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Left to right: Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kaas in And Now. Courtesy photo
And Now … Ladies & Gentlemen

Dir. Claude Lelouch; writ. Lelouch, Pierre Leroux, Pierre Vytterhoeven; feat. Jeremy Irons, Patricia Kaas, Thierry Lhermitte, Alessandra Martines, Claudia Cardinale (PG-13)

Claude Lelouch's latest film illustrates its epigraph by Alfred de Musset: "Life is deep sleep of which love is the dream." Two sleepwalkers converge in Fez, Morocco - into each other's arms. An English jewel thief and a French jazz singer both suffer from blackouts and amnesia, and each finds healing in the other. Woven with flashbacks, dream sequences, and alternative scenarios, with dialogue in French, English, Arabic, and Italian, the film embodies its characters' discoveries about the plasticity of time, memory, and identity. If the result is splendid piffle disguised as ponderous philosophizing, viewers with benign amnesia need never try to guess what they missed.

Jeremy Irons, an infamous Humbert Humbert in Adrian Lyne's Lolita, again plays a character with onomastic echolalia - Valentin Valentin, so named because of his Valentine's Day birthday. Valentin Ditto is almost as versatile an actor as Irons himself; during the course of his lucrative, zestful larcenies, we see him impersonate a London detective, a prim old lady, a hippie busker, an art-collecting fop, and an elderly outlaw. While sailing a yacht solo around the world, he loses consciousness and finds himself in Morocco.

Jane Lester (Kaas) is a show-stopping chanteuse who is devastated when she cannot stop the trumpeter she loves from favoring another singer. During a gig at the piano bar of posh Hotel Jamai, she becomes catatonic and wanders off in the middle of a song. While Jane seeks out the mountain shrine of a dead Moroccan mystic who cures ailing pilgrims from beyond the grave, Valentin is sought for the brazen robbery of a rich, flirtatious Italian countess (Cardinale). Like the Fez medina, the film is an exotic, melodic mix, and one need not buy it all. — Steven G. Kellman

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Left to right: Audrey Tatou and Sergi Lopez in Dirty Pretty Things. Courtesy photo
Dirty Pretty Things

Dir. Stephen Frears; writ. Steve Knight; feat. Audrey Tatou, Sergi Lopez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong, Zlatko Buric (R)

"Strangers come to hotels to do dirty things," observes Sneaky (Lopez), the suave manager of a London hotel. "In the morning, it's our job to make things pretty again." Manipulating appearances, with the help of an invisible army of chambermaids, doormen, clerks, and prostitutes - most of them immigrants - Sneaky, himself from Spain, grins and prospers. Within the Chichester Suite, particularly dirty things go on: Sneaky extracts kidneys from desperate foreigners in exchange for forged passports.

Dirty Pretty Things is the story of Okwe (Ejiofor), who works the graveyard shift at Sneaky's Baltic Hotel and drives a cab by day. He stays awake by chewing qaat and snatches a few winks on a couch belonging to Senay (Tautou), a Turkish chambermaid. When that becomes impossible, a hospital orderly (Wong) lets him crash in the morgue. Before fleeing corruption in Nigeria, Okwe was a physician. When Sneaky discovers Okwe's medical background, he tries to coerce him into the grisly trade in human organs.

More than in My Beautiful Laundrette, Stephen Frears evokes a murky London of apprehensive outsiders who have entered illegally or work without permits. They will do anything to escape deportation and survive in Britain. When he discovers a human heart clogging a hotel toilet, Okwe looks into his own heart to determine what is the right thing and the legal thing and what dirty pretty things can help himself and Senay, whom he cannot help but love. A human heart in a hotel toilet is a grotesque improbability, and the camaraderie among newcomers from Nigeria, Turkey, India, China, and Russia is unlikely. With taut plotting and arresting performances, Dirty Pretty Things is a horror fable about dislocation and dispossession in which virtuous newcomers slay the visa monster. — Steven G. Kellman


Dir. Casey La Scala; writ. Ralph Sall; feat. Mike Vogel, Jennifer Morrison, Adam Brody, Vince Vieluf, Joey Kern, Jason Fondon, Dave Foley (PG-13)

Somewhere between the realm of morally sound, musically inclined just-for-kids movies and chronic boy-meets-girl, boy-pees-on-girl teen films lies a dark dimension of cinematography rarely executed for fear of Hollywood blacklisting or fan-led directoricide: the pre-teen movie. The mere mention of this black-hearted demon prickles hairs on the back of parental necks, as they still attempt to repress memories of MVP 2 (Most Vertical Primate), a pre-teen gem about a skateboarding monkey.

Good-natured anticipation gave way to uneasy anxiety at my screening of Grind, an in-your-face skate jam that takes four misguided friends across the country in hopes of catching the attention of a local hero with their sick skills. Oh, and all the crazy, wild, unsupervised fun that can happen on a four-day-long road trip funded by the gimpy sap friend, who seems to have a recurring lisp. I eyed the exits shiftily as the catcalls began: first the onscreen presence of Bam Margera, a uni-browed sellout who has become the poster child for unadulterated youth. Then Bobcat Golthwait as a flamboyant motel operator who trades pool cleaning services for a night in the "Honeymoon Suite." I secretly played a little game naming Hollywood burnouts to override my increasing panic at the uncouth remarks being made behind me by a trio of 12-year-olds regarding the movie's busty pro-hos (those are skater groupies, for the vernacularly challenged). This game provided the highlight of the movie: in which Ogre, of Revenge of the Nerds fame, made a cameo appearance as a beefy security guard. My heart jumped as he exclaimed, "You want me to get rid of these NERDS?" - and quickly sank when I realized I was the only person calling out in recognition. Ignorant glares were met with my ostracized smirk. Iliana Lopez

Russian Ark

Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov; writ. Sokurov, Boris Khaimsky, Anatoli Nikiforov, Svetlana Proskurina; feat. Sergei Dontsov, Mariya Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy, David Giorgobiani, Aleksandr Chaban, Maksim Sergeyev (NR)

"You can find almost everything in the movies - intrigue, drama - but not the breath of time. And this is what I am trying to capture," director Alexander Sokurov told the St. Petersburg Times. Shot in one long, Steadicam take, Russian Ark floats through the halls of St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum (the former Winter Palace), traversing time boundaries as it follows the ghost of a Russophobic French aristocrat, billed as the Stranger (Dustov). Ark is a rush of flurry and feathers - beautiful aristocrats in their finest gowns at giddy balls, bedazzled Red officer's uniforms, sparkling chandeliers, delicate china, sweeping expanses of marble whirling around spiral staircases housing suprises. As viewers, we stumble through the walls of history: Here, Peter the Great brutishly slaps down his son Alexis; in a great hall, Catherine the Great is heard moaning, perhaps at her final sit upon her porcelain throne; and in a narrow corridor, Princess Alexandra wraps herself in a fur, fearfully awaiting the proletariat. In between encounters with the tsars, the Stranger stumbles into the modern-day Hermitage: accosting tourists and art-lovers, and eavesdropping on the worries of the museum's actual curators.

Ark is drunk, obscenely beautiful, loud, and nonsensical, a surging lifeblood constrained by the merciless snows slavishly falling outside the walls. The Palace is an apt metaphor for the country: a core of decadence and deceit swathed in an austere exterior of gray and snow, filled to the brim with the indelible tyranny of the tsars. The film flies by too fast to grasp every scene, but the Palace's stunning interiors, combined with the thrill of the single take, make the film sublime entertainment for the uninitiated, and delicious food-for-thought for those so-inclined. Which, it seems, is an apt metaphor for history. — Laura M. Fries



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