BAM Goes Mad for Barbet Schroeder

Plus Film Forum celebrates Italian screen icon Alberto Sordi

Born in Tehran, educated in Paris, famous (for a time) in Hollywood, a director of documentaries as well as melodramas, Barbet Schroeder is the most cosmopolitan filmmaker to emerge from the French new wave.

Schroeder's locations have ranged from counterculture-cum-jet-set Ibiza (in More, the movie that made his reputation in 1969), to deepest New Guinea (The Valley, 1972), to funkiest skid row (Barfly, 1987); he gave Bulle Ogier her most blithely kinky role in The Maîtresse (1976) and devoted a doc to a mysteriously communicative ape with Koko, a Talking Gorilla (1978). But, as befits this suave, vaguely sinister sophisticate, his oeuvre is most memorable for its villains: the 1974 documentary Général Idi Amin Dada; the 1990 tabloid drama Reversal of Fortune, with Jeremy Irons giving a career (and Oscar-winning) performance as alleged attempted wife-murderer Claus von Bulow; last year's fascinating portrait of urbane renegade lawyer Jacques Vergès, Terror's Advocate. And also, from Schroeder's schlockier side, who can forget Jennifer Jason Leigh's scarifying perf as the roommate from hell in Single White Female?

Although surveying the full range of Schroeder's career as a filmmaker, BAM's "Mad Obsessions" (October 2–21) is highlighting his role as a producer with a week-long run of Six in Paris (Paris vu par . . .), an anthology film Schroeder pulled together in 1965. This modern city symphony (with each of the six filmmakers portraying a different neighborhood) was shot in 16mm, the better to mix and match nouvelle vague with cinema vérité. Jean-Luc Godard collaborated with Albert Maysles in dramatizing a Montparnesse-set anecdote from A Woman Is a Woman; Jean Rouch contributed a domestic drama (with Schroeder playing a jealous husband) in the environs of Gare de Nord; while, competing with Godard for nastiness, Claude Chabrol played out a marital psychodrama in well-heeled La Muette with then-wife Stéphanie Audran.

The most interesting entry belongs to Eric Rohmer—whose early features were produced by Schroeder. Taking the Arc de Triomphe as his setting, Rohmer knocks off a Hitchcockian comedy in which a timid sales clerk with an overdeveloped sense of habit imagines he's inadvertently killed the bothersome drunk he fended off with his umbrella. The print is new, showcased in advance of a DVD release.

Also: The golden quarter-century of Italian film that began after World War II not only produced brand-name directors but international stars—Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Clint Eastwood—as well as a few great ones too local to travel. Like his fellow farceur Totò, Alberto Sordi, a/k/a Albertone, was among the latter. A smiling everyman whose comic persona combined the smooth with the scurrilous, the craven and the overconfident, Sordi is best known here for two early Fellini features: the charming movie-magic send-up The White Sheik (1952) and the influential slacker ensemble piece I Vitelloni (1953). Film Forum's week-long tribute (October 3-9) has these along with a number of semi-precious gems from Sordi's best period, including the war comedies La Grande Guerra (1959) and Everybody Go Home (1960), and two Dino Risi social satires, The Widower (1959) and A Difficult Life (1961), which finds Albertone married to Lea Massari—the gal who goes mysteriously missing in L'Avventura.

 
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