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Foreign fare fills the Varsity with films from abroad

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chris Honoré

r Tidings reviewer

Foreign films, simply by virtue of being &


should never get a pass. If they&

re too baroque or convoluted, too inaccessible, which some can be, then so be it. But clearly the English and the French and Japanese make movies that can be decidedly different in subject matter and view point from so many films that come out of Hollywood.

Perhaps it&

s cultural. We are enamored with the explicit, with youth, with overt sexuality. Hence, too often American films are ageist, heavy-handed and lacking any subtlety or nuance; filmmakers have clearly decided that certain characters in the lead will not find an audience.


s regrettable, and for all of their demographic market analysis, the So Cal movie moguls have yet to get it: smaller niche movies (or indies), such as those currently made abroad, and shown here in Ashland, thankfully, could just be the future. And small theaters like the Varsity an increasingly important venue.

The English film, &

Ladies in Lavender,&

currently playing at the Varsity Theatre, is a case in point. This sweet movie has in the lead roles two gifted actresses, Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Both are well beyond middle age and both beautiful to behold. To the director&

s credit, he allows the camera to linger on their faces &

deeply lined marked by the passage of time and life&

s exigencies &

offering both women the opportunity to display their craft, often rendering dialogue inconsequential.

The narrative, at least initially, seems thin; however, as the film progresses it becomes ever more rich and interesting and filled with subtext. Dench and Smith portray two sisters, Ursula and Janet. They live together in a charming stone and timber house, on a bluff in Cornwall, overlooking an ellipse of rocky beach and the ocean beyond.

Over the years (it&

s 1936) they have established a soft-spoken routine, an ecology of living together. And then one morning, as Ursula is looking out a window, remarking on the beautiful day, she sees what appears to be a body washed up on the shore. Both sisters hurry down to the water&

s edge and there discover a young man, alive but unconscious. They quickly go for help and manage to carry the man back to their house and to a room upstairs.

And so the setup ends and act one begins in earnest. The man, named Andrea, is Polish, speaks no English, and has, so it seems, been swept overboard and managed to get to shore against all odds. Nothing else is known about him.

What he comes to represent to the two sisters is far more than simply a lost stranger whom they take in out of kindness. He becomes a small pebble embedded in a comfortable shoe. And he upsets the delicate balance of the two sisters&

lives -- what was once harmonious, becomes ever so quietly discordant. It&

s a joy to watch. There is also an element of sadness to the emotions that he elicits from the pair, especially from Ursula, who is moved to look back at a life that has never known mature love. Her sense of loss and regret is palatable.


Ladies in Lavender&

is a lovely film and testimony to how important it is to embrace actresses such as Dench and Smith for their breadth of talent, their years of experience, and simply their evolved and luminescent beauty that is tempered by age and intelligence.


Apres Vous,&

also at the Varsity, is light as a soufflé, a puff of smoke, and it would be unfair to compare this film to &

Ladies in Lavender.&

Yet if you enjoy a French comedy, one that gives new meaning to Clare Booth Luce&

s adage that no good deed goes unpunished, then this movie will make you laugh. At the very least smile.

The story is predicated on the over-the-top goodheartedness of Antoine (Daniel Auteuil), a French waiter at an upscale restaurant, who, one evening, takes a shortcut through the park. There, in the dark shadows of a tree, he discovers Louis (Jose Garcia), balanced precariously on the edge of a suitcase, with a cord tied around his neck. As it turns out, a love affair has gone badly and he is heartbroken to the point of suicide.

Antoine rescues him and insists, at great personal cost, that he will help Louis put his life back together. It proves to be a reconstruction project that goes way beyond the pale. As it turns out, the road to rehabilitation becomes a comedy of errors and Antoine is pulled into the eye of an emotional storm that has many delightful and unintended consequences.

Keep in mind that some might find Antoine&

s determination to be a Good Samaritan a bit of a stretch and the film constantly flirts with the improbable. But having said that, for all of its breeziness, it doesn&

t take much suspension of disbelief to enjoy this movie.


r Spanning twenty-four hours, Heights follows five New Yorkers challenged to choose their destiny before the sun comes up the next day, as new people enter their lives.Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, George Segal, Isabella Rossellini


Deuce Bigalow:

European Gigolo r Deuce is seduced back to his unlikely pleasure-for-pay profession when his former pimp is implicated in the murders of Europe's greatest gigolos. Rob Schneider, Eddie Griffin, Jeroen Krabbe

r R for pervasive strong crude and sexual humor, language, nudity and drug content/83 min.

Four Brothers

r After their adoptive mother is killed during a grocery story holdup, the notorious Mercer brothers reunite to find the men who killed the only person who ever cared for them. Directed by John Singleton ("Boyz N the Hood"); Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund

r R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content/109 min.

Skeleton Key

r A caregiver hired to care for an elderly woman's ailing husband in their home - a foreboding and decrepit Gothic mansion in the Louisiana delta - begins to suspect evil intentions are at work. Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Joy Bryant

r PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, some partial nudity and thematic material/104 min.

Apres Vous

r In French with English subtitles

r In this &


French comedy, a Parisian waiter, Antoine, stops a stranger, Louis, from committing suicide. In his attempt to help get Louis back on his feet, Antoine gets caught up in a romantic triangle. Directed by Pierre Salvadori (&


, &

White Lies&

); Starring Daniel Auteuil, Jose Garcia, Sandrine Kiberlain.

r R for language/110 min.

Charlie and the

Chocolate Factoryr Charlie Bucket comes from a poor family, but things may change for him when he finds one of five gold tickets hidden in chocolate bars. The ticket allows him, as well as the children who find the other tickets, to take a tour of Willy Wonka&

s chocolate factory. Directed by Tim Burton (&

Edward Scissorhands&

, upcoming &

Corpse Bride&

); Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore.

r PG for quirky situations, action and mild language/115 min.

Dukes of Hazzard

r Good ol&

boys Bo and Luke, and their easy-on-the-eyes cousin Daisy,

try to save the family farm from corrupt commissioner Boss Hogg in this contemporary update of the TV series that ran from 1979-85.

Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, Seann William Scott, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson, Lynda Carter

r PG-13 for sexual content, crude and drug-related humor, language and comic action violence/105 min.

Ladies in Lavender

r Two elderly sisters living in a British seaside village during the 1930&

s find a young man, half dead, on their beach. One of the women finds herself falling head over heels in love with the lad, while the other sister can only watch helplessly and hope that no one gets hurt. Directed by Charles Dance; Starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Daniel Bruhl, Miriam Margolyes, David Warner

r PG-13 for brief strong language/103 min.

Mad Hot Ballroom

r A profile of several children and their journey into the world of ballroom dancing. The 11-year-olds go from reluctantly participating to preparing to competing in citywide finals.

r PG for some thematic elements/105 min.

March of the Penguins

r Every March, the Emperor Penguin begins a quest to find the perfect mate and start a family in the Antarctic. The journey will take them hundreds of miles, in freezing cold temperatures, under the harshest conditions on earth. They will risk starvation and attack by predators...all to find true love. Directed by Luc Jacquet Narrated by Morgan Freeman.

r G/85 min.

Must Love Dogs

r A newly divorced pre-school teacher cautiously rediscovers romance with the enthusiastic but often misguided help of her well-meaning family. Diane Lane, John Cusack, Dermot Mulroney, Elizabeth Perkins, Stockard Channing, Christopher Plummer.r

PG-13 for sexual content/98 min.

Saving Face

r Low key charmer about a closeted Chinese-American lesbian and her traditionalist mother, both reluctant to go public with secret loves that clash with cultural expectations.

The warm comedy spans the fragile bridge between traditional values and a modern independent spirit.

Directed by Alice Wu Michelle Krusiec, Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, Li Zhiyu.

r R for some sexuality and language/98 min.

Sky High

r The son of the world&

s most legendary superheroes is enrolling in a high school for power-gifted students &


s superheroes. But Will has no superpowers, and has been relegated to studying to be a sidekick. Kurt Russell, Michael Angarano, Kelly Preston, Bruce Campbell.

r PG for action violence and some mild language/98 min.


r The Air Force engineers a self-piloting fighter plane with artificial intelligence, and are shocked when their creation begins attacking on its own authority. Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx, Sam Shepard, Joe Morton, Richard Roxburgh.

r PG-13 for intense action, some violence, brief strong language and innuendo/121 min.

Wedding Crashers

r A pair of &

divorce mediators&

spend their weekends crashing weddings in search of Mrs. Right&

133;for a night. Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams

r R for sexual content/nudity and language/120 min.