|Jessica from Avenue Montaigne|
All of the films on this year’s list are personal favorites of mine. Although I am a great fan of American films, I believe that foreign films provide an opportunity to see and understand other cultures. In addition to being great stories with great characters, they can open up a window to other worlds.
AVENUE MONTAIGNE: a lively French comedy that centers around Jessica, a charming young woman from the provinces who comes to Paris and lands a job waiting tables at a chic bistro on fabled Avenue Montaigne, the city’s nexus for art, music, theater and fashion. Jessica’s customers include a popular TV actress; a wealthy art collector; and an illustrious classical pianist. Precisely because Jessica doesn’t know how celebrated these people are, her guileless and completely unintimidated engagement in their lives has a transforming effect on them—and ultimately her.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS: Before the collapse of the Berlin wall, East Germany’s population was closely monitored by the State Secret Police or Stasi. Only a few citizens above suspicion, like renowned pro-Socialist playwright Georg Dreyman were permitted to lead private lives. But when a corrupt government official falls for Georg’s stunning actress-girlfriend, Christa, an ambitious Stasi policeman is ordered to bug the writer’s apartment to gain incriminating evidence against the rival. Now, what the officer discovers is about to change their lives—as well as his—in this seductive political thriller.
PYGMALION: George Bernard Shaw wrote the screenplay adaptation of his own stage masterpiece about Professor Henry Higgins’s wager to turn a low-class flower vendor into a “lady”. This 1938 film, starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, one of Great Britain’s greatest actresses, was later adapted into the famed musical, “My Fair Lady”.
THE ICICLE THIEF: A film director has been invited to show his grim dark realist drama in the style of the Bicycle Thief on Italian commercial television. Unfortunately, his film is frequently interrupted by garish commercials, and then by a power outage that makes everything go haywire. Characters in the commercials begin to interact with characters in the film and the result is a visually stunning romantic comedy. Only available on VHS.
TOKYO STORY: the crowning film achievement of the great Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu. The film follows an aging couple’s journey to visit their grown children in bustling postwar Tokyo. This black and white film from 1953 features Ozu regulars Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara. “One of cinema’s greatest masterpieces.”
JOHNNY STECCHINO: Famed Italian comic Roberto Benigni stars in a dual role as a simple school bus driver and as a Mafioso. As usual, Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s wife, co-stars. One of the great comedies of all time but only available in VHS.
A FOREIGN FIELD: A British film with an acclaimed international cast including Alec Guinness, Leo McKern, Jeanne Moreau, and Loren Bacall. Two British war vets meet an American vet when all three return to Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Old rivalries resurface, particularly when two of the men discover they are searching for the same lost love. This disparate band of survivors eventually finds common ground in the memory of what they lost on that fateful day in 1944.
SEPARATE TABLES: A 1958 film based on two plays by renowned British playwright Terence Rattigan about a day in the life of the residents at a British resort hotel. The residents are played by an all-star cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, and Wendy Hiller. Niven won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance, and Hiller won Best Supporting Actress.
|Wendy Hiller in Separate Tables|