The early film and television work of Mike Leigh extended so-called “kitchen sink realism” into the Thatcher era, and no one examined the decimation of Britain’s working class in the 1980s with the rigor and humor of Leigh in Meantime, High Hopes, and Life is Sweet.
Leigh reached an artistic apotheosis of sorts in 1993 with Naked, and an breakthrough in the United States with his follow-up Secrets & Lies (1996).
From top: Tim Roth in Meantime (1983); Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Timothy Spall in Secrets & Lies (1996); David Thewlis in Naked (1993); Ruth Sheen and Phil Davis in HighHopes (1988); Jane Horrocks in Life is Sweet(1990).
Mike Leigh—England’s greatest living filmmaker—will be in Los Angeles to present his new film PETERLOO, the story of events leading up to the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, an event that forever changed Great Britain’s electoral system and journalistic practice.
The final week of the American Cinematheque’s Luchino Visconti retrospective begins with a rare double bill: SENSO (1954)—screening in a 4K DCP—and SANDRA (1965).
With SENSO—unseen on the big screen in Los Angeles for nearly ten years—Visconti took a decisive step away from neorealism. His first feature in color—a gorgeous palette of fiery reds and pastel blues—SENSO opens in an opera house, a reflection of the grand musical and theatrical productions Visconti directed in Rome and Paris in the 1950s.
Alida Valli and Farley Granger were not the director’s first choices for the roles of the Countess and the Lieutenant—Callas, Ingrid Bergman, and Brando were all in negotiation—but the leads give two of their greatest performances in this extraordinarily lush tale of irredeemable character and unrequited love.
SANDRA extends the mood of aristocratic decline defined by Visconti’s previous film TheLeopard. Featuring Claudia Cardinale and JeanSorel in their prime, this elegant film noir of ghosts, betrayals, and revenge is the director’s take on Electra, as summarized by the poster tagline below.
From top: Alida Valli and Farley Granger in Senso (2); Valli; CountLuchino ViscontidiModrone—in playboy mode, just before Chanel introduced him to Jean Renoir, for whom Visconti worked as an assistant director in the late 1930s—photographed in Tunisia in 1935 by his close friend Horst; Visconti and ClaudiaCardinale on set, Sandra; film poster courtesy Vides; Jean Sorel and Cardinale as brother and sister, Sandra.
In its expression of the epic, cinema has shifted from the battlefield to the computer, generating worlds beyond belief from bits of code. Hollywood—forever wary of the shrinking screen—embraced the live-action epic as a foundational genre, grown spectacular in the 1950s in a thwarted attempt to divert audiences from their newly purchased television sets. Millions of dollars were spent, millions were often lost, and even the masters of the form—Cecil B. DeMille, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, David Lean—were constrained by time, budget, and the whims of their producers.
No such limitations impeded the completion of Sergey Bondarchuk’s WAR AND PEACE (1966), the greatest epic in cinematic history and a Cold War triumph of Soviet filmmaking. This seven-hour retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s work was filmed over the course of five years, cost $100,000,000 (pre-inflation), and employed over 100,000 actors—including regiments of Red Army troops who precisely re-enacted Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.
So, the battles are here—as is the jaw-dropping sacking and burning of Moscow—but so are the day-to-day dramas of Bondarchuk’s three aristocratic protagonists: Prince Andrei (VyacheslavTikhonov), Natasha (dancer LudmilaSavelyeva), and Pierre (Bondarchuk himself). For Tolstoy, WAR AND PEACE was more of a philosophical explication than a novel, and Bondarchuk does not neglect the author’s theoretical digressions motivation, will, memory, and regret.
This weekend in Santa Monica, the American Cinematheque presents a screening of a new digital restoration of this four-part masterpiece, with an encore in Hollywood in April.
War and Peace stills courtesy Mosfilm. From top: firing squad; LudmilaSavelyeva (right) as Natasha at her first society ball; VyacheslavTikhonov, as Andrei, on the battlefield (2); religious procession.
ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS(1960)—Luchino Visconti’s sixth feature—marked a return to the director’s neo-realist roots while simultaneously advancing the grand style he adopted in the mid-1950s with Senso.
“One of the most sumptuous black-and-white pictures I’ve ever seen.” — Martin Scorsese
This epic story of a southern Italian family transplanted to Milan stars AnnieGirardot, Claudia Cardinale, Katina Paxinou, and—on the male side—a veritable Alasdair McLellan portfolio avant la lettre, led by Alain Delon in the title role of Rocco Parondi.*
“Like all migrants, they are in search of opportunity, but instead they find an environment that only magnifies their respective strengths and weaknesses.” — Scott Eyman
As part of the American Cinematheque series Luchino Visconti—Cinematic Nobility—co-presented by Luce Cinecittà—ROCCO will screen twice this month in a DCP restored by Cineteca di Bologna in association with Titanus.
*When a judge with the same name threatened to sue the filmmakers, the family name “Pafundi” in the original negative was changed, post-production, to “Parondi.”
From top: Alain Delon in Rocco and HisBrothers; Renato Salvatori as brother Simone and Annie Girardot as Nadia; Luchino Visconti (second from left) on set; Max Cartier, as brother Ciro, and Delon; Salvatori (left), Visconti, Claudia Cardinale as Ginetta, and Delon on set; Delon, with Rocco Vidolazzi as younger brother Luca.