`Dreamlife' rests on strong performances

Reviews in brief

May 28, 1999

"The Dreamlife of Angels" is a strangely affecting story of two young women living a marginal existence in Lille, France. When they meet at a sewing factory, Isa (Elodie Bouchez) and Marie (Natacha Regnier) begin to room together in the enormous apartment that Marie is staying in. As their friendship deepens, Marie's problems with intimacy and sexual impulsiveness threaten to drive the self-sacrificing Isa away.

"The Dreamlife of Angels," which opens today at the Charles, won awards at the Cannes Film Festival last year for its two actresses, both of whom deliver fiercely intense performances here. As Marie, Regnier is all thin-lipped nervous energy, hunched over in a self-protective crouch from which she could attack at any moment. And as Isa, Bouchez is a revelation. At first her ingratiating smile and pixie-like haircut make her seem like any other spunky French waif, but Isa emerges as a fascinatingly complex character by the end of the film, not to mention its title character.

First-time filmmaker Erick Zonca directs with assurance, using a hand-held camera and Godard-like jump cuts for much of the movie, but never hesitating to slow the action down when need be (a long take of Isa crying alone in a church makes a devastating impact).

"The Dreamlife of Angels" starts out as a picaresque tale of two appealing vagabonds, and turns into a powerful meditation on loneliness, alienation and the ephemeral nature of human connection.

"The Dreamlife of Angels." Starring Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Regnier, Gregoire Colin. Directed by Erick Zonca. Rated R (some strong sexuality). Running time 113 minutes. Released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Sun score * * *

-- Ann Hornaday

`Dr. Akagi'

Shohei Imamura, who at 72 is Japan's most important living director, made "Dr. Akagi" as an homage to his own father, a physician who was dedicated to his patients and the art of healing. And love suffuses this movie, in which Akira Emoto plays the title character, a doctor working in a small coastal village during the final days of World War II. Convinced that hepatitis will soon ravage the country, Dr. Akagi is obsessed with finding a cure for the disease, which he researches in between running -- literally -- from patient to patient.

Emoto turns in a quietly sympathetic performance as Akagi, whose gentle ridiculousness recalls Jacques Tati and whose dramatic pathos recalls the films of Ozu.

Less effective are the supporting characters of "Dr. Akagi," which Imamura adapted from a Japanese short story. A morphine-addicted doctor, an alcoholic Buddhist priest, a young prostitute and an escaped Dutch prisoner all try to help Akagi in his search, but Imamura allows the wacky ensemble to steal much of Akagi's thunder.

Still, he has made "Dr. Akagi" with his characteristic formal beauty, and composer Yosuke Yamashita has written the kind of lushly orchestrated musical score that hasn't been heard since the 1970s.

Fans of Imamura won't want to miss this sweet, slightly antic addition to the filmmaker's considerable oeuvre.

"Dr. Akagi." Starring Akira Emoto, Kumiko Aso, Jyuro Kara, Jacques Gamblin, Masanori Sera. Directed by Shohei Imamura. This film is not rated (some nudity and sexuality). Running time 128 minutes. Released by Kino International.

Sun score * * 1/2

-- Ann Hornaday

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