Prep Schools, Icelandic Missions, and Alpine Exploration | Fast Scans

An 1800s Icelandic mission, class resentments and crime, and a hit man in Mussolini’s Italy feature in this month’s can’t-miss foreign and indie films. 

La Cérémonie. 102 min. In French w/English subtitles. Criterion. 1995. DVD UPC 715515289818. $29.99; Blu-ray UPC 715515289719. $39.99. THRILLER

Hired as a housemaid by an upper-middle-class couple (Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Cassel), nondescript Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) hides her dyslexia, which makes it hard to perform her duties. But she befriends a local postal clerk (Isabelle Huppert), previously acquitted of murdering her daughter, who offers assistance until class resentments surface. Based on Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone, director Claude Chabrol’s film takes a detached approach to the crime thriller in favor of subtle social commentary. VERDICT For art-house fans open to genre subversion.

The Conformist. 113 min. In Italian w/English subtitles. Kino Lorber. 1970. Blu-ray UPC 738329264635. $34.95. DRAMA

An insecure man who considers himself different because of a traumatic adolescent incident, Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) desperately wants to be normal—or what passes for normality under Mussolini’s fascist rule in 1938. So he takes a job as a hit man targeting his onetime college professor, now an exiled antifascist living in Paris with his much younger wife (Dominique Sanda). Given a new restoration, Bernardo Bertolucci’s stunningly lensed character study is told largely in flashback, to superb effect. VERDICT A classic title for international film collections.

The Eight Mountains. 147 min. In Italian w/English subtitles. Criterion. 2022. DVD UPC 715515290418. $24.99; Blu-ray UPC 715515290319. $29.99. DRAMA

A pair of childhood friends (Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi), who part ways before reuniting as adults, task themselves with reconstructing an Alpine cabin that they plan to use as a base for mountain exploration. Directors Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch won the Cannes Jury Prize (tying with EO) for their well-observed story of bonding between men, but the film’s use of a square frame shortchanges the panoramic mountain vistas. VERDICT The pacing and run time make for an uphill climb, but patience is rewarded.

Godland. 143 min. In Danish & Icelandic w/English subtitles. Criterion. 2022. DVD UPC 715515290012. $24.99; Blu-ray UPC 715515289917. $29.99 DRAMA

Sent to Iceland in the late 1800s on a mission to establish a new church, Danish priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) deals with unforgiving elements, from terrain and climate to a foreign tongue and unwelcoming people. Isolation takes its toll, prompting the missionary to question his proselytizing purpose. Writer-director Hlynur Pálmason puts his protagonist through the wringer, but the natural world offers a harsh beauty that Lucas captures with a still camera. VERDICT This stranger-in-a-strange-land tale is admirable for its purity but still a bit of a slog.

How To Be a Good Wife. 108 min. In French w/English subtitles. Icarus Films. 2020. DVD UPC 854565004054. $26.99. DRAMEDY

As the headmistress of a French prep school in 1967, Paulette (Juliet Binoche) gamely instructs teen girls on traditional feminine values—proper manners, culinary skills, good housekeeping, and the like—at a time when the role of women is on the cusp of revolution. After the school’s financial straits are shockingly revealed, keeping its doors open appears daunting, forcing the newly widowed Paulette to update her own role. Writer-director Martin Provost relies on comedy to make the social observation go down easily. VERDICT Binoche fans ought to take notice.

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