A ONE AND A TWO (15)
LES ENFANTS DU SIECLE (15)
UNEASY RIDERS (15)
Jean Pierre Sinapi
RUGRATS IN PARIS (U)
Stig Berquist/Paul Demeyer
THE WEDDING PLANNER (PG)
The best film of the year and never mind the remaining 270 days - perhaps the best film of the decade and never mind the remaining eight and three-quarter years - is Edward Yang's A One and a Two. To describe it as a three-hour Taiwanese family drama is like calling Citizen Kane a film about a newspaper. (True, but an atom of the whole truth.) Yang, best-known to date for that perfect humanist miniature A Brighter Summer Day (1991), is not a grandiose or even an assuming director. But he has started to seem a great one. Like a prince crashing a party incognito he comes to London's arthouse circuit, letting those with eyes to see sidle up to the stranger in the corner to be dazzled on a one-to-one basis.
The film should have opened at a frontline West End cinema: it has won umpteen prizes including Best Director at Cannes. But it pays its audience the compliment of not offering a single shoot-out, explosion or sex scene. The simple but subtly seismic story tells of fortyish businessman NJ, played with wonderful crestfallen charisma by Wu Nianzhen (a former Yang screenwriter), whose life starts falling apart one week, opening gaps through which he glimpses both what might have been and what might yet be.
We have all known such weeks. The wife breaks down and goes to a monastic retreat. The daughter Ting-Ting (Elaine Jin) falls for a handsome, enigmatic youth who might be trouble. Little son Yang-Yang, played with a pixie-ish fixity of gaze by Jonathan Chang, is a precocious philosopher. Worried that half of reality is always hidden from human beings he has started photographing the backs of people's heads ("You can't see it yourself, so I help you.") NJ's mixed-up brother-in-law is in haste to marry his pregnant girlfriend. And NJ meets an old flame at a party, but later tries to preserve a fire-retardant front when they re-meet on a business trip in Japan.
Everything, if not everyone, has a double life, from the jingle- repetition children's names to the window-reflection shots Yang loves, blending inside with outside and here enshrining message in image. For most of us, most of the time, external reality can seem an impenetrable shell hiding or contradicting what goes on in the heart and mind. It takes an adjustment - or a season of shock-induced adjustments - to make transparent, or opaquely penetrable, what was once unyielding.
All the characters have their revelations. In one scene little Yang-Yang creeps into a schoolroom where a film on meteorology is being shown. A girl latecomer's image is thrown in momentary silhouette against the roiling images of cloud and sky, transfixing the boy's gaze, while an overvoice burbles of "opposite forces attracting" and "the origin of life". It is his first primer on sexual attraction, cast as a mad, beatific accident of place and timing.
Yang knows that family life can be funny, even ridiculous; that it runs not just on love, wisdom and propitious providence but on gossip, scandal and daft ancestral proverbs. "We had bus rides without tickets in my day too!" says a tattle-tongued female wedding guest, eyeing the proof of pre- marital hanky panky in the brother-in-law's enlarged bride. Even a character's suicide attempt is observed with a droll precision of detail as if truth is served not by a director's portentous editorialising but by a plain, exact, wry use of sense and the senses. All human life is here in A One and a Two - in depth as well as breadth, not in the sudsy-numerical sense of a soap opera. If Chekhov had been reincarnated as an Oriental director this is a film he could have made, and one he would have been proud of.
Plunging towards earth with Spike Lee's Bamboozled, one risks burning up on re-entry. This may be the worst film made by a significant director in modern times. Lee loses it around the halfway point and by "it" we mean the script, the point, the sense of proportion and everything that keeps this satire on media racism on course - just about - for its first act.
Black TV producer Daman Wayans, labouring a prissy accent to show that this man has sold out to white culture, barnstorms his bosses with the wackily provocative idea of a new Black and White Minstrel Show. It will offend everyone; it will redefine, or re-heat, the political correctness debate. Two soft-shoe buskers (Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson) are signed for stardom. A troupe of hoofers multiplies around them, ready to trip the black/white fantastic with tailcoats, splay-gloved hands and suction-pump lips.
So far so funny, or at least brave. But Lee cannot live at this altitude of satirical ambiguity. He loses his nerve or his self- restraint, unwilling to trust comical obliquity to do the job. Filmgoers who cannot spell irony might enjoy the spectacle of blacks being spoofed or humiliated. Or, from the other side of the barricades, they might be outraged for real and think that Uncle Spike has become Uncle Tom.
So first we get lectured at stupefying length by Jada Pinkett as Wayans's bleeding-conscience assistant. Then we are socked with melodrama in a gone-serious final hour so lunatic, so programmatic, so filled with contrivance, nemesis and holier-than-thou hectoring, that we could be watching a Swift squib turned into a combination of Theodore Dreiser novel and Malcolm X diatribe. When art becomes propaganda, gather your coat and belongings. When propaganda becomes strident pamphleteering, leave the cinema.
But do not leave it for Diane Kurys' Les Enfants du Siecle. In this florid but faltering period piece writer George Sand is back, played by Juliette Binoche as if European cinema's Mademoiselle Enigma felt she at last had some scenery to chew. Sand and poet Alfred de Musset (Benoit Magimel) fall in love across a crowded salon, start to restructure mid 19th-century French literature, but are forced to break off and scream at each other, such being the wages of l'amour fou. The dialogue is alternately homiletic and near-hysterical. The piano music pounds on. And Sand's much-loved canary dies towards the end, clearly asking itself "Is life is a biopic worth the free seed?"
France does better in Uneasy Riders, a crossgrained docu- comedy about a home for the disabled, mixing actors with real handicapped folk. The irresistible force of human needs, for sex or love or re-affirmed identity, meets the all-but-immovable object of institutional thinking. Can the nurses abet a wheelchaired man who wants a prostitute? Or a young Muslim who wants to change his religion? Thought-provoking; often funny; directed on DV with abrasive immediacy by Jean-Pierre Sinapi.
For Hollywood comedies unmixed with thought, intelligence or any other sign of human complexity, there are Rugrats in Paris and The Wedding Planner. In the first a swarm of animated nappy-wearers hits a French theme park and causes mayhem, some of it watchable. The fabulously dressed villainess Coco La Bouche is no less fabulously voiced by Susan Sarandon. But be warned of the usual Rugrats fixation with poo-poo and pee-pee.
The title heroine of The Wedding Planner is played by Jennifer Lopez as if she had stepped in at the last moment for Julia Roberts and had yet to find the acting switch marked "screwball comedy". What happens when a designer of nuptial events starts to feel nuptial about her latest bridegroom client (Matthew McConaughey)? Not enough to fill two hours, though both San Francisco and Lopez look lovely.