Two Men In Town

Two Men In Town” Dir. Rachid Bouchareb, starring Forest Whitaker, Brenda Blethyn, Harvey Keitel and Luis Guzman

A remake of a 1973 French film starring Alain Delon and Jean Gabin, “Two Men In Town” is a sadly missed opportunity. It's a beautifully shot film (kudos to DP Yves Cape, who also served on “Holy Motors” and “White Material”), but one that, aside from some unusual casting decisions, brings nothing new to the ex-con-trying-to-go-straight genre. In fact it falls into its overfamiliar rhythm so quickly that you have to keep reminding yourself you haven’t seen it before. And it really is a shame, because Blethyn’s pragmatic, “Fargo”-esque parole officer is a pleasure, Whitaker’s character’s racial profile (black man with a white adoptive mother and a Latina girlfriend) is oddly but laudably rarely even mentioned, and the dusty, sun-blanched New Mexico landscape is well evoked by Cape’s Western-style photography; all sun flares and nods to John Ford. Not faring so well are Keitel, whose grudge-holding Sheriff is given major character inconsistencies in lieu of depth, Guzman’s one-note villain whose motivation for wanting so badly to drag Whitaker back in to his dirty trade is never clear, and Dolores Heredia as the girlfriend who is just a little too pretty and personable to convince as a woman who’d fall so hard for an ex-con on first acquaintance that she’d let him move in with her, like a week later. We can’t say we hated the film at all, and it is very good to look at, but we do wish that director Rachid Bouchareb had chosen a story that unfolded in an even fractionally less expected, less genre-loyal way. [B-]

Blind Massage

Blind Massage” Dir. Lou Ye, starring Huang Xuan, Guo Xiaodong, Mei Ting, Zhang Lei

Touching on an aspect of Chinese culture that is of itself maybe more fascinating than the overwrought soap operatics the film devolves into, controversial director Lou Ye (he has been banned from filmmaking several times over by the notoriously sensitive Chinese authorities) uses a mix of professional and non-professional actors to play the blind protagonists of his sprawling ensemble film. It centers on a massage parlor run entirely by blind people, which is apparently a thing in China, and a viable career option for those afflicted with this disability. But Lou is less interested in exploring this as a cultural phenomenon than as a sort of college dorm series of romantic entanglements and mortifying misunderstandings, as love triangles spring up between the various sightless employees (all of whom live in shared accommodation on the premises too), and the psychological as well as physical difficulties that blindness can cause creates additional friction between the participants. To its credit, the film does not shy away from a frank treatment of the sexual nature of many of these relationships, and does not try to suggest that the unfairness of these characters’ lots renders them saints who are above physical, emotional and sexual violence. But the loose, unstructured feel of the story—as one of the masseurs falls first for a colleague’s girlfriend, and then for a prostitute, and as a boss becomes obsessed with the beauty of one of his employees (beauty he, naturally, cannot see), while his old friend resorts to desperate tactics to save his brother from a debt (the film boasts several memorably gory self-harming scenes)—makes it all feel like it’s never going to end, telenovela-style, until it abruptly does, making little sense of what’s gone before. Shot in pedestrian fashion, it is set in an intriguing and entirely foreign milieu, but the film ends up just too inscrutable and oblique for us to really engage with it, or its often incomprehensibly motivated characters. [C+]