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Lives and loves in Paris

October 09, 2003|Kevin Thomas

Prolific New Wave pioneer Claude Chabrol's 50th film, "Flower of Evil," opens next week at selected theaters, but this weekend, the Laemmle Theaters' La Nouvelle Vague series affords a rare opportunity to see his fourth feature, "Les Bonnes Femmes" ("Good Time Girls"). Made in 1960, it was only released in the U.S. in 1976.

Prophetically, it plays like a feminist film as Chabrol explores the drab existences of four Paris shopgirls. Jane (Bernadette Lafont), Rita (Lucille Saint-Simon), Jacqueline (Clothilde Joano) and Ginette (Stephane Audran) are all clerks at an appliance store owned by a flamboyant old tyrant (Pierre Bertin).

Their Paris is gray and unromantic. It is a world of cheap nightclubs and cafes filled with stale music and loud patrons.

Uninhibited and rather coarse, Jane seeks only a man. So does Ginette. A pretty, petite blond, Rita has landed a priggish fiance (Claude Berri, the long-renowned director). Jacqueline, the most vulnerable of the four, indulges in romantic fantasies about a husky biker (Mario David).Although, to be sure, there's a murder in "Les Bonnes Femmes," Chabrol shoved aside the mechanics of suspense almost entirely to engage in a sensitive study of character. As a result, "Les Bonnes Femmes" remains one of his most individual and most satisfying works.

A boy's flight

The 2003 ARPA International Film Festival opens Friday at the ArcLight, where it runs through Sunday, with the screening of Paul Feig's "I Am David," a heart-tugging account of a 12-year-old boy (Ben Tibber) who escapes from a communist Bulgaria concentration camp in 1952 with Denmark as his destination. Based on Danish author Ann Holm's semiautobiographical novel for children, it is carried capably by the young Tibber and sparked by a beautifully nuanced performance by Joan Plowright as a perceptive Swiss woman whom he dares to trust. Q&A with Feig follows the screening.

Red pavement

The Laemmle Theaters' Documentary Days 2003 series continues with Bret Wood's endlessly fascinating "Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Films," which calls attention to the history of the Highway Safety Foundation and its affiliates. Between 1959 and 1974, the group produced a series of films incorporating grisly actual accident scene footage as a way to help reduce slaughter on the nation's streets and highways and aimed primarily at high school students. Through his interviewees, Wood places these films in the history of educational, industrial and safety films.

The foundation's ambitious founder, Richard Wayman, branched out into other kinds of films, such as police training films, including a controversial film on camera surveillance in public restrooms. Wood and his participants suggest that the humanizing of educational films in the '70s, which turned away from scare tactics, coupled with the rise of violence in movies and TV and finally video games, also rendered the films obsolete.

Foundation producer Earle Deems believes today's teens would be immune to his films, which were sincere and not intended to be exploitative. Ironically, the films have ended up being distributed as cult videos for those who like their images of violence and death authentic.



"Les Bonnes Femmes," 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Fairfax Cinemas, (323) 655-4010; Oct. 18-19, Playhouse 7, Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and Oct. 25-26, Monica 4-Plex, (310) 394- 9741.

"I Am David," 8 p.m. Friday, ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-4226.

"Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Films," 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and midnight Friday and Saturday, Fairfax Cinemas, (323) 655-4010; 11 a.m. screenings only Oct. 18-19, Monica 4-Plex, (310) 394-9741; Oct. 25-26, Playhouse 7, Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and Nov. 1-2, Fallbrook 7, West Hills, (818) 340-8710.

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