Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Rooftops of Paris, The Rehearsal-Halls of London

It’s increasingly rare that the $5 DVD bin offers anything of interest; funny, you’d think it would be the other way around. Recently, though, a bin dive turned up a terrific little item called A Cat in Paris — an animated film from France all about a girl, her cat, her mother and a burglar. “Enchanting” is a word that gets tossed around altogether too much by film critics to suit me, but it absolutely applies in this case. To tell you anything much about it would spoil the movie’s pleasures: it’s very short (just over an hour) and its story is simplicity itself. But the art style is charming and the way it’s brought to life is delightful. As movies go, it’s hardly a four-course meal; rather it’s one of those elegant French pastries that soothe the soul.

If you are at all interested in the theatrical arts, by all means pick up Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy. Out of print for an unconscionable amount of time, now Criterion has given it one of their usually extravagant releases: and if A Cat in Paris is the desert, Topsy-Turvy is a smorgasbord. It all hangs together so beautifully that it’s astonishing to learn that the picture had no real script when Leigh made it, and that he essentially made it up (with the help of the fine cast, including Jim Broadbent, Alan Corduner and the always-strangely-enticing Shirley Henderson) as he went along on his merry way. The story concerns that period in the collaborative history of light opera-meisters Gilbert and Sullivan when their creative relationship was on the rocks and in danger of an abrupt and early end. Thanks to Gilbert’s trip to the World Exposition and the resulting leap of faith, instead of breaking up the two men produced what’s arguably their greatest work, The Mikado. And the rest is history.

We are treated to the entire creative process in the film’s breezy two-and-three-quarters of an hour runtime… and everyone in the cast does their own singing and playing of instruments. It’s got genuine drama, heart and humor… and great music. What more could anyone ask? I picked this one up at the same time as Tristram Shandy, and what a relief it was after that disaster to find that Topsy-Turvy more than lives up to its promise. Unfortunately, being a Criterion release, you won’t find it in the five-dollar bin.

— Freder

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