Indochine [1992]

All About My MotherAfter her son is killed in an accident, Manuela (Cecilia Roth) leaves Madrid for her old haunts in Barcelona. She reconnects with an old friend, a pre-op transsexual prostitute named La Agrado (Antonia San Juan), who introduces her to Rosa (Penélope Cruz), a young nun who turns out to be pregnant. Meanwhile, Manuela becomes a personal assistant for Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes), an actress currently playing Blanche DuBois in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. All About My Mother traces the delicate web of friendship and loss that binds these women together. The movie is dedicated to the actresses of the world, so it's not surprising that all the performances are superb. Roth in particular anchors All About My Mother with compassion and generosity. But fans of writer-director Pedro Almodóvar needn't fret--as always, Almodóvar's work undermines conventional notions of sexual identity and embraces all human possibilities with bright colors and melodramatic plotting. However, All About My Mother approaches its twists and turns with a broader emotional scope than most of Almodóvar's work; even the more extravagant aspects of the story are presented quietly, to allow the sadness of life to be as present as the irrepressible vitality of the characters. Almodóvar embraces pettiness, jealousy, and grief as much as kindness, courage, and outrageousness, and the movie is the richer for it. --Bret Fetzer Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonHong Kong wuxia films, or martial arts fantasies, traditionally squeeze poor acting, slapstick humor, and silly story lines between elaborate fight scenes in which characters can literally fly. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has no shortage of breathtaking battles, but it also has the dramatic soul of a Greek tragedy and the sweep of an epic romance. This is the work of director Ang Lee, who fell in love with movies while watching wuxia films as a youngster and made Crouching Tiger as a tribute to the form. To elevate the genre above its B-movie roots and broaden its appeal, Lee did two important things. First, he assembled an all-star lineup of talent, joining the famous Asian actors Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh with the striking, charismatic newcomer Zhang Ziyi. Behind the scenes, Lee called upon cinematographer Peter Pau (The Killer, The Bride with White Hair) and legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo-ping, best known outside Asia for his work on The Matrix. Second, in adapting the story from a Chinese pulp-fiction novel written by Wang Du Lu, Lee focused not on the pursuit of a legendary sword known as "The Green Destiny," but instead on the struggles of his female leads against social obligation. In his hands, the requisite fight scenes become another means of expressing the individual spirits of his characters and their conflicts with society and each other. The filming required an immense effort from all involved. Chow and Yeoh had to learn to speak Mandarin, which Lee insisted on using instead of Cantonese to achieve a more classic, lyrical feel. The astonishing battles between Jen (Zhang) and Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh) on the rooftops and Jen and Li Mu Bai (Chow) atop the branches of bamboo trees required weeks of excruciating wire and harness work (which in turn required meticulous "digital wire removal"). But the result is a seamless blend of action, romance, and social commentary in a populist film that, like its young star Zhang, soars with balletic grace and dignity. --Eugene Wei IndochineRégis Wargnier's 1992 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film is a bit like watching paint dry, despite its exotic locale and lead performance by the legendary Catherine Deneuve (Belle de Jour, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Deneuve plays a wealthy French landowner, born and raised in Indochina, from 1930 until 1955, the year of a Communist takeover. The brewing political changes bound to upset her fortune and destiny find an even more personal parallel in her relationship with an adopted daughter (Linh Dan Pham), who grows up and becomes independent. The outline of this scenario sounds pretty good, but the film is flat and unworthy of its star. --Tom Keogh Run Lola RunIt's difficult to create a film that's fast paced, exciting, and aesthetically appealing without diluting its dialogue. Run Lola Run, directed and written by Tom Tykwer, is an enchanting balance of pace and narrative, creating a universal parable that leaps over cultural barriers. This is the story of young Lola (Franka Potente) and her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). In the space of 20 minutes, they must come up with 100,000 deutsche marks to pay back a seedy gangster, who will be less than forgiving when he finds out that Manni incompetently lost his cash to an opportunistic vagrant. Lola, confronted with one obstacle after another, rides an emotional roller coaster in her high-speed efforts to help the hapless Manni--attempting to extract the cash first from her double-dealing father (appropriately a bank manager), and then by any means necessary. From this point nothing goes right for either protagonist, but just when you think you've figured out the movie, the director introduces a series of brilliant existential twists that boggle the mind. Tykwer uses rapid camera movements and innovative pauses to explore the theme of cause and effect. Accompanied by a pulse-pounding soundtrack, we follow Lola through every turn and every heartbreak as she and Manni rush forward on a collision course with fate. There were a variety of original and intelligent films released in 1999, but perhaps none were as witty and clever as this little gem--one of the best foreign films of 1999. --Jeremy Storey

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