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Archive for the ‘Filmed in France’ Category

Band Of Outsiders

31 Oct

Band Of Outsiders – directed by Jean Luc Goddard. Drama. 95 minutes Black And White 1964.

★★★

The Story: Two young men induce a pretty schoolgirl to help them rob her home.

~

These three are so young they seem fraudulent. A handsome man with nothing more in his mind than the ragged top of his tiny convertible. Another man not even young looking, brutally confident. A pretty schoolgirl brainless with excitement to be hanging around with these types. And sexual attraction indulged in as twere an allergy.

These are three souls whose minds are penniless, whose characters absent. They think they are in an American movie and all go to an English class in which they pay attention to nothing save one another.

This is Goddard, and this is French cinema at its greatest pitch of artificiality – l’ homage. In it, we are asked to pay attention to three people so bored with life they will rob any rich old man who passes by, as though Godard imagined this were an entertainment. And as though the monosyllables of Humphrey Bogart constituted a style worth of mimicry as a philosophical foundation for life.

The glassy stare of French cinema epitomizes itself with this noughts and crosses of vapid emotional gesticulation. Odile’s breasts moved under her sweater we are told. What else should they be doing?

Both these men toss a coin to see who gets the girl. The girl wants the tough guy with the droopy eyelids. But no one wants anything very much. To further alienate us the entire film is accompanied by a voice over of the screenwriter talking as though their doings were a long-over and significant nostalgia.

Is there to be a sweet memory here? Not so far. The only reason in seducing the girl is to get their hands on a great deal of cash stashed in a cupboard in the young lady’s household.

While their flirtation takes place, their English teacher recites Romeo And Juliet for them to translate, but their own energy is mercilessly banal and passionless.

The mean one meets up with a meaningless fistfight with his male relatives, a family of petty thieves living off hope for the takings. The romantic one pines.

What these two males have to do with one another is as mystifying as the mystery the mean one claims to see in the schoolgirl’s face. By what is she hypnotized in them? Certainly not in the trite plan they have to rob her landlord.

She remains a pretty, young schoolgirl. They remain two cheap crooks who probably would not get way with shoplifting a candy-bar. Franz, the romantic one, quotes Jack London, as tough London were a significant American artist. Bad B movies are their beau ideal. A la Funnyface they manage a footrace through the Louvre zipping by masterpieces, observing none. They improvise a perfectly rehearsed dance in a café as though they were Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, and Phil Silvers. In short, they fool around cinematically. So what? The tough guy screws her. So what? She takes off her stockings. They see her white thighs. So what? They enter the house masked in her stockings. They wander about. They gag the girl. The robbery is so without suspense its reality is preposterous. The landlord’s door is locked. They trundle out a ladder in broad daylight to fumble up an entrance.

The manner of the acting is naturalistic. The execution of the story is realistic. The two modes don’t fadge, so the effect of the film is like hitting a pillow. The men beat one another up and give the girl significant looks which intend nothing. The robbery is told as a lethargy trying to happen. When they get to the cabinet the money is gone. They gag the lady of the house and stuff her in a wardrobe where she dies, of what? Of So What?

The mean one and his uncle shoot it out long-windedly, as in a Western; the mean one dies extravagantly, just as he has been miming from Westerns two reels earlier. Worn out with sorrow and fatigue, the romantic one and the girl take off for South America – with what money, pray tell?

The director thinks he has directed a piece of pulp. Pulp is fiction exhausted once read and soon to be trash. It is not that which is exhausted and trash before reading.

For all his love of Hitchcock, doesn’t Goddard know that sexual energy between people is a fabrication of editing? Does he realize that existentialism and American movies are at cross-purposes? American pulp is energized by the vitality of a promised land. For all it excellence, France is not a promised land, nor is its language the lingua franca of it, and therefore its attempt at pulp is flaccid.

French film ends always with a sleepy philosophical coda about life sadly unmet. For existentialism is a pose, a pose rigid with inanition. False as a tableau. It’s first words are, “So what?” So are its last.

 

My Old Lady

28 Sep

My Old Lady – directed Israel Horovitz, 107 minutes Dramedy Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: An impoverished American inherits a Paris apartment and its complications.

~

Time was in American films when you could see stories about grown-ups. Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer and Rosalind Russell and Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant were grownups. Love Story is a movie about people in their forties. So is Penny Serenade and Woman Of The Year, and they were enormously successful because grownups went to movies in those days, and because age added luster to the skills of the performers and made their exact age immaterial to the universal entertainment their gifts guaranteed.

In My Old Lady, we have such a picture. It is well worth seeing for the maturity of language dedicated to its predicament – for it is a talking picture – meaning that narration does not fall into the trap of being a function of motion only, of pictures only. The people before us are strong minded, articulate, and possessed of fully developed characters.

And they are brought to us by actors we love to watch, whom we have seen over the past twenty years and so are interested in their development.

Can Kevin Kline retain his relevance as a performer? That’s bound to be a question since his screen performances are fairly rare. The answer is up for grabs as you watch his finessing the role of a ne’er-do-well failed novelist on his uppers, as he bamboozles various French operatives out of their ready money trying to keep afloat while he sells or promises to sell a Paris apartment which is not quite yet his.

What prevents this is the presence in it of Maggie Smith who has right of residence as long as she lives – she who has already lived long and promises to live longer. And he is also met by the firm gaze of her daughter played by Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Scott-Thomas is a personality I have not cottoned to in the past, but she really takes hold here as an unmarried woman of fifty or so, learning the truth of her mother’s relations to the man who deeded her the apartment, Kline’s own father. She is interesting to watch and she presents a stern front breaking down as the truth of her life and her relations to Kline’s father emerge. Kline’s weakling breaks down too to reveal a piratical firmness at all odds. Maggie Smith herself, that past mistress of ambiguity nailed by eyes like two cockatoos, crumbles as the worst comes to be known.

The material comes from a stage play and in film form has three acts, the second of which is the richest. The first arranged the predicament for us, the second confronts it, but the third goes off into a siding of romance, which is out of character for Scott-Thomas and damages the weight of the material.

Still we have wonderful actors performing it, great support from the French cast, particularly Dominique Pinon as a real estate agent. We have a real Paris. A film beautifully filmed and well directed, and the spectacle of a virtuoso actor, Kevin Kline negotiating a role without falling into its tempting traps. Grownup fare. Dig in.

 

The Two Of Us

18 Jun

The Two Of Us – directed by Claude Berri. Family Film. 87 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: In occupied Paris, a little Jewish boy endangers his family’s safety by his antics and must be farmed out to a rural family whose grandfather is virulently anti-semetic.

~

It’s hard to say anything more about this enchanting film. One doesn’t want to give away any of the events, for to preview any one of them would be to spoil the surprise of it.

One can say that the great Michel Simon, that beautiful actor and beautiful human and beautiful man won well deserved awards for this performance. It’s a flower in his buttonhole.

And the youngster is a grand master of impishness and cleverness. If you don’t love him, you don’t love anything, and you must stand in the corner until you do.

I would love to tell you how he was discovered, but that is the right of the director, who narrates it in the Extra Features. It is Berri’s first feature, and a little masterpiece.

I call it a family film, because it is about a family. Indeed it is about the real meaning of the word “family,” and let me know if you don’t think so.

It illustrates the truth of art that the cutting of a gem is entirely dependent on what is left out.

Enjoy yourself. See it in company. It’ll make a family of the whole bunch of you.

 

 

 

L’Age d’Or

05 Feb

L’Age d’Or – directed by Luis Bunuel. Farce. 63 minutes Black and White 1930.

★★

The Story: A sexual predator pursues a young woman through the ages, just as she wants him to.

The account of the making and history of this film on Wikipedia might be more interesting for you to peruse than the film itself, which seems amateur, cold, and jejune. Originally it was deemed scandalous. It was banned. It was a cause celebre. It was scorned by entire national governments and whole religions. Its producer removed it from circulation almost at once, and it was not shown for over 40 years, except at The Museum Of Modern Art, which somehow acquired a print. Now it can be seen. It is worth it to?

Everyone in gowns and tuxedos at a high–tone cocktail party in a palace; enter a huge oxcart manned by drunken peasants; the cocktailers do not notice them. Five popes pray on a seaside cliff; five starving peons crawl out to kill them; none of them make it; next shot, a hundred years later, the popes’ skeletons and skulls in their robes remain on the cliff. In the middle of performing Tristan and Yseult, the white bearded conductor charges off the stage and finds a young woman making out with another man and takes her in her arms and they kiss, badly. So you see, it wears all the medals of the pataphysicians, the Dadaists, the surrealists. Or all their counterfeits. There is other stuff, but I won’t say more, because it is clear that the movie has been set up to house one joke after another. It’s a flip-book.

Moreover, I found it hard to engage with the success or failure of the couple to consummate their romance, because the man is quite mad and crazy-violent, and because the female is not appealing.

It’s not my dish of tea. But then, Bunuel is not my dish of tea. What is it I do not like about him? His want of a sense of humor. His meanness. His puritanism. His want of lushness, growing things, eccentricity, foible. His conservatism. His clericalism, for he is not anti-church; the church is in everything I have seen him do. His lack of human warmth. Dali, whose name is on it, disowned it.

Take away from me that gelid  social fundamentalist. That Jesuit.. That Robespierre of film.

Give me Jean Renoir.

And we may hope again for a world safe for Democracy.

 

 
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Posted in Directed by Luis Bunuel, Farce, Filmed in France

 

The Last Metro

29 Jul

The Last Metro –­– directed by Francois Truffaut. Backstage WW II Drama. A Paris theatre company holds together during the German occupation. 131 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★

The presence of Catherine Deneuve in any film whatever guarantees attention to it, just as her presence in it guarantees attention to herself. She is a woman with no sex appeal save that she seems to have none; males are captivated by the challenge of their own bafflement, apparently.  And, even with persons she is making out with, she evinces no sexual interest or energy towards anyone else. She is neither attractive nor attracted. So it is no wonder that Gérard Depardieu has no eyes for her.

She is thought of as beautiful, a claim discounted by that chin. And perhaps it is her consistently soigné manner and her consistently marvelous yellow hair and that she is consistently photographed as though she were beautiful that leads to the general belief that she is so.

But, of course, I do not find her so, and that is because, as a dramatic actress she lacks fire, she lacks temperament; she gives so little to her craft it creates a detriment, a hollow, which also adds to her so-called attraction, I suppose, but it doesn’t interest me, and I have no respect for it. She seems inert, a sphinx without a secret.

That is, until I saw her in Hôtel des Amériques, which she made with the great actor Patrick Dewaere, and in which she plays broad comedy and is screamingly funny. She is, in fact, a brilliant light comedienne miscast in a career of dramatic roles, such as this one. Sad.

The movie itself is quite entertaining, because of its photography, general production, crispness in the telling, and Truffaut’s eye for subordinate characters, which, given that this is a theatre company, means we are confronted with some unusual types.

But, while the story is well told, it is not well written, for such reasons as that a romance between Depardieu and Deneuve is tagged on at the end and arises out of nothing we have witnessed. And also because neither she nor Depardieu have real passion either for the theatre as a calling or as a business. As with her relations to her Jewish husband, she is doing her duty.

The film also is in lush color, which certainly suits Deneuve’s makeup and complexion, just as it suited Betty Grable’s, but it defies the gritty black-and-white truth of World War II in starving, domineered, occupied Paris. Both she and Depardieu play characters that seem to have no personal necessity save to play the parts in the movie in which we are seeing them. The film holds one almost to the end, which is a tribute to its power to entertain, if not to explore. In France it received all the major awards. Which is natural, since it congratulates the faith, fidelity, and fortitude of the French during trying times. And who can gainsay it. Will they survive? That is the tension. The answer? They will.

 

The Statement

19 Feb

The Statement – directed by Norman Jewison. Manhunt. A former French collaborationist is tracked by two entities, one determined to bring him to justice, the other to murder him. 120 minutes Color 2003
★★★
The fatal error of the film is also its only abiding attraction, which is the casting of Michael Caine as a man we might have cause to hate. But we could never hate Michael Caine. He’s too much of a honey. We are asked to view him as a war criminal. whereas all we can do is sympathize with this wretched human being at his lowest ebb. We are asked to view him as a once-ruthless assassin, but now, all we can do is stand back in pity and wonder at the abjectness of his devotion to the Catholic Church whose sanctuaries for him play so many roles here. We are asked to see him as a cold assassin, but all we can do is empathize with the tears of his condition, as one might that of someone suffering from a terrible disease. He is such a darling actor, that even when he is kicking a dog, we say to ourselves, Well it doesn’t really count. You never want him to get caught, and you never believe for a minute that he was ever that dreadful betrayer of the Jews.

But, if the part had been properly cast, we would still be at the mercy of the flaccid story-telling of the director the writer, who allow the manhunt to become lost in too much responsibility to detail, one sanctuary too many really. We being with a thriller and watch it deconstruct into the thuds of a documentary. And we must sit through the Extra Features to hear from that director who the person was who was trying to kill Caine and why, and learn that the final scene is telling us that this person would be soon punished. None of this is clear in the film. The assassins are murky characters – is Ciarán Hinds a cop, a member of the FBI? Is his boss, John Neville, a politico, a Jew, a churchman, a member of the Chevalier? All this is unclear. So we lack two established rivalries for the manhunted.

What is abundantly clear is the too creamy camerawork of the south of France, so out of sync with the needs of this material. We also get the pseudo-Hitchcock moves of a director experienced enough to develop his own. We are treated to the tedium of helicopters landing and cars arriving and leaving. The film becomes clumsy, as though suavity would violate the memory of the Jews this man murdered.

But we have Tilda Swinton as a French magistrate, and we have Jeremy Northam better still as the French Police Colonel who accompanies her in her pursuit. The chase takes us into the presence of other fine actors. Alan Bates is Uncle to Swinton in a scene of heavy warning beautifully played. Frank Finlay is completely convincing as a French vintner and former friend of the fugitive. And Charlotte Rampling is particularly fine as his dowdy wife.

I loved Michael Caine in this. It is the best thing I remember him doing in film. If you like him, and I sometimes do, I think he will surprise you by what he offers. But, just remember, the offer is attached to a story that has an expiration date that becomes overdue long before we come to the end of it.

 

Amour

27 Jan

Amour – directed by Michael Haneke. Drama. A married couple in their 80s end their time together when the wife suffers a stroke and slowly declines as the husband devotedly cares for her. 127 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
If you sit back, if you’re capable of sitting back, you will find yourself in the privileged position of watching a life-and-death process you never imagined you would witness. The direction and filming of this story is so close to its home that one does not seem to be intruding at all, much less watching a film.

The story is very simple. They are retired musicians. They have made their contribution, and when illness overtakes the wife, one of her pupils, a successful concert pianist comes to pay his grateful respects. That tells you everything you need to know about their lives before their present trial. Their daughter comes; she also is a musician; she is on tour; her views of how to handle matters are desperate and understandable – but there is nothing to be done that is not being done well.

All this sounds uneventful, and so it is in a way, because while the death sentence of life hangs in the wings, ordinary life goes on as well. The newspaper is read, the tea is made. But also the patient must be bathed. The diaper must be changed. The straw must be applied to the lips. The husband takes on these tasks. He performs them simply and well.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trantignant. I am almost loathe to mention the names of the two actors who plays these two old persons, because they seem to not be acting but simply enacting. The film seems not to be staged, but to unfold in large chapters before my eyes and mine alone. The two characters are often shown, not dead on but at an angle as though I were eavesdropping right there over their shoulder. It doesn’t seem like a film, so much as a record. It left me speechless.

The film is in line for a 2013 Oscar as The Best Foreign film and The Best Film. Emmanuelle Riva is nominated for Best Actress. Michael Haneke for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. You owe it to yourself.

 

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin

23 Jan

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin. Documentary. The only color footage of The Allied Expeditionary Forces in the European campaign. 46 minutes Color Filmed 1943-45.

* * * * *

In early 1943, after Stevens finished the delightful comedy The More The Merrier, about the housing shortage in Washington, he enlisted. He entered the service as a major, went to North Africa with a crew towards the end of the fighting there, briefly went to Persia, and then to England, where Eisenhower assigned him to film the European campaign. He was in charge of a group which included writers already established such as Irwin Shaw and William Saroyan and a group of master Hollywood cameramen and technicians. All these proceeded to produce the black and white footage, which was then sent to London and made by Frank Capra in to the black and white movie documentaries with which we are still familiar as the film records of the war in Europe. It was clear to Eisenhower and to everyone else that the signal corps was incapable of doing a proper job of this. So Stevens and his “Stevens’ Irregulars” did it. However, for his own purposes, Stevens took along a 16mm home camera with non-fading color film, and these reels he sent home to his wife Yvonne in California as each was shot. They remained in Stevens’ attic until his son, George Stevens junior, translated them into this 1994 documentary. The D-Day landing is filmed as he came over to Normandy. He filmed the big surrenders of the generals, the liberation of Paris, the capture of 500 German prisoners, the largest underground factory in the world at Nordhausen where the V-2 rockets blitzing London were made, the entry into Dachau where the crematorium bodies lay in piles and drifts, the meeting of Bradley’s Twelfth Army with the Russians, Berchtesgarten Hitler’s mountain retreat, and then Berlin. Just as Stevens had made True Glory with Carol Reed and Garson Kanin in London which won the Oscar documentary that year, so he also stayed until the end of 1945 in Europe to make with Budd Schulberg the documentary The Nazi Plan which was used as evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. But all that is in in black and white. All of this is in color. There were over 38,000 prisoners at Dachau, 6,000 of whom were dying of typhus. Stevens saw it and filmed it, and when he came back to Hollywood never made a comedy again.

 

Rififi

03 Aug

Rififi – Written and Directed by Jules Dassin. Heist Thriller. A quartet of experts sets to lift 250 million dollars of gems from a jewelry store. 122 minutes Black and White 1955.

*****

A full half hour at the dead center of this masterpiece is given over to the silent execution of the caper, a passage that has never been preceded, equaled, or surpassed in film.  It was made for $200,000, a penny. Expense forbad the use of Jean Gabin, say, in the lead, and so they hired actors virtually unknown to the public, which suits the material right down to the ground. For we have Jean Servais, with his huge, sad, John McIntyre eyes, in the part, and he is riveting. They all are. What the actors lacked in experience, the crew made up for in brilliance, An A- class cinema-photographer, Phillip Agostini, filmed it, an A-class editor, Robert Dwyer, cut it, and the music is by Georges Auric. What luck! Dassin, a lovable man if there ever was one, had been exiled as one of the Hollywood 10. And in an interview in the Bonus Material he talks about those times and the making of this film. It’s all fascinating. And it is the greatest film of its kind ever made.

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Full Speed

25 May

Full Speed –– Directed by Gael Morel. Youth Drama. A cluster of friends works out their relations to one another and their futures. 85 minutes Color 1998.

* * *

I don’t want to see another film about homosexuality which ends in death. Why is that the recipe? Certainly all the actors are attractive, although the director does not seem to have much grasp of the actor’s medium, for the dialogue never passes beyond mechanical recitation. This tends to thin and monotonize the characters, and reduce the weight of the drama to plot and spectacle of which there is plenty. But why is death the outcome for homosexuality? Death and misery. Humiliation and degradation. Always the same. Or. Or, if the love affair works out, it is worked out on strictly bourgeois lines: marriage, picket fence, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. I’m tired of baloney sandwiches for lunch and death.

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An Affair Of Love [Une liaison pornographique]

15 May

An Affair Of Love [Une liaison pornographique]– Directed by Frederic Fonteyne. Romance. Two strangers arrange to engage in anonymous pornographic sex, and then proceed to engage in the consequences. 1999 Color 78 minutes.

* * * * *

The charm of these two characters stands-in for the scenes between the sheets which mercifully are never shown. The only time we go there displays a mild and playful reversal of roles leading to a recess of activity. What is important is that in each of them what is released by the other is this very playfulness, a childlikeness. The entire story is told out of the bedroom. The entire story is told in terms of their unfolding freedom in showing themselves to one another. They become so happy with one another that they even believe they can read one another’s minds. The pornographic paradise each desires can only be played out in cinematic terms by their having fun in a cafe. It’s exactly right. Which is to say, the pornographic paradise does exist, but in film it can only be fully shown outside the bed. In actual pornography, no consummate historical attraction ever exists between the participants, only the mechanical momentary attraction. In real pornography, the sex may be intense but it is always gotten up for the occasion, like a child at Halloween. In real pornography no one is ever embarrassed. But in An Affair Of Love, embarrassment is the first order of business. And then paradise leads to paradise, and the picture is the record of the founding of those paradises. A worthwhile entertainment in exploration.

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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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La Ronde – Vadim

12 May

La Ronde – Directed by Roger Vadim. Sex Drama. From one on to the next to the next and the next. 110 minutes Color 1964.

* * * * *

A version of the Arthur Schnitzler play once filmed by Max Ophuls who brings into the material a satirical voice personified by Anton Walbook’s intercessions. Here there is no satire and no interruptions; Vadim’s approach is straight on. What’s similar is that in both films the females are sympathetic humans and the males are the idiots, just wanting to get their jollies. Once sex is over, the men want no further history; once sex is over the women want history to begin. As in Ophuls’ the men rush to the women’s slaughter; the women submit winsomely, as though regretting the loss of the fairy tale they believed love to be. One great difference is that Vadim’s script omits the use of the word l’amour to the degree Ophuls employed it, so we have the grace to know the story is about flat out sexual seduction, and we have the joy to see that the seducers are all mostly female, no matter how the males may posture. Two beautiful males, Jean-Claude Brialy and Jean Sorel open and close the picture, neither one having to play any his aces to take the queens. But the females still are more wonderful than the males, just as they are in Ophuls’. On the other hand, Vadim’s also omits Ophuls’ great interest in camera style. Ophuls’ film is about the beauty of film; Vadim’s is about the beauty of women. An interesting advantage Vadim’s has is that the omission of Walbrook’s recesses gives the screenwriter a chance to expand on certain characters and certain scenes, and, since the screenwriter is no less than Jean Anouilh the most fully developed character is the playwright. Jane Fonda plays the part Danielle Darrieux took, and our Jane does very well in the part. Vadim was a handsome and sexy man, and Fonda married him. His interview in the Extras is fascinating. And her interview about him might be said to contain more wisdom than the film itself.

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A Little Romance

14 Apr

A Little Romance – Directed by George Roy Hill. Teen Romance. Two thirteen-year olds fall in love and take off for parts known. 110 minutes Color 1979.

* * * *

Diane Lane is 13 when she makes this, and the French boy is probably the same age, which is fun. Sally Kellerman plays her mother in a manner that is as obvious as the writing requires, and Arthur Hill plays her third husband, as subtlely as the writing requires. The only mystery is how he could have married such a rude, mean, shallow woman to begin with. David Dukes plays her oncoming boyfriend, a bad film director. The movie takes us to Paris, then to Verona in Italy and eventually to Venice. For me, the trouble with the film is that it is a Hollywoodization of a teenage elopement, and so the tone is all wrong. Sometimes the two children cut through the balderdash with their simple grace. And sometimes Laurence Olivier cuts through the slow pace with his virtuoso tricks, which are spellbinding, as always. He plays the children’s guardian devil, whose tedious charm and Fagan-like skills help propel them onto their adventure. Olivier was a master of Restoration farce, playing characters with names like Snipe, Wormwood, or Titter, and this is a performance perfectly suited to that genre, so it’s to be treasured as an example of his cold and cunning range and wit. Diane Lane is lovely in her role, and she also offers some reminiscences on the Special Features section about Olivier and the making of this film. It was her first film and it settled her fate, little did she know it at the time.

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Going Places

13 Mar

Going Places — directed by Bertrand Blier – Crime comedy. Two drifters go on a crime spree. 118 minutes color 1974

* * * *

Only 4 stars because I wished it had ended sooner, Of course it is beautifully made by Blier and photographed perfectly. Being a picaresque tale it is episodic and being written by the director no episode is suitable for scrapping. No American actor would ever have assumed the roles taken by Patrick deWaere and Gerard Depardeau. In Parts unequalled for nastiness, even Sean Penn, a most unlikable actor, would not have touched this material. But these two actors go into it full bore. There is a good deal of really bad treatment of females, but these two are such crummy two bit thieves to make a case of misogyny against them would be pettifogging. Besides, misogyny is a word too grand for their conduct. Nor does one take to them in time. They are marvelous actors at the first pitch of their youthful brilliance. They had acted together often before on the stage in Paris, so they fit well into one another’s energy. Jeanne Moreau brings her tiny form into the picture and takes over the men for a time. But it is Miou Miou who carries the film. Her appearance and reappearance in it brings us along to see where she will arrive. A youthful Isabelle Huppert makes a striking appearance as a frisky teenager. This picture is carried forward by a ghastly wit, but it is wit, and so it is not to be dismissed, hard watching though some of it may be. And of course, de Waere was one of the greatest actors ever to live.

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The Two Of Us

25 Jan

The Two Of Us (or The Old Man And The Boy) — directed by Claude Berri – Human Comedy. For everyone’s safety, a ten year old mischief-maker is fostered out by his parents. He finds himself in a farmhouse with a most peculiar old man, a mischief-maker himself. 87 minutes, black and white, 1967.

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One of the greatest films ever made, Grandpa And The Boy, or The Two Of Us or Le viel homme et l’enfant, derives its greatness from one element only: its balance. You find this same quality in Jean Renoir’s great films, particularly The Rules Of The Game, and in perhaps every great film ever made. All sides are presented as fully as they can be under the circumstances of the material, and then acted to the full by both the old man and the youngster, and, although the director is fully and passionately engaged, no bias is suggested. The material in this case is one of the key relationships of life, which is the relation of a boy to a grandparent, in this case, a foster-grandfather. The story of how it came to be made, how the director found the little boy, Alain Cohen,  mischievously hiding behind the school curtains in the hall where he had been sent for misbehaving, and the relationship of him with Michel Simon, the old man is recounted in the Extras, which are a must, also. But what the director, Berri, caught, in this his first full length picture, is the priceless love and appreciation between a human being who is just entering life and a human being soon to leave it. The body of the film takes place in the French Countryside during WWII where the little boy has been sent for his safety. The peril of discovery fuels the tension, but the physical beauty of the ten year-old boy and the quite different physical beauty of the old man meld perfectly, and so do their personalities and vitality and hearts, and this is where our pleasure in the story really lies. Michel Simon, the old man, was one of the great actors ever to appear in film. If you have never seen him before, see him here. And let the whole family join in, too, for a real movie-going treat.

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Start The Revolution WIthout Me

14 Jan

Start The Revolution Without Me – directed by Bud Yorkin – a farce in which two sets of identical twins plot to cut off The Terror at the pass. 1 hour 31 minutes color 1970

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Farce requires the stage. It requires a static set, back and forth through whose doors characters race. Physical dexterity is its sine qua non. Motion pictures move. In film, the set is never static because the camera isn’t. Therefore the necessary contrast is lost. But given this limitation, farce on film can work, not through physical comedy, but through verbal comedy, through situation, and through what passes across the characters’ faces. Thus we have Hugh Griffith, whose loony visage always promises the embarrassing human folly of dirty underwear even when he is dressed with monumentally glittering daft royalty as King Louis XVI. The film is vaguely a parody of The Corsican Brothers or some Ronald Colman swashbuckler or other, it doesn’t matter which, because the film is a parody of films like that, and as such it works like gang-busters. Everything is fabulous here. The whole piece was made in France, in real French Chateaus, in their real interiors, with real French extras, and a real English cast to lend authenticity to France and to two real North American actors who play the four French leads. The settings are breath-taking, and the costumes, by Alan Barrett, are the finest funny period costumes you will ever see, all run up for a nickel, the Special Features tell us. Gene Wilder plays one set of separated twins, and, as he admits in the Special Features, while he thought he would be wonderful as the peasant, he is far better as the crazy, vicious, sadistic, me-first noble. Donald Sutherland has the cunning to make both the peasant and the noble similar, which they would have been in real life, one slightly out-to-lunch and the other above-it-all. He is delightful to watch. His hauteur is preposterous because he is already so tall. In film, all farce is farce of the face, and the only movement is that of the audience’s eyes to the next visage treat. When people start running about, film farce tends to slow down. You can’t make motion out of what is already motion, only what is not. As Orson Welles remarks in it, this is a film in which he does not appear, so we know from the start that we are in the sacred land of irreverence, impudence, and idiocy, and can take out our Monty Python Toby-mug, fill it up with ale, sit back in our armchairs, and chuckle.

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