Critic's Picks: A May To-Do List for Film Buffs in L.A.

Smiles of a Summer Night Still - Photofest - H 2018

Angeleno film buffs with Cannes envy can console themselves this month with an Ingmar Bergman retrospective, a controversial Henri-Georges Clouzot film, classics from India and Cuba, and more.


This year marks the centenary of the birth of director Ingmar Bergman, and to celebrate, multiple organizations are coming together to host a season of the Swedish master’s films at a variety of venues across Los Angeles. With a career that lasted more than 50 years, Bergman’s catalog is a treasure trove of classics and underseen gems alike. A sizable cross-section of each can be seen throughout the month of May at the Aero and Egyptian theaters, which together will host 10 Bergman double features (and one triple feature!), largely on 35mm. Rather than focus solely on the director’s harrowing depictions of romance or his moody meditations on spirituality, these double bills will instead pair a signature title with a lesser known work. Notable double bills include, at the Egyptian, 1957‘s landmark The Seventh Seal and 1958‘s darkly humorous The Magician (May 4), each starring longtime Bergman lead Max von Sydow; 1952’s Waiting Women and the 1964 color comedy All These Women (May 6); and 1968‘s Hour of the Wolf and the 1977 English-language period piece The Serpent’s Egg (May 11). At the Aero, highlights include Bergman’s international breakthrough, 1955‘s Smiles of a Summer Night, and 1969’s uncharacteristically political The Rite (May 16); a pair of films from 1960, The Virgin Spring and the rarely screened social satire The Devil’s Eye (May 18); and, lastly, 1957's unforgettable Wild Strawberries and the 1954 marital comedy A Lesson in Love (May 19).

LE CORBEAU AT THE ROYAL | 11523 Santa Monica Blvd.

Opening May 4 at the Royal Theater in Santa Monica is a new digital restoration of French iconoclast Henri-Georges Clouzot’s controversial 1943 film Le Corbeau. Banned for five years after its premiere, Le Corbeau tells of a small town inundated by a series of letters, each signed “Le Corbeau” (“The Raven”), implicating the townsfolk in various moral infidelities – the most dubious concerning a doctor accused of performing illegal abortions. As rumors spread and the letters grow more inflammatory (one is so salacious it inspires a suicide), the community quickly begins to devolve into a mob of paranoia and backbiting. Clouzot, author of such later masterpieces as The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, films this gothic parable in a stylized manner befitting its genre allusions, without betraying his subject matter’s personal, provocative essence. Made during the Second World War, Le Corbeau skillfully captures the era’s pervading anxiety, and seems poised finally to join the ranks of its director’s most revered accomplishments. 


On May 20 at the Echo Park Film Center, the increasingly indispensable Kino Slang series presents another essential double bill: Beginning with the North American premiere of Gens du Lac (People of the Lake), the latest short by the venerated French filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub (and a programming coup worthy of being singled out and praised on its own), this unique evening will continue with The Sixth of June at Dawn, a little-known documentary made at the height of WWII by another giant of French cinema, Jean Gremillon (Remorques, Lumiere d'ete). Comprising news reel excerpts, air-raid footage and on-the-ground reportage, Gremillon’s three-part portrait looks at the transformation of Normandy from prewar tranquility to wartorn trauma. Its immediacy and realism should play as the perfect complement to Straub’s personal-poetic essay, itself a meditation on war that, like many of the 85-year-old’s films, finds its animating force through the pangs of historical memory.


On May 11, a pair of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ newest digital restorations, of two classic Cuban films from the 1970s, will be showcased at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood. Covering an almost 300-year span, the films, 1972’s A Cuban Fight Against the Demons and 1979‘s The Survivors, were both directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, one of the pioneers of the Third Cinema Movement in Latin America, and one of its most politically provocative voices. The former film, set during the Spanish occupation of Cuba, follows a band of revolutionaries as they plot an uprising against their oppressors, while the latter levies a more satiric if no less powerful statement in its tale of an aristocratic family that confines itself to a secluded mansion while society undergoes a vast sociopolitical metamorphoses right outside the front door. Together, the films paint a portrait of a country whose development has evolved in incremental, contentious and often contradictory strides across the centuries. 


In conjunction with an ongoing celebration of craft traditions in 19th century India, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena is hosting a quartet of films this month that deal with the country’s rich historical and artisanal lineage. Although each film will be screened digitally, the titles aren’t common enough on the repertory circuit to put up too much of a fuss. Beginning on May 4 with Victor Saville’s Kim (1950), the story of a young British boy torn between loyalties during the English occupation of India, the series continues on successive Fridays with a pair of films by the country’s most internationally celebrated artist, Satyajit Ray, as well as a beautiful outlier from Jean Renoir, one of French cinema’s true titans. Ray’s 1977 film The Chess Players, a poetic account of two opposing leaders set just before the British Raj, comes first, on May 11, while the director’s furious 1984 feature The Home and the World, featuring Swatilekha Sengupta as a housewife undergoing a radical personal and political awakening, follows two weeks later May 25. Between these, on May 18, is Renoir’s 1951 color masterpiece The River, which found the illustrious French filmmaker bringing his empathetic eye and humane touch to a story of a young woman learning of love and life in a foreign land.