A Fassbinder Masterpiece Gets Close to Cinephile Heaven


Ali: Fear Eats The Soul

(Criterion DVD)

Vital link between Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows and Todd Haynes’s recent homage Far From Heaven, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s achingly tender, brutally wise 1974 masterpiece retained Sirk’s scenario of a scandalizing romance and rendered it extra verboten. Widening the age gap and igniting a racial fuse (which Far From Heaven would later co-opt), the German wunderkind also turned the lovers against each other as soon as they’d made headway in their battle with social prejudice. This double-disc set—gorgeous and abundant even by Criterion standards—features an impeccable transfer, spiffed-up subtitles, and filler-free extras: interviews with star Brigitte Mira (vivacious, motormouthed, and apparently a cabaret performer—at 93!) and editor Thea Eymèsz (who looks ready to relive her Fassbinder-provoked breakdown as she recounts the insanely compressed production schedule); a 2002 autobiographical short starring Mira and edited by Eymèsz, about director Shahbaz Noshir’s encounter with neo-Nazis while starring in a stage production of Ali; and a 20-minute intro by Haynes, triangulating Sirk’s film and its two descendants with pinpoint eloquence and infectious fan ardor. —Dennis Lim

The Day of the Dolphin

(Home Vision DVD)

This absurdly earnest Hollywood freakazoid is never mentioned when the ’70s are hallowed, and for good reason: What is it? Post-hippie eco-thriller, ludicrous sci-fi camp-out, or irrational, sunburnt dream parody of espionage narratives? Now we can decide how we feel about George C. Scott grimly exchanging dialogue with squeakily dubbed yapping dolphins about love and loyalty. What would Dalí—or Darwin—think? Because it’s a rudderless mutant succeeding or failing on its own, very lonely genre island, it might be Mike Nichols’s most interesting film. —Michael Atkinson

Punch-Drunk Love

(Columbia TriStar DVD)

P.T. Anderson’s anguished romanticism achieves concision and melodic sweep in his fourth feature—a makeout movie for anger management candidates, a big sloppy kiss to Adam Sandler fans (who mostly wanted their money back), and the best studio release of 2002. The bonus material, which the director recommends playing in random order (he also advises, re your TV controls: “Get Barry’s suit blue, blue, blue”), includes a dozen Scopitones, an alternate version of the sister-phone-call sequence (this one ends with Sandler’s Barry catching sight of an angelic child at play: “I’d like to cave that fucking kid’s head in, he’s so fucking cute”), and the 12-minute “Blossoms & Blood,” which smears together PDL outtakes, Jon Brion’s soaring “Here We Go,” and Jeremy Blake’s pulsing psychochromatic eruptions into the most brilliantly distilled short since Guy Maddin’s The Heart of the World, a 150-proof alternate version of the feature presentation. —D.L.

War and Peace

(Image DVD)

Sergei Bondarchuk’s seven-hour 1967 monster is still the biggest, most astonishingly profligate movie ever made, involving more than a quarter-million extras and eating up resources enough to support a small nation (today, it would cost close to $1 billion). Since its foreign-film Oscar win, it’s been roundly derided as a boring nationalist waste. Not so: The unwavering fidelity to Tolstoy is served by a constantly roving camera, complex mise-en-scène, baroque compositions, and expressive double exposures. The chakras of Ophüls and Eisenstein are as palpable as the startling sense of the entire republic being placed at the film’s disposal. For the first and probably last time, the authentic scale of actual warfare becomes an instrument of cinematic power. —M.A.