Film

David Duchovny’s dreary directorial debut doesn’t deliver

Like the new Jonathan Safran Foer novel, David Duchovny's directorial debut, House of D, uses a flipbook in the service of wishful thinking. Duchovny plays Thomas, an American artist in Paris who dwells on the events of his 13th year, as a Greenwich Village kid circa 1973, upon the occasion of his own son's 13th birthday. Marred by a rambling voice-over at one end and a pat therapeutic resolution on the other, the film has a nice half-hour patch somewhere in the middle, in which the younger Tommy (Anton Yelchin, smart and sensitive) navigates prep school and puppy love before entering a downward spiral.

His best friend is Pappass (Robin Williams), the school janitor and a fellow butcher-store employee. Selectively retarded, Pappass can sagely remark that "Places change like people change," yet can't help himself from blurting things like "I have a huge penis." Duchovny spouse Téa Leoni plays Tommy's mom (paging Dr. Freud!), a depressed widow who leaves her cigarettes in the toilet, targets for Tommy to pee on. For advice on girls,

Duchovny and Williams
photo: Larry Watson/Lions Gate Entertainment
Duchovny and Williams

Tommy yelps his woes to "Lady" (Erykah Badu), an upper-floor resident of the Women's House of Detention. The concatenation of setbacks following Tommy's attendance at a school dance is swift and hysterical. The extended soul-hug (spurred by Thomas's French wife, who says, "A man ees a man only when 'e can be eemself wherever 'e ees") approaches the grotesque, but at least Yelchin occasionally lends this too heartfelt film an actual heart. ED PARK


CROSSROADS: AVANT-GARDE FILM IN PITTSBURGH IN THE 1970S
April 15 through 24, Anthology Film Archives

Pittsburgh has contributed more to cinema than George Romero and Flashdance. This expertly programmed series illustrates that the city's proximity to the vibrant New York avant-garde, coupled with the arrival of new film arts groups and facilities, led to a significant streak of experimental filmmaking in the 1970s. Included are works by visiting artists, such as Stan Brakhage's remarkable "Pittsburgh Trilogy," which documents, in first-person glimpses, police cruisers on patrol, an autopsy, and open-heart surgery. Non-residents Jonas Mekas, Paul Sharits, James Broughton, and Hollis Frampton also produced films there, but Pittsburgh's own provide the true revelations. Early examples intersect with a '60s underground vibe, like Victor Grauer's Archangel (1966), which sets flickering frames of primary colors to groaning tape manipulations, or Roger Jacoby's candy-hued, hand-processed camp-romp Dream Sphinx Opera (1972), starring his lover, Factory figure and Manhattan expat Ondine. Others partake in the self-reflexive workshop aesthetic found elsewhere in video art and structural film. Former Brakhage actor Sharon Ruppert enacts degree-zero cine-feminism in Self Portrait of a Nude Model Turned Cinematographer (1972), while Brady Lewis's No Action (1982) mimics optical printing with elaborate in-camera effects. James Thomas Vale's Evel Knievel/The Leader of the Pack (1974) combines footage of the ultra-'70s Hollywood biopic with the Shangri-Las' bopping threnody; made from dumpster-rescued misprints, it serves as near parodic metaphor for experimental film's current drive for self-exhumation. ED HALTER


PERLASCA
Directed by Alberto Negrin
Castle Hill, opens April 15, Quad

"Opportunity makes the thief." A proverb fondly quoted by the "Italian Oskar Schindler" and titular hero of this WW II biopic, Giorgio Perlasca, it acutely isolates the allure of his unfamiliar story with sly elegance. Witness to the violent roundups of Jews in 1944 Budapest, Perlasca—a delegate with diplomatic status responsible for buying the Italian army's meat—sacrificed his own escape to undertake an audacious series of deceptions, none larger than assumption of the departed Spanish ambassador's duties as consul. Essentially a habitual impostor, "Jorge" Perlasca employed guile, unshakable confidence, and Spanish etymology (tracing Sephardic to sefardita, a term referring to diasporic Spanish Jews, extended citizenship by an arcane law) to pluck over 5,000 Hungarian Jews from death's grasp. More courageous than Spielberg in its depiction of Nazi brutality, Perlasca occasionally feels like the made-for-Italian-TV film that it is. When it does transcend its weepy reliance on melodramatic shorthand, you're left agape at the man's stubborn fearlessness in the face of such horrific hatred. PETER L'OFFICIAL


RAGING DOVE
Written and directed by Duki Dror
April 13 through 19, Two Boots Pioneer

This undistinguished doc recaps the career of former world lightweight champion Johar Abu Lashin, a Nazareth-born Palestinian who moves to the United States to pursue a fighting career and winds up in Johnson City, Tennessee, running a horse farm with his American wife. Abu Lashin's conflicting national identities eventually prove irreconcilable, and we watch his transformation from the naive, Star of David-waving "Israeli kid" to a naive would-be Palestinian activist. The movie almost works as an unconscious allegory of the Palestinian struggle—all of Abu Lashin's opponents are Americans regardless of where he's fighting—and it scores points with concrete instances of anti-Arab prejudice: The boxer recounts his difficulties finding opponents willing to fight him, and even claims to have lost an ESPN deal when the network learned of his ethnicity. Still, Raging Dove can't avoid the biodoc pitfall of fixating on its subject's personal saga to the virtual exclusion of all else; by the end it's essentially blaming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Abu Lashin's professional demise. JOSHUA LAND


SHORT CUT TO NIRVANA: KUMBH MELA
Directed by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day
Opens April 15, Landmark Sunshine

An appropriately loose, muse-worthy initiation to India's Kumbh Mela, the world's largest religious festival, Short Cut is a free-for-all doc that, like its subject, seems on several planes at once. Directors Nick Day and Maurizio Benazzo have likely torched a Burning Man or two, but Nevada K-holers seem leagues away from the soul trips caught on tape here: Some 70 million pilgrims, led by a horde of dreadlocked, nude, ash-caked shamans, rush into the Ganges the way that other millions (including Mark Twain) have since well before Christ. Roughly guided by Swami Krishnanand, the makers zero in on samadhi, a deep meditation practiced by many of the babas on-screen, and its endless cavalcade of forms. One baba unloads secrets in a loopy auctioneer cadence while a girl whirls into unconsciousness. Another prays for peace atop a bed of nails atop a flaming pit. A really daring one cinches his penis to a pole and lets passersby stand on his rod-and-staff sculpture. Though cheesy hawkers inevitably coalesce—including ones jabbing onlookers in the eyes with patent medicine—the directors and subjects evince enough contagious ecstasy to gladden the most angst-ridden Western hearts. EDWARD CROUSE

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