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SCREENING ROOM

Joan of Arc Story Opens 'French Films'

August 10, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American Cinematheque's formidable but richly rewarding "Cahiers du Cinema Selects Recent French Films" opens Friday at 7 p.m. at the Directors Guild with the first part of New Wave pioneer Jacques Rivette's utterly compelling, nearly six-hour "Jeanne La Pucelle," which combines a terse tone with a you-are-there immediacy in its telling of the life of Joan of Arc (Sandrine Bonnaire, implacably heroic), suggesting, with feminist implications, that Joan lost control of her destiny the moment her dream of getting her king crowned at Reims was fulfilled.

Part 1 of "Jeanne La Pucelle" will be followed at 10:15 p.m with Philippe Garrel's "The Birth of Love," unavailable for review, which stars '60s icons Lou Castel and Jean-Pierre Leaud as men who've reached middle age but who are still growing up emotionally.

The title of Jacques Doillon's spare, rigorous and absorbing 95-minute "Le Jeune Werther" (screening Saturday at 4 p.m.) refers to Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther," which its key figure, a Paris adolescent (Ismael Jole-Menebhi) reads, discovering a sense of recognition as he and his school friends try to make sense of the suicide of a brilliant, rebellious and secretive classmate.

We are able to feel fully the stinging impact of sudden, hard-to-fathom death upon a group of likable kids, none of whom is likely to have reached his or her 16th birthday. Part 2 of "Jeanne la Pucelle" screens at 6 p.m.

In Arnaud Desplechin's brisk, succinct 52-minute "The Life of the Dead," screening Saturday at 9:30 p.m., a large family converges on a country estate to await word about the fate of one its young men, Patrick, a 20-year-old athlete who has attempted suicide. Desplechin spends more time with Patrick's many cousins than with their parents, and, as his restless camera moves back and forth between informal gatherings, we are made painfully aware of how little these relatives know or genuinely care about him, with the exception of one young woman (Marianne Denicourt), who quietly struggles to come to terms with Patrick's almost certain death.

*

It will be followed by Leos Carax's drenchingly romantic, dazzlingly elliptical 105-minute "Bad Blood," in which a young man's (Denis Lavant) grand passion for the beautiful lover (Juliette Binoche) of a veteran gangster (Michel Piccoli) matters far more than the gang's attempt to snatch an AIDS-like virus culture. This complex, boldly venturesome film announces the arrival of a major new filmmaker.

Chris Marker's 116-minute "The Last Bolshevik" (Sunday at 1 p.m.) is a flat-out great documentary by one of the masters of the form. Structured as if it were a series of letters to a friend, "The Last Bolshevik" surveys the tumultuous events of 20th-Century Russia through the life of a neglected but major director, Alexander Medvedkin, who conveniently was born in 1900 and lived long enough to experience the beginning of perestroika , dying in 1984.

Medvedkin, whose fate is described by a friend as "the tragedy of a pure communist in a world of would-be communits," was an inspired avant-garde satirist whose films, notably "Happiness" and "New Moscow," were so innovative and critical that they were inevitably banned.

Equally tantalizing as clips from those two films are clips from a series of films--also banned--he made on his '30s film-studio train coach, documenting life all over the Soviet Union, allowing workers to speak frankly about conditions under the collectivist system.

At 165 minutes, Herve Le Roux's "The Great Happiness" (Sunday at 3:15 p.m.) actually requires a greater commitment than "Jeanne La Pucelle." Its jaunty take on the lives of some Parisian film and theater students, who spend most of their time hanging out, becomes wearying after the first hour.

It will be followed at 6:30 by Claude Chabrol's 116-minute documentary "The Eye of Vichy," which offers an over-long, repetitive but fascinating view of Occupied France via newsreels and other propaganda footage. The films will be introduced by a Cahiers editor, Thierry Jousse.

Information: (213) 466-FILM.

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