There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
If Madame Bovary had been a crack shot and stuck in a rustic Wisconsin burg in the 1940s, she’d have been Rosa Moline, the protagonist of King Vidor’s once-controversial melodrama. Bored, self-involved Rosa (an impressively dislikable Bette Davis) can hardly be called the heroine of the piece. Perhaps in deference to the reaction of horrified early viewers, the movie begins with a statement identifying her as “headstrong,” “puffed-up,” and outright “evil.” Yet all Rosa wants is her version of the American dream: glamour, excitement, and a rich, indulgent husband. Alas, she’s married to a decent small-town doctor who’s reluctant to ask his working-class patients to pay their bills. Her shot at salvation is a Chicago magnate who has a fancy hunting lodge outside town; they begin an affair that Rosa hopes will lead to a trading-up second marriage. But the baby could ruin everything. “Abortion” is one of the words Beyond the Forest simply can’t say, but the film compensates for its Truman-era reticence with several memorable imagistic freakouts. On a failed trip to Chicago, in a sequence that’s more akin to ’20s German expressionism than to ’40s Hollywood, the city is revealed as an ominous sideshow, full of cackling weirdos. This is the sort of movie where the one guy who sees right through Rosa can tell her he’s not playing God, “but I’m on His side.” God wins this one, of course, but the film’s devil has no trouble stealing the show. The film screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, at the Library of Congress’ Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free. (202) 707-5677. (Mark Jenkins)