Jonah Is 42

Alain Tanner, Geneva, 12/11/82

The great Swiss director Alain Tanner, who debuted his first feature in 1969 (“Charles, Dead or Alive”) at age 40, subsequently created a “radical body of work that bristles at the numbing neutrality and status quo monotony of his native country, a cinema full of rebels, outcasts, and dropouts, where the presiding mood is one of driftlessness and anxious ambivalence.”

“Alain Tanner,” an eight-film retrospective at Metrograph, includes “Jonah Who Will Be 25 in The Year 2000” (1976), one of Tanner’s masterpieces from that decade–“La Salamandre” (1971) will also screen–which was co-written with John Berger. A diverse group of eight Genevans, still clinging to the idealism of May 1968 in the mid-70s, get together on a rural retreat to imagine a world beyond shiny consumer culture. French film critic Serge Daney wrote it’s “a didactic film with no lesson to teach, an encyclopedic film with no conclusion.”

The hypnotic “In the White City” (1983) stars the incomparable Bruno Ganz as Paul, a Swiss sailor who jumps ship in Lisbon and rents a room, with no plans to resume his real life, or to do much of anything. He starts a romance with Rosa, a young chambermaid (Teresa Madruga, very affecting) and sends Super-8mm “letters” home to his baffled wife.

The five other films included in the retrospective, which opens today and runs through Sunday, July 23, are “Middle of the World,” “A Flame in My Heart,” “Charles, Dead or Alive,” “Light Years Away” and “Messidor.” All of the films will be shown in 35mm.

“The Big Chill,” directed by Lawrence Kasdan, opened the 21st New York Film Festival in 1983. I remember, maybe incorrectly, that the party was on the stage of the New York State Theater (since re-named for a conservative monster). The event was packed. Someone introduced me to one of the stars of the film, Jeff Goldblum. He’s James Comey-tall and I came up to his waistband. Making polite conversation, he asked what I thought of the film. I was very young, still considering my opinions of interest to everyone, and replied with now cringe-worthy authority, “Well, the good film in the genre is “The Return of the Secaucus Seven.” And probably screaming in the very noisy space, I continued, “And the great film in the genre is “Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000.” He seemed to agree and because the party was so crowded, in several seconds, simply by standing still, I was no longer near him.

The next morning I woke up, deeply embarrassed, without even vodka to blame for my brazenness. Deciding I needed a gray cardigan sweater, I walked to agnès b. in Soho. The women’s and men’s clothes were then in the same store. Finding the women’s stuff too floraled and/or fluffy, I climbed the spiral staircase to look as the men’s selection (French men aren’t big), and as I reached the top, heard my name called out enthusiastically. Jeff Goldblum was sitting (with Tom Berenger) on the small sofa. Laughing, he shut down my apologies (but we did reminisce about “meeting cute” when in later years,  I photographed him twice, once individually and once with the rest of the cast of “The Life Aquatic”). The saleswomen who had found me invisible now swarmed about with offers of assistance. I took home a gray cotton cardigan sweater.

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