Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two from the art house circuit

There’s plenty of visual talent on display in Zhang Yimou’s A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop, but that doesn’t mean the movie’s any good. Zhang has taken on the oddball task of remaking the Coen brothers’ debut movie, Blood Simple. Zhang already has done his version of film noir with the gorgeous Ju Dou (1990). Maybe that’s why so much of this strange hybrid seems to be straining to be different. Zhang treats his characters as pawns in an antic comedy that’s reliant on slapstick, overly broad acting, devious plot twists and cartoonish directorial ploys. Some of the terrain surrounding the noodle shop is astonishingly sparse, but this story about a woman trying to free herself from a beastly husband -- the owner of a noodle shop in the middle of nowhere -- lacks the sexy allure of noir, the undertow of eroticism and even the sustained fun of good comedy. Zhang is too talented to make a movie that’s totally without interest, but this one’s a miss.


A far more successful effort can be found in The Sicilian Girl, the story of Rita Mancuso, a real-life woman who battled the Mafia by trying to put one of its chiefs in jail. Ably played by Veronica D’Agostino, Rita gets crosswise with the Sicilian mob and finds herself buried in the witness protection program in Rome. She’s estranged from familiar surroundings and from her family. But Rita's a determined young woman who insists on channeling her fierce energy into the pursuit of revenge against the man who ordered her father’s murder. The fact that Dad also was a Mafia chieftain doesn’t deter Rita from seeking vengeance, but events ultimately force a shift in her consciousness. Her thirst for revenge gives way to a yearning for justice. Director Marco Amenta’s camera tends to crowd in on the movie’s many characters and the narrative isn’t developed in the most fluid of ways, but the raw determination of D’Agostino’s performance keeps Sicilian Girl firmly on track.

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