Conceived and shot in the space of a few weeks due to the Solidarity crisis of December 1981, Jerzy Skolimowski‘s black comedy is much more than a political tract: it’s a profound, gripping comedy of terror and isolation, oppression and entrapment. Jeremy Irons, in a performance worthy of Chaplin, is the head of a Polish construction crew doing illegal work on a flat in London; when the military coup occurs back home, Irons—the only member of the group who speaks English—must keep it a secret from his men. Though the film is founded on a metaphor, it is never forced or abstract: Skolimowski’s direction is a concrete creative response to these actors in this setting at this time, making full expressive use of the details, gestures, and situations at hand. It is, in short, a film—unimaginable as theater or literature—and very possibly a great one.
With most of the humor predicated on homosexual panic, this Dustin Hoffman drag comedy plays like the reactionary inverse of Blake Edwards‘s Victor/Victoria: it’s a film about sex roles that upholds and solidifies strict polarities, styled as safe situation comedy rather than Edwards’s rousing, vulgar farce. Just as Kramer vs. Kramer carried the subliminal point that fathers make the best mothers, so does Tootsie (1982) suggest that men — given the chance — make the best women. As an unsuccessful actor who lands a female part on a soap opera, Hoffman learns a firsthand lesson in chauvinism, an experience that allows him to lecture his costars — Jessica Lange, Teri Garr — on women’s rights. Sydney Pollack‘s professional direction gives the choppy, errant material the appearance of smoothness and integrity, and there are several solid laughs and some excellent supporting performances. But this is a film to be wary of. With Charles Durning and Bill Murray. 116 min.
During the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, Wim Wenders induced a number of filmmakers to come to room 666 of the Carlton Hotel, where they found a video camera and a questionnaire inviting them to comment on the future of the cinema. The results of Wenders’s stunt are thoroughly fascinating: as each director finds himself alone in a room, facing the blank stare of the tool of his trade, he instantly invents a little fiction about himself, ranging from Jean-Luc Godard‘s impersonation of the weary cynic and Werner Herzog‘s dazzling star turn as the great iconoclast to Steven Spielberg‘s absolutely chilling impression of the smug, condescending Hollywood mogul. Among the other auto-interviewees are Paul Morrissey, Mike De Leon, Monte Hellman, Romain Goupil, Susan Seidelman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Robert Kramer, Ana Carolina, Mahoud Dagbadi, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Yilmaz Guney.
Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film achieves the level of decent, middling Disney—Old Yeller, for example, rather than Snow White or Pinocchio—which is to say that the childhood myths being promulgated here are rather basic and unadorned, without the baroque touches and psychological penetration Disney could muster at his best. The extraterrestrial is a big-eyed, phallic-headed ancient baby, discovered by a suburban boy as implicit emotional compensation for his parents’ divorce. Though marred by Spielberg’s usual carelessness with narrative points, the film alternates sweetness and sarcasm with enough rhetorical sophistication to be fairly irresistible. With Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, and Peter Coyote. PG, 120 min.