SHANGHAI TRIAD Zhang Yimou (15)
L'AVVENTURA Michelangelo Antonioni (PG)
A FISTFUL OF FINGERS Edgar Wright (12)
CARLOTA JOAQUINA, PRINCESS OF BRAZIL Carla Camurati (15)
Self-abasement doesn't get much lower than this. Hustling in order to fund his heroin habit, the writer Jim Carroll apparently had to allow a parrot to eat grapes out of his pubic hair. Alas, this fascinating vignette of street life hasn't made it into The Basketball Diaries, a movie based on Carroll's story, although most of the obvious cliches are present and correct.
The lead role is taken by Leonardo DiCaprio, who will shortly play Rimbaud in another forthcoming film. For all its claims not to glorify drugs, The Basketball Diaries bears an uncomfortable resemblance to this romantic tradition of poets who do junk to fuel their talent - characteristically, Carroll himself makes a cameo appearance as an addict hymning the exquisite ritual of preparing to shoot up. At the end, DiCaprio, whose trashed beauty has survived his season in hell, is seen turning his experiences into a playlet for an ecstatic audience of off-off-Broadway trendies.
Zhang Yimou's Shanghai Triad disappointed me at Cannes, and a second viewing didn't change my opinion, although it certainly shines more brightly amid some of the dog-eared specimens now on show in Britain. Set in China in the Thirties, it stars Gong Li as a gangster's moll who becomes a pawn in the internecine warfare between two mobsters. Events are seen from the viewpoint of a small country boy who becomes her factotum, so that all the manoeuvrings and the violence occur on the margins of the story: the film starts as a lushly operatic Chinese Godfather, but instead of, as we expect, using the triads to explore a country's corruption, becomes an intimate chamber piece, as Gong discovers the extent of her betrayal. Technically the film can't be faulted, but the story, with its neat "vicious circle" ending, is predictable and a little too pat - we expect more from this world-class director.
One film that can be unreservedly recommended comes from a master, Michelangelo Antonioni, at his peak; L'Avventura resurfaces looking both very much of its era (1960) and bracingly modern. The story, as so often in Antonioni's work, concerns a loss and a search: a young woman disappears under mysterious circumstances; her friend (Monica Vitti) tries to find her. But what counts are the tiny subtleties of the characters and the relationships between them, nailed in a breathtaking suite of cool, elegant, precision-tuned images. Watch and marvel.
The young man who nervously introduced himself at the screening as the director of A Fistful of Fingers barely looked old enough to get his own movie (it has, slightly surprisingly, a 15 rating). Nor, for that matter, did most of the cast. This cheap and cheerful spoof Western, shot for a very small fistful of dollars (pounds 10,000), was conceived, the press notes officially tell us, from some "general arsing about" during a school lunchbreak. Somehow the jape has been spun into a full-length feature, shot in the far West (Somerset), with an ivy-clad pub standing in for the town saloon.
A Fistful of Fingers is - given the budget - filmed and edited with some energy; there's a good music track and even a nifty little animated sequence. A few jokes are quite funny, in a silly, sub-Python sort of way. The net effect is still juvenile; it's hard to imagine anyone parting with pounds 7 to see it. But it could have an afterlife as a post-pub video rental.
It's not the worst film to open this week. That honour belongs to Carlota Joaquina, Princess of Brazil, which relives a little-known episode from 19th-century history as grotesque farce. Carlota, a Spanish infanta who became the first Queen of Brazil, has, we learn "big breasts and a body on fire". She also has a moustache, rotten teeth, more pairs of shoes than Imelda Marcos and a voice that could strip paint. The film is narrated by an equally irritating character, a Scot in a kilt with a tartan-bound copy of Burns's poems in his pocket, who talks as if reciting a history lesson. Why is this dross being shown here at all? One clue: the press brochure is crammed with ads (the film even manages to slip in a giant plug for the Banco do Brasil). Not being sponsored to suffer through it, I left after an hour, by no means the first critic to hit the door.
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