28 February 2020

Juan Buñuel's Au rendez-vous de la mort joyeuse | Expulsion of the Devil (1972)

Au rendez-vous de la mort joyeuse is the second film by Jean Buñuel, Luis Buñuel's son, who also co-scripted the screenplay. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call it a cult film, and it is a highly accomplished poltergeist movie. Marc (Jean-Marc Bory) and Françoise (Françoise Fabian) move into a long-deserted and isolated manor house with their young son and older daughter Sophie (Yasmine Dahm), who is pubescent. And her pubescence is the essential problem here, especially when anything relating to sex matters is concerned: snails mating, her parents indicating their love for one another, etc.

Sophie seems externally to be unaware of the problems she is causing, although they are great. Glasses sway about on a table, the table hurls itself through the window, a moving fridge nearly traps a man, to the extent that a television company offers Marc a considerable sum of money to make an anonymous documentary on the house while the family stays elsehere. And that is where the real destruction begins, with Sophie secretly returning to watch the camera crew. Beretti (Gérard Depardieu) plunges his hand into boiling water, Péron (Jean-Pierre Darras) is visited by Sophie in the night and ends up covered in dirt, the crew's car and van are burned, and Beretti kills the visiting père d'Aval and his young troupe of girls stifle Beretti as he tries to drive the girls from the grounds of the house. It is as though most people within Sophie's circle are bewitched or in some way affected by her. A very strange and fascinating film.

Octave Mirbeau: Le Journal d'une femme de chambre | The Diary of a Chambermaid (1900)

Octave Mirbeau's Le Journal d'une femme de chambre (1900) is perhaps well known not directly as a result of the author's book, but via Buñuel's 1964 cinematic adaptation of it, although the film is only loosely based on the book. Mirbeau's Le Journal d'une femme de chambre – a wonderful sprawling, digressive work of 400 pages – contains many memories of the maid writer Célestine, of a large number of other families she has worked for, and the details of their avarice, the sexual assaults she has undergone, the insults, the denials, the slavery, the fact that she has no one to complain to because – automatically, she is a powerless entity in a world where the rich always win. This isn't the place to argue about how much or how little the situation has changed today, but it's interesting to reflect that Célestine, as she realises, in a sense stands in a kind of mid-position between the rich and the poor because she has direct experience of both poverty and wealth.

Buñuel's film is more linear than Mirbeau's book, which might at first appear a little odd, but then both Buñuel and Mirbeau are anarchists. Nevertheless, we can very easily tweak out a general story from this book: Célestine, a maid, arrives at the house of the Lanlaire family, one which owes much of its wealth to ill-gotten gains, and she discovers a horrendous world. Her mistress dominates the family, especially her husband (who makes pathetically sexually frustrated overtures to Célestine), and only very reluctantly parts with any money. The place is engulfed in misery.

But the gardener Joseph, who has been with the family for fifteen years and is highly respected by his employer, will wield a very heavy influence on Célestine. An anti-Dréfusard, in other words an anti-Semite, Joseph is an odious individual who is not only cruel to animals but may well have raped a young girl and killed her. Célestine is well aware of this, as well as Joseph's theft of the Lanlaire silver, but all the same goes on to join Joseph in his thriving café in Cherbourg.

Mirbeau criticises religion, the bourgeoisie, the class system, the nature of work itself, politics in even its most narrow sense, and comes up with a hugely powerful weapon against general right-wing enslavement of the vast majority of the population. This book is a deadly political weapon.

27 February 2020

Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution | Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1965)

Alphaville  is the only science fiction film that Jean-Luc Godard made, and yet it's both more and less than a sci-fi movie. It is also something of a noirish detective story filmed in 1960s Paris, although there are hints of German silent cinema with bits of Brian Aldiss's sci-fi novel Non-Stop and Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend; the subtitle refers to Peter Cheyney's Lemmy Caution books, whose film adaptations Eddy Constantine had previously starred in. Here though, Caution calls himself Ivan Johnson who writes for Figaro-Pravda (one of Godard's jokes) when he enters the dystopian world of Alphaville, which is run by a dictatorial computer called Alpha 60, whose purpose is to create a place where emotion doesn't exist, and is constantly changing Alphaville's dictionary, reducing it to exclude any words which express emotion: obvious shades of Orwell's Newspeak.

Caution is a detective who aims to kill Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon), the creator of the computer and who used to be Leonard Nosferatu (another of Godard's jokes), and also to destroy the computer itself. In a world where sex is reduced to a natural function with no emotional feelings involved, and where any members of Alphaville who register emotions are interrogated and killed if found to be 'illogical', Caution meets Braun's daughter Natacha (Anna Karina) and falls in love with her, although she doesn't understand the meaning of the word.

As in all conventional films (although this is of course far removed from conventional), Caution achieves his aims and retreats from the wrecked Alphaville with Natacha, whose last hesitant words are 'Je vous aime'. Yes, it's a love story too.

24 February 2020

Jean-Claude Guiguet's Les Belles Manières | Fine Manners (1978)

Jean-Claude Guiguet is a new name to me, and this is the first of only four films he ever made: he had difficulties raising money for them. This is an austere, almost Bressonian, work of significance, and I regret that Guiguet is a very little known name, and that his films are so hard to find – in fact this seems to be the only one freely available.

Yonng Camille (Emmanuel Lemoine) comes to Paris for the first time to work with the divorced bourgeois Hélène Courtray (Hélène Surgère), helping out with household tasks and caring in so far as he can for her son Pierre (Hervé Duhamel), about the same age but just living in his room as he has done for two entire years, never venturing out.

When Hélène leaves for a day and night he talks briefly with Pierre, who makes it clear that he's dependent on him and in a sense seems to see Camille as a kind of saviour. Camille finds the emotions too complicated. He has watched Hélène masterfully play the piano, and in her absence tries it out, only to emit a few repetitive notes. He sets fire to the bedsheets hanging to dry, and is next found in prison for arson. Hélène wants to free him, but that night he is homosexually attacked by one of the inmates in the same cell, and is found to have hanged himself by the wardens the next morning.

These are the bones of the story, although for Guiguet problems are invisible, and he compares his film to Chabrol's Marxist Cérémonie. The comparisons with this film are evident: the working-class, partly literate Camille moves into a middle-class home and it surrounded by the trappings of that existence: classical music, books, a world of learning.

On one of his quite rare walks in Paris, Camille bumps into his sister Domino (Martine Simonet), who having earned very little as a punch card operator now makes a living as a prostitute in Montmartre.  And on leaving, Camille gets beaten up by yobs.

Hélène is sugar-sweet and just as poisonous. Is it really so surprising to learn that Camille has without doubt been harbouring frustrations which could explode at any time? Rhetorical question. Brilliant film.

23 February 2020

Jacque Audiard's De rouille et d'os | Rust and Bone (2012)

Jacques Audiard's film is an adaptation of a collection of the Canadian writer Carig Davison's short stories entitled Rust and Bone. It stars the penniless Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who takes his young son Sam from Belgium to the south of France to his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero), who puts him up and Ali finds a job as a bouncer in a night club. It's there that Ali interrupts an altercation between Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) and a man, drives her home in her car as she's in no state to drive, and just leaves his phone number just in case.

Months later he's surprised that she contacts him, and in fact it's a matter of some desperation: she was a killer whale tamer but has had an accident in which she's left in a wheelchair with stumps for legs and is suicidal. Ali gives her hope, takes her to the sea where she develops a new enthusiasm for life. Ali becomes a security officer, begins a casual sexual relationship with Stéphanie while he makes money on the side by illegal boxing, which worries Stéphanie as she's developing a serious interest in him.

The crunch comes in a night club in which Ali disappears with a girl for a one-night stand, leaving Stéphanie to go through the motions of being chatted up by an oafish guy who obviously (unllike Ali) doesn't accept her handicap, doesn't accept her as a sexual being.

In the end Ali and Stéphanie both make it as a couple, although both have saved each other: Ali has turned her back into a woman, and Stéphanie has saved a man in danger of drowning (as Sam nearly did physically) in his own existential nothingness. (The OP? (opé?) messages greatly humanise the story, showing (as if it were needed) the potential modern importance of the mobile phone to cinema, which has in some ways destroyed the old-fashioned plots.)

22 February 2020

Brigitte Salino: Bernard-Marie Koltés (2009)

This is a major biography about a major writer, although he was a playwright (and is now an internationally translated playwright), but still international fame has eluded him. It could well be that the, er, 'meanings' of his plays have escaped people, although meaning is not what he aimed at: why does everything have to 'mean' in order for people to understand?

In the photo on the front page we see Bernard-Marie Koltés walking towards the camera, towards Elsa Ruiz, a woman he felt comfortable with, in Montmartre (where he is buried), walking to have a conversation with her in the Café des deux Moulins, now made famous by the film Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain. He's wearing a Burning Spear tee-shirt (he loved reggae and wanted to be black), and appears to have completely empty pockets. In fact, an overgrown street urchin?

Bernard-Marie Koltés lived on the edge. Right from the start he had no intention of working for anyone, full-time and for an extended time, that is: that would have meant trading his mind for a business, and there is no way he wanted to live like that: that would be a kind of enslavement. Koltés  just wanted to write, and wasn't too concerned about living in poverty, living on the outside of the bourgeois society he, as a Marxist, detested.

In those days (he was born in 1948 and died of AIDS in 1989) he kept things quiet but not secret, and lived on the edge of constant danger, visiting gay cruising sites frequently and perhaps thriving on the element of danger. No doubt his life is in his plays, the tensions, the constant threats, the sex trade, the drugs trade, maybe he prostituted himself for the money or for the sheer knowledge of the experience, trade as a form of surviving in life, who knows as there's little information given, only suggestions.

Salino believes he left six major plays behind: La Nuit avant les forêts, Combats de nègres et de chiens, Quai ouest, Dans la solitude des champs de coton, Le Retour au désert and Roberto Zucco. But there are many more books published by Minuit, including a large one of his letters, which this very informative book makes use of.

Luc Besson's The Fifth Element | Le troisième élément (1997)

This big-budget, big star and action-packed film is by no means the kind I normally have time for, although as I'd previously seen and appreciated Luc Besson's Léon (1994), I thought it would be churlish of me to dismiss it when the opportunity to view presented itself. Flush from three successes, Le Grand Bleu (1988), Nikita (1990) and Leon, Besson was in a position to have the support of producers to come up with an expensive blockbuster, which turned out to be very successful, although it's perhaps, as we're talking about the relatively recent history, and good idea to mention a word of the Cinéma du Look, which like many overarching lazy expressions (such as Nouvelle vague) applies more to a style or series of styles than a movement.

First of all, Raphaël Bassan, in La Revue du Cinéma in 1989, gave three French directors as representing the Cinéma du look: Luc Besson, Jean-Jaquess Beineix and Leos Caros. Post-Nouvelle vague, narrative now took a back seat as look triumphed over substance, the visual took over from the intellectual, young alienated film characters were said to represent the marginalised youth of François Mitterrand's France. Bassan saw Beineix's Diva (1981) as the first postmodern film. It's generally thought the Cinéma du look ended in the mid-1990s, so The Third Element falls a little outside that category.

But then The Third Element, I would say, falls outside any category. It is considered to fall within the science fiction genre, and the mid-twenty-third century setting, the flying cars in what looks like an ultra-modern New York, the space rockets, etc, give credence to this. And yet at the same time it also seems to pre-figure The Da Vinci code, and even old-fashioned Hollywood love stories.

Most of the main characters – Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), LeeLoo (Milla Jovovich) and the priest (Ian Holm) – save this from disaster. The first half in general looks very good and there are some brilliant visual displays, although the increasingly manic Zorg (Gary Oldham), the annoying rubbery creatures and the even more annoyingly camp Chris Tucker didn't quite manage to induce sleep in the second half. One really odd thing though: the telephones in 2263  are much more outdated than those of today. I still wouldn't have liked to miss this film all the same.

9 February 2020

Bertrand Blier's Tenue de soirée | Ménage / Evening Dress (1986)

Bertrand Blier's films are of course a little out of the usual. This is a weird film in a sense, although bearing in mind Blier's films in general it should perhaps be accepted as par for the course. Much like in Les Valseuses we have a trio, but as Patrick Dewaere had killed himself four years previously Blier had to find Depardieu and Miou-Miou another member of the gang – hence, er, Michel Blanc.

Bob (Depardieu) stumbles upon a violent conversation in a bar or club between Monique (Miou-Miou) and her partner Antoine (Blanc), in which she rails against her poverty-stricken life – they are later found to live in a wreck of a tiny caravan – and the fact that she's not had a bath in a long time.

Along comes an inferior knight in less than shining armour in the shape of Bob, who slaps Monique to the floor and hurls a large sum of money at her. A few moments later Bob is lavishing them with more money and telling them that it's easy to get. Er, how?

In no time Bob has introduced Monique and Antoine to the twilight world of the burglary of mansions, and he has a nose (yes, of course we think of Cyrano) for where the upper middle-class stash their money. With a little initial reluctance, Bob has two protégés, although Antoine the bald-headed weed will take some time to come round.

Monique is smitten and sees Bob as her entrée to a new world, one of living well above the poverty line. Unfortunately her attempts to coax Bob away from her partner with her sexual charms leave him cold: he's had loads of women, but got bored, and now he's in love with Antoine.

Not without Monique's disagreement Bob manages to claim Antoine's ass, but the trouble (for Monique) is that Bob really likes anal sex, so Monique is side-lined, and in the end isn't even allowed in on a threesome. She rebels and is tempted away from the Bob/Antoine duo by Pedro (Michel Creton), whose place on the Costa del Sol is the decisive factor. Of course, she doesn't realise that Bob has just sold her into Pedro the pimp's prostitute ring.

So Bob lives with Antoine in the latter's hell, where Bob treats him as a wife to do the cooking and household chores while he enjoys himself with other men. Until Antoine explodes at the abuse he's going through and Bob buys female clothes for Antoine and takes him to a gay night club: disaster, as Monique is there touting for custom, Antoine becomes a killer and is close to killing Bob.

Unfortunately the film falls flat on its face at the end when the trio all become prostitutes, with Bob and Antoine as transvestites. It's a pity, as this film has potentially a great deal to say about  gender and sexuality change in general.

Robert Bresson's Une femme douce | A Gentle Woman (1969)

Une femme douce is based on Dostoevski's short story 'Krotkaya' ('A Meek Creature' (1876)). 'J. S.', in his article 'Doute et certitude« Une femme douce » in Esprit (Nouvelle Serie 386  (11) (November 1969)) quotes from Nathalie Sarraute's Le Planétarium (1959): 'On n'a pas encore découvert ce langage qui pourrait exprimer d'un seul coup ce qu'on perçoit en un clin d'oeil : tout un être et ses myriades de petits mouvements, surpris dans quelques mot, un rire, un geste' ('We haven't yet discovered the language to immediately express what we can see in the blink of an eye: a whole being and his/her multitudinous tiny movements, caught in a few words, a laugh, a gesture.'). This is what Robert Bresson tries to convey in his films.

Une femme douce is Bresson's ninth film, and his first in (admittedly subdued) colour. It begins in a somewhat un-Bressonian manner in that there is the noise of Paris at night, the rush of traffic, and so on. This rush, this crazy traffic movement is repeated on the few occasions that the television set is switched on in this film, but otherwise it's pure Bresson: little movement, little speech, few emotions revealed.

The generally poker-faced movements of the protagonists – Elle (Dominique Sanda) and Lui (Guy Frangin) – betray virtually no emotions and the viewer is forced to guess their psychology through the opaqueness. Right from the beginning we learn that the wife has killed herself by jumping from the flat balcony, her shawl floating slowly downwards as if in some kind of symbolic fashion.

Lui is then left to tell the story in linear fashion, or rather his own inevitably biased story as he pieces things together, revealing a tale of excuses, missed moments in which he could possibly have saved the relationship, but perhaps above all displaying a tale feminists could easily attack him for.

On one occasion Elle accuses Lui of using her as a kind of sales proposition: so the viewer assumes, poor female student orphan with virtually no money pawning her treasures to a pawnbroker who makes his money from exploiting the poor. And the man is attracted to her, takes pity on her, and asks her to marry him, which she accepts. And apparently willingly, as (in her largely taciturn way) she initially seems to enjoy the sex.

But jealousy barges in, and Lui is alarmed (to the point of taking a gun with him) by Elle's attentions towards another man, but maybe he's overreacting. Is he overreacting when he leaves the revolver within easy reach as he pretends to be sleeping? Why does he risk his life, as he knows that Elle is pointing a gun a blank range at his face?

And although she doesn't shoot he arranges a separate single bed for her, still leaving the revolver out, but she falls ill briefly, recovers, bursts into spontaneous tears and after he leaves in the morning to his pawnbroking job downstairs she just throws herself out the window. Back to the beginning, and it could be that the feminist and/or Marxist takes are red herrings.

8 February 2020

Juliette Rigondet: Un village pour aliénés tranquilles (2019)

Juliette Rigondet's Un village pour aliénés tranquilles is very fully researched, and in fact is a remarkable book about a kind of experiment which continues to this day. In late nineteenth-century Paris psychiatric hospitals (or asiles (asylums, as was the term of the day)) were overflowing: left to institutionalisation, the inmates weren't being 'cured' at all. Hospitalisation was adversely affecting the very reason why they were hospitalised in the first instance. In 1868 writer Hector Malot drew attention to this problem in his novel Le Beau-frère, in which a man, eager to gain possession of his brother-in-law's money, has his wife send her brother to a psychiatric hospital: the unfortunate man was perfectly sane, although on being moved to the hospital he soon goes mad – obviously in part a pre-echo of Samuel Fuller's film Shock Corridor (1963). The most saddening thing perhaps is not merely that psychiatric hospitals 'caused' madness, but that rapacious relatives did sometimes resort to such barbarous practices.

Auguste Marie was a psychiatrist who had investigated experiments with psychiatric patients in Scotland, and was impressed by what he saw. As a result, in 1892 a number of patients were sent away from Paris hospitals to Dun-sur-Auron: this meant taking the train to Bourges and then the 'Tacot' to the small town, where the patients – almost all females and mainly over the age of fifty, although there were a number of younger women – would be welcomed in host families which would be paid to board them.

The title of the book, Un village pour aliénés tranquilles, relates to the kind of person needed in the host family: a quiet, non-violent individual who would be of no risk to the local community. And obviously if the women were over fifty there would be little risk of complications, such as unwanted pregnancies. Nursing staff with an infirmary in the town ensured that the patients received professional care, and today the Centre hospitalier George-Sand, with its park, is a substantial landmark on the edge of the town. The fact that the 'experiment' still exists is testimony to its success, and in one of the early stages as many as 1000 patients existed side by side with the non-patient population of 4000. Also, another smaller similar community was established in Ainay-le-Château (Allier) for men, and a further one in Lurcy-Lévis (also in Allier), initially for older patients.

Rigondet's book is a story culled from medical and historical records, and also, we learn from the final paragraph, also a part of the author's personal family history, as one of the patients she has been writing about is her aunt, her mother's sister using one of her forenames which she never used, in order to retain her anonymity.

The book investigates the situation from many angles: the patient's adaptation to the new home rather than hospital environment, and the host family's adaptation to a stranger (or perhaps two) in the household; the reaction of the community as a whole to strangers in its midst; patient suicides (very few); cases of patients being raped; sexual relationships and pregnancies (which tended to be hushed until later years); patients working for the host parents and in the hospital buildings; etc.

This is a fascinating book about a little-known aspect of French society.

7 February 2020

Jean-Marie Poiré's Le Père Noël est une ordure | Father Christmas Is a Stinker (1982)

Another English title which makes me cringe, but this is also another from Le Splendid, the café-théâtre in the fourth arrondissement that has produced so much talent: this film is adapted from the play of the same name. And it's crazy, far crazier than the later Le Dîner de cons. This is Christmas, and we're in the office of a concern helping potential suicidal cases and depressives. What begins relatively calmly turns into mayhem, with lives threatened and an accidental killing. I can't imagine this film being made today as it oversteps boundaries of political correctness.

Here we have Pierre Mortez (Thierry Lhermite) and Thérèse (Anémone) as volunteers for SOS Détresse Amitié assailed by numerous problems: transvestite Katia (Christian Clavier) more or less forcing Pierre to dance with him; a pregnant Josette (Marie-Anne Chazel) trying to hide from her crazy and violent companion Félix (Gérard Jugnot) who's dressed as Father Christmas; Pierre and Josette's colleague Marie-Ange Musquin (Josiane Balasko) stuck in the lift; and neighbour Monsieur Preskovitch pressing them to eat his terrible Bulgarian food.

Things turn into absolute mayhem when Félix brings a gun in and accidentally shoots Katia in the leg. Then Josette accidentally shoots the lift maintenance man dead and what can they do with the body? Saw it up into little pieces in the kitchen and pack it into Christmas boxes, of course. Which they do, and throw them to the leopards, lions and bears in the zoo. Meanwhile, of course, the SOS agency takes a back seat.

Insane, escapist fun that only the French seem to just about get away with.

Jacques Demy's Les Demoiselles de Rochefort | The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

I normally hate musicals and have always thought they're for people with low attention spans: thin piece of narrative, then largely irrelevant crappy song, repeat to the end. OK I'm very late watching one of Jacques Demy's films, but I can see a distinct difference from the norm. I've yet to see Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), where the songs are the entire narrative, but I've just seen Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, which is roughly half spoken, half sung, and here too the singing is an integral part of the narrative: you're forced to follow the words carefully. This is Demy's paeon to the American musical, and between the lines you are reminded of Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin arriving in New York as sailors and singing of the city's glories in Stanley Donen's On the Town (1949), and more particularly of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell singing 'Two Little Girls from Little Rock' in Howard Hawk's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1954) when Catherine Deneuve (as Delphine Garnier) and her (also real) sister Françoise Dorléac (as Solange), also both in glittery red dresses, get up on stage in Place Colbert, Rochefort and start singing and dancing away. And yet at the same time it could be an update of a lost Shakespearean comedy.

In fact a 53-year-old Gene Kelly himself (as Andy Miller) is in this film, along with other American performers such as George Chakiris and Grover Dale (as Étienne and Bill, members of a travelling troupe). There was an American and a French version of this film and the singing is dubbed by everyone apart from Danielle Darrieux (who is the café-owning mother of the sisters: Yvonne Garnier).

This is a sumptuous feast of a film, enthusiastically performed amidst bright pastel, campy colours. But there are unfulfilled wishes here, people initially dodging inadvertently out of the way of the love of their life, and there is an odd minor sub-plot about former café frequenter Subtil Dutrouz (Henri Crémieux) killing and cutting up the woman who's been rejecting him for decades. Delphine and Solange believe they'll find the love of their life in Paris and long to live there, and Yvonne tortures herself over the man – Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli) – she left for a Mexican several years previously, simply because she couldn't stand thought of being called 'Madame Dame'. Unbeknown to all three women, the love of their live is actually in Rochefort: Simon has a music shop in the town, Delphine is the ideal woman for sailor/artistic painter Maxence (Jacques Perrin), and Andy longs for the much younger Solange, whose piece of music of hers he has when she accidently dropped it: she too yearns for him. Of course, in the end they all come together, although Demy originally had planned death for Maxence as he hitched his way out of Rochefort.

This is a hugely successful masterpiece, worthy of viewing multiple times.

6 February 2020

Jacque Rivette's Céline et Julie vont en bateau | Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)

Céline et Julie vont en bateau is Jacques Rivette's most noted film, although it is rarely screened: its three-and-a-quarter length may have something to do with that. The English title Céline and Julie Go Boating doesn't do the film any favours, as there's crucial word play in the title: the French 'mener en bateau' means to  be taken in, follow the flow of a story, so something like 'Céline and Julie are taken for a ride', although by no means perfect, would hit the point more.

Céline Cendrars(!) (Juiet Berto) is a sixties-style mythomaniac magician and Julie (Dominique Labourier) a library worker interested in magic, tarot cards and the like, and there are a number of literary references, such as to Henry James, Proust, Lewis Carroll and so on. They meet when Céline goes through a park where Julie is reading and leaves a few items in her wake, causing Julie to follow her, including running up the steps at the side of the Funiculaire that Céline takes.

Eventually they get together, Céline joins Julie in her flat, the pair of them become virtually inseparable, sharing each other's clothes, even personalities and an old schoolfriend of Julie's. But it's 7b rue du Nadir-aux-pommes (which sounds like a reference to fainting) where the action is, and partly because Julie has a large photo of the house in her trunk it may be where she once lived. It's here where the story within the story begins, where the couple pay several visits separately, and where they leave dazed and without memory of where they have been ejected.

But when they leave the house with a magic sweet in their mouth, they can suck it and the partial story begins to make more sense with each visit, with each sweet. At the time the film was released the analogy between the sweet and a psychedelic substance was too 'obvious' to miss, although Rivette didn't intend any reference to popular psychotropics such as LSD: tempting as it may seem, this film is timeless and can't be rooted in the Zeitgeist.

The story within the story takes on more sense the more Céline and Julie see of it, and eventually they see that they can in fact alter the course of events in it, which means saving the life of a child from murder. The film ends with it appearing to begin again, this time with Céline sitting on a bench as Julie hurries through the park and leaves a book, although the final image is of one of the many cats that appear in the film, staring out at the viewer.

This is an amazing, essential film in the history not only in the history of French cinema but the history of cinema tout court and has influenced a number of films, Desperately Seeking Susan (1984) in particular.

3 February 2020

'Xlylophone Man' Frank Robinson in Nottingham

'Xylophone Man'
Frank Robinson
Frank dies in July 2004 aged 72.
He played his xylophone here for 15 years,
bringing a smile to the faces of the
people of Nottingham.'

Odd, but it's now that I no longer live in Nottingham that I notice this plaque on the ground outside H&M (formerly C&A), near where he played very amateurishly on what his Wikipedia entry calls a 'small child's metallophone'. In spite of his obvious lack of trained musical skills (or maybe because of the lack) Frank was dearly loved by those who went by him in Lister Gate. The LeftLion paper got a short interview with him, where it was discovered that he'd spent all his life in Cotgave, Nottinghamshire.

2 February 2020

Stanley Middleton in Sherwood, Nottingham

Lived here

The writer Stanley Middleton (1919-2009), who was born in Bulwell, Nottingham, spent more than half of his life at 42 Caledon Road, Sherwood, Nottingham. He was joint winner of the Booker (with Nadine Gordimer for The Conversationist) for his novel Holiday in 1974, and wrote about fifty other novels, virtually exclusively set in middle-class environments, although his origins are working class. He was very much a follower of the dreaded F. R. Leavis, whose influence casts a bleak shadow over English literature even today: Leavis essentially advocated the study of literature (mainly poetry) with no social, biographical, psychological, etc, background, which is enough to put anyone off the study of literature for life. I was a student of 'Stan Middo's', and fortunately Leavis didn't put me off, not that at the time I knew anything about him anyway.

Stan was a teacher at High Pavement Grammar School, Gainsford Crescent, Bestwood Estate, where (never having a car) he used to walk every day via Hucknall Road. He was a very affable, very human character with a dry sense of humour, although the thought of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature would have left him speechless. This is a great shame, because even Salman Rushdie so wisely approved of Dylan's award. I'm pleased to see Stan has finally been awarded a plaque.