400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
Making the rounds right now is a truly satisfying foreign language film that -- surprise -- was not among the Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language film. It comes from the veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio, who made his feature debut with Fists in the Pocket all the way back in 1965; various writers such as David Thomson and Pauline Kael agreed that it was one of the great directorial debuts of all time. It told the story of one of the screen's most screwed-up dysfunctional families. In the 45 years since, Bellocchio, hasn't made much of a ripple here in the U.S., though his films My Mother's Smile (2002) and Good Morning, Night (2003) -- which I did not see -- received mostly good reviews.
His new movie Vincere (2 screens) returns to the idea of dysfunctional families, though this one happens to involve Benito Mussolini. Normally this kind of movie screams out warnings: it's a historical drama and a biopic. It's going to be very faithful to research and fact and very full of its own pomp and circumstance. Except for the centerpiece performance, these kinds of movies rarely come to life. But lo and behold, as I was watching Vincere, I realized that it was really starting to pop. And it does so because Bellocchio visually illustrates the emotions behind the story, rather than slavishly re-creating them in moving pictures with costumes, dialogue and actors.