Fast Scans: Top Foreign & Indie Picks, April 15, 2012

La Jetée/Sans Soleil. color & b/w. 27/103+ min. Criterion Collection. 1963/1983. Blu-ray ISBN 9781604655360. $39.95.

Made up mostly of still images, La Jetée scarcely qualifies as a motion picture. Avant-garde French filmmaker Chris Marker instead employs a dazzling montage, along with narration, music, and sound effects, in this time-travel tale that inspired Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995). Bending the travelog genre while exploring the nature of experience, Sans Soleil visits Japan, plus France, Iceland, and, finally, San Francisco, for locations used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Making their Blu-ray debut, this thematically and visually bold pair of experimental films will appeal to true cinephiles.

Mozart’s Sister. color. 120 min. In French w/English subtitles. Music Box Films. 2011. DVD UPC 736211214652. $29.95; Blu-ray UPC 736211214751. $38.95.

Five years older than her little brother Wolfgang, Maria Anna Mozart served first as the family’s featured performer, playing before appreciative royal courts throughout Europe, until strict gender roles forced her to play second fiddle. René Féret directs his luminous daughter Marie in a speculative story about a prodigy overshadowed by her disproportionately supported sibling. Beautifully photographed and boasting plenty of exquisite scenes, Sister is no Amadeus, but it plays pretty well. For historical-drama aficionados.

Rapt. color. 123 min. In French w/English subtitles. Kino Lorber. 2011. DVD UPC 738329076221. $29.95; Blu-ray UPC 738329083922. $34.95.

Kidnapped and held for ransom, a rich and influential French businessman (Yvan Attal) finds out that the asking price is too high when his gambling debts and romantic infidelity come to light. While his family wants to pay whatever it takes, the company he founded is more interested in cutting its losses in the face of a public scandal. And the police just want to save him. Director Lucas Belvaux offers a tense and thrilling drama that plays like a procedural for handling hostage negotiations. For thoughtful thriller buffs.

Vanya on 42nd Street. color. 120+ min. Criterion Collection. 1994. DVD ISBN 9781604655353. $29.95; Blu-ray ISBN 9781604655346. $39.95.

In his final film, Louis Malle (1932‚ 95) reunites with his My Dinner with Andre (1981) collaborators André Gregory and Wallace Shawn to record the rehearsals of a new version of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, staged in a shuttered Manhattan theater. Capturing the actors’ process of discovery offers its fair share of pleasures, but Vanya pales next to the best of Malle’s work, including Au Revoir les Enfants, Atlantic City, and Damage, to name a few. For theater buffs and Malle completists. [See Trailers, LJ 1/12.]

Woody Allen: A Documentary. color & b/w. 195+ min. 2011. Docurama, dist. by New Video. DVD ISBN 9781422948873. $29.95.

Initially shown as a two-part American Masters episode on PBS, documentarian Robert Weide’s careful examination of the multitalented Allen covers the comic’s career and private life, not shying from his relationship with former girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Candid interviews with the often reclusive artist are mixed with observations from friends and colleagues, plus the requisite film clips. Bonus footage not previously seen enhances the appeal of this title for Allen’s many fans. [See Trailers, LJ 2/1/12.]