Visually this is so rich that it’s a shame I didn’t care much about the characters, especially once the obligatory revelatory flashbacks started unspooling. Park’s oddly cropped compositions and strangely timed edits have a discomfiting elegance that goes a long way, but he’s less in control of story — which is not as important in an exercise buoyed by flamboyance (cf. Oldboy) than it is in the kind of Hitchcockian suspense thriller Stoker occasionally emulates. Still, as female coming-of-age yarns go, this one is suitably creepy and appropriately nails a sensation of being turned on by the bad boys, though you know they’ll bite you once they get under your skirt.

The Housemaid


I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, but if I did, Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid would surely be among them. This remake undermines the unsettling achievement of the iconic original film, made in 1960 by Kim Ki-Young, by constructing an explicitly classist framework for its characters. It replaces the Korean everyman at the center of the earlier film with a sexually smug cartoon character for whom wine and blow jobs are totems of his boundless leisure and power. By doing these things, it panders to an audience that craves victims and villains. It’s a lesser achievement, and a more simplistic one. But it’s glossy and lush and full of gorgeously decadent people doing their gorgeously decadent thing. In its way, it’s a delight.

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Broken Embraces

Penélope Cruz and José Luis Gómez in <i>Broken Embraces</i>

My review of Broken Embraces is online at

The box describes Broken Embraces as an “acclaimed tale of sex, secrets and cinema,” which makes me go, “Uh-oh.” Pedro Almodóvar reliably delivers heady blends of glamour, melodrama, and emotional turmoil, but such stuff still runs hot and cold from movie to movie. So although I liked his Bad Education, a film that was all about “sex, secrets and cinema,” the prospect of Almodóvar returning to the tortured-filmmaker well filled me with trepidation.

Wonderful Angélique

Merveilleuse Angelique.jpgThis is a real comedown after the first film in the series, which ended with Angelique de Peyrac enduring an abrupt fall from grace and apparently aligning herself with the Parisian underworld, bent on vengeance. Wonderful Angélique, however, turns out to be a much more straightforward romantic melodrama, showing Angelique as a status-driven career woman and serial monogamist who pulls herself out of poverty as an entrepreneurial restaurateur and hitches herself to royalty by marrying her cousin, Philippe de Plessis-Bellieres (Claude Giraud). She starts the film in thrall to her old sweetheart Nicolas (Giuliano Gemma), eventually falls for the anti-authoritatarian provocateur known as the “dirty poet” (Jean-Louis Trintignant) — the kind of charming rogue who introduces himself by groping your breasts while you sleep — and finally settles for Philippe. There’s a callback to the assassination plot from the first film, but the storyline feels much more middle-of-the-road-historical-romance this time around and the sense of rollicking, slightly bawdy fun has been diminished. Angélique’s wardrobe is still an enticingly fabulous manifestation of costume drama and the whole thing is lovely to look at but somehow the woman herself seems to have lost a stake in the story as appealingly fierce edge of Michéle Mercier’s performance has been dulled. A disappointment.

Angélique, Marquise of the Angels


AngeliqueWhile the standard-bearers of the nouvelle vague were off making stuff like The Soft Skin, Contempt, and Muriel, le cinema du papa was cranking right along with this historical potboiler, a romance about the lavish and dangerous love shared between Angélique (Michèle Mercier), the daughter of a poor nobleman living in the French countryside, and Joffrey de Peyrac (Robert Hossein), a wealthy count with a reputation for deviltry who essentially buys her hand in marriage. Peyrac takes Angelique away from the common people she loves — and from Nicolas (Giuliano Gemma), the strapping young fieldhand who first took her fancy — but wins her over by declining to force himself on her. Instead, the cold, cold cockles of her heart are thawed when the limping, scarred Peyrac manages to perforate the chest of a rival in a swordfight. By contemporary standards, this is hilarious stuff — yet somehow it’s still stirring, swooning through its melodramatic paces with the speed and slippery, unstoppable heft of the proverbial greased pig. Think of a Francophone cross between Gone With the Wind and Barbarella.

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