Three New DVDs

Three new DVDs that have been added to our system recently come from three different countries and represent a wide range of serious storytelling. Here’s a brief rundown on them:

William Faulkner is widely regarded as one of the great American writers of the 20th century, and his books have often proven difficult to adapt to the screen, owing to his sometimes modernist and difficult writing style. “As I Lay Dying,” directed by the actor and director James Franco, tackles this issue head on in his adaptation of Faulkner’s 1930 novel about a family in the rural South taking their mother’s body to be buried in another town. Employing a split screen at times, Franco tries to approximate the original text of the novel, which is told not by a single narrator, but by all the characters involved in the story. And the story is a dramatic one—some might even say melodramatic. A flooded bridge, a severely broken leg, fire and a decaying body are among the many terrors encountered on the way to the wife and mother’s grave. Full of black humor and some strange incidents, the movie won’t be to everyone’s liking, but is certainly worth checking out if you are at all interested in American literature. Franco has also adapted another Faulkner novel, “The Sound and the Fury,” which will be released later this year. (Rated R)

A Touch of Sin” comes from the Chinese director Zhangke Jia and tells four intense stories of modern China, all of them involving anger and the loss of dignity that can come to the fore when corruption and immorality stretch ordinary people to their breaking point. All the stories involve violence of some kind (sometimes explicitly so), and, despite the foreign setting, will ring as sadly familiar to Americans who pay any attention to the news in this country. The director pulls no punches in his bravura presentation here, and, thankfully for this viewer, presents an ever so slight spot of brightness at the end. (Unrated, but the equivalent of an R rating.)

Letters to Father Jacob,” running at only about 75 minutes, is the story of a blind priest in Finland and a woman named Leila who has been pardoned for a crime the nature of which we only find out at the end of the film. In this lovely and touching story of a deeply spiritual man and a troubled woman, we follow Leila as she is hired to transcribe replies to the many letters that Father Jacob receives at his remote rectory. Suspicious at first of his piety, she nevertheless chooses to stay, and the story, with all the elegance of an old tale, takes us to a satisfying conclusion without the maudlin manipulation you might find in some other films that seek to tell a life-affirming story. (Unrated but equivalent of a PG rating.)


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