In his later years, Orson Welles sometimes seemed to be a caricature of himself–telling show-biz anecdotes on the late-night talk shows and doing television commercials for mediocre wine with that sonorous voice, but in his younger years as a director, writer, actor, radio performer, and theatrical impresario, he was truly a boy-genius. It was his faux radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” that inadvertently panicked a nation.
He made his first feature film “Citizen Kane” at the tender age of twenty-five, a film that is generally considered to the be the greatest American movie of all time. And in 1937, his Mercury Theatre production of “Julius Caesar”–retelling Shakespeare’s classic by setting it in Mussolini’s Italy with the actors dressed in Fascist uniforms–remains one of New York’s legendary productions.
In “Me and Orson Welles”, director Richard Linkletter recreates the stage and the play to tell the imagined story of one Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), a high-school student who wanders by the 41st Street theatre one day and is impetuously hired by Welles for a minor but important role. Richard, already enamored with acting and music, soon finds himself equally enamored with Welles’ beautiful assistant Sonja (Claire Danes) and swept-up in a new world of rehearsals, dreadful hours, backstage intrigue, and an impossible boss. British actor Christian McKay has performed an acclaimed one-man show as Welles, and his performance here as the Great Man is impeccable.
Step away from your self-centeredness for a moment and imagine the lives of your neighbors and townspeople, the people you greet daily but don’t really know–people whose successes and failures, loves and losses, aspirations and disappointments are as important to them as yours are to you. Recent movies like “Babel” and “Crash” and BBC’s “Accident” have explored this theme, but all have focused on some idea of synchronicity–that for the sake of a clever storyline, these seemingly unconnected lives are intertwined. But people aren’t subroutines in a vast computer program, virtual cogs in a virtual machine, there but to give a logical end result. No, sometimes people are viruses that threaten the whole, or yeasts that leaven it, or even molds that flavor it.
Writer-director Cedric Klapisch takes such a Gallic view with his newest film “Paris”. His central conceit is to use the heart–literally–of his central character and observer. Pierre (Romain Duris) is a professional dancer in the sudden need for a heart transplant. While he awaits a donor, his divorced sister Elise (Juliette Binoche of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “The English Patient”, and just about every French movie worth watching for the last twenty years) moves in to his apartment with her three children. With an all-star cast that includes the long-suffering comic actor Fabrice Luchini, Melanie Laurent (“Inglorious Basterds”), and Karin Viard, who received a Best Actress Cesar nomination (the French Oscar) for her role as a racist baker (or opinionated, as the French would maintain), Klapisch surrounds Pierre with a story of opportunities taken and opportunities missed to give a unique portrayal of the City of Lights. In French, with English subtitles.