17 April 2021

Alice Guy's Les Résultats du Féminisme | The Consequences of Feminism (1906)

This is an interesting film in which gender roles are reversed: men and women might wear the same clothes as was the convention of the time, but their behaviour is very different. Here, the men are very concerned with their appearances, and some wear flowers in their hair; the men do the ironing, do the sewing, get jealous when the women flirt, drink beer in pubs for hours, etc, but that leads to their downfall: the men invade the pubs and demand that the women come home, but suddenly everything is reversed to normal. A feminist comment? Hardly.

Alice Guy's La Fée aux choux | The Fairy of the Cabbages (1896, 1900, 1902)

The image here is a little blurred, but La Fée aux choux involves a couple who want a baby, but aren't satisfied with plastic or cardboard imitations the seller is offering. So the seller, or fairy if you like, leads them into the cabbage patch where babies are born, and after seeing several samples the man pays for one and the couple leave. Not too sure what point Guy was trying to make here, if any, but this is has to be a classic.

Marquise Lepage's Le Jardin oublié : La vie et l'œuvre d'Alice Guy-Blaché (1995)


Le Jardin oublié : La vie et l'œuvre d'Alice Guy-Blaché (1995) by Marquise Lepage is a biopic of an almost forgotten woman often known as just Alice Guy, who was most probably the first female film director. It's made with the participation of Adrienne Blaché-Channing, Guy-Blaché's granddaughter, who relates much of the story. It also contains clips of Alice (1873-1968) herself speaking about her past.

Alice Guy was born in St-Mandé to the east of Paris and became associated with Louis Lumière: her first directed film was La Fée aux choux in 1895, which is possibly the first narrative film ever made. In spite of the prejudice against English people, she married one 1907: Herbert Blaché, who was born in London. Their honeymoon was in America, which was to be their home for a number of years.

Guy established her own film company there and continued to direct many films and become rich: the actual number of films she directed herself is unknown because many are lost, although the figure may be as many as a thousand: these were essentially shorts. But by about 1918 her marriage was on the rocks, her film company was in considerable financial difficulty, and she made her way back to France in 1922, latterly making living by writing children's books under pseudonyms. She died in the USA.

Alice Guy's most important message to actors was 'Be natural', which is the title of a recent film made about her: Be Natural: the Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (2019), by Pamela B Green.

15 April 2021

Tonie Marshall's Au plus près du paradis | Nearest to Paradise (1983)

Tonie Marshall's Au plus près du paradis (2007) is inspired by Leo MacCarey's An affair to remember (1957), in French Elle et Lui with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. This film was in fact a remake of MacCarey's own Love Affair (1937). Lovers (ah, so improbably) agree to meet at the top of the Empire State building. Roughly the first half of the movie is in French, the second in English, which is a mistake.

As brillant as the actors Catherine Deneuve and William Hurt are, they can't prevent the disaster that is Tonie Marshall's tedious film. Marshall was the first female to receive the César for film direction in 2000 for Vénus beauté (institut).

14 April 2021

Richard Rome Bealey in Carrington, Nottingham

 

'RICHARD ROME BEALEY,
BORN AT ROCHDALE
7TH FEBRUARY 1828,
DIED AT NOTTINGHAM
5TH FEBRUARY 1887. 
AUTHOR OF
"THE MAN WHO IS KIND TO ANOTHER"
AND OTHER VERSES.
ERECTED IN FRATERNAL MEMORY BY FREEMASONS
OF THE PROVINCE OF NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
26TH SEPTEMBER 1944.'

St Johns church, Carrington. Richard Rome Bealey and his family were almost certainly living at the now demolished 259 Watcombe Circus, Carrington, Nottingham, on his death. In 1885 his occupation is given as 'Commission Agent', although he was bringing in very little money. On 9 February the Manchester City News wrote: 'At the funeral beside relatives were present, Mr. W.H. Smith, Secretary of the Nottingham Literary Club; and many others. The coffin was almost hidden by beautiful wreaths of camellias, hyacinths, ferns and other flowers and foliage. Letters of praise also appeared throughout Lancashire and Nottinghamshire newspapers. A fund for his widow, who had been left destitute with seven children, was started by Rev. Sparks'.

'The Man Who Is Kind to Another' was the name of one of his poems from the book Field Flowers and City Chimes (1866), one of many books he wrote but of which he presumably sold very few copies. Originally the grave was unmarked until the spot was later discovered.

ADDENDUM: Interestingly, in Vol. 37 of 'Papers of the Manchester Literary Club' (date unkown), John Mortimer includes Bealey in with several very well-known working-class and local poets: 'It was at the Literary Club, in days long ago, that I first came to know Samuel Laycock, and at a time when he formed one of a group of singing birds who had found a nesting place there, among whom were Charles Swain, Samuel Bamford, Edwin Waugh, Benjamin Brierley, and Richard Rome Bealey'. (The occasion referred to was evidently before 1878, which was when Bealey moved to Arnold, Nottinghamshire.)

13 April 2021

Arnaud Sélignac's Arletty, une passion coupable (2015)


Arletty (Laetitia Casta) says, in one of her brilliant oneliners: 'je suis comme tous les français, très occupée', with of course a pun on 'occupée (meaning 'busy' as well as 'occupied', as an allusion to the Nazi Occupation. At the end of the film, when the Resistance question her after the war, she says 'Mon cœur est français mais mon cul est international !' ('My heart is French but my ass is international!'.)

That last sentence just about sums up what this film is about: 'la môme de Courbevoie', the female actor Arletty's long and passionate, but also tumultuous, love affair with the German Luftwaffe officer Hans Jürgen Soehring (Ken Duken), a relationship which continued (if after the war from a distance) until Hans's death in 1960. There's an important amorous affair between Antoinette d'Harcourt (Marie-Josée Croze), for example, but Arletty is prepared to renounce that for Hans.

Many other famous characters (obviously appearing by actors) play a part in this, such as Sasha Guitry, Jacques Prévert, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Carné and Jean-Louis Barrault, but obviously Arletty and Hans are the main characters.

Claude Autant-Lara's Fric-Frac (1939)

A fric-frac is a break-in. Claude Autant-Lara's Fric-Fric is a perfectly harmless comedy, and although Maurice Lehmann is given in the screen credits as the director of this film it's generally known that Autant-Lara was largely respoonsible for it: he preferred to keep a low profile after the disaster of Ciboulette (1933), and Arletty (here playing Loulou) said as much herself.

Marcel (Fernandel) played the clerk working for the jeweller Mercandieu with his daughter Renée (Hélène Robert). She's (unbelievably) besotted by him, although Marcel shows no interest, especially when he meets Loulou who's with her improbable sidekick Jo (Michel Simon), the small-time thief who also makes his 'living' swindling people at the illegal card game bonneteau*.

An interesting thing is that Marcel – a typical 'cave' or sucker – not only doesn't notice that Loulou and Jo are small-time crooks, but that he finds the slang they use exotic, and he even has Renée asking in the office what 'doudounes' (tits) are. Loulou and Jo extract information about the jeweller's from Marcel and tie him up, although Renée catches them in the act of the fric-frac and Marcel is more or less forced into marrying Renée and eventually taking over the business when Mercandieu eventually retires. All very unlikely, but nevertheless a very likeable film.

*Bonneteau is set up in busy city streets – particularly if they're frequented by wealthy tourists – which probably explains why I've usually seen it in the Montmartre tourist stretch. It's a highly organised set-up normally using cardboard boxes as tables, with different fake players to encourage gullible punters to raise the stakes, and some members of the team watching out for the keufs. I only recently learned that it's played throughout the world and known as 'Find the lady' in English.

Claude Autant-Lara's Le Diable au corps | The Devil in the Flesh (1949)

Claude Autant-Lara is not a name mentioned a great deal of late, possibly because of Truffaut's criticism, but far more likely because of his extreme right-wing views later in his life: earlier, he had had very left-wing ideas. Le Diable dans le corps is closely based on the novel of the same name by Raymond Radiguet (1923), and like this novel the film shocked. The novel, like the film, shocked because the story concerns a teenager who has an affair with a married woman and makes her pregnant.

For this reason too Autant-Lara's film shocked, although the director was noted for his desire to shock: the film also caused offense because of its apparent attitude towards war – both the film and the book are set in World War I and its immediate aftermath, and lycéen François (Gérard Philipe) auxiliary Marthe (Micheline Presle) have their relationship while her husband is called to the war.

The husband – whom Marthe was pushed into marrying by her parents – returns at the end of the war to his wife, who has just given birth to her and François's child. The only word she says before she dies is 'François', as her husband stands by the bed. François, of course, is not allowed to attend the funeral: Autant-Lara's film is also an attack on conventions, on the bien-pensant bourgeoisie.

11 April 2021

André Cayatte's Mourir d'aimer | To Die of Love (1971)

 

Mourir d'aimer is based on a true story involving Gabrielle Russier, a teacher born in Paris in 1937 who had a love affair with one of her pupils, Christian Rossi, in the heady revolutionary May 1968 and after. Russier killed herself in her flat in Marseille in 1969 as a result of the repercussions of the affair and a number of performers sang songs about it, notably Charles Aznavour's 'Mourir d'amour'. In fact the tragedy has never been forgotten by the French. When Macron was elected in 2017 the newspaper Libération carried an article titled 'La Revanche de Gabrielle' ('Gabrielle's Revenge'), alluding to the fact that Macron's wife, his teacher Brigitte, was twenty-four years older than him (and married) when she fell in love with the fifteen-year-old lycéen.

In this film Russier becomes Danièle Guénot (played by Anne Girardot) and Christian is Gérard Leguen (played by Bruno Pradal (who was a few years older than Christian and with a full beard)). The couple have the apparently full backing of the revolutionary students in the lycée, although the young guy's father is responsible for the imprisonment of Danièle and the incarceration of Gérard in a psychiatric hospital, although it's quite clear that there's nothing wrong with his son: he's in love, not 'bewitched' by Danièle who (contrary to Gérard's father's claim) is no prostitute.

There are obviously grey areas into which some relationships just don't fit legally, and this is clearly one of them. Here, Gérard is in full possession of his senses, as is Danièle. Unfortunately, in this film it's the father who's crazy, and whose ill conceived legal meddling will lead to catastrophie. There are a few wincingly melodramatic touches here, and a little ham acting, but this film remains a very powerful statement.

10 April 2021

Arnaud Desplechin's Rois et reine | Kings and Queen (2004)

Arnaud Desplechin's Rois et reine is an astonishing film, and at 145 minutes it sounds like a long one, although the time goes by very quickly: it's spellbinding too. As regards genre I'd call it a drama, a (sometimes zany) comedy and a thriller, sometimes all of those at the same time. It's also a highly literate and very intelligent movie too. The time isn't linear as it has numerous flashbacks, a fantasy scene, and it has two main threads that come together around mid-point.

Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric) is, er, a highly strung violinist who's depressed and finds himself dragged into a psychiatric hospital by HDT (Hospitalisation à la demande d'un tiers*) and he not only puts up a fight but reacts in a really crazy fashion, blowing up at the first psychiatrist (Catherine Deneuve) who interviews him, telling her women live in a bubble but men go along a straight line (!) and saying 'Je vais vous dénoncer ma petite connasse' ('I'm going to denounce you, you little cunt'). Psychiatric hospitals are a noted theme in Desplechin's films, as is Roubaix, where Desplechin was born and where there's a kind of slapstick (although frightening) shooting scene towards the end in the greengrocer's shop of Ismaël's father Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon): Desplechin is making a comment about what he calls the town's 'mauvaise réputation'.

Meanwhile, we have the art gallery manager Nora (Emmanuelle Devos). Her first husband Pierre (Joachim Salinger) shot himself dead in a row with her, she's about to marry Jean-Jacques (Olivier Rabourdin, who looks like a gangster), and she has a dying father. Later, she claims she's loved four men but killed two of them: she feels guilty because of the row and because she assisted in her father's death to ease his pain. The fourth loved man is Ismaël, which is where the story comes together.

Nora was pregnant by Pierre when he killed himself and her son Élias (Valentin Lelong-Darmon) grew up with Ismaël: she wants Ismaël to adopt him, although in the end Ismaël decides that Élias would be better off with his mother and future husband.

It's adoption that brings the two strains of the film together, and this is a theme in itself: Ismaël's grandmother (Andrée Tainsy) originally adopted Abel, and Abel and his wife Monique (Catherine Rouvel) have decided to adopt cousin Simon (Gilles Cohen).

This being Desplechin, there are many cultural references, far too many to mention even if I'd caught them all. First of all, right at the beginning we have the homage to Breakfast at Tiffany's (or Diamants sur canapé in French): but instead of Audrey Hepburn (as Holly Golightly) getting out of a cab and eating and drinking on Fifth Avenue while looking in the window in Tiffany's, we have Nora leaving a taxi with a cup of coffee and heading for her art shop – also to the tune of 'Moon River', of course. There are also quotations from Apollinaire, Yeats, Nerval and Emily Dickinson among others.

I didn't even manage to fit in ghosts, of which Desplechin is fond either in fantasy sequences or memory, but anyway I think I've already said enough to indicate that this is a feast of a film. And one viewing doesn't do it justice.

*Meaning that a third party has called for it.

9 April 2021

Stéphane Brizé's Une vie | A Woman's Life (2016)

Adapted from Maupassant's book of the same name, La Vie is deeply pessimistic and naturalistic right up to the last minute, when a note of hope strikes, although I'm nevertheless half convinced that this is the author being ironic.

Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla) leaves her convent school and rejoins her kindly parents Simon-Jacques (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and La baronne Adélaïde (Yolande Moreau), only soon to marry what appears to be the first suitor to come along: Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud). After an idyllic honeymoon, flashes of which will be revisited onscreen numerous times as Jeanne remembers the past in her present hell – and this story is mainly of her hell – she is confronted by the reality of her situation.

And that reality is that Julien is mean (bullying Jeanne for using too much wood for heating and too many candles), bullying (treating the domestic Rosalie (played by Nina Meurisse) very harshly), and hypocritical and philandering (he won't entertain the idea of the expense of allowing Rosalie's 'bâtard' to live with them, and yet he's actually the father). This she, pregnant with their first and only child, finds out from the curé, who in an austere scene in which Jeanne's parents are also there, begs her to forgive Julien. Under great pressure, she does forgive him.

Things seem to return to the early happiness, with Jeanne playing almost chidishly with their friend Gilberte de Fourville (Clotilde Hesme), the wife of Georges (Alain Beigel), and all four have a great time playing croquet together. Until Jeanne discovers that Julien is up to his sexual tricks again, having an affair with Gilberte. She starts to waste away, admits the truth to the priest, and says that she believes that life is made up of lies. The priest, seeing the effect this is having on her, urges her to stop the lies and tell Georges the truth. She can't as it would hurt him too much, so the priest says he's going to do it for her: the result being that Julien, Gilberte and Georges all finish by shooting themselves to death.

Back at home, Jeanne learns after the death of her mother that she had been having an affair many years before, with a man who said she was not fit to live with Simon-Jacques. Ah, happy families! But Jeanne has to cope with her own son Paul (played by three characters as he grows), who at the age of eleven doesn't want to go to school and is very much of a problem child. At twenty he leaves with his girlfriend (later his wife) for London, although Jeanne disaproves of her because she thinks she's just eating up a great deal of money.

Paul won't be seen again, although his presence will be felt enormously. Thinking he'd make his fortune in London, he in fact amasses huge debts, and of course it's the every faithful Jeanne who'll have to foot the bills, causing her to age, to worry constantly, and at the end have to sell the property which has been in the family for many generations.

Rosalie – who is in fact Jeanne's foster sister – has returned to live with Jeanne as a friend, and she is firm with Jeanne in telling her that she can't send Paul any more money. Paul's wife dies, he's of course penniless, and sends the baby on to Jeanne. We're left with the two woman making silly faces at the young girl. Maupassant concluded La Vie with the sentence 'La vie, voyez-vous, ça n'est jamais si bon ni si mauvais qu'on croit' ('You see, life is never as good or bad as you think'.) No? First the monster Julien, then the monster Paul, and now a new generation: how will this one turn out?

Claude Goretta's Jean-Luc Persécuté | Jean-Luc Persecuted (1966)

This is a devastating téléfilm adapted from the equally devastating novel of the same name by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, published in 1908 and also reviewed on this blog. It's a faithful adapatation, set in the Swiss mountains and depicting a very bleak environment of deep snow, marital infidelity, alcoholism, madness, murder and suicide.

The lead role of Jean-Luc is played by Maurice Garrel, the father of film director Philippe and grandfather of Louis. Jean-Luc makes his living felling trees and is married to Cristine (Frédérique Meininger), who loves Augustin (Philippe Mentha), but he left some time before and now she is married to Jean-Luc and has a baby by him. But then Augustin returns, Jean-Luc discovers that she's secretly seeing him, which she openlly admits with defiance, and so begins his rapid decline.

When their young child dies Jean-Luc refuses to believe it and continues to cradle the imaginary creature in his arms, drinks heavily and slides into psychosis. Cristine has a baby by Augustin, Jean-Luc locks both his wife and the child in a barn, sets fire to it and throws himself from a mountain.

André Téchiné's Les Égarés | Strayed (2003)

It's June 1940 and people are fleeing from Paris. German aircraft bomb them, and the family or interest here loses its car and its possessions: widow Odile (Emmanuelle Béart) and her children, thirteen-year-old Philippe (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and seven-year-old Cathy (Clémence Meyer). Retreating from the road they reluctantly meet the strange seventeen-year-old Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel), who has cropped hair to ward off lice, and has a generally wild and disturbed appearance. But they put their trust in him and escape into the woods.

They come upon a large abandoned house which Yvan knows of – later discovered left by a Jewish family – and although Odile is reluctant to enter property that is not her own she is to learn that people act differently in times of war: the survival instinct comes to the fore, conventional laws are overturned. For a time then this becomes their home and they live in a style to which they're unaccustomed, admidst lush furniture with fine wine.

The family's wariness of Yvan soon lessons and he becomes a kind of older brother or father figure to the children, receiving Philippe's great admiration in particular. He steals from dead soldiers and sets traps for rabbits, fishes and provides for the family, even managing a kind of bemused respect from Odile when he tells her he'd like to marry her. A former teacher, Odile begins to teach the illiterate Yvan how to read and write. He also has a violent streak and is suspicious of any outsiders, being particularly mindful for the safety of Odile.

There's a blossoming of strong physical attraction between Odile and Yvan which climaxes in anal sex, and – after the short family idyll is ended by the police when they catch Yvan stealing and he's sent to a reformatory and Odile and children join the refugees – the mother struggles with her grief when she learns that Yvan has hanged himself but tells Philippe he's escaped.

Loss, emotional and physical turmoil, grief, hiding, lies, brief and improbable friendships and liaisons, such is the nature of France under Nazi occupation, which brings out the best and the worst of humanity.

8 April 2021

André Delvaux's Un soir, un train (1968)

This, André Delvaux's second feature film, is an adaptation of the Flemish novelist Johan Daisne's Le Train de l'inertie (De trein der traagheid) (1950): his first feature was also an adaptation from a Daisne novel – L’Homme au crâne rasé (De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen) (1948).

In her article 'Between Surrealism and Magic Realism: The Early Feature Films of André Delvaux' in Yale French Studies No. 109: 'Surrealism and Its Others' (2006), Georgiana M. M. Colvile writes 'Un soir, un train [...] grew out of the opening pages of Nerval's Aurélia and deals with love, death, creativity, and language.' In her conclusion she states 'in Delvaux's early fiction films, surrealism and magic realism dance a pas de deux, with the danse macabre as a negative mirror, traversed by an Orphean quest for love', and says that Delvaux's early films are more in the spirit of Magritte, Paul Delvaux and Gracq than Breton or Bunuel.

Mathias (Yves Montand) is a univeristy teacher of Linquistics at a Flemish university similar to the one in Louvain where there were strikes and demonstrations between 1967 and 1968. He lives with Anne (Anouk Aimée), a French woman ill at ease surrounded by a culture she has no knowledge of. However she assists in the Renaissance play Elckerlijc, which Mathias is producing, and in which the personification of Death is a prominent presence.

Having just had an argument with Anne, he is surprised to find her on the train he takes to give a talk in another town, although the presence of other passengers inhibit the possibility of any communication. (Communication, anyway, is rare and/or non-existent in Delvaux's universe.) On the train Anne asks Mathias for his copy of Le Monde (which of course is French for both 'the world' and 'people' although she doesn't look at it, and the final shot of her alive is of her looking out of the train window in the corridor, although she will never join the outside: when Mathias awakes he sees the newspaper Le Monde in her empty seat, it is as if she has left the world and its people behind her.

Then things go weird. Mathias tries to find Anne but Hernhutter (Hector Camerlynck) can't help him, and when the train stops for no apparent reason Mathias, Herhutter and Val (François Beukelaers) meet at the side of the trainline and the train moves off without them. Herhutter used to teach Mathias, and maybe Mathias taught Val, but as it is we have three people of different ages – perhaps all the same person – in a hostile no-man's-land in the middle of they know not where. Who lit a fire isn't known, but anyway they keep it going and Val roasts potatoes there.

It gets weirder. The trio arrive at a nearby village, no one speaks their language, they go for a meal and are served something they didn't order, Val dances the strangest dance with a female server who could be another personififaction of death, then others join in, the atmosphere is hostile, and then Mathias is transported as if by magic to a train wreck, where he finds Anne dead (although, oddly, apparently as beautiful as before).

7 April 2021

Alain Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ-Express (1966)

Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ-Express is a film-within-a-film, a kind of spoof spy film with sado-masochistic elements, or rather a comedy that doesn't really go very far but winds itself into repetitive circles, starts all over again, and then ends with a bang: but a quieter bang than at the beginning.

There's a film director, a producer and a continuation secretary working on the plot of a film, to be called 'Trans-Europ-Express', in a carriage on the Trans-Europ-Express. It's to be about a drug dealer called Elias, and as they create the story we see it played out by Elias (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who changes suitcases with another man after giving the password 'Père Petitjean', and he will use these magic words a number of times between the Gare du Nord and Antwerp, the town of his destination. In Antwerp he passes a row of houses, all with a prostitute in the window, although when one, Eva (Marie-France Pisier), comes up to him, he tells her that he only likes 'rape', and she agrees for extra money. After various escapades he learns that the whole business was only a dummy run to test his aptitude, and that the 'drugs' were in fact only powdered sugar.

So Elias is sent on a second journey, although when he meets Eva again he discovers that she is a police informant. He ties her up and strangles her, goes to a night club where he sees a woman stripping, is surrounded by the police and shot dead in the back yard. The three on the train think that diamond smuggling may have been a better idea for the film.

6 April 2021

Alain Robbe-Grillet's L'Immortelle (1963)

Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote the screenplay L'Année dernière à Marienbad, which was directed by Alain Resnais and released in 1961. L'Immortelle is Robbe-Grillet's first film as director, and is perhaps less opaque than expected. The, er, action takes place in Istanbul, where a French teacher, N (Jacque Doniol-Valcroze) meets the alluring and mysterious Lale (Françoise Brion), who has other names.

Lale (which mean 'tulip') becomes N's guide and his lover, although she is elusive. She disappears and he looks for her, eventually finds her, although she dies in a car crash after seeing a dog belonging (it appears) to one of the men who have been trailing the couple. N. dreams, and dreams, and drives a car, visiting the same spot as where Lale dies, and he too crashes and dies. A haunting film.

Penelope Houston of The Spectator called this film 'pretentious' but with a 'hypnotic allure', which gives me pause for thought. There's pretentiousness and pretentiousness, let's not forget: any true artist of any nature should aim for pretention because it's designed to reach beyond the conventional, beyond the tedious norm, exploring new territories; but then, there are the pretentions of cranks, phonies and cod-philosophers such as the justifiably forgotten and wilfully unacademic Colin Wilson. Robbe-Grillet, on another very different hand, is a brilliant writer and brilliant film maker who will live on.

Bruno de Stabenrath: L'Ami impossible (2020)

This is a 526-page book concerning a multiple murder ten years ago, and which still has France in thrall largely due to various 'sightings' over the years of the guilty man who escaped, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès: he's been 'seen' in thousands of places all over the world; he was thought to be living as a monk in south-east France; discovered bones near where he is last known to have been proved to be animal rather than human; and relatively recently a man looking nothing like him was arrested at Glasgow airport.

Like Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, Bruno de Stabenrath (as the 'de' indicates) is of aristocratic origin, although the cultural interests of the two – both living in Versailles – are mainly of popular American roots: this can clearly be seen from a Youtube clip from November 2020, where Stabenrath is interviewed remotely from his home, a photo of Elvis Presley clearly seen on the mantlepeice in the background. From their schooldays through a number of decades until the disappearance of Ligonnès, the men were friends, and this book begins with their youthful pursuits of music, young women and the obsession with America which the country holds for so many French people.

Stabenrath – born in 1961 – appeared in a few films in his earlier life, but became wheelchair-bound after a car accident in 1996. He then took to writing books, of which Cavalcade (2001) – largely about his accident and adapted to film in 2005 – was the first. His friend Ligonnès – who married Agnès when he was thirty – very much lived a fantasy life in spite of becoming the father of four children. In 1990 Ligonnès achieved his ambition of touring along the whole of the legendary Route 66, which took him eighteen months, with his friend Michel Rétif (whom Stabenrath improbably calls Micha Frostif). He also spent some time in Florida, setting up company there: his foolhardy business ventures were to cost his wife dearly, in the end very dearly.

Joining Ligonnès at some time in the USA was his faithful friend Emmanuel Teneur, in the book called Rémy, who would follow Ligonnès around France, moving to various places his family moved to, such as Provence and (the final town) Nantes. Agnès was not a little jealous of Emmanuel, although he often helped Ligonnès out with financial loans: a lonely alcoholic, Emmanuel was a non-practising homosexual who even remained friends with Ligonnès when, in Emmanuel's absence, his friend broke into his home and stole 6000 euros and his family jewels.

And then there's L’Église de Philadelphie, a religious sect set up by the Comtesse Geneviève Dupont de Ligonnès, Xavier's mother: she predicted the imminent end of the world, claimed the Catholic church was infested by the devil, and sent out monthly newsletters of her divine revelations to the dozens of followers who financially supported the sect. Both Xavier and Agnès firmly believed in the 'church', although Xavier – in a tremendous blow – lost faith in 1995 when a predicted divine happening didn't happen, but although Emmanuel knew it was a con he kept a low profile and didn't reveal his thoughts.

All the time Ligonnès – who is essentially making what little money he can (and certainly from his down-at-heel appearance it's very little) as a sales representative – is getting increasingly desperate, and concocts wild get-rich-quick schemes. He's now so much in debt that he not only only robs his friend Emmanuel but also empties his sick father's bank account. And he even hooks up with a former girlfriend from his early days when his parents owned a home in L'Île-de-Bréhat (where he met Emmanuel) and cons her out of 50,000 euros: when he tells her things have gone wrong and that he needs another 25,000 she refuses.

And then he discovers his wife is frustrated in a number of ways, and reads her emails: she's sex-starved, has begun a relationship with a certain Icham, and is being conned into a weird mediation course. To top it off, he later finds that Icham is an anagram for Micha, or his friend Michel. His life is collapsing around him.

The desire to create a new life is fully understandable, and perhaps many people in Ligonnès's position would simply disappear. Which is just what he did, although why did this normally completely unviolent man proceed with great deliberation to kill his wife and four children in their home with a rifle after drugging them, and bury the bodies in the garden in bin bags, adding large quantities of quicklime to ensure that they would decompose quickly? And why should he send four-page letters to relatives saying the American drugs squad had nominated him as an agent to go to the night clubs infiltrating drug cliques? Yes, they had called upon a fifty-year-old man to do this – the state of his mind is unimaginable.

Nevertheless, his strategies paid off and it was about ten days before the police discovered the bodies: he had plenty of time to do a disappearing act, and was last seen at an ATM in Roquebrune-sur-Argens after spending the night in an F1 hotel – this was an area he knew very well as his family had spent some time in Saint-Raphaël (which for some reason Stabenrath insists on calling Sainte-Raphaël).

No one knows what became of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, although Stabenrath is convinced that he is still alive: he wouldn't possibly have subjected himself to such rigorous planning if he'd wanted to kill himself. I'm not too sure of this reasoning as Ligonnès was so egotistical that he'd have wanted to keep up appearances suicide or no suicide, but whatever the outcome this is an amazing read.

3 April 2021

Robert Bresson's Quatre Nuits d'un rêveur | Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971)

This is loosely based on Dostoevsky's White Nights. Quatre Nuits d'un rêveur doesn't have any obvious religious references as there are in some of his other films, although the male protagonist Jacques almost treats (mainly in private) Marthe (Isabelle Weingarten) as a god-like being. We first see Jacques hitch-hiking into the countryside to make somersaults in the grass, although in the evening he's back in Paris and sees what appears to be a suicidal young woman along the quai.

Jacques having prevented her from jumping, the two sit on steps and tell each other about themselves. Jacques is an artist in constant search for the right woman, whereas Marthe has already met the man of her dreams, the unnamed Jean-Maurice Monnoyer, whom she's known as a lodger in the flat she shares with her mother. He's had to leave for the States but promised he'll return a year from then, telling her where to meet him at a particular time exactly one year from then. But he didn't meet her.

Jacques escorts her home and they agree to meet, same time same place, the next night. This continues, and in spite of Jacques acting as a go-between, giving a letter written by Marthe to her lover's friends, he doesn't turn up. Meanwhile, in the day (between painting) Jacques is recording his love for Marthe on tape, the last recording just being a repeated 'Marthe' over and over. On the fourth night of meeting Marthe he confesses his love for her, she realises that her former lover didn't deserve her love, and they become lovers.

Er, well not physically, and spiritually only for a few minutes: Jacques buys her a scarf, they continue walking, Marthe sees her former lover, runs up and kisses him, goes back to Jacques and kisses him as a friend, and then returns to the unnamed lover. Time for Jacques to return home and back to his paintings the next day.

Bruno Dumont's Ma Loute | Slack Bay (2016)

Ma Loute is a film set at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was released between Dumont's Quinquin and Coincoin, and has surprisingly similar elements, although the appearance of the comfortable family, the Van Peteghems, is a marked difference. This film takes place in the usual Côte d'Opale area in Ambleteuse and Audresselles, although the Van Peteghem holiday home (of which only the exterior of the actual neo-Egyptian Ptolemaic house appears on screen) is a little further north in Wissant: the villa is in fact Le Typhonium.

André (Fabrice Luchini) is the insufferable idiot patriarch of the family, along with his wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and André's cousin Aude (Juliette Binoche). Also present in the area is the Brufort family, who live in a nearby slum, hunt mussels and either carry people over the water or row tourists about for a few pennies.

Ever present are inspector of police Machin (Didier Despres), who is so fat that he frequently falls over and rolls down the sand and has to be stood upright again by his slim assistant Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux): yes, they're of the same ilk as the bumbling cops in Quinquin and Coincoin, and also of course of Laurel and Hardy. They're there to investigate a number of murders that have been committed in the proximity, and of course they'll never discover the obvious: that the Bruforts are killing them to eat.

Add an improbable romance between the transvestite Billy (Ralph) Van Peteghem and young 'Ma Loute' Brufort, finish on a note of Machin floating away like a balloon and you have something that might be expected of the director of Quinquin, but not the director of Dumont's previous Bressonian films. Wonderfully absurd.

30 March 2021

Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien (1974)

Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien, written by Malle and Patrick Modiano, was a great success, winning several prizes. However, due to the subject of the film – it was one of the first to deal with collaboration in France in World War II – it came in for some strong criticism, Malle left for the States and it was not until thirteen years later that he made another film in France, which was the one I recently mentioned here, Avoir les enfants (1987).

Lucien Lacombe (Pierre Blaise) is a seventeen-year-old peasant in mid-1944, when the Allies were gaining considerable ground in Normandy. Lacombe asks his teacher (Jean Bousquet), a member of the Resistance, if he'll let him join the maquis, but is told that he's too young. By chance, he's stopped by the police, denounces his teacher and becomes a member of the French Gestapo, meaning that he's working for the German police.

His problems start though when Albert Horn (Holger Löwenadler), a German Jew and a tailor, makes a suit for him: he falls in love with Albert's daughter France (Aurore Clément), who's a French Jew. Matters are complicated not just by the fact that Lacombe is in theory anti-Jewish but that he is culturally the reverse of the Horns. Albert is captured by the Germans, and, faced with the dilemma of France and her grandmother Bella (Therese Giehse) being captured, Lacombe kills the arresting German and drives them towards Spain. But the car breaks down and a note across the scene ends the film by saying that Lacombe was captured by the Resistance and executed after trial.

Robert Bresson's Mouchette (1967)

Bresson adapted this film from Georges Bernanos's Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette. Peasant girl Mouchette (Nadine Nortier) has an extremely hard time with her life as an adolescent: her mother (Marie Cardinal) is very ill in bed, her father (Paul Hébert) is an alcoholic, she also has a baby to look after, her teacher bullies her, and her school companions aren't companions at all and ignore her. It's hardly surprising that she hides away from them, although she doesn't help that she throws clods of earth at them from her hiding place. And she has no chance in the love stakes either: even when a young guy appears to be flirting with her on the dodgems her father reins her in.

Dialogue is kept to a minimum here, and anyway of course we have the Bressonian trademark of non-actors, and words and faces without expressions. This is filmed in Vaucluse, often in a café where the server automatically serves a wine or gin to a customer, the customer drinks, the glass is filled several times, payment is made, the customer leaves: frequently without a word by anyone. Her mother's last words are to stay away from drunkards: not an easy thing to do, as she's already discovered.

Lost in the forest when the drunken poacher Arsène (Jean-Claude Guilbert) finds her, he wrongly believes he's killed Mathieu and wants to use her as an alibi. She agrees and is initially very impressed with his friendliness, although he later rapes her. After her mother's death a shopkeeper calls her a slut, an elderly woman gives her a funeral dress and a shroud, but she uses these to roll down a slope three times, the third of which brings success when she finishes in the river. Again, Mouchette's torments have been interpreted as stations of the cross.

Robert Bresson's Au hazard Balthazar (1966)

On the face of it this is a film about the life and death of a donkey called Balthazar near the Pyrenees, from the time it's young and searching for its mother's teat to its death in a field surrounded by sheep. In between these two extremes we have other extremes: the young Marie loving it in idyllic scenes, and the older Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) meeting it on various occasions; its life as carrying bread for a baker and being ill-treated by the baker's delivery youth Gérard (François Lafarge), who is no more than a heartless thug; and Bathazar being used by a miller (Pierre Klossowski) with a whip to make the animal turn the stones faster.

But, of course, there's more here than that, as the name of one of the magi – Balthazar – should suggest. The mule is a spiritual, indeed Christ-like figure, as borne out by the many religious allusions: the young Marie baptising it, the stations of the cross, the seven deadly sins, its 'crucifixion', the flock looking over its death, and so on.

At about ninety minutes, a great deal is packed into this film: a murder, a doomed love affair with the leader of the gang (Gérard with Marie), a lost-suffering and finally unconsumated lover of Marie (Jacques (played by Walter Green)), Arnold (Jean-Claude Guilbert) the down-and-out alcoholic suspected of murder, Marie sort of prostituting herself and later being beaten up by the gang of thugs, and a number of other events.

All this is in Bresson's austere black and white style, with expressionless lines from non-actors, a lack of artifice, and a truly wonderful film all round.

29 March 2021

Louis Malle's Au revoir les enfants (1987)

Louis Malle had for a long time wanted to make this film, which is partly autobiographical, having remained in his memory since the time of the events. Originally the title was to be in English: My Little Madeleine', alluding to Proust's famous epiphany, although 'Au revoir les enfants' was chosen in the end. This relates on a general level to a goodbye to the Jewish children lost to the Nazis, although more specifically to the final words of Père Jean (Philippe Morier-Genoud) as he's led out of the school with the three Jewish children by the Nazis. His next words, 'À bientôt', are obviously ironic because everyone present, including the most naive child in the school yard, knows that he won't see them soon, or ever again: Jean Kippelstein alias Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö), Negus and Dupré will die in Auschwitz, Père Jean in Mauthausen.

Malle went to a religious school in Avon near Fontainebleu although the film is set in the Institution Sainte-Croix, Provins, Seine-et-Marne. Near the beginning we see the children coming from Mass singing the nursery rhyme 'À la claire fontaine', which is very significant: although the boys only appear to sing the first verse with its joy of bathing in the fountain, the chorus 'Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, jamais je ne t'oublierai' and following verses tell of sadness and loss: there are many versions of the song and it can be construed as depicting a loss of innocence or a revolutionary spirit, but a probable constant is regret. Although Malle to some extent is identifiable here as Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse), he never befriended anyone Jewish at school, and the mention of 'Sherlock Holmes' in the film relates to the detective work that Malle did after the event.

What we have is an account of privileged schoolchildren during the war living with their fantasies, the amusements which they are allowed in such a fascist environment in which the head of the school 'illegally' harbours three Jewish children mixing freely with the Catholics under a false patronym. Certainly Jean and the other Jewish children live in constant fear, they have to bear such insults as words like 'youtres' ('yids') bandied around by the other children, they have to conceal their hatred of pork, and (most telling of all) they have to hide the fact that they don't have foreskins.

Julien's slow friendship with Jean is not an autobiographical mirror of Malle's friendship with a Jewish boy at the school, but an account not of false memory but fictional retrospection, a kind of idealised reconstruction. Not, though, that the film is in any way sentimental or polarising: the Germans are not always monsters and on one occasion return the lost Julian and (ironically) the lost Jean to the school. But on the other hand there are French people who collaborate with the fascists and the sacked kitchen helper Joseph (François Négret) informed on the Jews in the school.

In 1990, after the desecration of graves in Carpentras, Lionel Jospin recommended that teachers show this film to pupils, which is an indication of the power of this film, and of the cinema in general. Super stuff.

28 March 2021

Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud | Elevator to the Gallows | Lift to the Scaffold (1958)

There's a fascinating interview first published in the Cahiers des amis de Roger Nimier 6 (1989) in which Marc Dambre interviews Louis Malle, who talks about Ascenseur pour un échafaud. After working as Robert Bresson's assistant he wrote a script which producers weren't interested in. Then his friend Alain Cavalier introduced him to Noël Calef's book: the idea of a person accused of murder in his absence appealed to Malle, who then decided that he wanted to work on a script with Roger Nimier as he liked his novels. This was to be Malle's first film as a director.

The part of Jeanne Moreau as Florence Carala doesn't exist in the book. Then, she had been making a name for herself as a theatre actor and had played in film noirs with Jean Gabin, but it was with Ascenseur that she began to be really recognised. Malle originally saw the film as an 'exercise de style', but thirty years later he saw himself then as an ambitious person trying to come to terms with his love of both Bresson and Hitchcock. Nimier hated the novel, but they continued re-working it until they returned to Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) stuck in the lift of the Carala building after killing Simon Carala (Jean Wall), with the young Louis (Georges Poujouly) killing the German Benckers as his girlfriend Véronique (Yori Bertin) looks on, and Moreau being added to flesh out the story.

Malle would work on the script with Nimier in the evening until midnight and then they'd go and join Antoine Blondin, although he adds that he didn't like getting in a car with Nimier! He describes his former self and friends as 'Happy, pessimistic "dandies", mocking the Bourgeois-Stalinist intelligentsia of the period.' (The interview was translated by Hugo Frey.)

Another interesting fact is that, after watching the film twice, Miles Davis wrote the music – the mournful wailing trumpet – one night between ten in the evening and six in the morning. A number of people speak of how much the music enhances the film, although I'm not too sure: I think it's way too loud.

Christophe Honoré's Les Chansons d'amour | Love Songs (2007)

Christophe Honoré's Les Chansons d'amour is a homage to the Nouvelle Vague, and to Jacques Demy in particular. It's a musical like several of Demy's films, and its structure is in three parts, all with the same titles as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg: Le départ, L'absence and Le retour. The differences are that in Parapluies Guy has to leave Geneviève to join in the war in Algeria, whereas in the contemporary Chansons Julie Pommeraye (Ludivine Sagnier) leaves her lovers Ismaël Bénoliel (Louis Garrel) and Alice (Clotilde Hesme) by her death; and in the return (to a semblance of normality) in Parapluies the pregnant Geneviève is more less forced to marry another person, whereas begins a tentative relationship with a guy: the lycéen Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). 

And those aren't the only references to Demy's films: as Ismaël and Erwann are walking along the street two sailors are at the back of them, which is an allusion to the group of sailors in both Les Demoiselles de Rochefort and Lola; the three sisters in Chansons bear the surname Pommeraye, a reference to the Passage Pommeraye in Demy's Nantes, which features in Lola; Catherine Deneuve plays Geneviève in Parapluies, where they eat the galette des rois and Geneviève is crowned queen, whereas in Chansons it's Jeanne Pommeraye (Chiara Mastroianni), who is Deneuve's real daughter, who is crowned; etc.

Of course, Demy is not the only director associated with the Nouvelle Vague whom Honoré pays homage to: the ménage à trois of Ismaël, Julie and Alice refers, for instance, principally to Truffaut's Jules et Jim and (to a lesser extent) Les deux anglaises et le continent – both based on two autobiographical novels of the same name by Henri-Pierre Roché – but I'll come to literary references proper in the next paragraph;* on the telephone, Julie tells Ismaël: 'je pense à quelque chose tout à coup...tu m'emmerdes' ('I've suddenly thought of something...you piss me off'), which is exactly the same line Angela tells Émile in Godard's Une femme est une femme; etc.

As for literary references, they are all over the film: Ismaël, Julie and Alice read Alison Louise Kennedy, James Salter and Adam Thirlwell in (the same) bed (and inevitably this reminds us of Jean-Paul Léaud reading in bed in Truffaut); if Erwann's books by Edmund White, Hervé Guilbert and Dennis Cooper are indicative of a homosexual content, Ismaël's 'Salinger quand même' is a tacit note that not all Erwann's book collection has the same subject; etc.

This is an intelligent, humorous, delightful feast of a film.

*The famous ménage à trois in Jean Eustache's La Maman et la putain could of course also of note.

27 March 2021

Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void | Soudain le vide (2009)

Many things could be cited as influencing Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void, among them Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake, etc., but perhaps the biggest is psychedelic drugs: this movie is a little like a drug trip in itself, and Noé is to be highly commended for, as is usual with him, pushing the boundaries of what the cinematic experience actually is. If he succeeds in shocking his audience, then all the better as this is his intention. Noé had been wanting to make this film for fifteen years, although financing was the problem. But after his success with the controversial Irréversible the dream became a reality: it's a pity, though, that the film was a commercial failure, but then this, like all of Noé films, is no entertainment. In fact, some may regard it more as an endurance test.

The whole film is seen through the eyes of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a guy who's living in Japan with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and who (in spite of his protests to the contrary) is a drug dealer and a drug addict. When he's tripping on DMT his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) comes to visit him and ask him about The Tibetan Book of the Dead he's lent him, which Oscar hasn't yet finished but is enjoying. But at the present time he has to meet Victor (Olly Alexander) to sell him some drugs, and he's waiting for Alex at a bar called The Void.

Alex walks towards the bar with Oscar, on the way telling him about his experience with datura. But he doesn't like the bar and waits outside while Oscar goes in. Inside, all Victor can say is he's sorry, and suddenly the police appear, Oscar dives into a toilet cubicle but it refuses to flush the drugs and the cops are hammering on the door. Still stoned, Oscar yells he has a gun and will use it, which causes the cops to shoot through the door and he collapses dead in a heap. And that's where Oscar's real trip begins.

What we have from then on is an out-of-body experience as Oscar sees what happens after his death, his spirit going over the past events of his life, and Oscar is even able to penetrate other people's minds, read their dreams.

Oscar's parents died in a car crash when he and his sister were young, and although they were sent to different children's homes they were very close and vowed never to separate. While living in Japan Oscar has managed, through selling drugs and through selling his body to Victor's mother, to pay for Linda's flight to join him, and she finds a job in a strip club.

After Oscar's death his dealer Bruno (Ed Spear), in fear of Japan's draconian drug laws, gets rid of his drugs and Alex takes to living on the streets. Linda is in a relationship with her boss Mario (Masato Tanno), gets pregnant and has an abortion. Oscar experiences his mother breast-feeding him, sees Linda and Alex going to a love hotel, sees inside his sister's vagina, sees sperm uniting with ovum, and via a process of false memory experiences his own birth.

Enter the Void isn't a difficult film to understand once the pieces of the jigsaw are put together, although it's quite a mind-blowing visual experience.

26 March 2021

Leos Carax's Holy Motors (2012)

The world's a stage. Leos Carax himself appears in Holy Motors in a more-than-Hitchcockian cameo as he enters a door in a wall made to look like trees and we find ourselves in a movie theatre: from the beginning the illusion of reality is broken, appearance is revealed as a sham, as it will again and again with the Chinese boxes of this film which on occasion refers to other films, as indeed it refers to itself as a film.

And at the beginning we also see a few moving shots by the inventor of chronophotography, Etienne-Jules Marey, from which we see the recreation of movement. Brought up to present day, this film – and film of course is playing with reality – shows Mr Oscar (Denis Levant) playing with reality by acting out ten other characters, changing into them in a huge stretch limo which has a changing room and is driven by his chauffeuse Céline (Édith Scob), who sometimes announces to him when it's time to play his next role, for which Mr Oscar appears to be commissioned. The back of the limo serves as his dressing room, where he changes costumes, changes makeup, changes his age and on the second occasion superficially changes his sex. The titles I give him are taken from the beginning of the credit list at the end of the film, and are in chronological order:

Le Banquier. Not needing to change clothes as he talks on the phone, Mr Oscar (another reference to films) talks about bank details as Céline drives him to his second 'rendez-vous'.

La Mendiante. This is where Mr Oscar begs on the Pont Alexandre III dressed as a Romani beggar woman with a shawl round him.

L'O.S. de la Motion Capture. O.S. is an abbreviation of 'ouvrier spécialisé', and here we see Mr Oscar cavort, is dance the right word?, and join with a female in a vaguely sexual way.

M. Merde. Monsieur Merde, the one-eyed anarchist – already met in Carax's contribution to Tokyo ! (2008) –  inhabits the sewer and comes out to eats flowers and pester people, such as when he causes havoc to a film shoot in Père Lachaise. Interest is shown in incorporating Merde into the shoot, but he kidnaps Kay (Eve Mendes) and takes her into the sewers with him, although she seems completely unconcerned, indicating that she knows this is just a film. And, contrary to expectations, Merde covers her up as a Muslim woman (even the face, apart from the eyes), strips naked with an improbable permanent erection but does nothing.

L'Accordéoniste. Mr Oscar leads as accordionist in a church, followed by a number of other players.

Le Pére. Mr Oscar is a father talking to his daughter Angéle (Jeanne Disson), who's just been to a party. Kylie Minogue is heard singing 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' in the background. Angéle says she's had a great evening at first, although she's lying (like films are lying, like, oh...) and has just spent the time in the bathroom, and Mr Oscar rebukes her lack of confidence and tells her she'll have to live with herself as punishment.

Le Tueur. For reasons unknown, Mr Oscar is called upon to kill Théo. He visits the warehouse where he is and cuts him in the jugualar with a knife and then proceeds to make Théo look like just like he looks. But while he's doing this Théo partly revives and stabs Mr Oscar in the same way, and then dies. Mr Oscar too is obviously dying and staggers towards the limo, but Céline drags him there and he recovers without a scratch to his dressing room: of course, because his knifing was an illusion that Céline wanted to prolong to the end.

Le Tué. From killer to killed (or not). After being visited by a heavily disguised Michel Piccoli (but we'll skip that one) Mr Oscar shoots  dead someone much the same as himself outside Le Fouquet's, then is himself killed by the person's bodyguards. Céline interrupts and takes him back to the limo where he recovers completely. 

Le Mourant. Mr Oscar is dressed as a rich, dying old man and is joined by his niece Léa (Élise Lhomeau), and in this story there's a talk of life and death similar to Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, Oscar (as M Vogan) breathes his last breath, gets up, thanks Léa and goes back to the limo.

(Before his last rendez-vous/performance Mr Oscar meets a female actor (Kylie Minogue) with whom he's had a relationship, and they go up the deserted La Samaritaine, which was once a department store. Kylie – who looks perhaps a little like Patricia (Jean Seberg) in Godard's À bout de souffle – then breaks into song like Marianne (Anna Karina) in Godard's Pierrot le fou. She then, with her partner who's just joined her, jumps to her death. Mr Oscar squeals at the suicide act, rejoins the limo and moves to his final appointment. We know that the suicides were in Carax's film, but were they also intended as fantasies within the film?)

L'Homme au Foyer. Céline drops him off, gives him his money for the day, drives off and Mr Oscar rejoins his family home with his wife and two daughters. We only see him with two chimpanzees.

As an epilogue Céline takes the car back to the depot, 'Holy Motors', and puts on the same mask that she, Édith Scob (as Christiane) wore in 1960 in Georges Franju's Yeux sans visage: yes, that's not an error. And then the motors talk amongst themselves about their lot. Disneyfication?

A major film in the history of cinema.

25 March 2021

Bruno Dumont's Coincoin et les Z'Inhumains : Episode 4 : L'Apocalypse | Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (2018)

The final episode really gets into slapstick gear, with Van der Weyden claiming it's the apocalypse, the end of the world, and finally meeting his 'clown' (= clone, but pronounced 'cloon') and being far from happy with the fact. There appears to be body-snatching and Eve's sister Aurélie (Lisa Hartmann) re-appears as a zombie bearly able to make a sound.

The finale takes place in Coincoin's father's yard, with Van der Weyden facing his 'clown' (or is it the other way round, as all the 'clowns' of course look identical to the original?) and waving a gun. The immigrants enter and hold up their hands, there are a few moments of mock-tension, and it's really the immigrants who save the day by clapping. It's as if the whole village is in the yard, and everyone sings along to the tune of 'Cause I Knew', which Aurélie sang at the church funeral service towards the end of the first episode of P'tit Quinquin. An amazing film which is every bit as absurd as P'tit Quinquin.

Gaspar Noé's Love (2015)

For some reason, Gaspar Noé's Love caused something of a stir, with the word 'provocateur' being bandied around everywhere. Well, there's nothing new about Noé being labelled a provocateur, and there's nothing new about real sex in an 'arthouse' film. Come to that, telling a story backwards – as Noé did in Irréversible – is not new, although in Love we know the end in the beginning.

Murphy (Karl Glusman) is married to Omi (Klara Kristin) and has a son called, er, Gaspar. Murphy is also the name Noé's mother was born with: does this suggest some autobiographical element? Well, Murphy is a film student – there are posters of The Birth of a Nation, M and Salò on his wall – and he's interested in making a film about 'sentimental sexuality', containing the basic fluids of life: 'blood, sperm and tears': he missed out sweat, but that's in here too. Really, what we have here is kind of modernised version of an old-fashioned love story, only without a happy end.

Murphy is really worried about his ex-girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock), who has gone missing and he and her mother fear that she has killed herself. We never find out if she has, but the film is a two-hour trip through Murphy's mind, into the past which led up to the situation he now finds himself in.

It's important to say that Murphy isn't really a nice guy: an American in Paris, he's extremely self-centred, jealous, pretentious, violent, lying, and of course wants everything to go the way he plans. It's OK for him to have casual sex in a bathroom at a party, but he becomes drunk and wildly jealous that Electra is, he believes, having sex with an art gallery owner – Noé himself in a wig – and attacks him. When he's told he should calm down and be more French, meaning that both he and Electra should have sex with other people but still keep together, they visit a club échangiste but he – you guessed it – gets jealous.

The crunch comes after Omi, Murphy and Electra have a threesome, after they've exchanged fluids that is. Omi by chance lives in a neighbouring flat, which is how they got together, and one day when Electra is not there she has a word  with Murphy over the balcony, invites him in and the inevitable happens. It's not inevitable that Omi should get pregnant though, but that's what it comes to: Electra taken off (maybe dead) and Murphy crying in the bath while he hugs little Gaspar. Yep, in spite of the huge helpings of sex (including cum shots), love is definitely the subject.

24 March 2021

Bruno Dumont's Coincoin et les Z'Inhumains : Episode 3 : D'la glu, d'la glu, d'la glu !!! | Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (2018)

Van der Weyden and Carpentier visit the local headquarters of the far right party Le Bloc to get the affichage sauvage (flyposting) taken down, but are talked in circles by a guy and his clone (taken by the cops to be brothers). Then after Carpentier has turned the car upside down again with his two-wheel stunt they visit Jenny's uncle, who says he's been attacked by a seagull: Van der Weyden dismisses this as only happening in the cinema (an obvious reference to Hitchcock's The Birds) and says they have 'd'autres chats à fouetter' (other fish to fry: Coincoin is gloriously deliberately laden with clichés, verbal or otherwise).

Unfortunately, Coincoin himself is one of the fish, although when the weird cops (often dubbed as crazy or drunk by locals) return with a dead seagull they try to cop Coincoin for driving without a licence, although Jenny's in the passenger seat and tells them that Coincoin hasn't (quite yet, by a few centimetres) driven out of private property onto the road. So Coincoin and Jenny then walk, pausing on the way for something the viewer can't view, although there are a few cries (of pleasure, probably) from Jenny. (And later, Coincoin's ex-girlfriend Eve, or is it her clone (?) appears on the scene to snog Coincoin.)

Most of the rest of this episode is taken up by the cloning of Van der Weyden, who initially doesn't take too well to the experience. Hereafter, the film goes into slapstick mode, with both Van der Weydens trying to hide from each other, really baffling, for instance, Carpentier, who is as usual driving his boss but at the same time talking to him on a phone he can't see his boss carrying, so this must be a fake? Everyone is confused.

23 March 2021

Bruno Dumont's Coincoin et les Z'Inhumains : Episode 2 : Les Z'Inhumains | Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (2018)

Coincoin finds another girl, farmgirl Jenny (Alexia Depret), although he's still bitter about losing Eve, telling her that he loves her infinitely and he knows that she feels the same about him too: this seems a strange thing for a such a young person to be saying, especially from such a pugnacious looking character, but I suppose that shows just how prejudiced I am.

And speaking of prejudice, Coincoin is caught flyposting adverts for Le Bloc, a party resembling Marine Le Pen's extreme-wing party Rassemblement National, essentially a renaming of the dreaded Front National. Here Dumont is obviously taking a dig at the working-class Chtis now voting fascist whereas they'd formerly have voted for a socialist party: an indication of what's happening now to France and a number of other European countries. One irony here is that Van der Weyden, far from being a supporter of the immigrants in their bidonville, has previously shown his disdain for them. A second irony is that the immigrants seen much saner, and much more sympathetic, than most of the whites.

Van der Weyden also has to take a dig at the clergymen in a graveyard by mentioning paedophilia. He seems to get his just deserts when a dollop of black gunge falls on his head a few moments later.

And speaking of black gunge, the bizarre Dany Lebleu is the second person to have been cloned, and at the end of this episode Eve gives birth to herself and both of them walk towards Jenny on her harvesting machine.

Bruno Dumont's Coincoin et les Z'Inhumains : Episode 1 : Noir ch'est noir | Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (2018)

After Bruno Dumont's four-part TV series P'tit Quinquin (2014), set on the Côte d'Opale, comes another four-part one in the same area. Now, though, P'tit Quinquin (Alane Delahaye) has grown into adolescence and his former girlfriend Eve (Lucy Caron) has taken up with the tomboyish Corinne (Priscilla Benoist). He's now called Coincoin ('coin-coin' meaning 'quack' as in the duck sound). The series would obviously be missing a great deal if it weren't for the incompetent cops: le commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) is still twitching as much as ever, and his hopeless assistant, he of the wild driving (especially on two wheels) Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) add much comedy to an already crazy script: gone, at least for the moment, is the Bressonian Dumont of yore.

And as before, as this is Dumont near his own Chtis territory there is self-derision, a Chtis making fun of the stereotyped Chtis: idiocy, bad driving, weird language, homophobia, racism, etc.

The main difference is it's not murders that are happening but cow shit type lumps are falling from the sky, and scientific evidence discovers that they are not of human or animal origin, if fact they're not of this world. One guy, (Leleu (Christophe Verheeck)), dressed as an eighteenth-century soldier (don't ask why) is the first victim of a snake-like monster that produces a bright light that gets inside the soldier, causing his belly to swell and him to give birth to a clone of himself, dressed in the same clothes. The clone gets in Leueu's car and drives off. Noir ch'est noir, i n'y a plus d'echpoir.

22 March 2021

Olivier Asseyas's Demonlover (2002)

I can fully sympathise with critics of Olivier Asseyas's Demonlover saying they don't understand the film, it's trying to be hip but without substance, it's like some of his other films in that it merely depicts a world of wealth with its international (first class) travel, five star hotels, five star restaurants, etc. And if this is to be perceived as a criticism of capitalism-gone-mad, why can't we see that?

To me, Asseyas is largely in love with the world of the super wealthy he shows us, but at the same time wants people – rich or poor – to admire his work. He does classy, international films, he does difficult films (such as this one). Is he a great director, an auteur? I've only seen Irma Vep and Personal Shopper before, so I'm not one to judge by comparing this with several of his other movies, although 'great' is certainly not a word I'd use for any of the three films I've seen. Interesting, definitely.

Diane (Connie Nielson) is first seen spiking her sleeping boss Karen (Dominique Reyond)'s Evian water, in the first-class airplane toilet: she works for Volf but is also a spy for Mangatronics. The injection puts Karen out for a while so Diane is told by Hervé (Charles Berling) that she has to negotiate with a Japanese anime firm, which is introducing 3D hentai, although Elise (Chloë Sevigny) remains faithful to her former boss Karen and under her breath calls the ice-cold Karen a connasse ('cunt', but primly called 'bitch' in the sub-titles).

Then there's the deal with Demonlover, whose representative is the rather eccentric Elaine (Gina Gershon), who on arriving at the Paris airport is wearing a tacky tourist tee-shirt and asks Elise to score her some pot. Demonlover is really a front for the Hell Fire Club, which traffics in real masochism to its slaves on demand via sadists' credit cards through the dark web.

After a bungled robbery in which Diane tries to find Demonlover's files for Mangatronics, Elaine interrupts her, there's a fight to the death, Elaine dies but previously unconscious Diane wakes up where she wasn't. She manages to break through to the Hell Fire Club, but she knows too much already. She's lost the power game and it's up to others to dominate her now. Elise is also a double agent working for Demonlover, takes control of the power Karen once had and leads the Irma Vep/Emma Peel leather-clad lookalike into enslavement Hell Fire Club-style.

I don't think Asseyas quite got everything into place and there are certainly a few questions to be asked here, such as the timing of the flashbacks in this jigsaw, but then what film can ever be perfect? Although this is far from that.

21 March 2021

Dominique Cabrera's Corniche Kennedy (2016)

I don't really think there's a great deal to say about this film in terms of plot because a large amount of the film is taken up by visual shots of people jumping from increasing heights on the Corniche Kennedy slightly to the south of central Marseille: these are essentially young males and females from the cités to the north of Marseille, no hopers, educational losers who believe that not to have a 'proper' job is far better than having a bum job. Therefore, having no chance of obtaining academic qualifications, they spend their time smoking cannabis by the Mediterranean in this relatively small area.

Suzanne (Lola Créton) is a great exception, although she manages not to be: she lives in a comfortable family in a house overlooking the area of the Corniche where the gang hangs out, and is fascinated by their activities. By mistake, the gang suspect her of stealing from them, but she is only taking photos of them diving. Challenged to dive too, she is soon in with the leader Mehdi (Alain Demaria) and his friend Marco (Kamel Kadri), much to her mother's chagrin.

Marco is a drug runner surveyed by the police, and Awa (Aïssa Maïga) and Gianni (Moussa Maaskri) in particular, and as Medhi is involved to some extent she becomes involved too. It's not exactly a Jules et Jim situation, although Suzanne is deeply attached to both men.

Visually, quite a spectacular film, although this is not Robert Quédiguian.

Sólveig Anspach's Lulu femme nu | Lulu in the Nude (2013)

Only after the film had long finished did I begin to make analogies between Lulu femme nu and other stories, mainly in other films but notably in one novel: Kate Chopin's The Awakening. But this novel, although feminist like Lulu femme nu, belongs – much like Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan – to a very different time in history, a time when freedom, desertion of a spouse, was just not possible: suicide (by a bullet as in Elvira Madigan or just walking out to sea as in The Awakening) was the only possibility.

But in the twenty-first century Lulu (Karin Viard) runs out of the sea – which must have been very cold for the time of year – naked to her new lover Charles (Bouli Lanners), her nakedness symbolic (like her losing her wedding ring) of the freedom which is now beginning to dawn on her, like a release from the slavery which years of housework have imposed on her, deadening her life, making it impossible to express herself. She is beginning the relatively long process of becoming her own person: even the name of the place she's come to and miserably failed to find a job mainly due to lack of confidence, lack of knowledge of who she is – Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie – distinctly alludes to a cross, maybe a turning in life?.

Fêtes foraines, or fairs, are often used to different purposes in films. In contrast to the irony of the violence of funfair scenes in, for instance, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train or  Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, we have one of the most famous kisses in French film history: between Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan in Marcel Carné's Quai des brumes – itself incidentally an adaptation of Mac Orlan's novel, which this film is of Étienne Davodeau's BD novel, also of the same name. In the fête foraine Lulu has a go on the auto-tamponneuses (dodgems) and by chance meets Charles again, before they've really got together, and he  returns her the mobile phone he originally casually tossed away (again symbolically).

This still doesn't bring them together though, and it's a little while before they kiss and go to bed. Of course, it can't last and the penniless Lulu, who's had her credit card gobbled up by an ATM, has to hitch home, although she's knows that she's already been spied on by her teenage daughter Morgane (Solène Rigot) and sister Cécile (Marie Payen). But she doesn't arrive home yet, she still has plenty to learn about reliving. Oddly enough, perhaps, the lessons come from Marthe (Claude Gensac in her penultimate film) after Lulu steals her handbag and then immedaitely returns it, telling Marthe it's the first time she's ever done such a thing. Marthe says she can see that, and Lulu stays at her house for a few days, looking after Marthe and hearing about her 'grosse connerie' of sleeping with her best friend Yvette Merle's husband. They get on really well.

Lulu takes to visiting a nearby café – where we get a brief view of Étienne Davodeau himself, and where Corinne Masiero may not have the same authority as Capitaine Marleau, but the character she plays owns the place and rules it with a rod of iron. Lulu is affected by the way she bosses the server Virginie (Nina Meurisse) around, and on learning that Virginie has been there four years tells her she's wasting her youth away: Lulu now knows what she's talking about. She leads Virginie back to Marthe's, asking her if she minds the girl coming in. Marthe just asks Virginie if she knows Simone de Beauvoir's first name, to which Virginie naturally replies 'Simone', which means she's supplied the password for admission! And soon the three of them go to the café, Marthe complains that their beers are too warm, the owner starts arguing with them, Marthe very loudly shouts her down, and Virginie howls along too, which is of course invigorating as she is also howling herself out of a job and into a real life.

To cut a long story short, as a mother of three children Lulu feels she has a duty to return home. She does so with Marthe and they wait for her husband to come. When he does he hits Lulu, which knocks her head on the door jamb and she falls to the floor unconscious. When Marthe sees this she has a heart attack from which she doesn't recover. But Lulu does recover and her brutal husband is given until the next day to get out of her life. Which of course allows Charles back in.

Maybe in my summing up paragraph I too have been brutal, as this makes the film sound a little farsical or contrived: it isn't, this is a very successful feminist statement, and also at times a really humorous work.

20 March 2021

Christophe Honoré's Les Malheurs de Sophie | Sophies's Misfortunes (2016)

Les Malheurs de Sophie is loosely based on the Comtesse de Ségur's first two books in a trilogy: the book in the title (1859) and Les petites filles modèles (1866). Three feature films and one television film had previously been made of it, it's something which many French people remember from childhood, although Honoré gives a more modern twist to it.

This isn't the same twist he made Madame de La Fayette's La Princesse de Clèves as La Belle Personne, which of course was in modern dress and intended as a reply to Sarkozy's crass remarks on the lack of relevance to the present day of the book though: it's set in the period when it was written, although it contains more of a modern outlook towards children, and the music is in tune with the times, particularly in the final song.

And far from being a children's film, this suits all ages. Eight-year-old Sophie lives with her parents in a castle in France with relatives from the Fleurville family, her mother being Madame de Réan (Golshifteh Farahani) although we don't see her father. Sophie (Caroline Grant), in spite of her elaborate clothing, is something of a tomboy, or at least someone who likes to experiment with things, play jokes and take things apart: for instance when her father sends her a doll she pushes its eyes into its skull, then melts off its feet in boiling water; she gives her cousins undrinkable water as tea with chalk as sugar; steals the goldfish and cuts them up to 'feed' to her doll; etc.

She tries to 'corrupt' her more straitlaced cousins into mischief with mixed results, such as catching a squirrel and bringing it back to the château: for practical purposes, another trick that brings animals into the present time is that this is in fact a cartoon squirrel, and later they'll be cartoon hedgehogs and a cartoon frog.

It's on a trip to America that her mother dies, her father hastily remarries in order not to have a motherless child, but then he too dies and she returns to England not to her original château but to the home of Madame Fichini (Muriel Robin), who is a sadistic tyrant who believes in whipping children who don't toe the line. Luckily her enlightened Fleurville relatives contrive to take Sophie in while the monster is in Italy, which is much to everyone's agreement, especially as this is where Sophie gets to stay.