Tonie Marshall’s Venus Beauty Institute is a gorgeous, amusingly bitter movie about a Parisian beauty salon and its staff of lonely unattached women. Among other things it’s a great corrective to American rom-coms: the characters (played by Nathalie Baye, Audrey Tatou, Bulle Ogier, etc.) act like real people, not superstars dressing down as the girl next door, and they do things—having sex in the back seat of strange men’s cars, taking up with pathetic-seeming sugar daddies—which U.S. audiences would find off-putting. It all has a point, though, and it’s not to be depressing. (It’s too much influenced by Demy and Tati to be a downer.) And if, like me, you’re any kind of a Nathalie Baye fan, it’s a real must-see; I’m also giving it bonus points for the short scenes with Emmanuelle Riva, Edith Scob (!) and Claire Denis.
Afterschool – An alienated kid at a posh prep school accidentally films two classmates dying of an OD, then is asked—“ironically”—to make a video tribute for the school memorial. The debut feature by Antonio Campos is getting a bunch of “talent to be reckoned with” buzz, but its surprise ending isn’t very surprising, and it abounds in predictable, annoying distancing techniques (askew framing, glacial pacing, long silences, entire scenes played with the performers’ backs turned to the camera) that are favored by the very young. I thought it was the work of someone just playing at being an artist, but your mileage, naturally, may et cetera.
The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing – The Harry K. Thaw-Stanford White murder of 1906 done as a big Fox production, with Joan Collins as Evelyn Nesbit. The real Nesbit was credited as a consultant, which sounds about right since everyone other than Harry Thaw and his mother has been unreasonably sweetened. Ray Milland in particular is nowhere near sleazy enough as Stanford White (White liked to push his young girlfriends on the velvet swing while they were naked, not clad in dresses buttoned up to their chins), and while Farley Granger captured Harry Thaw’s terminal neuroticism just fine, he should’ve been allowed to carry it into deeper water. (Thaw was practically a turn-of-the-century Paul Snider.) The movie’s darkest ripple comes in a cafe when Evelyn obediently hands him a note reading “The B. was just here”—“The Beast” being Thaw’s pet name for White—and Thaw simply pockets it and mutters “I saw him.” Finally, it has to be said that delectable as Collins was as a young woman, she was never quite like this: