Manoel de Oliveira's Belle Toujours is back on the charts this week, playing on one lone screen, in Denver, according to my information. Among its other qualities and achievements, it marks the fourth collaboration of director Oliveira and actor Michel Piccoli (a fifth, a short segment in an anthology film, appeared earlier this year). At 81, Piccoli is practically a living legend, having worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Louis Malle, Mario Bava, and many other greats. He also appears in Jean-Pierre Melville's 1962 Le Doulos, currently re-released on 2 screens. It's a delicate relationship between director and actor; Piccoli and Oliveira seem to be developing a comfortable working relationship in which each brings out the best in the other. This has happened relatively few times over the past century. When it happens, it can be very exciting, but when a director and an actor don't click, everything can fall to pieces.
Milos Forman has coaxed and guided some great performances over the years, notably Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus and Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon. But he has rarely been praised for directing women, as evidenced by his awkward handling of Natalie Portman in the awful Goya's Ghosts (37 screens). The movie earned advance attention for its nude/sex scene, but will probably be remembered for fitting Portman with a set of humorously bad fake teeth and for her self-consciously dazed walk, newly released from prison, through a chaotic town square. Forman may be to blame, but Portman is out there, on the screen, all alone and in front of everyone.