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DARK OBSESSIONS

When João César Monteiro died, it was front-page news in Europe, where the Portuguese director is considered a major figure. But since his work is virtually unknown here, BAM is now making amends with a 10-film retro, running from April 28 to May 19. Monteiro’s work is deeply polemic in its criticism of repression in Portuguese society, yet also wildly eccentric and entertaining with its sexually explicit humor and disregard for conventional filmmaking. In Recollections of the Yellow House (1989), arguably his masterpiece, the director plays the lead, the impoverished tenant of a Lisbon boarding house (the character is called João de Deus—named for the Portuguese-born patron saint of prostitutes) whose obsession with his landlady’s daughter leads to bizarre voyeuristic rituals. By the time of Come and Go (2003), his final film, Monteiro may have grown older, but his erotic imagination had lost nothing of its edge—he’s deeply moving as a libertine widower in this meditation on spirituality and desire. It was released the year he died and Portuguese cinema lost its Marquis de Sade.

April 28-May 19, 2010

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Mystery of the Wax Museum

Dir. Michael Curtiz (1933).
Not to be missed. Filmed in eerie two-color Technicolor, this nicely crafted horror flick stars baroque Lionel Atwill, splendid as the mentally and physically scarred fiendish sculptor of wax figures. Great designer Anton Grot’s sets are handsome and imaginative, and poor Fay Wray is every bit as terrified as she was in King Kong.

Mon., April 12, 2:40, 6:05 & 9:20 p.m., 2010

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The Front Page

Dir. Louis Milestone (1931).
The first screen version of Hecht and MacArthur’s play set in a cynical newspaper world suffers from uneven direction but comes alive every minute suave Adolphe Menjou is on screen as cold-blooded Chicago editor Walter Burns. Remade twice—first by Howard Hawks in his classic fast-paced His Girl Friday (1940), and then by Billy Wilder—The Front Page (1974), well-cast with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, but minor Wilder.

Sun., April 11, 3:30 & 7:30 p.m., 2010

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La Chienne

Dir. Jean Renoir (1931).
Idiosyncratic Michel Simon gives a bravura performance as a henpecked unhappily-married clerk led into a life of crime by his love for a prostitute. In his first great talkie, Renoir takes a simple melodrama and turns it into a complex major work of unsentimental naturalism, tinged with theatricality, one of his most durable pictures, creating characters rather than types. Fritz Lang remade two of Renoir’s French films in Hollywood—this one as the fine noir Scarlet Street in 1954.

Tue., April 13, 6:50 & 9:15 p.m., 2010

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The Human Beast

Dir. Jean Renoir (1938).
One of Renoir’s blackest films transfers the action of Emile Zola’s novel to the present day and supplies French cinema’s working class hero Jean Gabin with one of his finest roles as a locomotive engineer, an ordinary man drawn by chance into a life of passion and murder. The brilliantly handled railroad scenes are unforgettable. Two of the greatest directors treated the same subject—Fritz Lang remade the story in Hollywood in 1954 as Human Desire.

Sat., April 10, 2, 4:30, 6:50 & 9:15 p.m., 2010

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Toni

Dir. Jean Renoir (1935).
Not a single scene was made in a studio in Renoir’s naturalistic treatment of a melodramatic story based on a real rural police case in the South of France involving an immigrant Italian worker. There is great authenticity of settings and faces together with an atmosphere of stark sexiness. This dark movie shot without well-known performers is often cited as a precursor of Italian neo-realism.

Fri., April 9, 6:50 & 9:15 p.m., 2010

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Lessons of Darkness

Dir. Werner Herzog (1990).
This portrait of post–Gulf War Kuwait reveals the place as a blazing inferno, an evocation of pure hell on earth. Lakes of oil and fields of fire transform the desert into a surreal nightmare world as Wagner and Mahler provide an elegiac musical backdrop.

Sat., Feb. 13, 7:45 p.m.; Mon., Feb. 15, 4 p.m., 2010

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The Hellstrom Chronicle

Dir. Walon Green (1971).
This oddity is a mixture of fright flick and entomological documentary, whose message is that insects are taking over the planet. The microphotography is hypnotically fascinating, making the bugs look like horrendous monsters. A single drawback—it’s a bit annoyingly narrated by a fictional scientist.

Fri., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 13, 6 p.m., 2010

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The Atomic Cafe

Dir. Kevin Rafferty & Pierce Rafferty (1982).
This disturbing film, mostly a compilation of film clips of U.S. government propaganda that attempted to make the nuclear bomb an acceptable part of the country’s cultural life during the cold war of the 1950s, does go far to explain the bizarreness and paranoid mind-set of American society of the period.

Fri., Feb. 12, 7 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 13, 1 p.m., 2010

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Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh

Dir. Paul Cox (1987).
This art film is not really documentary or fiction. One of Australia’s foremost directors, Cox has made a fascinating tribute to Van Gogh, based mostly on the letters the painter wrote to his brother. Cox’s one-of-a-kind film covers the last 10 years of Van Gogh’s life, but except for a brief funeral scene at the end, the central character of the drama is never seen.

Wed., Feb. 10, 7 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 11, 4 p.m., 2010