As schematic as a family tree, Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” is Greek tragedy by way of Schenectady.
Reuniting with Ryan Gosling, director and cowriter Cianfrance ponders fathers and sons with the same sobriety he brought to husbands and wives in “Blue Valentine.”
But while that film found its emotional devastation in the note-perfect specifics of a crumbling relationship, “Pines” goes for epic and feels altogether smaller.
Structured as a triptych, “Pines” tells three related stories, presented sequentially.
The first stars Gosling (in full-on James Dean mode) as Luke, a tattooed, love ’em and leave ’em motorcycle stunt driver.
While traveling with a carnival in the mid-1990s, Luke is passing through Schenectady when he learns that his fling from a previous visit has produced an infant son.
Despite the fact that the baby’s mother (Eva Mendes) has settled down with another man, Luke decides to give up the road, win back his girl and raise their boy.
But his soft heart and crooked smile can’t undo a violent streak, and before long this born loser has turned to bank robbery.
An hour into the film, Luke’s encounter with a cop leads to the second story. Out Gosling, in Bradley Cooper.
Hailed as a hero after taking a bullet on the job, Cooper’s rookie officer Avery Cross is drawn, reluctantly, into a brotherhood of police corruption (led by a menacing Ray Liotta). The situation stresses his wife and infant son.
The film’s final section jumps forward 15 years, with the (implausibly) coincidental meeting of Luke and Avery’s now-teenage sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, both fine). One’s poor, one’s rich, both are troubled and headed for a disaster that, the film suggests, was set in motion the moment Gosling decided to embrace fatherhood.
Even at two-hours-plus, “Pines” holds our interest -- Gosling is watchable as ever, and Cooper nicely underplays.
Yet, as intriguing as the fathers’ sins are, “Pines” ultimately proves too contrived to come fully alive in the sons.
“The Place Beyond the Pines,” from Focus Features, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
“Blancanieves,” a Spanish take on “Snow White” done in silent-movie style (like “The Artist”), unfolds in and around Seville in the 1920s; the heroine’s father is a matador and her mother dances flamenco.
Despite the potency of the black-and-white imagery and the fineness of Sofia Oria, who plays Blancanieves as a frowning little girl, the charm at first is a bit oppressive.
But then writer-director Pablo Berger throws in sequences from “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (with the great and gorgeous Maribel Verdu, of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” as the crazy imprisoning stepmother) and “The Conformist” (the chase through the woods).
By the time Blancanieves has grown up and met the dwarves (who allow Berger to reference Bunuel and Fellini and, a bit predictably, “Freaks”), the film has achieved stratospheric levels of weirdness.
The acidity of flamenco pairs easily with the sadism of the Brothers Grimm. Yet the darkness doesn’t have all that much conviction. Partly because of the silent-movie nostalgia, the picture is soft around the edges.
In this all-too-enlightened 21st-century telling, Blancanieves has the choice of becoming a dancer like her mother or a bullfighter like her father. There’s no Prince Charming, but one of the dwarves is very handsome.
“Blancanieves,” from Cohen Media Group, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *** (Seligman)
Given the lush Cote d’Azur setting and World War I period, the title “Renoir” seems at first to refer to the much-loved Impressionist painter (Michel Bouquet).
The old man lives in a house on the sea, surrounded by pretty things and pretty women. Every day they carry him out to his sunny grounds to work. “The flesh!” he cries; beauty, he insists, is the only thing in art that matters.
But then his middle son, Jean (Vincent Rottiers), returns wounded from the war, and the film focuses increasingly on his relationship with the model Andree Heuschling (Christa Theret), who would continue to pose for the old man until his death in 1919 and would serve as a muse for Jean Renoir’s early films.
Yet if the title is ambiguous, the movie has more in common with the father’s exquisite canvases than with the son’s often troubling, all-of-life-embracing films.
It saturates itself in beauty: Not a lot happens, yet its two hours of lustrous images (aided by the delicate music of the prolific Alexandre Desplat) are intoxicating.
It also has some of the limitations of those canvases. The director, Gilles Bourdos, seems content just to gaze upon luscious flesh; even Jean, sleeping shirtlessly, looks as ripe as a Renoir model. Implicitly the movie asks: Is beauty truth? Father and son supplied different answers.
“Renoir,” from Samuel Goldwyn Films, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *** (Seligman)
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(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Guy Collins on wine.