Close Up

4 - 25 February 2008: Essential Cinema IV


John Cassavetes
1968 | 130 min | B/W | Digital  

The disintegration of a marriage is dissected in John Cassavetes' searing Faces. Shot in high-contrast 16mm black and white, the film follows the futile attempts of captain of industry Richard and his wife Maria, to escape the anguish of their empty marriage in the arms of others. Featuring astonishingly powerful, nervy performances from John Marley, Lynn Carlin, and Cassavetes regulars Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel, Faces confronts suburban alienation and the battle of the sexes with a brutal honesty and compassion rarely matched in cinema.

Hotel du Nord
Marcel Carné
1938 | 95 min | B/W | Digital  

In the Carné canon, Hôtel Du Nord is usually eclipsed by films such as Le Quai des Brumes, Le Jour se Lève and Les Enfants du Paradis, largely because of Prevert's absence. Jeanson's dialogue is indeed broader, the film more comic. In this respect, Hôtel du Nord is "theatrical realism" rather than "poetic realism". But in the interaction of set, camerawork and Maurice Jaubert's restrained, moody music, Hôtel du Nord is typical of poetic realism.  

The Chess Players
Satyajit Ray
1977 | 129 min | Colour | Digital  

Set in the kingdom of Oudh during the last days of the Moghul Empire, The Chess Players marked the first time that the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray worked outside of his native Bengal. The story follows two Indian noblemen (Saeed Jaffrey and Sanjeev Kumar) whose obsession with the game renders them oblivious to the treacherous and historic events happening around them. One of Ray's most ambitious and expensive productions, The Chess Players is a masterful and visually stunning historical drama.  

Fritz Lang
1931 | 110 min | B/W | Digital  

A simple, haunting phrase whistled off-screen tells us that a young girl will be killed. "Who is the murderer?" pleads a nearby placard as serial killer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) closes in on little Elsie Beckmann. In his harrowing masterwork M, Fritz Lang merges trenchant social commentary with chilling suspense, creating a panorama of private madness and public hysteria that to this day remains the blueprint for the psychological thriller.  

Le Feu Follet
Louis Malle
1963 | 108 min | B/W | Digital  

Probably the finest of Malle's early films, this is a calmly objective but profoundly compassionate account of the last 24 hours in the life of a suicide. Ronet gives a remarkable, quietly assured performance as the alcoholic who, upon leaving a clinic, visits old friends in the hope that they will provide him with a reason to live. They don't, and Malle's achievement lies not only in his subtle but clear delineation of his protagonist's emotions but in his grasp of life's compromises. A small gem, polished to perfection by an unassuming professional.