It's a shame that no U.S. distributor has picked up Pascal Kane's "Liberty Belle" between the time it was shown early last year in a French series at the Nuart and its resurfacing tonight at 8 at UCLA Melnitz atop the closing bill of the "Contemporary French Cinema" series.
It is a singular example of confident and incisive film making on the part of Cahiers du Cinema critic Kane, who catches his young hero (Jerome Zucca) between opposing clandestine political groups during the bitter time of Algeria's war of independence. "Liberty Belle," which takes its title from a pinball machine, is a classic coming-of-age drama that moves from a Paris schoolroom to seedy prostitute-ridden side streets and murky nightclubs, culminating in a rush to the Swiss border.
Zucca may be the eternal innocent, yet--as in the films of Godard--he and his friends never seem really young but rather already disillusioned, in a way their American peers rarely seem.
Screening with it is the easily dismissed "The Return of Christopher Columbus," a flat, amateurish film about an American folk singer who searches out his French provincial roots and becomes a rape suspect (which turns out an entirely gratuitous red herring). John Dobrynine isn't even convincingly American in the lead. Phone: (213) 825-2345.
Satyajit Ray's "Days and Nights in the Forest" (1970) tells of four men, approaching middle age, who take a trip to the country after one of them, a star cricket player, is jilted by his girl. What emerges gradually, and not without humor, is a group portrait of individuals whose destinies are fixed absolutely. Self-indulgent, bourgeois, callous in regard to the country people they incessantly exploit, they are nevertheless gnawingly vulnerable--and thus human.
Co-billed tonight as the final offering in the Nuart's Ray series is his fine 1971 "Company Limited," viewing with understated irony and compassion a young Calcutta executive (Barun Chanda) selling himself out in order to get ahead. Phones: (213) 478-6379, 479-5269.
The Nuart's Wednesday-evening Ozu/Mizoguchi series concludes with Mizoguchi's classic "Ugetsu" (1953), one of the most famous of Japanese films, an exquisite ghost story in which potter Masayuki Mori is bewitched by Machiko Kyo's beautiful phantom, and Ozu's superb 1934 silent "Story of the Floating Weeds." This subtle, deeply felt work concentrates on the leader (Takeshi Sakamoto) of a seedy group of traveling players and his brief encounter with his nearly adult son (Hideo Mitsui) who has always believed him to be his uncle.
James Whale's "One More River" (1934), derived from the last novel in John Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga," sensitively depicts the plight of a forthright, independent-thinking well-born woman (Diana Wynyard) victimized by the lingering mores of the Age of Victoria when she flees her brutal husband (Colin Clive) and accepts the solace (but no more than that) of a nice young man (Frank Lawton) who adores her. Wynyard has a timeless cool elegance and directness, and the very handsome, large-scale "One More River" (called "the most British movie ever made in Hollywood" by film historian William K. Everson) seems strongly feminist today.
With it, at UCLA Melnitz at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Browning/Whale series, is Browning's "West of Zanzibar" (1928), which may well represent the apotheosis of the Browning-Lon Chaney collaborations in their obsession with the tragically grotesque redeemed by extreme acts of self-sacrifice. In this most lurid of adventures Chaney is a magician, crippled by wife-stealer Lionel Barrymore, whose thirst for revenge takes him to a jungle outpost.
Correction: Silent film expert Herb Sterne points out that it was Priscilla Bonner, not Priscilla Dean, who was Harry Langdon's leading lady in "The Strong Man."