From one of Julianne Moore’s most underrated performances to the form-bending collaborations between Wallace Shawn and André Gregory, the June 2015 Criterion Collection slate promises a little something for everyone. Featuring the release of six classic films, along with a special trilogy package that includes the exemplary cinema of Shawn and Gregory, this upcoming month’s Criterion Collection should easily whet the appetite of any cinephile.
Check out synopses of the films set to be released below, courtesy of Criterion.
“A Master Builder” (2014)
Twenty years after their brilliant cinema-theater experiment “Vanya on 42nd Street,” Wallace Shawn and André Gregory reunited to produce another idiosyncratic big-screen version of a classic play, this time Henrik Ibsen’s “Bygmester Solness” (“Master Builder Solness”). Brought pristinely to the screen by Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”), this is a compellingly abstract reimagining; it features Shawn (who also wrote the adaptation) as a visionary but tyrannical middle-aged architect haunted by figures from his past, most acutely an attractive, vivacious young woman (the breathtaking newcomer Lisa Joyce) who has appeared on his doorstep. Also featuring standout supporting performances from Julie Hagerty (“Airplane!”), Larry Pine (“Moonrise Kingdom”), and Gregory, “A Master Builder,” like “Vanya,” is the result of many years of rehearsals, a living, breathing, constantly shifting work that unites theater, film, and dream.
“My Dinner with André” (1981)
In this captivating and philosophical film directed by Louis Malle (“Au revoir les enfants”), actor and playwright Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride”) sits down with his friend the theater director André Gregory (“Vanya on 42nd Street”) at a restaurant on New York’s Upper West Side, and the pair proceed through an alternately whimsical and despairing confessional about love, death, money, and all the superstition in between. Playing variations on their own New York–honed personas, Shawn and Gregory, who also cowrote the screenplay, dive in with introspective intellectual gusto, and Malle captures it all with a delicate, artful detachment. A fascinating freeze-frame of cosmopolitan culture, “My Dinner with André” remains a unique work in cinema history.
“The Bridge” (1959)
The astonishing “The Bridge,” by Bernhard Wicki (“The Longest Day”), was the first major antiwar film to come out of Germany after World War II, as well as the nation’s first postwar film to be widely shown internationally, even securing an Oscar nomination. Set near the end of the war, it follows a group of teenage boys in a small town as they contend with everyday matters like school, girls, and parents, before enlisting as soldiers and being forced to defend their home turf in a confused, terrifying battle. This expressively shot, emotionally bruising drama dared to humanize young German soldiers at a historically tender moment, and proved influential for the coming generation of New German Cinema auteurs.
“The Fisher King” (1991)
A fairy tale grounded in poignant reality, the magnificent, Manhattan-set “The Fisher King,” by Terry Gilliam (“Brazil”), features Jeff Bridges (“The Big Lebowski”) and Robin Williams (“Good Will Hunting”) in two of their most brilliant roles. Bridges plays a former radio shock jock reconstructing his life after a scandal, and Williams is a homeless man on a quest for the Holy Grail—which he believes to be hidden somewhere on the Upper West Side. Unknowingly linked by their pasts, the two men aid each other on a fanciful journey to redemption. This singular American odyssey features a witty script by Richard La Gravenese (“The Bridges of Madison County”), evocative cinematography by Roger Pratt (“12 Monkeys”), and superb supporting performances by Amanda Plummer (“12 Monkeys”) and an Oscar-winning Mercedes Ruehl (“Married to the Mob”), all harnessed by Gilliam into a humane, funny modern-day myth.
“Five Easy Pieces” (1970)
Following Jack Nicholson’s breakout supporting turn in “Easy Rider,” director Bob Rafelson (“The King of Marvin Gardens”) devised a powerful leading role for the new star in the searing character study “Five Easy Pieces.” Nicholson plays the now iconic cad Bobby Dupea, a shiftless thirtysomething oil rigger and former piano prodigy immune to any sense of responsibility, who returns to his upper-middle-class childhood home, blue-collar girlfriend (“Nashville”‘s Karen Black, in an Oscar-nominated role) in tow, to see his estranged ailing father. Moving in its simplicity and gritty in its textures, “Five Easy Pieces” is a lasting example of early 1970s American alienation.
“Valerie and Her Week of Wonders”
A girl on the verge of womanhood finds herself in a sensual fantasyland of vampires, witchcraft, and other threats in this eerie and mystical movie daydream. “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” serves up an endlessly looping, nonlinear fairy tale, set in a quasi-medieval landscape. Ravishingly shot, enchantingly scored, and spilling over with surreal fancies, this enticing phantasmagoria from director Jaromil Jireš (“The Joke”) is among the most beautiful oddities of the Czechoslovak New Wave.
Plus, “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” (1970)
When André Gregory and Wallace Shawn—theater directors, writers, actors, and longtime friends—sat down for a stimulating meal in 1981’s “My Dinner with André,” they not only ended up with one of cinema’s unlikeliest iconic scenarios but launched a film collaboration that would continue to pay creative dividends for decades. The subsequent projects they made together for the screen—1994’s “Vanya on 42nd Street,” a passionate read-through of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and 2014’s striking Henrik Ibsen interpretation “A Master Builder”—are penetrating works that exist on the edge of theater and film, and that both emerged out of many years of rehearsals with loyal troupes of actors. Gregory and Shawn’s unique contributions to the cinematic landscape are shape-shifting, challenging, and entertaining works about the process of creation.
For more information, visit Criterion’s website.