This week’s repertory film: ‘An Unforgettable Summer’

Featuring a luminous Kristin Scott Thomas in her first major role, “An Unforgettable Summer” plays almost like a prequel to “The English Patient.”

“An Unforgettable Summer” will be screening March 12 at 4:00 p.m. and “Sunday at Six”  on March 9 at 7:00 p.m. at the Museum of Modern Art.

This is a good time to be in New York City if you are a fan of Eastern European cinema. There are complete retrospectives of three major directors playing around the city over the next few weeks, all of whose works are mostly unavailable on DVD. The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be screening all the works of Polish auteur Andrzej Zulawski in a series titled “Hysterical Excess” from March 7-20, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will be showing the sparse filmography of Russian humanist Aleksei German in a series titled “War and Remembrance” from March 14-20, and MOMA is currently presenting the works of embattled Romanian filmmaker Lucian Pintilie through March 12.

Pintilie is a theater, opera, and film director whose rare films garner consistent praise at major European film festivals while getting little to no exposure in America. Forced into an artistically fruitful exile in France after making several features in his native Romania in the 60‘s and 70‘s that roused the ire of the communist government and the admiration of critics at Cannes, his triumphant return to cinema in the 90’s with several highly regarded films continues to this day. Of the eleven works being shown at MOMA, I will briefly touch upon two that represent these separate phases of his career: “An Unforgettable Summer” (1994) and “Sunday at Six” (1965).

Featuring a luminous Kristin Scott Thomas in her first major role, “An Unforgettable Summer” plays almost like a prequel to “The English Patient,” set in the 20‘s and telling the story of an officer in the army of Greater Romanian that is sent with his wife and children to a dangerous garrison on the Bulgarian border. Capturing both the moral and social decadence of the jazz age and the harsh beauty of military life on the frontier, Pintilie’s continental aesthetic leads the film to shift gracefully between irony and outrage, humor and horror, without losing sight of the drama or the allegory. Both a critical look at the ‘Golden Age’ (and fascist roots) of interwar Romania and a comment on the ethnic violence in the Balkans at the time of its making, the film posits that there can be no understanding of present conflicts without a recognition of the crimes and lingering hatreds of the past, a lesson aimed directly at his nation’s government and the uninformed good intentions of NATO and its allies.

“Sunday at Six,” Pintilie’s first film, is a mournfully flamboyant exercise in style about two young Romanian Resistance fighters that fall in love during World War II while working to sabotage the military and industrial efforts of their markedly absent enemies. Influenced by the look and feel of the French New Wave, yet decidedly Soviet in theme and substance, it is the work of a young, politically naive filmmaker that nevertheless moves the viewer with the conviction of its images and the poetry of its emotions. Like the early films of Alain Resnais and Andrzej Wajda, it captures the vulnerability and passion of youth in its struggle for freedom and grace, a journey at the heart of Pintilie’s cinema of failed dreams and savage hope.


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