Cavite, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and L'Enfant

Is Larry David a monster?

Cavite

Magnolia, $26.98

In the wrong hands, shaky-video realism produces more upset stomachs and headaches than style. But done well, as it is in this microbudget thriller, it puts you in the middle of the story. When a young Filipino-American (co-director Ian Gamazon) returns home for a family emergency, he's faced with a choice: Obey every command of the Muslim terrorist speaking through his cell phone, or his mother and sister die. It's not really an original plot (see Die Hard 3), and the film is mostly made up of Gamazon walking from one place to another. But the mixture of thriller and Third World travelogue is inspired, with the mean streets of the Philippines being the most interesting character in the film. As usual with this type of flick, the acting is the weak link, but it isn't awful. JORDAN HARPER

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season Five

HBO, $39.98

Is Larry David getting worse or better? I refer both to the creator and star of HBO's marquee comedy series, and to the character (caricature?) he's made of himself. Already fierce online debate has erupted over whether he's become too coarse, too much the despicable clown after the first four seasons of put-upon exasperation—in which his irritation at the world seemed reasonable and well-founded. (Season six begins filming in October.) Things used to happen to him; now he makes things happen with his tone-deaf social ineptitude. He's become a jerk, a catalyst, a troublemaker. Or so critics would argue.

The alternative view is that Larry David, however he's defined, is like the crotchety cousin whose misbehavior at Passover seder each year was once the source of eye-rolling astonishment. Now we feel something more like self-revulsion, because he's related to us. We can't disavow this family member anymore. On Seinfeld, David's influence was ameliorated into a hero we might want to be—picky, fastidiously judgmental, but still sympathetic. Jerry, in other words. By contrast, Larry is someone we fear we've become, the unflattering mirror to our own daily impatience with asinine reality. Seinfeld suffered fools amusingly; Curb skewers them unmercifully—most particularly its creator-antagonist.

In this way, I'd compare quote-unquote Larry David to Basil Fawlty in John Cleese's old Fawlty Towers series: His excruciating obliviousness to giving offense, as both men unfailingly do, is like a medical condition—self-absorption crossed with hyperthyroidism. He's excessively self-aware and yet bizarrely unmindful of other people. He notices everything, but only insofar as people annoy him. He sees their traits, their symptoms and behavioral tics, not their underlying personhood. (So add to the diagnosis a dash of autism as well.)

So it is in Episode 42, "The Bowtie," in which Larry becomes fixated on the neckwear of the private investigator (Mekhi Phifer) he's hired to see if he's adopted. Phifer's black, he's natty and well dressed, he wears a bow tie. So is he a Black Muslim? Larry has to know, but this fixation leads to bow-tie envy, which leads to a fashion affectation that results in him being branded a racist at an anniversary party. Which he didn't want to attend. Which he only attended so he could sit next to Rosie O'Donnell. Who didn't show up. Which spoils everything. In geopolitics, we call this blowback. On Curb, karma. If Larry's becoming more monstrous, that only makes his humiliations more just. BRIAN MILLER

L'Enfant

Sony, $24.96

An infant is born into this world. His parents are homeless minors. The father, Bruno (Jérémie Renier), a feckless hand-to-mouth street hustler, casually sells the baby to black-market traffickers and then, astonished by his girlfriend's hysterical reaction, must scramble to recover the child. As Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne's 1999 Cannes laureate Rosetta suggested a Marxist remake of Bresson's Mouchette, so their second Palme d'Or triumph, L'Enfant, revisits Bresson's more abstract Pickpocket in its saga of crime and punishment. L'Enfant is structured as a series of tasks culminating in a chase that, both metaphoric and intensely physical, is also an agonizing descent into the depths. Above all, this is an action film—or better, a transaction film. It's not just that the Dardennes orchestrate an exciting motor-scooter purse snatching and a prolonged hot pursuit. L'Enfant is an action film because every act that happens is shown to have a consequence. J. HOBERMAN

 
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