30 January 2021

René Allio's Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère, ma sœur et mon frère... | I, Pierre Rivière... (1976)


'I, Pierre Rivière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister and my brother...' is how one DVD renders the translation of Pierre Rivière's words, although this doesn't convey the gruesomeness of the slitting of the throats of his relatives. Gruesome, though, this re-creation of the twenty-year-old Rivière's actions this film is certainly is not. This is in fact a documentary-style study of the murderer's actions, based on documents put together by Michel Foucault.

In 1835 the agricultural worker Rivière (1815-40) carried out the murders in a small village in Calvados (14), Normandy, where he was born. He was sent to Beaulieu prison in Caen, where he killed himself in 1840.

Pierre's mother had shown little interest in him after the birth of his sister Victoire, and his parents – living in Aunay-sur-Odon – split up when he was four years old, which had a strong mental effect on him. Inexplicably, his mother then gained custody of Pierre, who was very attached to his father. The couple continued to meet and have children.

When Pierre was ten his mother (described by Pierre as 'hysterical') threw him and his sister Aimée out of the house and they went to live with the father. In 1934 Pierre's mother, who was financially bleeding her husband, violently threatened the father in front of her son. Wanting to defend his father, on 3 June of that year Pierre took a billhook and slit the throats of his mother (who ws pregnant at the time), his sister Victoire, and his young brother Jules. He spent a month wandering about 600 km living on grasses and roots until he was discovered.

Pierre didn't tell any lies, told those examining him that he had wished to protect his father, and his very well-written forty-page 'autobiography' is a highly remarkable piece work. Pierre's lawyer gathered doctors together, who came to the conclusion that the balance of his mind had been disturbed since he was four. On 12 November 1835 Pierre was found guilty of murder, although the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

This is a remarkable film, and Allio's assistant Nicolas Philibert, now well known for his documentary film Être et Avoir (2002), revisited it thirty years later in his film Retour en Normandie (Return to Normandy) in 2007.

Jacques Audiard's Dheepan (2015)


Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) is a Tamil Tiger forced to flee Sri Lanka. With two strangers, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and the nine-year-old Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), they pose as a family in order to escape to France, to end up in a grim HLM where the fake husband and wife become caretakers in their block. Much of the dialogue is in Tamil and the film charts the 'family's' progress in their new language.

Not only does their knowledge of the French language develop, but slowly a real family will immerge based on love and loyalty. The problem is that the gang rivalry, based around drugs, will become increasingly violent and this cité in Paris, full of ex-convicts, drug addicts, etc, and will turn into a war zone which resembles the country they've left, and Yalini yearns to leave for London, where she has a relative.

Dheepan will have to use his fighterly skills to quell the escalating violence, and this is where a story of learning to live in a completely different society and adapting to its standards swings very quickly into a blood-soaked thriller. To top it off, presumably the concluding scene of Dheepan, Yalini, Illayaal and the couple's young child living in a kind of utopia in England is just another of Dheepan's dreams?

Coming after the developments in Europe over the past five years that the film was made, it comes across as a very poor joke today. And this is such a pity, because what up to its mid-point seemed to be an extremely promising movie – especially with Antonythasan Jesuthasan's superlative acting – just disintegrated into nothingness. Palme d'Or 2015? Was there really nothing better to choose from?

29 January 2021

Jean-Luc Lagarce: Juste la fin du monde (1990)


Jean-Luc Lagarce (1957-95) came from a working-class background, his parents working at the Peugeot factory in Valentigney, Doubs. He moved away from his roots to become a playwright, creating many works before his untimely death from AIDS at the age of 38. Watching a Lagarce play is not to everyone's delight, yet there are wonders to be found there. Lagarce is now recognised as a major modern playwright, being studied not only at university but (over a long period) for the Bac. His Juste la fin du monde is certainly his best known play. This Théâtre à la table interpretation is quite brilliant.

Amélie Vioux's introduction to the play at Bac level is interesting. She begins by saying that Juste la fin du monde (which of course is a strange title: we're only talking about the end of the world?) is a play like no other. Well yes, but then Bernard-Marie Koltès's plays are in some ways similar, and it's not for nothing that publishers initially found Lagarce's attempts to write plays derivative of Ionesco and Beckett, but certainly he soon developed an unmistakable style.

Vioux speaks of the play as being about a personal and familial crisis, but much more interestingly that the speech in the play is used in place of action, which is a useful tool to understand it. But to get down to basics this is a huis clos, everything taking place in one room and with just five people: the unnamed mother in the room of the property where the play is set, her sons Louis and Antoine, her daughter Suzanne, and Antoine's wife Catherine.

Louis is a writer who has not seen his relatives for twelve years; Suzanne still lives with her mother; Antoine works in a local factory; this is the first and last time Louis has seen Catherine, and indeed the final time he will see any other members of his family. Louis has come to tell them all that he (at the age of almost 34) is dying, although he doesn't manage to say this, because paradoxically words get in the way and prevent him from saying what his intentions are.

Words are intended to express things, and Vioux's little exposé about Juste la fin du monde uses such words as 'chiasmus' and 'epanorthosis' to describe Lagarce's use of language. This isn't a space to talk about rhetorical devices, but Lagarce's use of language is fascinating: the characters find it virtually impossible to communicate, they repeat themselves, usually not by using the same words, but by revising, correcting, making additions often several times. And they get frustrated by what they fail to communicate, verbally attack the person they're addressing for their own communicative impotence, they often (particularly in Antoine's case) adopt an unprovoked and strongly aggressive tone, but there's no resolution. In certain respects this resembles a Greek tragedy, conforming to unities (here of place and time), although here there's no tragic ending  onstage. Or is there? The tragedy is perhaps in the (lack of) speech, the unspoken.

27 January 2021

Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour (1967)


It's a little difficult to imagine the effect that Buñuel's Belle de jour, based on Joseph Kessel's 1928 novel of the same name, could have had back in 1967, although an article in the Los Angeles Times of the day heralded it as his biggest success yet, and a masterpiece, if 'less than a masterpiece [compared to some of his earlier films], but sexy. And in color.' Catherine Deneuve plays the newly married Séverine, with the doctor Pierre (Jean Sorel) as her husband. 

The paper calls it a 'study in female sexuality', which I find too much to take. Séverine was sexually abused as a child, and the general diagnoses are that the Bovaryish Séverine is bored with her tedious doctor husband and becomes a high-class prostitute ('Belle de jour') because it satisfies her masochistic imagination, thus priming her for a 'normal' sex life with Pierre. This is how I viewed it the first time I saw the film some years ago, although now I'm not so sure. Séverine enjoys her life as a prostitute, the thrill of non-conventional sex, and then she grows to like the unhinged Marcel (Pierre Clementi), who becomes so besotted that he gets his gets his mate Hippolyte (Francisco Rabel) to follow Séverine, then in jealousy Marcel shoots Pierre, who ends up paralysed with Séverine looking after him?

OK, the coachmen taking her into the woods, whipping her and probably raping her are fantasy, as is the mud thrown at her, but how much of this are we supposed to read as fantasy and how much reality? Buñuel leaves it to us to decide, but my guess is that there's a hell of a lot more surrealism going on here than Séverine and Husson (Michel Piccoli) disappearing under the dinner table together.

Apart from the fantasy, there are some interesting pieces relating to other films here: the appearance of Buñuel himself in the film, like Hitchcock in his own films (or, principally, Truffaut in his in homages to Hitchcock), but there are also references to Godard's À bout de souffle in the selling of Herald Tribune on the Champs-Élysées, and of course the shooting in the back of Marcel by a cop echoes Michel Poiccard being shot in the back in Godard's film.

Most of all, perhaps, this is a big, stiff middle finger up to the bourgeoisie, as are many of Buñuel's films.

26 January 2021

Christophe Honoré's La Belle personne | The Beautiful Person (2008)

I've no idea if France has ever had such an uncultured president as Sarkozy, but in Febrary 2006 the leader-to-be spouted out about Madame de Lafayette's La Princesse de Clèves (1678), ludicrously asking if people had ever thought to ask a guichetière (female ticket clerk) what they thought of the book. The underlying idea behind this was that La Princesse de Clèves belonged to a long gone era. Little did Sarko realise that his very odd remark would dog him for his whole rule, that the book would as a result of his vituperative remarks become a best seller, that groups would hold outside readings of it, or even wear badges announcing that they were reading it.

It even provoked director Chistophe Honoré to make a film based on it in the present day, showing just how relevant La Princesse de Clèves still is. The main characters, with Madame de Lafayette's names first, followed by their modern character names, then their real names: La princesse de Clèves is Junie de Chartres (Léa Seydoux), Le duc de Nemours is Jacques Nemours (Louis Garrel), Le prince de Clèves is Otto (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and Le vidame de Chartres is Matthias de Chartres (Esteban Carvajal Alegria). The main setting is in a lycée.

Junie's mother has died so she goes to live with her aunt and uncle and their offspring, Matthias being her cousin. At the new school she causes quite an attraction and soon bonds with Otto, who is madly in love with her. Also, though, the local Lothario, Jacques, the teacher of Italian, falls for her in such a way that he forsakes his other lovers. The problem: Junie feels the same about Jacques, although she is determined to remain faithful to Otto.

One very testing time is when Jacques is seen to let fall a letter which goes the rounds of the school and eventually ends up in Junie's hands: it's a love letter from a girl. Obviously Junie is heartbroken, although things are a little more complicated than they seem initially, and Honoré has of course changed the original book in a few places, including giving it a gay update. Matthias is concerned that the true story of the letter will come out as he, not Jacques, dropped it and it's from his boyfriend Martin: he reveals this information to Jacques, who passes it on to Junie.

Junie doesn't believe him, and although she's torn the letter up she suddenly remembers the final word in it is 'amoureux', not 'amoureuse': for some reason she's omitted to notice the sex of the writer. So Jacques is back in her good books, although she can't reciprocate his love because she can't break with Otto.

But Otto suspects she's two-timing him and in class sends out a spy to find out what Junie's doing, although the spy misconstrues her behaviour and believes Junie is secretly seeing Jacques. Of course the original Prince de Clèves wasted away, but the modern Otto throws himself from the school balcony into the courtyard. When a suitable time has elapsed after the suicide the ever-smitten Jacques continues trying to court Junie, but with no success. And Junie doesn't retreat to a convent as her seventeenth century counterpart did, but goes away on a ship, and by the appearance of the expanse of the sea she's going a very long way away.

Christophe Honoré has proved the relevance today of this very old novel, and also proved the stupidity of Sarko. Chapeau ! 

25 January 2021

Agnès Jaoui's Le Goût des autres | The Taste of Others (2000)

Le Goût des autres is Agnès Jaoui's first film, written by her and her partner Jean-Pierre Bacri, who died at the age of 69 last week. There is no sex, virtually no violence, no high dramatic scenes, the movie can only with difficulty be called a comedy, and yet this film is constantly engrossing.

Jean-Jacques Castella (Bacri) is the successful owner of a canning(?) factory in Rouen. He is seemingly permanently bad-tempered and highly uncultured (let's call him almost tasteless), but wealthy. He lives with his wife Angélique (Christiane Millet), a former interior designer who has turned their home into a kitschy palace full of furniture with flowery designs: it's looks like hell to live in.

Is it surprising that Jean-Jacques looks for an escape route, even if he's not aware of it? Or even that his escape route could come from his temporary English teacher Clara Devaux (Anne Alvaro)? He has an important Iranian contract to fulfill, and it might be a good idea if he learns at least a little English to please his potential buyers, even if he's relying on his far better educated second-in-command Weber (Xavier de Guillbon) to spare him the chore of doing the real business. So along comes Clara Devaux (Anne Alvaro) to teach him, although she's swiftly dismissed by the macho Jean-Jacques.

However, much to Jean-Jacques's disgust (and much in life is to his disgust), that evening he and his wife have agreed to see Racine's Bérénice at the theatre, where Angélique's niece is playing a minor role. And who should be playing the main role? Clara of course. And from whining 'Putain !' about having to see the performance, from at the beginning being horrified that the play is in verse (well, we knew Jean-Jacques was uncultured), he's transfixed — smitten is a more exact word — by Clara's performance.

So transfixed that he'll see the play again, renew English lessons with Clara, and visit her in her dressing room. He tries to get involved with the people who mix with her, but they just make fun of his lack of culture: they claim that Ibsen and Strindberg are comic playwrights! But, little by little, Jean-Jacques is discovering culture and might stike a hit with Clara: after all, he's left his tiresome wife and perhaps grown to love Hedda Gabler.

The question of the barmaid and cannabis dealer Manie (Agnès Jaoui), with her relationship with Jean-Jacques's chauffeur Bruno (Alain chabet) and bodyguard Franck (Gérard Lanvin), is a complicated subplot I won't go into. Fascinating film.

24 January 2021

Zed Nelson's The Street (2019)

This is Zed Nelson's first feature film, about just one street close to central London, Hoxton Street. Nelson says it's about gentrification, austerity, Brexit. It's a wake-up call, not intended as a poke at the new people moving into the street, just a reflection of a moment taken over three years.

All the same, it's a picture of a dying community forced out by rising prices, of increasing pressure being put on the original working-class people to move out of the area not only in which they may well have been born but their parents too before them, and so on. There's the pie and mash shop now opposite a craft beer shop, a 'Buzz Shop' for building web sites, advertising, copy writing, numerous other things, there's even a gallery. The older people can't understand, or can only understand that they're on the way out: even the priest has to move out of the church at the age of seventy, and he can no longer afford to live in London.

There's a feeling by the older residents that they've been conned by Brexit: some have voted for it as they thought too much money was spent being in the EU, but now maybe too much is being spent on leaving it? There's confusion everywhere. We see a bunch of youths waving flags around, demanding 'their' country back, but what country?

There's racist talk that wouldn't be seen by the locals as racist: the blacks have been there for decades, but they're not happy with the fact that they used to know everyone but now don't, some people can't speak English, and one reckons that they're being given priority over the locals in the council flat queues.

Certainly flats are around, but they belong to private companies and we all know about their breaking rules: the Grenfell Tower tragedy broke out during the filming, and 72 people were killed due to combustible cladding: the ensuing mess continues. Aviva, the insurance company, has bought most of Hoxton Square. Where can these people go now they've been forced out of their homes? Errol sold his garage and the demolition squad are moving in, but at least he's accepted the offer. For those who rent, well there's always the street of course.

I found it most enlightening that the guy who sleeps rough under a bridge and who was the victim of mindless yobs burning what little property he had had an East European accent. Most significant of all though, he was much more cultured than any of the others we see on the street: he quotes from Stendhal's Le Rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black), and we see a charred copy of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightnesss of Being. The books were written in different centuries, but both from writers living in France, although Kundera is a now nationalised Czech immigrant.

I think Nelson's right in suggesting that this film could serve as a witness to a particular historical period in British history.

22 January 2021

Éric Rohmer's Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon | The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)


Astrée (1601-27), by Honoré d'Urfé (1567-1625), is the first roman-fleuve in the French language and contains 5399 pages. D'Urfé's secretary Balthazar Baro concluded the fourth part of it after d'Urfé's death, and added an extra section (1632-33). For some time it was held as a masterpiece, and greatly admired by many prominent writers, Madame de Sévigné among them, along with Jean-Jacques Rousseau who made a journey to La Forez to visit the area where the novel is set. Rohmer's film version of it is inevitably very loosely based on the novel. The main difference between the novel and the film is that d'Urfé's was set in the fifth century, Rohmer's film at the time of d'Urfe.

Astrée (Stéphanie Crayencour) and Céladon (Andy Gillet) are both young shepherds very much in love until Astrée is deceived into believing that Céladon has another lover, whereupon she tells him that she is finished with him and never wants to see him again.

Céladon then throws himself into the nearby River Lignon, although he is saved by the nymphs Galathée (Véronique Reymond), Léonide (Cécile Cassel) and Sylvie (Rosette) and taken to Galathée's castle to recuperate. Galathée has taken a romantic liking too him, although he insists that he's in love with Astrée, who now believes he's dead, although he can't communicate with her as she's told him she no longer wants to see him.

Céladon stubbornly goes into the woods to live a primitive existence, although he's frequently visited by Adamas (Serge Renko), the druid priest at the castle who is planning to help Céladon. Rohmer is given to Shakespearian influences, and this film – particularly with its hard-to-swallow mistaken identity – is perhaps his most Shakespearian. Nevertheless, with its theme of love and mistaken behaviour, coincidences, etc, it's very much in the vein of to many of Rohmer's former works, albeit set in a different period. Rohmer made this between the age of 87-8, and it was his final work.

Le Château de la Bâtie d'Urfé in Le Forez in Saint-Étienne-le-Molard is now a museum.

21 January 2021

Stéphane Riethauser's Madame (2019)

Madame is Stéphane Riethauser's first feature and covers family film footage and photos over three generations, the two central interests being Stéphane's relationship with his grandmother Caroline, and his realisation that he is gay.

The family is a wealthy Swiss one, Stéphane growing with his parents in Geneva, although is it apparent that he has always related far more to his late grandmother, who died fifteen minutes before the film was made. Caroline detests convention: her first marriage was more of less a forced one in her mid-teens, she considers that her husband raped her, and she soon divorced him. She became a business woman, trying a few different kinds of business before owning a top restaurant. She married a second time but this too ended in divorce, and she was wary of men being after her for her money. She was the second moman to have a driving licence, and she had a large villa on the Côte d’Azur.

We learn of Stéphane growing up much impressed by reading Le Prince Éric by Serge Dalens, in which he associates one of the characters from his school with the hero. He develops a heterosexual alter ego, Riton, who does all the 'masculine' things that men do, he becomes friends with one of the less savoury young men in the area, smokes cannabis with him, but breaks with him when he is for a joke locked him in with a much older man who tries to molest him. Stéphane has a girlfriend with whom he has sex, but there's still something missing.

Listening to Charles Aznavour's song 'Ils disent' — a song about a gay transvestite — is something of an epiphanic moment, Stéphane working strongly towards the realisation of the fact that he's a homosexual. And then the inevitable coming out, which is of course saying at the same time that there will be no children. Caroline is at first slow to register the news, although she becomes a huge supporter of the gay cause, further cementing the relationship between the two. A joy to watch.

Sébastien Lifshitz’s Adolescentes (2020)

Adolescentes is an amazing documentary film, being the result of regularly filming the development of two adolescents, Emma and Anaïs, from the age of thirteen to eighteen, when they finished their Bac. It took a great deal of editing because the resulting 130-film comes from 500 hours of material. The teenagers are filmed at school, in their families, and together or apart in the outside world in Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze): Lifshitz chose this town because he wanted time to be clearly registered by the change of seasons.

Emma and Anaïs were already friends, which is somewhat unusual in that they are so different from each other: Emma comes from a more financially privileged background whereas Anaïs is from a more modest one; Emma is shy and has a melancholy personality whereas Anaïs is far more outgoing. The film has the outstanding characteristic in that the director has been able to film the two not as actors but as 'real' people who have become so used to the presence of the camera that they no long notice it. Intimate discussions such as the right time to lost their virginity, then talking about losing their virginity, are a matter of course. So too are the tears when, say, Anaïs loses her grandmother, or Emma strongly argues with her mother, and so on.

We follow the pair in school lessons, discussing quotations from Madame Bovary, Emma reciting from Anouilh's Antigone, or Anaïs learning mnemonic devices such as 'Me Voici Tout Mignon Je Suis Un Nuage' for remembering the relation between the planets and the sun, and incidentally the absurdly stupid error that she made in her understanding of the use of this nonsense phrase: few embarrassing scenes, it appears, have been left out.

This film is also a record of the historical events which appeared over this period, such as the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Bataclan massacre, after which the school head assembled the students in the yard to give a speech and the students held up copies of a drawing that was a cross between the CND symbol and the Tour Eiffel. On discovering that Macron has become president Emma isn't impressed, but then she isn't impressed by politics; Anaïs, on the other hand, is very disappointed that Macron has won and seems (the horror!) to have wanted Marine Le Pen to win. In the end they go their separate ways, Anaïs to Limoges to be an auxiliary nurse, Emma to univeristy in Paris.

Hafsia Herzi’s Tu mérites un amour (2019)

Hafsia Herzi first came to fame as an actor in Abdellatif Kechiche's La Graine et le mulet (2007). This is her first feature-length film as director, in which she also plays the lead role as Lila.

Lila has an abusive boyfriend, Rémi (Jérémie Laheurte), who is playing around with other women but still doesn't want to lose her and phones her to tell her he loves her. Lila, on the other hand, is in two minds: she needs some assurance that Rémi is being straight with her, and at the same time she feels that she should break away from his toxic influence. She has a one-night-stand with the affectionate Jonathan (Jonathan Eap), although this doesn't stop her thinking about Rémi. And nor does the brief sex episode at the bottom of the block of flats with a handsome and wealthy Sergio (Alexander Ferrario) she met at a party. She even joins in a threesome with Rachelle (Sophie Garagnon) and Bruno (Brice Dulin).

In the end it's Charly (Anthony Bajon), the budding young photographer who reluctantly also works in his uncle's café, who performs the exorcism. Charly has taken photos of her which have met with commercial approval: he gives Lila one of the framed photos. Lila reminds him of Frida Kahlo, and he recites a poem attributed to her which gives the film its title: the poem's original title is 'Mereces un amor que te quiera despeinada'. When she's in her flat with Charly and Rémi calls, she summons up her courage and repeatedly tells him to get out, saying Charly is her lover. This is untrue, although it could well be a prediction of the very near future.

20 January 2021

Sophie Letourneur’s Énorme (2020)


I could simply say that this is one of the worst films I've ever seen: it's a comedy that is in no respect funny, it's wholly predictable, it's ridiculous to the point of idiocy, it's puerile, it's tedious, it has no depth and a single 'idea' is present – a man deciding that he wants a child so much that he in effect becomes a psychological proxy for his wife – and the film is so repetitive that it is nauseous. Instead I have to say that this totally irresponsible sexist junk, which would have us laugh at a criminal offence,* is the worse film I've ever seen.

The movie, starring Marina Foïs as Claire Girard and Jonathan Cohen as her husband Frédéric, concerns a couple who don't want a child until Fred assists in an unexpected birth delivery on a plane by a Spanish woman and goes gooey-eyed as a result. On his mother's suggestion, he substitutes his wife's birth pill for saccarine, ensures that Claire doesn't find out about her pregnancy until it's too late to have an abortion in France, and persuades her that it would be dangerous to have one in England, where the legal period is longer.

To a gobsmacked Marina Foïs on the TMC programme 'Quotidien' last September, the presenter Maïa Mazaurette held up a sign in block letters with 'two years' imprisonment' and 'fine of 30,000 euros' written on it: this is the maximum penalty for 'l'entrave de l'interruption volontaire de grossesse' (IVG), or causing an obstruction to the prevention of pregnancy.

Marina Foïs's response to this was that the film has 'un sujet tellement contemporain que tout le monde va le comprendre, voire en rire' ('such a modern subject that everyone will understand it, indeed laugh at it'): no indication of the slightest awareness that the most important decision in life – to have or not to have a child – is no laughing matter! Jonathan Cohen pointed out that a lawyer in the film calls Fred's meddling a serious action – certainly, although the viewer is supposed to laugh at this – and Cohen concludes 'Le film parle de lui-même' ('The film speaks for itself.'). Indeed, this utter trash certainly does speak for itself. Avoid if you don't want to be sick.

*In French this offence is a 'délit': the French use the word 'crime' for more serious actions such as murder or rape.

19 January 2021

Boris Lojkine's’s Camille (2019)


Boris Lojkine began making documentary films of Vietnam – Ceux qui restent (2001), Les Chantiers de la coopération (2004), Les Âmes errantes (2005) – until he tired of a country which he saw was becoming more open, more westernised, resembling other countries too much. He turned to the Central African Republic, and Camille is a fictionalised account of a young French photographer there.

Camille Lepage (1988-2014) is a photojournalist who falls in love with the Central African Republic, where there is civil war. She goes there in October 2013. The film shows the kind of life she lived there, eating with the people, singing with them, giving them what little money she has, a rare white person in a poor black African country torn apart by violence. Many inhabitants think it's necessary to photograph the situation there, many can't understand her, see her as an outsider, while she is frustrated that the people in this country are destroying each other.

Her photos are published in Libération and her family welcomes her home for Christmas 2013 as a kind of hero. Libération want her to help cover Ukraine, but she says there are still problems in the Central African Republic which aren't being publicised. So she returns there, to the country she loves, to the friendhship, to the doubts about her presence, to the bush, and finally to a bullet in her head while on a motorbike in May 2014.

18 January 2021

Aurel's’s Josep (2020)


This cartoon, which is Aurel's first feature-length film, is more manga than Disney and based on a true story. Following the victory of the fascist dictator Franco from February 1939, La Retirada began: nearly half a million republicans, communists and anarchists fled from Spain across the frontier to France. They were arrested and sent to a concentration camps, such as the one near the border in Argelès-sur-Mer, where they were subjected to filthy conditions, frequent mental and physical abuse, and racism. The story is told by a dying grandfather to his young grandchild.

The grandfather was a French policeman in the concentration camp and in spite of his colleagues' violence helped the artist Josep Bartolí (1910-95). Josep had been a member in Barcelona of POUM, a revolutionary organisation against the dictator. Aurel had for some years been interested in the Spanish Civil War, being particularly inspired by Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom (1995).

After 1943 Bartolí left for Mexico, where he became the lover of Frida Kahlo, whose huge image can be seen as a kind of watermark on the above poster. From Mexico Bartolí left for the United States, where he met a number of other artists, and where he died. The film is a remarkable achievement, and a hymn to the triumph of culture over barbarity.

Frédéric Fonteyne and Anne Paulicevich's’s Filles de joie | Working Girls (2020)

The English translation of this Belgian film doesn't convey the irony of the (rather old-fashioned) French title: the three women in this – Axelle (Sara Forestier), Conso (Annabelle Lengronne) and Dominique (Noémie Lvovsky), also known as Athéna, Héra and Circé in their working existences – don't exactly have a great deal of joy in their life.

Co-director and screenwriter Anne Paulicevich has researched cross-frontier prostitution, and the result is this fictional study of these three women, who drive every day from Roubaix in France to Belgium (where laws are more tolerant) to sell themselves in a brothel.

All three women live in very different circumstances: Axelle lives in an HLM, is separated from her partner Yann (Nicolas Cazalé), and has custody of their three children; Conso lives a few doors away from Axelle, is single and wants a child by her 'boyfriend' Jean-Ti (Jonas Bloquer); Dominique is older, lives with her unemployed husband and two demanding adolescents (one male, the other female) in a house in the suburbs and also works part time as a nurse.

Each woman has a burden to live with, although there's one very humorous moment in which Conso's 'boyfriend' gets his just deserts. What we have here is in a sense a revenge movie, one which will cement the already very strong bond between the girls. At the beginning of the film we see a body being buried on wasteland, and it isn't until the end of the film that we're reminded of this and see virtually the whole film as the flashback that it is. Drunk, Yann has returned, wants to take Axelle's children, and while trying to rape Axelle her mother hits him with a heavy instrument. Time for all three women to get together, for Dominique to finish Yann off by smothering him, and we're back to the beginning with the burial scene.

Some reviews have criticised the film for representing sterotypes (tarts with hearts, men being monsters, the unemployed wearing vests all the time, etc) and having mixed moods, descending into the thriller genre, and so on. On the other hand, many reviews have seen a very engaging film exploring the hidden world of prostitution and the desperation of the women: I agree with that view of this very feminist film.

17 January 2021

Myriam Verreault's Kuessipan (2019)


Kuessipan takes place in the Sept-Îles area, over 600 km to the north-east of Québec city and essentially in the Uashat-Maliotenam Innu community. The film is adapted from the eponymous book by Naomi Fontaine (2015) and is Myriam Verreault's first feature. 

Mikuan (Sharon Fontaine-Ishpatao) and Shaniss (Yamie Grégoire) grow up as friends in this Innu community and swear that they'll never cease to be friends, although they have different visions and it seems as though they will grow apart in spite of the pact they've made. Both also come from different backgrounds within the community: Mikuan's is very loving, whereas Shaniss comes from a broken home.

Furthermore, Shaniss has left school early, has a child and lives with a violent boyfriend. Mikuan, though, is academically gifted and is interested in creative writing. To fulfull her ambitions Mikuan wants to go to unniversity in Québec city, away from the Innu reservation where she has grown up.

Additional complications arise when Mikuan has a lover: Francis (Étienne Galloy) from Sept-Îles, who is white and so represents everything Mikuan's community is against and has had to tolerate for years: greed, the theft of their land. Not without problems, and not without jokes at his expense, Francis is tolerated, although towards the end he feels that the two peoples he and Mikuan represent cannot co-exist, and ends the relationship.

In a tear-jerking scene Mikuan swears loyalty to Shaniss as she moves out of the reserve to university, to success as a writer. We need stories like this to remind us of other worlds out there.

Bruno Merle's’s Felicità (2020)

Felicità? Why the Italian title? It's a song played when Timothée (Pio Marmaï), Chloé (Camille Rutherford) and the young Tommy (Rita Merle, Bruno's daughter) have escaped from the house they were living in, which is not theirs. The title of course means 'happiness', and is one of Tim's favourite songs, by Al Bano and Romina Power, which he plays in the car as they run away. They're running away because Chloé is a maid in the house, although the family of three have been living there because Chloé knew that the owners she worked for would be away for some time, although they've returned slightly earlier than expected.

Much of Tommy's world is seen from her point of view, which sees her parents – particularly her father Tim – in a world-wary, sceptical but surprisingly mature way. Why can't she have ordinary parents? It's hardly surprising she wears ear defenders to block out their nonsense, and when she does the viewer too hears nothing until she removes them. We notice the little girl in a café at a neighbouring table – in reality her sister, as she's another of Merle's daughters – fire an imaginary gun at her, she mocks being dead, and the little girl blows the smoke from her finger as cowboys do their gun in westerns. But her parents notice nothing, being too busy in conversation the other side of the table.

In fact the conversation ceases and Tim puts on a very serious face and tells Tommy that there was a couple who split up, leaving behind a baby and it was her, but that they've just seen the father, and it's Orelsan the rapper*: Tim tells her she has the choice, as he's certain Orelsan will reclaim her, and she'd have access to far more money than her now 'substitute' parents have. Tommy just waives this off as another crazy trick of her father's, which of course it is.

At one point Chloé is visibly upset as she has to tell her husband something: she's being blackmailed because she acted in some movies before she met Tim, and some were porn films. Tim is shattered, but it's all a joke: Chloé can play the same game too.

At another point Tim steals a powerful car belonging to an English person, goes back to his own car and tells Tommy to wait there while he goes to look for Chloé. Should Tommy stay there or go and see what her wayward parents are up to? And suddenly I'm reminded of Ken Loach's Looking for Eric (2009), the part where Éric Cantona makes a sudden appearance, but only in the protagonist's mind. Tommy's sitting in the back of the car with her ear silencers on but she can hear the voice of the person who suddenly magics himself next to her: Orelsan in a spacesuit, talking about choosing what to do.

A very odd film which also plays tricks on the viewer.

*Of course, a French viewer doesn't need to be told who Orelsan is, but the fact that he's a rapper is added in the English subtitles.

16 January 2021

Christophe Blanc’s Just Kids (2019)


The mother of the family here (surname not mentioned) has died (perhaps of cancer) and the father has killed himself by jumping out in front of a train. There remain three children: Jack (Kacey Mottet-Klein), 19; Lisa (Anamaria Vartolomei), 17; and Titi/Mathis (Andrea Maggiulli). Jack (only just out of minority) gains custody with his uncle (Yves Caumon) as an 'eye'.

Certainly an eye is needed as Jack is very much between childhood and adulthood, and his relationship with his brother Mathis is sometimes brotherly, sometimes fatherly. But then why did the father kill himself? There was no suicide note, but anyway it may have been written by an unreliable narrator: he was involved in some obviously dodgy dealings, of which there's no clarity.

Mathis descends into despair, especially when his female fellow orphan schoolmate leaves. Jack has his loving girlfriend Maureen (Angelina Woreth) until she's forced to leave him: we know that Jack is living in the past, can't move into the future, but who is there to tell him how to move? Maureen rebukes him for his handwriting: graphology suggests his backward-slanting handwriting isn't an indication of a forward mover.

Jack just moves to blowing money on horses, getting off his head in clubs, and moving to a mobile home in Spain – with Mathis of course, but then Mathis is in some ways more mature than Jack. Jack will no doubt learn, but the hard way, which is painful. It took Christophe Blanc ten years to make a feature after the Blanc comme neige (2010) failure, but although this may not be a masterpiece it has great performances by Mottet-Klein and Andrea Maggiulli.

Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau | Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (2016)


In a way, the film Théo et Hugo can be compared to Richard Linklater's trilogy, beginning with Before Sunrise (1995), only the couple in that movie, Céline (Julie Delphy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), first get to know each other and take a very, very long time before having sex: see Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). Hugo (François Nambot) and Théo (Geoffrey Couët) have sex first and then get to know each other.

They have sex at the gay sex club L'Impact, 18 Rue Greneta, 2e, in a long scene lasting over fifteen minutes in which bodies kiss, stroke, fondle and have (sometimes noisy) unsimulated sex. This scene – set in real time like the whole film, and of course reminding us of Varda's Cléo de 5 à 7 in format – is hardly pornographic though, as there is no dwelling on the genitals, just the faces and the bodies, the movements.

After the anonymity, Théo and Hugo leave together, still in the early hours of the morning, and their first argument is a serious one: they agree that there's something special about their encounter, although when Hugo reveals that he's not used a condom Théo goes crazy and says he has to go to hospital immediately: Théo is HIV positive. What ensues is not an easy ride, with the two guys having to pass through a homophobic old guy and Hugo being initiated into the medication procedure. This is Hugo's fault or Théo's? Well, Théo's from Lons-le-Saunier (Jura), which is hardly Paris, and, oh, we'll forget that, they're both in the same boat, both as guilty as the other.

After that the film resembles an old-fashioned love story, two people just wandering around Paris before daybreak, buying a meal from the Syrian kebab man, the aged chambermaid from Yvetot talking to them on the first métro, and them arriving in central Paris, to Hugo's chambre de bonne on the sixth floor. There Théo undresses Hugo, examines his genitals in a loving way, as if he's really impressed with his catch, but they don't have sex again, that's for later: who knows, this relationship could continue until, well, the end?

I have a feeling that this could well prove to be a landmark gay movie.

15 January 2021

Marco Ferreri's La Grande Bouffe (1973)


La Grande Bouffe is a satire on consumerism and decadent bourgeois society. Four men, who are all called by their real names – Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), Philippe (Philippe Noiret), Michel (Michel Piccoli), and Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi) – are so sick of their tedious lives that they decide to shut themselves in a villa and eat themselves to death. Ugo, a restaurant owner who delights in acting like 'Godfather' Marlon Brando, is the chef; Philippe is a high-class magistrate who lives with his nursemaid Nicole (Michèle Alexandre); Marcello is a pilot and a sexual predator; and Michel is a television producer and presenter. 

Everything is done in the worst of possible tastes. Vanloads of full of food arrive, prostitutes are supplied by Marcello, and a grand festival of noshing, sex, farting and shitting begins. The actual property (here belonging to Philippe) is 68 rue Boileau in the 16e arrondissement, and schoolteacher Andréa (Andréa Ferréol) joins them as she's interested in the tree in the garden underneath which Nicolas Boileau wrote his poetry. (The site is now the Vietnamese Embassy.)

Gradually, all four friends die, although the first, Marcello, marches out of the villa exasperated by his impotence, intending to leave in a 1920s Bugatti, but is found frozen in the car in the morning; Michel dies of indigestion; Ugo stuffs himself to death; and Philippe dies under a bench under the Boileau tree after eating a cake made by Andréa in the shape of two breasts.

The back support of the bench has a common quotation in English by Dorothy Frances Gurney: 'Kiss of the sun for pardon. Song of the birds for mirth. You're closer to God's heart in a garden than any place else on earth.'

14 January 2021

Éric Rohmer's Quatre aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle | Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987)


Quatre aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle are, as the title indicates, four short films following the same two young girls: Reinette (Joëlle Miquel) and Mirabelle (Jessica Forde). Each section is given a title:

L'Heure Bleue

This involves Mirabelle, on holiday in the country, cycling through the hamlet of Saincy, near Rebais, Seine-et-Marne, when she has a puncture and doesn't seem to have a clue as to what to do with it. Reinette, about the same age, walks up to her fixes it. She invites Rainette into the converted hayloft where she lives in the summer, and Mirabelle stays with her for a few days: the attraction is watching the moment the sun rises (reminiscent of Le Rayon vert). But the real attraction is Rainette's paintings: she wants to learn art in Paris, although her paintings show a remarkable untutored skill which Rainette possesses. But she's not heard of surrealism, and nor has she heard of the subject Mirabelle is studying: ethnology.

Le Garçon de café

Reinette and Mirabelle are now living together in Paris. They agree to meet in a café, Reinette arrives there first where she installs herself at the terrasse, and the waiter asks her for the 4.50 francs in advance. She only has a 200 franc note, which the waiter refuses and doesn't believe that she's waiting for a friend. When Mirabelle arrives she doesn't have change either, and the waiter gets nastier. When he goes inside, the girls run off, although Reinette returns the next day with the money.

Le Mendiant, la Kleptomane et l'Arnaqueuse

Paris is of course full of beggars and Mirabelle gently rebukes Reinette for giving money to one: it can get expensive.

In a supermarket Mirabelle notices a woman putting champagne, salmon and duck pâté in a bag in her supermarket trolley, and also notices two store detectives watching her. At the checkout Mirabelle secretly steals the woman's bag, the woman is accosted but the store detectives of course find nothing. Mirabelle intends to return the bag to the woman but can't reach her in all the traffic so just takes the bag home. She explains everything to Reinette, saying she was trying to help the woman who must have been suffering from cleptomania, Reinette doesn't understand the logic and refuses to partake of the stolen goods: she can't see how Mirabell has acted morally correctly.

At a station Reinette gives 6.40 francs to a woman claiming she has problems, although it's an old trick and Reinette sees her doing the same to another woman, she challenges her, and the woman starts crying.

La Vente du tableau

Reinette can't afford to pay her part of the rent as the money she's expecting from her grandmother seems to be held up, so she feels she has to go back to the countryside. Mirabelle tells her to try to sell her paintings. A gallery dealer (Fabrice Luchini) agrees to see a painting, likes it and is surprised that Reinette doesn't appear to have heard of Magritte or Dali. He agrees to display the painting on a fifty-fifty basis: he'll ask for 2000 francs. But Reinette wants to be paid now, and she starts to cry. Mirabelle, who's acting as a potential customer, argues with the dealer until he pays Reinette. Shortly aferwards two customers are very interested in the painting. The price: 4000 francs.

Éric Rohmer's L'Ami de mon amie | My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (1987)


This is Éric Rohmer's sixth and final film in his 'Comédies et proverbes' series, and the subtitle 'Les amis de mes amis' ('My friends' friends are my friends') is a reference to a French proverb as well as a reference to Goethe's novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities) (1809). The setting is the new conurbation of Cergy-Pontoise.

Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) is a young and very shy worker in local government who currently has no boyfriend and not even any friends. And then she meets the very outgoing Léa (Sophie Renoir), who quickly becomes a very good friend. Léa is just concluding her studies and partly lives with Fabien (Éric Viellard), although isn't exactly ecstatic about the relationship. In fact Léa seems more interested in getting Blanche together with Alexandre, an engineer with a PhD who works for EDF and has a reputation as a skirt-chasing braggart.

And then Léa goes on holiday without Fabien, Blanche seems torn between Alexandre and Fabien, but is given to crying spells and regrets that she has shyly turned down the opportunity to become more acquainted with either Alexandre or Fabien. However, she goes swimming and windsurfing with Fabien, discovers that she more than likes him, and they end up in bed together.

If Rohmer's La Femme de l'aviateur is a film of jealousy, then L'Ami de mon amie is a film of guilt, and Blanche is shot through with guilt for having slept with the boyfriend of her best friend. But Fabien doesn't feel the same because he realises that Léa – attracted to the life of luxury – isn't really his type, but Blanche is.

When Léa returns from holiday she announces to Blanche (much to her unspoken chagrin) that she is back with Fabien, although this is very short lasting and she soon lures herself into Alexandre's clutches: much to the delight of all concerned, as Blanche can now lead a guilt-free relationship with Fabien.

13 January 2021

Éric Rohmer's La Femme de l'aviateur | The Aviator's Wife (1981)


La Femme de l'aviateur is the first film in Rohmer's 'Comédies et Proverbes' series and is set in Paris. This time the sub-title is 'On ne saurait penser à rien' ('We couldn't think of nothing', a variation of Alfred de Musset's 'On ne saurait penser à rien' ('We couldn't think of everything').

The irony of the title is that we never see the pilot's wife, although we see her husband, if in fact he is the husband of someone we never see. What is important here, as with all of Rohmer's films, is discussion, the possibility or the impossibility of love, but not certainties, just philosophilcal speculations.

François (Philippe Marlaud) is a university student of law working in a postal sorting office (which reminded me of Cosmo in Patrick Lapeyre's novel Paula ou personne) to get by, and is in love with Anne (Marie Rivière, Rohmer's actrice fétiche), although she's received a visit from her (former?) lover Christian (Mathieu Carrière, who's been away for three months), who has told her his wife is pregnant and he's returning to her.

François doesn't know this and tries to talk to Anne, but she's not in talking mode. By chance, François sees Christian with a woman in a bar, follows them on a bus and then follows them into parc des Buttes-Chaumont.* Shortly before this he gets talking to Lucie (Anne-Laure Meury), a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl interested in languages. And detective stories: François seems interesting. And he tells Anne the story, they tail Christian and his companion, but Anne has to go but leaves her address as she wants to know the end of the story.

And then François is rebuffed by Anne, who is depressed about Christian concluding her romance with her, in spite of not being in favour of marriage, which kills things. So where does François stand? Certainly on soggy ground when he sees one of his workmates much involved with Lucie. Life is a lottery, surely?

*This park was designed by Adolphe Alphand, who was also responsible for his development of the parc Montsouris, the parc Monceau, the bois du Boulogne, the bois de Vincennes, and many other places. This has nothing to do with the story, but is nevertheless very interesting.

12 January 2021

Éric Rohmer's Pauline à la plage | Pauline at the Beach (1983)


Pauline à la plage is the third film in Rohmer's 'Comédies et Proverbes' series and is set in Jullouville, near Granville, Manche. Marion (Arielle Dombasle) takes her fifteen-year-old cousin Pauline (Amanda Longet) to her holiday home for a few weeks' break. There they meet Marion's former lover Pierre (Pascal Greggory), who's a windsurfer, and his friend Henri (Féodor Atkine). Later, Sylvain (Simon de La Brosse) will chat up Pauline, and Louisette, the marchande de bonbons, will play a crucial part in the events.

Rohmer is of course a highly literary director, and at the beginning of the movie we have a quotation from Chrétien de Troyes: 'Qui trop parole, il se mesfait', which I would translate as 'The person who talks too much creates his own problems'. This is an excellent description of the film, which in many ways resembles a play with half the scenes at the seaside. The startling thing is that in almost forty years the film has aged so little, although this in part is certainly due to the lack of clothing: this is Normandy, but obviously in the heat of the summer.

Forgetting Chrétien de Troyes, this film could almost be a modernised play by Shakespeare, with Rohmerian dicussions thrown in. Love is the most important thing of interest, with Marion – having experienced one marriage but not love – seeking that sensation. Pauline, being so young, of course hasn't been there, apart from when she was twelve, but then that hardly counts; Henri seems to have become immune; but Pierre is obviously in love with his former lover.

At a dance Marion snubs Pierre, kisses Henri, sleeps with him and is falling into a place Henri obviously doesn't recognise, as proved by the fact that he has noisy sex with Luisette while Marion is showing Pauline the Mont Saint Michel. But then Marion returns early, just in time to catch Luisette hiding in the bathroom with, er, Pauline's boyfriend Syvain. There's a hell of a lot of unravelling to do here, lies to be made, then undone, until the truth isn't known by all, as indeed it shouldn't be. Yep, Shakespeare's written all over this.

Jean Renoir's Une partie de campagne | A Day in the Country (1936; release 1946)


Renoir's Une partie de campagne is adapted from Maupassant's story of the same name, lasts just forty minutes, and concerns the Dufour family's day trip from Paris to the countryside (Bezons, which has changed a little since then). Cyprien (André Gabriello) is the ironmonger father, Juliette (Jane Marken) his wife, Henriette (Sylvia Bataille) his daughter, Anatole (Paul Temps) Henriette's fiancé and Gabrielle Fontan plays Cyprien's mother-in-law. They borrow the milkman's horse and cart and stop by an auberge by the river, where they order a meal.

There is a clear difference in classes here: the lust as the canotiers Henri (Georges Darnoux) and Rodophe (Jacques Brunius) watch Juliette and Henriette on the swings, particularly Rodolphe trying to see up Henriette's skirt, is one of the major moments in the film; the clumsy city clothes of the Parisians are out of place compared with the appropriate light clothing of the canotiers. Rodophe takes Juliette in his boat, Henri takes Henriette, and they are both easily seduced while Cyprien and the pathetic Anatole are left fishing.

At a later date Henriette is with her husband Anatole on the riverbank where she was with Henri and, while Anatole is snoozing, she sees Henri a short distance away. Both are visibly moved to see the other.

11 January 2021

Jean Rollin's La Vampire nue | The Nude Vampire (1969)

Jean Rollin (1938-2010) was the son of the actor Claude Martin and Denise Lefroi, who when he was one year old formed a liasion with Georges Bataille, with whom she lived in Vézelay until 1943. But Bataille met Diane Kotchoubey De Beauharnais and there was a brief ménage à trois until Denise left with Jean.

Rollin is noted for his erotic vampire films, of which this is his second. La Vampire nue is easier to sum up than it is to describe. There's a general dream-ike atmosphere although the film in general is marred by a B-movie feel, as if this isn't the main feature. Pierre Radamante (Olivier Rollin, Jean's half-brother) falls in love with a young girl (Caroline Cartier) who's trying to escape from beast-headed men he later discovers are working for his father Georges (Maurice Lemaître): they think she's a vampire and want to experiment on her to discover the secret of immortality.

I could go on but the plot gets very complicated. It's enough to say that she's not a vampire but an immortal, and Pierre in the end joins her in immortality. OK, this was only Rollin's second film, but to say it creaks somewhat is putting it mildly, and I really think all the bare-breasted women must have been there for the box office. I can understand why this film got really mixed (but mainly negative) reviews from professional and amateur reviewers alike, but it might be interesting to see how Rollin fares with a later movie of his.

10 January 2021

Catherine Breillat's Romance (1999)


This is a pornographic film. Not. Rather, it's anti-pornographic, although it had to cross a number of censors' walls in order to convince. OK, there's a small amount of graphic, real (meaning unsimulated) sex in this movie, but it's in no way titillating, nothing here is designed to arouse men's lust. This is a feminist film in which Breillat's intention is to depict image as idea, characters with emotions: quite a distance from porn.

Virtually everything is seen from a female point of view, with the protagonist Marie (Catherine Ducey) being the watcher and the doer, and she provides the voiceovers. She lives with her boyfriend Paul (Sagamore Stévenin) in a flat that is almost entirely white, not modern, chic white but hospital white, virgin, characterless, sterile. And sterility, or sexlessness, is the name of the game here. Marie (now there's a name!) hates cotton as she finds it stifling, and yet Paul wears a white cotton tee-shirt in bed and only reluctantly takes it off when Marie asks him to. But even though he has a hard-on and she starts sucking he's not interested: in fact he's not interested in sex.

Already the tables have been turned here: the macho male is hoist by his own petard. At the beginning of the film Paul (a male model) is seen being made up for a photo session by posing (ahem) as a bullfighter in the arena in Arles with a woman he has to pose on tiptoe with in order to redress the balance of height. But Marie is so sexually frustrated that she seeks an outlet elsewhere, and sneaks out of bed with Paul to take his car and drive into central Paris to a bar where she finds herself staring at a man.*

The coup here is that Breillat has recruited Rocco Siffredi, the hardcore porn star, to be Marie's physical Paul, here known as Paolo: in other words he fulfils her sexual needs, but that's all: he's just an object Marie's using, a reversal of the usual objectification of woman.

Then there's the sale mec in the corridor who offers to lick Marie for 'cent balles' as she goes home after watching the sexless Paul reading Bukowski in a restaurant on his own, and although she's not against the licking he then rapes her. Plus, although dyslexic, she (rather badly) teaches French to young kids and attracts the attentions of the head teacher Robert (François Berléand), who invites Marie back to his place, tells her on two occasions that he's fucked 10,000 woman, and introduces her to the delights of sado-masochism.

Paul, Paolo and Robert are all made to look a little ridiculous here, as if Marie had triumphed over them, but who is the real winner when Marie gets pregnant and she blows up his flat? Or is that just a dream, like most of this movie? No matter how many times I might watch it, my conclusions will probably change frequently.

*Thanks to Google I was able to see that Marie had driven 4.5 km from 99-101 rue Bobillat, 17e, to Le Basile bar on the corner of rue Grenelle and rue St Guillaume, 7e.

9 January 2021

Andrew Kötting's The Whalebone Box (2020)


 And I thought Edith Walks was crazy. The Whalebone box itself goes back a long way in human time, in fact thirty years. It was then that sculptor Steve Dilworth in Tarbert, Harris – interested in once living objects, shamanism and other things – gave the box to Iain Sinclair, who promised to return it. Sinclair now thinks it's time. It is made from the bone of a washed-up whale and is said to contain a metal box filled with sea water. That's why – although we're not told this in the film – we sometimes see a different box here, in cardboard: Sinclair says he's an old man and the box is heavy; Kötting agrees and says it's like a car battery and you can only carry one of those so far.

So there we are, and the journey back to Harris begins, Kötting and Sinclair going with their 'muse' Eden Kötting, the director's daughter who has a genetic disorder and whose words are given subtitles: this film is in part from her dreams. Obviously there are many literary quotations, such as by Basil Bunting, whose grave in the Quaker cemetery in Briggflatts, Cumbria is visited on the way, and there's mention of T. S. Eliot's walking tour with Ezra Pound.

And of course there are songs, such as the disturbingly shrill 'Murdered Mermaid's Song' by MacGillivray, or the French rap band Quai des Brumes singing 'Julien et Mathias'. This latter may seem surprising, but then Kötting and Eden live part of the time in the French Pyrenees, and a digression in the film is a visit to the ruins of a castle in the times of the Cathars on Mont Ségur, which Sinclair considers crucial. This still doesn't give anything like an idea of the strangeness of the film, but how's this for a quotation from Sinclair, who of course is preoccupied by the relativity of time:

'You just find a right place to go and that's always a site within this forest. There might be a rock over there that would allow you access to the time of your great-grandfather, to the moment in the garden. There might be a waterfall over there which allows you through to the time of your mother's childhood. There are places you go to access time, the ghosts come into the forest and at that point linear time begins.'

No matter how much I stare at the words above I still think: 'This is hippie crap!' Very weird film, quite fascinating, but Sinclair's words, often admittedly fascinating too, sometimes just seem to clog it up.

Andrew Kötting's Edith Walks (2017)


This, like Swandown, is a journey with Iain Sinclair, although here it's a walk involving several other people. And it's even crazier. The purpose of this is in memory of King Harold (killed in 1066, of course) and his wife. The journey, or pilgrimage, is in reverse order, beginning from where King Harold's remains are said to be, Waltham Abbey, and ending in St Leonards-on-Sea, where there's a sculpture of the pair.

Harold's wife, Edith Swan-Neck, is a character on the march played by singer and actor Claudia Barton, and the others – apart from Kötting and Sinclair – are percussionist David Aylward, who drums, plays bicycle spokes and anything else he can get a sound from; writer and 'wizard' Alan Moore, who believes time is a box and that Hereward the Wake was a reincarnation of Harold: and Anonymous Bosch, who uses a pinhole camera.

The troupe meet with many incidents on the way, and – as is usual – Kötting fills the film with snippets of different films, the most notable being a 1966 ninth centenary reinactment of the Battle of Hastings performed by young school children and devised by three local head teachers. Wonderful, total insanity. Brexit was of course one inspiration, trying to put together what has has been torn apart, like England in 1066 and the pieces of Harold himself. The film, by the way, lasts just one hour sixty-six seconds!

Andrew Kötting's Lek and the Dogs (2017)


This is the last of Kötting's Earthworks (or Landworks) trilogy, which also includes This Filthy Earth (2001) and the French-made Ivul (2009), in all three of which French perormance artist and actor Xavier Tchili appears as 'Lek'. This film is based on Hattie Naylor's play Ivan and the Dogs, which itself is based on the true story of the Russian Ivan Mishukov, who as a child left his Moscow home following abuse from his stepfather and his alcoholic mother. He spent two years living  with a pack of dogs which accepted him, although the time Lek spends with the dogs is much longer. With its overvoices by ‘body psychotherapist’, ‘child psychologist’ and ‘animal behaviourist’ it appears very much like a documentary on one of the most terrifying forms of alienation.

There is also something of Samuel Beckett's play Krapp's Last Tape in this, along with Tarkovsky's film Stalker, although it is in a space of its own. Kötting'x Lek is less adaptable than the non-fictional Ivan, and he leaves his girlfriend Mina and his child to return to the world he knew before. At the end of the film I thought Lek was walking around a dog cemetery, and then a quotation from Eugene O'Neill: 'There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.'

8 January 2021

Andrew Kötting's Swandown (2012)


I know this is an insane premise but then could a mixture of Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair be anything else? This is a journey on a swan-necked pedalo from Hastings to the site of the Olypic Games taken in 2011: a total of 160 miles. We meet Alan Moore on the way, who says (probably more in seriousness than jest) that what the film is about is that Ian Sinclair doesn't want anything to happen in Hackney without his permission. And Sinclair on the dreaded Olympics: 'There's not a thing there that stands up to the reality of being on the River Thames.' So there we have it.

All kinds of odd things happen: for instance, somewhere west of Bodiam Castle they drift past a young woman who seems to be doing an impression of Millais's Ophelia painting (suicide on the river, that is), but both Sinclair and Kötting totally ignore her: stage-managed, of course, and it's for laughs, but it gives a general taste of the film. There are also shots from silent movies, quotations from poems and books, all of course to be expected.

The merry pair travelled for four weeks in September and October 2011, during which they got through 84 litres of water, two bottles of whisky, six bottles of wine and twenty-four cans of Special Brew. They also 'got through' eight pairs of sunglasses, a tailormade suit, a pair of walking boots and, er, a camper van. (Well, that's what it says at the end of the film.) It is also noted that Kötting wore the same clothes every day, although Sinclair 'was changed regularly.'

I'm sure I don't have to say that the whole thing is absolutely preposterous, but of course also really enjoyable.

Andrew Kötting's This Filthy Earth (2001)


Andrew Kötting's second film throws us into a frightening world set, I'd say, in at an unknown English place sometime in the first half of the twentieth century. It relentlessly pursues the unbelievable violence, prejudice and wilful ignorance in a self-isolating (yes, I know that word is now overused!) rural community where lust for money, sex and drink are the ruling desires, but not necessarily in that order.

No compromises are made here, and I can only shudder to think what an awful mess Hollywood would have made of this.  The elderly farmer father (Dudley Suttton) is very difficult to get on with (as are most of the characters here. His daughters Kath (Demelza Randall)  and Francine (Rebecca Palmer) work on the farm and the brutish Buto (Shane Attwooll) essentially marries Kate as he is after the property, and indeed begins to declare to most people shortly after marriage that it's his land. As for Kath, well, she's just grateful for a regular sex life. Oh, and Buto's brother is always drunk but has the nickname of 'Jesus Christ' because of his dark long hair and his beard.

Loosely based on Zola's novel La Terre, this is a grim world full of dirt, terrible weather and almost universal piggish behaviour. In fact apart from the weather, I was very much reminded of Adoul's Le Souffle.

Francine is touching though, as is the Russian farmhand Lek (Xavier Tchili), who is inevitably the brunt of so many racist insults. It's Lek who's the most competent of the whole bunch, but as the outsider he's also deeply hated and is the village scapegoat: if anything goes wrong, he's the cause.

I could write quite an amount on this devastating naturalistic movie, but suffice to say that it's a gem.

6 January 2021

Carl Theodor Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'arc | The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)


Originally intended as a talkie, this silent film is considered by many critics as not only a brilliant classic of the silent age, but as a classic of cinema tout court, one of the best films ever made. Here, Jeanne d'arc (Renée Falconetti) is forced into a farcical trial in which it is demanded that she recant her perceived heresy, her hearing voices directly from God, and to 'admit' that she heard voices from the devil. For that, her life will be spared.

Of course, Jeanne refuses to listen to the hypocrites and is burned at the stake. Many believed that a saint had been burned. A stunning film by any measure.

Lisa Barras D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's Good Vibrations (2016)


This is the (partly fictionalised) story of the iconic Terri Hooley, who of course set up the 'Good Vibrations' record shop in Belfast, which was seen by some as a crazy thing to go during the Troubles in the 1980s. Terri has no objection to crazy, and at now over seventy – admitting that he has to slow down a bit and that it took him a week to recover from a visit to Amsterdam – also admits that he has the mental age of an eleven-year-old. Some exaggeration there of course, but we understand what he means, and also understand how he must have felt during the generally more positive side of his musical life shown here.

So Terri starts the 'Good Vibrations' shop in the early 1980s – which incidentally has been through at least eleven lives – and a little later started the record label of the same name due to the booming Belfast punk scene. Such bands as The Outcasts were prominent, although the most noted one is of course The Undertones, whose 'Teenage Kicks' became so legendary.

Terri is seen giving his all to ensure that John Peel hears 'Teenage Kicks', a record which he plays twice in a row - something he'd never done before. The sight of Terri (played by Richard Dormer) and his partner Ruth (Jodie Whittaker) dancing for joy when they listen to this magic moment must be the highlight of the film. (Peel always called it his all-time favourite song, and even had a line of it inscribed on his headstone.)

This is the story of a guy who's definitely not in it for the money but the sheer love of rebellious music that is intended to break through any sectarian boundaries.

Alain Jessua: Crèvecœur (1999)

Many French film directors are also writers, but Alain Jessua (1932-2017) made films until 1997 (one intial short and nine features), and then turned novelist, with eight to his credit. Le Crèvecœur ('Crève-cœur' meaning 'heartbreak') is a fictional village here, and in this first novel are many of the features in his films: desperation, artificiality, sex, the future, technology, surveillance, a general sense of anarchy, etc.

France is now essentially an urban country, with people being encouraged (almost forced) to move out of the countryside, which is a lawless zone where savage human 'rats' terrorise the remaining people. Paris is now a spotless city with polished pavements and businesses run by the state: the penalty for dropping litter is a three-month prison sentence, although it's all right for people to have sex (discreetly?) in churches, as long as condoms are not discarded as litter. Churches are for anyone to enjoy, especially the mainly elderly prayers, and there are images of Muhammad along with other religious icons.

There are essentially two interlinked stories here, with the young Isabelle being rescued from being raped by two 'rats' in a savage area by two cops, and the commissaire Chêne taking her under his control. He's given two weeks to solve the mystery of this girl, whom he 'adopts' into his childless family and who slowly comes to appreciate him not as a potential (and illegal) lover but as someone who genuinely wants to help her – a rare thing in the world that France has now become.

And France is now a police state, where everyone dutifully watches everyone else, including the 'rats', some of whom work for the cops: it's impossible to know what information is being gathered on you. Here cameras don't seem too widely available, but they are left in homes as bugging devices.

There are 'visiophones' and it's by a 'disquette' that Chêne learns of the history of Isabelle's step-father Louis Moulin and his grandfather, the information on it slowly unravelling as this fascinating novel progresses.