But such imperishable moments are rare. One should not expect Homeric grandeur from Hollywood’s Troy. What about a bit more relish, though? Troy is clearly a bid to capitalize on the success of Gladiator, and, like that film, it often misses the point of why we go to these armor-plated films in the first place. It’s not just the pomp and circumstance of battle that draws us in—it’s also the eye-candy production design and all those wiggy moments involving cuckoo kings. The hissy effrontery of Joaquin Phoenix’s mad-for-eyeliner Commodus in Gladiator was every bit as necessary as Russell Crowe’s he-man waddle. The people who made Troy, however, won’t admit to the kitsch pleasures of the genre. On second thought, it could have used Sean Connery as Zeus.
André Téchiné’s Strayed, set in 1940 during the German occupation of France, conveys with frightening realism what it’s like to be on the run in your own country during wartime. Odile (Emmanuelle Béart), recently widowed, is first shown fleeing Paris with her teenage son (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and 7-year-old daughter (Clémence Meyer). The scenes of German planes bombing roads filled with refugees are grim testimonials to the randomness of death; the shells exploding around her could just as easily have claimed her own family. When Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel), an illiterate 17-year-old delinquent with a whippet-thin physique and shaved head, takes the family under his wing, Odile is almost as wary of him as she is of the Germans—his survivalist skills are impeccable, but there’s something feral and fundamentally unsound about him as he scavenges the bodies of fallen Nazis for firearms and breaks into an abandoned home in the lush countryside. (The lushness is a rebuke to the horror going on all around it.) Sequestered momentarily from the war, Odile, her children, and Yvan engage in a kind of play-act domesticity; even though the wolf is at the door, she sets the table for dinner and hangs freshly washed clothes on the line. Téchiné gets deep inside the dread and exhilaration of people who have lost their bearings so suddenly they don’t even have the luxury of grief.
Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, a series of eleven self-contained black-and-white episodes shot over a period of seventeen years, is oddly all of a piece. What unites everything is Jarmusch’s playful, hang-dog absurdism. The first short, which aired in 1986 on Saturday Night Live and stars Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright, is the template for the rest: semi-improvised jabber fueled by caffeine and nicotine. This episode is particularly funny because Benigni is the most wound-up of performers, and Wright the least. Subsequent vignettes are hit-or-miss, but some are wonders: Cate Blanchett playing both herself and her envious “cousin” during some downtime on a press junket; a deadpan Bill Murray moonlighting as a waiter in a greasy spoon with the comically inspired rappers RZA and GZA; and, best of all, a contretemps between the British actors Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan in an L.A. restaurant. Their graciousness is the flimsiest of camouflages for their careerism. If Oscar Wilde had ever made it to the movie colony, he might have come up with a scene like this one.