27 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Marie-Jo et ses deux amours (2002)

If this can be described as a love story, it's a very painful one, and one-sided. The difference here is that, in spite of the (very subtle) sex scenes, it's slightly unusual in being about love in middle age, the eternal triangle in middle age. Joseph Mai mentions utopia a number of times, and I can understand that from the point of view of Marie-Jo (Ariane Ascaride), although only very briefly: she wants to have two cocks and eat them at the same time, which is of course impossible.

Marie-Jo is a care worker who also does the paperwork for her husband Daniel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), who has a construction business. She is very much in love with him but is also secretly very much in love with Marco (Gérard Meylan|), and inevitably Daniel will find out about this: to his credit he doesn't blow up about it, although his sadness, his sense of loss, is evident. Also evident is the pained reaction of Daniel and Marie-Jo's daughter Julie (Julie-Marie Parmentier). Clearly, the centre cannot hold because there isn't one: tragedy is inevitable, in whatever guise it may hold.

It comes in an accident in Daniel's very modest sailing craft dedicated to his wife, when he ventures he knows not where with her, knocks his head on the boat and falls into the water apparently unconscious. Frantic, Marie-Jo dives in after him, can only hold his hand and the couple are found washed up on the shore. As Julie leaves the morgue with her boyfriend Sylvain (Yann Trégouët), the bag in which she is holding her parents' belongings makes a ringing sound: it's Marco calling his lover, and Julie fishes out the mobile and tells him that it's no use calling as her parents are dead. Obviously, this is not optimistic like the contes de l'Estaque, far from L'Argent fait le bonheur, Marius et Jeannette and L'Attaque !.

25 November 2021

Sébastien Betbeder's Inupiluk (2015)

The premise of this short (34-minute) film is rather absurd: the smaller Thomas (Thomas Blanchard) tells his friend (the taller but equally long-haired and bearded Thomas Scimeca) that his father, who has lived in Greenland for twenty years, is in the unfortunate absence of himself after having been wounded in a hunting accident, just sending two friends – Ole and Adam – over to visit France. Thomas asks Thomas to help him out, and he does. The friends meet Ole and Adam at the airport and introduce them to Paris.

Ole and Adam see the Tour Eiffel, Notre-Dame, the Cimetière du Montparnasse, etc, from the Tour Montparnasse, although the Thomsases are unsure of how Ole and Adam react to this because there's a serious language promblem, which is why events are recorded on film for the smaller Thomas to send to his father to explain them to his friends. When the smaller Thomas takes them to the north coast the taller Thomas can't understand why there are hunters appearing, to which he's told that he wouldn't have come if he'd known, but anyway the party returns without any bagged game. And then it's back to Paris for Ole and Adam to go with an ethnologist to Switzerland for reasons that I couldn't understand, and probably weren't understandable anyway.

This is a fascinating beginning to a series (if that's the right word) that would continue with Le Film que nous tournerons au Groenland (2014) and the feature Le Voyage au Groenland (2016).  And the title? At the end we're told that Ole and Adam were considered to be 'gangsters' for their adventures!

24 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's À l'attaque (2000)

This is another conte de l'Estaque. Guédiguian's film is in many ways a very different affair from his other films, and yet at the same time containing the same themes as so many of the other films: the absurdity and destruction of runaway capitalism, the strength of a small community, etc. And yet this is a crazy, impossible, almost post-modern script, a film within a film in which scenes are thrown away and recommenced at whim.

The flexibility is because in a sense we're really watching a film being made, which gives it an air of unreality: the characters are really puppets whose activities are being mapped out by two film makers: Yvan (Denis Podalydès) and Xavier (Jacques Pieller). This is to be a political film set in L'Estaque and based around Moliterno & Cie garage. And as they write the scenario various crazy ideas are thrown into the waste paper basket, such as the thought of key workers Jean-Do (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Gigi (Gérard Maylan) being lured by sirens at the edge of a countryside road or singing words as in a Jacques Demy film but in a brothel in front of a host of scantily clad girls. And as this is a conte de l'Estaque the ending has of course to be optimistic, so we can't have Lola (Ariane Ascaride) being shot dead in the chest by the police at the end, or her father Moliterno (Jacques Boudet) shooting big boss Moreau (Pierre Banderet) through the head because he refuses to pay the family business the money it owes.

But – some twenty years after the advent of political correctness – we can still have a sex-starved Jean-Do ogling Lola and making sexist cracks all the time about how he drools over her. And when the end comes, we can have no police come to the garage as the workers hold Moreau captive until he signs the cheque for the money owing, have Lola wave it to the cheering crowd of villagers gathered below, and even have – cherry on the cake – Nells the banker (Alain Lenglet) steal the same sum not so much because he wants to save the firm as because he's in love with Lola.

And even, as the film fails to win the prize they hoped for, we have Xavier – previously puritanical about strong language – utter the last words to Yvan: 'Va te faire enculer !': 'Fuck off!' A sheer delight of a film.

Robert Guédiguian's À la place du cœur (1998)

An amateur review of Robert Guédiguian's À la place du cœur gave the title 'L'Amour en noir et blanc', and I can't find a better one. The first of Guédiguian's films based on a novel: the director went to New York to gain the rights to James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and although Kantcheff reveals that Guédiguian thought of calling this 'Si l'Estaque pouvait parler' ('If L'Estaque Could Talk'), Guédiguian thought that this didn't sound right: I don't think he bothered to say why.

Obviously Guédiguian's film adaptation of Baldwin's novel – set in Harlem with a title referring to a steet in Memphis and probably indirectly to W. C. Handy's 'Beale Street Blues' – would undergo some evolution when translated to fin-de-siècle Marseille: this is a largely white cast; the mother's trip is to Sarajevo rather than Puerto Rico; and the ending is upbeat.

Clim (Laure Raoust) is the daughter of Marianne (Arine Ascaride) and Joël (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, and has been the strong friend of the Bébé (Alex Ogou), who has been adopted by Francine (Christine Brücher) and Franck (Gérard Meylan), since childhood. Bébé is eighteen and Clim sixteen, they inevitably become lovers and want to marry, and Clim is pregnant. Despite their young age, and the fact that Bébé is only a hopeful sculptor, they have the consent of their respective parents: in fact the fathers do a drunken celebratory dance in a bar to Armstrong's version of 'Beale Street Blues'. In a later remininscent moment we return to the characters of Darrousssin and Ascaride in Ki lo sa ?, a film made fifteen years before, but where Joël here is made to think of his younger self unfurling a bed sheet to reveal a back view of a naked Ascaride (now seen as Marianne).

The upbeat ending comes when Bébé – imprisoned by a racist cop who has framed him by accusing him of rape – is saved by Marianne travelling to Sarajevo to get his accuser to drop the rape charge. The strength of family and friends once again prove to be of overwhelming importance in Guédiguian's world.

23 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Marius et Jeannette (1997)

Marius et Jeannette is by far the most popular and well known of Robert Guédiguian's (at present) twenty-one films, obviously in part because it is essentially a love story – albeit not of young people – with an upbeat ending. There are no murders in this delightful and perhaps surprisingly humorous conte de l'Estaque, and the slowly emerging relationship of the two key players are set in the courtyard so familiar to Guédiguian and Meylan in their youth, along with the director's usual troupe of potes (mates) backing them up.

And as usual, the precariat* is foregrounded: Marius (Gérard Meylan) is a warden at a soon-to-be-demolished cement works, and has secured the job by pretending to have a leg injury. Jeannette (Ariane Ascaride) is struggling on her supermarket cashier's salary, supporting her two children by different partners, the young Malek (Miloud Nacer) and Magali (Laetitia Pesenti): Magali's father left them, and Malek's died. At first Jeannette has tried to 'steal' two abandoned tins of white paint from the works, and although Marius prevents her he later brings two tins to her home and even begins helping her to decorate: Jeannette initially seems more keen on him than he does her, although he eventually moves in with the approval of her son and daughter and her neighbours.

Her neighbours are Dédé (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Caroline (Pascale Roberts), and Justin (Jacques Boudet) and Monique (Frédérique Bonnal). When Marius disappears Jeannette spies on him at the quarry, a former teetotal man glugging from a large bottle. It's down to Dédé and Justin to seek him out, get drunk with him, eke out his secret reluctance to face a new family after his wife and children have died in a car crash, but with almost comic book humour they drag the unconscious Marius to bed, 'strapping' him to the sleeping Jeannette with a sheet.

We first came across words by poet René Char – who lived in Provence and was buried in the family grave in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – in a very different context in Ki lo sa ?, although in this film we see Marius reading a poem of Char's to Malek. We later learn that Malek became a teacher (professor? both French and American English words are ambiguous) of Arabic, and Magali becomes a journalist. The future takes on a rosy tint, even an international one as witnessed by the large plastic globe floating past a docked ship at the beginning of the film.

*Again, Guy Standing's term serves as a very useful tool to describe the characters.

22 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's À la vie, à la mort ! (1995)

À la vie, à la mort ! isn't a conte de l'Estaque, although seven years later it was to be the title of an album by Johnny Halliday: it is an expression of an eternal link between (usually two) people. But then, Guédiguian's films are peoplescapes, intimate links between a group of people who don't at all necessarily have to have genetic relationships. Joseph Mai's Robert Guédiguian (2017) includes an interesting comment on Guy Standing's book The Precariat (2011), which is a very useful way into Guédiguian's films, particularly À la vie, à la mort !: the precariat is a new class of people created by runaway capitalism, victims of the ruthless capitalist process, the laissés-pour-compte in a constant precarious financial situation worrying about where their money is coming from to pay the next bill.

À la vie, à la mort ! begins with a long sequence of a commercial district of a town which could be anywhere in the developed world, although I was strongly reminded of American malls, where end-of-history capitalism has taken over, where Wallmart is killing towns but is mercifully banned from New York City.

Outside the centre commercial in Marseille, clustering around a bar called Le Perroquet bleu, we have a motley group of members of the precariat: José (Gérard Meylan) who owns the bar, but is struggling to keep his head above water, particularly as his wife Josiane (Pascale Roberts, still young-looking but in her early sixties) is becoming embarrassed doing a striptease in front of her ageing customers; Patrick (Jacques Gamblin) is without a job and married to Marie-Sol (Ariane Ascaride) who works as a cleaner; and then there's Jaco (Jean-Pierre Daroussin), who's lost his job and and is becoming alcoholic. I could go on, but that's probably enough for a general picture.

Then Marie-Sol persuades a reluctant Jaco to have sex with her as she wants a child, José is having sex with young drug addict prostitute Vénus (Laetitia Pesenti) and Jaco starts to hit his wife, his two daughters hate him, and they leave him to his own devices.

Jaco literally ends up on the street, José is desperate to find a new stripper and Marie-Sol leaves her job because her boss is hitting on her sexually and we have a clear idea of the precariat. Then José sells his Merc to help things, but Patrick kills himself not because Marie-Sol is pregnant because she's cuckolded him but because he wants his insurance money to help his friends, and although this shows the strength of friendship rather than the family it's still pretty bleak, but brilliant.

Robert Guédiguian's L'Argent fait le bonheur (1992)

At the beginning of Joseph Mai's short analysis of L'Argent fait le bonheur in Robert Guédiguian, he says that his old friend, now television producer, Jean-Pierre Cottet, agreed to finance his next film if it was a kind of comedy with no deaths and an upbeat ending. After Guédiguian's last two films that may have seemed a tall order, although he teamed with Jean-Louis Milesi for the screenplay.

This is said to mark a turn in Guédiguian's film-making, not away from communism as such but away from any faith in policical party dogma, towards a neighbourhood group mentality. Here perhaps in particular, religion – often present in Guédiguian's other films as, along with communism, a signifier of love – is strongly present. This is Guéduian's first 'Conte de l'Estaque'.

Most of the film takes is shot in and around the HLMs of Plan d'Aou in L'Estaque, now much changed but in the film where le curé has his unconventional makeshift semi-circular corrugated iron church which is the place of wedding celebration as well as important discussions. Le curé, speaking in the present, turns directly to the audience with a gun in his hand which has just been handed in to him as no longer being of use, and tells us that the film we are about to see will go from bad and move to good. And we see le curé in the film trying to keep the peace in a familiar Guédiguiuian peoplescape in which the working classes have now been divided into thieving classes, drug-taking classes, neo-fascist classes, prostituting classes, internecine classes in which divide and rule appears to have been spectacularly acheived without even the visual presence of the dominant bourgeois class. Le curé picks up the used syringes in the morning and distributes new ones and condoms to those who ask for them.

Here, everyone knows each other, life is played out as much in the courtyard as inside the HLM flats, and the courtyard can play a very dramatic role. We meet Simona Viali (Ariane Ascaride), whose husband has died in a burglary, who makes a living selling stolen property and whose son steals her own property*; Muñoz (Géard Meylan), who used to burgle with her husband but is now a bank warden and a fascist; the communist Degros; the Muslim Amzoulah family; etc.

Near the beginning, a yellow line divided the HLM, a line beyond which the rival gangs are not allowed to cross. It takes the women hatching a plot in the church to bring the HLM into a community, the elderly overall-wearing beer-drinking men to dance with each other, the different races to join as one, the yellow dividing line to be rubbed out. Guédiguian's promise to Cottet was not broken, although this seems very much a fantasy than a reality: and can it really be that the ununiformed curé has now got together with Simona?

*Guédiguian sometimes has a tendency to see friendship as a stronger bond than the family.

21 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Dieu vomit les tiédes (1989)

Under different names to the previous Ki lo sa ?, which ended in all four spiritually lost characters being poisoned, Dieu vomit les tiédes shows us the same actors – Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Cochise), Ariane Ascaride (Tirelire), Gérard Meylan (Frisé) and Pierre Banderet (Quatre-Œil). This film is set in Martigues as opposed to the usual L'Estqaue/Riaux, and we see a great deal of the Viaduc de Caronte. Cochise is a successful writer in Paris, although he tells his editor at the beginning of the film that he's not finishing his work on the French Revolution, people no longer give a shit, and he promptly leaves in a drunken state, leaves his wife too and returns to his childhood home where he made a blood pact with the other three main characters. But like him, things have changed. Tirelire works in a restaurant and jollies the folk up in a home with her songs and starts up a relationship up with Cochise, who's staying with his mother who treats him like a long-lost child. Quatre-Œil is an editor for a small circulation paper and also seems to have lost his ideals as a child. But Frisé, whose hair is now straight, leads a kind of bohemian existence living in a shack by the viaduct, painting it repeatedly and giving the local kids things to do like play table tennis or a musical instrument, but shoos them all away when he finds a syringe on one of them: post-industrial life doesn't have the same spirit as when he was young, there's more despair and indifference, a general lack of working-class solidarity.

And what working class? In Robert Guédiguian : cinéaste (2013), Christophe Kantcheff points to Gilbert (Gérard Meylan) showing the very first image of Guédigian's, one of the last working-class heroes as the cement factories are closing and with them a whole way of life. Joseph Mai, in his book Robert Guédiguian (2017) in Manchester Unversity Press's French Film Directors series, tells us that Philip Anderson, in an article in The Australian Journal of French Studies, has traced a background television sequence to a quotation from Pasolini's 'Genocide', first published as an article in his newspaper column for Corriere della Sera between 1972 and 1975 and collected in a volume as Scritti corsari (1975). The 'genocide' is of the working class by the bourgeoisie, who have now found far more subtle methods of assimilation than direct violence, such as television. This made me wonder why no one ever mentions Marcuse these days, a man who spoke a great deal about the way capitalism absorbs its discontents. Things are fractured, and the bi-centential festivities of the French revolution seem lukewarm, and the presence of the extreme right-wing now is menacing.

Then drownings happen, bodies washed up: there's a usurer, a pimp, a fascist, and so on. Frisé confesses towards the end that he's responsible for this: he can escape with impunity, they deserved it. Cochise thinks he's mad, and the film ends with the dead Frisé lying across Cochise, who can't extricate himself. Realistically improbable, but symbolically significant in that Cochise is stuck mentally, having no place ot move.

15 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Un litre de lait (2006)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Moullet waited until the death of his mother before making this film because of the autobiographical content. This is a rural, montainous area. Gilles is a teenager reading Ulysses at the kitchen table in the the presence of his younger sister Anne and his mother, who gives him money to fetch a litre of milk from the Roux family. Extremely reluctantly, Gilles (joined by Anne) begins his deliberately very slow walk: he is aware that his mother is having an affair with Roux's wife, and it is clear that Anne doesn't. The film is taken from the point of view of Gilles, and there are imagined flash forwards to his encounter with the woman, he checks his pulse and his heartbeat, refuses the short cut that Anne proposes, pisses against a tree, anything to put off the moment. Finally, when he reaches the farm it's a young worker who serves him, thus avoiding the embarrassing meeeting. Unfortunately he falls down on the return and spills the milk. Anne gives him the money for the second trip. I couldn't help thinking that at the time Ulysses was (stupidly) thought a very sexy book, and the relationship between milk and sperm is evident: no doubt that would have added to 'Gilles's' discomfort.

14 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Foix : la ville la plus ringarde de France (1994)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Luc Moullet's Foix, with its mockumentary voiceover, belies the reality we see: the voice talks about the wonderful sights of Foix, but we only see dismal buildings; the voice talks about a wonderful transport system, where the viewer only sees chaos, etc.  In the Rex cinema there is an example of graffiti: 'Le Rex 'cest bien mais je préfère le sexe.' Most old-fashioned town in France? Well, most if not all towns would look similar if taken from a negative angle. An odd film, but then it's by Luc Moullet.

Clément Cogitore's Les Indes Galantes (2017)

Les Indes galantes (sub-titled 'Ballet héroïque') is the most noted opera-ballets of Jean-Philippe Rameau, dated 1735. On Boulevard Georges Clemenceau, Dijon, is a statue of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), who was a composer and music theorist born in Dijon. Clément Cogitore's film of the same name is a five-minute film of a short part of this piece, played by Krumping, a dance created in the ghettos of Los Angeles after the riots in the 1990s.

Quentin Dupieux's Steak (2007)

Steak, as might be expected of a film by Quentin Dupieux, is an insane film, and stars comedians Éric Judor et Ramzy Bedia. But this is not insane for the sake of insanity, and is in fact a satire on fashion, the world of machismo, and gang culture. Éric plays Georges, a rather unbelievably weedy school stool pigeon who's the butt of all the jokes and pranks. But when he accidentally finds a machine gun he kills three of his bullies, although his friend Blaise (played by Ramzy) takes the rap and ends in a mental hospital for seven years. Although Georges meets Blaise on his release, his life has changed immeasurably and he leaves his former friend, who arrives 'home' to find his family has left.

Blaise didn't recognise Georges as first as his head was covered in bandages: under peer pressure, he's joining the local gang the Chivers, who wear red blousons with their name emblasoned to the back, avidly drink milk as if it's a premier cru, are violently opposed to smoking, drive around in 4 x 4s, have a ritualisitic way of greeting their own kind, play an incomprehensible game which involves a large rubber dice-shaped 'ball' and intricate numbers, and pull all the girls.

Blaise tries to join in the Chivers by painfully stapling his face, although when Georges brings out the chain saw after being beaten up because of smoking, Blaise accidentally kills one of the gang and, as the two escpape they are caught by the cops. This is a comedy, but not of the same kind as Rubber, which is mixed with mild horror. Why the title Steak? I have no idea.

12 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Barres (1984)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

I remember a few years ago that my partner Penny got through the barres at La Défense to take the tram to Porte d'Orléans by getting up really close (as one) to an unknown but sympathetic guy and me laughing when they both got out. That caused a controller to grab Penny's Navigo, and although I said 'C'est valable, mais...' he turned to me and said 'Mais ?', to which I retorted 'Elle l'a fait deux fois'. Response, on checking his machine: 'Ah, elle l'a fait deux fois !', and handed back the Navigo to Penny's impunity: but use the card twice and you aren't allowed re-entrance for a short time. Not having used the Paris métro for three years this may have changed, but it is certainly an indication of the trouble some people (including the French) have getting around Paris. Now there are no tickets, I wonder if the system has changed for the better, although I very much doubt it. it: for many less frequent users, the carnet was a way of not exactly life but a way around Paris.

But what of those, rich or poor, who regularly don't pay on the métro, those who jump over the bars, crawl under them, find numerous ingenious methods to dodge the system, use an elaborate way to get onto a train free of charge? What about the anarchists? This film is about them, and of course is completely absurd, as intended.

10 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's Ki lo sa ? (1985)

Robert Guédiguian returns to the present, and here we have four childhood friends who, among a number of others who don't turn up, have agreed to meet at the same place after ten years. Again, the viewer has to suspend disbelief as these people are surely at the very least into their thirties, and so would hardly have been kids ten years before? But then, this is where Guédiguian's contempt for realism comes in: it doesn't matter. So, we have Dada (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) as host to any comers to the place where he is both gardener and cook, with absentee landlords. But only Marie (Ariane Ascaride), Gitan (Gérard Meylan) and Pierrot (Pierre Banderet) turn up. They stay the night but the following day is different and difficult.

Marie leaves as she has a 'date', Pierrot leaves with her, but Gitan stays to help Dada with the gardening, and Dada says he can stay as long as he likes. But gradually we're introduced to complications, to the despair of all four, and Marie returns without meeting her 'date', as does Pierrot, and Gitan just drinks. All of them seem to be desperate: Dada, hopelessly, loves Marie, who as a profession sells her body to men; Gitan, as his name suggests, is a tramp; and Pierrot writes wonderful words which Gitan exposes as copies of René Clar's words to Breton. Gitan is leaving but Dada implores him to take a coffee, which he does with the three others, and they all die poisoned. Shortly following this a large group of children climb over the wall and invade the garden, playing with the dead: are they from the four people's past or their own future?

Robert Guédiguian's Rouge midi (1984)

Guédiguian wished he'd made this film first rather than Dernier Été for its more autobiographical element, although I can't see that it matters. But I had to watch this film twice to get the hang of what was happening, although that's partly my fault as I've always had problems with relatives and different generations. All the same, Guédiguian has a casual, no, nonchalant approach to realism, which is one respect where he differs from being a Ken Loach from the south of France: he's not too fussed about people not looking about forty years older than they're supposed to be, and as for grandfathers re-appearing as their grandsons, well who cares? Frankly, not me when I get the idea of what's going on.

This is said to be the story of three generations, and I suppose it is if you discount the present one. So the great-grandfather arrives from Italy in L'Éstaque with his family, but watch out for generational advances. The daughter Maggiorina (Ariane Ascaride) is quickly wooed by Jérôme (Gérard Meylan), who may have the odd dalliance but remains with his wife. Their son Pierre (Pierre Pradinas) will marry Céline (Frédérique Bonnal), and a scene before that will show them in a post-coital position in the countryside, Pierre foregrounded with his leg raised to conceal both his and his girlfriend's genitals.

Pierre and Céline's son Sauveur (Adbel Ali Sid) grows up and is forced to tell his aged grandmother Maggiorina (with a wrinkle-free neck) that her husband Jérôme has died, and Sauveur (now in the unlikely shape of Meylan) looks back on it all and leaves Marseilles at St Charles on the SNCF for, say, Paris? I loved the film, but did I get it all right?

8 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian and Frank Le Wita's Dernier Été (1980)

This is Robert Guédiguian's first film, co-directed with Frank Le Wita, is as so often set in the working-class area L'Estaque and Riaux to the north-west of Marseille, and at a time when the factories are closing down. Gilbert (Gérard Meylan) is the first man to be seen, emerging in overalls with a visor and a soldering iron. In his book Robert Guédiguian : cinéaste (2013), Christophe Kantcheff notes that the film came out in the same year as John Lennon died, the singer of 'Working Class Hero', and continues by saying that the film shares the same statement that Lennon closed his first post-Beatles album with: 'The dream is over.' Gilbert knows that he will not live as his parents have, and that his and his friends' future is uncertain. At first he'll have to made his living at any odd job he can find, and join in the petty crimes of his friends.

Also prominent in this film are the married (therefore compromised) van driver Mario (Jean-Pierre Moreno), Banane (Djamal Bouanane), Le Muet (Malek Hamzaoui), and Guédiguian's wife Ariane Ascaride (here playing Josiane, soon to become Gilbert's girlfriend. The atmosphere is very masculine, with violence always close to the surface, with such activities as breaking into cars and driving off with them, stealing the radios, and running out of a bar or restaurant without paying.

Gilbert and Banane get caught robbing a house and Gilbert is shot dead in the back: his last summer.

Luc Moullet's Le Prestige de la mort (2007)


(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Moullet's inspiration for this crazy, absurd film came from Cecil B. DeMille's The Whispering Chorus (1917). He plays himself as does his wife, Antonietta Moullet (née Pizzorno). He's a film maker who can't make a film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Desperate Remedies – Hardy's first published novel, involving false identity – because of lack of money. Wandering around the Alps in Provence with Hardy's novel, Moullet stumbles upon a dead body and hits on what he thinks is a wonderful way of getting money for his film: if he swaps identities with the corpse, changing his own passport with the dead man's, when people think Luc Moullet is dead they'll rush to watch his films, television channels will show them and bring his widow a great deal of money.

Obviously this is in part a satire on the fact that most ageing cultural figures are only recognised after his death. But of course there's much more to it than that, as Moullet, when he is arrested by the police for the murder of himself, and whom his own wife will kill because she thinks he's the man whose identity he's assumed – will perhaps discover in his final seconds. Absurd indeed.

7 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Empire de Médor (1986)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

In 1972 Luc Moullet was the producer of a short by Jean-Pierre Letellier called Le Cabot, which involved the killing of a dog for the sake of the film. It was banned for two years, angering Moullet who considered the French love of dogs as on the same level as Indians' love of cows. Fourteen years later he got his revenge by making Empire de Médor, a wild attack on dog worship.

The film begins in Asnières-sur-Seine, where in 1899 the author Georges Harmois and the feminist journalist Marguerite Durand established a business, a Cimetière pour chiens et chats, which now contains, among many others, the remains of Rintintin and Clément, Michel Houellebecq's dog.* Moullet being an absurdist, his sensibilities obviously don't stretch to the absurdity of treating animals as inferior beings, which is evidently a serious error on his part, but future generations are now fortunately learning from the errors of the past and have moved on. The fact that, as the narrator states either correctly or in error, the amount of money the French spend on dogs is the same as the Gross National Product of Senegal is entirely irrelevant: almost anything can be proved by juggling with figures, and comparing one country with another in such a way is meaningless.

However, Moullet makes some valid points, such as the useless and wasteful spending on the grooming and beautifying of dogs, the exhibitions, etc, although I'm pretty certain the dogshit machines have now completely disappeared in favour of poop scooping. But this revenge documentary is dangerously flawed: we can hardly expect a balanced argument under the circumstances, but dogs are not only invaluable as substitutes for human partners (and how many humans are anything like as faithful?), they are invaluable to such incapacitated people as the blind, and their superhuman powers are also invaluable to police forces. In his lust for revenge, above all in his lust to sacrifice a dog for a film, a highly developed creature for the sake of art, Moullet lost the plot. Which is a huge pity as he's a great film director.

*The narrator says that this is the only paying cemetery, which is untrue: possibly things were different in 1986, but at the time of writing the private cemetery of Picpus charges too.

Luc Moullet and Antonietta Pizzorno's Anatomie d'un rapport (1976)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-four is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Anatomie d'un rapport suffers slightly because Luc Moullet's acting is sometimes a bit wooden and unconvincing, but that this 1976 film is ground-breaking is certain: sex and the sexual act may well have been coyly simulated in other films – although there's very little of it here – in the only way the censor could allow in those days (including many instances of full frontal nudity, and again there's little of that here), but how many times has the sex act been spoken about in such a detailed way, how many times has the male's former accepted sexual prowess been under such attack, and partly by a male director who actually plays the part of the hapless male? Moullet's partner Antonietta Pizzorno is behind the camera and Marie-Christine Questerbert (under the name of Christine Hébert) plays his screen partner. Neither of them has a name in the film.

This is post-1968, post-sexual revolution, and women (particularly supporters of MLF (Mouvement de libération des femmes)) obviously not only demand equality with males but they want to enjoy sex too. So what's the problem with her, she's been making the right sounds at the same time as him, so they must have had simultaneous orgasms? Oh no, she's been faking it, she hasn't come, and he (like most men, she says) are incapable giving women one. 1976 and men still can't get their heads round the clitoris? Not that there's any talk of oral sex though. OK, this isn't a sex lesson and the film can hardly show her showing him what her parts are, can't lead him to the feast: he only believes in a vaginal orgasm. So she just admits that she uses a substitute: she masturbates. The fact that she's ashamed of this could be an indication of how far the sexual revolution has got eight years after 1968, but then Moullet loves making people laugh, and it's interesting to learn that this film (just) pre-dates Woody Allen's Annie Hall with it's unforgettable split screen interviews with Alvy's and Annie's psychiatrists hearing different versions of their patients' reactions to having sex three times a week: respectively, 'Hardly ever' and 'Constantly'.

In the end, there's no resolution, although this in its way is a fascinating film.

Luc Moullet's Un steack trop cuit (1960)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-five is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Un steack trop cuit is Mouillet's first film, being a short like the majority of his movies. He had already been writing for the prestigious Cahiers du cinéma since the age of nineteen and from the beginning he was stongly Nouvelle Vague influenced. Impressed by a large article he wrote about Godard's A bout de souffle (1960), Godard introduced him to the producer Georges de Beauregard, who produced this Moullet's first film. It is quirky, well off-centre and was filmed in his flat on a very low budget.

It stars Moullet's younger brother Patrice as JoJo and his older sister is played by Françoise Vatel. They are both still studying and their parents have gone away for a short time. The sister makes the meals but overcooks the dinner steak and Jojo has to borrow something else to eat from a neighbour. His sister later leaves Jojo to go out with a boyfriend, much to Jojo's disappointment and jealousy.

Moullet sees film-making as a form of smuggling, like you initially give a story to the audience but leave them to work out what the film is really about, see through the apparent salt to find the cocaine. And, looking at events from an oblique angle, it's not difficult to find an absurd, anarchic vision: Moullet is all about absurdity and anarchy. When Jojo goes the the toilet after eating the bad steak and asks for paper, his sister rips pages from an edition of Cahiers du cinéma; Jojo is an uncouth eater who uses his fingers and spits out his food, hurling abuse at his sister; instead of washing the pots after she's left he just breaks them and leaves them on the floor (in a moment that will be reprised in Anatomie d'un rapport, where the unnamed character 'Christine Hébert' (really Marie-Christine Questerbert) goes on a smashing spree in the kitchen.

But the film is not without its (admittedly almost incestuous) loving moments: it's a little odd to see Jojo take off his socks as soon as he comes in from school, but then he uses his bare feet to stroke his sisters legs at the dinner table; and then just before she leaves to join her boyfriend, she kisses him tenderly on the nose.

Moullet makes his entrance to cinema without wiping his feet conventionally, and his whole film career will see him in his full unconventional glory.

2 November 2021

Alexandre Arcady's Hold-up (1985)

Alexandre Arcady's Hold-up is a screwball comedy set almost entirely in Montréal with a script by Alexandre Arcady himself, Daniel Saint-Hamont and none other than Francis Veber adapted from the novel Quick Change by Jay Cronley. It stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as Grimm, a crook pretending (often brilliantly) to be a clown (or Robin Hood) who has spent two years figuring out how to rob the Banque Internationale de Montréal and is aided by accomplices Georges (Guy Marchand) and Lise (Kim Cattrall), the girlfriend of the incompetent Georges who soon falls for Grimm, Georges' bosom ex-cellmate's buddy. One of the people trying to hound down the trio is the police commissaire Simon Labrosse (Jean-Pierre Marielle) who's made to look, er, a clown.

And they unbelievably get away with it, although not without many hitches, car chases, 'borrowing' a taxi driven by Jeremie (Jacques Villeret playing his usual (and not so con) best and being left naked): there are no murders here. And so on to Paris, then Rome to meet Lise whom they've (temporarily but in reality permanently) split from, and who's no doubt left them with their share of the loot but then if she can't have Grimm... Essentially, a buddy movie impossible to believe but impossible to hate.

Patrice Chereau's La Chair de l'orchidée | The Flesh of the Orchid (1975)

Now how do we talk about this in any sensible way? This is an adaptation of James Hadley Chase's crime novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939) and the plot involves young Claire (Charlotte Rampling), whose billionaire father has made her his sole heir, being put in a pyschiatric hospital by her rapacious aunt Edwige Feuillère (Madame Bastier-Wegener). But Claire escapes, has a road acccident in which she's very slightly injured, and then meets horse rearer Louis Delage (Bruno Cremer) and Marucci (Hugues Quester). But Marucci gets murdered (after Claire has blinded him for his sexual advances) by the Berekian brothers, who are also after Louis.

If it all seems very confusing, that's not exactly because it's supposed to be, but because this is the highly esteemed Chereau's first film, and he merely intended it to be an kind of exercice de style, or a rough draft of a film. The plot collides with sub-plot, and gets lost in atmosphere. And the atmosphere is dark, as is the lighting, and the film is shot through with violence, the threat of violence, suspicion, fear, isolation, etc. As an experimental film, which it is in a sense, this is very successful and quite rivetting.

René Fallet: Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé (1975)


Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé is a celebration of a kind of non-intellectual anarchism: it (exaggeratedly) delights in the simple pleasures of life, the world of the impecunious work-shy rather than the social aspirant, the frequenters of the old-fashioned corner café which has staunchly resisted the get-rich-quick mentality of modernising and charging sky-high prices, the place where belote and the dice game 421 are played, where people can spend hours talking to fellow customers, cementing long friendships rather than popping in silently to have a swift drink or meal. But it's also a book that couldn't be written today, even as a novel of recent history, and this is because what was once acceptable – mild misogyny and casual rascism seen as jokes – belong to the past. There are four main characters.

Camadule lives opposite Le Café des Pauvres, where he spends much of his time, and makes a meagre living as a second-hand dealer. He sees work as an evil and would rather drink or fish (one of Fallet's own main interests).

Poulenc meets Camadule when the latter is fishing. He is in his early twenties, lives with his mother – a prostitute specialising in flagellation – and is a dog-sitter. On their first encounter Poulenc has ten dogs he's been paid to walk, and as he begins a conversation Camadule speaks of his hatred for work and encourages Poulenc to go with him to the café, leaving the dogs in his shed and quickly drawing the much younger man into his little world.

'Captain' Beaujol is another frequenter of the café. He fought in Vietnam and Algeria, which is at least what he says, although he wasn't a captain and he lives in dread that one day an old soldier from one of his regiments will enter and expose him as the coward he was, relegated to supply depots. He's a great drinker (even thought by some to be on the alcoholic side), and his home 'fouette un chouilla' ('stinks a tad': Fallet liberally peppers this novel with wonderful slang).

Finally, there's Debedeux, who is a high-flying business executive in aeronautics, and was once a pupil in the same neighbourhood school as Captain Beaujol. Le Captain meets him by chance one day and invites him to Le Café des Pauvres, to which Debedeux pays little attention initially. But later that day, sick of both his wife and his secretary mistress, he goes to the café almost in despair. There he's reminded of his early days as a working-class kid and his father taking him to a similar place, where he gave him grenadine. The transition takes some time, but eventually he's persuaded to go sick with a bad back, which of course can't be proved: he's now one of the work-shy crew.

The second half of the book isn't as well executed as the first: the accepted gang-banging of the disabled Prunelle (who becomes 'normal' at the end), and trip to Lozère where Conception (an ex-back-street abortionist!) finds love again, not to mention the rascist Captain due to marry a Muslim, are way too unbelievable. Which is a pity, as the first part is so promising: the second just seems rushed.