5 December 2021

Bertrand Blier’s Buffet froid (1979)

Buffet froid is often spoken of as an absurd black comedy, and also seen as Blier's masterpiece. I can't disagree with any of those words, although I have to add that in this film Blier is doing something quite extraordinary: he is reversing expectations at every possible opportunity, and in so doing creating a hilarious and completely unpredictable movie.

A number of scenes are set in the area of La Défense, which was at the time under development. Unemployed thirtysomething Alphonse Tram (Gérard Depardieu) addresses the only other person at the La Défense métro station (an accountant), and on showing the man his flick knife appears to be threatening him, although he offers him the knife which the man puts on another seat away from them, but which mysteriously disappears. The accountant makes his getaway on the next train but then, on wandering around some underground corridors, Alphonse finds the man dying with the knife sticking in him. Something to do with Alphonse's false memory, or...what?

Alphonse has been living alone with his wife in a new tower block in a very plush appartment for an unemployed man, until he learns on his return home that a new resident has moved in. Alphonse goes to welcome the man – Morvandieu (Bernard Blier), a police inspector – and tells him that a man has been murdered in the métro. But Morvandieu has no interest in this: he believes that criminals are best left in the outside world, instead of inside where they can teach innocent people to be criminals; in any case, we come to learn that Morvandieu has murdered his musician wife because he hated her music. When an unnamed killer (Jean Carmet) confesses to Alphonse that he's killed Alphonse's wife, Alphonse invites him in and so, along with Morvandiau, another of Blier's film trios is created.

And they will go on to more murders mostly without apparent reason until the trio is broken by another killer, hired for the purpose of murdering Alphonse, although he kills Carmet by accident (Morvanieu having told him that he is Alphonse), and when the duo chase after the hired killer a mysterious and seductive young woman helps them and they end up in a rowing boat. Alphonse, in one of the few logical monments in the film, kills the killer by throwing his knife into his back. And then, about to retrieve his knife, he learns that Morvandieu can't swim, so drowns him. It seems that Alphonse and the young woman are about to get very intimate, although she shoots him dead because her father was the accountant on the métro.

There are no answers because there are no questions, or no questions as there are no answers, but this is indeed a masterpiece from Bertrand Blier.

Toby MacDonald’s Old Boys (2018)

Toby MacDonald’s first feature is a quirky remake of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, set in Caldermount public school for boys in the 1980s with the bespectacled and very young-looking scholarship boy Amberson (Alex Lawther) playing Cyrano for the dim but dashing Christian as Winchester (Jonah Hauer-King). The subject of the love of both of them, in other words the 1980s Roxane, is Agnès (Pauline Etienne), the daughter of the French teacher Babinot (Denis Ménochet overplaying like mad). Taking the place of the poems at the beginning are home-made video cassettes, begun by Agnès who sends Winchester one of a pastiche of Bob Dylan's famous casting away of cue cards, only it's not 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' (1965) playing but updated to Plastic Bertrand's 'Ça plane pour moi' (1977).

All this is acted out against the macho atmosphere of bullying, hazing (tipping pails of water on heads and dunking in the toilet) and a bizarre sports ritual resembling rugby but called Streamers. Lawther plays brilliantly, and Hauer-King and Etienne are fine, but most of the other cast seem to be taking things to farcical levels and the main plot often gets entangled or suspended in the violent macho ethos. There is a good idea hovering around, but it gets lost in the mêlée. It's not worth the time.

Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika | Sommaren med Monika (1953)

Summer with Monika was adapted from Per Anders Fogelström's 1951 novel. This is Stockhom and the pushy young Monika (Harriet Andersson) meets young Harry (Lars Ekborg) in a gloomy café during his lunch break: both are working-class dogsbodies and they arrange to go to the cinema together. Sick of the abuse she's receiving from her alcoholic father, Monika leaves home and the couple spend the night on Harry's father's small motor-boat. Following another row at work, Harry leaves his job and the two leave Stockholm in the boat and spend a blissful summer cruising around. Monika gets pregnant.

The summer ended, they return to the capital, where Harry gets a job and starts night school in preparation for married life with his new wife. But Monika just complains that the enjoyment has gone, they don't go to the cinema anymore, etc. Harry returns one day to find Monika with another man. End of the relationship, Harry takes custody of the child and dreams of the life that was.

In the States the title was changed to Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, with the sales pitch being the nudity in it.

4 December 2021

Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night | Sommarnattens leende (1955)

It's a long time since I've seen a Bergman film, and I certainly hadn't seen this, the film that led to him being an internationally renowned film director. It's far from the normal film that some would describe as 'Bergmanesque': bleak, full of existential angst, suicidal thoughts, etc. This film though may treat the same subjects but in a comical way, and it is, after all, described in the title as a romantic comedy ('romantisk comedi'), even if it's unmistakably Bergman.

This is a fin-de-siècle tale starring the middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand), married for two years to the nineteen-year-old Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), who's still a virgin but who tells him she's working on not being: let's face it, these things take time, especially with the upper middle class, and the family servant Petra (Harriet Andersson) tells her she lost her virginity at sixteen; and Petra seems to have a mature but teasing way of dealing with Fredrik's sex-starved son (by his first wife) Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam).

Between wives, Fredrik had an affair with actress Desirée (Eva Dahlbeck), who is now (boringly) in an affair with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), who is married to Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist), a friend of Anne's. Things start to come to a head when everyone is invited (with some plotting) to the home of Désirée's mother for a Midsommar bash, and Henrik throws a real funny and starts getting suicidal during dinner.

But as most of the planet apart from me must have seen this film, let's cut to the quick and I'll say what I found so funny about it before and after the dinner. Petra's prick-teasing Henrik is obvious, but what of Fredrik secretly visiting Désirée and (after falling in a huge puddle, being thrown out by Malcolm: holding his own still wet clothes and in borrowed underwear? There are many funny, almost slapstick gags (yes, this is Bergman) but surely the best must be Henrik's failure to hang himself? That's not even black humour, it's just comical: his neck-strap slips off its hook, he falls to the wall and in so doing presses a button which releases a concealed bed on which his beloved is sleeping. But here's the killer: perhaps in recognition of Henrik's excitement on seeing Anne, and/or perhaps in recognition of unintended auto-erotic asphyxiation, a cupid-like/angelic sculpture above the static headboard raises a looong bugle as if in erection.

OK, I forgot to mention Fredrik being challenged to Russian roulette, Malcolm losing and instead of receiving a bullet in the face gets a heap of soot, but that's a minor issue: this is a whale of a laugh from Bergman, and I never thought I'd live to say that.

Wesh Westmoreland's Colette (2018)

This biopic begins in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne, where Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightly) is very willingly being courted by Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West), a 'literary entrepreneur' who uses other writers in his name and is commonly referred to as Willy. They get married, Colette moves to Paris with him and soon finds out that his tastes aren't only literary: he is an egotist with a love for expensive living and a taste for prostitutes, believing that sexual promiscuity is in the nature of men. But his expensive lifestyle is finding the better of his bank balance.

Colette has a writing talent and she is soon writing 'Claudine' stories which Willy is using under his name. She becomes a great success, many products now bear the name 'Claudine', and Willy reaps the benefits of fame and fortune. At the same time, Colette is discovering herself sexually, particularly with 'Missy', aka Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough), who dresses like a man. 'Missy' is perfectly aware that Willy is taking advantage of Colette, who she knows is in fact writing the part-autobiographical Claudine tales.

Colette and Missy perform at the Moulin Rouge and cause a scandal by kissing at the end of the show. Unbeknown to Colette, Willy (fearing economic ruin) sells all the rights of Claudine: when she finds out she leaves Willy for good and begins her life (which will continue with Missy) as author of her own works, although the film only tells of her highly successful future in written captions and photos which appear onscreen at the end: this very colourful film is only a biopic of Colette's early years.

3 December 2021

Andrew Haigh's 45 Years (2015)

Forty-five years is the length of time Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) have been married, and are due to have a celebratory dinner at the Assembly House, Norwich. Then Geoff receives a letter written in German telling him that the body of Katya, his girlfriend who died fifty years before, can now be seen in a melting glacier (global warning) when she fell down a crevasse. Now surely questions should start here: how did whoever sent the letter know Geoff's address after all this time?; how could they possibly know the body is Katya's?; etc, etc. The script is already more full of holes than a colander.

Kate doesn't know about Katya (and note the name resemblance), doesn't know that Geoff keeps a scrapbook of memories of his relationship with Katya in the loft, so has no idea that she died with her and Geoff's embryo inside her, but she sees numerous slides of her that Geoff has kept and she looks like Kate. So all this time Geoff has harboured the secret that Kate is really a substitute for Katya, has kept the same interests the young couple had? And as Geoff drenches himself increasingly into the past Kate secretly delves into it too and becomes increasingly alarmed. Instead of comforting her deranged husband she gets increasingly jealous: of a woman who died fifty year before! Is an audience still out there?

The anniversary party takes place, and Geoff gives a good speech and says he's always loved his wife, blah, blah, but is he really thinking of Kate, or Katya, when he says that? And after ninety minutes of bland, impossible to believe script I was expecting that Geoff would kill himself, just die, or at the very least confess his undying love for Katya in front of all the guests.

This truly drab film won a host of awards and nominations and it's true that the acting is excellent. But it's all for no purpose, and I certainly won't be watching any more films by Andrew Haigh.

2 December 2021

Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Unless you don't know beforehand, The Sisters Brothers seems a grammatical error, a film in need of an apostrophe, until you realise that 'Sisters' is in fact the unlikely surname of the brothers. It's also a little unusual that male and female should stand side by side in this Franco-American film by Jacques Audiard, who is noted for his testosterone-strewn films such as Le Prophète and in my view the very disappointing Deephan. His latest, Les Olympiades, apparently marks a change, but we shall see.

The DVD cover doesn't look like my kind of film at all, but then I really have to decide on my opinion of Audiard, so I have to give this movie a go. This is 1851 and the Sisters brothers (and here the capitalisation makes sense) are the hired killers Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), employed to discover the formula permitting gold to be detected from the chemist Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), and by any means possible, which of course includes torture.* Journeying on horseback (of course) from Oregon to California, the detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also not only on the trace of Warm but meets him, gets him to join him on the trek, and soon he is following Warm's cause rather than the killers': the creation of a philanstery or socialist community in Dallas, Texas.

When Eli and Charlie eventually find the men they go along with the prospecting, although the formula is so noxious that it kills Warm and Morris, and Eli has to have Charlie's arm amputated. But no longer in danger of repercussions from their boss the brothers go back to their mother in Oregon where they are welcomed and almost appear as long-lost pets. An odd and very unexpected ending.

*It needs noting that the brothers are very different from each other, and in spite of his violence, in a number of ways Eli comes over as somewhat effeminate.

1 December 2021

David Lean's Brief Encounter (1954)

Brief Encounter is written by Noël Coward and based on his 1936 play Still Life. It's an impossible and unconsummated love story revealed almost entirely in flashback with the voiceover of the protagonist Laura (Celia Johnson). It begins with Laura and Alec (a GP) in a railway refreshment room where the gossipy Dolly (Everley Gregg), an obviously unwelcome acquaintance of Laura's, joins them. The whistle blows for Alec's train, he shakes Dolly's hand and discreetly presses Laura's shoulder as he makes his exit. Laura then has an odd turn, leaves the room for a moment and returns to receive Dolly's (again unwelcome) sollicitations, made even worse by her incessant chatter when the two take the train home. Clearly, a traumatic event has happened which will be revealed in the flashback.

Laura has two children and is married to Fred (Cyril Raymond), a caring but dull man who seems more interested in the Times crossword than anything else. Laura meets Alec at the station café when he removes a piece of grit from her eye. The two later meet by chance in a tea-room in Milford Junction, a town Laura visits every Thursday, and where she also takes out library books and finishes her trip by going to the cinema. At the tea-room they meticulously half the bill, including the tip, and innocently go to the cinema together: a film advert warns of the future: 'Flames of Passion coming soon'.

Alec insists that they do the same thing the following Thursday, and although Laura is initially reluctant, she turns up a the tea-room and is visibly disappointed that Alec isn't there: he's been forced away. So they meet again the following Thursday, significantly disliking the film Flames of Passion and instead hiring a rowing boat: Alec isn't very good at it and the boat gets stuck at a bridge. They are obviously falling in love, although the middle class mores of the time dictated that they should behave respectably, not allow their passion to conquer them: consequently their feelings for each other are unfulfilled, not permitted to blaze in physical terms and naturally die, nor get stronger and (horrors) lead to divorce. So they must just behave as young children – and Laura a few times sees Alec as a child: a compensatory mechanism? – and merely stick to kissing. That bridge is significant, and another will appear later: when Alec drives his love into the countryside, he takes Laura to a bridge, and on their final meeting they return to it, spending several hours there, but of course never crossing it: the film is in part about limits, and bridges can divide as much as they link.

Laura and Alec live in a hypocritical, supposedly ultra sophisticated universe where so many things are taboo, must remain unspoken. As a homosexual at a time when such activities remained illegal, Noël Coward too knew something about taboos. For the working class, though, things were different, much freer, although it's amusing to note things in their universe that wouldn't be be accepted today – the server in the refreshment room, Myrtle (Joyce Carey), who effects a none-too-convincing middle-class accent, overplays her indignance when railway worker Albert (Stanley Holloway) slaps her behind, but she is happy when Albert tells two smutty soldiers to ''Op it'.

All the same, as Alec remarks in this film about not only middle-class love but mature love: 'You're only middle-aged once!', giving him his excuse to treat them both to a champagne dinner. But society is closing in on them, they are being recognised in public, the lies start, Laura leaves a scarf in the flat of a friend of Alec's as she hastens to leave on hearing the friend returning. Things are beginning to look sordid, and the escape comes when Alec sees a chance for him to emigrate with his family, although he gives Laura the choice of deciding to tell him not to go. But now we return to that first scene in the refreshment room, the insufferable chattering of Dolly, and we see that that turn Laura had when she had to leave the room was a failed suicide attempt: it wasn't Fred or her children that prevented her from jumping but simple cowardice.

And what did Fred think of all this, had he any knowledge of what was going on? The end is ambiguous, so we don't know. What we do know though is that this is a superb film that never – well, maybe for a few moments when Laura's dreaming about Venice, etc – creaks: it shows its age of course, but it's still completely rivetting, still emotionally disturbing.

Nigel Gordon's Syd Barrett's First Trip (1967)



Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon was a film student in London and a friend of Syd Barrett. He filmed this in the summer of 1966 on a return visit to Cambridge, the pair's home town. They are with friends in the nearby Gog Magog hills and this is Syd's first trip on psychedelic mushrooms: in the jerky eleven-minute film Syd holds a bunch of mushrooms, and mushroom caps adorn his face on the reverse of the DVD. The director says that it is his wife Jenny in the yellow mac 'talking to a tree'.

The second half of the film shows Nigel on the balcony of 101 Cromwell Road, London SW7: it was shot by Lucy. It also shows Pink Floyd outside Abbey Road Studios in April 1967 after signing their first studio contract with EMI. Syd Barrett (1946-2006), co-founder of the band in 1965, is said to have developed psychosis after taking too much acid. He was officially removed from the band in April 1968.

30 November 2021

Bertrand Blier's Trop belle pour toi | Too Beautiful for You (1989)

Bernard Barthélémy (Gérard Depardieu) is the director of a car company. He lives a very comfortable life married to his beautiful wife Florence (Carole Bouquet), and then the plain, plump Colette (Josiane Balasko) becomes a secretary in his firm and he's lost. This is not young love, it's mature love and it's passionate without being over the top or in any way superficial.

Hilary Mantel gave a negative review of this in The Spectator in 2019, but then...Hilary Mantel? The Spectator? Say no more. Far more interesting is the late highly esteemed American critic Robert Ebert on this film and French films in general: 'Somebody was asking the other day what the difference was between French and American films. American films are about plots, I said, and French films are about people. You can usually tell where a plot is heading, but a person, now – a person will fool you.' This is a wonderful observation of French cinema and Hilary Mantel should stick to, er, I'm not too sure as I see nothing of interest in her novels.

Bertrand Blier's film, on the other hand, is something of a masterpiece. But a subtle one.

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.