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Outstanding films around Harvard Square this week


The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle Street.

The Harvard Film Archive, Carpenter Center for the Arts (basement), 24 Quincy Street.

By Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporter

Last week was one of my favorite kinds of weeks -- the new Brattle Theatre and Harvard Film Archive schedules arrived within a few days of each other. I pore over these like gardeners do to their seed catalogs in darkest February, dreaming about the movies I will be seeing as they were intended to be seen. In the next two months I will be seeing lots of Cary Grant, Louis Malle, and drag queens at the Brattle, and new African, Iranian and abstract films at the Archive.

Two absolutely must-see films are screening at the Archive next week: Akira Kurosawa's early No Regrets for Our Youth, and Peter Weir's first feature, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Kurosawa made No Regrets just after World War II ended, during the American occupation of Japan. In it he tells a story based on a true incident, involving people accused of spying and treason because they opposed the war. This is the only Kurosawa film in which you will find a strong female protagonist, and you might enjoy comparing MIT in the nineties to Japanese universities in the thirties.

Peter Weir no longer likes his first feature, Picnic at Hanging Rock, so he has withdrawn it from distribution, possibly permanently. Fortunately, the Harvard Film Archive owns a copy, and they dust it off every three or four years and give us another opportunity to contemplate its mystery. Also based on a historical event, the film covers the events leading up to the disappearance of two school girls during a day trip to a maze-like mountain in Australia. In real life the girls were never found, and the movie doesn't try to make up any explanation for their vanishing. This of course disturbs people who like everything to be neatly tied up, whose reactions may have led to Weir's disowning his effort. But if you can tolerate a little mystery, you will be richly rewarded by the evocative and atmospheric filmmaking, and probably never forget some of the images you will see or feelings that will be drawn from you.

The Brattle starts a tribute to Louis Malle on Thursday by screening his first two films, Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers. Both were released in 1958, as the French New Wave was gathering its strength, and both feature early starring roles by Jeanne Moreau, whose portrayal of Catherine in Jules and Jim places her in the pantheon of greatest actors of all time. The first film also contains one of the first jazz scores written for a film: fine work by Miles Davis.

Over the weekend La Dolce Vita graces the Brattle screen, and on Sunday two wonderful Cary Grant/Howard Hawks collaborations will draw appreciative crowds. The ever-popular His Girl Friday will be joined by the seldom-seen but equally funny I Was a Male War Bride. In the latter movie Grant plays a Belgian soldier who has to don female drag in order to join his WAC wife in America.

Mondays at the Brattle are devoted to "neo-noir," recent films that try to recapture the feel of classic noir thrillers of the forties and fifties. This weeks contestants will be Reservoir Dogs and The Grifters, which highlights the great acting of Angelica Huston, John Cusack, and Annette Bening. Finally, on Tuesday, you get another chance to see Johnny Depp play Ed Wood, and Ed Wood play himself in Glen or Glenda.

We're very fortunate to have the Brattle and the Archive in our neighborhood, but they don't begin to exhaust the possibilities for serious filmgoers in the Boston area. In coming weeks I hope to introduce you to places like The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the French Library. And don't forget that LSC and many other MIT organizations make many movies available right here at the Institute. This is a great place for movie lovers.