Essays in film criticism, fueled by Lopate's heartfelt (if snobby) obsession with the ""cinema"" and Les Cahiers du CinÆ’ma. Before he found his vocation as a personal essayist, Lopate (Portrait of My Body, 1996, etc.) wrote a wrap-up of the first New York Film Festival in 1963 for a Columbia student newspaper, during what he calls the "" 'heroic' age of moviegoing"" that began his film education. Although not a hardcore cineaste, Lopate quickly declares his loyalties here: auteurs like Truffaut, Dreyer, and Mizoguchi over mere directors; Europe and Japan over Hollywood; mise-en-scÃ©ne over montage; realism over escapism. His hesitant, somewhat fawning contribution to a Festschrift for auteur-theorist Andrew Sarris shows how deep these formative allegiances run. In this mode, such as when he discusses Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, experimental filmmaker Warren Sonbert, writer-directors David Mamet, Paul Schrader, and John Sayles, and Jerry Lewis's Threeon a Couch(really), Lopate loses some of his intellectual independence and much of the slightly egotistical charm that enlivens his personal essays. When, however, he profiles Pauline Kael, whose entertainment-driven film aesthetics are not so congenial but whose writing and company are attractive, he shows his movie buff's heart, as well as hers--although the prickly Kael disliked his well-written, incisive piece. Lopate shines in a charming retrospective of Japanese director Mikio Naruse, in his ambivalent musings on Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, in assessing the significance of montage in contemporary sex scenes, and more. To dramatize his love affair with celluloid, he takes his title from a bit of dialogue in Godard's Contempt (discussing this with ease, elegance, and expertise). Two thumbs up for the veteran essayist's art-house movie-going excursions.