The Homecoming, dir. Peter Hall, 1973
It’s tempting to extol the merits of this first-rate production by the 20th century’s greatest playwright—there I’ve said it—I would rather take a moment to praise Ely Landau. For two seasons, 1973-1974, through his company The American Film Theatre, Landau produced and distributed 14 filmed plays, including landmark productions of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, A Delicate Balance, Luther, and The Man in the Glass Booth. Landau’s subscription model prefigured today’s Met Opera Live, Dallas Jenkins’s The Chosen, as well as Metrograph’s film streaming service. Unfortunately there is no similar stage streaming. Peter Hall, who directed the original Homecoming 1965 stage production, also directed this AFT version; Pinter himself directed Simon Gray’s Butley for AFT. For an actual review of The Homecoming, google Roger Ebert’s smart Sun-Times article.
Mädchen In Uniform, dir. Leontine Sagan, 1931
My favorite part of Mädchen in Uniform, a 1931 German film about a girl who is sent to a same-sex boarding school and falls in love with one of her female teachers, is how everyone’s eyes shine. In girlhood, the line between fondness and love is all muddied up, and you can see it reflected in their looks: of anger, of disappointment, of hope, of pride. Each pair is a pool to jump into, and you never know if you’ll float or drown.
Jazmine Hughes is a staff writer for the New York Times. In 2023, she won the National Magazine Award for profile writing.
Seven Beauties, dir. Lina Wertmüller, 1975
Lina’s Wertmüller’s stretch of films made with Giancarlo Giannini is probably my favorite collaborative run of any director/actor ever. They are messy, human movies about power, set in dire times with wild premises. Though they cover serious topics, they are not serious pictures—they are funny pictures, and they are Italian, so they are also full of hand gestures. They have sad, but not unhappy endings, and Seven Beauties is no exception to this rule. Giannini plays a local hoodlum who is captured and taken to a concentration camp, where he cooks up the genius idea to make sweet, wartime whoopee with a plump, rosy-cheeked female officer in exchange for freedom. This does not go according to plan, and if you know anything about antics, you know they ensue! I urge you to watch all of Wertmüller’s movies up on Metrograph At Home. I love them equally, but Seven Beauties was my gateway drug, so take a puff, maybe you’ll get hooked, too.
Christopher Chang lives in Los Angeles.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, dir. Cristi Puiu, 2005
Something like a dissipated version of Jeanne Dieleman with unexpected touches of The Long Goodbye. Hypochondriac director Puiu offers up a paperwork process narrative that takes a sick, lonely, cat-loving alcoholic named, impossibly, Dante Remus Lăzărescu, on a Sisyphean journey through the underworld of Bucharest’s hospital system. The first 51 minutes, a near real-time wait for an ambulance, is wonderfully excruciating to watch. Our Dante needs a Virgil, and one arrives in the form of Mioara, a gall-bladder-aching paramedic. Her dogged insistence on finding Lăzărescu treatment provides a glimmer of hope that compensates for the indignities that the lead suffers throughout this masterclass. One exchange between the leads felt particularly emblematic: “Are you still feeling nauseous?” “I’m feeling melancholy ma’am.”
Adam Dalva’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. He is the Senior Fiction Editor of Guernica Magazine.