CLASSIC CAIN AND ABEL IN ‘HAPPY ‘49’
Among the films screening in the UCLA Film Archive’s New Yugoslavian Cinema series is Stole Popov’s rich, harrowing saga “Happy ’49" (screening Saturday at Melnitz Theater at 7:30 p.m.). Yugoslavia’s official Oscar entry, it is set in the same bleak Stalinist era as Emir Kusturica’s “When Father Was Away on Business,” a 1985 Academy Award nominee for best foreign film.
Striking an even more somber note than Kusturica, Popov re-creates a period of paranoia when Tito was still gathering strength to defy Stalin, a time of political witch hunting. Against this background Popov tells a classic Cain-and-Abel tale in which a decent older brother (Meto Jovanovski) is jailed on a flimsy political pretext, without trial and for an indefinite period, while his flashy, cynical younger brother (Svetozar Cvetkovic) drifts further and further into a life of crime. For all the suffering “Happy ’49" depicts, it is a vital, intimate epic of intense passion and stunning visual beauty. The series, which calls attention to the flowering of the Yugoslavian cinema in recent years, begins Wednesday and includes short films, student films and documentaries as well as several other features. For more information and full schedule: (213) 206-8013.
The Nuart’s second annual “Greek Festival,” which thus far has been impressive, concludes Sunday on a mixed note. Nikos Koundouros’ “Rosa Bonaparte” is one of those all-stops-out disasters that is compelling in all its pretentious awfulness because it’s been made by a clearly talented film maker struggling for an ambitious, stylized symbolism. Indeed, Koundouros’ “1922" was one of the best films in last year’s festival.
In “Rosa Bonaparte,” as in the earlier film, the Turks are the heavies as Crete revolts against the Ottoman Empire in 1897, but instead of experiencing the fear of the Cretans, we’re swamped in the heady atmosphere of a bordello. It’s run by a Russian-born Marseilles madam (lush Marina Vlady, well-cast but wasted) who calls herself Rosa Bonaparte and caters to one and all, especially the drunken Englishmen and Russians of the allied fleets, who are supposed to be keeping control of the island nation.
There’s so much languid posturing, tepid orgying and humorless Angst that you’re reminded more of Fassbinder’s “Querelle” than Koundouros’ own “1922,” which has a style far more appropriate to this film.
Luckily, “Rosa Bonaparte” (a.k.a. “Bordello”) has been paired with Jules Dassin’s sunny, evergreen “Never on Sunday,” which is just as much fun as it was when it was released in 1960. Melina Mercouri was never so radiant as the Pireus prostitute whom a fuddy-duddy American intellectual (Dassin himself) tries to reform. It’s well worth pointing out that Mercouri, in her current role as her country’s ministry of culture, has led the renaissance of the Greek cinema. Information: (213) 478-6379, 479-5269.
The late, irreplaceable Cary Grant appears in two of his best, Leo McCarey’s “The Awful Truth” (1937) and George Cukor’s “Holiday” (1938), which screen at the New Beverly Cinema through Tuesday. The first is a timeless, scintillating screwball comedy in which Grant and Irene Dunne are a young society couple who impetuously decide to divorce, only to spend the rest of the film getting back together. Equally lustrous yet more poignant, “Holiday” finds Katharine Hepburn cast as a vibrant, elegant heiress who falls for Grant, a breezy, upwardly mobile chap of decent but decidedly humble birth. Lew Ayres is especially memorable as Hepburn’s brother, a gallant alcoholic whose spirit has been crushed by their strong-willed father (Henry Kolker). Information: (213) 938-4038.