La Bonne Annee: Lino Ventura wishes you a Happy New Year.
Out with the new and in with the old with this trio of diverse films that all take place on or around New Year’s Day.
La Bonne Annee (1973)
The clip from director Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman that opens his La Bonne Année (Happy New Year) lasts long enough to remind viewers of the visual gimcrackery that contributed to the former’s success. The film is being screened for a captive audience: a group of convicts, among whom is Simon (Lino Ventura), a jewel thief about to be granted what appears to be a New Year’s parole for good behavior. In flashback (and color!), we see the caper that earned him his six-year stretch and the reason behind the amnesty: the cops want to find out where he and his partner stashed the stolen gems. Françoise Fabian is the woman in the picture, an antiques dealer surrounded by intellectuals who’s capable of making room in her heart for an unpolished gem. A study in craggy repose, Simon’s approach to both crime and romance — psychology is screwing someone before they screw you, a woman is a man who cries more, etc. — is the epitome of reductivism. Before product placement became the rage, elite French jewelry company Van Cleef & Arpels purchased enough on-screen advertisements to help bankroll the production. Nothing new, but Lelouch does a commendable job of rearranging the familiar.
The New Year Parade (2008)
Stories of imperfect parents, broken children, and the toll divorce takes on a family are as common as hand-me-down clothes, but few arouse the firsthand dramatic intensity and heartbreak of Tom Quinn’s The New Year Parade. Sandwiched between a pair of Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade — an elaborate display with almost as many moving parts as a family in disarray — it’s clear that Mike (Andrew Conway) is losing control of his clan. Wife Lisa (MaryAnn McDonald) cheated on him, yet their two grown children, Jack (Greg Lyons) and his younger sister Kat (Jennifer Welsh), appear to be siding with mom. Kat learns of the pending divorce from gossip in her father’s bar, Jack contemplates jumping ship for another band, and at several points in the proceedings, the children act as therapists for their parents. The parade, an annual tradition passed down from father to son, gives the film its through line as Mike’s South Philadelphia String Band prepares for next year’s competition. Shot over a period of four years and largely improvised by a cast of non-professionals committed to seeing Quinn’s vision through to the end, the finished prout is so seamlessly integrated as to leave the impression of a hidden-camera documentary.
I am almost entirely unfamiliar with Tupac Shakur’s discography, but I can personally vouch for the quality of his performances in the half-dozen films in which he starred. This black comedy romp places near the top. Spend New Year’s Day with a trio of junkies — Spoon (Tupac Shakur), Stretch (Tim Roth) and Cookie (Thandie Newton) — as they fight to keep the latter alive after a heroin overdose puts a crimp in the celebration. (The three have reached that point in a junkie’s life where they no longer get high, but must shoot up just to avoid getting sick.) Spoon’s resolution to convince a reluctant Stretch to spend January 1 getting clean results in the two butting heads with bureaucracy, the cops, and a well-dressed lawbreaker (played by writer-director Vondie Curtis-Hall) who doesn’t cotton to finding a brick in the box where the illegal camcorder Stretch sold him should have been. Roth is superb, bouncing comic relief off Shakur’s urbane shooter. As dope addict comedies go, Curtis-Hall’s semi-autobiographical escapades far outclass those in Trainspotting.
There is one rule that the filmmakers should not have followed: If you introduce Howard Hessman in the first act, in the second or third act he absolutely must go off. Other than that, this has the makings a great double-bill with 48 Hrs.