27 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Marie-Jo et ses deux amours (2002)

If this can be described as a love story, it's a very painful one, and one-sided. The difference here is that, in spite of the (very subtle) sex scenes, it's slightly unusual in being about love in middle age, the eternal triangle in middle age. Joseph Mai mentions utopia a number of times, and I can understand that from the point of view of Marie-Jo (Ariane Ascaride), although only very briefly: she wants to have two cocks and eat them at the same time, which is of course impossible.

Marie-Jo is a care worker who also does the paperwork for her husband Daniel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), who has a construction business. She is very much in love with him but is also secretly very much in love with Marco (Gérard Meylan|), and inevitably Daniel will find out about this: to his credit he doesn't blow up about it, although his sadness, his sense of loss, is evident. Also evident is the pained reaction of Daniel and Marie-Jo's daughter Julie (Julie-Marie Parmentier). Clearly, the centre cannot hold because there isn't one: tragedy is inevitable, in whatever guise it may hold.

It comes in an accident in Daniel's very modest sailing craft dedicated to his wife, when he ventures he knows not where with her, knocks his head on the boat and falls into the water apparently unconscious. Frantic, Marie-Jo dives in after him, can only hold his hand and the couple are found washed up on the shore. As Julie leaves the morgue with her boyfriend Sylvain (Yann Trégouët), the bag in which she is holding her parents' belongings makes a ringing sound: it's Marco calling his lover, and Julie fishes out the mobile and tells him that it's no use calling as her parents are dead. Obviously, this is not optimistic like the contes de l'Estaque, far from L'Argent fait le bonheur, Marius et Jeannette and L'Attaque !.

25 November 2021

Sébastien Betbeder's Inupiluk (2015)

The premise of this short (34-minute) film is rather absurd: the smaller Thomas (Thomas Blanchard) tells his friend (the taller but equally long-haired and bearded Thomas Scimeca) that his father, who has lived in Greenland for twenty years, is in the unfortunate absence of himself after having been wounded in a hunting accident, just sending two friends – Ole and Adam – over to visit France. Thomas asks Thomas to help him out, and he does. The friends meet Ole and Adam at the airport and introduce them to Paris.

Ole and Adam see the Tour Eiffel, Notre-Dame, the Cimetière du Montparnasse, etc, from the Tour Montparnasse, although the Thomsases are unsure of how Ole and Adam react to this because there's a serious language promblem, which is why events are recorded on film for the smaller Thomas to send to his father to explain them to his friends. When the smaller Thomas takes them to the north coast the taller Thomas can't understand why there are hunters appearing, to which he's told that he wouldn't have come if he'd known, but anyway the party returns without any bagged game. And then it's back to Paris for Ole and Adam to go with an ethnologist to Switzerland for reasons that I couldn't understand, and probably weren't understandable anyway.

This is a fascinating beginning to a series (if that's the right word) that would continue with Le Film que nous tournerons au Groenland (2014) and the feature Le Voyage au Groenland (2016).  And the title? At the end we're told that Ole and Adam were considered to be 'gangsters' for their adventures!

24 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's À l'attaque (2000)

This is another conte de l'Estaque. Guédiguian's film is in many ways a very different affair from his other films, and yet at the same time containing the same themes as so many of the other films: the absurdity and destruction of runaway capitalism, the strength of a small community, etc. And yet this is a crazy, impossible, almost post-modern script, a film within a film in which scenes are thrown away and recommenced at whim.

The flexibility is because in a sense we're really watching a film being made, which gives it an air of unreality: the characters are really puppets whose activities are being mapped out by two film makers: Yvan (Denis Podalydès) and Xavier (Jacques Pieller). This is to be a political film set in L'Estaque and based around Moliterno & Cie garage. And as they write the scenario various crazy ideas are thrown into the waste paper basket, such as the thought of key workers Jean-Do (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Gigi (Gérard Maylan) being lured by sirens at the edge of a countryside road or singing words as in a Jacques Demy film but in a brothel in front of a host of scantily clad girls. And as this is a conte de l'Estaque the ending has of course to be optimistic, so we can't have Lola (Ariane Ascaride) being shot dead in the chest by the police at the end, or her father Moliterno (Jacques Boudet) shooting big boss Moreau (Pierre Banderet) through the head because he refuses to pay the family business the money it owes.

But – some twenty years after the advent of political correctness – we can still have a sex-starved Jean-Do ogling Lola and making sexist cracks all the time about how he drools over her. And when the end comes, we can have no police come to the garage as the workers hold Moreau captive until he signs the cheque for the money owing, have Lola wave it to the cheering crowd of villagers gathered below, and even have – cherry on the cake – Nells the banker (Alain Lenglet) steal the same sum not so much because he wants to save the firm as because he's in love with Lola.

And even, as the film fails to win the prize they hoped for, we have Xavier – previously puritanical about strong language – utter the last words to Yvan: 'Va te faire enculer !': 'Fuck off!' A sheer delight of a film.

Robert Guédiguian's À la place du cœur (1998)

An amateur review of Robert Guédiguian's À la place du cœur gave the title 'L'Amour en noir et blanc', and I can't find a better one. The first of Guédiguian's films based on a novel: the director went to New York to gain the rights to James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and although Kantcheff reveals that Guédiguian thought of calling this 'Si l'Estaque pouvait parler' ('If L'Estaque Could Talk'), Guédiguian thought that this didn't sound right: I don't think he bothered to say why.

Obviously Guédiguian's film adaptation of Baldwin's novel – set in Harlem with a title referring to a steet in Memphis and probably indirectly to W. C. Handy's 'Beale Street Blues' – would undergo some evolution when translated to fin-de-siècle Marseille: this is a largely white cast; the mother's trip is to Sarajevo rather than Puerto Rico; and the ending is upbeat.

Clim (Laure Raoust) is the daughter of Marianne (Arine Ascaride) and Joël (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, and has been the strong friend of the Bébé (Alex Ogou), who has been adopted by Francine (Christine Brücher) and Franck (Gérard Meylan), since childhood. Bébé is eighteen and Clim sixteen, they inevitably become lovers and want to marry, and Clim is pregnant. Despite their young age, and the fact that Bébé is only a hopeful sculptor, they have the consent of their respective parents: in fact the fathers do a drunken celebratory dance in a bar to Armstrong's version of 'Beale Street Blues'. In a later remininscent moment we return to the characters of Darrousssin and Ascaride in Ki lo sa ?, a film made fifteen years before, but where Joël here is made to think of his younger self unfurling a bed sheet to reveal a back view of a naked Ascaride (now seen as Marianne).

The upbeat ending comes when Bébé – imprisoned by a racist cop who has framed him by accusing him of rape – is saved by Marianne travelling to Sarajevo to get his accuser to drop the rape charge. The strength of family and friends once again prove to be of overwhelming importance in Guédiguian's world.

23 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Marius et Jeannette (1997)

Marius et Jeannette is by far the most popular and well known of Robert Guédiguian's (at present) twenty-one films, obviously in part because it is essentially a love story – albeit not of young people – with an upbeat ending. There are no murders in this delightful and perhaps surprisingly humorous conte de l'Estaque, and the slowly emerging relationship of the two key players are set in the courtyard so familiar to Guédiguian and Meylan in their youth, along with the director's usual troupe of potes (mates) backing them up.

And as usual, the precariat* is foregrounded: Marius (Gérard Meylan) is a warden at a soon-to-be-demolished cement works, and has secured the job by pretending to have a leg injury. Jeannette (Ariane Ascaride) is struggling on her supermarket cashier's salary, supporting her two children by different partners, the young Malek (Miloud Nacer) and Magali (Laetitia Pesenti): Magali's father left them, and Malek's died. At first Jeannette has tried to 'steal' two abandoned tins of white paint from the works, and although Marius prevents her he later brings two tins to her home and even begins helping her to decorate: Jeannette initially seems more keen on him than he does her, although he eventually moves in with the approval of her son and daughter and her neighbours.

Her neighbours are Dédé (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Caroline (Pascale Roberts), and Justin (Jacques Boudet) and Monique (Frédérique Bonnal). When Marius disappears Jeannette spies on him at the quarry, a former teetotal man glugging from a large bottle. It's down to Dédé and Justin to seek him out, get drunk with him, eke out his secret reluctance to face a new family after his wife and children have died in a car crash, but with almost comic book humour they drag the unconscious Marius to bed, 'strapping' him to the sleeping Jeannette with a sheet.

We first came across words by poet René Char – who lived in Provence and was buried in the family grave in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – in a very different context in Ki lo sa ?, although in this film we see Marius reading a poem of Char's to Malek. We later learn that Malek became a teacher (professor? both French and American English words are ambiguous) of Arabic, and Magali becomes a journalist. The future takes on a rosy tint, even an international one as witnessed by the large plastic globe floating past a docked ship at the beginning of the film.

*Again, Guy Standing's term serves as a very useful tool to describe the characters.

22 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's À la vie, à la mort ! (1995)

À la vie, à la mort ! isn't a conte de l'Estaque, although seven years later it was to be the title of an album by Johnny Halliday: it is an expression of an eternal link between (usually two) people. But then, Guédiguian's films are peoplescapes, intimate links between a group of people who don't at all necessarily have to have genetic relationships. Joseph Mai's Robert Guédiguian (2017) includes an interesting comment on Guy Standing's book The Precariat (2011), which is a very useful way into Guédiguian's films, particularly À la vie, à la mort !: the precariat is a new class of people created by runaway capitalism, victims of the ruthless capitalist process, the laissés-pour-compte in a constant precarious financial situation worrying about where their money is coming from to pay the next bill.

À la vie, à la mort ! begins with a long sequence of a commercial district of a town which could be anywhere in the developed world, although I was strongly reminded of American malls, where end-of-history capitalism has taken over, where Wallmart is killing towns but is mercifully banned from New York City.

Outside the centre commercial in Marseille, clustering around a bar called Le Perroquet bleu, we have a motley group of members of the precariat: José (Gérard Meylan) who owns the bar, but is struggling to keep his head above water, particularly as his wife Josiane (Pascale Roberts, still young-looking but in her early sixties) is becoming embarrassed doing a striptease in front of her ageing customers; Patrick (Jacques Gamblin) is without a job and married to Marie-Sol (Ariane Ascaride) who works as a cleaner; and then there's Jaco (Jean-Pierre Daroussin), who's lost his job and and is becoming alcoholic. I could go on, but that's probably enough for a general picture.

Then Marie-Sol persuades a reluctant Jaco to have sex with her as she wants a child, José is having sex with young drug addict prostitute Vénus (Laetitia Pesenti) and Jaco starts to hit his wife, his two daughters hate him, and they leave him to his own devices.

Jaco literally ends up on the street, José is desperate to find a new stripper and Marie-Sol leaves her job because her boss is hitting on her sexually and we have a clear idea of the precariat. Then José sells his Merc to help things, but Patrick kills himself not because Marie-Sol is pregnant because she's cuckolded him but because he wants his insurance money to help his friends, and although this shows the strength of friendship rather than the family it's still pretty bleak, but brilliant.

Robert Guédiguian's L'Argent fait le bonheur (1992)

At the beginning of Joseph Mai's short analysis of L'Argent fait le bonheur in Robert Guédiguian, he says that his old friend, now television producer, Jean-Pierre Cottet, agreed to finance his next film if it was a kind of comedy with no deaths and an upbeat ending. After Guédiguian's last two films that may have seemed a tall order, although he teamed with Jean-Louis Milesi for the screenplay.

This is said to mark a turn in Guédiguian's film-making, not away from communism as such but away from any faith in policical party dogma, towards a neighbourhood group mentality. Here perhaps in particular, religion – often present in Guédiguian's other films as, along with communism, a signifier of love – is strongly present. This is Guéduian's first 'Conte de l'Estaque'.

Most of the film takes is shot in and around the HLMs of Plan d'Aou in L'Estaque, now much changed but in the film where le curé has his unconventional makeshift semi-circular corrugated iron church which is the place of wedding celebration as well as important discussions. Le curé, speaking in the present, turns directly to the audience with a gun in his hand which has just been handed in to him as no longer being of use, and tells us that the film we are about to see will go from bad and move to good. And we see le curé in the film trying to keep the peace in a familiar Guédiguiuian peoplescape in which the working classes have now been divided into thieving classes, drug-taking classes, neo-fascist classes, prostituting classes, internecine classes in which divide and rule appears to have been spectacularly acheived without even the visual presence of the dominant bourgeois class. Le curé picks up the used syringes in the morning and distributes new ones and condoms to those who ask for them.

Here, everyone knows each other, life is played out as much in the courtyard as inside the HLM flats, and the courtyard can play a very dramatic role. We meet Simona Viali (Ariane Ascaride), whose husband has died in a burglary, who makes a living selling stolen property and whose son steals her own property*; Muñoz (Géard Meylan), who used to burgle with her husband but is now a bank warden and a fascist; the communist Degros; the Muslim Amzoulah family; etc.

Near the beginning, a yellow line divided the HLM, a line beyond which the rival gangs are not allowed to cross. It takes the women hatching a plot in the church to bring the HLM into a community, the elderly overall-wearing beer-drinking men to dance with each other, the different races to join as one, the yellow dividing line to be rubbed out. Guédiguian's promise to Cottet was not broken, although this seems very much a fantasy than a reality: and can it really be that the ununiformed curé has now got together with Simona?

*Guédiguian sometimes has a tendency to see friendship as a stronger bond than the family.

21 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Dieu vomit les tiédes (1989)

Under different names to the previous Ki lo sa ?, which ended in all four spiritually lost characters being poisoned, Dieu vomit les tiédes shows us the same actors – Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Cochise), Ariane Ascaride (Tirelire), Gérard Meylan (Frisé) and Pierre Banderet (Quatre-Œil). This film is set in Martigues as opposed to the usual L'Estqaue/Riaux, and we see a great deal of the Viaduc de Caronte. Cochise is a successful writer in Paris, although he tells his editor at the beginning of the film that he's not finishing his work on the French Revolution, people no longer give a shit, and he promptly leaves in a drunken state, leaves his wife too and returns to his childhood home where he made a blood pact with the other three main characters. But like him, things have changed. Tirelire works in a restaurant and jollies the folk up in a home with her songs and starts up a relationship up with Cochise, who's staying with his mother who treats him like a long-lost child. Quatre-Œil is an editor for a small circulation paper and also seems to have lost his ideals as a child. But Frisé, whose hair is now straight, leads a kind of bohemian existence living in a shack by the viaduct, painting it repeatedly and giving the local kids things to do like play table tennis or a musical instrument, but shoos them all away when he finds a syringe on one of them: post-industrial life doesn't have the same spirit as when he was young, there's more despair and indifference, a general lack of working-class solidarity.

And what working class? In Robert Guédiguian : cinéaste (2013), Christophe Kantcheff points to Gilbert (Gérard Meylan) showing the very first image of Guédigian's, one of the last working-class heroes as the cement factories are closing and with them a whole way of life. Joseph Mai, in his book Robert Guédiguian (2017) in Manchester Unversity Press's French Film Directors series, tells us that Philip Anderson, in an article in The Australian Journal of French Studies, has traced a background television sequence to a quotation from Pasolini's 'Genocide', first published as an article in his newspaper column for Corriere della Sera between 1972 and 1975 and collected in a volume as Scritti corsari (1975). The 'genocide' is of the working class by the bourgeoisie, who have now found far more subtle methods of assimilation than direct violence, such as television. This made me wonder why no one ever mentions Marcuse these days, a man who spoke a great deal about the way capitalism absorbs its discontents. Things are fractured, and the bi-centential festivities of the French revolution seem lukewarm, and the presence of the extreme right-wing now is menacing.

Then drownings happen, bodies washed up: there's a usurer, a pimp, a fascist, and so on. Frisé confesses towards the end that he's responsible for this: he can escape with impunity, they deserved it. Cochise thinks he's mad, and the film ends with the dead Frisé lying across Cochise, who can't extricate himself. Realistically improbable, but symbolically significant in that Cochise is stuck mentally, having no place ot move.

15 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Un litre de lait (2006)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Moullet waited until the death of his mother before making this film because of the autobiographical content. This is a rural, montainous area. Gilles is a teenager reading Ulysses at the kitchen table in the the presence of his younger sister Anne and his mother, who gives him money to fetch a litre of milk from the Roux family. Extremely reluctantly, Gilles (joined by Anne) begins his deliberately very slow walk: he is aware that his mother is having an affair with Roux's wife, and it is clear that Anne doesn't. The film is taken from the point of view of Gilles, and there are imagined flash forwards to his encounter with the woman, he checks his pulse and his heartbeat, refuses the short cut that Anne proposes, pisses against a tree, anything to put off the moment. Finally, when he reaches the farm it's a young worker who serves him, thus avoiding the embarrassing meeeting. Unfortunately he falls down on the return and spills the milk. Anne gives him the money for the second trip. I couldn't help thinking that at the time Ulysses was (stupidly) thought a very sexy book, and the relationship between milk and sperm is evident: no doubt that would have added to 'Gilles's' discomfort.

14 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Foix : la ville la plus ringarde de France (1994)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Luc Moullet's Foix, with its mockumentary voiceover, belies the reality we see: the voice talks about the wonderful sights of Foix, but we only see dismal buildings; the voice talks about a wonderful transport system, where the viewer only sees chaos, etc.  In the Rex cinema there is an example of graffiti: 'Le Rex 'cest bien mais je préfère le sexe.' Most old-fashioned town in France? Well, most if not all towns would look similar if taken from a negative angle. An odd film, but then it's by Luc Moullet.

Clément Cogitore's Les Indes Galantes (2017)

Les Indes galantes (sub-titled 'Ballet héroïque') is the most noted opera-ballets of Jean-Philippe Rameau, dated 1735. On Boulevard Georges Clemenceau, Dijon, is a statue of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), who was a composer and music theorist born in Dijon. Clément Cogitore's film of the same name is a five-minute film of a short part of this piece, played by Krumping, a dance created in the ghettos of Los Angeles after the riots in the 1990s.

Quentin Dupieux's Steak (2007)

Steak, as might be expected of a film by Quentin Dupieux, is an insane film, and stars comedians Éric Judor et Ramzy Bedia. But this is not insane for the sake of insanity, and is in fact a satire on fashion, the world of machismo, and gang culture. Éric plays Georges, a rather unbelievably weedy school stool pigeon who's the butt of all the jokes and pranks. But when he accidentally finds a machine gun he kills three of his bullies, although his friend Blaise (played by Ramzy) takes the rap and ends in a mental hospital for seven years. Although Georges meets Blaise on his release, his life has changed immeasurably and he leaves his former friend, who arrives 'home' to find his family has left.

Blaise didn't recognise Georges as first as his head was covered in bandages: under peer pressure, he's joining the local gang the Chivers, who wear red blousons with their name emblasoned to the back, avidly drink milk as if it's a premier cru, are violently opposed to smoking, drive around in 4 x 4s, have a ritualisitic way of greeting their own kind, play an incomprehensible game which involves a large rubber dice-shaped 'ball' and intricate numbers, and pull all the girls.

Blaise tries to join in the Chivers by painfully stapling his face, although when Georges brings out the chain saw after being beaten up because of smoking, Blaise accidentally kills one of the gang and, as the two escpape they are caught by the cops. This is a comedy, but not of the same kind as Rubber, which is mixed with mild horror. Why the title Steak? I have no idea.

12 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Barres (1984)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

I remember a few years ago that my partner Penny got through the barres at La Défense to take the tram to Porte d'Orléans by getting up really close (as one) to an unknown but sympathetic guy and me laughing when they both got out. That caused a controller to grab Penny's Navigo, and although I said 'C'est valable, mais...' he turned to me and said 'Mais ?', to which I retorted 'Elle l'a fait deux fois'. Response, on checking his machine: 'Ah, elle l'a fait deux fois !', and handed back the Navigo to Penny's impunity: but use the card twice and you aren't allowed re-entrance for a short time. Not having used the Paris métro for three years this may have changed, but it is certainly an indication of the trouble some people (including the French) have getting around Paris. Now there are no tickets, I wonder if the system has changed for the better, although I very much doubt it. it: for many less frequent users, the carnet was a way of not exactly life but a way around Paris.

But what of those, rich or poor, who regularly don't pay on the métro, those who jump over the bars, crawl under them, find numerous ingenious methods to dodge the system, use an elaborate way to get onto a train free of charge? What about the anarchists? This film is about them, and of course is completely absurd, as intended.

10 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Ki lo sa ? (1985)

Robert Guédiguian returns to the present, and here we have four childhood friends who, among a number of others who don't turn up, have agreed to meet at the same place after ten years. Again, the viewer has to suspend disbelief as these people are surely at the very least into their thirties, and so would hardly have been kids ten years before? But then, this is where Guédiguian's contempt for realism comes in: it doesn't matter. So, we have Dada (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) as host to any comers to the place where he is both gardener and cook, with absentee landlords. But only Marie (Ariane Ascaride), Gitan (Gérard Meylan) and Pierrot (Pierre Banderet) turn up. They stay the night but the following day is different and difficult.

Marie leaves as she has a 'date', Pierrot leaves with her, but Gitan stays to help Dada with the gardening, and Dada says he can stay as long as he likes. But gradually we're introduced to complications, to the despair of all four, and Marie returns without meeting her 'date', as does Pierrot, and Gitan just drinks. All of them seem to be desperate: Dada, hopelessly, loves Marie, who as a profession sells her body to men; Gitan, as his name suggests, is a tramp; and Pierrot writes wonderful words which Gitan exposes as copies of René Clar's words to Breton. Gitan is leaving but Dada implores him to take a coffee, which he does with the three others, and they all die poisoned. Shortly following this a large group of children climb over the wall and invade the garden, playing with the dead: are they from the four people's past or their own future?

Robert Guédiguian's Rouge midi (1984)

Guédiguian wished he'd made this film first rather than Dernier Été for its more autobiographical element, although I can't see that it matters. But I had to watch this film twice to get the hang of what was happening, although that's partly my fault as I've always had problems with relatives and different generations. All the same, Guédiguian has a casual, no, nonchalant approach to realism, which is one respect where he differs from being a Ken Loach from the south of France: he's not too fussed about people not looking about forty years older than they're supposed to be, and as for grandfathers re-appearing as their grandsons, well who cares? Frankly, not me when I get the idea of what's going on.

This is said to be the story of three generations, and I suppose it is if you discount the present one. So the great-grandfather arrives from Italy in L'Éstaque with his family, but watch out for generational advances. The daughter Maggiorina (Ariane Ascaride) is quickly wooed by Jérôme (Gérard Meylan), who may have the odd dalliance but remains with his wife. Their son Pierre (Pierre Pradinas) will marry Céline (Frédérique Bonnal), and a scene before that will show them in a post-coital position in the countryside, Pierre foregrounded with his leg raised to conceal both his and his girlfriend's genitals.

Pierre and Céline's son Sauveur (Adbel Ali Sid) grows up and is forced to tell his aged grandmother Maggiorina (with a wrinkle-free neck) that her husband Jérôme has died, and Sauveur (now in the unlikely shape of Meylan) looks back on it all and leaves Marseilles at St Charles on the SNCF for, say, Paris? I loved the film, but did I get it all right?

8 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian and Frank Le Wita's Dernier Été (1980)

This is Robert Guédiguian's first film, co-directed with Frank Le Wita, is as so often set in the working-class area L'Estaque and Riaux to the north-west of Marseille, and at a time when the factories are closing down. Gilbert (Gérard Meylan) is the first man to be seen, emerging in overalls with a visor and a soldering iron. In his book Robert Guédiguian : cinéaste (2013), Christophe Kantcheff notes that the film came out in the same year as John Lennon died, the singer of 'Working Class Hero', and continues by saying that the film shares the same statement that Lennon closed his first post-Beatles album with: 'The dream is over.' Gilbert knows that he will not live as his parents have, and that his and his friends' future is uncertain. At first he'll have to made his living at any odd job he can find, and join in the petty crimes of his friends.

Also prominent in this film are the married (therefore compromised) van driver Mario (Jean-Pierre Moreno), Banane (Djamal Bouanane), Le Muet (Malek Hamzaoui), and Guédiguian's wife Ariane Ascaride (here playing Josiane, soon to become Gilbert's girlfriend. The atmosphere is very masculine, with violence always close to the surface, with such activities as breaking into cars and driving off with them, stealing the radios, and running out of a bar or restaurant without paying.

Gilbert and Banane get caught robbing a house and Gilbert is shot dead in the back: his last summer.

Luc Moullet's Le Prestige de la mort (2007)


(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Moullet's inspiration for this crazy, absurd film came from Cecil B. DeMille's The Whispering Chorus (1917). He plays himself as does his wife, Antonietta Moullet (née Pizzorno). He's a film maker who can't make a film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Desperate Remedies – Hardy's first published novel, involving false identity – because of lack of money. Wandering around the Alps in Provence with Hardy's novel, Moullet stumbles upon a dead body and hits on what he thinks is a wonderful way of getting money for his film: if he swaps identities with the corpse, changing his own passport with the dead man's, when people think Luc Moullet is dead they'll rush to watch his films, television channels will show them and bring his widow a great deal of money.

Obviously this is in part a satire on the fact that most ageing cultural figures are only recognised after his death. But of course there's much more to it than that, as Moullet, when he is arrested by the police for the murder of himself, and whom his own wife will kill because she thinks he's the man whose identity he's assumed – will perhaps discover in his final seconds. Absurd indeed.

7 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Empire de Médor (1986)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

In 1972 Luc Moullet was the producer of a short by Jean-Pierre Letellier called Le Cabot, which involved the killing of a dog for the sake of the film. It was banned for two years, angering Moullet who considered the French love of dogs as on the same level as Indians' love of cows. Fourteen years later he got his revenge by making Empire de Médor, a wild attack on dog worship.

The film begins in Asnières-sur-Seine, where in 1899 the author Georges Harmois and the feminist journalist Marguerite Durand established a business, a Cimetière pour chiens et chats, which now contains, among many others, the remains of Rintintin and Clément, Michel Houellebecq's dog.* Moullet being an absurdist, his sensibilities obviously don't stretch to the absurdity of treating animals as inferior beings, which is evidently a serious error on his part, but future generations are now fortunately learning from the errors of the past and have moved on. The fact that, as the narrator states either correctly or in error, the amount of money the French spend on dogs is the same as the Gross National Product of Senegal is entirely irrelevant: almost anything can be proved by juggling with figures, and comparing one country with another in such a way is meaningless.

However, Moullet makes some valid points, such as the useless and wasteful spending on the grooming and beautifying of dogs, the exhibitions, etc, although I'm pretty certain the dogshit machines have now completely disappeared in favour of poop scooping. But this revenge documentary is dangerously flawed: we can hardly expect a balanced argument under the circumstances, but dogs are not only invaluable as substitutes for human partners (and how many humans are anything like as faithful?), they are invaluable to such incapacitated people as the blind, and their superhuman powers are also invaluable to police forces. In his lust for revenge, above all in his lust to sacrifice a dog for a film, a highly developed creature for the sake of art, Moullet lost the plot. Which is a huge pity as he's a great film director.

*The narrator says that this is the only paying cemetery, which is untrue: possibly things were different in 1986, but at the time of writing the private cemetery of Picpus charges too.

Luc Moullet and Antonietta Pizzorno's Anatomie d'un rapport (1976)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Anatomie d'un rapport suffers slightly because Luc Moullet's acting is sometimes a bit wooden and unconvincing, but that this 1976 film is ground-breaking is certain: sex and the sexual act may well have been coyly simulated in other films – although there's very little of it here – in the only way the censor could allow in those days (including many instances of full frontal nudity, and again there's little of that here), but how many times has the sex act been spoken about in such a detailed way, how many times has the male's former accepted sexual prowess been under such attack, and partly by a male director who actually plays the part of the hapless male? Moullet's partner Antonietta Pizzorno is behind the camera and Marie-Christine Questerbert (under the name of Christine Hébert) plays his screen partner. Neither of them has a name in the film.

This is post-1968, post-sexual revolution, and women (particularly supporters of MLF (Mouvement de libération des femmes)) obviously not only demand equality with males but they want to enjoy sex too. So what's the problem with her, she's been making the right sounds at the same time as him, so they must have had simultaneous orgasms? Oh no, she's been faking it, she hasn't come, and he (like most men, she says) are incapable giving women one. 1976 and men still can't get their heads round the clitoris? Not that there's any talk of oral sex though. OK, this isn't a sex lesson and the film can hardly show her showing him what her parts are, can't lead him to the feast: he only believes in a vaginal orgasm. So she just admits that she uses a substitute: she masturbates. The fact that she's ashamed of this could be an indication of how far the sexual revolution has got eight years after 1968, but then Moullet loves making people laugh, and it's interesting to learn that this film (just) pre-dates Woody Allen's Annie Hall with it's unforgettable split screen interviews with Alvy's and Annie's psychiatrists hearing different versions of their patients' reactions to having sex three times a week: respectively, 'Hardly ever' and 'Constantly'.

In the end, there's no resolution, although this in its way is a fascinating film.

Luc Moullet's Un steack trop cuit (1960)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-five is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Un steack trop cuit is Mouillet's first film, being a short like the majority of his movies. He had already been writing for the prestigious Cahiers du cinéma since the age of nineteen and from the beginning he was stongly Nouvelle Vague influenced. Impressed by a large article he wrote about Godard's A bout de souffle (1960), Godard introduced him to the producer Georges de Beauregard, who produced this Moullet's first film. It is quirky, well off-centre and was filmed in his flat on a very low budget.

It stars Moullet's younger brother Patrice as JoJo and his older sister is played by Françoise Vatel. They are both still studying and their parents have gone away for a short time. The sister makes the meals but overcooks the dinner steak and Jojo has to borrow something else to eat from a neighbour. His sister later leaves Jojo to go out with a boyfriend, much to Jojo's disappointment and jealousy.

Moullet sees film-making as a form of smuggling, like you initially give a story to the audience but leave them to work out what the film is really about, see through the apparent salt to find the cocaine. And, looking at events from an oblique angle, it's not difficult to find an absurd, anarchic vision: Moullet is all about absurdity and anarchy. When Jojo goes the the toilet after eating the bad steak and asks for paper, his sister rips pages from an edition of Cahiers du cinéma; Jojo is an uncouth eater who uses his fingers and spits out his food, hurling abuse at his sister; instead of washing the pots after she's left he just breaks them and leaves them on the floor (in a moment that will be reprised in Anatomie d'un rapport, where the unnamed character 'Christine Hébert' (really Marie-Christine Questerbert) goes on a smashing spree in the kitchen.

But the film is not without its (admittedly almost incestuous) loving moments: it's a little odd to see Jojo take off his socks as soon as he comes in from school, but then he uses his bare feet to stroke his sisters legs at the dinner table; and then just before she leaves to join her boyfriend, she kisses him tenderly on the nose.

Moullet makes his entrance to cinema without wiping his feet conventionally, and his whole film career will see him in his full unconventional glory.

2 November 2021

Alexandre Arcady's Hold-up (1985)

Alexandre Arcady's Hold-up is a screwball comedy set almost entirely in Montréal with a script by Alexandre Arcady himself, Daniel Saint-Hamont and none other than Francis Veber adapted from the novel Quick Change by Jay Cronley. It stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as Grimm, a crook pretending (often brilliantly) to be a clown (or Robin Hood) who has spent two years figuring out how to rob the Banque Internationale de Montréal and is aided by accomplices Georges (Guy Marchand) and Lise (Kim Cattrall), the girlfriend of the incompetent Georges who soon falls for Grimm, Georges' bosom ex-cellmate's buddy. One of the people trying to hound down the trio is the police commissaire Simon Labrosse (Jean-Pierre Marielle) who's made to look, er, a clown.

And they unbelievably get away with it, although not without many hitches, car chases, 'borrowing' a taxi driven by Jeremie (Jacques Villeret playing his usual (and not so con) best and being left naked): there are no murders here. And so on to Paris, then Rome to meet Lise whom they've (temporarily but in reality permanently) split from, and who's no doubt left them with their share of the loot but then if she can't have Grimm... Essentially, a buddy movie impossible to believe but impossible to hate.

Patrice Chereau's La Chair de l'orchidée | The Flesh of the Orchid (1975)

Now how do we talk about this in any sensible way? This is an adaptation of James Hadley Chase's crime novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939) and the plot involves young Claire (Charlotte Rampling), whose billionaire father has made her his sole heir, being put in a pyschiatric hospital by her rapacious aunt Edwige Feuillère (Madame Bastier-Wegener). But Claire escapes, has a road acccident in which she's very slightly injured, and then meets horse rearer Louis Delage (Bruno Cremer) and Marucci (Hugues Quester). But Marucci gets murdered (after Claire has blinded him for his sexual advances) by the Berekian brothers, who are also after Louis.

If it all seems very confusing, that's not exactly because it's supposed to be, but because this is the highly esteemed Chereau's first film, and he merely intended it to be an kind of exercice de style, or a rough draft of a film. The plot collides with sub-plot, and gets lost in atmosphere. And the atmosphere is dark, as is the lighting, and the film is shot through with violence, the threat of violence, suspicion, fear, isolation, etc. As an experimental film, which it is in a sense, this is very successful and quite rivetting.

René Fallet: Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé (1975)


Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé is a celebration of a kind of non-intellectual anarchism: it (exaggeratedly) delights in the simple pleasures of life, the world of the impecunious work-shy rather than the social aspirant, the frequenters of the old-fashioned corner café which has staunchly resisted the get-rich-quick mentality of modernising and charging sky-high prices, the place where belote and the dice game 421 are played, where people can spend hours talking to fellow customers, cementing long friendships rather than popping in silently to have a swift drink or meal. But it's also a book that couldn't be written today, even as a novel of recent history, and this is because what was once acceptable – mild misogyny and casual rascism seen as jokes – belong to the past. There are four main characters.

Camadule lives opposite Le Café des Pauvres, where he spends much of his time, and makes a meagre living as a second-hand dealer. He sees work as an evil and would rather drink or fish (one of Fallet's own main interests).

Poulenc meets Camadule when the latter is fishing. He is in his early twenties, lives with his mother – a prostitute specialising in flagellation – and is a dog-sitter. On their first encounter Poulenc has ten dogs he's been paid to walk, and as he begins a conversation Camadule speaks of his hatred for work and encourages Poulenc to go with him to the café, leaving the dogs in his shed and quickly drawing the much younger man into his little world.

'Captain' Beaujol is another frequenter of the café. He fought in Vietnam and Algeria, which is at least what he says, although he wasn't a captain and he lives in dread that one day an old soldier from one of his regiments will enter and expose him as the coward he was, relegated to supply depots. He's a great drinker (even thought by some to be on the alcoholic side), and his home 'fouette un chouilla' ('stinks a tad': Fallet liberally peppers this novel with wonderful slang).

Finally, there's Debedeux, who is a high-flying business executive in aeronautics, and was once a pupil in the same neighbourhood school as Captain Beaujol. Le Captain meets him by chance one day and invites him to Le Café des Pauvres, to which Debedeux pays little attention initially. But later that day, sick of both his wife and his secretary mistress, he goes to the café almost in despair. There he's reminded of his early days as a working-class kid and his father taking him to a similar place, where he gave him grenadine. The transition takes some time, but eventually he's persuaded to go sick with a bad back, which of course can't be proved: he's now one of the work-shy crew.

The second half of the book isn't as well executed as the first: the accepted gang-banging of the disabled Prunelle (who becomes 'normal' at the end), and trip to Lozère where Conception (an ex-back-street abortionist!) finds love again, not to mention the rascist Captain due to marry a Muslim, are way too unbelievable. Which is a pity, as the first part is so promising: the second just seems rushed.

31 October 2021

Jacques Baratier's La Ville bidon (1976)

Jacques Baratier's La Ville bidon is a retake of the téléfilm La Décharge, made some years before but censored because of its left-wing nature. It stars Bernadette Lafont as Fiona and Daniel Duval as Mario, and is a satirical mixture of not only actual actors but also non-actors, in fact a kind of documentary within the imaginary, although this is Créteil. Créteil before it became what it is now, when it was in part bidonville, or shanty town. Much is made of the wasteland it was, much of consumer society. Claude Nougaro's song 'La Décharge' is an excellent verbal backcloth.

Philippe Jaenada: La Serpe (2010)

Philippe Jaenada's La Serpe is a book of 635 tightly-filled pages, and although it would be impossible to read it seriously at one sitting, it's very easy to pick it up from where you left off without forgetting anything. Essentially (and only essentially) it follows on from Jaenada's interest in faits divers, particularly outstanding events which happened some time ago, in this case the 1941 savage triple murder by sickle of Henri Girard's father Gérard, his maiden aunt Amélie, and a servant in the Château d'Escoire near Périgueux. The evidence against Henri seems overwhelming: he's the only person in the château to have survived; he's always running out of money and 'borrowing' from his rich family; he's the only heir (but for how long: is his father about to remarry?); he's said to be violent; he's said to hate his father and aunt; who else could have got into the building ?; he recently borrowed a sickle (the murder weapon) from tenant farmer neighbours and it was recently sharpened; etc. What more evidence could anyone want to prove him guilty and sever his head from his body? And yet the brilliant lawyer Maurice Garçon comes along and Henri is found innocent: it's taken nineteen months, in which the imprisoned Henri has had to endure freezing conditions, sharing one water outlet and one toilet facility with a great number of other prisoners, fighting off bed bugs and fleas and so on, but at least he not only retains his head but – in a later life as Gérard Arnaud (his father's first name and the name his mother was born with) – he becomes a successful writer.*

What Jaenada does is re-tell the story, but in an idiosyncratic way which includes a great number of digressions: about his research on the story; what he finds through Googling; going to Périgueux for ten days and staying at a Mercure hotel with a receptionist who looks a bit like Pauline Dubuisson (a 'true story' murderer in his 2015 novel La Petite Femelle); information about his own family; how many whiskies he has before dinner (and how he gets a better measure after the first one: you leave a one euro tip)), and where; we get a multitude of digressions and digressions are very much part of the book, part of Jaenada's writing: this book would in fact be very much reduced, almost be without the sense of humour which carries it and makes it irresistable without those digressions. Even the joke about the hopelessly drunk cop in Pigalle who has an adventure with a prostitute and mistakes his wife for her is par for the course, it's all part of this wonderful reading experience. Since reading Babouillec, I question how many people don't realise they're aspies, or at least – if the internet isn't turning us all into aspies – maybe it's hugely magnifying the aspie element in those of us who were already partly there?

That's not my (or Jaenada's) final word though, as he re-visits the trial in the local archive department, sifts though trial statements and finds glaring lies, omissions and faults, finds the trial already weighted to find Henri guilty, nibbles and bites his way through the insane idea of sickle-as-weapon-used-by-Henri (an intelligent man) and many other apparent givens, he examines much other 'evidence' used against Henri, and more or less comes to the conclusion that it couldn't possibly have been him. So who? Ah, that's the unanswered question.

If I didn't read another Jaenada book, I think I'd be making a mistake.

*Georges Arnaud's first novel, Le Salaire de la peur, was first published in 1950 and released in film version directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1953.

27 October 2021

Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern's Mammuth (2010)

Although no doubt inspired by Easy Rider, Mammuth is a road movie all on its own, a bizarre comedy with a surreal atmosphere and effects which perhaps could be expected of Delépine and Kervern. Here we begin with pig abattoir worker Serge Pilardosse (Gérard Depardieu) on his last day of work: the fact that he's given a 2000-piece jigsaw as a leaving present should perhaps give an indication of what kind of film this is. The road trip starts when Serge leaves his wife Catherine (Yolande Moreau) after dusting off his old Münch Mammuth motor cycle: there are a number of his ex-employers who haven't informed the government of his employment, so he isn't entitled to a fair pension until he tracks down those papers: the satire on French bureaucracy is evident.

So a very long-haired but ageing easy rider on a somewhat poor imitation of a Harley-Davidson goes off in search of these papers, and will have little success but on the way meet a number of oddballs, such as the guy at the cemetery where Serge worked as a gravedigger: death is a feature in this film, such as the body Serge finds in the supermarket and no one seems to be concerned about: could it be that this is part of Serge's imagination? As this is very much a trip into Serge's past – the bloodied face of his first girlfriend (played by Isabelle Adjani), who died in a motor cycle accident – will appear a number of times as a ghost of his imagination.

During his road trip he meets his niece Solange (Miss Ming) for the first time in many years. She is very much an amateur sculptor of art brut, and even makes a life-size model of Serge, with an elephant for a heart and a marmoset for a penis. The young Solange should perhaps have tried to make a living out of art brut because she seems to be incapable of finding any regular employment. Is that perhaps because she says weird things in interviews, such as mentioning in one for a cleaner that she's thought of writing her CV on toilet paper in her menstrual blood, or does she just come out with that because she's resigned to never getting a job anyway? Whatever the answer, Serge also meets his cousin Pierre (Albert Delpy) soon after meeting Solange and to celebrate the reunion they attempt (with little success) to bring back their teen years by masturbating each other.

It's uncertain if Serge's metal detecting activities with his rival Benoît Poelvoorde is one of Serge's new pursuits in retirement or belong to another period of his life, but it hardly matters: the whole film is a crazy comment on the crazy nature of life, perhaps best summed up by Catherine angrily spelling out the couple's surname several times to a virtual person on the phone.

25 October 2021

Babouillec: Voyage au centre d'un cerveau d'autiste (2021)

Kylli Sparre's photo on the cover of Babouillec's Voyage au centre d'un cerveau d'autiste is so apt. Being severely autistic, Babouillec is incapable of speech, and it was twenty years before she revealed her ability to communicate through language. But lacking the power to even type, her mother devised a system of cardboard blocks of letters, and painstakingly Hélène Nicolas, who chooses to call herself Babouilllec as a writer, formed words, sentences, even books. However, the staggering truth is that she is not merely writing to communicate mundanities, not just to give an insight into her world of difference, but she uses a highly advanced, highly educated language which is all her own. Many books change lives, but this small one is wholly unforgettable and surely cannot fail to stun anyone reading it. In fact, the urge must be to immediately re-read this unbelievable, poetic work of art whose originality is jaw-dropping. Babouillec, by writing, is also gaining an identity, although paradoxically – in communicating her universe and to a certain extent joining another – she is also losing as well as gaining identity. Contradictions inevitably abound.

She is all too aware that, coming from a space others can only dimly imagine, she is linking up with the norm, the conventional world in which people aren't so much individuals as creatures manufactured by language, taught by words to toe the line and be at one with the social 'reality'. (Pete Seeger's 'Little Boxes' ran through my head much of the time.) Coming from this other world almost as a branded alien being, she wants to be independent, she sees independence as a kind of necessary but in some respects unfortunate state. She asks why existence has been severed and lined into pigeon holes, cut into slices of life, with temporal and spacial rhythms, absence and death. Having been (and in fact still partly being – who knows by how much?) 'a prisoner, a goldfish in a bowl or an aquarium of human height', Babouillec has fought against her solitude to partly merge with 'the coded complications of being born into normality'.

She has published a number of texts, seen her words performed on stage, written a novel (Rouge de soi (2018)), been filmed by Julie Bertuccelli in the well-received Dernières nouvelles du cosmos (2017), etc. And Anouk Grinberg provides a four-page Preface addressed to Babouillec, calling reading her writing 'an astronaut's experience'.

At the end of her 'story', she pays homage not only to the perhaps obvious Temple Grandin, Donna Williams, Marie Curie, Greta Thunberg, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, 'et cetera...'; but also to musicians Beethoven, Mozart and Glenn Gould; also to artists Michael Angelo, da Vinci and Warhol '... et cetera'; and to film directors Woody Allen, Tim Burton, Hitchcock, Spielberg '...Etc.' Many of these people are without doubt far from autistic, but the gene is there, as Babouillec can detect. And as Temple Grandin remarked in a lecture, without autism there'd be no internet. Genius is well understood, but not autism or Asperger's Syndrome.

This is a remarkable experience.

22 October 2021

Robert Enrico's Le Vieux Fusil | The Old Gun (1975)

This film won the 1976 Cannes film festival best film award, plus best actor for Philippe Noiret and best score. It is set in late 1944 towards the end of the war, and the massacre is based on the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane. The major events take place in the Châteaux de Bruniquel (Tarn-et-Garonne). Julien (Noiret) is a surgeon in Montauban happily married to Clara (Romy Schneider) with a daughter. He thinks it best, under the circumstances of the Nazi presence in Montauban, for his wife and daughter to escape to his old castle. However, when Julien goes to the village he finds that the population has been slaughtered in the church and that the Nazis are spending their final days in France in the castle. When Julien sneaks up there he finds that his daughter has been murdered and his wife incinerated to a castle wall with a flamethrower. Understandably enraged, he at first takes his anger out on religion by knocking down the statues of Christ and Mary, but he is resolved to kill off all remaining Nazis at the castle with an old rifle. Apparently this was at the time seen as a very violent film.

21 October 2021

Robert Hossein's Les Yeux Cernés (1964)

Les Yeux Cernés is a film set in Seefeld (Austria) in which the (almost ex-) husband of Florence (Michèle Morgan) has been shot dead and Commissaire Friedrich (François Patrice) is investigating fully. Highly suspect, perhaps, is the foreman Franz (Robert Hossein himself) in her husband's sawmill. But what has this to do with the young Klara (Marie-France Pisier), the all-too-clever and all-too-sexy daughter in the hotel where Florence is staying? And what about those typed blackmail letters that appear to be sending Florence crazy, as Florence appears to be sending Klara crazy by her (totally innocent) relationship with hunky Franz, Klara's lover? Is Florence hallucinating when she hears the sound of typing all the time? But even in 1964, this film must have come across as a little trite: unfortunately, there's nothing new here.

Jacques Baratier's Piège (1968)

Jacques Baratier considered the cinema as an intellectual adventure as opposed to a profession and associated with such writers as Jacques Audiberti and Fernando Arrabal. Arrabal himself appears at the beginning of the film as a seller of pest and vermin traps when talking and trying to weigh up the brain of Arsène (Jean-Baptiste Thierrée), whom he realises wants to set traps for humans, realises that he is worried about his precious possessions, probably worried about his own psychology. And so the young Arsène buys a large trap and entices recently released female criminals played by Bernadette Lafont and Bulle Ogier to his elaborate home, where they proceed to ransack the place (and eventually destroy it) in a spree which to some extent resembles that of the two young women in Věra Chytilová's Daisies.

But Piège is narrative-lite: this is a surrealistic orgy of destruction, sado-masochism, nightmares, fetichism, etc, where dreams prevail and where sense takes a back seat. Arsène is the leader but also his own executioner, and the end cannot in any way be positive for him. This is a classic of its kind.

20 October 2021

Gérard Pirès's Erotissimo (1969)

The date Gérard Pirès's first feature was released – 1969 – should perhaps give an indication of the content of this very French film: the sexual revolution, criticism of the way society is going, etc. There's a great deal of satire on advertising, although it's advertising which motivates Annie (Annie Girardot) to begin a huge spending spree in order to get her husband Philippe (Jean Yanne) interested in her sexually. But there's very little chance of that when Monsieur Butor – which means 'boor' or 'bittern' in French and which people find amusing in the beginning only, the man adds – is being employed by the tax office to inspect the accounts of Philippe's baby clothing company. So, his thoughts are very far removed from sex. Nevertheless, this is 1969, which is a good excuse for a lot of colour, a lot of female breasts, rock music, action, plus cameo performances by Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Higelin.

Jean-Luc Godard's Charlotte et son jules (1959)

This early, thirteen-minute short 'about' Charlotte and her 'jules' (or boyfriend) Jean is in effect almost entirely a monologue by Jean-Paul Belmondo* in his bedsit where Charlotte (Anne Colette) has returned after leaving him for another. He talks all the time, insults her lover, tells her she loves him, won't let her say a word while she makes faces at him behind his back and a guy (in fact Gérard Blain) waits for her in his car outside. Belmondo says she must love him or why has she returned? She opens her mouth to say 'To pick up my toothbrush', which she does and walks out the door.

*The voice we hear isn't in fact Belmondo's but Godard's, although there's some bad lip-syncing.

Gérard Blain's Un enfant dans la foule | A Child in the Crowd (1976)

Gérard Blain is perhaps better known as a actor than a director, appearing in early films such as Truffaut's Les Mistons (1957) and Chabrol's Le Beau Serge in particular, but this autobiographical work of his is all his own. Although a comparison could be made between Truffaut's films culled from his own life, this shows more the influence of Bressonian austerity, also using non-actors. Blain had an unhappy, lonely childhood and sought the company of a number of other people, seen here mainly (but not exclusively) as older men: of course, as Philippe is played by a pre-adolescent and a thirteen-year-old, any vaguely sexual element (the gift of a tie passed around his neck, for instance) being played down, implied rather than explicit. What we see is a rebellious, theiving young person taking advantage of anyone he can, such as the German enemy, members of the Resistance, and Americans. But his essential care for people shows through in such actions as trying to console a tondue, a young French woman stripped naked, shaved bald and hounded down the street for having a relationship with a Nazi.

19 October 2021

Denis Villeneuve's Enemy (2013)

(At the time of writing I've seen five films directed by the Québéquois Denis Villeneuve, and although they are all different from each other they all involve similar plot elements: an incident triggering existential crisis, and a change of psychic state at or towards the end. For this reason I include this paragraph in parenthesis in each of my comments on the five films.)

Denis Villeneuve's first English language feature. Although I found this film complex and at times enthralling, I didn't see that it in any way came close to the brilliance of Incendies: it seems far too concerned with its own importance, too eager to come within the scope of David Lynch, and not as inventive as Maelström, to which Villeneuve himself has compared it. We have two Jake Gyllenhaals with slightly different names but who appear to be identical twins apart from their rather different personalities (and a ring mark on the finger). This is a film of quest, of lust, of hatred, fascination, and a fatal car crash. Or is it about one person with a split personality? And what does the spider have to say about this? What would it have said if it were a fish?

Denis Villeneuve's Incendies (2010)

(At the time of writing I've seen five films directed by the Québéquois Denis Villeneuve, and although they are all different from each other they all involve similar plot elements: an incident triggering existential crisis, and a change of psychic state at or towards the end. For this reason I include this paragraph in parenthesis in each of my comments on the five films.)

Incendies has a highly complex plot, which I'm not even going to begin to explain: suffice to say that a lawyer, whose former secretary has just died, reveals the contents of the mother's will and gives a letter each to the son and daughter: one to be given to the mother's husband, and the other to their brother. The problem is that neither son nor daughter knew that they had a living father, or that they had another brother at all. This is an at times violent film in which we see the quest of a mother for a son, and then the quest of a daughter (later a son too) for a brother. It's also a story of torture and rape, of unknown incest, where a torturer becomes a father to twins: the son and the daughter. By far the best Denis Villeneuve film I've seen.

Denis Villeneuve's Polytechnique (2009)

Polytechnique, Denis Villeneuve's third feature, is in black and white and is a recreation of the massacre in Montréal twenty years before of fourteen young women at the École Polytechnique by the crazed twenty-five-year-old misogynist Marc Lépine. The murders followed a series of feminist triumphs in Canada, and Lépine initially aimed his semi-automatic rifle at the student females in engineering, those his twisted mind considered to be detested feminists, although he opened fire on any female (or even male) who came across his path towards the end of his bloody spree. His mercy was to kill himself too.

But this recreation is achieved with great respect for anyone (or anyone's relatives) who may have been concerned here, and the characters are fictional. Valérie (Karine Vanasse) and the young man 'J-F' (Sébastien Huberdeau) so traumatised by the massacre that he kills himself as a result of survivor guilt are invented characters, and the killer – whose suicide note is partly read verbatim from the original – isn't even named.

Denis Villeneuve's Maelström (2000)

(At the time of writing I've seen five films directed by the Québéquois Denis Villeneuve, and although they are all different from each other they all involve similar plot elements: an incident triggering existential crisis, and a change of psychic state at or towards the end. For this reason I include this paragraph in parenthesis in each of my comments on the five films.)

Maelström, Denis Villeneuve's second feature, takes us into weirder territory to his début Un 32 août sur terre, if only because the occasional narrator is a fish on a slab about to be decapitated: not to worry, this narration is only occasional. But here we have Bibiane (Marie-Josée Croze) not only going through traumas to start with, but then becoming a hit-and-run driver as she accidentally kills a man when driving drunk. She learns the next day that the man is dead, attends his funeral and meets his son Evian (Jean-Nicolas Verreault). She lies about how she came to know the man she's killed, and inevitably (this may be weird cinema but it's still cinema) they become lovers. A car trip leads to a guilt trip, leads to, well, who knows? A man is in love with the woman who killed his father, is what.

Denis Villeneuve's Un 32 août sur terre | August 32nd on Earth (1998)


(At the time of writing I've seen five films directed by the Québéquois Denis Villeneuve, and although they are all different from each other they all involve similar plot elements: an incident triggering existential crisis, and a change of psychic state at or towards the end. For this reason I include this paragraph in parenthesis in each of my comments on the five films.)

Simone (Pascale Bussières) loses control of her car as sleep overcomes her. She survives remarkably well physically, although mentally she's changed: she now wants to have a child by her platonic best friend Philippe, who's in a four-month relationship and is alarmed by Simone's wishes. But he agrees to perform the act if they're in the desert. However, an episode in Utah proves fruitless, and the problem is that Philippe is in love with Simone, which she only discovers when it's perhaps too late, when Philippe is in a coma after mindlessly being beaten up.

14 October 2021

Rémy Belvaux's C'est arrivé près de chez vous | Man Bites Dog (1992)


Rémy Belvaux's C'est arrivé près de chez vous (which is rather sensationally translated as Man Bites Dog) is a brilliant but much misunderstood first feature: certainly it is overlong and repetitive, but it can hardly be accused of gratuitous violence because that is the whole point. This film is essentially a profound criticism of, and satire on, the media's approach to violence, the fact that the media wallows in violence in order to capture its audience, to make more money. This is a mockumentary starring casual serial killer Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde), who is followed all the time by Belvaux and André Bonzel, with all of them more or less carrying their own first names.

As the film continues, the two members of the crew (at first distant) become increasingly involved in Ben's murders: they even gang rape one of his victims before him, and help him dispose of his bodies, which he weighs down with concrete ballast so they won't float to the surface. This activity is symbolised at one point when Ben is drinking with the other two, when he plays a game with them in a bar, in which he submerges an olive attached to a sugar cube in each of their drinks and the loser, whose olive floats to the surface first, has to buy the next round. He calls the game 'le petit Grégory', referring to the (still unsolved) murder of the fifteen-year-old Grégory Villemin in 1984, whose body was fished out of the Valogne. I learn that 'le petit Grégory' is translated by the expression 'Dead Little Boy'! Great film, but it's a pity about the sub-titling.

10 October 2021

Pierre Perret and Yvonne de Gaulle

I include a shot here of Yvonne de Gaulle as in the sculpture in Calais by Elizabeth Cibot but without her husband as it's not my style to photograph prominent political figures. Rather, I'm more interested in the forgotten, the hidden, the obscure, the middle finger. In September 2020 Europe 1 interviewed the singer Pierre Perret (then 86) and he said a few words about Yvonne in 1966, when she had attempted to ban one of his songs about summer camps, 'Les jolies colonies de vacances', from the airwaves by calling her friend Roland Dhordain, the director of ORTF. Her problem (although she used the word 'nous', implicating the Général himself), was that the expression 'pipi dans le lavabo' ('peeing (probably best translated as 'weeing' in 1966) in the sink') was in the song. Dhordain still, according to Perret, included it in the playlist, and the song was certainly a huge success and went on to sell 200,000 copies: in effect, a huge 'Up yours' to Yvonne de Gaulle, who surely needed to get a life! Pierre Perret was delighted that Yvonne had honoured him in such a way, calling him 'the shame of France'.

8 October 2021

Le Dragon de Calais in Calais (62), Pas-de-Calais (62)

As I stated last year when I first saw Le Dragon de Calais, which wasn't at the time operational because this was just a day before lockdown in March 2020, François Delarozière is the artistic director of the company La Machine, and is particularly known for Machines de l'île de Nantes. But today, as we walked towards the promenade we could see indications that there was about to be something happening, so we waited. And the wait paid off because the dragon soon emerged from its home and went for a walk, roaring, smoking from the nostrils, occasionally breathing fire and pissing water from its tail at the enthusiasic crowd. Not being a person for rides, I nevertheless checked the price on the website: €9.50 for an hour*, but then this is France: imagine what inflated prices the National Trust would charge if this were within their field!

*The original time mentioned has been altered following the very welcome comment by La Compagnie du Dragon below: I wasn't looking at my watch!





6 October 2021

Jean Raphael (Georges Lafaix) in Dormans (51), Marne (51)

Georges Lafaix (better known as Jean Raphael) (1916-2006) was born in Orléans and died in Dormans, where he is buried. He was brought up in poverty by his grandparents and began his working life at thirteen as a house painter, although his main interest was in music: he used to frequent the dances and cafés in Rue de Lappe, Montmartre. He changed his name and became a noted 'chanteur de charme', initially adopting the style of Tino Rossi and Reda Caire, specialising in the tango. He wrote the words of some of his own songs, such as 'Le Chanteur de nos souvenirs', 'Viva, viva Napoli', and 'Paris sans toi'.