27 June 2021

Jean-Luc Godard's Nouvelle Vague (1990)

Directed long after the 'Nouvelle Vague' period – if it really existed – and almost equally long after Godard's Dziga Vertov films, the film Nouvelle Vague is an oddity that many people would prefer to forget. With a dialogue full of literary and cinematographic quotations usually without mention of where they're from, this insane film has the gardener Jules speaking poetry as if it were ordinary speech, among many other unexpected oddities.

The very rich woman Elena Torlato-Favrini (Domiziana Giordano) hits Roger Lennox – a surname which evokes a character in Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye – in her car as he's walking on the road, takes him back to her home, takes care of him and keeps him in her home in Switzerland by Lac Léman. He's the quiet, thinking type and when she invites him to join her for a swim in the lake he refuses because he can't swim. Nevertheless she drags him in and he drowns, which doesn't seem to concern her at all.

Shortly after an identical man, physically, appears and says he's Roger's brother Richard. He's aware of the murder and becomes a director of one on Elena's companies in return for his silence. They become lovers and he's the dominant one. Again they go on Lac Léman but this time she's drowning and he saves her. But the odd thing is that he appears to be the same person as his 'brother'.

Robert Bresson's Lancelot du lac | Lancelot of the Lake (1984)

Lancelot du lac is far removed from the heroic medieval knight stories which audiences are used to, and as an audience used to the austerity of Bresson might expect, this is far from the exciting, violent films in this genre. Violent it certainly is, although only on a superficial level. Rather, it's a tale of knights returning to Arthur's Camelot after a rout, and being unsuccessful in finding the Grail (as if it existed). Furthermore, there's rebellion in Camelot itself, where Mordred (Patrick Bernard) is plotting against Lancelot (Luc Simon) and friends, partly (or as an excuse for) the sexual relations Lancelot has had with King Arthur's wife Guenièvre (Laura Duke Condominas). Internal fighting leads to destruction of all concerned. This apparent Bressonian anomaly isn't as strange as it may seem.

Marc Allégret's Dédee d'Anvers (1948)

This film is an adaptation from the novel of the same name by Henri La Barthe (writing as 'Ashelbé'). Dédee (Simone Signoret in her breakthough role) works as a hostess (entraîneuse) at the Big Moon in Antwerp, although she is also a virtual slave to the pimp Marco (Marcel Dalio) the doorman. René (Bernard Blier) runs the Big Moon, which is not a den of prostitution but just a respectable enough establishment where the girls dance with the (often) American customers, although overnight stays are certainly not the norm.

And then along comes Francesco (Marcello Pagliero), the Italian captain of an international cargo vessel, Dédee is in love, and plans to leave with him. Marco has other ideas though, and shoots Francesco dead. René plans to shoot him, although Dédee thinks it's less traceable if they just stun him and run him over. This film comes across as in the réalisme poétique vein, if more noirish.

26 June 2021

Jean Boyer's Garou-Garou, le passe-muraille | Le Passe-muraille | Mr Peek-a-boo (1951)

Wow, does that American title make you cringe! The film itself though – unless it's the appalling dubbed version which turns it into a French-American (mis)adventure, is very different, being the first time Bourvil (as minor clerk Léon Dutilleul) truly earns his acting stripes. This is based on the short story 'Le Passe-muraille', and of course the sculpture of author Marcel Aymé is in tribute trapped beween two walls is in Montmartre. Léon first tells his friend the artist Gen-Paul (Raymond Souplex playing the real man (1875-1975)), who of course doesn't believe him when he says that he has the power to walk through walls.

At first Léon simply plays games on his tyrannical boss, and is slow to discover the true power he holds. She discovers that the English 'Lady' Susan Brockson (Joan Greenwood) is in fact not an aristocrat but a cat-burglar working in accomplice with Maurice (the future film director Gérard Oury), and returns a highly valuable pearl necklace that Susan has stolen back to its owner.

But Léon is hardly handsome and poor, so how can he win Susan, with whom he's now become obsessed? Obviously by carrying out impossible bank raids and robberies, by means of which he earns her great admiration, and although he's now in prison he can of course escape just by walking through the walls. But, on trying to escape with Susan, he pushes her through a wall but then loses his powers: the special effects here are brilliant for their time, but it would have perhaps been difficult to freeze him into a wall as in Aymé's story.

Jacques Demy's Parking (1985)

This is another musical by Jacques Demy, although this is nowhere near as successful as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg or Les Demoiselles de Rochfort, and unlike some of his other musicals the scenario itself isn't sung. Demy intended this as a homage to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and had in mind David Bowie for the lead role, then Johnny Hallyday, but of course this was not to be.

A retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, this is a kind of tribute to Cocteau's film Orphée, but is set in the present with Francis Huster as the rock idol Orphée and the Japanese sculptor – Yoko Ono of course being a Japanese sculptor – Keïko Ito (as Eurydice). Even a small part was given to the Cocteauian Jean Marais.

Claude Lelouch's Le Voyou | The Crook (1970)

 

After five years, Simon 'Le Suisse' (Jean-Louis Trintignant) escapes from prison and finds a hideaway at the flat of a woman (played by Danièle Delorme). He – very cunningly and discreetly – kidnapped the young son of humble bank employee Gallois (Charles Denner) in order to extract a large sum of money from the bank where he works, although Gallois is one of those who denounced Simon.

There is a long flashback involving the details of the sophisicated kidnap, including a wink to Lelouch's famous film Un Homme et une femme. Also included in the cast is Jacques Doniol-Valcroze as the banker, and the singer Sacha Distel as himself.

25 June 2021

Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf | The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)

Leos Carax's film took five years in the making, and although the bridge here in Paris was closed for repair at the time, Carax was forced at one point to reconstruct it in Lansargues, Hérault . More than anything, I saw this film as the quintessence of the expression 'le cinéma du look' which has been used to describe the early films made by Jean-Jacques Beineix, Luc Besson and Carax: the fireworks, the speedboat, the fire-eating, etc. After Boy Meets Girl (1984) and Mauvais sang (1986), this is the final part of the 'Alex trilogy' (Alex being Carax's original first name), and Denis Levant being a kind of alter ego to Carax.

Alex is an SDF ('sans domicile fixe'), living in one of the alcoves on the closed Pont-Neuf along with the older Hans (Klaus Michael Grüber), who provides him with the drug Alcyon, a powerful sleeping draft. Money comes from Alex giving fire-eating shows to the tourists, and from stealing. And then along comes Michèle (Juliette Binoche), who is going blind, has a cat, sketches, and has been thrown out of her home by her boyfriend.

Alex learns this not by asking Michèle about her past, but indirectly by looking at a letter with her forner address, visiting it, and reading her diary. Although Hans (with his own tragic backstory) is against this intruder, Alex and Michèle slowly fall in love and make money by sending wealthy café terrasse customers asleep by contriving to pour Alycon into their drinks and taking their wallets.

Although the plot gets somewhat lost in the literal and figurative fireworks and is impossible to believe, I can't see how anyone can truly dislike this film: certainly it's unforgettable. It would have us believe the unbelievable: that Alex can stun a cop and escape along the Seine in his speedboat, Michèle water-skiing behind; that a whole string of wanted posters (asking for information on Michèle because a cure for her eye disease has been found) would be plastered on walls of all advertising spots in the métrothat Michèle and Hans could enter the Louvre using an old key!; that Michèle can escape from shooting her partner through the skull; that the couple can survive the cold by Alex throwing them into the Seine in the middle of a chilly winterand that a passing boat, with only an elderly couple on board would come passing by and agree to let them join them all the way on their final voyage. What the hell does that matter: this is 'le cinéma du look', and this is a hell of a film.

Jean-Pierre Mocky's Les Ballets écarlates (2007)

This film was in fact made in 2004 but initially banned by the culture minister of the time, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, because of the content of the film: an exposé of paedophilia. But it was eventually released not in the cinema but on DVD. Based on L'Affaire des ballets roses scandal in 1959, this work is very far from the best of Mocky's, although I feel that it's been unduly critised. Certainly the running comments on paedophilia at the base of the screen, and the occasional interruption of the story to announce paedophilic activities in the past don't help the flow, but the film's heart is in the right place. This is the story of a ring of paedophiles from which young Éric (Florian Junique) escapes into the arms of Violaine (Patricia Barzyk), who mysteriously lost her son two years before. It takes Éric some time to allow Violaine to link his story to his, but with the aid of a few people (including Mathieu (Mocky himself)) she soon tracks the offenders down and massacres them.

Jean-Pierre Mocky's La Grande Frousse | La Cité de l'indicible peur | The Great Fear (1964)

Even by Jean-Pierre Mocky's standards, this is a crazy film, a swim into the absurdity of existence. Thematically part of the story is based on the fear caused by La Bête du Gévaudan in Lozère in the 1760s, although here part of the film was set in Salers (here called Barges) in the neighbouring département of Cantal. Initially called La Grande Frousse, Mocky changed the title to La Cité de l'indicible peur after the original title of Belgian Jean Ray's novel, on which it's based. Insane as the film may be, Mocky attracted a number of notable actors to play in it.

The forger Mickey le bénédictin (Marcel Pérès) escapes from the guillotine and as criminals are thought to return to the original scene of the crime, L'inspecteur Triquet (Bourvil) is sent to Barges, where everyone is terrified of the monster which supposedly comes out at night there, although Trinquet just calls it a legend; Saint Urodèle is said to have dealt with the creature.

It would be almost impossible to go into details of the 'plot' because there isn't really one, this is more a collection of eccentricities, and the film moves by visiting the quirks of the various characters, such as Trinquet himself, who originally goes to Barges ostensibly to hunt partridge and to look for a bald-headed man who may be wearing a wig and who hates cassoulet, and Trinquet moves in goat-like movements, partly running partly skipping. Franqui (Francis Blanche) spies on the town through binoculars and talks to his statue, a representation of Saint Urodèle; the village doctor Clabert (Victor Francen) is an alcoholic sometimes given to drinking pure medicinal alcohol; Paul (Roger Legris) is frightened of everything; the local cop Loupiac (Jean Poiret) seems more interested in how his hair looks than anything else, although it's normally covered in his képi; and the mayor Chabriant (Raymond Rouleau) has a strange tic of laughing at everything.

Eventually the beast is discovered (for some obscure reason) to be the butcher (René-Louis Lafforgue), although murders continue: first Franqui, then Douve (Jean-Louis Barrault) and finally the mayor. In the end it's discovered that the real criminal is Livina (Véronique Nordey), the mayor's secretary, not that that fact is of any importance in this detective story-cum-fantasy-cum-comedy-cum-satire. As Triquet's little one says as a closing line: 'Plus tard je ne veux être ni un bandit, ni un flic, je veux être un honnête homme': 'When I grow up I want to be neither cop nor robber, I want to be an honest man.'

24 June 2021

André Téchiné's Les Temps qui changent | Times Change (2004)

Antoine (Gérard Depardieu) is a French civil engineer who has contrived to work on buildings in Tangiers because – although he's had other women in the last 'thirty-one years, eight months and twenty days' since his relationship with Cécile (Catherine Deneuve) – he still loves her. She's married to Moroccan doctor Nathan (Gilbert Melki), and works at a radio station in Tangiers.

After many years, Antoine has traced Cécile. He first sees her with Nathan at a supermarket, where he runs into a plate glass wall on making his exit, injuring his nose. Nathan attends to the wound.

Cécile's marriage is far from happy and eventually she gets back with Antoine, who unfortunately has a serious accident at work and is in a coma. Cécile and Nathan part, and he goes to a new job in Casablanca. When Antoine comes out of his coma his frequent visitor Cécile holds his hand.

(The bisexual interest in the film is in Cécile and Nathan's son Sami (Malik Zidi), who lives with Nadia (Lubna Azabal) in Paris but the two go for a visit to Morocco and Sami recommences his relationship with his former boyfriend Bilal (Nadem Rachati).)

Georges Franju's Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962)

 

The story of a would-be killer wife (by poison) (Emmanuelle Riva as Thérèse Desqueyroux), whose husband Bernard (Philippe Noiret) allows her case to be dismissed to save appearances, doesn't divorce her but sends her to Paris, only to appear as his 'wife' on special occasions is of course well known from the famous novel of the same name by François Mauriac (1927). This is set in the author's south-west and is an austere tale of two people who in effect destroy each other mentally. Moving. This film was later readapted in Claude Miller's 2012 starring Audrey Tautou, although I've yet to see that.

André Téchiné's Les Innocents (1987)

Jeanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) is from northern france and goes to Toulon for the wedding of her sister Maïté (Christine Paolini) to Noureddine (Krimo Bouguetof), although her main intention is to meet her deaf-mute brother Alain (Stéphane Onfroy). She meets Klotz (Jean-Claude Brialy), a bisexual orchestra leader with alcoholic tendencies and a lust for the young Saïd. Jeanne discovers that Alain has become a petty thief along with Saïd (an early appearance of Abdelatif Kechiche before he became the famous director). She spends the night with her brother but he robs her in the early hours, even of a precious family heirloom.

Jeanne goes to see Klotz to find out where her brother is, but meets his son Stéphane (the lamented Simon de La Brosse, who killed himself at thirty-two), who has only recently come out of a coma so can behave a little oddly at times. Jeanne and Stéphane are attracted to each other and he takes her to see Klotz rehearsing. Alain is staying with Saïd, to whom Jeanne is also attracted. All this is played out against the background of Stéphane's extremely violent, extreme right-wing history, and in the end both Saïd and Stéphane are shot dead, lying next to each other as Jeanne stares at them.

There's an air of Greek tragedy about this film.

Jean-Pierre Mocky's Les Vierges (1963)

Les Vierges is five short stories about young women losing their virginity.

In the first, Marie-Claude (Stefania Sandrelli) has two dragueurs chasing her, only to give herself to a stranger at a fair. (How many fairs have appeared in films?)

Geneviève (Catherine Diamant) is the daughter of the constipated banker Marchaix (Jean Poiret) and marries Robert (Jean-Pierre Honoré). Their honeymoon night is ruined for her when her husband leaves her with the feeling that she has been raped.

Christine (Anne-Marie Sauty) is the financée of Xavier (Gérard Blain), an idiot aristocrat who works for Marchaix. Christine plays games with him to spend the night with a painter.

Sophie (Josiane Rivarolla) loves Micky (Johnny Monteilhet), and although they can't find anywhere to have sex they end up in a luxurious bed.

Chemist Nora (Catherine Derlac) is in love with her boss Berthet (Charles Aznavour), who's in his forties and hoping to divorce and marry her. She loses her virginity to a stranger and suddenly Berthet is no longer interested.

This is of course France before the sexual revolution, although it seems to be a revolution just waiting to happen.

22 June 2021

Jean Renoir's La Nuit du carrefour | Night at the Crossroads (1932)

Crossroads lead places, but in themselves are just passing places where many activities can be carried out, as Maigret (Pierre Renoir), in this – one of Renoir's early talkies – will show. Godard rated this film as a very important example of a film policier.

There are just three houses at the crossroads: the garage of Oscar (André Dignimont); the house of insurance agent Émile Michonnet (Jean Gehret) and his wife Michèle (Lucie Vallat); and the house of the apparent Danish brother and sister Carl Andersen (Georges Koudria), who is a decorative designer, and Else (Winna Winfried).

And then the body of a Dutch jeweller Goldberg is found in Michonnet's car, but in the Andersens' garage. It will take Maigret a day, but mainly a day and a night, to discover that the initial obvious suspect Carl is just a stool pigeon in a deadly game in which his 'sister' Else is his second(?) wife; that the garage is a front to hide criminal activities; that Else is far from innocent, but that her first husband Guido (Manuel Rabby) is the real criminal, etc: quite a can of worms for the first filmic version of Maigret to open.

Jacques Doniol-Valcroze's Les Surmenés (1958)


As this is a very early short from Doniol-Valcroze it's very easy to excuse the man who went on to direct, for example, L'Eau à la bouche. But it's difficult (impossible even) to decide if this is a kind of documentary on the hazards of overworking or just a story of a young woman from Limousin who moves to Paris.

Catherine (Yane Barry) lives in the peaceful countryside and has won a typing competition. She has also met Bernard (Jean-Pierre Cassel) on holiday and decided to move to Paris where he lives, and where he works in the same company as her sister Solange (Chantal de Rieux). This being 1958, she doesn't at first move in with Bernard but with her sister and her overworked husband.

Because this is Catherine's first time in Paris she's overcome by the bright lights and the dancing and wants to go out all the time, exasperating Bernard. As she's met the dragueur Jimmy on the train to Paris and he left her with his phone number she starts going out with him, but soon tires of this. So she returns to Bernard and they're soon (perhaps happily) married, although Bernard teasingly treats her as a fool. 

Georges Franju's La Tête contre les murs | Head Against the Wall | The Keepers (1959)


La Tête contre les murs is based on Hervé Bazin's novel of the same name, and it was originally Jean-Pierre Mocky's idea to direct this as his first film, although it was decided than Franju would direct it, with Mocky playing the main role of François. Upper-middle-class François has no educational qualifications, has spent money recklessly and has considerable debts. To get out of the mess he steals his father's money and burns some valuable papers out of spite. His father catches him in the act and has him put in a psychiatric hospital, where he is an extremely frustrated sane person amidst the mad.

He meets Heurtevent (Charles Aznavour), who is also sane but just epileptic. Heurtevent has been imprisoned in the hospital for years and is beginning to depair that he will never leave the hospital. The two make an escape, but Heurtevant has a fit, they are caught, and in desperation Heurtevent hangs himself. Stéphanie (Anouk Aimée) is an acquaintance who comes to visit him, who knows that there is nothing wrong with him, and on his second escape he goes to her flat: unfortunately he is caught again: it seems there is no escape. It's easy to see why this story criticising institutionalisation – physical and chemical strait jackets being used as forms of control – appealed to the rebel Mocky.

Jean-Pierre Mocky's Un drôle de paroissien | An Odd Parishioner (1963)

Jean-Pierre Mocky, who directed so many films but is often ignored by critics, is a kind of anarchist rebelling against virtually every institution. In Un drôle de paroissien his targets are the church, the aristocracy and the police. Georges Lachaunaye (Bourvil) is a member of an impoverished aristocratic family which needs money to live but of course doesn't want to work for it. He therefore has to think of something drastic in order for the family to survive. And then it comes to him: he'll rob the collection boxes in churches.

He puts a great deal of thought into the matter, at first just dangling sucked toffee on pieces of string, then progressing to a tiny kind of vacuum cleaner he conceals in his coat and hoovers up the money when no one is looking. But it's easy to be spotted in his work so he co-opts his friend Raoul (Jean Poiret) to work with him, eventually hiding in churches overnight so they can saw the boxes to make a louvred top which can be slid open and the money collected.

Unfortunately for thieves in churches, there's a section of the police force called the Brigade d'églises(!) trained to catch people in the act of stealing from collection boxes. The film becomes a cops-and-robbers story, with both sides confusingly adopting ecclesiastical disguises. This is my first Mocky, and I look forward to many more.

Jacques Doillon's La Fille de 15 ans (1989)


Juliette (Judith Godrèche) is fifteen and in love with the slightly younger Thomas (Melvil Poupaud), although they aren't quite yet ready to move into a sexual relationship. Willy (Jacques Doillon) is Thomas's divorced father who decides to take his son and girlfriend on holiday with him to Ibiza, in a villa by the sea. It's when Thomas decides to swim out to a rock and explore it, spending most of the day in this pursuit, that Willy begins to move in on Juliette, although in a subtle way.

Slowly he begins to fall in love with her, much to her annoyance, and she tires of him so often simply looking at her. Speaking about the matter with Thomas, she decides to bring the thing to a head by leading the father on, enticing him, only to dump him at the last moment. Although 'dump' is far too harsh a word to use in this film which is a subtle exploration of what Doillon is good at: the research into youth and its intricacies.

Max Ophüls's La Ronde (1950)

Anton Walbrook is the master of ceremonies in this film set in Vienna in 1900 and based on the play by Arthur Schnitzler. The master of ceremonies introduces each scene of sex (where of course nothing is openly seen) at the side of a merry-go-round, and this is indeed the central idea: relationships (such as Simone Signoret as a prostitute with soldier Serge Reggiani) turn around like a merry-go-round, the soldier moving on to a chambermaid, the chambermaid moving on to one of her employer's sons, the son moving on to a young wife, etc.

20 June 2021

Jacques Rozier's Maine Océan (1986)

This is not so much a film as a runaway train, so it's entirely fitting that parts of it occur on trains. On the 'Maine Océan' an exotic Brazilian dancer Dejanira (Rosa-Maria Gomes) has hardly any French, so in yet another of Jacques Rozier's exercises with language as non-communication, ticket inspectors Le Gallec (Bernard Ménez) and Lucien Pontoiseau (Luis Rego) – both clearly smitten by Dejanira's charms – struggle in a few words in French and a few in English to explain to her that her ticket is invalid because she hasn't had it composté: stamped. And then we have French lawyer Mimi De Saint Marc (Lydia Feld) intervene and try to sort the situation out with her limited Portuguese. Both Mimi and Dejanira almost instantly become bosom friends.

The two stop off in Angers as Mimi has to attend court and try to defend her client Marcel Petitgas (Yves Afonso), a fisherman accused of assaulting a bourgeois man in a supposed 'road rage' attack. Mimi again launches into a long, eloquent but meaningless so totally irrelevant discourse – obviously Rozier attacking the confusion which is language as well as the legal profession in general – but Lucien (being working class therefore a born loser (class is also a preoccupation of Rozier)) is given a suspended sentence and has to pay (not insignificant but not huge) costs in compensation: Mimi's incomprehensible words certainly have done some good.

Marcel too is in love with Dejanira and tells the lawyer and the dancer that they must visit L'Île d'Yeu (where he's from, and his accent is almost impossible to understand) – incidentally Éric Chevillard's childhood holiday home was in L'Île d'Yeu: irrelevant of course, but since we're talking absurdity.... And everyone (including the ticket inspectors) joins up there. There's an amazing dance and music session: why? You don't ask such stupid questions about Rozier's films, with Dejanira wriggling about almost naked.

Impresario Pedro De La Moccorra (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) is controlling the impromptu session and tells Le Gallec that he could be the new Maurice Chevalier: time for Le Gallec to think of life change and think of the bright lights of the Big Apple. Unfortunately Le Gallec is thrown off the plane as it's leaving and about the last thirty minutes are spent in watching him hitch lifts on boats back, wading through the water to get to the road where he hitches his way back to get to work on time. As I said,  you don't ask questions.

Some fans of Rozier's rate this above Du côté d'Orouët, and I can understand the reasoning.

Jacques Rozier's Les Naufragés de l’île de la Tortue | The Castaways of Turtle Island (1976)

This is not Jacques Rozier's best film, but like all the films he made it is very amusing, absurd and never dull. Needless to say, there are many swerves in the plot, and it is frequently impossible to say what material here is in the original script and how much improvised. Jean-Arthur Bonaventure (Pierre Richard) works in a travel agency and with his colleague 'Nono' (Maurice Risch) he concocts a scheme – approved by the general manager of the company – for a money-saving holiday which involves sending people on holiday to an exotic location where they have to fend for themselves in Robinson Crusoe fashion.

Jean-Arthur goes out not with Nono but his brother Petit Nono (the irrestistable Jacques Villeret), and no sooner have they (half-)finished their research at the destination and (sort of but not really) found what they think is a suitable destination then the first tourists start arriving. From the airport the tourists go with the guide on a regulation coach which is at one point invaded by a crowd of locals, but eventually the bus breaks down.

This means the group have to make their way on foot, but as it's night they sleep outside a deserted house. Then, painstakingly, they have to carry their luggage through the bush before they find a ship to the island. Needless to say, the 'holiday' is a total disaster and Jean-Arthur even finds himself in the local jail for eating bananas he can't pay for.

Jacques Rozier's Adieu Philippine (1960)

Adieu Philippine is Rozier's first feature and has some clear resemblances to Du côté d'Orouët – the celebration of youth, music, giggling girls, etc, and is also a rare instance of the Algerian war being mentioned. The title is a 'secret' coded reference to the two starring girls – Juliette (Stefania Sabatini) and Liliane (Yveline Céry)  deciding which is the one to go out with television worker Michel (Jean-Claude Aimini).

Michel decides to go to Corsica and is surprised that the girls have followed him, which is another excuse for more frivolity and camping in the mountains before he has to return to the mainland to begin his military service in Algeria.

19 June 2021

Jacques Rozier's Comment devenir cinéaste sans se prendre la tête (1995)


A short. So young Agathe (Eloïse Charretier) wants to be a film maker but her parents think she's crazy. Her family get Lucien (Roger Trapp) to have a word with her, as he's been involved with films, and he can only tell her how long it takes to get to know the business. And then he introduces her to the (real) director Jean-Christophe Averty, who can only describe movie making in an Ubuesque, 'pataphysical way.

Jacques Rozier's Paparazzi (1964)


A short. Paparazzi concerns the relationship between Brigitte Bardot and the photographers who hounded her on the island of Capri during the making of Godard's film Le Mépris at writer Curzio Malaparte's Casa Malaparte, designed by Adalberto Libera. The paparazzi complain that they can't earn a living, although Bardot is in effect being victimised for being a star. The paparazzi are seen to take insane measures to obtain photos.

Jacques Rozier's Marketing Mix (1979)

A short. Jean-Yves Maginot (Bernard Ménez), who says he's come direct from the Harvard Business School – but surely not the one in Boston? – has been hired at a company as a sales representative, with the aim of going right to the top. From the beginning, when he bumps his car door on a colleague's in the car park, we can see that this is an ambitious idiot, but then this is a Rozier film with him in it. His language used in a letter a secretary takes shorthand from is treated with derision by everyone: he wants to write in an elaborate, pretentious style using multi-syllables. And then there's another scene in which a shorthand typist comes into an office to join the worthy suited and booted in a yellow tee-shirt bearing a huge Mickey Mouse head. It's just the wonderful Rozier!

18 June 2021

Jacques Rozier's Du côté d'Orouët (1973)


If there are similarities beween this film and the Czech film Daisies (minus the political satire) and Rohmer's beach films (without the endless discussions), this film is out there on its own: a hymn to the craziness of youth, to forgetting about the cares of work in Paris, to being stupid for the sake of being stupid, and finding everything hilariously funny: they're in their late teens or early twenties, and they'll never be there again.

Yes, this is a film de vacances, but unlike, say, the early films of Patrice Leconte, where sexual frolics and innuendos were the order of the day. This is Joëlle (Danièle Croisy) going to Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie in La Vendée, escaping (she thinks) from the typing pool and its boss Gilbert (Bernard Ménoz) with her mates Kareen (Françoise Guégan) and Caroline (Caroline Cartier) to her grandmother's old house at the side of the sea, where she used to go as a young child.

Everything is wildly amusing: they wear chamberpots on their heads, they clomp about in grannie's old clogs, they howl and scream with laughter, they yell with horror at the live eels an old fisherman has given them, they discuss slimming and gorge themselves with chocolate. And then they bump into Gilbert, who knows that Joëlle is going there, and he's driven there with his tent, pitched at a campsite and – huge joke – he's no idea how to pronounce Orouët!

It might seem that the presence of Gilbert has put the damper on things, but not at all: he seeks shelter one stormy night when his tent can't take it anymore, and although they won't allow him to sleep in the house they allow him to pitch his tent in the sheltered side of the house: time to have fun and wake him up early in the morning with shouts and trumpet sounds. They can still have childish fun.

Anyone who finds this two-and-a-half-hour film long and tedious has never lived: the improvisation, as opposed to the elaborate planning and fascist control of the director, rules here. Rozier delights in the embarrassing silences, in what the actors do with them.

Sheer, unadulterated delight.

17 June 2021

Memorial to Tip the Sheepdog, Derwent Reservoir, Derbyshire

 

'IN

COMMEMORATION OF
THE DEVOTION OF
TIP
THE SHEEPDOG WHICH STAYED
BY THE BODY OF HER DEAD
MASTER, MR. JOSEPH TAGG.
ON THE HOWDEN MOORS FOR
FIFTEEN WEEKS FROM 12TH
DECEMBER 1953 TO 27TH
MARCH 1854.

ERECTED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION'

This is a wonderful monument, although I have one objection: how can anyone have allowed the word 'which' to be used for Tip, which suggests that she was an object?

Claude Chabrol's Les Godelureaux | Wise Guys (1961)

This is a little known Chabrol, and not a much appreciated one. The rich Ronald (Jean-Claude Brialy) parks his car in front of the café Le Flore on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and in his absence the young bourgeois Arthur (Charles Belmont) has his mates lift the car from its place so he can put his there instead. On his return, Ronald is jeered at by those on the terrasse. The humiliated Ronald decides to get his revenge by using Amboisine (Bernadette Lafont).

In the book Claude Chabrol, Guy Austin points out that this film shows another of the contrasts between Chabrol himself and his friend Paul Gégauff, with the Arthur character as a version of the young Chabrol ('innocent, reserved, repressed') and the Ronald character as Gégauff ('cynical, charismatic, provocative').

Philippe Garrel's Les baisers de secours | Emergency Kisses (1989)


'Navel-gazing' is one expression used for this film, which is about a film maker whose wife falls out with him to such an extent that she leaves him and the husband has talks with his father, who says that a child can bring a couple together. Here, the film maker is the director himself, Philippe Garrel playing Mathieu, married to Jeanne (played by Brigitte Sy, Garrel's real partner), the son is Lo (Louis Garrel, the couple's real son). And, for good measure, Mathieu's father is played by the actor Maurice Garrel, Philippe's real father.

And the central argument is that Mathieu has given the leading role in a film to Minouchette (Anémone), and Brigitte is fuming that he hasn't given it to herself. A long scene in which there is an argument between Brigitte and Anémone is fascinating, as is Louis Garrel's advice given to his son.

16 June 2021

Claude Jutra's Kamouraska (1973)

This is a marathon (almost three-hour) film based on Québécoise writer Anne Hébert's eponymous novel which in turn is based on a true story. Following from the now disgraced Jutra's successful Mon oncle Antoine, it's not too difficult to discover the reason why this was a box office failure: it's not too easy to follow because it's chopped up, most if not all scenes springing from the main character's mind in an often stream of consciousness style. The fact that it's a historical film set in the 1830s didn't help it any either.

Élisabeth d'Aulnières (Geneviève Bujold) marries the seigneur of Kamouraska Antoine Tassy (Philippe Léotard), and on the face of it it would appear that she's very fortunate in marrying a handsome young man who owns a vast area of land. However, her deflowering is brutal and Élizabeth comes very quickly to realise that she's married a violent drunkard and a frequenter of brothels. She longs to escape, and her family is on her side.

And then along comes her doctor Georges Nelson (Richard Jordan) and they fall in love. The monster must be killed. The servant Aurélie is more or less bribed into doing the deed by giving him a poisoned drink, but it doesn't work. Tassy disappears for some time, Élisabeth is pregant by Georges, and Georges performs the bloody murder. He is disgusted that Élisabeth has had sex with Tassy to make it look as though it's his baby, but anyway now that the impossible love has now become possible, paradoxically it's also now impossible: George flees to the States and to keep up appearances Élisabeth is reluctantly obliged to marry Jérôme (Marcel Cuvelier), which is where the story started: after twenty years of marriage Jérôme is dying and Élizabeth is reflecting on her life.

Georges Perec's Les Lieux d'une fugue (1978)

For three years the young Georges Perec was living with his aunt Esther Bienenfeld and her husband David at a flat at 18 Rue de l'Assomption in the 16e arrondissement. In 1965 he wrote a fifteen-page autobiographical account (Lieux d'une fugue (Runaway Places)) of the day he ran away from the flat at the age of eleven. He turned it into a forty-two minute film in 1978.

The film isn't in chronological order, has no dialogue only voiceover, and contains many images dwelling on tiny details, such as dogshit on benches, a cracked coffee bowl, the goose feather on the letter 'F' on the offices of Le Figaro (as on the 'F' on the newpaper itself), etc. There are shots of metro stations, Carré Marigny stamp market, the Champs-Élysées, Franklin-Roosevelt, rubbish bins and much more.

The point where a man finds the boy trying to sleep on a bench, starts asking him questions and then takes him to the nearest police station comes about halfway through and is ony continued at the end, where we see images of a room in the police station and learn that his uncle has been phoned and will come and pick him up in his car.

At no time is there any attempt to reconstruct Perec's flight as a child himself, only memories of places visited, no one interprets him as a boy, and only a few brief images of Perec himself involved in the film are seen: there is only the voiceover, and as Perec's older cousin Lili used to play the piano at Rue de l'Asssomption, as a memory of this, Schumann's Kreisleriana becomes increasingly predominant as soundtrack.

15 June 2021

Alain Resnais's Stavisky (1974)

Here we have a film set in the 1930s which is based on the last years of Serge Alexandre Stavisky (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a man of great wealth and power married to the ever-faithful Arlette (Anny Duperey), although he very much has a wondering eye and believes he can influence anyone he pleases because of his position. The film is way too complicated to go into, although Stavisky is a huge fraudster and also a very mentally sick man.

Trotsky was certainly not mentally ill, although the analogy of him with Stavisky is particularly fitting, but not everyone seems to have understood that one.

Complicated as it may be, this is a very long way from the experimental complications of Resnais's earlier Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and : L'Année dernière à Marienbad (1961). A suberb film.

14 June 2021

Alexandre Astruc's Le Rideau cramoisi | The Crimson Curtain (1953)

Astruc's Le Rideau cramoisi is a forty-four minute medium length film based on Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly's short story from his book Les Diaboliques (1874). There is no dialogue at all, but the story is told by Yves Furet as if he were the Vicomte de Brassard, the man who told him this story of when he was a young officer (played by Jean-Claude Pascal).

As a lieutenant of twenty he once stayed with a couple, played here by Jim Gérald and Marguerite Garcya, whose company he found very boring but only sees them for dinner and souper. And then one day something happens which will have a great effect on him for the rest of his life: the beautiful eighteen-year-old Albertine (Anouk Aimée), the couple's daughter, suddenly appears at the dinner table. Before long she is surreptitiously putting her hand on the officer's, and keeping her foot on his throughout the meal. The young man becomes obsessed, passes Albertine a note, but from then on Albertine for some unknown reason sits not next to the officer but between her parents.

And then the inexplicable happens when Albertine comes to the officer's room and they have passionate sex: she has been very brave to do so as she has to pass through her sleeping parents' room in order to get there. Nevertheless, the young woman regularly turns up for passionate nights every other night: the officer is pretty sure that they don't love each other, and apart from the sex the woman is impassive, so why spoil a good thing?

But on the final night she arrives earlier than usual, more passionate than ever, but then just dies on the bed. The officer makes sure she is in fact dead, thinks of doing away with the body in several ways, even doing away with himself: but what a pointless waste at the age of twenty! In the end he just leaves the house, never to return and never to hear anything of the matter again.

Young Moorhen, Glossop, Derbyshire

 

The only survivor of the first brood.

Just Philippot's Acide | Acid (2018)

A seventeen-minute short. At first we see an abandoned teddy bear by the roadside, then the lower sections of cars as they bump into each other. As it rains, the teddy bear begins to dissolve a little, as the camera moves out we see a man with a much bloodied face, and rotting cars in a traffic jam. It's now dry and a motorbike seems to be on fire: it carries the mother (Maud Wyler), the father (Sofian Khammes) and their son (Antonin Chaussoy). The father stops the motorbike in a field and the three alight and run towards a house which a number of other people are running towards, although they see that the owners of the house, in a frenzy, are shooting the people down.

The rain is obviously deadly acid, and as the family run the man picks up a corrugated sheet for his wife and son to shelter from while trying to escape. The man begins to bleed heavily as it starts to pour down, and he doesn't make it to the cave where his wife and child are sheltering. Here mother and son take off some of their poisoned clothing, they look at the rain dripping inside the cave and suspect that that too is acid. The mother appears to be dying and the boy walks out into the sunshine, into the devastation, the screen goes black and he says a few times: 'Il y a quelqu'un?" ('Is anyone there?'). This film, made three years after Ses souffles, is far more like the horror genre that his first feature La Nuée will be, although the presence of mother and child is also there as in Ses souffres.

Just Philippot's Ses souffles | Breathe (2015)

Just Philippot is very much in the news now due to the release of his delayed horror film La Nuée (Swarm). Stretching things, I suppose this twenty-four minute short could be called called a horror film of sorts, although it's really in the vein of a Ken Loach drama about social deprivation.

We first see a birthday party in a house, where Lizon (Candela Cottis) and her mother Karine (Marie Kauffmann) are at Lizon's young friend Marie's, and Lizon gets so excited about birthday wishes that she tries to blow the candles out on the cake, although she's restrained by her schoolfriends. Lizon's birthday too is coming soon, and she wants to have a birthday party. Unfortunately her living conditions make this impossible as she lives in a car with her ferociously independent single mother. Karine works in a supermarket but would prefer to work as a housekeeper or garde d'enfant.

Lizon wants to plan a birthday party with her 'schoolmates' in the car, although perhaps inevitably they criticise her clothes and the smell. So Lizon has a 'party' in the car with just her mother present, although she refuses to blow the candles out as it's not a real party, Karine gets exasperated and walks away and the next thing the car is ablaze. Karine manages to rescue Lizon but the sight of the car in flames is the lasting image in the film that we have. Obviously a promising beginning to film direction.

The title Ses souffles is lost in English as it can obviously apply to breath but there's a pun on s'éssouffle, not only being out of breathe but out of a number of things, such as hope.

13 June 2021

Marcel Carné's Les Assassins de l'ordre | The Lawbreakers (1971)

This is one of Marcel Carné's last films, and is a gem. And not just because Jacques Brel (as Le Juge d'instruction) and dear Boby Lapointe (as Louis Casso) are in it. An innocent man is murdered here by the cops in the cop station, there are witnesses (one being a minor cop himself), two others in the next door cell who hear the terrible sounds of torture, and as it turns out there was also a prostitute who heard not an interrogation but a murder.

Bernard the judge goes through all the procedures to get the three murderous cops convicted, but he's working against a system which is rigged against justice, which cheats in every way it can, intimidates witnesses into silence and lying, and distorts the truth as much as possible: in fact, as Orwell said, lies are truth and vice versa. If this film doesn't turn you against the corruption of the status quo there's no hope for you.

12 June 2021

Marianne Denicourt and Judith Perrignon Mauvais génie (2005)

 

I'd say that all writing – even biography – is to a large extent autobiographical: we're writing our personal findings, even if they're about someone else, and we select according to own own tastes and opinions, deleting others we don't like or which conflict with our own. If we mention the 'real' name of that someone else, then we expect people to recognise that the person talked about is that same person, although of course we're only giving a biased representation of that person, even if we quote liberally. It's at that point that 'reality' and fiction collide, but what if the artist, the person making the work, calls particular individuals by different names? Is this a collision of 'reality' with fiction, or just fiction tout court?

The noted film director Arnaud Desplechin – perhaps the best of his generation to judge by his professional and amateur reviews – made three films in which Marianne Denicourt was a major actor: the medium-length La Vie des morts (1991), La Sentinelle (1992) and Comment je me suis disputé...(ma vie sexuelle). Denicourt was Desplechin's partner for some years, although how many isn't clear. Certainly by the time of Desplechin's Esther Kahn (2000) she doesn't appear in the casting.

Then in 2004 Desplechin makes the film Rois et reine and there's a huge problem: Denicourt complains that Desplechin has in effect invaded her life and exposed intimate details about it. Rois et reine was released in December 2004, and the co-written book Mauvais génie was published in January 2005.

In April 2006 Desplechin won a court case against Denicourt, in which it was decreed that art isn't life, film doesn't consist of slices of real life. The Nora in Rois et reine isn't Denicourt, and Denicourt wasn't entitled to the 200,000 euros damages she claimed. Interesting.

Denicourt and Perrignon's novel – in which she calls the film director Arnold Duplancher – is therefore booted out of court, irrelevant. Desplechin may have been a little indelicate at times, but... In the book, Juliette Binoche had refused a major part in the film, considering it a 'réglement de comptes' (or settling of debts), seems to have seen Nora as Marianne, but the court has ruled that art is art. 

Marianne Denicourt includes a number of letters – either true or false or a mixture of both – between various people, including those of 'Arnaud Duplancher' to herself and a final one of hers to him, 'Duplancher's' letter to her ex-partner Daniel Auteil, etc. 'Duplancher' comes out of the, er, novel, as egotistical, addicted to prescription tranquillisers, hated by everyone apart from himself, a genius perhaps but wildly flawed in personality. This is fascinating reading. One of my favourite comments, and I translate:

'Sometimes, in the privacy of his flat, he leans down to his navel, where since he was little he likes to clean out the fluff left there by his pullovers.' (The works of Arnaud Desplechin are among the many films and books which have been accused of 'nombrilisme', or navel-gazing.)

Luc Besson's Léon | Léon: The Professional (1994)

This is Besson's first English-language film. I saw this when it first came out, and felt a little uneasy (as this time round) about the relationship between a middle-aged man and a twelve-year-old girl. They seem initially to be opposites: he is a hardened hit-man working for the mafia, whereas she is an innocent whose whole family has been wiped out by bent cops. But it's more complicated than that: Léon (Jean Reno) is in fact very knowledgeable about weapons, but is illiterate and his boss Tony (Danny Aiello) 'looks after' the naive Léon's money; Matilda (Nathalie Portman) doesn't seem much concerned about the death of her parents, but she wants to avenge the death of her four-year-old brother. (Her parents were killed by DEA agents: they'd been paying the parents to hide cocaine found on dealers, but the parents had been keeping some cocaine for themselves and adulterating the rest.)

Very briefly Léon considers killing Mathilda in her sleep, but soon warms to her: she's much more worldly-wise than her years and they come to an arrangement: she lives with Léon, does the shopping, tidies the flat and teaches him to read whereas Léon teaches her how to use a gun and a rifle.

It becomes uncomfortable for Léon when Mathilda falls in love with him because the love he feels for her is purely of an odd kind of paternal nature, and he tells Tony that his own money all goes to a girl called Mathilda if he dies.

Die he does, although he has a weird symbolic re-birth when Mathilda plants his beloved pot plant in the gardens of her new school. This film was more popular with general audiences, partly because American critics thought Besson had known little of what Americans, and particularly New Yorkers, are really like: they thought his ideas just came from American films.

Liliane de Kermadec's Aloïse (1975)

Liliane de Kermadec's first film was Le Temps d'Emma (1964), a biopic of the German-born, French nationalised 'naive' painter Emma Stern (1878-1970). This film too is a biopic of a artist: Aloïse Corbaz (1886-1964), the now famous Swiss Art brut painter, and Kermadec co-wrote the screenplay with André Téchiné.

The film charts the life of a once budding opera singer who spent some years in Germany as a governess, teaching the children French, until the First World War came and she was forced to leave. She was a vociferous campaigner against the war and after 1918 spent the rest of her life as a psychiatric patient, where she painted a large number of works and is recognised as an important creator of Art brut.

My only objection to this wonderfully austere, painful film is the very odd change of the 'young' Aloïse as Isabelle Huppert to the older Delphine Seyrig: couldn't Huppert have been artificially made older, or didn't the director want to risk using a still relatively unknown female actor?

Luc Besson's Subway (1985)

The French Wikipédia calls this a 'film policier', which is by no means untrue although I'd call it more of an action comedy. Certainly it fits into the category of 'le cinéma du look' described by Raphaël Bassan in La Revue du Cinéma (1989), where style triumphs over substance: right at the beginning we have an impossible car chase, with Fred (Christophe Lambert), having stolen papers at a party attended by businessman-cum-gangster Raymond Kerman (Constantin Alexandrov) and his wife Héléna Kerman (Isabelle Adjani), is forced to escape into the bowels of the métro, where he meets another world.

Here we have Le Roller (Jean-Hugues Anglade), who escapes from his thefts in the métro on roller skates and whose stuntman for apparently impossible feats is world champion Thierry Penot; Jean Reno is the indefatigable player of drumsticks; Gros Bill, the muscle man (Christian Gomba) works on his huge body with huge weights and a few times frees Fred from his handcuffs with his sheer strength; and then there's Richard Bohringer, the métro flower seller, etc: all these people live in parts of the métro commuters never see, they are part of a (usually petty) criminal underworld, a fraternal punk society.

Le commissaire Gesberg (Michel Galabru) makes his entrance walking down the métro steps with a skewed ballet troupe of cops following him. He has a major role in this weird world, chasing the underground folk with his men such as Inspecteur Batman (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and Inspecteur Robin (Jean-Claude Lecas): and here of course we have the crux of the matter: cinema as cross-reference. The beginning, for instance, is a nod to The French Connection and the end, with the dying Fred looking at Héléna, an obvious nod to Godard. Definitely, Besson's films look good.

9 June 2021

Mural, Waitrose, Poynton, Cheshire

 

This Philippa Threlfall mural was completed in 2010 and stands on Park Lane on the wall of Waitrose. The scenes are representations of the early twentieth century in the area, essentially depicting the mining and agricultural traditions.

Brookfield Hydro Cinema, Poynton, Cheshire


'Aldi Stores Ltd
Public Art Commis'sion
"Replaying The Brookfield Hydro"

To mark the completion and opening of their Poynton store,
Aldi have commissioned this artwork to commemorate the
Brookfield Hydro Cinema which formerly stood on this site.

Built in 1938, the building was designed with an art deco frontage.
As  well as housing a 920 seat cinema, it also served as a social centre
with a first floor café and a dance hall. The local amateur dramatic society,
The Poynton Players used the venue to host several of their productions
until they built their own theatre in 1949. The first film shown was
"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" starring Shirley Temple.
During the war years after a short closure, the cinema continued
to operate and charity balls were held to raise funds for war charities.
In 1947 the building was sold to
The Poynton and Worth Co-operative Society but continued as a
cinema until 1957. In 1967 the building was sold to the adjoining
Brookfield Garage Motors and then served as a car showroom and garage.
The café floor became a reataurant and dance floor. Subsequently it
became a fitness club and latterly a nightclub before finally closing its
doors in 2004. After this time the building fell into disrepair.

This sculpture is fabricated from weathering and stainless steel
with a viteous glass mosaic inlay, as a reference to the art deco style of
the original frontage. the panel depicts the Brookfield Hydro Cinema in
its hay day [sic] with a shaft of projected light in polished stainless
steel to symbolise the silver screen. Highlighted in the beam are
Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo, film icons of the era.

Joanne Risley on behalf of Aldi Stores Ltd
Febrauary 2016
www.joannerisley.co.uk'

Edith Nesbit in Strines, Greater Manchester

One section of the History Room in Strines is dedicated to Edith Nesbit's book The Railway Children (1905) and mentions places in the area associated with the book, such as the station, the viaduct, tunnel, canal, etc. Nesbit was very familiar with Strines because she was friends with the Woodcock family of Aspenshaw Hall in Thornsett, where she went on several occasions. A number of her books mention the small town 'Old Mills', reminiscent of New Mills next to Strines.

8 June 2021

The History Room, Strines, Greater Manchester

 

Hardly anything remains of the original Strine Print Works, although this building at the side of the River Goyt is a very rare example. Named The History Room, it is a mini-museum dedicated to the original factory and various people intent on leaving their mark on Strines: a labour of love, and testimony to devotion to local history.

The History Room.

The original (restored) clock for clocking in.

Illustration of a honeysuckle for a copy of The Strines Journal.



Front pages from issues of the monthly Strrines Journal.

Printers' blocks.