4 August 2021

Château d’eau in Matougues (51), Marne (51)

The château d’eau (water tower) in Matougues (Marne) is ordinary enough, or at least it was until it received a decoration. The painter, engraver and sculptor Roland Irolla, born in 1935, painted this representation of the village's church and its bridge over the River Marne.

Pierre Dac in Châlons-en-Champagne (51), Marne (51)

 

Pierre Dac (1893-1975) was born here, 70 Rue de la Marne, and occupied rooms on the first floor (where the plaque is). In a leaflet on Châlons-en-Champagne, the office de tourisme gives this (number one on its list) as the birthplace of Dac. But they don't say anything about him, and how many people today remember (apart from seeing clips on the internet) the vital importance, vital absurdity, for instance, of the Biglotron?

Étienne Œhmichen in Châlons-en-Champagne (51), Marne (51)


'ICI EST NÉ
ETIENNE ŒMICHEN
CRÉATEUR DE L'HÉLICOPTÈRE
LE 15 OCTOBRE 1884'

Œhmichen invented an early version of the helicopter. He's obviously an important international figure, although the Châlons-en-Champagne tourist office doesn't seem to make much of this. They should be exploiting the interest.

Épernay street names (4): Léon Bourgeois, Épernay (51), Marne (51)


Léon Bourgeois, sénateur of Marne, was a radical and a sculptor who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920. Rodin dedicated a sculpture to him.

Épernay street names (3): Marcel Paul, Épernay (51), Marne (51)

Marcel Paul was one of the five communist members of the post-war government, and as Ministre de la production industrielle is most noted for nationalising power industries, creating EDF (Électricité de France) and GDF (Gaz de France). The street named after him was originally called 'Rue de l'électricité'.

Épernay street names (2): Vincent Ballu, Épernay (51), Marne (51)

'RUE
Vincent BALLU
(2.8.1920-9.7.1980)
Fondateur de la Maison
TECNOMA'

Yes, Vincent Ballu established the agricultural machines business Tecnoma. He is also the inventor of the 'tracteur enjambeur' for vineyards, which was used in post-war France.

Épernay street names (1): La Saule Verdelette, Épernay (51), Marne (51)

On an 1831 map of Épernay there appears a small area to the south of a loop in the River Marne, named 'Le Saule Verdelette', which obviously refers to this area being named after the native willow trees. But I'm at a loss as to how this area could have slightly changed its name, making the street below it 'La Saule Verdelette'. Why the change of gender? Even the McDo restaurant, when Googled, comes up as 'McDonald's La Saule Verdelette'. Have I missed something?

24 July 2021

Frog, Woodley, Greater Manchester

At an entrance to the shopping precinct in Woodley stands a frog called 'Baker Frog'. It strongly resembles the frogs displayed all over Stockport a few years ago, and indeed the frogs which were all over Hull to commemorate Philip Larkin a number of years before that. But I have no idea what it's doing there. And nor do I have a clear idea of what relationship the model, with the baby frog sitting on its head, has to do with the name. A Google search came up with nothing.

William Frederick Wallet, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

'WILLIAM
FREDERICK
WALLET
(THE QUEEN'S JESTER)
1813 - 1892
International circus and
stage entertainer
Moved to Beeston in 1862
lived here from 1879'
 

Thomas Humber, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

'THOMAS
HUMBER
1841 - 1910
Engineer
made bicycles
motorcycles and cars
here and later
in Coventry'


Louis Frederick Pearson, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

'Sir
LOUIS
FREDERICK
PEARSON CBE
1863 - 1943
Co-founder of Beeston Foundry Co
gave this park in 1923 as a
recreation ground to the
people of Beeston'

A sculpture in the park represents the various local industries.

21 July 2021

Jean Vigo's L'Atalante (1934)

Juliette (Dita Parlo), a young woman living a montotonous existence in a village, marries Jean (Jean Dasté), a sailor working with the older and eccentric Père Jules (Michel Simon) and a cabin boy on the canal boat L'Atalante. The same day, she begins life on the boat. She at first is shocked by the lack of laundering, then by the cats that swarm around Jules, although she soon becomes fascinated by Jules's stories of his travels and the curiosities that he has picked up around the world over the years. She longs, though, to see the bright lights of Paris.

During an evening in the capital with Jean she becomes spellbound by the street pedlar and singer (Gilles Margaritas), and later leaves the boat to go off in search of him. Jean is disgusted when she doesn't return and tells Jules to cast off to Corbeil and leave her behind. Juliette realises how stupid she's been when she sees the missing boat, so she prepares to get a train ticket to Corbeil but has her purse stolen.

Meanwhile Jean too realises his huge error, particularly when he dives into the water and sees a vision of Juliette:  his bride had told him that people see the person they truly love when they stare into water.* Worried for Jean, Jules returns to Paris and finds Juliette, hauls her across his shoulder in true he-man fashion, returns her to the boat, and the lovers are reunited. L'Atalante is considered as one of the greatest films in French – even in film tout court – history, and has influenced large numbers of film directors. Truffaut, for instance, used Jean Dasté in a cameo role as the doctor in L'Homme qui aimait les femmes.

*In some respects, the film is an amalgam of realistic images and dream-like sequences.

19 July 2021

Michel Hazanavicius's L'Artiste | The Artist (2011)

Set between 1927 and 1932, this nostalgic study of the silent movie, containing many references to the history of the cinema – earned a huge number of prizes, including best film, best director, and the first-ever French actor Oscar for Jean Dujardin's performance as George Valentin. George is a hugely successful silent movie hero who often performs with his trained dog Jack, although he knows that his star will fall with the advent of the talkies. He accidentally runs into a young woman while leaving the cinema to an adoring crowd when he picks up a purse dropped by Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). The photo of the brief encounter in the newspapers is aptly (but quietly) prophetic in that it highlights the past on the left and the future on the right. And as Peppy rapidly climbs up the ladder of fame, George just as rapidly falls down it.

George is stubborn, and he's proud: even his hugely faithful chauffeur-cum-butler Clifton (James Cromwell), who later becomes Peppy's chauffeur, recognises that pride comes before a fall. And what a fall: his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) boots him out, he goes from a palacial house to auctioning off his former treasures, to setting his own precious films on fire in a suicide attempt from which he's only saved by his dog notifying a police officer. George is recovering in hospital when Peppy – who's been faithfully following him from a distance like a virtual puppy dog – takes George to her palacial house to recover, where he finds that Peppy bought all his possessions at the auction. And cinematically (that's talking talkies) they set off together, Peppy along the ladder, George back up it. I can understand why it has appealed so much, both to the general public and the arthouse.

Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub My Love (2017)

Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub My Love – the first of a trilogy – is the follow-up to the director's highly successful (and ultimately highly controversial) La Vie d'Adèle, and like Kechiche's previous La Graine et le mulet is set in Sète and also features Hafsia Herzi, this time as Camélia. It's not so much a narrative as a drift, a hymn to youth and young life, concentrating on (mainly female) bodies on the beach, in the sea, in restaurants, and clubbing. At almost three hours one critic said that it would have made a good ninety minute film, but this would have anchored it far too much into the artificial: Mektoub (meaning destiny) is a movie that moves slowly, and radically cutting it would have reduced its impact. This film, like Rohmer's, is never boring, and to some extent it's a sexier, more modern update of (in particular) Rohmer's beach films.

The male gaze is present from the beginning of this film set in 1994, when Amin (Shaïn Boumédine) – a former medical student in Paris who's decided to take up photography and perhaps become a film director (autobiographical hints here) – returns to Sète and spies on his friend (although he'd rather be her lover) Ophélie (Ophélie Bau, who's supposedly engaged to someone else) having sex with the local lothario Tony (Salim Kechiouche), Amin's cousin. The voyeuristic element, with Amin peeping in through the external blinds of the bedroom, has echoes later in the film, the camera dwelling on parts of the female anatomy in more social as opposed to private scenes.

Very different from his sexually adventurous cousin, the shy Amin prefers to watch, to stand on the sidelines, ideally using his camera. While Tony chats up Charlotte (Alexia Chardard) with experienced ease, in a later long dance scene Charlotte's friend Céline (an ever-vacantly smiling Lou Luttiau) is stolen from him by a local.

Whereas Amin's Tunisian parents run a restaurant, Ophélie's parents have a sheep farm, and Ophélie treats Amin to all the photographs he likes of arguably the most stunning long scene in the film: a ewe giving birth to two lambs to the musical accompaniment of Mozart. Mektoub is a feast for the eyes, but not for the brain. 

Anne Fontaine's Comment j'ai tué mon père | How I Killed My Father (2001)

Maurice (Michel Bouquet) is the prodigal father who suddenly, unnannounced, returns to see his wildly rich son Jean-Luc (Charles Berling), who has a gerontoloogy practice in Versailles. His other son Patrick (Stépane Guillon) hardly remembers his father because he was only about four at the time his father left, and that must have been about twenty years ago. Patrick's life is very different from his brother's, and he is his chauffeur also working as a stand-up comedian in clubs.

The tension is palpable here as Jean-Luc sees his father as a threat while he temporarily stays with the family, although Jean-Luc's wife Isa (Natacha Régnier) quickly warms to him. Both of them are doctors, although whereas Jean-Luc has grown affluent pandering to the whims of rich, elderly patients, Maurice has been aiding the poor in Africa. Something has to give, although the ending is far from clear.

17 July 2021

Julia Ducournau's Grave | Raw (2016)

I've not yet seen Julia Ducournau's second film, Titane, which has only recently been released, although a tale of a female serial killer having sex with a car and becoming pregnant by it is, well... Grave is perhaps more believable, although it concerns an adolescent vegetarian being forced into eating a raw rabbit kidney during her bizutage (hazing ceremony) at veterinary school. This leads not only to her craving cooked meat, but to developing a taste not only for raw meat, but for cannibalism and even autophagia (yeah, eating yourself).

In Belgium, sixteen-year-old Justine (Garance Marillier), who has been brought up as a vegetarian by her mother (Joana Preiss) and father (Laurent Lucas) with a slightly older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), is shocked that her sister denies, on the day she begins the veterinary school that Alexia already is a student at, that she is vegetarian. Reluctantly, Justine eats the kidney. She then tries to steal a steak from the canteen, eats a meat sandwich at night with her student friend Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella) at night when she can't be seen, but the meat lust in her nature continues.

Her first taste of meat may well have provoked a severe instance of psoriasis, but it can't stop her once started. When Alexia uses a painful kind of depilatory wax on her vaginal hair she has to use scissors, but Alexia accidentally cuts off her finger in the process. When she's unconscious, Justine drinks the blood from the finger and then eats the finger itself: coming to, Alexia sees this and the whole matter is blamed on her dog, which is put down.

But the two sisters have a terrible common bond: they are both of cannabalistic nature, and although they try to control each other it's not too easy. Interestingly, sexual desire is mixed with cannabalistic desire, a conflicting desire which Justine manages to control when she has sex with Adrien and takes a bite from her own arm. The climax to this bizarre orgy comes one morning when Justine wakes up next to Adrien. Everything seems normal, but when Justine looks closely she sees that Adrien is dead, his thigh partly eaten away. Crazily, believing that she has done it, she asks him why he didn't put up a fight. But then she finds Alexia slumped in a semi-catatonic state against the fridge, and realises that she's the guilty one.

And so Alexia is imprisoned, but the father reveals the family problem to Justine: they aren't responsible because when the father met the mother he couldn't understand why she didn't want to go out with him. But the first time they kissed, the father unbuttons his shirt and reveals the scars on his body, the chunks of flesh removed. He's sure Justine will be able to work things out.

This is a coming-of-age story in which our many identities are investigated, and as such is of far more value than the average horror film.

16 July 2021

Laurent Cantet's L'Emploi du temps (2001)

This film is based on the true story of Jean-Claude Romand, who famously spent many years pretending to family and friends that he was working as a doctor when he was in fact unemployed, but in the end – when it became inevitable that he would be discovered due to all the money he'd borrowed and couldn't possibly repay – his reaction was the most drastic imaginable: to kill himself and his family. As it happened though, he survived and was imprisoned for life. He was released in 2019.

Cantet's take on the story is very different, with different names, a different invented job, and the absence of a dramatic ending. Vincent (Aurélien Recoing) is an unemployed business consultant living with his wife Muriel (Karin Viard), his two sons and one daughter. He spends his days – many away from home sleeping in his car in hotels car parks, wasteland and suchlike – and also borrowing money from friends and 'business clients': he's done his homework and knows how to convince people that they're making a good investment. Slowly, he inevitably falls into the hands of Jean-Michel (Serge Livrozet), a crook who's been intently watching his activities and only too willing to draw him into his web. But Jean-Michel doesn't fool Muriel.

Jean Benoît-Lévy and Marie Epstein's Peau de pêche (1928)

Peau de pêche (Maurice Touzé as a young boy, Jimmy Gaillard as a young man) is called so because, like the skin of a peach, he can easily go red. He lives in a slum in Rue Lepic in Montmartre (how times change) with his abusive, avaricious parents. One day he sees an important wedding and picks up a cross the bride has worn as a necklace pendant and returns it to her at her hotel. The woman is immensely grateful and – her husband being at war – she has a great deal of time on her hands and welcomes the boy, who is ashamed that his mother sells the new clothes she has given him to replace his rags.

A short time afterwards he is sent to his aunt and uncle's, where he rejoins his best friend La Ficelle (Pierre Lecomte) and his beloved Lucie (Simone Mareuil), whom La Ficelle also adores. In time a marriage is arranged between La Ficelle and Lucie, and a heartbroken Peau de pêche goes to his 'fairy godmother' to choke out his woe. She arranges to see Lucie and have a talk with her, and it transpires the Lucie has loved Peau de pêche all the time. Fin d'histoire.

If this sounds like a trite children's story it isn't: working within the numerous constraints of a silent movie, the actors have to give their all in order to express emotions which are only too easily expressed using the spoken word. I was most struck by Maurice Touzé's young man: although he may have a tendency at times to overact, his performance is very impressive. I was surprised by the lack of lulls in this feature-length silent film.

Luc Besson's Le Grand Bleu | The Big Blue (1988)

In Hadrien Bels's novel Cinq dans tes yeux (2020), there's a rather icy conversation between 'Stress' and a young woman on the beach in Marseille. He asks her what she's studying, and when she says cinema he asks if she's at university or perhaps (oh the sarcasm!) with Femis. No, 'BTS Audiovisuel'.  And she wants to be a film director! And what about her taste in films? Le Grand Bleu, she replies. Contemptuously, Stress says 'Ah OK'. Stress has been weaned on films, and when he reels off a list of directors she thinks she's heard of Pasolini, but thinks he's crap ('chiant').

Being a prime example of le cinéma du look, Le Grand Bleu is largely set in and under the sea, with wonderful photography. Unsurprisingly, it was a great hit with the regular filmgoer, but rather less so with the critics: starring Jean Reno as Enzo Molinari and Jean-Marc Barr as Jacques Mayol, the film concerns their rivalry, their suicidal free-diving without an aqualung. In the end Jacques leaves a pregnant Johana (Rosanna Arquette) to join the underwater world forever. And essentially that is the story, which I found tedious and pointless.

In Cinq dans tes yeux, Stress's mate Nordine (who's obviously not received the same film education), says 'Le Grand Bleu, that's the guy swimming with dolphins [...] honestly, that's a lovely film'. Oh yeah, but...

15 July 2021

Luis García Berlanga's Grandeur nature | Lifesize (1974)

It's difficult to figure out what to say about this film, as although a mere piece of fluff on the outside, it's also a very interesting piece of fluff. At the time of its release some complained that it was objectifying women, but I can't see that: rather, it's infantilising men.

Dental surgeon Michel (Michel Piccoli) is discontented with his wife Isabelle (Rada Rassimov), so he buys a rubber doll with which he can do what he likes, indulge his fantasies, talk to it, and so on. His wife and friends think he's gone mad, but the real problem comes when he finds that his new lover is being used by others. He calls her a 'pute' and abuses her, and his only recourse is to kill both himself and 'her': he drowns himself with her, only she floats to the surface: fantasy rules over reality?

14 July 2021

Léa Pool's La Demoiselle sauvage (1991)

 

This film is based on a story of the same name in a book (of the same name) of short stories by Swiss writer S. Corinna Bille, which won the Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle in 1975. Marianne (Patricia Tulasne) has been through a bungled suicide attempt after an obviously traumatic experience. Élysée (Matthias Habich) helps her after she's fallen down a hill of rubble, and nurses her to a kind of fragile health in a rough hut nearby: this is in the mountains in Switzerland close to the Italian border.

It becomes evident from her strange nervous and suspicious behaviour that she's been through a hellish ordeal. And that it's a police matter, although Élysée – who's an engineer and married with two children but rarely sees his wife because of their different patterns of work, has no intention of handing her over to the law and keeps her in the hut. Almost inevitably the relationship becomes sexual, but not intensely so on the part of Marianne.

In time Élysée discovered that 'Marianne' is wanted for murder: she has killed her violent, abusive partner. He goes to see a (female) lawyer about it and tries to assure 'Marianne' that she will get off with a light sentence. She, however, is terrified of spending time in prison. She completes the action she bungled in the beginning.

9 July 2021

Pebble left by #NTUROCK, Nottingham

I love finding these things, and it's particularly pleasurable to do so during the insane times we live in. This lovely rock (or pebble) is very different to the one I found in Ashford, Kent, which I now think had been left by truckers from the Preston area. Although I now live in the Manchester area, my partner and I (for personal reasons) frequently return to Nottingham, where I was born and lived (on and off) for many years. This pebble I found between the paws of the left lion at the Council House (or right lion if looking at it from the Council House perspective). It says 'hang in there', and on the reverse is says 'Post a pic using #nturock and rehide me.' As a Nottingham born guy, should I hide it in Nottingham, or as a reluctant Mancunian, should I release it there? (My Twitter account is impossibly compromised).

8 July 2021

Thomas Henry Barton in Chilwell and Beeston, Nottinghamshire

 

'T. H. Barton
OBE
(THE GUV'NOR)
1866-1946
Engineer, inventor, innovator
Pioneer of motor bus transport
Worked here 1913-1946'

The old Barton symbol at the side of the building.




Beeston Cemetery.
'ALSO
HER BELOVED HUSBAND
THOMAS HENRY BARTON, O.B.E.
DIED JULY 26TH 1948.
AGED 80 YEARS.'

George Henry Hurt, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire


'GEORGE 

HENRY HURT

1873-1934

started his hand-frame

knitting business here in 1912

Originally this building was a

SEED WAREHOUSE

built c.1781 for

JOHN PEARSON

nurseyman'

27 June 2021

Jean-Luc Godard's Nouvelle Vague (1990)

Directed long after the 'Nouvelle Vague' period – if it really existed – and almost equally long after Godard's Dziga Vertov films, the film Nouvelle Vague is an oddity that many people would prefer to forget. With a dialogue full of literary and cinematographic quotations usually without mention of where they're from, this insane film has the gardener Jules speaking poetry as if it were ordinary speech, among many other unexpected oddities.

The very rich woman Elena Torlato-Favrini (Domiziana Giordano) hits Roger Lennox – a surname which evokes a character in Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye – in her car as he's walking on the road, takes him back to her home, takes care of him and keeps him in her home in Switzerland by Lac Léman. He's the quiet, thinking type and when she invites him to join her for a swim in the lake he refuses because he can't swim. Nevertheless she drags him in and he drowns, which doesn't seem to concern her at all.

Shortly after an identical man, physically, appears and says he's Roger's brother Richard. He's aware of the murder and becomes a director of one on Elena's companies in return for his silence. They become lovers and he's the dominant one. Again they go on Lac Léman but this time she's drowning and he saves her. But the odd thing is that he appears to be the same person as his 'brother'.

Robert Bresson's Lancelot du lac | Lancelot of the Lake (1984)

Lancelot du lac is far removed from the heroic medieval knight stories which audiences are used to, and as an audience used to the austerity of Bresson might expect, this is far from the exciting, violent films in this genre. Violent it certainly is, although only on a superficial level. Rather, it's a tale of knights returning to Arthur's Camelot after a rout, and being unsuccessful in finding the Grail (as if it existed). Furthermore, there's rebellion in Camelot itself, where Mordred (Patrick Bernard) is plotting against Lancelot (Luc Simon) and friends, partly (or as an excuse for) the sexual relations Lancelot has had with King Arthur's wife Guenièvre (Laura Duke Condominas). Internal fighting leads to destruction of all concerned. This apparent Bressonian anomaly isn't as strange as it may seem.

Marc Allégret's Dédee d'Anvers (1948)

This film is an adaptation from the novel of the same name by Henri La Barthe (writing as 'Ashelbé'). Dédee (Simone Signoret in her breakthough role) works as a hostess (entraîneuse) at the Big Moon in Antwerp, although she is also a virtual slave to the pimp Marco (Marcel Dalio) the doorman. René (Bernard Blier) runs the Big Moon, which is not a den of prostitution but just a respectable enough establishment where the girls dance with the (often) American customers, although overnight stays are certainly not the norm.

And then along comes Francesco (Marcello Pagliero), the Italian captain of an international cargo vessel, Dédee is in love, and plans to leave with him. Marco has other ideas though, and shoots Francesco dead. René plans to shoot him, although Dédee thinks it's less traceable if they just stun him and run him over. This film comes across as in the réalisme poétique vein, if more noirish.

26 June 2021

Jean Boyer's Garou-Garou, le passe-muraille | Le Passe-muraille | Mr Peek-a-boo (1951)

Wow, does that American title make you cringe! The film itself though – unless it's the appalling dubbed version which turns it into a French-American (mis)adventure, is very different, being the first time Bourvil (as minor clerk Léon Dutilleul) truly earns his acting stripes. This is based on the short story 'Le Passe-muraille', and of course the sculpture of author Marcel Aymé is in tribute trapped beween two walls is in Montmartre. Léon first tells his friend the artist Gen-Paul (Raymond Souplex playing the real man (1875-1975)), who of course doesn't believe him when he says that he has the power to walk through walls.

At first Léon simply plays games on his tyrannical boss, and is slow to discover the true power he holds. She discovers that the English 'Lady' Susan Brockson (Joan Greenwood) is in fact not an aristocrat but a cat-burglar working in accomplice with Maurice (the future film director Gérard Oury), and returns a highly valuable pearl necklace that Susan has stolen back to its owner.

But Léon is hardly handsome and poor, so how can he win Susan, with whom he's now become obsessed? Obviously by carrying out impossible bank raids and robberies, by means of which he earns her great admiration, and although he's now in prison he can of course escape just by walking through the walls. But, on trying to escape with Susan, he pushes her through a wall but then loses his powers: the special effects here are brilliant for their time, but it would have perhaps been difficult to freeze him into a wall as in Aymé's story.

Jacques Demy's Parking (1985)

This is another musical by Jacques Demy, although this is nowhere near as successful as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg or Les Demoiselles de Rochfort, and unlike some of his other musicals the scenario itself isn't sung. Demy intended this as a homage to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and had in mind David Bowie for the lead role, then Johnny Hallyday, but of course this was not to be.

A retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, this is a kind of tribute to Cocteau's film Orphée, but is set in the present with Francis Huster as the rock idol Orphée and the Japanese sculptor – Yoko Ono of course being a Japanese sculptor – Keïko Ito (as Eurydice). Even a small part was given to the Cocteauian Jean Marais.

Claude Lelouch's Le Voyou | The Crook (1970)

 

After five years, Simon 'Le Suisse' (Jean-Louis Trintignant) escapes from prison and finds a hideaway at the flat of a woman (played by Danièle Delorme). He – very cunningly and discreetly – kidnapped the young son of humble bank employee Gallois (Charles Denner) in order to extract a large sum of money from the bank where he works, although Gallois is one of those who denounced Simon.

There is a long flashback involving the details of the sophisicated kidnap, including a wink to Lelouch's famous film Un Homme et une femme. Also included in the cast is Jacques Doniol-Valcroze as the banker, and the singer Sacha Distel as himself.

25 June 2021

Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf | The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)

Leos Carax's film took five years in the making, and although the bridge here in Paris was closed for repair at the time, Carax was forced at one point to reconstruct it in Lansargues, Hérault . More than anything, I saw this film as the quintessence of the expression 'le cinéma du look' which has been used to describe the early films made by Jean-Jacques Beineix, Luc Besson and Carax: the fireworks, the speedboat, the fire-eating, etc. After Boy Meets Girl (1984) and Mauvais sang (1986), this is the final part of the 'Alex trilogy' (Alex being Carax's original first name), and Denis Levant being a kind of alter ego to Carax.

Alex is an SDF ('sans domicile fixe'), living in one of the alcoves on the closed Pont-Neuf along with the older Hans (Klaus Michael Grüber), who provides him with the drug Alcyon, a powerful sleeping draft. Money comes from Alex giving fire-eating shows to the tourists, and from stealing. And then along comes Michèle (Juliette Binoche), who is going blind, has a cat, sketches, and has been thrown out of her home by her boyfriend.

Alex learns this not by asking Michèle about her past, but indirectly by looking at a letter with her forner address, visiting it, and reading her diary. Although Hans (with his own tragic backstory) is against this intruder, Alex and Michèle slowly fall in love and make money by sending wealthy café terrasse customers asleep by contriving to pour Alycon into their drinks and taking their wallets.

Although the plot gets somewhat lost in the literal and figurative fireworks and is impossible to believe, I can't see how anyone can truly dislike this film: certainly it's unforgettable. It would have us believe the unbelievable: that Alex can stun a cop and escape along the Seine in his speedboat, Michèle water-skiing behind; that a whole string of wanted posters (asking for information on Michèle because a cure for her eye disease has been found) would be plastered on walls of all advertising spots in the métrothat Michèle and Hans could enter the Louvre using an old key!; that Michèle can escape from shooting her partner through the skull; that the couple can survive the cold by Alex throwing them into the Seine in the middle of a chilly winterand that a passing boat, with only an elderly couple on board would come passing by and agree to let them join them all the way on their final voyage. What the hell does that matter: this is 'le cinéma du look', and this is a hell of a film.

Jean-Pierre Mocky's Les Ballets écarlates (2007)

This film was in fact made in 2004 but initially banned by the culture minister of the time, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, because of the content of the film: an exposé of paedophilia. But it was eventually released not in the cinema but on DVD. Based on L'Affaire des ballets roses scandal in 1959, this work is very far from the best of Mocky's, although I feel that it's been unduly critised. Certainly the running comments on paedophilia at the base of the screen, and the occasional interruption of the story to announce paedophilic activities in the past don't help the flow, but the film's heart is in the right place. This is the story of a ring of paedophiles from which young Éric (Florian Junique) escapes into the arms of Violaine (Patricia Barzyk), who mysteriously lost her son two years before. It takes Éric some time to allow Violaine to link his story to his, but with the aid of a few people (including Mathieu (Mocky himself)) she soon tracks the offenders down and massacres them.

Jean-Pierre Mocky's La Grande Frousse | La Cité de l'indicible peur | The Great Fear (1964)

Even by Jean-Pierre Mocky's standards, this is a crazy film, a swim into the absurdity of existence. Thematically part of the story is based on the fear caused by La Bête du Gévaudan in Lozère in the 1760s, although here part of the film was set in Salers (here called Barges) in the neighbouring département of Cantal. Initially called La Grande Frousse, Mocky changed the title to La Cité de l'indicible peur after the original title of Belgian Jean Ray's novel, on which it's based. Insane as the film may be, Mocky attracted a number of notable actors to play in it.

The forger Mickey le bénédictin (Marcel Pérès) escapes from the guillotine and as criminals are thought to return to the original scene of the crime, L'inspecteur Triquet (Bourvil) is sent to Barges, where everyone is terrified of the monster which supposedly comes out at night there, although Trinquet just calls it a legend; Saint Urodèle is said to have dealt with the creature.

It would be almost impossible to go into details of the 'plot' because there isn't really one, this is more a collection of eccentricities, and the film moves by visiting the quirks of the various characters, such as Trinquet himself, who originally goes to Barges ostensibly to hunt partridge and to look for a bald-headed man who may be wearing a wig and who hates cassoulet, and Trinquet moves in goat-like movements, partly running partly skipping. Franqui (Francis Blanche) spies on the town through binoculars and talks to his statue, a representation of Saint Urodèle; the village doctor Clabert (Victor Francen) is an alcoholic sometimes given to drinking pure medicinal alcohol; Paul (Roger Legris) is frightened of everything; the local cop Loupiac (Jean Poiret) seems more interested in how his hair looks than anything else, although it's normally covered in his képi; and the mayor Chabriant (Raymond Rouleau) has a strange tic of laughing at everything.

Eventually the beast is discovered (for some obscure reason) to be the butcher (René-Louis Lafforgue), although murders continue: first Franqui, then Douve (Jean-Louis Barrault) and finally the mayor. In the end it's discovered that the real criminal is Livina (Véronique Nordey), the mayor's secretary, not that that fact is of any importance in this detective story-cum-fantasy-cum-comedy-cum-satire. As Triquet's little one says as a closing line: 'Plus tard je ne veux être ni un bandit, ni un flic, je veux être un honnête homme': 'When I grow up I want to be neither cop nor robber, I want to be an honest man.'

24 June 2021

André Téchiné's Les Temps qui changent | Times Change (2004)

Antoine (Gérard Depardieu) is a French civil engineer who has contrived to work on buildings in Tangiers because – although he's had other women in the last 'thirty-one years, eight months and twenty days' since his relationship with Cécile (Catherine Deneuve) – he still loves her. She's married to Moroccan doctor Nathan (Gilbert Melki), and works at a radio station in Tangiers.

After many years, Antoine has traced Cécile. He first sees her with Nathan at a supermarket, where he runs into a plate glass wall on making his exit, injuring his nose. Nathan attends to the wound.

Cécile's marriage is far from happy and eventually she gets back with Antoine, who unfortunately has a serious accident at work and is in a coma. Cécile and Nathan part, and he goes to a new job in Casablanca. When Antoine comes out of his coma his frequent visitor Cécile holds his hand.

(The bisexual interest in the film is in Cécile and Nathan's son Sami (Malik Zidi), who lives with Nadia (Lubna Azabal) in Paris but the two go for a visit to Morocco and Sami recommences his relationship with his former boyfriend Bilal (Nadem Rachati).)

Georges Franju's Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962)

 

The story of a would-be killer wife (by poison) (Emmanuelle Riva as Thérèse Desqueyroux), whose husband Bernard (Philippe Noiret) allows her case to be dismissed to save appearances, doesn't divorce her but sends her to Paris, only to appear as his 'wife' on special occasions is of course well known from the famous novel of the same name by François Mauriac (1927). This is set in the author's south-west and is an austere tale of two people who in effect destroy each other mentally. Moving. This film was later readapted in Claude Miller's 2012 starring Audrey Tautou, although I've yet to see that.

André Téchiné's Les Innocents (1987)

Jeanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) is from northern france and goes to Toulon for the wedding of her sister Maïté (Christine Paolini) to Noureddine (Krimo Bouguetof), although her main intention is to meet her deaf-mute brother Alain (Stéphane Onfroy). She meets Klotz (Jean-Claude Brialy), a bisexual orchestra leader with alcoholic tendencies and a lust for the young Saïd. Jeanne discovers that Alain has become a petty thief along with Saïd (an early appearance of Abdelatif Kechiche before he became the famous director). She spends the night with her brother but he robs her in the early hours, even of a precious family heirloom.

Jeanne goes to see Klotz to find out where her brother is, but meets his son Stéphane (the lamented Simon de La Brosse, who killed himself at thirty-two), who has only recently come out of a coma so can behave a little oddly at times. Jeanne and Stéphane are attracted to each other and he takes her to see Klotz rehearsing. Alain is staying with Saïd, to whom Jeanne is also attracted. All this is played out against the background of Stéphane's extremely violent, extreme right-wing history, and in the end both Saïd and Stéphane are shot dead, lying next to each other as Jeanne stares at them.

There's an air of Greek tragedy about this film.