December 11, 1997
As the year winds to a close and the race for Oscar glory heatsup, one of the year's best films has returned to the screen in orderto gain much-needed, and deserved, attention.
Victoire Thivisol as Ponette and Xavier Beauvois as herfather.
"Ponette" is a small gem from France about the 4-year-old titlecharacter's unwavering belief that her mother will return from thedead after being killed in an auto accident. What makes the film somagical and spellbinding is the child's ability to convince us thatshe feels thoroughly abandoned and unloved, as she retreats inside afantasy world, waiting for her mother's return.
At school, her cousin Matthieu and other kindergarten companionsconvince Ponette to learn "witchcraft" from a self-described toddlerwitch. As the only Jewish child, she is seen by the group (andherself) as possessing a mysterious connection with a dark side, onethat makes her skeptical of adults' advice about a ChristianResurrection.
Director Jacques Doillon masterfully captures the dialogue andbeliefs of his young subjects. It all seems completely natural, as ifthe children wrote the material themselves, or even were improvising.Doillon, in fact, ran workshops on death with preschoolers throughoutFrance in order to gain material for the film.
Victoire Thivisol, as Ponette, won the best actress award at the1996 Venice Film Festival at the age of 3. Will she repeat at theAcademy Awards? See her amazing performance and judge for yourself.
"Ponette" screens Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m., at Laemmle'sMonica 4-plex, 1332 Second St., Santa Monica. (310) 394-9741.
* Special revival screening: The American Cinematheque presentsClaude Lanzmann's 9 1/2-hour epic "Shoah." Lanzmann spent 10 yearstracking down Holocaust survivors and perpetrators, such as SimhaRottem, who lived through the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto; FranzSuchomel, an unrepentant SS officer (filmed with a hidden camera);and the mournful Henryk Gawliowski, engineer on the Treblinkarailroad. The 1985 film will be shown in two parts: Friday, Dec. 19,at 7:15 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 20, at 6:15 p.m. Separate admissionrequired.
Raleigh Studios' Charlie Chaplin Theater, 5300 Melrose Ave.,Hollywood. (213) 466-FILM.