28 February 2021

Marcel Carné's Drôle de drame | Bizarre, Bizarre (1937)

This film – far from conventional as a part of Marcel Carné's canon – could easily be dismissed (or relished) as a Hollywood-style screwball thirties comedy, maybe especially because it's set in an Anglophone country and because Jacques Prévert's script is based on J. Storer Clouston's novel His First Offence (1912). There's more to it than that though. Certainly there are some preposterous things happening: Inspecteur Bray (Pierre Alcover) thinking all the milk bottles are an antidote to poison; the fact that no one (including Margaret Molyneux (Françoise Rosay)) should be thought to have been murdered in the first place; that the milkman Billy (Jean-Pierre Aumont) should be arrested for the supposed murder; that a 'sleeper' should be employed by the police to discover things in his dreams; that an employee in a Chinese hotel, told to get a bunch of flowers, should mug men with flowers in order to get them; and on and on.

It's hopeless to relate the events in the film as they just don't add up, but then if we look at the themes of this we can't help but see a kind of sense: the world is riddled with corruption and absurdity, there's very little truth to be found anywhere, and anyway how can anyone be trusted to make sense of anything anyway? Everything's scewed, and pretence abounds: Irwin Molyneux (Michel Simon) is the detective novelist Félix Chapel; Margaret is also Daisy (to William Kramps (Jean-Louis Barrault)); and the greedy, hypocritical, self-seeking bishop Soper (Louis Jouvet) disguises himself as a Scotsman to re-find the compromising comment on a Folies Bergère programme by another Daisy (a dancer of 'loose' morals) that he's left at Molyneux's home. An anarchist criticism of religion, the law, the family, all institutions?

Certainly this is a satire on British behaviour: the necessity to keep up appearances, the hiding of everything (including the sexual organs Scotsmen are said to hide under their kilts); the London fog; etc. But there's more to this than is beneath a sporran.

René Clair's À nous, la liberté ! | Liberty Is Ours! (1931)

'La liberté, c'est toute l'existence,

Mais les humains ont créé les prisons,

Les règlements, les lois, les convenances

Et les travaux, les bureaux, les maisons.

Ai-je raison ?

Alors disons :

Mon vieux copain, la vie est belle,

Quand on connaît la liberté,

N'attendons plus, partons vers elle,

L'air pur est bon pour la santé.

Partout, si l'on en croit l'histoire,

Partout on peut rire et chanter,

Partout on peut aimer et boire,

A nous, à nous la liberté !'

Above is the freedom song sung by the prisoners in the jail Émile (Henri Marchand) and Louis (Raymond Cordy) find themselves in, and they are friends planning to break out. Louis succeeds, but Émile is sent back to prison, from which he eventually manages to escape. Meanwhile Émile has worked his way up from street record seller, to having his own shop selling phonographs, to owning a huge phonograph factory with many workers: he is living a life of luxury with untold wealth.

But the interesting thing about this factory is that it in so many ways resembles the prison Émile and Louis have experienced: instead of making toy horses like the convicts, Louis now has his workers, after clocking in, march into soldiers kept strictly in file, manning an assembly line maybe screwing a nut in, overwatched by foremen instead of wardens, taking their meals from a conveyor belt (like the prisoners), and are searched on their exit. Louis doesn't seem to see the irony though.

By accident Émile joins the factory workers and then meets Louis, who is slow to recognise him. This film is an early bromance, and Émile will fondly remember the winks he used to make to Louis in their plot to escape from prison, and remember the above song in particular. As recognition of the two escaped convicts closes in on them, they prefer the freedom of being tramps to the prison of being in prison or a part of the prison which is society.

27 February 2021

René Clair’s Paris qui dort | The Crazy Ray (1924)

Paris qui dort is a fascinating silent science fiction film in which the guardian of the Tour Eiffel Albert (Henri Rollin) wakes up to find that Paris hasn't woken up, and shows no signs of doing so. Putting his clothes on he descends the tower and finds an empty city, apart from some people frozen at 03:25, in vehicles, a cop after a robber, a man on a bench, there's no way of moving them from their static positions in time. The world has stopped moving. I was very much reminded of Nicholson Baker's much later novel La Fermata (1994).

Then he discovers five more moving people, only they were on a plane from Marseille to Paris at the time, so like Albert at the top of the Tour Eiffel they somehow missed the halt of the progress in time. They are free to do as they please, they can rob people, raid tills, take jewels, become wildly rich, but then that doesn't have any meaning when a world in which money can't be used as a transaction anyway: as time has stopped, so has the possibility – and even the meaning – of a financial transaction.

A call from the niece of a (mad) scientist informs them of the address of the person responsible for the disaster, they arrive at the laboratory and force the man to put time back to normal, which he does. The plane passengers go about their normal lives, Albert goes up the Tour Eiffel with the niece, and...

Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's Ma vraie vie à Rouen (2002)

Ma vraie vie à Rouen is something of an experimental film, although that is no surprise bearing in mind what Ducastel and Martineau have produced recently. It reminded me not only of the much more recent Stéphane Riethauser's Madame with its gay coming of age, but also its amateurish camcorder footage, which in this case is deliberate.

His grandmother (Hélène Surgère) gives Étienne (Jimmy Tavares) a camcorder for his sixteenth birthday, although we don't discover that until a number of oddly painful moments staring at Caroline (Ariane Ascaride) staring at the camera, wondering if it's recording her. She'll soon get to know only too well how true this is.

The camera will be Étienne's toy throughout this movie, although toy is the wrong word for such an existential tool: it's an extension of his consciousness, an exploratory object by and through which he can not only attempt to hide his intentions but also discover himself.

Much of the time we see Étienne with his friend Ludo, photographing Ludo, and Ludo asks 'What?' because he can't understand why Étienne is photographing him all the time, but he also obsessively asks Ludo about his relationship with his girlfriend, wanting to know 'how far' he's gone with her. (As usual, the sub-titles don't do the spoken words justice, and this time 'Tu l'as faite ?' is, for example, way too weak for the strong 'Did you fuck her?' we see on screen. But no matter.) Étienne has a few obsessions, but his sexuality is one he has to figure out for himself. Painfully.

Is his constantly photographing his mother an intended distraction from his preoccupation with shooting men or is this oedipal? Anyway, his mother gets together with his teacher Laurent (Jonathan Zaccaï), and Étienne finds himself working his camera on Laurent in overdrive. All the main subjects of his vision – Ludo, mother and 'step-father' – are more than a little irritated by being filmed, and Laurent (after too many drinks) goes as far as to ask if Étienne's doing this because he 'likes' him, even slightly unzipping himself.

And then Étienne asks Ludo about men-liking-men relationships, but Ludo walks away, but Étienne then comes upon a male stranger who welcomes him into his bed. End of self-quest, perhaps, but who will he aim his camera at now he's lost his cherry?

26 February 2021

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Faustrecht der Freiheit | Fox and His Friends (1975)

I'm not exactly too sure why, but to some extent I see Fox and His Friends as the flipside of Fassbinder's Fear Eats the Soul. Homosexuality never presents itself as a problem here, rather it's the difference between social classes, and it's this second issue which is partly why I see this as a film which has aged more than Fear Eats the Soul. We're still living with racism and ageism today, although class issues have partly blurred: who is really interested today if a person doesn't eat a dessert with a fork, as if they know nothing of classical music or opera? Pop and rock are the great levellers.

'Fox' (played by Fassbinder himself) is an illiterate working-class gay guy who loses his fairground job when his boyfriend Klaus (Karl Scheydt) is arrested for tax fraud, but wins 500,000 marks in the lottery*. While cruising a public toilet Fox meets Max (Karlheinz Böhm), an art dealer who introduces him to some of his gay friends. One of these is Eugen (Peter Chatel), who leaves his boyfriend when Fox stupidly mentions his win. Fox is soon living with Eugen, who is a swindler and a manipulator, although it's too late as Fox has fallen in love with him.

Eugen first gets Fox to 'invest' 100,000 in his factory, then to buy an appartment and to fill it with expensive furniture. They hold a party there but it has to be disbanded when Fox's sister Hedwig (Christiane Maybach) gets drunk and behaves uncouthly. To ease feelings off – it's obvious that Eugen is using Fox to milk him of all his money but Fox is too far gone to understand that – they decide to go on holiday, to Morocco but nothing so common as a cheap package tour, of course. In Morocco they meet Salem (El Hedi ben Salem, from Fear Eats the Soul – and incidentally a former boyfriend of Fassbinder's), who seems interested in them, but on the way to their hotel room a member of staff tells them Arabs aren't allowed in the rooms. They stare at the member of staff (who's surely  an Arab too), but he says they can have one of their 'boys' if they like: they pass on that one.

Eugen's company is going bankrupt and the workers need to be paid. The forever gullible and unbelievably good-natured Fox gives his flat to Eugen so he can take out a bank loan. Things get worse. When they have Eugen's family to dinner all Eugen can do is criticise Fox's table manners and generally make fun of him. Eventually Fox he splits with Eugen, only to find what a mess he's in: he's not been able to read the agreement he made on the 100,000 marks, Eugen now owns his flat and put new locks on it, and the new car he's bought is a gas guzzler that no one wants so he has to sell it for just 8000 marks.

Fox had previously been prescribed strong Valium for panic attacks, he gobbles the lot and is found dead lying in an underground station. Schoolkids rifle his pockets and even take his jacket from him.

*Brigitte Mira, who starred in Fear Eats the Soul, makes a cameo appearance as the kindly shop keeper who sells Fox the ticket just as she's closing down.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte | Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)

Beware of a Holy Whore is influenced by Fassbinder's own experiences with his previous film Whity, a spaghetti western which never went on general release. In turn, this was an inspiration behind Olivier Asseyas's Irma Vep (1996), and it's interesting to note the appearance of the French actor Eddie Constantine is this, in which he plays himself and his appearance as Lemmy Caution in Godard's Alphaville is also mentioned.

As one of Fassbinder's preoccupations is unhappy families – and by extension the vast majority of social relationships in his cinema are unhappy (that's the way of the world as he sees it) – then here we have a film about the horrors of making a film (in a sea resort in Spain in this case). The main characters in Beware of a Holy Whore (apart from Constantine) are the director of the film within a film Jeff (Lou Castel), actors Ricky (Marquard Bohm) and Hanna (Hanna Schygulla), and the producer Sascha (Fassbinder himself).

Egos collide; many cuba libres are drunk and glasses thrown about the bar and hotel lobby; money doesn't arrive; the director, producer and other members of the film crew yell at each other; people (hetero- but mainly homosexual) kiss, have sex or simply lust after each other; there's a lot of Leonard Cohen music; and everyone is thoroughly pissed off. 

There's a final amusing quotation, from Thomas Mann: 'And I say to you that I am weary to death of depicting humanity without partaking of humanity'.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant | The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

This is very much a play-like film, and claustrophobically set in one bedroom with a small cast of only women. This is where Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen) lives, and where she dictatorially treats her secretary Marlene (Irm Hermann) not so much as a servant but as a slave. She's a fashion designer with naked models as furniture and a mural of Poussin's Midas and Bacchus as a backcloth. She's had two husbands, had a daughter by the first who's away at boarding school, although she seems to be essentially bisexual. This film is mainly about her bisexual relationship with Karin (Hanna Schygulla), with whom she's madly in love but Karin doesn't feel at all the same way – she merely likes Petra.

Karin is married although her abusive husband is in Sydney for some time, from where Karin has just returned. Petra, in love at first sight, says that Karin should be a model. As with other films by Fassbinder, there's a difference between social backgrounds here, and Petra comes from a stable middle-class family whereas Karin's working-class father killed his wife while drunk and then killed himself. Petra has her move out of her hotel and in with her. She stays there for some months but Karin wants to go to Frankfurt when she learns her husband's there, and Petra – now drunk – gets Marlene to take her to the airport.

In another scene the bed appears to have disappeared and Petra is sprawled on the carpet drinking and eagerly expecting Karin to phone her every time there's a call. It's her birthday and her daughter Gaby (Eva Mattes) joins her, along with her cousin Sidonie Katrin Schaake) and her mother Katrin (Katrin Schaake). Throwing a tantrum, she smashes her presents.

Although Petra is later repentent, Marlene leaves her, inexplicably taking a gun with her.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Die Ehe der Maria Braun | The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

At the beginning of the film initially set in 1943 an explosion comes at the start of a marriage, at the end of it an explosion ends the marriage: the first explosion is of a worldwide political dimension, whereas the second is – if we exclude the possibility of suicide – an accidental lapse of memory. And lack of memory a crucial factor, of course, in Germany being able to renew itself after its defeat in the war: ironically, this is when the 'renewal' of the marriage comes to a tragic end.

Germany collapses and we will see emblems of American culture appearing: not only has Fassbinder made his German American, Douglas Sirk-inspired melodrama for the masses-cum-auteur film for the cinephiles, but this is an end-of-the-war film which will span several years, working through Germany re-building itself as a monster capitalist force. Eva will say she works for capitalism by day, the working-class by night, and is, er, the Mata Hari of the economic miracle.

Maria (Hanna Schygulla) marries Hermann Braun (Klaus Lowitsch) as the bombs fall and in under two days Hermann is off to fight and is (apparently) killed. Maria becomes a prostitute and falls for Bill (George Byrd) until a very much alive Hermann stumbles in on the beginning of a love scene between Maria and Bill, and Maria hits Bill over the head with a full bottle and kills him. But Maria isn't imprisoned because Hermann takes the blame for it and is sent down for several years.

In this time Maria (much like Germany itself) recreates herself, forcing herself up the social ladder by amazing intelligence and not a little cunning manipulation: it's not for nothing that the feminism (if failed in the end) in this film has been noted. She begins as secretary to Oswald (Ivan Desny)'s business and in the end is making the main decisions in it, although at the same time she joins the older Oswald in his bed.

When Hermann leaves prison he doesn't join his wife but goes off to Canada to make his money and sends her a red rose to remind her of his eternal love for her. He only rejoins her a few years later on the death of Oswald, and Maria learns of the pact he'd made with Hermann while he was in prison: on his death Maria and Hermann would inherit all his wealth if Hermann leaves Maria until that time.

So, united after so many years, the couple are free to live together, although Maria, lighting a cigarette from the gas stove, forgets to turn it off and there's an almighty explosion which kills them both.

The film is full of references to the public and the private world - bombs at the wedding, the family eating a meal while Adenauer speaks on radio, and when Maria and Hermann are blown up we hear from the radio that Germany has won the world cup against Hungary: a symbol of Germany's new post-war power which one couple won't enjoy.

24 February 2021

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Angst essen Seele auf* | Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

This is a film of love and loneliness – and also racism and ageism in post-war Germany – and is a inspired by Douglas Sirk's films (and All That Heaven Allows in particular). One evening Emmi Kurowski (Brigitte Mira), an elderly widowed cleaning woman, shelters from the rain in an café unknown to her: the blank stares are mainly due to the fact that she is in a bar frequented by north Africans. Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) is more than twenty years younger than her asks her to dance to a jukebox record. They do so and leave together, Ali walking her to her flat. As it's raining she invites him in for a coffee and a few brandies, and as she desperately wants her loneliness to be held off she asks him to stay, which he does. But in the spare bedroom he can't sleep, knocks at her door and she is stunned but delighted to have found a lover.

The slander mill begins and the racism of the neighbours comes to the fore. Immigrants, of course, are dirty, only want money and sex, and are idle. While Ali works in the car factory Emmi goes to her daughter Barbara (Barbara Valentin) to announce that she's in love, and her son-in-law Eugen (Fassbinder himself) is pretending to be on sick leave, although he's evidently perfectly well in his vest, swilling beer, ordering his wife around and spouting hypocritical clichés about the worthlessness of immigrants. Emmi is undeterred.

It's significant that, when the lovers (for they are lovers) get together again that night, Emmi cooks him a meal and Ali insists on giving Emmi money for the hospitality he's received. That same night the landlord's son visits and tells Emmi that she's breaking her lease by subletting the property, although Emmi responds that she's marrying Ali: landlord's son and scandal mill silenced.

The unusual couple do indeed marry and Emmi later introduces him to her dumbstruck family, one of her sons reactions being to kick in her television set. He later sends a cheque to replaces the set, Ali even shakes his hand when her son apologises, but the damage is done, and anyway they've already had to go through the trauma of her racist local shop owner in effect refusing to serve her husband who he says can't even speak German.

Emmi herself falls into a racist trap by having her work colleagues meet him and feel his muscles, treating him as some kind of circus exhibit, and she doesn't want to cook him his beloved couscous. Inevitably he falls into the hands of younger women, his workmates mock her by calling her his grandmother, and in the bar he begins to burn their savings away.

As on the first day, Emmi enters the café and asks the server to put the same song on. Ali immediately gets up from the card game, asks her to dance with him, and although she says she can understand him sleeping with younger women, that she sees how old she is every time she looks into the mirror, he tells her she's his one love. He has a fit and has to be rushed to hospital, the doctor says its a perforated stomach ulcer very common in immigrants due to stress, and that he's sure to be back in hospital in six months time. Emmi says, with determination, that he won't.

*The literal meaning of this is 'Fear Eat Soul Up', and the English title is taken from an Arabic expression, the unorthodox German being the way Ali speaks 'pidgeon German', and this style of his talking is reproduced in the sub-titles.

Luis Buñuel’s Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie | The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

This being a film directed by Buñuel, there is criticism of governmental corruption, of the bourgeoisie, of religion, the military, the police, and by extension of all institutions. Buñuel's main weapons are surrealism and/or absurdity.

At the beginning there are six people at a dinner which is an evening too early: Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey, ambassador of the (fictitious) South American Republic of Miranda), François Thévenot (Paul Frankeur), his wife Simone (Delphine Seyrig) and her sister Florence (Bulle Ogier) arrive unexpectedly at the home of Henri Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Castel) and his wife Alice (Stéphane Audran). This is to be the first of several interrupted or non-existent eating or drinking failures, such as when François drives the others to a simple auberge he knows, although the door is at first locked but when they are seated and about to make orders they discover that there is a dead patron a few yards away. They leave hastily.

Raphael sells François and Henri a large quantity of cocaine (proved to be excellent by the fictional Harrison-Srauder test), and during the transaction Raphael looks out of the window, sees a young woman outside the Embassy of Miranda selling toys, and shoots a clockwork dog, explaining to the mystified François that she's a terrorist fighting against his government.

When the dinner is to take place again, Henri and Alice beforehand climb out of their bedroom window to have sex in the garden, causing Raphael and François to suspect that there's gong to be a raid by the drug squad, so they depart. When Henri and Alice return to the house they're surprised to find their guests have gone, although a bishop dressed as a gardener turns up and – after a slight misunderstanding – is employed as a gardener.

There's really no need to ask for explanations here, particularly as some of the later events – such as the murder of a colonel by Raphael, the assassination of all the main characters, the appearance of ghosts, etc – can usually be explained by bad dreams, even by dreams within dreams. This is, after all, a film by Buñuel. Cue for the six principal characters – as they've done several times before in the movie – to inexplicably walk down a country road together, although this final time they're not walking away from the water tower but towards it.

23 February 2021

Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Haut perchés | Don't Look Down (2019)

This is another huis clos, this time with five people high up in Paris within view of the Tour Eiffel, one young woman and four guys: Veronica (Manika Auxire), Marius (Geoffrey Couët), Louis (François Nambot), Lawrence (Lawrence Valin) and Nathan (Simon Frenay). All five are victims of an unnamed, never seen man, a monster who has abused their love, and it is the turn of each one to conclude their relationship by seeing him individually, although the pact is that none of them will reveal what happened in any of the one-to-one occasions.

Each has his or her separate pain and no one has 'known' the same man, although there is one particularly surreal occasion when Nathan sticks his chest out and starts strutting like a chicken, others recognise this as a common experience, and start bumping each others' thrust out chests. Most seem to agree with the well-known nursery rhyme 'Il était un petit navire' which Veronica begins and others join in, which speaks of a person drawing a short straw on a ship to find out who will be eaten:

'On tira à la courte paille

On tira à la courte paille,

Pour savoir qui-qui-qui serait mangé,

Pour savoir qui-qui-qui serait mangé,

Ohé ! Ohé !'

Their pain is common, but their individual experiences are different, such as Veronica saying the tyrant used to shop with her, she would buy things he said he liked, he acted as if they were a couple, although they wouldn't eat together. But they eat his food in the highrise flat, and it's obvious that Veronica and Marius take a delight in slicing a sausage, clearly imagining that they're slicing  the monster's penis.

Marius is very proud, these are obviously cultured victims, and he initially objects to mistakenly being call 'Mario', at which he snorts and says he's not a plumber. At the beginning he puts on some music and dances frantically to himself, then relaxing as if relieved of a burden.

Nathan breaks down crying in another room, tears run down Louis's face at the memory of the abuse to which he's been put, but when it's Marius's turn to go to the man they retreat from his loud laughter (which he later denies) and shut themselves out on the veranda, looking at the view.

Lawrence proves to be a genius at trigonometry when he cuts an apple tart they've cooked into exactly five equal sections, and – their separate exorcisms over – they contemplate the view and vaguely locate where they shall go back home. This is a film where the action is mainly internal and we're left imagining: not one for those who like meanings served up on a plate.

22 February 2021

Jacques Rivette’s Paris nous appartient | Paris Belongs to Us (1961)

Paris nous appartient is Rivette's first feature and is something of a strange curiosity, being shot through by suicide or references to it, paranoia and general fear that doesn't seem to have a cause. This is set in 1957, when McCarthyism was at its height. Philip Kaufman (Daniel Crohem) has escaped from paranoid, witch-hunting America and fears that Gérard (Giani Esposito) will now be killed as the Spanish refugee Juan, who died before the film, is thought by some to have been killed, by others that he killed himself. Everything is unstable, although there is nothing to prove the validity of the characters' fears, which may well be only in their heads.

Anne Goupil (Betty Schneider), the sister of Pierre (François Maistre), is the main character in this unfathomable film, and is a student of Shakespeare. She at first meets a young Spanish woman in a room across from her, who speaks of the strange death of her brother, although she mysteriously disappears. Pierre takes her to a party where Philip is drunk and angry with Terry (Françoise Prévost), calling her responsible for Juan's death.

The next day Anne goes to a rehearsal of Shakespeare's Pericles, and Gérard (who was at the party) is the producer. She makes a kind of audition, although later (when there's serious interest in the play) she's dropped. But she's not bothered because she's more interested in what Philip has to say about Gérard being in danger.

Gérard kills himself in the end, although Anne doesn't know why. The film lasts for 140 minutes, which some think is far too long. I'm not too sure because, even though this is opaque stuff, it's quite fascinating, and in a sense sums up a particular time.

21 February 2021

Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012)

Amour received the Palme d'or at the Festival de Cannes, and was also only the second feature film (after Truffaut's Le Dernier Métro in 1980) to win the five most important Césars: best film, best director, best male actor (Jean-Louis Trintignant), best female actor (Emmanuelle Riva) and best screenplay (Haneke).

This is a superb film in which Georges and Anne are octogenarians and both retired classical music teachers. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is also a musician and is very concerned for both her parents: Anne gradually becoming bound to a wheelchair, then bedridden but refusing to go into a home, the situation becomes increasingly worse for the relatively healthy Georges.

This could be a play in that the film is a huis clos involving essentially two people in one flat. As Anne's health becomes increasingly worse and she can't speak, Georges eventually has to resort to euthanasia. Amour? À mort. A wonderful, but so painful, unsentimental love story.

John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

I only found out about this film from the French newspaper Libération, which this week published an article on the South Africa-born film director Richard Stanley, who now lives in tiny Montségur in the Pyrénées, and is currently experiencing a welcome return. Good criticism wasn't always there though. Stanley – who made a promising start with Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992) – fell from cinematic grace with a resounding bang with The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Stanley had been fascinated by H. G. Wells's novel of (almost) the same name for years, and was eager to make (another) filmed version of it. But big name actors' egos got in the way, as did the weather and Stanley's personality, etc, and in a few days Frankenheimer took over the film version from Stanley. In 2014 David Gregory released a film about the film: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau.

So, we have Frankenheimer's film, which lasts a full ninety-six minutes, and has a very low score with both critics and viewers: is this deserved? Unfortunately, yes. UN official Edward Douglas (David Thewlis) is rescued on a dinghy after a plane crash by Montgomery (Val Kilmer), who is a neurosurgeon gone mad and now a kind of vet, but that's not really the issue: Montgomery takes Douglas to an island ruled by Dr Moreau (Marlon Brando), who has been thrown out of the USA for his experiments on animals.

On the island are a number of semi-human creatures and also Moreau's daughter Aissa (Fairuza Balk), and Douglas later learns that Moreau has been implanting human genes in animals to create his ideal being: someone with humanity, but none of the human imperfections. About halfway through though, Moreau is savagely killed by his own creations, and then we hit chaos: lashings of blood, terror, cannabalism (is that the right word?), and an all-round mess. I can understand why some would find the whole thing amusing, but not for me.

20 February 2021

Jacques Rivette's Le Coup de berger | Fool's Mate (1956)

Jacque Rivette's Le Coup de berger is generally considered to be if not the, then certainly one of the first, manifestations of the Nouvelle Vague: this twenty-eight minute short even has cameos of Truffaut, Chabrol and Godard in the dinner party at the end. And Truffaut showed a brief clip of it in his own short Les Mistons (1957), known as The Brats in English.

The expression 'le coup de berger' alludes to final chess moves, and several remarks are made about chess in the voiceover: Claire (Virginie Vitry) moves her 'fou' (the bishop), the position of the board is turned round when her husband Jean (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) plays a very unexpected move, and the coup de grâce comes at the end when Claire is fooled by her own sister Solange (Anne Doat)

What am I talking about? Well, Claire is in an adulterous relationship with Claude (Jean-Claude Brialy), who gives her an expensive fur coat which she can't wear without seriously arousing her husband's suspicions. So she hatches a plan to pretend she's taken the taxi home, discovered a left luggage ticket on the car floor, and she'll then ask her husband to collect the surprise find. She has quite a job getting him to agree to this, but tells him it might be a valuable find.

But when Jean comes home the next day with the suitcase Claude has left at the left luggage office all that's in it is the skin of a rabbit. Claire is in a no-win situation, and doesn't know what to think. However, when Claire and Jean hold a party at their home  Solange turns up wearing the coat: yes, Jean's having an affair with her.

My reaction to this is that the film doesn't quite work because Claire could easily have collected the coat herself because of her husband's obvious initial lack of interest in taking the ticket. All the same, this is a fascinating early curiosity by Rivette, which was also written and produced by Chabrol.

19 February 2021

Éric Rohmer's L'Amour l'après-midi | Love in the Afternoon (1972)


And so we come to the sixth and final film in the Six contes moraux series, after La Boulangère de Monceau and La Carrière de Suzanne, (both 1963); La Collectionneuse (1967); Ma nuit chez Maud (1969); and Le Genou de Claire (1970). Once again, this is a film of temptation in which the (male) partner returns to his former (chosen) partner.

Frédéric (Bernard Verley) is a businessman happily married to Hélène (Françoise Verley), who has given them one child and is pregnant for a second time. But Frédéric fantasies, dreaming that he has a magic amulet that entices any woman he approaches: cue for former actors in Rohmer's films to tantalisingly appear. His only failure is when his magic jewel was turned towards him.

And then the pushy, sexy, Chloé, ex-girlfriend of an ex-friend turns up, disrupting his life, causing gossip among his staff, and leaving gifts to his young son. How couldn't he not respond favourably, meet her in the afternoons when he's free, have wild sex with her? Um... No.

When Hélène has a second child Chloé wants a child by Frédéric, and when he visits her for a last time she's just coming out of the shower. He dries her, she waits naked on the bed, he begins to take his pullover off and realises he looks exactly like he was when playing ghost games with his son, so quietly leaves to return to his loving wife. No moral, just what Frédéric thinks.

Éric Rohmer's Le Genou de Claire | Claire's Knee (1970)


The idea of this film, the fifth in the series of Rohmer's Contes Moraux, seems more than a little ridiculous: a thirty-five year-old (who surely should know better) falls in love with an eighteen-year-old girl's knee, and is fulfilled when he eventually manages it. Of course, there's a lot more to the film than that, although not too much. But amazingly it works and this is one of Rohmer's better earlier films: in fact it's quite fascinating.

Cultural attaché Jérôme (Jean-Claude Brialy) bumps into an old friend Aurora (Aurora Cornu) in Talloires, Lac d'Annecy. She's a writer of romantic novels, and has been inspired by Jérôme's exploits to write previous ones. Through Aurora he meets Mme Walter (Michèle Montel) and first her fifteen-year-old daughter Laura (Béatrice Romand), who obviously soon falls in love with Jérôme: the fact that he's due to be married in a week's time seems to be more of an issue than the fact that Laura is a mere schoolgirl, but then this is France in the seventies, when paedophilic ideas were, er, shall we say fashionable?

Anyway, Jérôme's outings with Laura are chaste, and although he becomes infatuated by Laura's half-sister Claire, his activities there too remain chaste: there's some displacement, though, and he isn't interested in her unseen vagina but her permanently visible knee. Aurora's clearly making mental notes for a future novel as Jérôme tells her his secrets, but his opportunity fortuitously comes when he motors Claire across the lake and they shelter in a downpour: then, he tells her that her boyfriend Gilles (Gérard Falconetti) is not a fit person to be with as he's cheating on her. Claire breaks down crying, and the only way he can console her, well, is just to get off on rubbing her knee for a time. As some might say: whatever floats your boat.

The miracle-maker Éric Rohmer has created a truly compelling movie out of nothing: brilliant!

18 February 2021

Éric Rohmer's Ma nuit chez Maud | My Night at Maud's (1969)


This is Rohmer's openly Pascalian film, in which the mathematician Blaise Pascal (1622-62) is mentioned several times. Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is an engineer who has recently worked in Canada and South America and now is based in Clermont-Ferrand working for Michelin: many years before, Pascal was born in what was then just known of Clermont.

Jean-Louis goes to a bookshop and buys Pascal's Pensées. He is Catholic, handsome and unmarried: he has had a number of relationships which have led to nothing concrete, and then in Clermont cathedral he sees a young woman he will later know as Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), a blonde, with whom he becomes infatuated, to the point of trying to follow her 'mob' until he loses her. This is Christmas and people are celebrating, he goes into a café-restaurant and bumps into Vidal (Antoine Vitez), whom he has not seen for a number of years.

Previously, there was talk at Jean-Louis's workplace of a man who has narrowly avoided death on the local icy roads. This recalls the mishap Pascal had had in 1654 on the Pont de Neuilly, when he had a near-death experience while in his carriage. Vidal is a university lecturer of philosophy and they talk of Pascal's bet, although as a Marxist Vidal sees the bet in historical as opposed to religious terms.

Led to the flat of the separated doctor Maud (Françoise Fabian), the three have a meal and speak of Pascal, although Vidal has too much to drink and leaves. The snow outside prevents Jean-Louis – who speaks of the blonde girl he's seen as if she were a positive entity in his life – from leaving, and although he sleeps at the side of Maud, and although Maud entices him several times, he makes no attempts to have sex with her.

By chance Jean-Louis meets the Catholic moped girl again, entreats her to meet him, gets stuck in the snow taking her home, sleeps in her spare room, walks with her on the heights of Clermont, although she resists his advances.

Flash forward five years and at a beach people again chance upon one another, but Jean-Louis, Françoise and their young son meeting Maud is a very unusual coincidence, especially as Françoise knows Maud because she's had a relationship with her husband. Such are the games Rohmer loves to play.

Éric Rohmer's La Collectionneuse | The Collector (1967)


So, Rohmer's first 32mm feature film (made for almost nothing), and the third of the Comédies et proverbes series. Essentially it's – like most of the others in this series – about sexual temptation swerved and the man (it's always a man) going back to his first choice. Adrien (Patrick Bauchau) is leaving for St Tropez to do a little business with an American collector of rare vases – but really far more to laze around in his rich friend Rodolphe's hired villa by the sea* with Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle) while his fiancée goes to London.

Unfortunately, the house is also occupied by the tempting young Haydée, who is the real collector, a collector of men, who goes off with a different guy at night until the two men put a stop to it. Both men are obsessed by Haydée, and Daniel sleeps with her but soon leaves. Adrien's buyer Sam (Seymour Hertzberg) flirts with Haydée, and Haydée smashes the valuable vase, although Adrien already has the money and he leaves with Haydée.

On the way back to the villa Haydée meets two men see knows, goes over to their car, and meanwhile Adrien is blocking the road, atlhough he doesn't pull over but just keeps on driving to the villa on his own, makes a call for the first flight to London and there we have it: temptation avoided, but anyway how long would the relationship have lasted?

*Rohmer has somehing of a preocupation with bech relationships.

17 February 2021

Éric Rohmer's La Carrière de Suzanne | Suzanne's Career (1963)


Rohmer's Six Contes Moraux are somewhat mistranslated as Six Moral Tales because he was in fact talking not about 'moral' in the English sense but about what people feel and think, their analyses of situations or their own feelings. He makes this clear in his interview with Graham Petrie in Film Quarterly (vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 38-9, 1971). It's also interesting that at the time Rohmer never intended to release the first two 16mm films (La Boulangère de Monceau and La Carrière de Suzanne), at the time considering them 'very amateur'.

La Carrière de Suzanne concerns the relationship of pharmacy student Bertrand (Philippe Beuzen) with his Science-Po student friend and womaniser Guillaume (Christian Charrière) and Suzanne (Catherine Sée). Guillaume, who initially chatted up Suzanne, uses her mainly financially until she no longer has any money, which embarrasses Bertrand, although for some reason he looks up to Guillaume so makes no direct objections.

Bertrand has a liking for Sophie (Diane Wilkinson), who is really out of his league. But in the end – one of those surprise endings of which Rohmer was so fond – Suzanne marries the handsome Franck (Patrick Bauchau). Amateurish might well be an apt description, but (like La Boulangère de Monceau before) this film contains the germ of Rohmer's later movies.

16 February 2021

Éric Rohmer's La Boulangère de Monceau | The Girl at the Monceau Bakery (1963)


This film is the first of Rohmer's Six contes moraux, of which the rest in the series are: La Carrière de Suzanne (1963), La Collectionneuse (1967), Ma nuit chez Maud (1969), Le Genou de Claire (1970), and L'Amour l'après-midi (1972). The future director Barbet Schroeder first appeared in this film as the student, Jaqueline (Claudine Soubrier) is the baker's assistant, Sylvie (Michèle Girardon) is the original desired woman, and Bertrand Tavernier is the narrator.

Filmed around the area of Le Parc Monceau (of which La Rotonde (now public toilets) is seen here), the law student uses the local cafés and is talking to his friend Schmidt (Fred Junk) when he sees a young woman with whom he'll become obsessed: Sylvie. He literally bumps into her one day, although he daren't say more than a few words. He spends a great deal of time wandering around the area, particularly rue de Lévis, but doesn't find her again.

His diet as a student is mainly bread products, and he shops at the baker's in rue Lebouteux for sablés, gâteaux Lorrains, etc. He vicariously builds up a slow relationship with the young assistant Jacqueline, and eventually asks her to go out with him, to which she eventually agrees. However, on the day of the date he again bumps into Sylvie, who twisted her ankle the day after he met her. For some time she has been watching the student out of her window opposite the baker's. The student loses interest in the assistant and they're married six months later.

On French Wikipédia, regarding this film, an apparent quotation from Rohmer is given: 'Tandis que le narrateur est à la recherche d'une femme, il en rencontre une autre qui accapare son attention jusqu'au moment où il retrouve la première' ('While the narrator is looking for one woman, he finds another who monopolises his attention until he finds the first woman again'). This sentence could sum up most films in this series.

Céline Sciamma's Bande de filles | Girlhood (2014)


Yes, this is yet another coming of age film, although the huge difference is that it's a French coming of age film which has an almost entirely black – particularly female – cast: plus, it's one of the best recent films I've seen in the last twelve months, brilliantly acted and highly engrossing.

Marieme (Karidja Touré) lives in the Parisian suburbs with her mother who works nights, her two younger sisters and her domineering brother Djibril (Cyril Mendy). She quits school after an impasse with her CPE (for which, read educational advisor) and then timidly joins a gang of three girls: Lady (real name Sophie: Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Mariétou Touré). They ride into central Paris and walk around fashion shops in Les Halles, carefully watched particularly by one sales assistant who suspects them of theft.

Marieme's dress and behaviour change as she becomes part of the gang: she changes her braids to long smooth hair, like her friends she extorts money from school students, and they spend the night in a hotel drinking, smoking drugs, trying on clothing they've stolen, dancing and (in a superb scene which will probably remain a classic in modern cinema) dance stoned to Rihanna's 'Diamonds': the world belongs to them. Marieme, after a presentation necklace by Lady labelled 'Vic' (for victory), becomes fully initiated into the gang.

Marieme likes Ismaël (Idrissa Diabaté), although as he's a friend of her brother's there's always been an understanding that this is a no-go area. But one night she seeks Ismaël out at his home and is the active party in an exercise in seduction. Her violently angry brother finds out and calls her a 'pute', she takes refuge in a fast food restaurant and the aptly, but rather clumsily, named Abou (Djibril Gueye) asks her to work for him: he's a pimp but also a drug dealer, and it's under his employ (as 'Vic') that she'll work as a supplier.

Until, that is, Abou, er, abuses his power and tries to kiss her. Marieme runs away into the arms of Ismaël, who is in love with her, wants to marry her and have kids, blah, blah. But that's not what Marieme, although touched, wants. She starts to ring the door of her family's flat to go home, then revises the decision with tears: she's just realised that you can't go home again. Marvellous, so unHollywood.

15 February 2021

Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox (2013)


Anyone unaware of the Mumbai dabbawalas soon becomes enlightened in this film of India, where much is made of the dabbawalas picking up lunches from restaurants and homes to be delivered to (usually husbands) at work. This is how widower Saajan (Irrfan Khan), who's shortly due for retirement, comes into epistolary contact with the much younger Ila (Nimrat Kaur). Ila is trying to spice up her married life by cooking wonderful meals for her husband, although the (apparently virtually impossible) happens and Saajan receives (with huge pleasure) the lunch prepared by Ila. Soon Ila and Saajan are sending notes to each other via the lunchbox, and the notes become increasingly friendly.

Ila's husband is having an affair and she tells Saajan that she's thinking of moving to Bhutan where the cost living is about 80% less than Mumbai, and Saajan bravely suggests that he move there too. In her reply, Ila suggests that they meet in a local restaurant. Unfortunately Saajan goes there but only looks at her from a distance, finding her beautiful but considering that he is far too old for her. In the end, there is no definite end.

Věra Chytilová's Sedmikrásky | Daisies (1966)


Věra Chytilová's Daisies (starring the young women Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, who are both known as Marie here) may call to mind many other off-centre films, such as La Grand Bouffe and Céline et Julie vont en bateau, but that still doesn't give an idea of the craziness in this movie. It has been called neo-dadaist, a satire on bourgeois decadence, and was banned in Czechoslovakia as if was considered anti-communist.

The young women criticise things because they're bad, and proceed to perform many destructive and generally negative actions to, it seeems, alleviate their boredom: they they tease elderly men into buying them meals; they burn toilet paper hanging in their room; they have a box in a nightclub, get drunk and drink from other people's glasses; they cut food up and display it on a plate as if it's a temporary work of art, etc.

Towards the end is an extended scene in which they go to a factory of some sort and ride in a dumb waiter to a large room where a banquet has been prepared. At first they tentatively eat bits of the food at the edges, then carry it to the main table, gorge themselves and dance on the remains. In a following sequence they attempt to lay the table as it was, clearing it of food and putting bits of broken plates together, a napkin on the top, and piling the huge mess of food in a heap.

The film closes as it begins, with a shot of war, and the final message is: 'dedicated to those who get upset only over a stomped-upon bed of lettuce'.

14 February 2021

Desiree Akhavan's Appropriate Behaviour (2015)


Appropriate Behaviour is Desiree Akhavan's dazzling first feature, in which Akhavan herself stars as a young bisexual Iranian-American Shirin trying to rebuild her life again in Brooklyn  after breaking up with with  Maxine (Rebecca Henderson).  She's also now homeless and jobless, although she has wealthy parents and finds no problem with accommodation and soon gets a job teaching very young kids in Slope Park how to make a movie.

The difficulties Shirin has are not only in establishing to herself who she is, but also to her parents who she is sexually, and after a very weak confession to her mother she's in denial. The poster above might indicate drug problems, but she's just in the toilet of a bar, surrounded by comments such as 'Brian is a stupid dick', 'Fuck you', 'Suck it', 'Kiss me', etc. She's just sitting on the toilet cover pissed off, but not pissed or anything worse.

Sasie Sealy's Lucky Grandma (2019)


This prime slice of (brilliantly acted) hokum is highly unusual in that the main character Grandma (Tsai Chin) was almost 85 at the time it was made, and she is in almost every scene: in fact, the film wouldn't exist without her. 

Grandma smokes her way through most of the movie, and lives a very dangerous life. Her husband having left her with almost nothing, she draws out that almost nothing and takes a bus to an Atlantic City casino because her fortune teller has told her that 28 October will be her lucky day. 

It is and it isn't, as she loses all her money, but on the way back the stranger sitting next to her dies, his bag falls into her hands, she keeps it, and finds that the bag contains a fortune. Trouble is, this gets her involved with the Chinese mafia, she has to employ a bodyguard, go through a great deal of potentially life-threatening episodes, but well, she has to come out intact, even if it means moving in with her son and his wife in the end.

Carol Morley's The Madness of the Dance (2006)


Carol Morley's The Madness of the Dance is a history of mass hysteria from the Middle Ages through to today, and includes nuns miaowing and biting like cats; dancing mania in Germany; people dancing to cure themselves of tarantula bites; students in Louisiana with a twitching leg supposedly infected by the water; an outbreak of contagious laughter in Tanzania; fainting fits in Blackburn, Lancashire; in China, mania caused by people believing that their genitalia were disappearing; in Belgium, people experienced nausea on consuming a fizzy drink. This is told by Maxine Peake acting as a professor, but the message is that madness is contagious and can be experienced by perfectly, er, 'normal' people.

Carol Morley's The Fear of Trilogy (2006)


The Fear of Trilogy is (perhaps) a deliberately pretentious title for a film, particularly as it's only three minutes long. It inevitably comes across as mock-documentary, especially as the po-faced Maxine Peake tells us what she knows of the dangers of birds (Hitchcock had to get in there), things that can fall on your head (best to wear a crash helmet), and sleep-walking into a bar, or even into a cock.

Carol Morley's Stalin My Neighbour (2004)


Carol Morley's Stalin My Neighbour is, perhaps needless to say, about trauma, although this is fictional. Annie (Alicya Eyo) is obviously traumatised: whatever the interviewer asks her in this east London environment, Annie (suffering from a kind of dissociation illness) is only prepared to talk about the general local history of the area, about Ghandi, Stalin and (significantly) the anti-psychiatrist R. D. Laing: anything but the death of her younger sister, for which she feels guilty. Death, trauma, disappearance, all haunt Carol Morley's films.

Carol Morley's Return Trip (2001)


This twenty-four minute short is a reconstruction of a trip to India which the teenage Carol Morley made with her friend Catherine Corcoran (or 'Corky').  There are a great number of impressionistic shots here – including a very irritating sequence when the ping-pong background 'music' almost drowns the comment – although the film soon settles into the real subject of the film: trauma. During the original visit Corky had fallen into a well-like structure, had to receive hospital treatment, and in fact almost died.  Both mothers comment on the event, and Corky reveals that she still hasn't completely recovered after all the years, but Morley is obviously trying to put an old ghost to sleep.

Carol Morley's Everyday Something (2001)


From Carol Morley's collection of newspaper cuttings of unusual events comes this film reconstructing often obsessive forms of behaviour: a man makes hooting sounds and thinks an owl is returning calls, although it's just his neighbour playing games; a man is hit by a double-decker bus while stepping into the road eating a pastie; a man 'saved' from drowning is annoyed because he was attempting suicide; a shopper is punched and kicked in a supermarket; a woman stabs her husband six times (but not fatally) because he obsessively made her take exercises because she was overweight; a man is granted a divorce after 38 years of living with his wife who can't stop herself moving furniture around the house; after four unsuccessful attempts at repairing her washing machine, a woman holds the fifth man prisoner for three hours; a man obsessed with the model Claudia Schiffer forces his parents to answer questions about her and hits them if they give the wrong answers; a woman hides her mother in the kitchen for three years after she died of natural causes.

A very strange fifteen-minute short.

13 February 2021

Carol Morley's The Week Elvis Died (1997)


Elvis Presley died the year this film was released, although this film is nothing to do with him: even the opening song 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?', well-known as a Presley one, is sung by Russell Churney. No, The Week Elvis Died really refers not to the singer, but to the name of the beloved pet rabbit of Karen (Jennifer Williams).

Karen lives in a working-class world where the Elvis-figure father seems to be missing, where the rest of her family seem not to understand her, and of course they don't realise that she is being bullied by three awful girls who are obviously jealous of her academic achievements, particularly that she has been chosen to represent the school in the musical group and is to have the privilege of speaking to Tony Blackburn, DJ.

But Elvis dies, and it appears that her school enemies are responsible. On the night of the radio programme, the great occasion when she meets her DJ hero, she answers that her favourite book is the Wombles, but when Blackburn asks her if she has any friends she freezes, and continues to freeze through the following questions, which include if she has a pet: in the end she grabs the mike and lets out a huge scream of horror, all across the airwaves.

Carol Morley's I'm Not Here (1984)

The title of this short from Carol Morley comes from a shameful ranting letter by Alex Guinness which was published in The Times in January 1970, in which he complained about the lack of attention shop assistants paid to customers: it's 'I'm Not Here' that was chosen as the title. Morley collects news items, and the initial mention in this of Linda Sheridan ('Miss London Stores 1970) was found in the nineties in a scrapbook found in a skip in Finsbury Park.

Edith here mentions the film 'Full Metal Jacket' as a criticism of the fascist behaviour of the management, although I particulary note the obvious influence of Jean-Luc Godard's Tout va bien, with its long tracking shot of supermarket counters, as a tribute to the great director. This is so glaringly a political film, no matter what the original intention.

Carol Morley's Secondhand Daylight (1983)


Secondhand Daylight is Carol Morley's second graduation film, and is set in a fastfood restaurant. Against a backdrop of the restaurant's wares, young people (normally in the bottom right corner of the screen) talk about their problems, mainly their problems in (or out of) relationships. We are only party to some of what is said by the interviewees, it is clear that there is some confusion in their minds, although nothing specific is mentioned: as so frequently with Morley's films, something is missing.

12 February 2021

Carol Morley's Girl (1983)

Girl is one of two of Carol Morley's graduation shorts, and is about loss. Through suicide. Suicide is devastating because it's not a natural occurrence through illness or age, but something very often inexplicable, even if there's a death note: narrators are very often unreliable even in reality. If suicide itself is caused by truama, it in itself causes trauma to those living, and this trauma can last for the rest of the lives of the people concerned. My first cousin Charles Pembleton killed himself in 1990 at about the age of forty, by carbon monoxide poisoning. I was told that he left no death note, just a brief collection of self-published poems under the title Living in a Timewarp from sixteen years before. I occasionally read a few of these poems, and although the meaning in these often opaque abstractions eludes the reader, the obvious existential anguish is written large, and the suggestion of suicide as an end can't be written off.

Suicide haunts the Manchester Morley family, and did so long before the journalist Paul Morley wrote a book about his father who killed himself by carbon monoxide poisoning: Nothing (2000). The first short of two of Paul's younger sister Carol's graduation films was released as Girl in 1993, lasts just seven minutes and reconstructs the relationship she had with her father, the initial mystery of his death to her, and attempts to relive the time in memory.

This reconstruction is done in shots of her father taking her to school, shots of the staircase, and the bizarre background sound of a sketch from television's 'The Morecombe and Wise Show', involving the 'singing' of 'Boom Oo Yata-Ta-Ta' to 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?': this partly serves as a background to part of the film, and the viewer understands the memory of the young girl too. Interestingly, the shots often reveal only a partial shot of the whole object, as if to underline that this is only a partial memory, and memory can only ever be partial. Significantly, 'Are you Lonesome Tognight' – a song of yearning and loss – is the opening song to another short by Morley: 'The Week Elvis Died'.

A good start.

9 February 2021

Éric Rohmer Les Nuits de la pleine lune | Full Moon in Paris (1984)


Les Nuits de la plein lune is Éric Rohmer's fourth episode in his Comédies et Proverbes series, and is set in the new development of Lognes and central Paris. The 'proverb' 'Qui a deux femmes perd son âme, qui a deux maisons perd sa raison' ('The person who has two women loses his soul, the person who has two houses loses his reason') was is fact invented by Rohmer himself.

This being a Rohmer film, it's about love, although of course seen from a different angle. In a nutshell, the designer (of lamps, as in moonlight) Louise (Pascale Ogier) is living in the Parisian suburbs with the possessive and older Rémi (Tchéky Karyo), who isn't interested in partying as Louise is. He's annoyed when she returns for some of the week to her flat in central Paris because she wants some space, to be on her own. She tells him that she loves him deeply and that their relationship will in fact benefit from the new arrangement. In reality though she spends a lot of time with Octave (Fabrice Luchini) with whom she has a platonic relationship. But at a party she meets Bastien (Christian Vadim), to whom she's sexually attracted and with whom she sleeps on one occasion, slipping from his flat in the early hours to return to Rémi. But Rémi isn't there, he's on his way back from a friend of a friend of  Louise's, who's the love of his life. Louise returns to her Paris flat in tears.

Jealousy plays a large part in this film: Rémi's jealousy of men Louise sees, jealousy too perhaps of her youth and vitality; Octave's jealousy of Bastien; Louise's jealousy of Rémi, who she thinks is having an affair with her friend Camille (Virginie Thévenet); etc.

This is a film of the clash of egos, and no one's ego is as monstrous as Octave's. Octave is married but lusts after Louise, who only wants to be his friend. He is a writer, and can interrupt a conversation just because of something he's said that he thinks is of sparkling intellect and that he has to jot down in his note book. He's also a liar, trying to stir things up between Louise and Rémi: when Louise says she's seen Rémi in a café, Octave says he's seen Camille too, planting seeds of doubt in Louise's mind about Rémi's fidelity. And what of Louise herself, who wants to be in a relationship but to be free at the same time: what kind of ego is that? Both Octave and Louise want to have their cake and eat it.

This is the self-deception: Octave, in spite of being told several times that Louise doesn't want the kind of relationship he wants, insists on pawing her, at one stage taking things a little too far and threatening the friendship. Louise is really deceiving herself if she thinks that Rémi is going to fall for her every whim. And for someone who wants to be alone some of the time, the only time she seems to spend in her flat is when she's on the phone trying to go out with someone.

Like an entomologist of the mind, Rohmer examines all aspects of love, its transience, its automatic assumptions, the borders between sexual desire and love itself, the questions, the torment, and so on.

8 February 2021

Destiny Ekaragha’s Gone Too Far! (2013)


This is Destiny Ekaragha's first feature, only the third feature made by a black woman, and is set as her impressive Tight Jeans short was in Peckham, London. Adapted by the director from Bola Egbaje's eponymous play (2007), Gone Too Far! toys with the petty rivalry between various non-whites in the community, but displays it in an essentially humorous way.

Yemi (Malachi Kirby) meets his older brother Iku (OC Uyeke), whom he's not seen for many years and doesn't even recognise. What's worse, Iku dresses in an uncool way, such as wearing socks with sandals, and speaking a mixture of English and Yoruba. Obviously, Yami is embarrassed, all the more so as he's sent by his mother to go with Iku to buy okra.

On the way they meet many characters, including the half-Jamaican girl Armani (Shanika Warren-Markland) Yami has the hots for, but who isn't interested in Yami and makes a fool of  him: she's a prick teaser. In fact she's the girlfriend of Razer (Tosin Cole), who likes to think he's the main man of the neighbourhood: cue for fights, misunderstandings, etc.

I winced a few times – when the comedy tilted towards farce, and when the acting let things down a bit – but this is a hugely promising debut feature, probably introducing issues which British cinema hasn't touched on before.

Destiny Ekaragha’s Tight Jeans (2008)

Destiny Ekaragha’s first short feature Tight Jeans, set in Peckham, London, caused considerable interest, and led to Ekaragha becoming the third black woman to direct a feature film in England. This eight-minute film has a surprising amount to say. Three young black guys sit on a wall in a housing estate waiting for a lift to Battersea. A young white guy in tight trousers walks past and one of the guys on the wall asks why he hasn't got tight trousers. The answer? Because black guys' dicks are too big. Is this true? Well, you can go back to when the white man raided Africa and had to get rid of the black guys as the white guys' women would be too fond of them. Uh? Black guys populated the world, five continents! Then a white guy in a tee-shirt goes by, and... oh, shut the fuck up.

A quietly brilliant short with lots of playful jokes about racial stereotyping: a great debut.

Rebecca Lighieri’s Les Garçons de l'été (2017)


The writer Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam writes her romans noirs, of which this is an example, under the pseudonym Rebecca Lighieri. Les Garçons de l'été is essentially about multiple trauma and revenge, and might initially seem overloaded at 440 pages. But it's not, and this is a very powerful and highly readable book told by several narrators.

Thadée and Zachée are brothers of almost the same age, 21 and 20 respectively, both are academically brilliant, and both are huge enthusiasts of surfing. Their girlfriends – Jasmine and Cindy – are devoted young women. The brothers' parents are the chemists Mylène and Jérôme (who is having an affair with Maud), and have a young daughter, Ysé.

It's Thadée who is the problem, although the readers don't know this when he is forced to return home from La Réunion, cutting his one year stay short: he's been chewed by a bulldog shark, and will have to have a leg amputated. Thadée believes that Jasmine will no longer be interested in him, changes personality, broods and spends a long time just staying in bed doing a different kind of surfing: the internet.

Mylène is obviously devastated, and all the more so when Zachée too becomes a victim of the surf. Or rather, he's a victim of the tremendous ego of Thadée, a person whose hatred and egocentricity knows no bounds: he is responsible for the death of his brother Zachée, and although several people suspect this there's not a shred of evidence to prove it, and certainly Mylène doesn't even suspect what a monster her son is.

The beautiful Anouk, though, the girlfriend of a friend of the brothers, is well aware of what kind of person Thadée is, and has always been: before Thadée's accident, she chose at a party one evening to take a piss in the woods, and unbeknown to her Thadée was lustfully watching: he tried to rape her, and at the same time almost strangled her. She said nothing, but the trauma remained.

Cindy is inconsolable when Zachée, the one love of her life, is dead, and she knows Thadée is guilty of his death. One day, she gets talking to Anouk and learns that she hates him too. Although Thadée has left home, Cindy gains access – via the pre-pubescent Ysé – to his computer, and works out where Thadée is. With Anouk, Cindy goes to Thadée's hideout and tatoos his face, irreparably disfiguring him.

And the final word is with the very intellectually advanced Ysé, whose only friend – her mother being traumatised by the death of Zachée and the disappearance of Thadée – is the slightly backward (in comparison to Ysé) Jordy. Troubled by a 'poltergeist' for some months, Ysé discovers that it's Thadée, and orders him to leave: the result of which is that Mylène becomes permanently psychiatrically disturbed, Maud moves in with Jérôme and Ysé becomes more attached to Jordy, acknowledging that he's making considerable progress.

Reading this back, the book sounds like a pile of bullshit, and yet it's not at all: Lighieri writes in an almost graphic language which is attuned to different varieties of French, notably verlan. A joy to read.

6 February 2021

Jean Becker’s L'Été meurtrier (1983)

Jean Becker’s L'Été meurtrier is based on Sébastien Japrisot's novel L'Été meurtrier (1977), and is a complex and powerful psychological work, a superior revenge thriller. Isabelle Adjani (Elaine/Elle) won a César for best female actor, and although she initially turned down the role because of the nude scenes she would have to play, she changed her mind and cinema is the better for this decision: this is a significant film in the history of French movies.

L'Été meurtrier at first perhaps seems a conventional enough love story, although a series of flashbacks to some extent explain the reasons for the movie turning around a strange bend. The very sexy 19-year-old Elle flounces around the village in Provence she and her parents – Paula Wieck Devigne (Maria Machado), or 'Eva Braun'* as some villagers call her, and her disabled husband Gabriel (Michel Galabru) – have moved to, and she causes quite a stir. She particularly stirs Fiorimondo Montechiari (Alain Souchon), nicknamed Pin-Pon, and the feeling is mutual: Elle swiftly moves into Pin-Pon's family home, causing quite a stir there. Pin-Pon can't believe his luck, although Elle's open nudity and insulting behaviour and comments hardly have the same effect on Pin-Pon's mother (Jenny Clève), but the almost deaf aunt 'Cognata' (Suzanne Flon) understands more than many give her credit for.

But then, many things here are only half or not at all understood, and (for instance) Elle's literal and figurative short-sightedness is only an indication of the misunderstandings that surround the events in this film. Elle is the product of an especially brutal rape of her mother by three overgrown yobs, a fact of which she is aware, and as the film progresses it is evident that the balance of her mind – already greatly disturbed – becomes increasingly so when she learns  the truth. The man who has been her true father tells her that he killed the rapists, that he no longer has an interest in his own fate, and Elle understands that her years of research have been in vain.

Elle goes mad and has to be institutionalised, although Pin-Pon thinks (as Elle originally did) that the two are still living. So he has to kill two innocent (if contemptible) men. This has a sniff of Greek tragedy: a brilliant film.

* The film is set in the late seventies: Paula is German by origin, and at the time the French hadn't forgotten the Nazi atrocities, so Franco-German racism was still the order of the day with some people. 

5 February 2021

Jessica Hausner's’s Amour fou (2014)

Interestingly, Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) and his work has received a wealth of attention from film makers, notably Miloš Forman's Ragtime (1981) based Michael Kohlhaas, and Éric Rohmer's La Marquise d'O... (1976) based on Die Marquise von O...

Heinrich (Christian Friedel), in despair with life, first tries to get Marie (Sandra Hüller) to join him in a loving suicide pact, although she politely refuses. And then, when Henriette (Birte Schnöink), wife of Voglel (Stephan Grossmann), discovers that she is terminally ill, she agrees to the pact. And so Heinrich first shoots her dead, and then killed himself at the age of thirty-four. Unlike the way things actually happened, though, in the film it is later discovered that Henriette had been incorrectly diagnosed, and that she in fact was perfectly healthy.

A very strange, yet very enthralling film.

Lucie Borleteau’s Fidelio, l'Odyssée d'Alice | Fidelio: Alice's Odyssey (2014)


Fidelio, l'Odyssée d'Alice, Lucie Borleteau's first feature, is an unusual film in that conventional gender roles are reversed. Here we have an old cargo ship in which the highly attractive Alice (Ariane Labed) starts working. She leaves behind her Norwegian boyfriend, graphic novelist Félix (Anders Danielsen Lie) and discovers that the captain Gaël  (Melvil Poupaud) is her first love from some years before when she was a trainee.

The inevitable happens and Alice and Gaël get together again sexually, although for a clearly intelligent young woman Alice is stupid enough to take a selfie of them both in an uncompromising position, which when they return to dry land Félix discovers on checking Alice's photos. 

Odyssey? Well, Alice may have covered a number of places, but she's no female Ulysses, just as Félix is no faithful cat: he's been out on the tiles and in spite of Alice wanting him back he's not too sure about that.