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SCREENING ROOM

Something to 'Shout' About

American Cinematheque continues its tribute to director Jerzy Skolimowski.

April 09, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American Cinematheque's "The Outsider: A Tribute to Jerzy Skolimowski" continues Friday at Raleigh Studios at 7:15 p.m. with "The Shout" (1978), a stunning 1978 film from a highly venturesome stylist long obsessed with the psychological struggle for dominance within relationships. This retrospective is a key Cinematheque event, reminding us anew of the Polish director's unique power as a filmmaker and making available rare early films.

A mysterious, forceful stranger descends upon the isolated North Devon home of a quiet, polite married couple (Susanna York, John Hurt). Working from a Robert Graves story, Skolimowski and his co-writer Michael Austin introduce an element of the supernatural in their development of the eternal triangle.

"The Shout" opens with some perplexing, dislocating images and proceeds to a game of cricket getting underway on the grounds of an insane asylum. As Alan Bates prepares to keep score, he begins telling his character's story to a hapless young man (Tim Curry) assisting him.

In flashback we see Bates, a wanderer, receiving the hospitality of York and Hurt, an avant-garde composer. There's an instantaneous, powerful attraction between York and Bates, who speaks of his weird experiences in the Australian outback where he claims he learned the aborigine's gift for shouting a person to death. Armed with earplugs, Hurt takes Bates to some nearby sand dunes for a demonstration, which serves ingeniously to unleash the element of the supernatural in the battle of wits soon underway between the two men.

"The Shout" unfolds with terrific tension and economy as it communicates through sound and image rather than through conventional exposition.

Bates is a thunderingly eloquent madman, York a poised if bored lady-turned-uninhibited-wanton and Hurt one of Skolimowski's typical ineffectual heroes, in this instance a glib, superficial type who proves unexpectedly resourceful. Robert Stephens is the rather grand chief medical officer at the mental institution. "The Shout" screens again on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

Screening Friday at 9:30 p.m. is the challenging and exceedingly complex "Walk-Over" (1965), which plays like a continuation of Skolimowski's ambitious debut film, "Identification Marks: None," which screened last weekend. "Walk-Over" has a similar, though more formal, elliptical style, and unfolds in 35 highly visual, often breathtaking takes. It's as unsettling as the first film and is again an oblique commentary on life in a grim Communist state in which a boxer (Skolimowski, himself an amateur boxer), a onetime engineering student expelled from his university a decade ago, arrives by train in an unnamed city.

There he resumes a desultory relationship with a take-charge woman (Elzbieta Czyzewska), an upwardly mobile engineering bureaucrat. She's an ex-Stalinist who places statistics before safety. He enters a factory boxing tournament that has decidedly ironic, equivocal consequences. Again, Skolimowski casts himself as a man who feels he's a failure, one who senses time is running out for him and whose spirit is profoundly at odds with his rigid, stifling society.

Following "Walk-Over" is "Le Depart" (1967), which celebrates poignantly that time in a young man's life when he discovers that girls are more important than cars. And no young man ever loved cars more than Skolimowski's ingratiating, impoverished hero (perfectly played by Jean-Pierre Leaud).

The series of scrapes that he gets into because of his determination provides the Polish director, who's unabashedly on the side of youth, with the opportunity to comment on the adult world Leaud is about to enter. With scarcely an exception, the adults in this film are self-centered, dishonest and quite ready to sexually exploit Leaud and his girlfriend (Catherine Duport).

Skolimowski, however, is able to see humor in these encounters, and that his resilient hero can do the same is the source of this comedy's charm. Like other young directors who emerged from Eastern Europe, Skolimowski has a very wry sense of humor and a highly developed feel for the ridiculous combined with a great compassion and concern for the individual.

His style is appropriately skittish and stunningly set off by some wonderful camera work that dramatically captures the classic beauty of Brussels, as ancient as the hero and heroine are young, a marvelously dissonant score and, above all, by Leaud himself.

Ever since Leaud made his debut in Truffaut's "400 Blows" he has been one of the most expressive young actors on the screen. "Le Depart" is full of funny offbeat bits by him, the best of which is his wordless alarm at a pass made at him by a rich matron.

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