Highlights from the week in criticism.
Jan. 16 1997 3:30 AM

Reviewers reviewed.

(posted Wednesday, Jan. 15; to be composted Wednesday, Jan. 22)


Movie       La Cérémonie (MK2 Productions/Prokino Filmproduktion). Critics mostly agree that New Wave veteran Claude Chabrol's thriller about an illiterate maid (Sandrine Bonnaire), a disgruntled postal worker (Isabelle Huppert), and the revenge they wreak upon a small-town French family is his best in years. "A powerfully tragic view of the world," says New York's David Denby. "Not since his extraordinary films of the late 1960s and early 1970s ... has Chabrol created anything as blackly comic, mercurial, and meticulously wrought," writes S LATE's Dave Kehr. But The New Yorker's Anthony Lane complains that the film is bloodless: "There's little about 'La Cérémonie' that seems to turn the director on; even Sandrine Bonnaire stands around looking bony and shell-shocked."


Book       The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800, by Olwen Hufton (Knopf). Olwen Hufton has the misfortune of publishing this ambitious survey just when the two kinds of history she practices--Annales school, or "history from below," and women's history--are falling out of favor. The book is "sparkling," "a tour de force," says the New Republic's David Bell: "Hufton's genius as a historian is for selecting striking, visceral details that bring something of [the] smell and feel of the early modern period out of the ground." But the New York Review of Books' Fiona MacCarthy condemns Hufton's approach as "dangerously lopsided, ignoring as it does ... the daily existence of the men whose lives women shared." And the New York Times Book Review's Lynn Hunt dismisses it as "dreary": "Ms. Hufton's title would seem to promise a rosier view, but the sheer volume of the evidence she has collected forces her onto the well-traveled victimization road."
Television       King of the Hill (Fox). Cautious enthusiasm for the latest animated sitcom from the visionary behind Beavis and Butt-Head, Mike Judge. "King of the Hill is a manifestation of Judge's longtime obsession with an America of tract homes and monster truck shows, Dairy Queens and Wal-Marts," says Time's Ginia Bellafante. "A fine nuanced portrait of a middle-class Texas family," writes Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, though Neil Strauss, writing in the New York Times, calls the pacing "very slow."
Architecture       Tokyo International Forum (Ralph Viñoly, Japan). Critics are hailing Tokyo's latest civic center as a world-historical masterpiece. "Hagia Sophia, the Guggenheim Museum and Grand Central Terminal have a new cousin," writes the New York Times' architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp. "By day a glittering crystal, at night a glowing lantern, the Forum's Glass Hall joins the ranks of the world's great spaces." Newsweek's Peter Plagens and Jeffrey Bartholet and the Financial Times' Colin Amery exercise only slightly more restraint: "a landmark on the order of an Empire State Building" (Plagens and Bartholet); "one of the world's great architectural performances" (Amery).
Updates       The New Yorker's Lane dismisses Marvin's Room as "a piece of superior television," but the WeeklyStandard's John Podhoretz disagrees: "The kind of movie that makes you wonder why you aren't at home, watching daytime soap operas and Jenny Jones." ... Reviewing The People vs. Larry Flynt in the New York Review of Books, Louis Menand claims filmmakers and critics alike have missed the point about Flynt's magazine: "Hustler was not, in the tradition of Playboy, about sex as play or about sex without hangups. It was about sex as a kind of violation." ... Both Joseph Epstein in the Standard and John Lanchester in the London Review of Books join the attack on Robert Burchfield for his humorless, wishy-washy updating of Fowler's Modern English Usage. Epstein misses "Fowler's spirit of playful seriousness," while Lanchester craves a new Fowleresque usage guide by the type of person who would "put the hyphen into anal-retentive."

--Compiled by Linda Hall and the editors of SLATE.


Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty