1 December 2020
It was 18 July 2020, in Bissy-sur-Fley, Saône-et-Loire (71), and the ground was thick with crickets, almost the only sound coming from these amazing creatures, thousands of them. Above, one landed on the bonnet of the car, presenting a wonderful view of these beings. I just wonder when we'll be allowed to see such sights again.
30 November 2020
Potiche is often called a camp, over-acted film set in the seventies and has a whiff of Douglas Sirk's melodramas, etc, and I have to accept these criticisms as they are true. But, as most reviews of the film (professional or amateur) say – that is one of its delights, and perhaps its major strength.
We have something of a starry cast with an ageing and apparently devoted Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve) as wife of Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), who is her husband and the head of the Pujol-Michonneau umbrella factory, which of course reminds us of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Jacques Demy's celebrated camp film starring Deneuve. Suzanne's dead father is the Michonneau in the title of the firm, and the ageing Pujol is messing around with who he can, but particularly his secretary Nadège (Karin Viard).
But then there comes a strike, and the greedy Maurice's heart can't take it. He can survive, but Suzanne is forced to take over, but then she has a way of dealing with people that is far superior to Maurice's. This is women taking the upper role in the 1970s, and she goes on to achieve great things, with Ozon developing from Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy's play of the same name, although in English I'd prefer 'Figurehead' to 'Trophy Wife'.
Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu) – the communist mayor who's long ago had a one-off fling with Suzanne – doesn't make it to a second helping, although Suzanne makes mincemeat of both him and her husband to become a député MP: this woman is definitely on top.
29 November 2020
28 November 2020
27 November 2020
It seems like so little, but it's not. In the 84 minutes the film has lasted, in spite of the apparent lack of events, in spite of the virtual absence of dialogue, we have been treated to a large number of things: the slow pace as the man watches, the sights of the city, the psychology of the timid, anxious man, the repeat of features already seen which creates an odd but comforting idea of familiarity: the same streets, in particular the Place Saint-Étienne with its Meiselocker statue; the appearance (at least three times) of the black guy with the parasol selling cigarette lighters for 5 euros; the corner with the bottles where the old alcoholic woman sits, the seemingly desperate 'Laure de t'aime' written on so many walls, etc.
Long before the end I realised Sylvia would never turn up, but then I started to wonder if she's like the rhinograde in the Musée Zoologique in the city: non-existent. A brilliant film.
25 November 2020
The father is the Italian Mirko (Guy Marchard), who reads La Repubblica and was the husband of their mother (played by Marie-France Pisier), who has a fleeting bit part in this. Mirko does his best to console Paul and control Jonathan.
Paul seems suicidal: he films himself with a mouthful of pills, only to spit them out; he appears on his father's balcony on tiptoe, as if about to join the mobile phone he has sent, splintering, to the pavement below; and, on the only 'trip' he takes out, he jumps into the Seine but survives: just before Christmas this seems unlikely, but then his brother will later do the same and survive too.
Johnathan (casting himself as the narrator and looking directly at the camera like a Truffaut character) is a very different personality: while Paul spends his time in his dressing gown and underpants crying in the room and listening and singing along to Kim Wilde's 'Cambodia' (on an old 45 rmp), Jonathan is out in Paris, wandering around much like Truffaut's Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) in the streets of Paris. In a day Jonathan beds three women and returns to his father's in the early hours of the morning to find some rapport with Paul, looking through a child's picture book about a wolf and a rabbit, which they knew by heart as children.
As the sentence states above in Hyde Cemetery, 'ALSO SAMUEL S[COTT], THEIR SON, DIED IN AUSTRALIA, SEP. 17TH. 1951, AGED 86 YEARS.' Middleton says that Sudlow hadn't published much, although he prints his 'To the Blue Bell' in full and says that it will 'take a high place in local verse'. At the time that Middleton published his book Samuel Scott Sudlow was about 43 and had yet to leave the UK for Australia, although he appears to have published nothing at all there. But he was obviously a little more successful in another field.
Samuel Scott Sudlow was a joiner by trade, although Middleton speaks more of Sudlow's artistic education and of his local fame as a portrait and landscape artist. He says '[h]is work is highly spoken of by those competent to judge, and he is one of the few local men who have been successful as a portrait painter'.
And interestingly, a little Googling tells me that 'S Scott Sudlow' was several times one of the finalists for painting prizes in Australia, including one called Self Portrait.
24 November 2020
So, the third part of Cédric Klapisch's film trilogy, following on from L'Auberge espagnole and Les Poupées russes, with Xavier (Romain Duris) once more in the lead role, with the faithfuls Wendy (Kelly Reilly), Martine (Audrey Tautou), Isabelle (Cécile de France), but this time based in New York. Again, Xavier is in a mess (but much more unbelievable this time) but he's helped out by, er, Hegel and Schopenhauer.
Isabelle has moved to Brooklyn, where she lives with girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt), and Wendy is leaving Xavier (with their two children) for the American John (Peter Hermann), one of the reasons for the separation surely being that Xavier has agreed to trying (by artificial insemination) to get Isabelle pregnant so that she and Nancy can have a child. The almost penniless Xavier (who is nevertheless now a published novelist) decides that he must leave for New York too as he wants to be closer to his children. One of the more subtle jokes is that Xavier initially stays with Isabelle and Ju, although he's looking for a flat; Nancy asks where, and Xavier says he wants to be near to his children, and Wendy lives on 6th avenue near the main entrance to Central Park: he doesn't have a clue why Isabelle has a strange look, but he'll no doubt find out, and anyway Ju finds him a crummy place in Chinatown.
At less than two hours this movie moves really fast, also pulling in Xavier playing hero to an ever-grateful Chinese cab driver who rigs it up for him to marry Nancy (Li Jun Li); two visits from Martine from France; Xavier's father trying to find a symbol of his wife's and Xavier's mother's love in a paving stone; immigration officials questioning Xavier and Nancy not unlike Georges Fauré (Gérard Depardieu) in Peter Weir's Green Card (1990), and pursuing Xavier and Nancy to his flat when Isabelle and a young female baby sitter are having sex: the escape of the two naked women onto the roof recalls the naked Xavier chasing a naked girlfriend in Les Poupées russes; and so on.
In the end Martine agrees to move from Paris and live with Xavier in New York. Yes, with her two kids in a crummy flat with no fear of immigration officials returning? Pure fantasy, as the computer graphics have suggested, but an adorable film.
This second part is a little more episodic, played more for comedy, and contains some flashy experimental camera work. The main interest is again Xavier, who not only has trouble finding a permanent job but has temporarily shelved his plans to write a novel for more pragmatic writing – such as being ghost writer for celebrities, and in addition he's found work writing the screenplays of a slushy TV mini-series. At thirty he still has no steady girlfriend, only a succession of brief flings (including with model Celia Shelburn, who's biography he's helped her with), but then a stable love life demands a stable personality, and he doesn't seem to have one yet.
Xavier still sees (even sleeps with) his ex, Martine, who is now a single mother; and he also sees a great deal of his lesbian friend Isabelle (cue for transvestite humour, etc). In London he runs into William, who's wildly in love with Natacha, has learned Russian, and is going to be married there shortly. Oh, and he also comes to meet William's sister Wendy again, kicks out her abusive boyfriend and, well, takes his place.
All the group meet up at Natasha's parents in Saint Petersburg: cue for local colour, dancing, drinking, use of various languages, etc. But then Celia, who's in Moscow for a few days, calls him up and asks him to join her. As he's taking the train Wendy – who's seen through his lie and knows he's meeting Celia – tells him he's the love of her life. But he still takes the train, realises Celia's as childish as him, but it seems too late and Wendy feels she can no longer trust him.
But then the wedding – slowly – eases them back together. And that's how they'll have to take it: easily.
Ourika begins with an introduction by a doctor brought to a convent to see the black nun Ourika, although the bulk of the novel is taken up with Ourika's story. At the age of two she was about to depart from Senegal to be taken away as a slave until the governor of Senegal bought her and left her in the care of Mme la maréchale de B. in Paris, where she was brought up in the same way as any white person.
That, as her benefactor recognises towards the end, was the main problem: paradoxically, she was killing the girl with kindness. Ourika is educated to a high standard and grows up for several years with Mme de B.'s grandchildren, the younger of whom – Charles – she becomes very attached to until he leaves for college at the age of seven.
Several years later Ourika discovers her fate through overhearing a conversation: being black, she faces an extremely lonely future because no suitable man will be willing to marry her. She removes all mirrors, tries as much as possible to hide her black skin from others, and dreads meeting new people. But all the time she tries to hide her feelings from her benefactor.
When Charles returns her interest in him is renewed, and she delights in conversations with him until he leaves to marry the wealthy heiress Anaïs de Thémines, with whom they soon have a child. A child she can't have, and she begins to regret that she has been taken from the slave ship, feels that she could have been 'happily' married with a child in the slave cabins. She begins to waste away and Mme de B. realises that it took Ourika so long to understand: that she is in love with Charles.
And so Ourika finds that her only choice is to devote herself to God. This brings us to the end of her story and the doctor reveals in the final paragraph that Ourika then dies in front of him.
23 November 2020
Cédric Klapisch's Ni pour, ni contre (bien au contraire) | Not For, or Against (Quite the Contrary) (2003)
This was a surprise film release from director Cédric Klapisch, as it is a film policier, but what surprises me more is the title, faithfully translated in the same way in English, although surely this must be one of the most clumsy titles on record, particularly with its words in parentheses? OK, the title alludes to the dilemmas of the protagonist, but relevant or not it's still a mess as a title. The film itself though, in spite of a number of professional critics writing otherwise, certainly isn't a mess.
Katy (Marie Gillain) works as a television camera operator but lives in a faceless HLM with little success of escaping her relatively poor surroundings: pathetically, she buys scratchcards in the very slim hope of improving her material situation. Until, that is, she chances upon the crook Jean (Vincent Elbaz), who wants her to film a hold-up for him. At first dubious, as she's entering a milieu foreign to her, she rapidly succumbs to the lure of potential wealth from illegal acts.
So she's introduced to the rest of the gang, a motley bunch aspiring for riches by whatever violent means they get them: there's the Armenian Lecarpe (Simon Abkarian), running a kebab house with his wife; there's Mouss (Zinedine Soualem), an aspiring choreographer working on strippers in a nightclub; and then there's the rather disturbed young Loulou (Dimitri Storoge): not exactly too promising a mob.
But Jean manages to seduce her with his apparently easy gunpoint hold-ups of jewellers and she soon fits into the scheme of things. More importantly, she performs her own hold-ups of jewellers on the quiet. Then comes the final raid, which will pay enough money for them all to live luxuriously for the rest of their lives. But it depends on her playing prostitute to the director of the bank, and she doesn't do prostitution: yeh, she's being used.
She does kill the director though, but fails to have the alarm silenced. However, an amount of money is salvaged from this, although (through her cunning, her intelligence and her betrayal) Caty manages to escape to an American 'paradise', the gang either dead or (in Jean's case) inside. Trouble is, that last long shot of her in her penthouse reveals that she has no idea of where to go from then on. Earlier in the film she mentions the word 'L'argent' and one of her new buddies adds '...ne fait pas le bonheur' ('Money doesn't buy you happiness'). So where is there to go now?
22 November 2020
17 November 2020
12 November 2020
10 November 2020
The structure of the novel of course couldn't have been conventional: between the usually small paragraphs there are large white spaces, and every five pages a page is taken up by female names in large capital letters, always forenames, never surnames (or patronyms).
8 November 2020
'One evening, towards sundown, just as the city lifts its awnings, and the deserted streets start seething with delight, [Charlie] left his home to enjoy the grateful air. It had been a day of singular oppressiveness, and, not expecting much of the vesperal breezes, he had borrowed his mother's small Pompadour fan.'
This book is not set in the US but on an unnamed Caribbean island, where a family – Mrs Mouth and her husband (whom she calls 'Prancing Nigger') and their children Miami (or Mimi), Charlie and Edna. Mrs Mouth has decided that they are to move from the small village of Mediavilla to the city of Cuna-Cuna, where her children can be educated, where the family can 'enter Society': yes, it's a form of social improvement, where they will be wearing dresses, shirts and trousers instead of leaves and loincloths.
So they move to the bright lights but university isn't ready for the children, although (passing through an earthquake and a religious revival) two of them find an unplanned future: the younger Edna starts living in style with Madame Diaz's son (although probably not for long), whereas Charlie is 'fast going to pieces, having joined the Promenade of a notorious Bar with its bright particular galaxy of boys.'
Firbank's writing is delightfully odd, even when he occasionally seems to be slightly mis-translating from an unknown foreign language.
7 November 2020
6 November 2020
Boniface gives the main biographical facts about Ferré: his birth in Monaco in 1916 to a loving mother and a very strict father who wanted his son to be a dentist; his schooling in Italy with friars who permanently erased any sympathy he would ever have for religion; his initial lack of success with the female sex, initially leading him to use prostitutes; his three marriages: the first brief one to Odette, who was no encouragement to his work, and in the early years he lacked professional success; his second marriage to Madeleine, who helped him in his success for many years but became an alcoholic and destroyed his 'ménagerie'; his final marriage to his much younger employee Marie-Christine, who carried the torch for him many years after his death in 1993.
Ferré bought the tiny Gueslin peninsula, to which he brought the very young female chimpanzee Pépée which outgrew the island. Extending space, he then bought the Château de Pechrigal in Le Lot, then the end of the world in France. It became a hell perhaps in proportion as the chimpanzees, a goat, a pig, numerous cats, etc, were added.
Ferré's musical life grew from not being recognised, to success, a leader of the 1968 revolution, criticisms for being what some considered an 'anar à la Rolls' (for which read 'champagne socialist', although he never had a Rolls-Royce), to being accepted in the canon of 'chanteurs à textes'. Many of his songs he wrote himself, although (another delight) he gave music to such writers as Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Villon, Aragon, fostered a knowledge of Rutebeuf, and so on.
Most of all, Ferré is seen here as an anarchist and an advocate of free love: someone who loudly proclaims 'NO!' to all religions, all politics, all educational systems. all judicial systems, in fact all systems because they imprison people, enchain them, indoctrinate them, torture them, force them into believing that their maniacal and brain dead ideas are the only systems we can pursue. More than ever, we need to listen to Léo Ferré's words. Ni dieu ni maître.
3 November 2020
31 October 2020
24 October 2020
The problem: her marriage of convenience (in 1845, the same year as the foundation of SPA) was to Claude Bernard (1813-78), who would become the father of experimental medecine and whose ideas would influence Émile Zola, who wrote Le Roman expérimental in 1878. And not only did Fanny's father's money go towards Bernard's experiments on the vivisection of animals, particularly dogs, but he carried out some of his experiments in the family home. Fanny tried her best to counter this by rescuing stray dogs. The very strained marriage came to an end in 1868, and they were officially separated the following year.
Poor before his marriage, Bernard originally went to Lyon to work in a chemist's and had the idea that his vocation lay in writing. At twenty he'd written a play, Arthur de Bretagne, although it wasn't published until 1887, some years after his death. It contains a truly awful and heavily biased Preface by a certain Georges Barral, who accuses Fanny and her daughters of deserting Bernard. Needless to say, the above shows that their attempts to destroy the book were fruitless, although the latest publication appears to omit the Preface. No, I haven't read the play, and certainly never will.
It would be interesting to see what the Musée Claude Bernard in his native town of Saint-Julien-en-Beaujolais says about Fanny Martin, who has become a recent martyr to the animal rights cause.
21 October 2020
Images of Ireland are here in the mention of Ash and Snodland, but Beckett also remembers his stay in London (where he was receiving psychiatric therapy under Wilfred Bion), lodging with the Frosts and drinking Lipton's tea.
Again, there is intertextual material, notably in the first (independently) complete sentence 'When did we three last meet?', which recalls Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which the First Witch, in the first line of the play, says 'When shall we three meet again'. And again, Ireland indirectly appears as a memory of Beckett's childhood: the mention of 'the playground at Miss Wade's recalls a former school in Dublin.
Knowlson gives several sources in Beckett's life (including paintings) which may have inspired the play, which he wrote for Billie Whitelaw to perform.
James Knowlson, in his Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, says that Footfalls 'grew out of Beckett's long-standing interest in abnormal psychology', and that May's pacing is an 'externalisation of inner anguish': Beckett had visited a psychiatric hospital in Beckenham in 1937, and two years before writing the play the daughter of a friend had told him of making similar pacing movements. But as Knowlson also says, there is more to this work than can be reduced to autobiographical instances, which of course holds for all of his works.
19 October 2020
17 October 2020
As James Knowlson says, Beckett's intention was that this was an ironic comment on what followed, although someone had added 'with naked people' in the rubbish, and Beckett was very far from happy. The sequence was withdrawn from the London production of Oh! Calcutta!.
Breath is generally seen as a blurring of the difference between theatre and other art forms.
*This is a pun on Clovis Trouille's 'Oh quel cul t'as' ('Oh, what an arse you've got').