-rate, and Levring continues to improve as a director, I think. With this film, he is able to modulate some pretty heavy-duty emotional scenes without falling over into melodrama. The film is definitely worth seeing -- either now, On Demand, or later (one hopes) on DVD.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Is DIY gem AUDIENCE OF ONE the religious movie of our time? Q&A with Mike Jacobs

God works in mysterious ways, doesn't s/he/it? Among the most mysterious of late has got to be AUDIENCE OF ONE, a documen-
tary so alternately sad and delightful, staggering and mundane, ridiculous and obvious that it will boggle your mind even as it entertains you to the max. Clearly, this one's a must for movie buffs -- and, yes, maybe for god buffs, too.

After a San Francisco-
based Christian evangelical pastor, Richard Gazowsky, sees his first movie (at something like age 40, he tells us) he gets one of those calls from god, so frequently received by men of faith (I'm still waiting for mine), telling him to make a movie. So he does. Or at least tries. When filmmaker Michael Jacobs gets wind of this news, he sets about documenting the story and comes up with a film that is almost -- but not quite -- crazy enough to defy believability. It would, of course, take a concept as crazy as god (or at least humanity's bizarre imagining that it can tap into the almighty's will at a moment's notice and immediately bring home the bacon) to fuel a story this nonsensical.

With no experience (or success) at much of anything so far (including leading his flock), our pastor sets out to make his movie -- a kind of religious epic with a Star Wars overlay (see the early mock-ups above). First he casts the thing with some rather "interesting" acting talent...

then he has the costumes readied...

and hires a generally inexperienced and (at very least) too-trusting crew....

and even jaunts off to this picturesque little town in Italy (yes -- the land of all those Hercules and Biblical epics!) to film the thing.

Our documentarian, Mike, goes right along with him, shooting whatever Pastor Gazowsky is shooting -- plus a whole lot more. And what, after all this, has god wrought? You must wait until the film's end to access the DVD extras and learn what actually exists of the finished film -- after all the time, expense, travel and much else that has gone into this venture. And don't blame the non-existent deity for the result. Blame nitwit faith. The question Audience of One implicitly asks, is this: Isn't all faith necessarily nitwit? In this case, at least, it did not lead to the the Crusades, the Inquisition, the destruction of the World Trade Center, or drinking Kool-Aid. Yet it could just as easily have done so. When you agree to follow anyone who claims to have god's ear and hear god's voice, you've already given over your reason and your rights, as have the pastor's flock. As usual, god becomes a kind of personal mirror, reflecting nothing more than the desires of the fellow (and it is, despite Mary Baker Eddy, Aimee Semple McPherson and Tammy Faye Bakker, usually a guy) claiming to channel the deity.

Audience of One is a model documentary in so many ways that Mr. Jacobs deserves congratulations on his achievement (and a bigger budget for his next film). The budget for this one has got to have been pretty small, for the movie looks homemade and shot on the fly. Yet it shows us exactly what it must, always concentrating on its subject rather than on the filmmaker. Jacobs never pushes; he doesn't need to because what happens is jaw-dropping enough. He refrains from commenting on things, as well. Like a good documentarian (I think Albert Maysles would approve), he simply shows -- and let's us decide.

You'll have questions along the way, as I and my companion certainly did. While I usually don't have enough time to watch a film again and listen to its commentary track, in this case, I did watch a good deal of it and am happy to report that my questions were answered, and in such a way that I feel convinced of the authenticity of what I saw and of the filmmaker's (I mean Mr. Jacobs, not the good Pastor) honesty and decency. Actually, I feel convinced that the pastor has a little of these qualities, too, but his stupidity and egotism run roughshod over everything else. But, hey -- as Gazowsky himself tells us with lunatic certainty -- who is he to question god's will?

As usual, if it's god who is telling you to do something, well then, you can do just about anything you please. As someone ought to have said by now (and probably has): God save us from god -- because, clearly, we're unable to manage this ourselves.


Filmmaker Mike Jacobs (shown at left) surely is an easy guy to reach. You dial the number listed on his movie's official site, and there is he, happy to speak with you, whether you liked his film or not. I certainly did, and that makes the chance to interact (mostly via email) with this smart, caring and talented DIY filmmaker ever sweeter.

TrustMovies:Do you prefer being called Michael or Mike?

Michael Jacobs: It's been either/or since I can remember. Go with your gut.

What did your film cost to make (not including its marketing)?

I'm not at liberty to disclose the specifics of the budget but it wasn't much, just enough to get us through post-production. We are still paying for music licenses with every dime that comes in from broadcast and DVD advances/revenue.

I believe it opened fairly recently here in NYC. What did that cost and who paid for it?

The film is being theatrically distributed by NY based IndiePix. They booked the screenings and did some press, but I don't know what those costs are. I was able to get myself to NYC for the opening weekend via another project so I was able to get that client to cover my travel expenses though they had no idea my film was opening.

How long were you in Italy for that portion of the filmmaking?

One week.

There were times during the Italy jaunt that I found myself thinking, gosh—this just might work. Were there ever times that you felt the same?

Yes and no. I guess I always thought they would make something, but it became painfully clear towards the end of my time in Italy that an actual movie was out of the question. But I always hoped they would complete a movie; even if it wasn't the movie the Pastor wanted or intended it to be, it would probably be such a unique Cult-Christian-Pop B movie.

Who actually wrote the script for Grabowky’s film? Did you see/meet/talk to its writers? And were you at any time able to read the entire script? If so, did it make any sense?

The script was written by Richard and his wife Sandy. At one point early on in my shooting, I read about 30 pages. It was extremely dense. And also silly and confusing but it also had incredibly strange and exciting ideas that could come only from the mind of Pastor G.

One of the questions I and my companion both had: Was there ever any real money that might have come through? I believe that you say, yes, there was, on the commentary track. But how much -- and when was it actually made available.

There was never any actual investment money that I was aware of (at least not the amount required) but there was money. Most of it culled from the congregation, the Pentecostal Church circuit, and from various wealthy families in and around the congregation.

What’s the latest on Grabowsky? Is he is jail yet? (Not that he exactly deserves to be, but golly, there is a limit, right?) Or is he still ministering?

He's still ministering, albeit from a somewhat more desperate position. I know he's still working on his opus (though I guess that depends on how you define 'working') but with zero resources. You can follow his exploits here:

Is his mom still alive? I can’t remember now. You mention on the commentary how much you like her and wished she could have been more a part of the film. We felt the same, but she wasn’t really germane, I guess.

Yes, she's still alive and kicking. And yeah, as a character (and as a person) she is one of my favorites, so I was disappointed to come to understand how marginalized she is by Richard. But as you see in the doc, she gets her licks in.

What’s your background? School, film school, etc. You’re 31, right?

I didn't go to film school but started making short films in college at the University of Vermont, where the town of Burlington and its colorful characters inspired me to pick up a camera and start shooting. I was an aspiring writer, but too lazy and not smart enough to be a writer, so the camera eventually did my writing for me.

My companion says that he found you were very respectful to your subject and yet did not shy away from showing what you had to show. We thought that this combination, as much as anything, made the film (and your commentary) work so well. Did you find this difficult to do, or more likely, maybe this is just part of your nature? Or maybe the nature of a good documentary filmmaker?

That's a very well posed question. I think its a bit of all three. It was an extremely difficult balance. Sometimes, I feel I went too far and sometimes I feel I didn't go far enough. Ultimately, the subjects of the film just put themselves out there, and I simply captured them. It's an honest and sincere portrait, and although I had fun with the folly of filmmaking, I never made fun or dramatized their religious expression.

I am guessing, with your name, that you are Jewish. I detected absolutely no sense that this mattered, either in the film or what I saw of the commentary. Do you personally subscribe to any religious faith or a belief in a deity? (I don’t, which my blog piece makes fairly clear.)

Yes, I'm Jewish but not particularly religious. I was open about this with the Pastor's church and they loved to joke with me about my eventual conversion and that I was a confused Jew, and if I spent enough time at their Church, I would eventually find myself in their promised land.

What is your next project?

I recently completed a doc web series for Sony's Crackle.com and a video installation for a hotel in New York. You can see the videos at The Muse Hotel (46th and 6th). Watch the entire series (about 10 minutes) on the four lobby screens and the 2 screens behind the bar. (And feel free to let the hotel know how excellent you think they are.)

My next feature doc is in development but its going to take some time to get that off the ground -- which is fine since it's pretty brutal out there for indie films just now.

Lastly, is there anything you’d like to say about you, the film or filmmaking that has not been covered well enough to suit you in the past? It‘s fine if this has nothing to do with any of my questions above. I like to leave open the chance for a filmmaker to soapbox about anything that’s on his mind, or to cover something that he’s hoped somebody would ask him but nobody has.

Making this film has changed my life -- both personally and professionally -- and I will be forever grateful to Gazowksy, his family, and the Church for welcoming me into their world and allowing me to share, celebrate and exploit their incredible story.

You are a writer. Only a good -- and honest -- writer would use those three words: share, celebrate and exploit. Particularly that last one.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

AUTISM: MADE IN THE USA: a "must" for prospective parents

Opening for very brief runs in Los Angeles (in May) and New York City (in June), AUTISM: MADE IN THE U.S.A., from filmmaker Manette Loudon and health guru Gary Null (shown below), should be required viewing for any about-to-be parents. It'll scare the hell out of them unless they've done their own deep investigative homework

regarding at-birth and/or early vaccinations of newborns. There has been a lot of media pro-and-con over the past few years regarding these vaccinations and what they contain (mercury, among other things), and while the medical establishment has come down clearly on the side of early vaccination of newborns, as anybody who follows the medical establishment (and its far too "palsy-walsy" connec- tions with the pharmaceutical industry) should know by now, this establishment is much like every other (banking anyone?): It must be carefully overseen and kept honest, free from conflict-of-interest, and on-track with regard to the Hippocratic Oath.

Roughly half of the documentary's 101 minutes are devoted to showing us austistic children and their parents, and much of these minutes are spent questioning the legitimacy of the vaccinations and especially what is included in them. We see the struggles of both those who are flattened by autism and their care-givers. As you might expect, this is not what passes for entertainment in these escapist times. If the consequences of the clear increase in those affected by this malady were only the burden of the specific parents and children, it would be bad enough. But society as a whole will pay a steep price for this increase in autism -- which, again, the medical establishment manages to claim is not an increase at all: We simply didn't know how to diagnose autism in decades past, they posit. Fine, but where then are all those aging autistic that should be with us -- but aren't? Enough already.

If the first half of this film is depressing, the second half opens up into something approaching joy, as family after family tells of -- and shows -- the progress made in helping these autistic children by way of a change in, primarily, the child's diet. Giving up dairy and gluten often proves helpful, as well as sugar (of course) and even fruit. It's not easy, as one parent tells us, but if the result is improvement, then how can we not at least attempt it? Chelation therapy is another possibility, although it, too, is considered alternative and possibly risky. Seeing these kids in their improved state (see photo at bottom) certainly appears a blessing.

Austism: Made in the U.S.A. is anecdotal in its evidence and I think should not be taken as gospel. It appears as gospel so far as the parents and children shown are concerned, and they may be right. The reason I think it is so important to have prospective parents see this film -- not to mention all parents of autistic children -- is simply to give them the chance to talk at length with their pediatrician and work through all the possibilities. (If you're unaware that other possibilities exist, you will not seek them out, and the shame of our medical establishment rests in its trying to bury the alternatives.) The several pediatricians shown in the documentary all seem firmly convinced of what they are doing and the results that they -- with the help of the parents and autistic children -- have so far achieved. One doctor (shown above) says that, while her methods are still considered alternative by the establishment, she now sees them as absolutely mainstream so far as the treatment of autism is concerned. Whatever decision the parents make -- to go with the mainstream treatment of heavy doses of docile-making drugs or to try something alternative -- watching this film should help prepare you for the decisions ahead.

While Loudon's and Null's film is one-sided, the filmmakers list at the conclusion all the many groups, government agencies, drugs companies (particularly those that make the vaccines) -- the FDA, NIAID, NIH, CDC, NCCD, Merck and so on -- who refused to be interviewed. It'd a tad difficult to show both sides when one of the two won't talk. One-sided this documentary may be, but it's a side that bears hearing.

Photos above are from the film itself,
except for that of Mr. Null, which is taken from his website.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

QUIET CHAOS: Moretti, Grimaldi and a splendid cast deliver the goods on grief

The loss of a loved one is nothing new to fiction or cinema, yet the fine film by director Antonello Grimaldi (shown below) QUIET CHAOS (Caos Calmo, from the popular Italian novel of the same name by Sandro Veronesi), brings this situation alive in an original manner. Rather than allowing the event itself to keep things depressed and dour, the movie is graceful, encompassing and -- because it deals with

the necessity of moving on -- rich in life at its quirky, deceptive best. Quiet Chaos does not slight death (nor our responses to it) but has the wisdom to place the event in thoughtful perspective, both from the viewpoint of those closest to it, young and old, as well as from those who remain at some distance.

Quiet Chaos is full of surprise, particularly at its beginning. The movie includes quite a swatch of society: family, the workplace and corporate world, fashion and the "in" crowd. Better to get this out in the open, too: it's all about the wealthy. Whether they're losing their job or gaining a promotion, no one we see here worries about where his next meal is coming from or how he will provide for his offspring. These characters live well! So? Movie-wise, the upper class deserves its occasional day in the sun, particularly when this is presented to us by intelligent artists who, for a change, do not treat the concerns of the rich as the stuff of sleaze or soap opera. (OK, there's a little of the former present: How does the Jean-Claude character afford his fancy country house?) Given the very fine performances from a starry cast and the subtlety and interesting variations with which the director and his adapters -- Nanni Moretti (acting as both star and lead writer), Laura Paolucci and Francesco Piccolo -- bring to Veronesi's novel, it's hard to imagine that you won't enjoy being in the sun along with these folk.

Director Grimaldi (also known as Antonio Luigi Grimaldi) has worked more in Italian television than in films, but he proves a wise choice for this mainstream movie about love, death, family and business. (I do wonder if Mr. Moretti, who has himself directed a number of successful films -- Palombella Rossa, Dear Diary, The Son's Room -- didn't have a hand in the filmmaking process, in addition to his work writing and acting.) In any case, Grimaldi's camera (cinematography by talented veteran Alessandro Pesci) glides from place to place with control and grace. Note the scene early on when it travels from outside to inside the school and back again. This is a gentle movie in conception and performance: Even its many ironies -- such a fortune teller's prediction proving oddly true -- seem temperate rather than acerbic.

The lead character is played by Signore Moretti with a calm intelligence that holds the entire movie together. This fellow is such a decent man in so many ways -- note how he handles the opportunity to view his wife's emails -- that when, late in the film, he partakes of sex in a manner that is graphic, wild and not a little angry, the scene is memorably shocking. My god, you suddenly realize: This guy seems quite capable of the kind of testosterone-fueled behavior that being the top dog in his firm will surely entail.

Odd but insightful connections are made constantly throughout the film. Even a scene such as our hero's first attempt at smoking opium -- evidently the "maryjane" of Italy's wealthy set -- is about connec-
tions rather than the event itself, thus circumventing the usual cliches associated with movie moments devoted to a first-time high.

I mentioned earlier Quiet Chaos' starry cast -- a veritable who's who of Italian (and French) cinema today. Besides the very fine Moretti, you'll see Valeria Golino (shown in photo with Mr. Moretti, third from top), Isabella Ferrari (shown in fourth photo from top and just seen via the FSLC's Open Roads series in A Perfect Day), Silvio Orlando and Alba Rohrwacher (both from Open Road's Giovanna's Father); France's Charles Berling, Hippolyte Girardot and Denis Podalydès; and Alessandro Gassman, who has only grown sexier, hunkier (and toothier: see above) in the 22 years since he made Steam: The Turkish Bath. Newcomers of whom we will certainly be seeing more include the exquisitely beautiful Kasia Smutniak (shown two photos above, with St. Bernard) and Blu Yoshimi (aka Di Martino , shown with Mr. Gassman, above), who plays the Moretti character's lovely daughter. Oh, yes: the actor chosen to essay the role of the Mr. Big character -- a fellow we hear about throughout most of the movie -- is an absolutely inspired choice. I'm not telling who it is, and I hope my colleagues will refrain, as well, thus giving readers one more reason to see one of the best films to be released so far this year. Like the park bench, below, that supplies Moretti with the place and opportunity to think, observe and come to terms with his life, the movie provides something similar for us.

Added thought: If Italy had had the good sense to submit to the Academy Quiet Chaos as its choice for Best Foreign Film nominee last year, I wager that this movie would at least have made the cut and given Departures a run for its money. Nominating Gomorrah instead, because it seemed the hot item of the moment and had recently won an important Cannes award, was a ridiculous move. A movie that dark would never please the present Academy members, for whom awards at Cannes seldom mean much, either.

Quiet Chaos opens Friday, June 26, exclusively at IFC Center in NYC. It will also be available via IFC On-Demand. Check your specific TV reception-provider for further info.