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    On the heels of its theatrical re-release last year, Juzo Itami’s ode to the sensuality of food made its debut on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck this week. A delirious blend of the surreal, the erotic, and the comedic, this 1985 “ramen western” follows the tale of a noodle shop owner’s widow, who endeavors to become a first-class chef with the help of a band of culinary ronin. Watch it on the Channel now along with a ninety-minute documentary about the making of the film; interviews with a ramen scholar and prominent chefs; and Itami’s 1962 debut short, Rubber Band Pistol.

    Also up this week: a trio of Nicholas Ray masterpieces, a window onto two distinct periods of twentieth-century China, an acclaimed collaboration between French cinema icons Claire Denis and Isabelle Huppert, and two classics of physical comedy.

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    They Live by Night: Criterion Collection Edition #880
    In a Lonely Place: Criterion Collection Edition #810
    Bigger Than Life: Criterion Collection Edition #507

    On the anniversary of Nicholas Ray’s birth, we’re presenting our special editions of three of the maverick director’s most essential works. His 1948 film debut, They Live by Night, was one of the first major lovers-on-the-run thrillers, a genre milestone that paved the way for such daring films as Badlands and Natural Born Killers. Prime Bogart is at his brooding best in the moody noir-melodrama In a Lonely Place, bringing a psychological complexity to the role of a washed-up screenwriter who becomes the suspect in a murder case. Bigger Than Life, an unsettling look at Eisenhower-era suburbia, examines the fragility of the American nuclear family through the story of a schoolteacher whose cortisone addiction wreaks havoc on his household. The editions come with a wealth of supplemental features, including a documentary portrait of Ray’s stint teaching filmmaking at Binghamton University.


    *****


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    Tuesday’s Short + Feature: Sunday in Peking and The Last Emperor

    Two European masters capture China at different moments in the twentieth century: in the groundbreaking documentary Sunday in Peking, French filmmaker Chris Marker meditates on his experiences traveling through China’s capital city in the 1950s and observing the everyday lives of its inhabitants; in 1987’s The Last Emperor—which won nine Oscars, including best picture—Italian auteur Bernardo Bertolucci mounts a lavish re-creation of the Forbidden City in the twilight of the Ching Dynasty.


    *****


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    White Material: Criterion Collection Edition #560

    One of the most acclaimed figures in contemporary French cinema, director Claire Denis explores the ravages of European colonialism in this raw, complex drama. Isabelle Huppert stars as a French woman living in an unnamed African country, where civil war and racial conflict have led to the demise of her family’s coffee plantation. Deftly combining Huppert’s characteristic intensity with Denis’s intimate style, White Material is a provocative character study of a woman hell-bent on surviving in an increasingly brutal landscape. Supplemental features include interviews with Denis, Huppert, and cast member Isaach de Bankolé; a short documentary by Denis that captures the film’s premiere in Cameroon; and a deleted scene.


    *****


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    Friday Night Double Feature: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and The Party

    Two titans of physical comedy take the spotlight in these wildly inventive classics. First up is the 1953 seaside farce Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, which made an immortal slapstick hero out of Jacques Tati’s deadpan alter ego. Next is the 1968 fish-out-of-water comedy The Party, in which director Blake Edwards and actor Peter Sellers echo the spirit of Tati’s set pieces with a freewheeling structure and brilliant gags that verge on the avant-garde.

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