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Archive for the ‘Simone Signoret’ Category

Army Of Shadows

11 Jun

Army of Shadows – directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Spy Drama. 2 hours 25 minutes Color 1970/2009.
★★★★★
The Story: Hairbreadth escapes dog the ground commanders of the Maquis, the French Resistance in WWII.
~
Impeccable.

As I left the theater I heard someone surprisedly say, “The picture never shows what those in The Resistance actually do.” What is also true, however, is that the result of whatever they did was of high danger to the occupying Germans who pursued them ruthlessly and to the death for it.

It is also surprisingly true that virtually all of those shown as leaders of the French Resistance are middle aged-people you would never take to be important spies and renegades at all. This inspires bafflement. Where is young Harrison Ford? Where is ever-young Tom Cruise?

And an additional advantage is that the actors who play them are unknown to one –at least to an ignoramus like me. I’d never seen Paul Meurisse, Lino Ventura, Claude Mann, Christian Barbier, Paul Crauchet. That means that one has no preconception as to how the story of their characters will develop or end and no idea what to expect from them as one watches. They are perfect strangers one experiences for the first time and finds one’s way into.

In France, each of them was a prized star, as was Simone Signoret (a German/Polish/Jewish/French actor who during The War took her mother’s name, Signoret, to survive deportation). Signoret plays Mathilde, the mastermind on the ground, a great woman, although in real life the wife of just some shopkeeper. Signoret’s visage with its huge, wide-spaced eyes and flexible mouth is one of the most striking of movie faces, and here it is used in various disguises – the rich widow, the head nurse, the dull housefrau, the blowsy tart, as Mathilde wends her way through enemy lines. Signoret often played grande or petite coccottes. Where are her grande amoreuses; where her Léa de Lonvals of yesteryear?

All these unknowns add mystery, surprise, and wonder to watching this film, which depicts extreme actions but focusses on the responses of the characters to those actions and is executed with rare acuteness, economy, and choice.

Melville was a participator in The Resistance. It was a perilous calling. And his great first film, The Silence Of The Sea is a stunning account of the resistance on the ground. See it. See this too. Army Of Shadows is a rare treat. Miss it under peril of the scowl of the Cinema Gestapo!

 

La Ronde – Ophuls

14 May

La Ronde – Directed by Max Ophuls. Satire. Eleven stories of French lust promiscuating until they circle around and meet up once more. 93 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

By the merest chance I saw this picture immediately after The Marriage Circle, a silent of Ernst Lubitsch. Both films have the same title and the same temperament of approach to the material, which is seriously humorous. They both deal with promiscuity, which in the French version is carried out and in the American version, of course, is not carried out. In both versions the women are the sensitive ones and the men the fools. The treatment is quite different, but the idea that lust is important is held up to the deracinating light of a wise smile. Ophuls’ movie is based on a play of Schnitzler which caused a riot, and a scandal, and an outrage, for it illustrated how sexual disease is transmitted. Ophuls’ version knows nothing of this. His version uses the word, l’amour, but it has nothing whatever to do with love; lust is the subject. 11 congresses link arms, but each one is told by the camera so luminously that nothing particular is actually illuminated. The sheen both allures and monotonizes the material. But we do have the wonderful décor, the fabulous lighting, and Ophuls’ terrific dolly shots which give us a barrier through which to peep at the principles. His placement of actors in motion, his symmetry, his fancifulness, his artifice and artificiality – all serve his turn. He has many superstars in this film, but the real superstar is his camera. His camera is the actor, the strong one, who reveals the forgivable nothing of l’amour. His cast is brilliant, particularly when you realize that some of the women playing teenagers are completely convincing although well into their thirties. Gerard Philipe is perhaps the best, as a chocolate soldier count in full regalia, entering the dressing room of a renowned comedienne and looking about sensitively at a setting which he judges to be far from noble. What a perfect decision for an actor to make. Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, and the magnificent Danielle Darrieux are wonderful. I saw this film when it first came out. I thought I was going to a dirty picture that would tell me something about sexual attraction, and I left feeling poisoned by it. Now I can see the truth of it. Which is that sexual attraction is simply a movie camera: it glamorizes, it luminizes what it lights on, and leaves it impenitently when the light moves on. This for me now is the masterful truth of this film.

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