This week, we begin in Sweden:
Persona (****) Not rated, 83 minutes.
The Criterion Collection gives a royal, three-disc treatment to Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 masterpiece. The dark, introspective work centers on a 25-year-old nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), assigned to care for Elisabet (Liv Ullman), an actress who had a breakdown on stage performing Elektra.
Elisabet has retreated into herself, either unable or unwilling to speak. They meet in a clinic but later go to a cottage on a remote island. There, Alma chatters away, revealing herself to Elisabet, while the actress only exposes herself in her own way. After a while, they seemingly begin to resemble one another, a transition that might, or might not, lead to further interpretations about melding of personalities.
But what does it all mean, filmgoers asked themselves throughout the 1960s and long after? One of the most analyzed films of all time, it is nevertheless presented simply, with little adornment and a cast mostly restricted to Andersson and Ullman, beautifully captured in Sven Nykvist’s striking cinematography.
Extras: the stuffed package from The Criterion Collection offers the 20-minute featurette “Persona’s Prologue” examining the film’s first seven minutes. Plus: interviews with Bergman, Ullman and Andersson from 1966, Bergman alone in 1970, and, separately, Ullman and Paul Schrader, both from 2013. Also: 18 minutes of silent footage from the Persona film set with commentary, and an 84-minute reminiscence by Ullman on Liv and Ingmar. An enclosed 56-page booklet contains a 1974 interview with Bergman, a 1977 interview with Andersson, and an essay from film scholar Thomas Elsaesser.
Camille Claudel 1915 (**1/2) This dull, dreary, monotonous film perfectly conveys the dull, dreary, monotonous existence of its main character, Camille Claudel (Juliette Binoche), once a great beauty and acknowledged artist and sculptor. Twenty years before, she had worked with and had been the consort of Auguste Rodin. By 1915, she hallucinated that Rodin persecuted her, even though she had not seen him in years. She lives in an asylum near Avignon, confined by her family, which includes famed poet Paul Claudel (Jean-Luc Vincent).
Director Bruno Dumont uses the actual correspondence between the siblings to paint a sordid picture of her mental and physical degradation, a fall from grace and fame that places her with the institution’s mentally unstable. Actual asylum inmates play the film’s patients, making the confinement seem real but also unseemly and exploitative.
Binoche turns in an agonizing performance as Camille, ever volatile but alert enough to suffer humiliation and alienation. Isabelle Adjani played Camille Claudel in the 1988 bio-pic of the same name, with Gerard Depardieu playing Rodin.
Not rated, 95 minutes.
The King of Comedy (***) Three great talents display a surprising range of atypical abilities in this supremely odd 1983 film.
Martin Scorsese directed, injecting a dark comedy sensibility to the story of manic, nearly unhinged Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro).
He lives in his mother’s basement while longing to be a TV talk show host in the same manner as his idol Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Pupkin’s equally frantic friend Masha (Sandra Bernhard) helps him pull off a scatter-brained scheme to further his dreams.
De Niro shows a then-unexplored side of his abilities, while funnyman Lewis is terrific as the less-than-amused Langford.
For his part, Scorsese juggles all these talents while rendering a discomforting experience.
Rated PG, 109 minutes.
Extras: a 30-minute Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival with Lewis, De Niro and Scorsese. Plus: a 19-minute “making of” featurette, eight minutes of deleted scenes, and more.
L’Immortelle (**) When renowned purveyor of the New Novel Alain Robbe-Grillet made his directing debut with this film in 1963, he had previously written the screenplay for the 1961 master puzzler Last Year at Marienbad by director Alain Resnais (who died March 1 at 91).
Subsequently, in L’Immortelle, Robbe-Grillet shows he had been paying attention on Resnais’ film set, as it also shows similar camera setups, elliptical scenes, and an often incoherent narrative.
A man (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) arrives in Turkey and meets a beautiful, mysterious woman (Francoise Brion). They tour the town together while he believes she might be involved with a prostitution ring.
Or maybe not.
He loses her, finds her again, and so on, over and over.
In the meantime, Robbe-Grillet has his pawns deliver cryptic dialogue and pose for decorous shots arranged for hidden meanings.
Not rated, 101 minutes.
Extras: a 34-minute interview with Robbe-Grillet. Available on Blu-ray.
At Middleton (**1/2) This lighthearted comedy also has its serious moments, as well as a few romantic ones.
But co-writer and director Adam Rogers struggles for the consistent laughs he seeks from his story of a mother and daughter, Edith and Audrey (Vera Farmiga, Taissa Farmiga), encountering a father and son, George and Conrad (Andy Garcia, Spencer Lofranco), when they all appear for a campus tour of Middleton (with Spokane’s Gonzaga University substituting).
Initially painted as opposites, Edith and George end up spending most of the day together, having various adventures, including smoking pot, attending a drama session, and irritating several students and faculty members.
Fairly entertaining, and the two leads acquit themselves despite struggling with often inane material. With Peter Riegert, Tom Skerritt.
Rated R, 100 minutes.
Extras: an 11-minute outtake reel, and a music video with Andy Garcia singing.
Knights of Badassdom (**) In this lame, misfire of a satire, a trio of mismatched friends (Peter Dinklage, Steve Zahn and Ryan Kwanten) participate, with varying levels of enthusiasm, in a role-playing game in which they dress up as knights and chase maidens.
Oh, and they fight evil forces.
But a powerful book of sorcery casts its own spells, causing a demon to turn the faux Middle Ages of these Live Action Role Players into a scene of danger and chaos.
Harmless enough, however silly.
Rated R, 86 minutes.
Extras: interviews with Dinklage, Zahn and director Joe Lynch, a “behind-the-scenes” featurette, a brief “Hottie Montage,” and a look at the film’s panel at the San Diego Comic Con.
And, for kids this week:
The Pirate Fairy (***) Disney releases this colorful animated feature based on several of the characters found in Peter Pan.
Zarina (voice of Christina Hendricks), a feisty fairy, is enthralled by Blue Pixie Dust. But when she takes her infatuation too far, she leaves Pixie Hollow and joins the pirates at Skull Rock. They even make her their captain.
Meanwhile, Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman) and friends search for Zarina to bring her back, even if they have to face the pirates.
Tom Hiddleston voices cabin boy James.
Rated G, 78 minutes.
Extras: a “making of” featurette, a featurette on “The Legacy of Never Land,” a “Crocumentary” on crocodiles, deleted scenes, singalong songs, and more.
Also on DVD: The Bag Man, Everyday and 47 Ronin.
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic who has contributed to the Denton Record-Chronicle for more than 20 years. He lives in Dallas.