31 May 2021

Robin Hood's Picking Rods, Chisworth, Derbyshire


Robin Hood's picking rods are on a remote footpath near Chisworth. They rest on a stone base, and were probably the lower parts of Saxon crosses dating from the tenth century or before. The name may come from the fact that they were thought to have been used for stringing longbows. They mark the boundary between Derbyshire and Cheshire, or Greater Manchester today. The modern name is probably relatively recent.

30 May 2021

Lionel Baier's La Vanité (1996)

I've been watching a lot of films of late, so I shall usually be brief in giving a description of them. This is a kind of black comedy. David Miller (Patrick Lapp) is a sick and elderly widow who wants to end his life, and this is Switzerland. Esperantza (Carmen Maura, and yeah, the name's pathetic) is his helper, who does everything in her power to prevent him doing it: her late husband was born on the same day.

And then there's Tréplev (Ivan Georgiev) in the neighbouring hotel room, a male Russian prostitute with wobbly French. He also has a wife and kids, and he's willing to be a witness to the death but then David is so (purely academically) interested in Tréplev, his life, his charges (€300, but would he accept 250?) that things get really complicated. Why should David die?

Éric Rohmer's Conte d'été (1996)

I've been watching a lot of films of late, so I shall now usually be brief in giving a description of them. Conte d'été is Rohmer's third part of his Contes des quatre saisons, set mainly in July in Dinard, Saint-Lunaire and Saint-Malo, and featuring Melvil Poupard as Gaspard, Amanda Langlet as Margot, Gwenaëlle Simon as Solène and Aurélie Nolin as Léna.

Gaspard, a maths student with a passion for music, has come from Nantes expecting to meet Léna, although she takes a while to arrive. Meanwhile he meets Margot, an ethnology student from Saint-Brieuc working in a pancake house, and who goes for long coastal walks with him, just as friends, in fact as his confidante. Then Margot invites him to a club, where he attracts the attention of Solène, although they don't have a conversation. During one of his walks with Margot she mentions Solène's obvious attraction to him, although he seems too preoccupied by Léna.

He then by chance meets Solène on the seafront, they go to Saint Malo, meet Solène's relatives, Gaspard plays a song he's written (for Léna), but he doesn't have sex with Solène as she doesn't do it the first time she meets a guy. But she's keen to go to Ouessant with him, although Léna (a self-centred, self-serving bitch) comes to Saint-Lunaire and stands Gaspard up. Does the guy have three girls or none? Well, recording awaits him and he has to go off to La Rochelle and leave a teary Margot behind. Ouessant is just a utopia.

'Je pars pour de longs mois en laissant Margot

(Hissez haut! Santiano!)

D'y penser, j'avais le cœur gros

(En doublant les feux de Saint Malo)'

28 May 2021

Patricia Plattner's Les Petites Couleurs (2005)

Generally considered as Patricia Plattner's best film, this is one of several she made of women recovering their dignity and their independence. And it's a little gem. Battered by her husband Francis (Christian Grégori), hairdresser Christelle (Anouk Grinberg) escapes with her brand new, technologically advanced hairdressing machine, driving until she chances upon the Hôtel Galaxy, a place which has a very masculine atmosphere and live acts in the evening, but is run by the firm, no-nonsense-taking Mona (Bernadette Lafont).

Christelle is very fragile, cowed into submission over many years by her terrifying husband, and when she confesses to Mona that she has no money because Francis controls the banking, Mona melts. Christelle now has a job at the hotel, so she can stay there as long as she likes. Furthermore, she discovers an old, disused VW van on the hotel premises, which Mona has forgotten about and Christelle renovates, allowing her to re-begin her business as a neighbourhood, travelling hairdresser.

But she doesn't do this without the help of the gentle trucker Lucien (Philippe Bas), who becomes obsessed with Christelle, although Christelle takes a long time to respond to Lucien's attentions, at first treating the relationship on a brother-sister level: but then, she has a long history of abuse to recover from, and hormones aren't the first thing on her mind: she slowly has to become a new woman, not an appendage to a male.

Bernadette Lafont never appeared in one of Jacques Demy's films, although the ficticious television programme that Mona and Christelle love to watch, 'Le Ranch de l'amour', is an obvious wink to such all-singing Demy films as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and Une chambre en ville. A joy to watch.

Patricia Plattner's Bazar (2009)

This may not be Patricia Plattner's most successful film, although it's highly entertaining, and an interesting study of ageist and classist behaviour. Plattner was a friend of Bernadette Lafont, who was quite a Nouvelle Vague figure in her time, starring in Truffaut's short Les Mistons (1957) and Eustache's epic masterpiece La Madam et la putain (1973). She died four years after the making of this film. And this was in fact Plattner's final film: she died in 2016 aged sixty-three.

Lafont plays Gabrielle, an antiquarian who is evicted from her shop and falls into the arms of the handsome working-class Fred (Pio Marmaï), who at twenty-five is forty years younger than Gabrielle. Of course it can't last, but the righteous indignation of her peers is evidently not shared by the viewer: it's a treat to see Gabrielle living her brief dream. One of the most amusing scenes for me is when Fred interrupts a conversation between Gabrielle and her daughter Elvire (Lou Doillon): he's naked apart from an open shirt, his penis dangling unselfconsciously.

27 May 2021

Laurent Cantet's Vers le sud | Heading South (2005)


This is Haiti in the late seventies, and the story line here is taken from three short stories by Haitian-born Dany Laferrière, who managed to escape unscathed to Québec a long time ago. This is unusual in that it deals with sex tourism of the not normally covered kind: middle-aged women going on holiday to be fucked by young blacks. Or should that be, as two of them here are deluded, made love to?

Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) is an improbable university teacher of French in Boston; Brenda (Karen Young) is bored in Georgia most of the time; and Sue (Louise Portal) is a manager of a household goods warehouse in Montréal. The story mainly concerns Ellen and Brenda, who, they think, are in love with the randy eighteen-year-old Legba (Ménothy César) and shower presents and money on him in return for sex and affection: Brenda is particulary smitten as she seduced Legba when he was fifteen and she had her first orgasm at forty-four. They think Haiti is paradise.

Speaking from personal experience of the country, paradise is one of the last words I'd use of this weird but admittedly fascinating country, as Ellen and Brenda will discover. This was the era of Jean-Claude ('Bébé Doc') and his infamous Tontons Macoutes, his thugs who terrify the Haitians, and who will soon dispense with Legba. Paradise lost.

25 May 2021

Moorhen Chick, Two Weeks Old, Glossop, Derbyshire

 It's managed, along with two others, to survive the attacks by mallards.

Arnaud Desplechin's La Vie des morts | The Life of the Dead (1991)

At around fifty minutes, this medium-length film is – on Desplechin's rejection of his film school shorts as 'non-voiced' – his first film made in which he found a voice. It has a number of young actors he would use again: Thibault de Montalembert (Christian MacGillis), Marianne Denicourt (Pascale Mac Gillis), Emmanuel Salinger (Bob O'Madden Burke), Emmanuelle Devos (Bob's fiancée), etc. Desplechin says his main influences for this were Bergmann's Fanny and Alexander (1982) and Partice Chéreau's Hôtel de France (1987).

This being Desplechin, the film references aren't the only cultural references in this movie and, for instance, three characters here, in turn, recite Baudelaire's 'Voyage'. Unknown countries are highly relevant here, as a large family is meeting up in, Desplechin's admirers will of course know, a house in Roubaix, a town next to Lille where Desplechin spent his childhood.

Although amongst the young – perhaps – there's a morbid holiday atmosphere, the extended family are meeting up because Patrick, just twenty years old, is probably dying. His flatmate went out to get some medecine for his depression but returned to find he'd shot a rifle bullet through his head, and he's now in intensive care. La Vie des morts concerns the various ways each individual copes with or reacts to these circumstances, and everyone is seen in his or her individuality. Desplechin includes a number of shots of empty rooms, all containing a chair for the 'ghost'. When it's discovered that Patrick has died, Pascale conceals her scream.

24 May 2021

François Ozon's Une nouvelle amie | The New Girlfriend (2014)

There was a time when I feared that François Ozon was losing his weirdness, becoming too mainstream. He's without question lost the weirdness of his earlier films, but Une nouvelle amie is refreshingly mischievous, delving into the nature of gender, probing the mixed sexualities which we force ourselves to deny by retreating horrified into our binary sexual shells. As such, yes, it has to be said that Ozon is being transgressive here.

David (Romain Duris)'s wife Laura (Isild Le Besco) has died and left him with a baby. Laura had been the best friend of Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) since childhood, they were bloodsisters, did everything together, and now Claire is gutted. It's her duty to see that David and the baby are doing all right, and she frequently visits them. But one day she surprises David by walking in and finding him feeding the baby with a bottle and dressed in women's clothes. Of course she's shocked and even though David says it's to get the baby used to a woman's presence, she still thinks he's a pervert. And obviously she never says anything of this to her husband Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz).

But she soon gets used to the idea, even welcomes it, gives David tips on how to use make-up: he's actually been doing this for years, but of course still makes mistakes. She calls the female David Virginia, and they even go out together, have meals, shop for clothes together, as Claire and Virginia. And something odd is happening to Claire, she mentally revisits her youth, sees the lesbian opportunities of her relationship with Laura, and even gets annoyed when David comes to meet her rather than Virginia. She gets annoyed on another occasion when she's at the cinema with Virginia and the man next to Virginia – actually François Ozon himself – starts touching 'her' up! She forces them to leave, tells him he's gay, but he just says he enjoyed it because it made him feel like a woman.

The relationship continues, Claire is spending more and more time with David and the baby, she's making lies to Gilles, and of course they (very briefly) end up in bed although nothing happens because Claire springs out of bed when she realises Virginia is a man. Then tragedy seems to occur when David has an accident and is in a coma. He only recovers when Claire dresses him as Virginia.

The film ends with a flash forward seven years to the baby now a child, and the happy couple: Claire and Virginia. Rivetting.

Jean Rollin's Les Raisins de la mort | The Grapes of Death (1977)

Yes, another horror film from Jean Rollin – generally considered to be his best film – and how appropriate it is to see at the beginning of the film a group of people all wearing masks.  Wanting to move away from George Romero's zombie films, the creatures here are perhaps of the same 'family', but are people who haven't come from the dead: they are humans suffering from a deadly infliction. These are vine workers, taught to use a new chemical spray, from which at least one is suffering the side effects, although the management has promised to be supplying more effective masks. Not that that will help though: soon everyone in this area of the Cévennes who drinks the wine becomes a murderous monster.

Élisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) is on an almost deserted train to the (imaginary) village of Roublès in the Cévennes to rejoin her fiancé Michel (Michel Herval). A man with an ugly scar on his face enters her compartment and swiftly his face becomes bloody and ulcerated. Élizabeth runs from the compartment in terror, leaving her belongings, pulls the emergency stop handle and runs from the train.

She's in the Cévennes area but almost everywhere she goes people are either dead, wholly unwelcoming or of murderous intent. Eventually she meets Paul (Félix Marten) and François (Patrice Valota), who are 'normal' because they only drink beer and out-of-season wine: they know only too well that they'll be turned into monsters if not. They all make it to Roublès but it appears to be completely deserted, although Élizabeth has a look round and discovers Michel alive but unwell: he tries to warn her from him but she runs to embrace him. Then Paul discovers them, Michel threatens him as the disease grips him, and Paul shoots him dead. Stricken by grief and emotionally unhinged by everything she's been through, Élizabeth grabs Paul's rifle and kills him, moments later also killing François.

Tim Mielants's De Patrick | Patrick (2020)

This is Belgian Tim Mielants's first feature film, set in a nudist camp, and in Flemish, French and English: it was inspired by Mielants's experience of a naturist site in the Pyrenees, although the setting here is the Ardennes. And although nudism isn't obligatory fat bellies and dangling penises are all over the place and provide a humorous backcloth to a movie very much concerned with existential anguish.

The main character is Patrick (Kevin Janssens) whose ailing father Rudy (Josse De Pauw) owns the site, which has regular meetings run on a highly organised, most business-like fashion, everything being taken ultra-seriously: the fact that almost all the members of the meetings as completely naked evidently makes this very amusing.

Patrick not only helps in the running of the camp site but also lives in his workshop where he makes extremely well crafted furniture which he'd prefer to give away rather than sell. And then he loses his favourite hammer and his father dies. The hammer becomes not only a symbol of paternal loss but a vital part of the grieving process – it seems that finding the hammer will finally put his father to rest: it can no coincidence that 'marteau', French for hammer, is also an old-fashioned French slang word for 'crazy'. Come to that, the 'De Patrick' could even indicate 'On Patrick', as if it were a philosophical tract.

But I prefer the 'de' as an indicator of aristocracy, as in 'de Musset', 'de Vigny', etc: Patrick is heir to his father's property, the camp site. And the scheming Herman (Pierre Bokma), wife of Liliane (Ariane van Vliet) – with whom Patrick has boring (for him) sex – is planning to take over the camp site by proving that the grieving hammerless Patrick is unfit to run it.  There follows a naked fight  which has none of the sensuality of Ken Russell's nude male fighting in Women in Love, but is in fact very violent although it finishes in comical fashion with the caravan tipping up on its side.

Eventually the hammer is discovered: it has been taken by an outsider to use to crush someone's skull. The murderer is discovered, Patrick returns to the camp site and is greeted by everyone as before. But he'll never get his hammer back.

One of the posters used to advertise the film is a mock-up of the Kinks's album Percy, although with a hammer used in the genital area instead of a fig leaf (and a bigger belly): the Kinks's music was used in the film Percy (1971), which is about a naked man falling and mutilating the penis of the protagonist, who has to have a penis graft.


23 May 2021

The Grave of Poet Thomas Barlow, Mottram, Cheshire

 

These unfortunate times can have some compensations, such as looking around your local area. Today I discovered the grave of a modest local poet in Mottram cemetery: the cross has fallen and it took a little time to free it of the weeds, but it's in a reasonable state. As far as I know, these are the only photos of his grave on the internet. I was made aware of his existence from Thomas Middleton's Poets, Poems, and Rhymes of East Cheshire (1908), which is freely available to download and is a wealth of information on local writers and can be very humorous when he speaks of their eccentricities. I can't find anything eccentric about Thomas Barlow, although I was interested in what Middleton has to say about him:

'THE BARD OF LONGDENDALE.

This poet was born at Radcliffe, in Lancashire, on the 17th of January, 1826, but at an early age removed to Hyde, Cheshire, where he became engaged as a calico printer. Afterwards he removed to Dinting, and the remainder of his life was spent in the neighbourhood of Glossop. He was a poor-law guardian for Glossop, a prominent member of the local Co-operative Societies, and was made one of the first working-men magistrates for the borough of Glossop. On several occasions I was in the company of the Bard of Longdendale, and found him an interesting, though somewhat reserved man. A collection of his works under the title of "Barlow's Poems" was published by Messrs. John Heywood and Sons, Manchester, in 1867. It is a volume of 230 pages, consisting of "A Trip to Woodhead," "Scenes Around Castleton" and other poems, and one of the features of the book is the successful way in which the poet describes local scenery. There are many choice gems in his poems on Longdendale.

THE FACTORY GIRL

Though not possessed of golden store,
Nor deck'd in jewels rare,
Sweet Lucy's virtues shine no less,
Nor is she the less fair.
Can gold bestow a kindlier heart?
Can jewels make it rare?
Ah, no! 'tis something richer far
Must hold possession there.

My song is not of titled dame,
Of nobleman nor earl:
I sing of one I love to name
The modest Factory Girl.

Though not so queenly beautiful,
She's fair, yes, passing fair:
She has a pleasing grace of form,
And dignity of air;
And there is that in Lucy's breast
Which beauty never gives
There is a true, a gentle heart,
Which feels for all that lives.

I sing not now of titled dame,
Of nobleman nor earl;
I sing of one I love to name,
The modest Factory Girl.

Too oft your pompous lady fair
Is fickle, false, and vain,
Inflicting wounds in other hearts
Without remorse or pain.
So 'tis not wealth begets respect,
As often hath been proved
And Lucy in a humble way
Is known but to be loved.

I sing not now of titled dame,
Of nobleman nor earl:
I sing of one I love to name,
The modest Factory Girl.

A low sweet voice and manners true
In Lucy are combined,
Which say, although she be but poor
She's riches in her mind;
And though her lineage doth not spring
From nobleman or earl,
She's honoured she's respected as
A modest Factory Girl.

I sing not song of titled dame,
Of nobleman nor earl:
I sing of one I love to name,
The modest Factory Girl.'

19 May 2021

The James North Clock, Hyde, Cheshire

James Drive, close to where James North's clock now stands:

'The clock opposite was taken from James North factory,

originally named Slack Mills.

The James North factory was the largest producer of

industrial protective equipment in the world. They patented

the PVC glove in 1947.

The factory buildings were demolished in November 1998.

The original clock dials, hands, bevels and dial motion-work

have been restored and fitted into the new clocktower

enclosure, which was erected in 2006.'

On 7 May 2005, MEN (Manchester Evening News) makes a comment on James North's business: 'The family concern - which began as a chamois leather dressing firm in Colne in 1868 - moved to Hyde in 1876. It started life in a disused stable in Robert Street but soon expansion into the glove making industry prompted an amalgamation with the Colne concern and they moved to bigger premises in Godley Mills.

Such was their good name they were commissioned to make gauntlet gloves for Sir Ernest Shackleton's great Antarctic expedition.'

18 May 2021

Arnaud Desplechan's L'Aimée | The Beloved (2006)

This is a (sort of) documentary concerning, as so many of Desplechin's films do, the family. Here he returns to his old home in Roubaix (Nord) to talk to his father Robert who has sold the house. Essentially it's the story of Arnaud Desplechin's paternal grandmother Thérèse, who died at the age of thirty-six from tuberculosis, when Robert was only two years old. Robert is preparing to leave, Arnaud is (as usual) smoking very heavily, and the two just talk about Thérèse, reconstruct her from old photos, a painting of her, etc.

As breaks in the dialogue between son and father, there are also shots of Arnaud's brother Fabrice with his nephews inside the house. An intensely autobiographical film which shows the relationship between autobiography and the 'fictional' films of Desplechin which interweave autobiographical content.

14 May 2021

Medhi Charef: Le Thé au harem d'Archi Ahmed (2013)


The best general description of this wonderful book is on the back page of the Folio edition, which manages to include virtually all the elements in it, apart from stealing (maybe on the métro) as a survival mechanism. As the first French-Algerian novel of its kind, this is an extremely powerful work. Ah, the verlan: 'renoir' (noir, or black), 'keblas' (blacks), 'kefric' (money), etc. The title comes from a pupil writing his version of 'Le Théorème d'Archim
ède' on the chalkboard as 'Le Thé au harem d'Archi Ahmed', bringing on himself class ridicule. Anyway, as the back page says (with my translation):

 'A working-class highrise area. On the wall: grafitti, slogans, distress calls, obscene drawings. Mahjid lives there. He's the son of immigrants, lost between two cultures, two languages, two skin colours, inventing his own roots, the things he's attached to. He's waiting. Without thinking too much because of the unbearable anguish. Fear rules. Violence. Love too. For the mother Malika, the brothers and the sisters, the father – a little old man who fell from a roof and lost his senses. For the mates and friend Pat, bringing him good times and bad times, pulling girls and doing drugs. Tenderness, friendship, a few laughs: these are the only glimmers of light in an existence dedicated to failure. "Concrete doesn't sing, it howls despairingly like the wolves in the forest, paw prints in the snow, not even possessed with the strength to hollow out a hole to die in."'

11 May 2021

Georges Méliès's Le Voyage dans la lune | A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Oddly, I'd not seen this classic before, this early model of science fiction cinema directed by Georges Méliès. It's in part inspired by H. G. Wells, in part by Jules Verne, but also other people, and of course its influence on future films would be enormous. Chorus girls load the space gun to the rocket which lands on an eye of the man in the moon. There are some surreal elements.

Robert Dhéry's La Belle Américaine (1961)


 It's by no means easy to describe Robert Dhéry's's La Belle Américaine, which marks Dhéry's (or his Branguignols'*) first cinematic as opposed to theatrical entrance. Many of the gang are here, such as Louis de Funès (as les frères Viralot (the commissaire de police and chief of staff where Dhéry works/worked)); Jean Lefebvre (as Chugnasse, the main accountant); Jean Carmet (as the petty crook after the car); Michel Serrault (as Chauveau the tramp); Christian Duvaleix (as the curé noctambule)  Jacques Legras (as Riri the innkeeper); Robert Rollis (as Maurice Clapier (or Lapin)); Pierre Tchernia (as the speaker); Dhéry wife Colette Brosette (as Paulette, Dhéry's wife and the ice cream maker); and of course Dhéry himself as Marcel Perrignon.

Most of the chums (and this is very much a film de copains) live in a working-class cul-de-sac, Marcel being a factory worker. The fun starts when Marcel wants to buy a motor-bike from Alfred (Alfred Adam), although it's not in good condition and Paulette sees an American car advertised at a stuupidly cheap price. Here we have the important part of the film: the title La Belle Américaine is not, as may initially be thought, about a beautiful American girl but a beautiful American car. America, the American dream, has long been of fascination to the French: it's the vast land of opportunity, it's the inspiration behind many French films, perhaps the Nouvelle Vague in particular, it's where many French novels are set, it's the home of many of François Busnel's favourite books, etc. It's also where le Ministre du Commerce (Bernard Lavalette) would have preferred to be sent rather than Australia, but that's at the end of another story in this action-packed, hilarious movie.

Marcel goes to Mme Lucanzas's (who lives in the huppé 16e), and buys the car for the extremely cheap price of 45,000 sacs, or 450 new francs: Mme Lucanzas is selling it off for a song so Simone (Éliane d'Almeida), her late husband's secretary and former lover, can't get her hands on it. And so Marcel becomes the envy of the neighbourhood, more notably causing him to be sacked by the chief of staff: the boss M Jean (Bernard Dhéran) is jealous. This car will lead him to a few more problems, for instance being investigated by the police – such an expensive car in a working-class area must surely be stolen? And then he's hired by Simone as a chauffeur but refuses to sell the the car and is locked in the boot for a time.

But the car has a very positive side as his social life is buzzing with all the people wanting to go for a ride, including monsieur le Ministre du Commerce. And although Colette wrecks her brother Pierrot's ice cream cart by backing the car into it, as seen from the last three (coloured) minutes of this film, it can double as an ice cream van. A brilliant film with far too many crazy moments to go into here.

*Les Branquignols, a troupe de comédiens. was created by Robert Dhéry and Colette Brosset, and they were active from the 1940s to the 1970s.

10 May 2021

The Moment of Birth: A Moorhen Hatches from its Egg: Glossop, Derbyshire



A moorhen sits on a nest in the middle of a brook and waits. Then, the glorious moment of birth when the chick hatches from the egg. Meanwhile the two slightly earlier born progeny learn to swim with the father. Or is it the father? I was amazed to see two other chicks being fed by other moorhens, sticking well close to them. The reason became apparent shortly afterwards, when a mallard tried to grab a chick. Moorhens must be born with a sense of fraternity or they wouldn't exist: they'd created a wide circumference of water within which the mallards couldn't enter. Life in the wild is tough.

Agnieszka Smoczyńska's Fuga | Fugue (2018)

A youngish woman (Gabriela Muskala) pushes her way up to a subway station platfrom in Warsaw after crossing the rails on foot and the proceeds to openly piss on the floor of the platform. The authorities take in this obviously mentally disturbed woman whose name is Alicya, although she has no memory of her past. It's only in a highly improbable TV progamme in which missing people appear in person that her father recognises her as his daughter Kinga who disappeared two years before.

The reunion is strained as she has no recollection of her previous identity. She is cold towards husband Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlat) and her young son Daniel (Iwo Rajski). Her main interest seems to be in getting her identity card and leaving. Krzysztof is amazed that she can remember where the fuse box is but doesn't recognise her family, although the fuse reflex is of course just a motor mechanism. She learns that Ewa (Malgorzata Buczkowska), quite possibly the new woman in her husband's life, is (as Kinga used to be) a geography teacher. Slowly she begins to thaw: unexpectedly, she sucks Krzysztof to climax, has sex with him, and they begin behaving like a conventional family, although she has strange inexplicable bouts of madness and pukes a black substance, obviously still in distress.

Two years before she had a road accident, thought she had killed her son and then just disappeared. For two years she had a new identity, many things have changed with her trauma, and she can't return to her old normality and pretend to herself and others that nothing has happened: she has to leave. A gripping, stunning second feature by Agnieszka Smoczyńska.

Marek Koterski's Dzień świra | Day of the Wacko (2002)

Adaś Miauczyński (Marek Kondrat) is a divorced Polish teacher with obsessive compulsive disorder, but really he's a professional complainer. He can't stand tiny noises that grate on him, he's disturbed by the presence and the activities of people on trains; if he goes to sunbathe on a beach other people appear and talk to each other mindlessly, even a seagull annoys him and he wants to kill it; when he spills cornflakes on the kitchen floor he has to pick them up and eat them as people in underdeveloped countries are starving.

His life is ritual: counting the seconds it takes to piss; counting the number of gulps of water; adjusting his crotch as he sits down on the sofa and spreads his legs out, slightly crossing them; he could be a candidate for the funny farm.

Yet it certainly wasn't the forgetting to kiss the crucifix that got me, it was the constant returns to check that he'd locked his door that made me think of Philip Larkin's 'something sufficiently toad-like / Squats in me, too': yep, something Adaś-like is in me. Or is that in every‌one? Isn't Adaś no more than a huge exaggeration of us all? Fascinating, and infuriating, film that bites you on the ass.

Michal Marczak's Wszystkie nieprzespane noce | All These Sleepless Nights (2016)

This is a good title for this half-documentary, half-fiction of two friends. I wouldn't call it a good film though. OK, we have Warsaw, or Poland in general, seeking for an identity like its children, but essentially this is lost children in their twenties drifting through the city from endless party to endless party, smoking incessantly, drinking incessantly, fucking, smoking cannabis, hoovering up coke, wandering around the deserted city in the early hours of the morning on MDMA. Yes, they enjoy being young, in some way seem to be trying to find themselves but don't quite fit into whatever reality they're looking for. This is perhaps a brave experimental film, but in the end I couldn't see what the point was, but maybe that was just the point. Let's dress as a pink rabbit with a microphone and make comments to people passing by in a park who might give you a sweet or too, or maybe we're just walking along a busy road miraculously dodging being killed. Instead of building anything, or even talking sense, these people just seem to be playing at self-destruction with no other goal, no intellectual curiosity, just playing at living in the fast lane.

9 May 2021

Małgorzata Szumowska's 33 sceny z życia | 33 Scenes from Life (2008)

 

This film is set in Cologne where photographer Julia (Julia Jentsch) is in turmoil: when her mother Barbara (Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik) becomes seriously ill with cancer her world begins to collapse. Not the best of Polish films.

Hanna Polak and Andrzej Celinski's Dzieci z Leningradzkiego | The Children of Leningradsky (2004)

It took two years to make this thirty-three minute film on a shoestring budget. It is gruelling to watch the children who live in and around Moscow's railway stations, sleeping there or on the street, or in derelict houses. They survive by begging at the stations, people leave money for them, feel sorry for them. They may have no parents, their parents may have thrown them out, may be alcoholics or drug addicts, may have been beaten and forced to leave home, but their friends are here now. Many become addicted to glue and vodka to survive, anything to avoid the reality of their lives. And they live in constant fear of death, young children, male or female, prostituting themselves to paedophiles. They are bullied and robbed by the older ones, and in turn they bully the old tramps. The police beat them, they have sores on their faces, they fight each other, if they are sent to an orphanage they get beaten, there is no hope for any future. An unforgettable movie about the hell of a post-Soviet Russia whose authorities have no concern for its children.

Mariusz Wilczyński's Zabij to i wyjedź z tego miasta | Kill It and Leave This Town (2020)

Famously, Faulkner uses these two sentences in his novel Requiem for a Nun: 'The past is never dead. It's not even past.' Similarly, ‌in this animated film these words appear (as subtitles): 'Everyone who has gone, has gone. They haven’t died, they’re still alive in my imagination, including my parents, to this day.' Wilczyński's autobiographical film very much concerns his dead parents, his memories of them at different stages both in his and their lives. It's also hallucinatory, violent, surreal and disturbing. Animals frequently appear, there's an obsession with flies, his parents' heads turn into birds' heads, perspective is changed, a boat on the sea becomes a toy boat in a bath, the film maker takes on a huge size compared with other objects or people, etc. This film, set in the industrial landscape of Łódź, took Wilczyński fourteen years to make, and seems to be an act of love. At one point a representation of his mother, close to death, asks him what the film's about, and he finds it difficult to answer.

8 May 2021

Pawel Łoziński's Nawet nie wiesz, jak bardzo cie kocham | You Have No Idea How Much I Love You (2016)

 

This is an amazing film by Pawel Łoziński, being a series of therapy sessions between a Polish mother and her daughter, in her twenties, guided by the psychiatrist Bogdan de Barbaro. The mother Ewa has been divorced from her husband since before her daughter Hania was in her teens, and the sessions work towards a very tentative reconciliation between the two. The camera restricts itself to very long close-up shots of the faces of the three people. Inner thoughts are revealed, and this is very compelling viewing with not a single boring moment.

6 May 2021

Édouard Niermans's Le Septième Juré (2008)

Le Septième Juré is an adaptation of Francis Didelot's novel of the same name (1958). A film of the same name was also made by Georges Lautner in 1962, set in Pontarlier, Doubs.

Grégoire Duval (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is a chemist who lives with his wife Geneviève (Isabelle Habiague) in provincial France and then one day, while fishing and in a moment of insanity strangles a young woman in a barn. This matter occurs at the end of the Algerian war and many French people are racist, which provides a suitable occasion for the Algerian Khader Boualam (Lahcen Razzougui), the woman's last lover, to be tried for the murder: he is just the scapegoat France needs.

But Grégoire is on the jury and tries his best to point out inconsistencies in the trial: he is wracked with guilt that an innocent person possibly faces the death sentence and he has sleepless nights. He tells his wife the truth but she swears him to a vow of silence because Grégoire's being found guilty would destroy them.

In the end Grégoire can't live with himself, hangs himself in the same barn, and leaves a confession of two murders which are promptly destroyed. So much for justice.

Stéphane Brizé's La Loi du marché | The Measure of a Man (2015)

This film has been compared to some of Ken Loach's film, and of course those of the Frères Dardenne, who must to some extent themselves be influenced by Ken Loach: Loach is a huge name in European Francophone countries, and only a few weeks ago the left-wing Édouard Louis, who originally stems from a basic working-class background in Picardy, published a booklet containing a conversation he had with Loach: although without the humour of Loach, this superb film carries the same gritty realism and empathy for the downtrodden, the laissés-pour-compte, as the British director's.

Thierry (Vincent Lindon) is long-term unemployed ex-factory worker with a wife, and a child with severe communication problems. He runs the whole gamut of useless bank advice, scratching a living in poverty, and worse-than-useless unemployed courses which leave people more disillusioned and helpless than before. Eventually he finds a job as a security guard in a supermarket but has to walk out of it because his dignity won't allow him to collar cash-strapped fellow workers for stealing. Welcome to the modern world of work in which class solidarity is a thing of history. A super film which, as I say in the post immediately below, owes something to Patrice Deboosère's Lundi CDI.

Patrice Deboosère's Lundi CDI | Probationary Period (2010)

 

This is a short lasting seventeen minutes. Éric (François Godart) is looking of a CDI, or Contrat de travail à durée indéterminée, a permanent work contract. He begins working as a supermarket security guard, although from the beginning he seems unsuited to the task: his reaction to his boss José (Éric Savin) calling a young child's parents to report him stealing seems a little exaggerated. But more is to come: a woman is caught stealing underwear and she breaks down in the office, causing embarrassment to Éric. She says she has no money to pay for the goods but says he can take it out on her body as his boss does. Éric is dumbfounded, takes the electronic device from the clothing and tells her to go.

In the car park she gets in her car, takes her wig off and phones the supermarket manager, telling him that he eventually cracked: 'trop affectif' ('too emotional'). And so we realise that this is a strong comment about the brutal reality of the business world.

Originally, Vincent Lindon had the idea of turning Lundi CDI into a feature film, although he later learned that Stéphane Brizé had adopted the idea: Deboosère's short inspired Brizé to make La Loi du marché. There are in fact a number of similarities between the two films.

5 May 2021

Francis Veber's L'Emmerdeur | A Pain in the Ass (2008)

No, this isn't the legendary L'Emmerdeur (1973) with Jacques Brel and Lino Ventura, directed by Édouard Molinaro and inspired by Francis Veber's play Le Contrat (1971), but the same film directed by the original playwright Francis Veber, and if that doesn't confuse people nothing will.

But then this is a François Pignon film, starring Patrick Tamsit as Pignon and Richard Berry as Milan. Milan is a hired killer intending to assassinate Randoni (Michel Aumont), who is about to give evidence in a trial concerning political corruption, and his hotel room overlooks the Palais de Justice: yeah, OK, there has to be a suspension of disbelief otherwise no film.

Pignon is obviously a Veberian Pignon, meaning he's stupid, although probably by no means that stupid, maybe even more clever than most of the rest, but certainly shunned by society, and here his wife in particular: she (Louise as Virginie Ledoyen) has gone to live with psychiatrist Wolf (Pascal Elbé), who is definitely more stupid than Pignon.

Pignon is so distressed that he wants to kill himself, but brings down not only his shower head but his water supply in the process: time for the domestic to help, but Milan assures him he'll take care of the job, hiding his artillery at the same time as he tries to pacify Pignon. There's a Pignon in all of us, a hero and a coward, a genius and an idiot, a philosopher and a Colin Wilson, but Veber hits out at all stupidity and mindless pretentiousness. I loved this film, but I absolutely have to see Édouard Molinaro's original movie.

4 May 2021

André Téchiné's La Fille du RER | The Girl on the Train (1986)

This film was inspired by Jean-Marie Besset's play RER, which in turn was inspired by a true event in 2004 in Paris when a young woman went to the police to register an anti-Semitic attack on her on the D line of the RER. It provoked a wave of protest in the country, with a great deal of media interest. A few days later she admitted that she'd invented the story.

Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) is rollerblading and attracts the attention of Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who's doing the same. And he's pretty insistant on getting to know her. Jeanne is unemployed and lives modestly with her mother Louise (Catherine Denueve) who looks after children as a livelihood. When Franck finds a job the young couple live together, until Franck is severely wounded by a knife blow over a drug deal. It's then that Jeanne's life begins to crumble, along with her mind. I would hardly think that this film has anything to do with racism, more the fragility of psychology, especially in the younger generation.

Philippe de Broca's La Gitane | The Gypsy (1986)

I'd not seen any of Philippe de Broca's films before, but this is quite simply a disaster. There are very few reviews of it but most of those admit that this is a very bad film for him. This was the eighties, so perhaps we can forget a comment to the effect that a temperamental computer must be female as it's indisposed once a month, but not the rest of this apparently characteristic blend of comedy and thriller.

Hubert (Claude Brasseur) is a banker divorced from Brigitte (Stéphane Audran) for ten years, although she still frequently contacts him, and she and his daughter Florence (Valérie Rojan) insist his lover Elsa (Clémentine Célarié) is a pute. His secretary Mlle Chaprot (Marie-Anne Chazel) also has eyes for him, although he calls her ugly because of her glasses and slight lack of make-up.

And then the explosion happens: the beautiful gypsy Mona (Valérie Kaprisky) steals his car, he reports it to the police and suddenly the not only beautiful but extremely intelligent, enterprising woman is part of his life, she visits his office, his home, robs the museum of some treasures, robs his bank, has him chase her all over the world, up the Tour Eiffel, they're in love, and that's as far as I'm going. Yes, a disaster, but there are a few moments of interest.

Could it be that the gypsy Ali Baba 'cave' of recycled wonders influenced Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Tire-Larigots in Micmacs?

Jacques Doniol-Valcroze's L'Eau à la bouche (1960)

Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, one of the co-founders of Cahiers du cinéma, is also one of the half-forgotten directors associated with the Nouvelle Vague. He only directed seven films. L'Eau à la bouche is scored by the music of Serge Gainsbourg, the tune of the same name being played several times, sometimes using the words, others only the music, as with Gainsbourg's more uptempo 'Judith'. The film is perhaps representative of the new sexual freedom, with six of the main characters here pairing off.

Virtually the whole of this film is a flashback to the day before, when three people were intended to come to the their late grandmother's château where one of the granddaughters – Miléna (Françoise Brion) – has been living. The other grandchildren are Fifine (Alexandra Stewart) and Jean-Paul (Paul Guers), although just for a laugh Robert (Jacques Riberolles), Fifine's boyfriend, is pretending to be Jean-Paul, to the annoyance of Fifine who nevertheless doesn't say anything. Also present in the château are the lawyer Miguel (Gérard Barray) who has come to read the will, the sex-mad butler César (Michel Galibru) and the new maid Prudence (Bernadette Lafont), plus the all-knowing Florence (Florence Loinod), the cook's granddaughter.

As night falls César sleeps with Prudence, Fifine with Miguel and Miléna with Robert, who is denounced under his true identity by Prudence in the morning. With the coming of Jean-Paul the scene returns to the beginning and continues with Fifine greeting her brother.

All this is played out gloriously theatrically in the sumptuous fading splendour of Château d'Aubiry, Céret (Pyrénées-Orientales), where the only telltales of ruin I noticed was in the broken windows of one of Gustave Eiffel's greenhouses.

Mouth watering.

3 May 2021

Claude Goretta's Pas si méchant que ça | The Wonderful Crook (1974)

Claude Goretta got his idea for Pas si méchant que ça from two news stories: one about the head of a Swiss business in financial difficulties who could only pay his employees by staging hold-ups, and the other of a man who kidnapped the son of a CEO by making him laugh by dressing up as Pinocchio. The idea is that, well, the robber here, Pierre (Gérard Depardieu), tries to calm his victims by showing them that he's not as nasty as that.

Pierre and his wife Marthe (Dominique Labourier) are living a comfortable bourgeois existence in the family woodcraft business which his father (until illness and death) has always been in charge of. And then things go wrong, the artisanal practice is menaced by plastic. But Pierre doesn't want to sack anyone, he'd rather rob businesses than that. And then one day he robs a post office, fires a shot at the ceiling and Nelly (Marlène Jobert) faints. Pierre rushes over the other side of the counter to help her and that's the start of a weird friendship. How was she to know that the gun was no longer loaded?

Eventually they become lovers, she – much to his disgust – even carries out a hold-up herself, heavily disguised and holding up an instruction card to hide her sex. Pierre's leading a double life, both very separate from the other. Until he's inevitably caught and the two women can only look on as the police arrest him.

Gilles Grangier's Le Voyage à Biarritz | The Trip to Biarritz (1963)

In a few seconds, Fernandel can turn joy into sadness, hope into despair, farce into pathos. Le Voyage à Biarritz manages to include comments on the cruel facelessness of economic reality, the class system, the brutal nature of the commercial world, the mindlessness of the paparazzi, the changing nature of society in general and – for good measure – the perceived artificial, mechanical nature of the English; and yet at the same time the film very much remains a traditional comedy. It's based on Jean Sarment's play of the same name, first staged at the Comédie-Française in 1936.

Guillaume Dodut (Fernandel) is the slightly clownish, hot-tempered but loveable stationmaster at Puget-sur-Var (today known as Puget-sur-Argens) who is furious that the last train to stop at the station is to be withdrawn and he has a furious slanging match with coach driver Louis (Rellys) in Le Café de la Gare, which is run by Fernande (Arletty in her last film role). He grabs Louis by the lapel, calling him a fossoyeur (gravedigger), meaning he's in part responsible for the death of rural train stations.

But he's prevented from going further in his anger with Louis when the postman delivers a letter from London, from his twenty-five year old son Charles (Jacques Chabassol). Since Charles was five and expressed a wish to visit Biarritz, the family have learned by heart the blurb about the town and for twenty years Gauillaume has nurtured a burning wish to visit Biarritz with his wife Madeleine (Hélène Tossy) and Charles: he knows all about the delights of the hotels and the scenery. Unfortunately, Charles has other ideas: the letter reveals that he has passed his exams in London as an engineer, although not that he is friendly with the boss of the engineering company, or that he intends to marry Marjorie (Anna Massey): that would be a huge blow to his father, who wants his son to marry Thérèse (Catherine Sola), the station ticket girl.

There are two wonderful scenes in which the English are satirised, the first being when Charles visits Marjorie's family for tea. Her parents simultaneously take the teacups to their mouths, simultaneously put the cups down, simultaneously put a marmelade sandwich to their mouths, simultaneously put them down: all to an infuriatingly repetitive, toy-like musical score: this is a foretaste of Guillaume's later visit to London, where he sees the Changing of the Guard, and says 'On dirait des automates..les soldats de bois' ('They look like robots...wooden soldiers').

Guillaume in London sounds an odd thing, but he's won fourth prize in a Café Bolivar competition: a day in the capital. The coffee company has drawn up a full day for him, including many photo opportunities, many occasions for advertising the coffee, as newspaper vans follow them around and Guillaume has no chance of seeing his son. In fact the last thing his son wants is to be seen with his father in his stationmaster unifrom as it would no doubt put his future in-laws off if they realised anything about Charles's humble beginnings.

But Charles does return to visit his parents, although while they're about to eat the phone goes and it's his London girlfriend Marjorie telling him that her parents were so enchanted by what he's told them about Biarritz that they've decided to spend there holidays there, and it goes without saying the they want him there too. So Charles invents a story to the effect that he's being called away to Biarritz to work as an engineer and he wouldn't have any time for his parents even if they went to Biarritz too: a lie, but a half-lie. Guillaume's wife has already understood the truth: the upwardly mobile Charles has moved on to fresh pastures, or as Fernande puts it, the heartbroken Guillaume is on a different track to his son.

Or maybe not. Charles will be losing his roots, trading his natural, fun- and sun-filled Provence for boring, fog-filled clockwork England. So he fixes Louis's engine, brings more passengers to Thérèse's ticket office than ever before, and she's so sexy and fits so snugly into his arms. Guillaume, of course, provides the final image of the film as he walks the platform with the inevitable toothy, horse-like smile. Precious.

2 May 2021

Jean Boyer's Le Chômeur de Clochemerle | Easiest Profession (1957)

No comment on the ridiculous English translation of the title of this film set in the fictitious Clochemerle. Fernandel (here Tistin) almost always plays the part of the good, constantly smiling toothy, gummy guy, as in this film, where he's at first a tramplike poacher avoiding the gamekeeper Beausoleil (Marcel Perès), who nevertheless enjoys an illegal rabbit stew with Tistin. And then Tistin has a brilliant idea: in a place of full employment, he applies to be a paid member of the unemployed, and succeeds.

He achieves this by the mayor M. Piechut (Henri Vilbert) rigging the vote because he believes that this places Clochemerle at the forefront of social justice, for which Tistin is paid 10,000 francs a month, or the equivalent of over 20,000 euros in today's figures: not a bad haul for doing nothing. But unfortunately the villagers strongly object to Tistin being paid to do nothing, and soon almost everyone is against him.

Until, that is, he starts to do any odd jobs asked of him, and the villagers reward him for it, which he eventually puts in a bank account to the benefit of the village. Result? He's awarded a medal and marries his beloved Jeanette (Maria Mauban). It's all good fun, although I'd have preferred an ending similar to Renoir's Boudu sauvé des eaux.

This film is based on novels by Gabriel Chevallier, who based Clochemerle in Vaux-en-Beaujolais, which now rejoices in the representation with a house with murals of Chevallier's characters, a pissotière, a Clochmerle trail, etc.

1 May 2021

Francis Veber's Le Placard | The Closet (2001)

This can hardly be called one of a series, as there isn't a series, although the main character François Pignon (less often Perrin) appears in Francis Veber's superior comedies a number of times: and he appears as different actors. In part, Pignon is Veber himself, and perhaps the main thing the Pignons (or Perrins) all have in common is that the main character is at variance with consensus reality: they may be shy, obsessional, or any one or a number of other removes away from the norm, but they're out of step. Period. A personal comment: political correctness hasn't even begun to understand the problems it's faced with, and to treat sexuality as a binary is absurd.

Here, François Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) – whose wife has left him taking their son with her – is a minor accountant for a condom company and is facing the sack. Is suicide a possibility? His new neighbour Jean-Pierre (Michel Aumont) seems to think so and tells him that if he jumps from his balcony he'll ruin his (Jean-Pierre's) car: not very neighbourly. So Jean-Pierre invites François in for a drink and tells him he'll find a solution to his problem. And that is: François will have to come out of the closet, admit that he's gay. He isn't, but that's not the point: dismissal on discriminatory grounds is the point, so Jean-Pierre has some compromising photos photoshopped, meaning they're flying all around the office, and of course François's boss Kopel (Jean Rochefort) has problems aplenty.

Francis Veber has a knack of making some really amazing films out of apparently very little material.