The annual City of Lights, City of Angels series of French films opens Tuesday at the Directors Guild, with Bertrand Tavernier’s superb “Laissez-Passer” (“Safe Passage”) screening in Theater 2 at 7:30 p.m. An exciting hommage to those French filmmakers who during the Occupation managed to maintain their integrity and professionalism under the most repressive circumstances, the film is also loaded with suspense, for its central figure, an assistant director named Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin) displays the same unflappability on the set as in his activities in the Resistance. Tavernier drew his consistently engaging picture from the reminiscences of both Devaivre and Jean Aurenche, whose career was revived when Tavernier hired the veteran screenwriter on his earliest films.
Since Tavernier has always been as passionate a film historian as he is a filmmaker, “Laissez-Passer” (2002) has an acutely authentic sense of time and place. Devaivre was a champion cyclist, which comes in handy more than once, and has an athlete’s resilience, which is put to the test when he finds he has no recourse but to accept a job at the German-run Continental Films, whose heavy-handed chiefs place the French filmmakers on rigid budgets and shooting schedules and hold the threat over their heads of packing them off to Babelsburg, the site of the famed UFA Studios. His first assignment is to assist the important pioneer director Maurice Tourneur (Philippe Morier-Genoud), who after a long and significant sojourn in America, had returned to France--with his American wife.
There’s a pleasing contrast between the sober Devaivre and the rumpled, fun-loving, woman-chasing Aurenche (Denis Podalydes), who is forever moving from place to place, his worldly possessions packed into two battered suitcases. But he is as resolved as Devaivre that he will contribute nothing to German propaganda. As we meet a raft of characters, “Laissez-Passer” builds tension as Devaivre discovers documents that will save lives but place his own at an unexpectedly high risk. This wonderful film brims with the humanity, seriousness, good humor and commitment that mark all Tavernier’s work. DGA, 7920 Sunset Blvd. Information: (323) 651-4119.
The FilmKitchen distribution company is opening one-week runs Friday of Olli Saarelan’s “Ambush” and Jack Rubio’s “Hard Luck” at the Fairfax Cinemas at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.
The first is a classic war picture from Finland with a love story in the foreground that had a tremendous effect on home ground. Eero (Peter Franzen) and Kaarina (Irina Bjorklund) are beginning to fall in love just as World War II overtakes them and sends both into battle, he as a brave lieutenant and she as an army nurse. The love scenes are tender and erotic, the battle scenes flawlessly staged, and “Ambush” emerges as affecting and wholly accessible, but it is as conventional as it is well-crafted. It hasn’t the scope and power of Pekka Parikka’s “Winter War” (“Talvisota”) more than a decade ago.
“Hard Luck” is the third of actor-writer Kirk Harris’ impressively implacable odysseys of driven, defeated men. Under Jack Rubio’s direction, Harris plays Trevor, a young man who impulsively escapes from a mental institution three months before his scheduled release after nearly seven years. He is determined to effect a reunion with his dying best friend (Matthew Faber) and former wife (Renee Humphrey) on an Oregon island retreat where, as children, they enjoyed their happiest times. It’s worth overlooking mind-boggling plot developments and occasional narrative murkiness for experiencing Trevor’s single-minded determination to fulfill a loving gesture. (323) 655-4010.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s comprehensive series Out of India: The Films of Satyajit Ray continues Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Bing Theater with the second and final films in the director’s famous Apu Trilogy, “Aparajito” (1956) and “The World of Apu” (1959). Screening Saturday at 7:30 p.m. is the little-seen “The Golden Fortress” (1974), one of Ray’s few comedies.
As a clock strikes 3 a.m., a Calcutta couple are astonished to discover their 6-year-old son (Kushai Chakravarty) intently drawing a picture of a golden fortress. He insists that he has lived within this fortress, apparently in a previous life, and that in his home there is a hidden treasure of jewels. As the fortress becomes an obsession with the child, his story eventually is reported in a newspaper, thus setting in motion the film’s complicated adventures.
“The Golden Fortress” gradually evolves into an elaborate pursuit film. As a result, we get to see a great deal of the rugged and picturesque Rajasthan region, photographed in color with graceful simplicity by Sounmendu Roy. At two hours and 20 minutes, the film is long by Western standards for so slender a tale, but its whimsical charm and gentle fun eventually cast their spell. Playing with “The Golden Fortress” is another of Ray’s lighter films, “The Elephant Man” (1978). 5905 Wilshire Blvd. (323) 857-6010.
The Laemmle Theaters’ current “Documentary Days” series continues Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5 with the delightful and surprising “Cool and Crazy,” observes a hearty men’s chorus that thrives on the edge of the world within shooting distance of the Arctic Circle.
The setting is the small Norwegian fishing village of Berlevag, which Isak Dinesen chose as the locale for her novella “Babette’s Feast,” the movie version of which won the 1987 Oscar for best foreign film. Thirty years ago, Berlevag boasted five fish-processing plants; now it is down to one. For all its severity in wintertime, it is a charming community in a beautiful, natural locale that is cherished by its predominantly male inhabitants despite its dwindling economy.
About 30 robust men, aged 29 to 96, cheer themselves up and pass their time performing as the Berlevag Male Choir, singing a mix of vintage ballads, hymns and marches. When they raise their voices in song, the Viking spirit lives. Director Knut Erik Jensen acquaints us with an amiable cross-section of the choir, which he shoots in performance in the frosty outdoors on several occasions. We get deeper insights into the men as they ride in a bus on their way to perform in Murmansk, Russia, where they are received with wild acclaim. Their appalled reaction to the vast areas of open fields turned into industrial wastelands, however, triggers considerable political debate. By the time “Cool and Crazy” is over, it proves unexpectedly touching. Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. (323) 848-3500. “Cool and Crazy” also screens at April 13-14 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741; April 20-21 at the Playhouse 7, 673 Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and May 4-5 at the Lido, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 673-8351.
Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the great swashbuckler of the silent screen, made only four talkies before his death from a heart attack in his 56th year, in 1939. He and his wife, Mary Pickford, teamed only on a poorly received 1929 talkie version of “Taming of the Shrew,” and two years later Fairbanks followed it up with “Reaching for the Moon,” a minor but enjoyable romantic comedy set aboard an ocean liner. Bebe Daniels is his lovely leading lady, and the film features Bing Crosby, music by Irving Berlin and eye-popping Art Deco sets. It screens at the Silent Movie Friday and Sunday at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. 611 N. Fairfax Ave. (323) 655-2520.
Milos Forman’s 1984 “Amadeus,” based on the Peter Shaffer play, returns in a new director’s cut in limited runs at the Arc Light at the Cinerama Dome Center, Sunset Boulevard and Ivar Avenue, (323) 464-4226, and at the Monica 4-Plex, (310) 394-9741. This version of the tale about the composer Antonio Salieri’s lethal jealousy of the prodigious young Mozart is 20 minutes longer than its 122-minute theatrical release and is presented with digitally restored and remastered images and sounds.
The 18th annual Israel Film Festival opens Wednesday with a premiere gala at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of “Late Marriage,” a drama about a young Russian immigrant caught between love and restrictive family tradition. The festival runs through April 25 at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., and April 20-25 at the Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd. (877) 966-5566.