17 Films to See This Week: Polanski, Fassbinder, Coppola + More

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***MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24***

THE NIKLASHAUSEN JOURNEY, Rainer Wener Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

On Laetare Sunday, March 24, 1476—the day winter is driven out and summer invited in—Hans Böhm (Michael König), a shepherd known for his musical performances, burns his drum in front of the assembled peasants and speaks to them of his revelation: the Mother of God has appeared and instructed him to preach to the people. Soon his preaching moves from the religious to the political, and thousands of peasants from Bavaria, Swabia, Hesse, Thuringia, and Saxony journey to see him. But while his support increases, Böhm is filled with an inarticulate dissatisfaction that can be absolved only by embracing his own self-destruction. Fassbinder links revolutionary tumult with performance art experiments and the simple grace of sheepherding in a film set on the trash-strewn streets and junkyards of Berlin in 1970. In a gesture of rebelliousness and oddball conflation of modern decadence (and youth culture) with medieval religious art, Fassbinder himself plays a character called the Black Monk, dressed in dark sunglasses and a slick black leather jacket.

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LITTLE RED DEVILS AKA RED IMPS, Ivan Perestiani
MoMA

Jay Leyda called Little Red Devils “the first Soviet (Georgian) film to compete successfully with all foreign products on the country’s screens.” Set during the Ukrainian War of Independence, the film adopts the styles of American adventure films, à la Douglas Fairbanks (and D. W. Griffith), in narrating the exploits of two daredevil teenagers (brother and sister) and a young black acrobat who volunteer as scouts in the Red Cavalry. V. Sutyrin gives an interesting portrayal of the anarchist leader Makhno, whose band of “bandits” is pursued by Budyenny’s cavalry in the film’s freewheeling recreation of historical events. Silent, with Russian intertitles, simultaneous English translation, and piano accompaniment.

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SHOCKWAVES, Ken Wiederhorn
Nitehawk Cinema

Remember that episode of Gilligan’s Island where the crew of the Minnow met up with an old SS scientist who was once in charge of a squad of unstoppable, underwater Nazi zombies? No? Well, that’s because that’s plot for Shock Waves, director Ken Wiederhorn’s oddball horror film about a group of yachters who have a nasty run-in with a band of zombies so well versed at killing that even Hitler didn’t want anything to do with them. Shock Waves stars horror icons John Carradine, Peter Cushing and Peter Cushing’s great, big fake scar, and is certain to leave you breathless. (Get it?)

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THE SACRIFICE, Andrei Tarkovsky
BAM

Tarkovsky’s unforgettable final film, made while the director was dying of cancer, is nothing less than the story of the end of the world. When a former actor (Josephson) learns that nuclear holocaust is imminent, he makes an extraordinary deal with God: Call off the apocalypse, and in return he will sacrifice himself and all that he loves. Winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, The Sacrifice boasts rapturous cinematography by Ingmar Bergman’s longtime collaborator Sven Nykvist. 

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THEATER IN TRANCE, Rainer Wener Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Fassbinder’s first and only documentary was shot at Cologne’s “Theatres of the World” festival in June 1981. He logs the appearances of such groups as Hungary’s experimental Squat Theatre company and the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (whose founder became the subject of the eponymous documentary shot by Fassbinder’s German New Wave cohort Wim Wenders). Over these images, Fassbinder himself recites passages by Antonin Artaud (founder of the Theatre of Cruelty, quoted earlier in Satan’s Brew) and inserts his own distinctive observations.

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THE THIRD GENERATION, Rainer Wener Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Along with Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven, perhaps the Fassbinder film most concerned with contemporary West German issues. A razor-sharp and politically astute take on terrorism as bourgeois diversion, and on how the Third Generation of radicals (following the idealists of ’68 and the Baader-Meinhof Group) has no particular ideology, making them easy prey for exploitation by the state. Eddie Constantine (who played himself in Beware of a Holy Whore) stars as an industrialist kidnapped by the Schopenhauer-spouting upper-middle-class terrorist cell, whose members don’t realize they are being set up by the authorities. Fassbinder may have been outlining the thesis of this film when he stated: “In the last analysis, terrorism is an idea generated by capitalism to justify better defense measures to safeguard capitalism.”

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***TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25***

STORY OF MY DEATH, Albert Serra
Anthology Film Archives

Anthology previously hosted the theatrical premiere engagements of the incomparable Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra’s HONOR DE CAVELLERIA (2006) and BIRDSONG (2008), and we’re thrilled to present his latest and most ambitious feature, STORY OF MY DEATH. HONOR DE CAVALLERIA comprised a radically minimalist, near-plotless riff on DON QUIXOTE, while BIRDSONG applied a similar approach to the New Testament tale of the Three Kings. The new film continues in this vein of literary/historical appropriation, but this time engineers a meeting between two figures (one historical, one mythical): 18th-century author, adventurer, and womanizer Giacomo Casanova and the immortal (in more ways than one) Dracula. If this inspired, high-concept pairing suggests that Serra has abandoned his trademark absurdist minimalism, never fear: both Casanova and Dracula serve as a means for Serra to imagine and inhabit the world of the 18th century, which he depicts with the serene patience, wry wit, philosophical curiosity that made his previous films so singular and astonishing.

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GERMANY IN AUTUMN
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Fassbinder was one of 11 German New Wave filmmakers who contributed to this omnibus essay film, organized by narrator Alexander Kluge (who would expand his segment, “The Patriot,” into a feature). The fiction and nonfiction shorts were made in response to the German Autumn, a series of events in late 1977 including the kidnapping and murder of magnate Hanns Martin Schleyer by the Red Army Faction and the hijacking of a Lufthansa airplane. What the project lacks in perspective (the lag time was minimal) it makes up for in urgency, and while it may not offer cohesion or consistency, it boasts a spectrum of styles, with Fassbinder baring his soul as an enraged man arguing with his disengaged male lover and politically naïve mother about terrorism.

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IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS, Rainer Wener Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Volker Spengler, a Fassbinder mainstay, gives the performance of a lifetime as Elvira, née Erwin, a transsexual searching for love in Frankfurt and finding only rejection. Conceived in secret and abandoned by his mother, Erwin grew up in a Catholic orphanage and fathered a child while still a teenager. Working in a slaughterhouse, he fell in love with Anton (Gottfried John), a ruthless concentration camp survivor, whose offhand remark “too bad you aren’t a girl” sends him to Casablanca for an operation. Upon returning he finds that Anton does not reciprocate his feelings. Made in response to the suicide of Fassbinder’s own lover, actor Armin Meier, the film is arguably Fassbinder’s most compassionate, a heartrending portrait of isolation and splintered identity.

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***WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26***

TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA, William Friedkin
BAM

William Friedkin’s hyper-stylized neo-noir plays like Miami Vice on amphetamines. The pulp premise—which has two Secret Service agents (Petersen and Pankow) hell-bent on nailing a villainous counterfeiter (Dafoe)—is pushed into overdrive by the sleek visuals, a synthy New Wave soundtrack by Wang Chung, and a pulse-pounding, against-traffic car chase down a congested LA freeway. 

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QUERELLE, Rainer Wener Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

The director’s swan song, taken from Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest and released after his death, follows the titular Belgian sailor and hustler (Midnight Express’s Brad Davis) as he frequents a brothel in Brest run by Lysiane (legendary Jeanne Moreau), and works through a complex relationship with his brother. Fassbinder’s expressionistic use of garish lighting lends an air of surrealism to the sensational goings-on. Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice, Jury President Marcel Carné (director of Children of Paradise) withdrew after failing to convince his fellow jurors to bestow the award, stating “…although controversial, R.W. Fassbinder’s final movie, want it or not, love it or hate it, will someday find its place in the history of cinema.”

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OUR COURTYARD AKA OUR YARD, Rezo Chkheidze
MoMA

The picaresque village comedy is updated for Georgia’s postwar urban realities in Rezo Chkheidze’s lyrical tale of life, love, and the pursuit of individual happiness and the collective good inside a chaotic Tbilisi apartment block. Students, scientists, factory workers, and idle gossips call out from the balconies, led by our hero, Dato, a strapping student and factory worker with an eye for the lovely Tsitsino. Inspired by both Italian Neorealism and a swelling pride in what modern Georgia could accomplish, Our Courtyard boasts a star turn by Giorgi Shengelaia, later to become one of Georgia’s most accomplished filmmakers.

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***THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27***

CAT PEOPLE, Paul Schrader
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

One of Kinski’s greatest strengths as a young actress was her ability to embody seemingly contradictory personas side by side. In Paul Schrader’s erotic nightmare (and remake of Jacques Tourneur’s supernatural horror classic) about a woman—the last female descendent of an ancient race—who morphs into a deadly cat when aroused, she perfected her ability to balance timid innocence with raw sexuality. Her beautifully modulated performance is what makes the movie, for all its mythic goofiness, an emotionally potent glimpse of a young woman torn between desire and fear. With Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, and Annette O’Toole and featuring a now-classic techno score by Giorgio Moroder and a theme song by David READ MORE

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WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, Robert Zemeckis
BAM

“I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” A staggering accomplishment in the pre-CGI era for its seamless mixing of live action and animation, Zemeckis’ groundbreaking film has a clever noir script to match. It’s 1947 Hollywood and toon studio star Roger Rabbit is framed for murder after catching his wife Jessica playing patty-cake with gag-gift mogul Marvin Acme. Hoskins is the surly private dick who gets caught in the middle, while scores of legendary toons—from Betty Boop to Dumbo to Daffy—make memorable cameos.

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ONE FROM THE HEART, Francis Ford Coppola
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

“If you wanna get rid of a circus girl,” Kinski tells a lovesick American at one point in Francis Ford Coppola’s shimmering, mirage-like nocturnal reverie, “all you have to do is close your eyes.” If Apocalypse Now was Coppola’sKing Lear, then One from the Heart, in which two lovers split up one evening in Vegas and spend the night with mysterious new dream partners, turned out to be the director’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kinski, as a circus tightrope walker, steals the show in this romantic fable speckled with magical upheavals and disappearances that becomes, in the end, a challenging reflection on the contingency of love. With an original score by Crystal Gayle and Tom Waits. 

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TESS, Roman Polanski
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Kinski’s breakthrough performance was in the title role of Roman Polanski’s beautifully shot, emotionally wrenching adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The novel concerns a young farmer’s daughter, possibly descended from a wealthy family, who finds herself trapped, publicly compromised, and finally destroyed by the lusts and social ambitions of the two men in her life. However, Kinski refuses to make Tess into a passive victim; in her and Polanski’s hands, the character takes on a forceful, smoldering presence and, ultimately, a tragic breadth of spirit.

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CHINATOWN, Roman Polanski
BAM

Polanski pays homage to the classic Hollywood detective film in this moody masterpiece. Jack Nicholson is Jake Gittes, a Sam Spade stand-in who sticks his nose into a corrupt water-stealing scheme—and nearly gets it sliced off in the process. As summed up in the immortal ironic last line of Robert Towne’s celebrated script, Chinatown takes the disillusionment of post-WWII film noir to its bitter extreme. 

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