“One of the most visually ravishing pictures of all time,” THE CONFORMIST opens February 3 at the Royal, February 10 at the Laemmle Glendale.
Never has The Conformist been more timely. The new restoration of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 masterpiece about a repressed Italian who becomes a fascist hitman is inspiring a lot of thoughtful journalism. “It’s not the ideology that attracts people to fascism,” writes Eric Alterman in the American Prospect. “It’s the permission it offers to ordinary people to behave like thugs.” In his recent New York Magazine/Vulture review, headlined “It’s Time to See The Conformist Again,” critic Bilge Ebiri describes the film as “one of the most visually ravishing pictures of all time.” Ebiri’s piece is well worth excerpting at some length:
“All great films, at some point, ask the question: Who am I? The greatest films go beyond asking this on a narrative level; through their very form, they embody the question of identity. And what makes Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970) the very greatest of movies isn’t just its staggering, legendary beauty, but its maze-like journey into its protagonist’s — and, by extension, its creator’s — mind.
“The Conformist has just been rereleased in a lovely new 4K restoration, which is certainly cause for celebration given that it’s one of the most visually ravishing pictures of all time. (It’s currently playing New York’s Film Forum, and will soon travel around the country.) There’s no real debate over Bertolucci’s achievement; this is one of those canonical titles whose place in history is a given at this point. You can see its influence in The Godfather series, in Taxi Driver, in movies as varied as Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Dick Tracy, Call Me by Your Name, and Clueless — and yet, it remains as startling and revolutionary as it was upon original release, in part because few filmmakers nowadays are willing to embrace the sensuous and the monstrous at the same time. You never quite know what you’re supposed to feel at any given moment of The Conformist, because it asks you to feel everything.”
Some praise from past years:
“Bertolucci’s boldest and most expressive film.” – Calum Marsh, Village Voice
“It’s easy to overlook how stark The Conformist‘s political and allegorical message is because it’s just so damn beautiful.” – Aja Romano, Vox
“One of the greatest-looking movies ever made.” – Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader
“Bernardo Bertolucci is a master of turning harsh realities into free-flowing dreams and fantasies of sex and power into bracing, often uncomfortable moments of truth…The Conformist is perhaps his richest and most beautiful work.” – Max O’Connell, IndieWire
We are proud to open The Conformist at the Royal on February 3 and the Laemmle Glendale on February 10.
Based on Stefan Zweig’s final novella, CHESS STORY “shows how incredibly quickly a seemingly firmly anchored free world can tip over into a dictatorship.”
Vienna, 1938: Austria is occupied by the Nazis. Dr. Josef Bartok (Oliver Masucci) is preparing to flee to America with his wife Anna when he is arrested by the Gestapo. As a former notary to the deposed Austrian aristocracy, he is told to help the local Gestapo leader gain access to their private bank accounts in order to fund the Nazi regime. Refusing to cooperate, Bartok is locked in solitary confinement. Just as his mind is beginning to crack, Bartok happens upon a book of famous chess games. To withstand the torture of isolation, Bartok disappears into the world of chess, maintaining his sanity only by memorizing every move. As the action flashes forward to a transatlantic crossing on which he is a passenger, it seems as though Bartok has finally found freedom. But recounting his story to his fellow travelers, it’s clear that his encounters with both the Gestapo and with the royal game itself have not stopped haunting him. Adapted with opulent attention to period detail by filmmaker and opera director Philipp Stölzl, Chess Story brings Stefan Zweig’s stirring final novella to life.
Chess Story opens January 20 at the Monica Film Center.
“Stölzl craftily melds the genres of period drama and psychological thriller, not for the purposes of reheated nostalgia, but to shed a cold light on the recursions of historical trauma.” ~ William Repass, Slant Magazine
“The adaptation of Chess Story is one of the rare cases in which the film has not only managed to leave the original behind, but to surpass it. Visually intoxicating.” ~ Süddeutsche Zeitung
STATEMENT BY DIRECTOR PHILIPP STÖLZL
“I encountered The Royal Game [the alternative title of Chess Story] at a very early age. Zweig’s mysterious and impressive story etched itself into my memory and is one of those stories that have accompanied me in one way or another through my entire life. When Philipp Worm and Tobias Walker told me about their plans to make a new film version, I was delighted, read the screenplay with interest – and loved it.
“Our aim was to make a sensuous, intense feature film that would appeal to a wider audience with a brilliant cast, tight production and powerful visuals that really fill the whole screen. The contrast between claustrophobic imprisonment and the expanse of the ship that pounds across the Atlantic to America through the endless mist creates a field of tension in which Zweig’s literary metaphor can be told as a “big” story.
“The nice thing about the very courageous approach of screenwriter Eldar Grigorian to The Royal Game is that it represents a kind of condensation of the surreal secret that the novella already contains. The Kafkaesque pitch Zweig has chosen for his narrative becomes a decisive inspiration on the journey of the material to the big screen.
“On the one hand there is the intense, restrictive chamber play about the duel between Bartok and Gestapo man Böhm, who interrogates him and has him tortured. Then there is the – seeming – voyage to America and on board the game against the silent and enigmatic world chess champion. The persistent mist gives the journey something surreal, as if the giant ship were a barge of the dead, and the passengers mere ghosts. For this reason, the fact that this all turns out to be a dream in Bartok’s head is not a denouement or a surprise in the traditional sense, but more the final chord of a gloomily poetic tale. And finally, the prisoner’s battle against his own insanity in the solitary confinement cell, which he tries to escape from with his “mental chess” and at the same time achieves the opposite, sliding further in instead. Here, the film is an intense trip, because we are very close to our protagonist and accompany him down into the abyss and mental confusion.
“All these narrative levels are interwoven and initially “make sense.” But the longer Bartok is in solitary confinement and loses touch with reality, the more mysterious things become on the ship, the more the audience also become lost in a labyrinth that resembles an oppressive daydream. To this extent I would say that in this film, Zweig’s more distanced experimental design becomes a cathartic, intense and emotional vexatious game that will hopefully enchain and grip the audience.
“Zweig’s story did not end the way the film does. The bleak, dismal ending of his novella expresses the fear of impending Nazi world rule. We, however, know that it turned out differently, that it became light again after a dark night. And we want the audience to leave the cinema with this meaningful and encouraging certainty.
“The backdrop to all this is the true story about Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria. This political level of The Royal Game makes the film timelessly relevant because it shows how incredibly quickly a seemingly firmly anchored free world can tip over into a dictatorship. It tells of how thin the layer of skin of a civilisation is and how close to the surface barbarism lies. And it tells us in this way to be alert.” ~ Philipp Stölzl, 19 October 2020
“If watching a Jafar Panahi film is something of a political act, then it is also a soul-nourishing one.” NO BEARS opens Friday at the Royal, January 20 at the Claremont, Glendale and Town Center.
A statement from Jafar Panahi, unjustly imprisoned since July 2022 by the fascist theocrats in Tehran:
“We are filmmakers. We are part of Iranian independent cinema. For us, to live is to create. We create works that are not commissioned. Therefore, those in power see us as criminals. Independent cinema reflects its own times. It draws inspiration from society. And cannot be indifferent to it.
“The history of Iranian cinema witnesses the constant and active presence of independent directors who have struggled to push back censorship and to ensure the survival of this art. While on this path, some were banned from making films, others were forced into exile or reduced to isolation. And yet, the hope of creating again is a reason for existence. No matter where, when, or under what circumstances, an independent filmmaker is either creating or thinking about creation. We are filmmakers, independent ones.”
Some of the copious praise for No Bears, the film he finished just before being arrested:
“If watching a Jafar Panahi film is something of a political act, then it is also a soul-nourishing one.” ~ Barry Hertz, Globe and Mail
Which are the ten best movies of 2022?
We all like a good Top Ten list. They’re fun to make, entertaining to read, and amusing to argue over. In 2003 I included Love, Actually on my Top Ten list and an erudite film critic friend practically did a spit take he was so shocked I would put such an admittedly middlebrow entertainment among my other choices, which were more esoteric and in line with his tastes. But, hey! Enjoy the art you enjoy and don’t be ashamed of it.
This is a roundabout way of saying we’ll be collecting your Top Ten lists the first week of 2023. We’ll include the entry form in that week’s newsletter and, assuming he catches up on the buzzy films he hasn’t seen yet, Greg Laemmle’s Top Ten list. By submitting your list you’ll be entered into a raffle for free Laemmle gift cards!
For inspiration, here are some Top Ten lists the nation’s leading film critics have submitted and — good news! — many of the titles — No Bears, One Fine Morning, EO, and Return to Seoul — are either now playing or coming soon so you can see them as they were meant to be seen, theatrically. They are hyperlinked below.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
1. No Bears
3. The Eternal Daughter
6. Decision to Leave
8. Crimes of the Future
9. One Fine Morning
Manohla Dargis, New York Times
2. Petite Maman
4. No Bears
6. The Eternal Daughter
8. Decision to Leave
9. Expedition Content
10. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
- The Fabelmans
- The Batman
- Holy Spider
- Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody
- Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb
- 13: The Musical
- Saint Omer
- Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
- The Batman
- After Yang
- The Whale
- You Won’t Be Alone
3. No Bears
4. Return to Seoul
5. Riotsville, USA
6. We Met in Virtual Reality
7. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
8. Emily the Criminal
9. The Cathedral
10. Top Gun: Maverick
1. The Banshees of Inisherin
2. The Fabelmans
3. Decision to Leave
7. No Bears
8. Everything Everywhere All at Once
“A gem of the Iranian new wave,” THE RUNNER opens Friday at the Royal & Town Center.
ONLY IN THEATRES – 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Add your review!
Only in Theaters, the new documentary about the Laemmle family and their film 85-year-old foreign and art film exhibition business, is a critical success, universally praised by critics and audiences alike. You can add your review here (scroll down to the “rate and review” section and click on “what did you think of the movie?”). Now playing at the Monica Film Center.
“The kind of film where the viewer loses sense of time itself, mesmerized by the beauty and melancholy of each shot,” NANNY opens Friday.
Nanny, the acclaimed psychological horror fable of displacement, is about Aisha (Anna Diop), a woman who recently emigrated from Senegal. She is hired to care for the daughter of an affluent couple (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector) living in New York City. Haunted by the absence of the young son she left behind, Aisha hopes her new job will afford her the chance to bring him to the U.S., but becomes increasingly unsettled by the family’s volatile home life. As his arrival approaches, a violent presence begins to invade both her dreams and her reality, threatening the American dream she is painstakingly piecing together.
Nanny won the Grand Jury Prize for drama at Sundance at the Directors to Watch award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and is a nominee for the Someone to Watch prize at the Spirit Awards. We open the film Friday at the Monica Film Center, Claremont 5 and NoHo 7.
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