"THE MAKIOKA SISTERS" and a revival of Jean Renoir's 1955 musical "French Cancan" join "Pumping Iron II" in a festival of distaff films -- "Women: Head to Biceps to Toe" -- at the Key Theater.
"Sisters" is a literate, lyrical adaptation of the Junichiro Tanizaki novel "A Light Snowfall." Japan's Kon Ichikawa, a visual poet with an ironic eye, directs this story of four heiresses set in pre-war Osaka where traditional social structures are eroding along with the fortunes of the elegant Makiokas.
The two younger sisters symbolize the schism between present and past: Kimono- clad Yukiko (Sayuri Yoshinaga) is the beautifully bred contrast to Taeko (Yuko Kotegawa), a rebellious career girl who adopts Western dress and morals. She has several admirers but cannot marry until the picky Yukiko finally chooses a husband in a traitional matchmaking ceremony called a miai.
It is a long (140 minutes) and talky film (in Japanese with English subtitles), but also an elegant and involving one that takes you by surprise, like cherry blossoms in early spring.
"Cancan" is as bawdily French as "Sisters" is quietly Japanese. It is a gaudy backstage operetta set in the music halls of La Belle Epoque. Silver fox Jean Gabin stars as an aging impresario who discovers a laundress named Nini (Francoise Arnoul) and turns her into a headliner at his new club Moulin Rouge, where he founds the French equivalent of the Rockettes.
The music is antiquated and for the most part dreadful (though there is a bar or two of Edith Piaf). The dancers move like dark-eyed silent-screen sirens, and their cancan finale is a quintessential display of 1880s underwear. To call it a film about women, however, is stretching it as it is meant to be a story of theatrical ways and mores.
This 'Cancan," in French with subtitles, contains an additional 10 minutes of footage cut when the film was released here in 1956.
THE MAKIOKA SISTERS & FRENCH CANCAN -- Part of the festival "Women: Head to Biceps to Toe" at the Key.