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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 Thursday, January 25. Series passes are available for $30 (five admissions) and $50 (ten admissions). Following are screenings through Thursday, January 25; for a complete schedule visit musicboxtheatre.com.

The Cranes Are Flying This Russian tale of a young couple separated by war won the grand prize at Cannes in 1957 and became a worldwide success. It's exactly what you'd expect: tepid, artsy, and grayish, though it has surprising bursts of sincere sentiment. The girl, Tatyana Samoilova, has the kind of clear face the camera loves, which helps a lot. Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, once Stalin's head of film production. In Russian with subtitles. 94 min. (DK) a Fri 1/19, 5:30 PM, and Sat 1/20, 1:30 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 Mon 1/22, 5:15 PM.

c Death of a Cyclist See Critic's Choice. a Wed 1/24, 5:30 PM, and Thu 1/25, 9:40 PM.

R The Earrings of Madame de... Certainly one of the crowning achievements in film (1953). Max Ophuls's gliding camera follows Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, and Vittorio De Sica through a circle of flirtation, passion, and disappointment, a tour that embraces both sophisticated comedy and high tragedy. Ophuls's camera style is famous for its physicalization of time, in which every fleeting moment is recorded and made palpable by the ceaseless tracking shots, yet his delineation of space is also sublime and highly charged: no director has better understood the emotional territory that exists offscreen. In French with subtitles. 105 min. (DK) a Sat 1/20, 7:30 PM, and Tue 1/23, 5:10 PM.

RFires on the Plain Wandering in dazed retreat from the advancing American army, a Japanese soldier crosses the appalling devastation of a Philippine island, his life spared only because his tubercular condition makes him unfit for consumption by the starving, dehumanized masses who hide in the rubble. No other film on the horrors of war has gone anywhere near as far as Kon Ichikawa's 1959 Japanese feature; it's obsessionally fixed on the sheer horror of human existence, and the terror and hopelessness keep mounting. With Eiji Funakoshi, Osamu Takizawa, and Mickey Curtis; based on a novel by Shohei Ooka. In Japanese with subtitles. 105 min. (DK) a Mon 1/22, 9:30 PM, and Tue 1/23, 7:20 PM.

RJules and Jim That eternal theme of melodrama--the love too fine to last--given intelligent and sensitive treatment by Francois Truffaut. Oskar Werner and Henri Serre are the two friends of the title, who, when World War I breaks out, must fight on different sides; Jeanne Moreau, in a performance that combines the intensely physical and the fleetingly enigmatic, is Catherine, the woman who loves them both. With this 1961 film Truffaut comes closest to the spirit and sublimity of his mentor, Jean Renoir, and the result is a masterpiece of the New Wave. In French with subtitles. 104 min. (DK) a Sun 1/21, 4:20 PM, and Tue 1/23, 9:40 PM.

RKnife in the Water Written with Jerzy Skolimowski (Moonlighting), this 1962 production was Roman Polanski's first feature film, and there are those who would still call it his best. A middle-aged married couple, intrigued by a young blond hitchhiker, invite him to spend a weekend on their yacht. The sexual tensions build slowly and subtly, and when they explode into violence, it seems to be the desired result. With Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, and Zygmunt Malanowicz. In Polish with subtitles. 94 min. (DD) a Fri 1/19, 9:40 PM, and Sun 1/21, 9:10 PM.

RThe Lady Vanishes Alfred Hitchcock's masterful 1938 spy thriller, with Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave searching for kidnapped agent Dame May Whitty aboard a trans-European express train, pursued all the while by sinister Nazi agents. This is vintage Hitchcock, with the pacing and superb editing that marked not only his 30s style but eventually every film that had any aspirations whatsoever to achieving suspense and rhythm. With Paul Lukas and Cecil Parker. 96 min. (DD) a Fri 1/19, 7:30 PM; Sat-Sun 1/20-1/21, 11:30 AM; and Thu 1/25, 5 PM.

RThe Organizer Marcello Mastroianni in one of his best roles, as a late-19th-century labor leader orchestrating a strike at a Turin textile plant. Directed by Mario Monicelli (Big Deal on Madonna Street) with an exquisite handling of period, this powerful film had a sizable impact when it came out in 1963, though it's been curiously neglected ever since. Arguably one of the great Italian films of the 60s, it cries out for rediscovery. In Italian with subtitles. 130 min. (JR)

a Sun 1/21, 6:30 PM, and Thu 1/25, 7 PM.

RThe Phantom Carriage Multiple superimpositions and double exposures create ghostly effects in Victor Sjostrom's 1920 silent masterpiece. The story, told through a complex flashback structure, resembles Dickens's A Christmas Carol: a self-destructive and irresponsible man has a brush with the "carriage of death," which allows him to review his life. With Sjostrom, Hilda Borgstrom, Tore Svennberg, and Astrid Holm. Also known as The Phantom Chariot. 100 min. (JR) a Sun 1/21, 2 PM.

RThe Seven Samurai Akira Kurosawa's best film is also his most Americanized, drawing on classical Hollywood conventions of genre (the western), characterization (ritual gestures used to distinguish the individuals within a group), and visual style (the horizon lines and exaggerated perspectives of John Ford). Of course, this 1954 film also returned something of what it borrowed, by laying the groundwork for the "professional" western (Rio Bravo, etc) that dominated the genre in the 50s and 60s. Kurosawa's film is a model of long-form construction, ably fitting its asides and anecdotes into a powerful suspense structure that endures for all of the film's 208 minutes. The climax--the battle in the rain and its ambiguous aftermath--is Kurosawa's greatest moment, the only passage in his work worthy of comparison with Mizoguchi. In Japanese with subtitles. (DK) a Sat 1/20, 3:30 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 Sat 1/20, 9:40 PM, and Wed 1/24,

7:20 PM.

RWalkabout Abandoned in the outback, a teenage girl and her younger brother learn about sex, death, and nature from an aborigine boy. This 1971 film was Nicolas Roeg's first solo effort, and it's still one of his most satisfying achievements. The themes are large and abstract enough to support Roeg's large, abstract style; there's no sense of disappointment, as there often is in Roeg's films, when the stylistic baroque collapses into stylistic banality. With Jenny Agutter and David Gulpilil. 95 min. (DK) a Mon 1/22, 7:20 PM, and Wed 1/24, 9:20 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Seven Samurai.

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