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Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films

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As part of its semicentennial, the foreign-film distributor Janus Films has struck new prints of more than 30 features, which will screen at the Music Box through Sunday, March 11. Series passes are available for $30 (five admissions) and $50 (ten admissions). Following are screenings through Thursday, January 18; for a complete schedule visit musicboxtheatre.com.

Ballad of a Soldier As a reward for destroying two Nazi tanks, a young Russian soldier (Vladimir Ivashov) is given a ten-day leave from the front--ten days he spends struggling home to see his mother and falling in love along the way. This 1959 film is one of those "universal" tales that are so often vague and sticky, but the simplicity and restraint of director Grigori Chukhrai lift it above the run. In Russian with subtitles. 89 min. (DK) a Wed 1/17, 9:20 PM, and Thu 1/18, 5:20 PM.

R Beauty and the Beast A sublime, sumptuous film (1946) directed by Jean Cocteau with the help of Rene Clement. Cocteau re-creates the classic story of the beauty who gives herself to the beast to save her father, and whose growing love eventually transforms him into a handsome prince, with a brilliant blend of decor (sets by Christian Berard), human forms (superb makeup by Arakelian), and visual effects (dreamlike photography by Henri Alekan). Josette Day, Jean Marais, and Marcel Andre star. In French with subtitles. 95 min. (DD) a Fri 1/12, 5 PM; Sat-Sun 1/13-1/14, 11:30 AM; and Thu 1/18, 9:20 PM.

R Children of Paradise Set in the 1840s and filmed in Paris during the Nazi occupation, Marcel Carne's 1945 masterpiece about the undying love of Garance (Arletty) and the mime Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault) is a breathtaking study of the relationships between life and theater, mime and tragedy, the real and the imagined, sound and silence. It runs 187 minutes, and it's worth every one of them. In French with subtitles. (DD) a Sun 1/14, 2 PM.

RCleo From 5 to 7 Agnes Varda's 1961 New Wave feature--recounting two hours in the life of a French pop singer (Corinne Marchand) while she waits to learn from her doctor whether she's terminally ill--is arguably her best work, rivaled only by her Vagabond (1985) and The Gleaners and I (2000). Beautifully shot and realized, this film offers an irreplaceable time capsule of Paris, and fans of Michel Legrand won't want to miss the extended sequence in which he visits the heroine and rehearses with her. The film's approximations of real time are exactly that--the total running time is 90 minutes--but innovative and thrilling nonetheless. Underrated when it came out and unjustly neglected since, it's not only the major French New Wave film made by a woman but a key work of that exciting period--moving, lyrical, and mysterious. With Antoine Bourseiller. In French with subtitles. (JR) Screening in a double feature with Zero de Conduite (see separate listing). a Sat 1/13, 2 PM, and Mon 1/15, 9:20 PM.

RDay of Wrath Carl Dreyer made this extraordinary 1943 drama, about the church's persecution of women for witchcraft in the 17th century, during the German occupation of Denmark. He later claimed that he hadn't sought to pursue any contemporary parallels while adapting the play Anne Petersdotter (which concerns adultery as well as witchcraft), but that seems disingenuous--Day of Wrath may be the greatest film ever made about living under totalitarian rule. Astonishing in its artistically informed period re-creation as well as its hypnotic mise en scene (with some exceptionally eerie camera movements), it challenges the viewer by suggesting at times that witchcraft isn't so much an illusion as an activity produced by intolerance. And like Dreyer's other major films, it's sensual to the point of carnality. I can't think of another 40s film that's less dated. With Thorkild Roose and Lisbeth Movin. In Danish with subtitles. 110 min. (JR) a Thu 1/18, 7:20 PM.

R The 400 Blows More conventional than Godard and more sentimental than Chabrol, Francois Truffaut spearheaded the breakthrough of the French New Wave with this highly autobiographical first feature (1959). Jean-Pierre Leaud is the wide-eyed boy who flees his battling parents only to find himself irrevocably alone. Distinguished by its intensity of feeling and freewheeling use of the wide-screen frame, the film ranks among Truffaut's best. With Claire Maurier and Albert Remy. In French with subtitles. 99 min. (DK) Also on the program, from the 1962 sketch film Love at Twenty: Truffaut's half-hour "Antoine and Colette," which Jonathan Rosenbaum identifies as "the first and best of many sequels to The 400 Blows." a Fri 1/12, 7 PM, and Sat 1/13, 9:20 PM.

RHigh and Low I would nominate this authoritative 1962 adaptation of Ed McBain's novel The King's Ransom as Akira Kurosawa's best nonperiod picture, though Ikiru and Rhapsody in August are tough competitors. It's a 142-minute 'Scope thriller in black and white, except for one partly colorized shot, about a kidnapping that goes awry: a chauffeur's son is accidentally spirited away instead of the son of the businessman the chauffeur works for. The title refers to the topographical layout of the action as well as class divisions, and Kurosawa's script and masterful mise en scene do a lot with both. Scorsese has been talking for years about doing a remake of this, but it's hard to believe he could equal it. With Toshiro Mifune. In Japanese with subtitles. (JR) a Sun 1/14, 7:45 PM.

Kwaidan Artsy, muted horror anthology from Japan, based on four ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn. The first episode builds an effective mood through its elliptical action and long, slow tracks through empty rooms, but this 1965 film soon levels off into academic stylization. Masaki Kobayashi directed. In Japanese with subtitles. 164 min. (DK) a Tue 1/16, 7:45 PM.

The Seventh Seal Returning from the Crusades, a 14th-century knight finds his homeland devastated by the plague and swept by a religious mania. He discovers that he is no longer able to pray, but just as his faith reaches a low ebb, death comes calling in the person of a very grim reaper. The ending is a cliff-hanger: the knight challenges death to a chess game, hoping to win himself enough time to settle his doubts. Ingmar Bergman's 1956 film is still his most celebrated (probably because the stark imagery reproduces so well in still photographs), yet Bergman himself later repudiated it. It survives today only as an unusually pure example of a typical 50s art-film strategy: the attempt to make the most modern and most popular of art forms acceptable to the intelligentsia by forcing it into an arcane, antique mold (here the form of medieval allegory). The film in fact consists of a series of very dull speeches spun on simple themes; Bergman barely tries to make the material function dramatically. With Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, and Bengt Ekerot. In Swedish with subtitles. 96 min. (DK) a Tue 1/16, 5:45 PM.

La Strada Early mush (1956) from the master, Federico Fellini. The story--about a circus strong man (Anthony Quinn) and the doe-eyed waif who loves him--is an allegory, so you can leave as soon as you figure it out. It won't take very long. Costarring Giulietta Masina and Richard Basehart. In Italian with subtitles. 115 min. (DK) a Sat 1/13 and Wed 1/17, 7 PM.

R Viridiana Luis Bunuel returned to his native Spain to create this 1961 masterpiece, which marked his rebirth as a filmmaker of international repute. Mexican star Silvia Pinal plays the title character, a girl about to enter a convent whose confident plans for sainthood are interrupted by her uncle's (false) announcement that he has raped her in her sleep. She forges ahead anyway, filling her uncle's estate with beggars and madmen in an obsessive demonstration of Christian charity. Franco's government, which financed the film, later attempted to suppress it, burning all the prints that remained in Spain. Luckily, a few had already been sent to France, and the rest--Bunuel's brilliant late period--is history. With Fernando Rey and Francisco Rabal. In Spanish with subtitles. 90 min. (DK) a Sat 1/13, 4:45 PM, and Mon 1/15, 7:20 PM.

R Wild Strawberries An archetypal Ingmar Bergman film, and one of his best (1957). An aging professor (Victor Sjostrom, who as a director was Sweden's D.W. Griffith) making a long journey by car takes the opportunity to rummage through his past, wondering for the first time what kind of man he was. There's a lot of allegorical baggage on board, but the film's virtues lie in its relative simplicity. With Ingrid Thulin and Bibi Andersson. In Swedish with subtitles. 90 min. (DK) a Sun 1/14, 5:45 PM, and Mon 1/15, 5:20 PM.

RWR: Mysteries of the Organism We may forget that the most radical rethinking of Marx and Freud found in European cinema of the late 60s and early 70s came from the east rather than the west. Indeed, it's hard to think of a headier mix of fiction and nonfiction, or sex and politics, than this brilliant 1971 Yugoslav feature by Dusan Makavejev, which juxtaposes a bold Serbian narrative shot in 35-millimeter with funky New York street theater and documentary footage shot in 16. The "WR" is controversial sexual theorist Wilhelm Reich and the "mysteries" involve Joseph Stalin as an erotic figure in propaganda movies, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs "killing for peace" as he runs around New York City with a phony gun, and drag queen Jackie Curtis and plaster caster Nancy Godfrey pursuing their own versions of sexual freedom. In English and subtitled Serbo-Croatian. 85 min. (JR) a Fri 1/12, 9:40 PM, and Wed 1/17, 5:10 PM.

RZero de Conduite Jean Vigo's 1933 masterpiece charts the rebellion of three young French boys in a sordid little provincial boarding school. A wholly original creation, the film walks a narrow line between surrealist farce and social realism. The most famous sequence, which leads directly to Lindsay Anderson's If ..., has the boys atop the school on graduation day, merrily dumping garbage on the assembled dignitaries--some of whom are cardboard cutouts. In French with subtitles. 44 min. (DK) Screening in a double feature with Cleo From 5 to 7 (see separate listing). a Sat 1/13, 2 PM, and Mon 1/15, 9:20 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Children of Paradise.

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