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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

DVDS: Satantango, The Band's Visit, The Year My Parents Went On Vacation, Inglorious Bastards, American Slapstick 2

Finally, and at last, and released on the day after filmmaker Bela Tarr’s 53rd birthday, you can hold Satantango (1994, ****) in your hands. Facets Video has been working on this project for ages—a November release date came and went—but this impressively rich, epic yet minute seven-and-a-half hour accomplishment may be the week’s most impressive release (although as an our-DVD set than as an exhibition of the reported single copy of the extremely expensive 35mm print). A dark night all its own (which I watched again across a hot and hyper-humid weekend), Tarr’s 1994 story of muddy, rain-streaked, poverty- and booze-battened Hungarian village life works his idiosyncratic ideas about the representation of time and space through duration and it’s mysterious just how the emphatic, understated grace of his camerawork affect the small shreds of story. How can the tempo of experience be expressed in the tempo of film? Each director finds their own way, but it seems wrong to resist the pull of music, which, like other forms of sound, works directly in the mind rather than requiring interpretation the way images do. It’ll be intriguing to see what those new to this beautiful and elusive film make of it. [Manohla Dargis wrote a fine appreciation in January 2006.] Extras: letterboxed; several shorts, including Macbeth (1982, 64m), Tarr’s rarely seen version of Shakespeare’s tragedy in two shots; Journey on the Plain (1995, 34m), an anomalous enterprise in which actor-composer Mihaly Vig revisits Satantango locations; Prologue (2004, 5m), Tarr’s contribution to the omnibus Visions of Europe and the transcript of a panel discussion including Jonathan Rosenbaum and Scott Foundas. [Facets, $80.]
Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit, (***) an Israeli film that got bounced out of the competition by the Academy for Best Foreign Language Feature for having too much English in it, is a sweetly deadpan comedy of miscommunication where an Egyptian police band in boldly baby blue uniforms take a wrong turn and find themselves stranded amid Israelis in a dusty village and can only converse through that lingua franca. (Notch another one for the bureaucrats.) While it’s obvious that Arab-Jewish relations are being made metaphoric, Kolirin is more interested in observational whimsy, and his best moments of comic composition show the influence of august forebears like Jacques Tati. And the delivery of the line, meant as seduction, “Do you like Chet Baker?” is an instant classic. With the always-welcome Ronit Elkabetz.
When the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film was announced, a New York journalist attacked Cao Hamburger’s The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, sight unseen as prototypical sentimental Oscar bait. If the writer had bothered to see the movie, a far different story would have unspoiled before blogging. Sly and ironic, and not unlike the Blame It on Fidel, Hamburger uses a child’s perspective to examine complicated political turmoil (which likely took place in his own childhood). Set in 1970, a warm comic tone prevails even against the backdrop of the military dictatorship’s crackdown on leftists during the 1970 World Cup. Twelve-year-old Mauro winds up in this hands of a neighbor of his grandfather, who’s died before Mauro’s arrival, and he’s sheltered by a world that’s a rush of Yiddish rather than Portuguese. Assured in most of its particulars, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” (a euphemism for going into hiding from the secret police) manages to mingle sweet and melancholy with likable results (and occasional gratifying surprises, such as the ending.) Extras: extended scenes, outtakes, international trailer, interviews. [City Lights, $27.]
Enzo Castellari’s spaghetti western-front action movie Inglorious Bustards (** ½) is so much a favorite of director-geek Quentin Tarantino that he’s purchased its title [re-spelling it as “Inglourious Basterds”] and based his upcoming Jews-kill-the-Nazis fantasia distantly on its content. I can’t imagine anyone finding this amiable but thin Fred Williamson-Bo Svenson vehicle so inspiring without an ample amount of narcotics in the house. (You can almost hear the ghostly cry of the vendors pacing the aisles of an urban grindhouse on first release: “Loose joints… loose joints…”) Still, it’s sweetly nonsensical diversion. Released under various titles, including Hell’s Heroes and G. I. Bro. Two versions are available, a slimmed-down edition and a three-disk monster. Both include Tarantino’s emanations about what he considers its greatness. Three-disk extras include “Train Kept-a-Rolling,” a doc with Castellari, Williamson, Svenson, Massimo Vanni, the SFX artist, producer, screenwriters; “Back to the War Zone,” a locations featurette; audio commentary and soundtrack CD. An impressive package for those prepared to be impressed. [Severin; $18; $30.]


Tarantino-Castellari teaser.

American Slapstick Volume 2 offers up three discs of 30 lesser-known silent shorts, never released on home video before. While dipping into the discs offered interesting glimpses of performers like Larry Semon, Syd Chaplin (Charlie’s brother), Alice Howell and Anne Cornwall, the series is likely for enthusiasts only, who would watch from start to finish. For non-specialists, the liner notes provide interesting sidenotes yet are forbiddingly unhelpful for navigating the shorts by artist. [Allday Entertainment/Facets, $35]

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