Monday, August 8, 2011

Preview: Comedy of the Past and Present

World Cinema Classics continue at The Paramount Theatre with a somewhat lighter tone. Although both of these films are comedies, there is a hefty dose of social commentary found in both, and they still do the heavy lifting of more serious works of art.

Last year I was reacquainted with Jacques Tati during a summer screening of Mr. Hulot's Holiday, and I find his style of minimalist comedy to be endearing and occasionally profound. Tati's recurring role of Monsieur Hulot is his signature character, and I love his lighthearted and oblivious nature to the world around him. Much like Chaplin's Little Tramp or even Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean, they offer a heavenly innocence as a respite from the society they inhabit.

Playtime was one of Tati's later films, released in 1967, and is easily his most ambitious film. It depicts an ultra-modern and futuristic Paris, where organization has taken the place of organic interaction. This time Mr. Hulot's adventures take place in a city made of glass, steel and a generally cold sense of efficiency. Basically, it's Paris if re-imagined as an Apple store (Genius Bar, indeed). The movie is populated by a variety of characters and Tati's trademark minimalist style, where sound effects drive the comedy more than the sparse dialogue.

Playtime took Tati nearly three years to complete, and when you see the film you'll know why. Creating the film required an enormous set to be built and maintained. Hundreds of construction workers toiled to create this world of concrete and glass, which even necessitated the creation of its own power station during filming. There were numerous setbacks to Tati that prolonged the making of Playtime, but he persevered in making a masterpiece to his exact standards. There's something remarkable in employing maximum effort to make something so minimalist and pure; where a man's idea can yield something magical. A complex concoction of modernization, malaise, satire and the unwavering human resistance to conformity, the film shows that the shortest distance to connect people is rarely a straight line.

Director Federico Fellini was a great fantastical style of director, and his films rank as some of the most influential of the 20th century. Known for, Nights of Cabiria and La Dolce Vita, his movies are true works of art. Each reflects his unique and personal vision of memories, dreams, and society. Amarcord is Fellini's reflection on his youth when he grew up under Mussolini's regime. A free form film depicting the silliness that exist between the lines of the mundane, it depicts a memory (or fantasy?) of a people's vitality that not even fascism could keep at bay. Full of whimsy and quirky as life itself can be, it became perhaps Fellini's most accessible film.

For this film, Fellini won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, but his legacy goes far beyond that one little gold statue. So many modern filmmakers are clearly influenced by his visual stylings, and in many ways he's the father of cinema by Martin Scorsese, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, Pedro Almodovar, among many others.

And so the influence of foreign films of this caliber reaffirm that America is not the center of the cinematic universe. And like that old geocentric idea, it can be disproved by those who are willing to open their eyes to something new. Even if your ears are unable to understand the languages, the emotions and laughter can never be lost in translation. With so much volatility in the news this summer both here and abroad, films like these illustrate that fighting the system doesn't require anger, but instead can be fueled by joy.

Showtimes for the films:

Thursday, Aug 11th
Sunday, Aug 14th
2:00 7:00

Thursday, Aug 11th
Sunday, Aug 14th

Final Notes about the screening:

$2 discount for Austin Film Society members at the box office for all "World Cinema Classics" films!

Double Features:
"When two movies are grouped together under the same thematic heading, one ticket is good for both features when viewed back-to-back on the same day." (cha-ching!)

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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