FILM 2021

NYC Normal: Analog Pleasures at Film Forum

King Hu’s 'Raining in the Mountain' is now getting time on an analog screen, in front of an analog audience, where it belongs.

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Vittorio de Sica’s Il Boom (1963), running April 23 to 29, is another return of bitter whimsey. Film Forum offers it again, after its 2019 restoration-run, as it is de Sica’s rarest film and has had no home-video exposure at all. Mega-schmoe Alberto Sordi is a would-be parvenu in the same crass Italian bourgie circles Antonioni and Fellini were skewering in the ’60s; as they endlessly party (doing the Twist and the Madison!) and make plays for each other’s spouses, he sinks into damning debt and ass-kisses everywhere searching for a hapless investor to rescue him.

It’s a doozie when it comes: The wife of a one-eyed tycoon (Sordi thinks she wants sex, for which he will happily be paid) offers a princely sum for the man’s donation of a single eye. It’s a simple and pungent scenario that could’ve asked its horrible questions in a 30-minute Playhouse 90 (or Black Mirror) episode, but de Sica goes for protracted discomfiture, and Sordi’s cow-eyed deadpan gradually evolves from hilarious to queasily tragic. Famous for his pioneering Neo-Realist stakes first, and his sex comedies second, de Sica (along with his always-partner, screenwriter Cesare Zavattini) maintained an appetite for hypocrisy, and his cynicism about his own postwar society — among which he was a favorite son — should never be underestimated.

Rounding out the month is King Hu’s Raining in the Mountain (1979), showing April 30 to May 6, which debuted virtually in October but is now getting time on an analog screen, in front of an analog audience, where it belongs. Hu’s standing as the Elvis of wu xia pian directors has never been challenged, though for the most part we’re familiar only with Come Drink With Me (1967), Dragon Inn (1967), and A Touch of Zen (1971). But he’d made a dozen other films over nearly 30 years, including this fabulously intricate intrigue-athon, which plunges very lightly into actual martial combat and favors instead a masterfully visualized stream of pure subterfuge and creeping espionage. Shot almost entirely on the grounds of South Korea’s famous 8th-century Bulguska temple — a found location Hu and his cast treat like an epic playground — the story involves a small band of thieves arriving at the temple as the master plans to retire and choose a successor, a process that invites en masse kibbitzing from various interested parties, each vying for their own candidate. The thieves want a priceless scroll, but amid the quick-quick-quick spatial near-misses and mini-chases in and out of the temple’s maze of alleys and halls, the tale takes relaxed detours, explores other characters (all either good or evil, in trad matinee style), throws in a murder plot, and generally eschews the Hong Kong sense of filmmaking as heart-attack-on-a-trampoline that Tsui Hark and company made popular in the ’80s. As in A Touch of Zen, the old-school yarn and serene action editing can be almost meditative, and the mesmeric presence of Hsu Feng, here as the arch-thief White Fox, is a gift from movie heaven.   ❖

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