Friday, July 19, 2024

This weekend at The Brattle Theatre will have a choice between two French flights of fancy – one brand new, the other half a century old. In broad strokes, Adrien Beau’s “The Vourdalak” (2023), making its local debut, sounds like a fairly typical European vampire movie, featuring a hapless traveler who seeks refuge in a remote homestead only to run afoul of a fearsome bloodsucker. But Beau draws as much inspiration from pantomime as from Hammer horror: Our protagonist spends the film in a powdered wig and liberally applied rouge, his hosts include the town harlot and a genderqueer peasant and, most memorably, the vampire is portrayed by an elaborate and ghastly puppet. The result is as cockeyed a slice of folk horror as you’re likely to see, and a reminder that, when it comes to character, state-of-the-art CGI is no match for good, old-fashioned puppetry.

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If you prefer your French fantasia on the more overtly whimsical end, The Brattle is running a special 50th anniversary restoration of Jacques Rivette’s new-wave cult classic “Celine and Julie Go Boating” (1974). Rivette’s film, about a pair of free-spirited young women (Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier) who embark on a giddy, psychedelic journey into an oddball wonderland, has long been underseen and underappreciated, a result of its unclassifiable charms and three-hour-plus running time. But thanks to a rerelease by the Criterion Collection and a growing groundswell of evangelism from die-hard fans, “Celine and Julie” has grown in estimation as a word-of-mouth consensus classic. Still, screenings remain rare, making this theatrical run appointment viewing for the cineaste who’s seen it all. “Celine and Julie” and “Le Vourdalak” run from Friday through Monday.

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To usher in the summer heat, the Independent Film Festival Boston launches its most ambitious repertory series yet at the Somerville Theatre. “Hot Summer Nights” is a two-month celebration of cinema’s steamiest guilty (and not-so-guilty) pleasures, inspired by the “Erotic ’80s” and “Erotic ’90s” seasons of Karina Longworth’s essential film history podcast “You Must Remember This.” The ’80s portion of the program kicks off Monday with Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo” (1980), starring a young Richard Gere as a studly male escort drawn into a web of murder and intrigue. Tuesday sees Lawrence Kasdan’s sultry neo-noir “Body Double” (1981) in a double feature with “9½ Weeks” (1986) by Adrian Lyne (a director from whom we’ll be hearing a lot in this series). Thursday lightens the mood a bit with Amy Heckerling’s immortal teen comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982) and the trendsetting “Flashdance” (1983, directed by Lyne again). Future installments of the series will feature introductions by some of the area’s best and brightest critics, who will help contextualize these films’ raunchy and sublime pleasures.

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Monday also sees the kickoff of “Musical Columbia,” the latest phase of The Brattle’s centennial celebration of Columbia Pictures. Every Monday and Tuesday for the remainder of July and the entirety of August, The Brattle showcases some of the toe-tappin’est titles from the studio’s esteemed history. The series begins Monday with The Brattle debut of “Start Cheering” (1938), a musical revue featuring the likes of Jimmy Durante and Louis Prima, as well as recurring comic relief by the Three Stooges. Tuesday’s double feature, meanwhile, sees a showdown between two of the screen’s all-time greatest hoofers, each paired opposite Rita Hayworth: Gene Kelly in “Cover Girl” (1944) and Fred Astaire in “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942).

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If you’re looking for music with a little more edge to it, head to the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema on Tuesday for “The Song Remains the Same” (1976), the big-screen debut of hard rock titans Led Zeppelin. As befitting the band’s sprawling, album rock tendencies, “Song” is a bit of a shaggy dog (not to be confused with a black dog), and is filled with peculiar “fantasy sequences” featuring gangsters, werewolves and gangster werewolves. But the film is rightly renowned for its dazzling live footage of the band in its prime, shot at Madison Square Garden in 1973. Whether Zep was the greatest rock band of all time is, of course, a matter of taste, but I would argue that they were certainly the most rock band of all time – and “Song” makes a pretty convincing case as to why.

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Another legendary rock star will make an appearance on screen at The Brattle next week, but in a decidedly different context. Richard Shepard’s 1991 indie-film oddity “The Linguini Incident” is best remembered as a footnote in the peculiar acting filmography of David Bowie, who appears alongside such cult-film mainstays as Rosanna Arquette, Eszter Balint, Andre Gregory and Buck Henry. But the film itself, a quirky homage to the screwball comedies of the ’30s, has developed a following in its own right. After years of striving for a rerelease, Shepard has regained the rights to the film and prepared a new director’s cut, which makes its local debut Wednesday and Thursday. Bowie may have been a cracked actor, but he had a knack for selecting some truly fascinating films.


Oscar Goff is a writer and film critic based in Somerville. He is film editor and senior critic for the Boston Hassle and his work has appeared in the monthly Boston Compass newspaper and publications such as WBUR’s The ARTery and iHeartNoise. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Online Film Critics Society.