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This Week in Home Video: Documentary ‘Ballet 422’ and Three 1970s Criterion Films

This Week in Home Video: Documentary 'Ballet 422' and Three 1970s Criterion Films

It’s a slow home video release day this week, so we’ll try to keep it brief. “Ballet 422” leads the pack this week. Directed by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes – who photographed Antonio Campos’ “Afterschool” and Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” as well as Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” and her HBO series “Girls” – “Ballet 422” follows choreographer Justin Peck while he puts together the New York City Ballet’s 422nd original piece. Lipes adopts a fly-on-the-wall approach to documenting the NYC Ballet, eschewing talking head interviews in favor of more impressionistic poeticism. Judd Apatow recently hired Lipes to photograph his new film “Trainwreck,” starring Amy Schumer, so if you’re interested in catching up on Lipes’ work before he blows up, now’s your chance.

Next on the docket comes this week’s Criterion releases, all of which are from the 1970’s. We have two films by the Greek-French director Costa-Gavras, known for making commercial cinema with overtly political themes by streamlining complex history into a suspenseful narrative. The first film is “The Confession” (1970), starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, about a government official who’s arrested by a mysterious organization that pressures him into confessing imaginary crimes. The second film is “State of Siege” (1972), which also stars Yves Montand, about a USAID official who’s posted in Uruguay and kidnapped by urban guerrillas. Both films are based on actual incidents and unpack uncomfortable truths within our shared global history. The final Criterion is the West German film “The Merchant of Four Seasons” directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It follows the a fruit-peddler living in 1950’s West Germany struggling to cope with an uncaring, indifferent society.

More thoughts from in and outside the Criticwire Network:

“Ballet 422”
Criticwire Average: B+

Noel Murray, The Dissolve

The result is a documentary that’s both impressionistic and informative—admiring the magic of dance even in its formative stages, while also turning the making of art into a kind of procedural. Read more.

“The Confession”

Vincent Canby, The New York Times

It is a harrowing film of intellectual and emotional anguish, dramatized by the breathless devices of melodrama. Costa-Gavras employs abrupt jump cuts and flashes forward as well as back. He underscores the desperation of the meeting of some hunted men in a private apartment with the sounds of children roughhousing in the next room. It may, in fact, be one of the most aurally resonant movies I’ve ever seen. It is full of ordinary sounds made somehow ominous, like the slamming of doors (car, house, prison) and footsteps (on wood, brick, concrete). Read more.

“State of Siege”

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times/RogerEbert.com

“State of Siege” exists in an interesting moral middle ground. The A.I.D. official (played with a resigned cynicism by Yves Montand) is clearly made to seem wrong, but what is the correct course for the guerrillas to take? If they murder him, one observes, the world will speak of his seven children. If they don’t they will appear impotent and will lose credibility. They don’t want to kill him, but as he himself observes, in a way they will have to. Neither the local nor the American governments will agree to the guerrilla demands (and Montand says he wouldn’t either, if the decision were his). Read more.

“The Merchant of Four Seasons”

Don Drucker, The Chicago Reader

Rainer Werner Fassbinder has a genius for detailing the pain of suppressed emotional states, and even at its most achingly deliberate, his style in dealing with the petit bourgeois mentality is a source of endless fascination. This 1971 feature, originally shot for German television, chronicles the struggles of a fruit peddler to build a semblance of a life for himself and his wife — with whom he maintains only the barest contact — in postwar Germany. Read more.

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