31 December 2021

Cédric Klapisch's Peut-être (1999)

The ideas behind this film struck me as highly interesting, although having seen it on YouTube I'm glad I didn't bother to buy this, the worst Cédric Klapisch film – out of eight more – that I've seen. I've no idea how much it cost for this film to be made, although it must have been a tiny fraction of Klapisch's previous feature, Un air de famille: surely his best film to date.

It's New Year's Eve 1999 and the young Arthur (Romain Duris) is watching a sci-fi film before going to a fancy dress party where everyone will be wearing clothes and make-up that they imagine will be worn in the future. Interestingly, and digressively, he seems to live opposite 57 rue de Turbigo, where there is a huge angel undoubtedly made more famous by Agnès Varda's short film Les dites Cariatides. But anyway, he's concerned that his companion Lucie (Géraldine Pailhas) has stopped taking the pill.

At the party he has sex with Lucie in the bathroom, and he withdraws, causing the audience to see a trail of sperm flying out of harm's way. And Lucie's angry as she doesn't understand why her partner didn't come inside her: well, he's just not ready for a family, yeah? It's more complicated than that.

Taking a post-coital piss, Arthur notices a problem with the bathroom roof, and investigates. This leads to another bathroom, then to other rooms, and soon he finds himself leaving the building and into a timewarp, into another world. A world largely covered by sand (some of this was filmed in Douz, Tunisia) but still in part recognisable as the Paris he's not in fact left in geographical terms. This is a kind of post-apocalyptic, or maybe global climatic France in 2070, when the sand invades, covering the past as when the Roman empire was buried by its future. Along with simple solar-powered vehicles, horse-drawn ones can be seen, and there are camels and ostriches: this is a world where low-tech and high-tech meet in harmony. And where Arthur will meet his aged son Ako (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The idea is interesting, and it's one which could have been used subtly and intelligently. Unfortunately it degenerates fantastically: save the future, save your future by having sex. Sorry, but I'm not in any way convinced: this to me reads like a Catholic tract which the Pope couldn't have objected to! All the same, this is not the worst ever pro-Catholic film: the truly loathsome Énorme directed by Sophie Letourneur, which encourages men to break the law and create unwanted pregnancies, is horrific!

30 December 2021

Claude Zidi's Les Bidasses en folie (1971)

There is a tradition in French cinema of army comedies, and after all national service could at one point last up to six years. But some years after the popularity of this kind of movie comes Les Bidasses en folie, which is a comedy, and in 1971 it was unusual to have such a comedy, although this one mixes the burlesque with criticism of the established order. In fact, coming so briefly after the events of 1968, this wonderful film is a total assault on the Establishment.

At the time of the appearance of Les Bidasses en folie, the pop group Les Charlots (after Charlie Chaplin, after 'charlot' meaning 'clown'), the band had a hit with 'Merci Patron', which was a heavily ironic song thanking the boss for allowing them to work for him, saying that they were very happy with him, clocking on, and so on.

So the five stars of this comedy are the members of Les Charlots (originally the backing band Les Problèmes to Antoine): Jean-Guy (Jean-Guy Fechner), Phil (Gérard Filippetti), Gérard (Gérard Rinaldi), Jean (Jean Sarrus), and Luis (Luis Rego). They're interested in peace and love, singing and dancing, no war. So when they get called up they act like clowns, fuck everything up, and continue to do so until they're thrown out of the army for being dangerous. This is a wonderful hymn to anarchism, although I'm concerned that it's been read incorrectly as a crap film: it is not, it is a hugely important film with an enormous message to the world.

Jean Boyer's Le Trou normand | Crazy for Love (1952)

This is set in the imaginary village of Courteville (in reality La Vieille-Lyre not far from Évreux). Thirtysomething Hippolyte Lemoine (Bourvil) may not be the full whatever currency you care to mention, but he's clearly a thoroughly decent guy and when his uncle dies he leaves everything to him – on condition that Hippolyte passes his elementary school exams – the dead man's lover Augustine (Jane Marken), whose daughter is Javotte (a very young Brigitte Bardot), is obviously furious because she expected to inherit, especially the auberge Le Trou normand.

Much of the plot involves Augustine's attempts to gain what she believes are her rightful possessions, and thwarting Hippolyte's attempts at getting an education. She tries to convince Hippolyte that her daughter is in love with him, although there are many complications and in the end he triumphs – not just as a result of the will of the townspeople, but of his uncle's codicil. A joy to watch, but when isn't Bourvil a joy to watch?

Philippe de Broca's Tendre poulet | Dear Detective (1978)

Dear Detective. Whatever genius invented that title couldn't possibly translate the pun in the title anyway. Admittedly, 'Tender Chicken' would hardly have been a suitable title for Annie Girardot (playing police chief Lise Tanquerelle at the age of about fifty-seven), but then there's a missed pun: 'poulet' is slang for cop. And Lise literally runs into Antoine Lemercier (Philippe Noiret), who's a teacher of Greek at the Sorbonne, as she's driving and he's riding a bicycle. And they turn out to be old friends when they were in class together, so there's a joining point.

And although they'd both love to cement that joining point in a relationship, Lise is held up by a series of apparently pointless murders, which is of course the MacGuffin: it keeps the attention and holds the suspense: this is not really about a series of murders but about will they/won't they get together? We really don't care why the presumably sexually depraved and psychotic concierge Charmille (Hubert Deschamps) killed those people.

In the end, of course Lise and Antoine get together, and there was even a sequel in 1980, when Lise and Antoine went on honeymoon in Greece: On a volé la cuisse de Jupiter (Jupiter's Thigh). Reviewers haven't been kind to the follow-up.

24 December 2021

Henri Verneuil's Le Grand chef | Gangster Boss (1959)

I know I have a thing about title translations (OK, translation in general) but 'Gangster Boss' is surely one of the most stupid. What's wrong with 'The Big Chief', which is not only more literal but far more appropriate? This is adapted from O. Henry's story 'The Ransom of Red Chief'. Anyway, Antoine (Fernandel) and Paolo (Gino Cervi) work in a car wash but want to run their own: and the best way they can think of getting money is by kidnapping young Éric (Joël Papouf), the son of wealthy Alain Jumelin (Jean-Jacques Delbo).

The first problem with their scheme is that they're not built in the gangster mode, they're just big softies. And the second is that Eric is a handful, causing Antoine and Paolo endless trouble with his Red Indian games, and giving them sleepless nights. In the end they give up on the ransom and just hand Eric back. The trouble is that the Jumelin household have the same problems with Eric, and as penance the would-be kidnappers have to look after Eric every Sunday, which is not a prospect they relish. This, of course, is the burlesque side of Henri Verneuil.

23 December 2021

Bernard Tanguy's Je pourrais être votre grand-mère | I Could Be Your Grandmother (2010)

Je pourrais être votre grand-mère is a much-awarded eighteen-minute short concerning SDF (homeless) immigrants and people's reactions to them. A business lawyer has one camped out opposite his comfortable apartment, all her belongings at her sides. She has a semi-literate sign in front of her asking for help, and the lawyer can't sleep, imagining this woman as his peasant grandmother tending animals. He tears up the cardboard package of an internet supermarket firm and in felt tip writes 'Je pourrais être votre grand-mère' ('I could be your grandmother') and gives it to the woman the following day for her to display.

In the evening, when he returns to his apartment, the woman shouts 'Merci, merci!' to him, and shakes the generous takings she's received that day. The problem is, other SDFs copy the card verbatim in hope of the same success, but the lawyer is understandably troubled when he sees not only a young SDF woman with the same sign, but also a young man: they can't possibly be grandmothers.

So the lawyer makes new signs, such as 'parti de rien, arrivé nulle part' ('left with nothing, arrived nowhere'); 'vivre à découvert' ('living without shelter'); a wink to Obama's election slogan saying (in English) '1€ Yes, you can'; criticisms of world trade, such as 'Golden parachute' (again in English); a 'soldes' (sale) sign reduced from 1€ to 2€; 'ISF*/SDF on a tous des problèmes' ('Fortune tax/NFA we all have problems'); to be realistic (and inevitably controversial), there's even a person holding a bottle of wine with a can of Special Brew at the side with a sign 'Que celui qui n'a jamais BU jette la première pierre' (a slight variation of the biblical 'let him who is without sin cast the first stone', but with "has never DRUNK" to replace the original).

And there's the sign 'La faim justifie les moyens' ('The hunger/end justifies the means', with a pun on 'faim' and 'fin'), although there are problems. This, although short, is an important film.

*In 2017, Édouard Philippe's government, under Macron, decided to sugar the pill for the wealthy by abolishing the ISF in favour of the IFI (impôt sur la fortune immobilière), a stealth tax in favour of the rich.

Henri Verneuil's L'Affaire d'une nuit | It Happened All Night (1960)

Michel (Roger Hanin) meets his old childhood friend Antoine (Pierre Mondy) – who could almost be one of Francis Veber's Pignons (or Perrins) – and they linger a while with Antoine's lovely wife Christine (Pascale Petit) at a café terrasse in central Paris until Antoine has to go to an old soldiers' reunion and Michel drops Christine off at a shop but then keeps driving around as he wants to see her again. With Christine's help he buys a new jacket, and eventually he takes her home and stays there for a time, in love, and knowing that Antoine won't be back until late. Even when it gets to the time for Antoine to return he persuades her to go for a drive with him which they spend loving. They get lost, the car gets stuck in the mud, and suddenly it's six in the morning and they have to find excuses. It's been easy making telephone calls to Michel's wife about delays with a customer, but how to explain things to Antoine?

Christine has taken a turn (?), she's been raped (??) and she's turned up on Michel's doorstep (???): now who would believe that apart from a candidate for Veber's Pignons? Of course, Antoine doesn't believe it, he believes that Christine has a lover, but never does it enter his head that the lover is Michel! No, Antoine's leaving: does the Légion Étrangière accept Pignons recruits at his age? Not one of Verneuil's best, but highly watchable all the same. 

Alain Cavalier's L'Insoumis | The Unvanquished (1964)

Thomas Vlassenroot (Alain Delon) is a young guy from Luxembourg doing military service in Algeria who deserts in 1961 after le putsch des généraux. But his lieutenant, Fraser (Georges Géret), now with the OAS, persuades him to kidnap the lawyer Dominique Servet (Léa Massari), whose work is to defend the Algerian revolutionaries: his payment will be enough for him to return to Luxembourg. But Thomas takes pity on Dominique and releases her, and his affection for her will lead to his downfall. The final image of the dying Thomas was famously used on the cover of the Smiths' album The Queen is Dead.

22 December 2021

Henri Verneuil's Mille milliards de dollars (1982)

Yes, that's a thousand billion dollars, a huge sum of money today and obviously considerably much more huge in 1982. But that's the value of a few multi-national companies, and although GTI is a fictional company it's easy to figure out that it could represent a particular American concern. The plot of this is far too complicated to go into here, but this is Henri Verneuil's attack on international capitalism and the power it has, with just one man – La Tribune journalist Paul Kerjean (Patrick Deweare in one of his final roles) as the hero trying to untangle the various nets of corruption involved, at great risk to his life. An important film from Verneuil.

21 December 2021

Chel White's Dirt (1998)

Dirt is a bizarre, surreal, four-minute short starring, written and narrated by Joe Frank. We first see him in a restaurant, and he tells us about his obsession with dirt (meaning soil). It began in childhood, when kids judged who could put the most dirt in their ears, noses and mouths. While the others vomited, the narrator never did and always won. Later, he would bury himself, delighting in the gritty earth. During the restaurant meal with a couple, we see him finding it necessary to have soil added to anything he eats. He grows tendrils, vegetables grow from his body, and he eats them, making him self-sustaining, he's his own eco-system, he is empowered. My only wonder is how many takes it took Joe Frank to tell this story without laughing.

Mansour Sora Wade's Fary l'ânesse (1987)

Les Contes d'Amadou Koumba is a collection of nineteen tales from Senegal and other African countries which were first gathered in book form in 1947. They were transcribed and translated from the original wolof into French by Birago Diop from the tales by the griot Amadou, the son of Koumba. 'Fari l'anesse' is one of them, which Diop describes as a story about a donkey which metamorphoses into a beautiful woman in order to live in a place not devastated by famine. There are variations on the theme, one telling of a king who wants to marry a woman with no imperfections. It is generally seen as a story with a moral: man's search for perfection can lead to great disapointment.

In Mansour Sora Wade's twenty-minute film, in wolof, wealthy village peasant Serigne Ibra (Mame Ndoumbé Diop) seeks to marry a young woman who has no imperfecctions, not even a scar. Eventually the woman, Fary (Dienaba Diallo), appears and Ibra marries her. She makes frequent trips outside the village and a curious Moor follows her and discovers the secret: she has gone to join her fellow donkeys, and changes back into one when with them. The Moor returns to the village and the story spreads around, making Ibra the laughing stock of the village until he discovers the truth for himself.

20 December 2021

Germaine Dulac's La Cigarette (1919)

Egyptologist and museum curator Pierre Guérande (Gabriel Signoret) has, at the age of forty-eight, married the young Denise (Andrée Brabant), but he begins to fear for the relationship when his wife's friend Irène de Tramont (Genevieve Williams) comes on the scene. Irène's friend Maurice Herbert introduces Denise to him, and it seems to Pierre that he's lost his love to a guy who is 'modern': not only does he dance the tango but he's a golf ace and teaches Denise how to play the game. Pierre begins to believe that he's yesterday's papers, only fit for the sexual scrapheap, and decides – much like the elderly Egyptian prince he knows so much about – that he has to perform a sophisticated suicide. But at an unexpected moment: he poisons one of his cigarettes, mixes them up, and he'll die at an unknown time.

The problem is that he has to be very wary of anyone else – such as his wife – touching any of his cigarettes. But when he's down to his last one – and he knows that that must be the lethal one – Denise starts to smoke it. He snatches it from her, but then learns the truth: Maurice has never been anything more than a friend, Pierre is a man of culture, and that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with youth as Denise loves him: in fact Pierre has been winding himself up a tree he can't climb down unless it's explained to him. For a silent movie, there are a large number of words.

Barbet Schroeder's La Vallée | Obscured by Clouds (1972)


Barbet Schoeder's second feature again concerns hippies, this time in search of an unmapped valley in Papua Nuew Guinea 'obscured by clouds'. And again it has the music of Pink Floyd. Viviane (Bulle Ogier) is a diplomat's wife in search of rare exotic bird feathers who by chance meets Olivier (Michael Gothard) who's living in a tent with a few other hippies, notably Gaëtan (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), who's would be the leader if hippies believed in leaders. So she decides to join them. Their long trail leads to Viviane learning how to conquer jealousy and learn about free love; a friendly encounter with the Mapuga tribe and a gruesome pig-battering sequence; travel by jeep, then horseback, and finishing on foot. The photography is beautiful, the psychological relationships very believable, although I couldn't help but wonder if Olivier had been right: weren't they just tourists? OK, they reached the valley, but had it really been worth the effort?

Louis Delluc's's Fièvre (1921)

Fièvre is now one hundred years old, and with La Femme de nulle part is one of the important of the seven films Delluc made in his short life. Originally called 'La Boue' ('Mud') the title was changed after a few cuts had to be made for reasons of censorship. It is set in Marseille, although the only glimpses of France's second city which we see are short shots unrelated to the general narrative: set in a rough bar, the emphasis is on showing this film as if in the theatre. 

At first we just see Topinelli (Gaston Modot) and his wife Sarah (Ève Francis, actually Delluc's wife) and several customers: four playing cards, a drunk on his own, Patience (Solange Sicard) who is waiting (no doubt in vain) for a man to return, and a woman with a pipe. Sarah too once waited for a man, and then settled into marriage with the brutish Topinelli, And then a number of sailors arrive.

They bring back trophies from their travels: a monkey, a parrot that talks Japanese, a statue of a Chinaman, the tooth of a swordfish, and so on. But the trophy Militis (Edmond Van Daële) brings is a docile Asian woman he's married, played by Elena Sagrary. Other women arrive and the place takes on the appearance of a brothel, with much drinking, talking, groping and dancing.

Sarah recognises Militis as the man who left her, they talk, Topinelli is told to be careful of his wife, the two men fight and Militis ends up dead on the floor. Before the police come the bar has emptied, with just Sarah by Militis, and the police take her away, thinking she is the killer.

Germaine Dulac's La Souriante Madame Beudet | The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923)

Germaine Dulac's silent avant-garde movie La Souriante Madame Beudet is seen by many critics as the first explicit feminist film, and the title is distinctly ironic.

Madeleine Beudet (Germaine Dermoz) lives in a provincial town with her husband (played by Alexandre Arquillière), who is a grotesque merchant draper in the Beudet et Labas firm. Beudet lives for money, his wife for culture. In spite of her physically comfortable bourgeois existence she is bitterly miserable and a number of images, such as a tennis player whisking her husband away or the vision of a handsome man: a fantasy or a memory – appear as images or superimpostions in the film to reveal her state of mind.

Three particular lines from Baudelaire's 'La Mort des amants' strike her. They are from Les Fleurs du mal, and from the first stanza of the poem, which was incidentally one of Les Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire which Debussy used as song and piano melodies:

'Nous aurons des lits pleins d'odeurs légères,

Des divans profonds comme des tombeaux,

Et d'étranges fleurs sur des étagères 

[...].'

The Beudets have been invited to the theatre to see Faust, although Madeleine (imagining her husband as Mephistopheles) refuses and while she is alone she loads Baudet's gun which he frequently plays with, pretending to kill himself. But she is stricken with remorse and sees images of the court. But before she can retrieve the gun and unload it Baudet has hold of it, and, thinking of course that it is empty, points it at Madeleine and fires. Fortunately he hits the wall, but his stupidity (and his egotism) lead him to believe that it was his wife who sought to kill herself. Return to normality.

19 December 2021

Walerian Borowczyk's Le Théâtre de monsieur et madame Kabal | Mr and Mrs Kabal's Theatre (1967)

Initially Borowczyk's first feature – an animated creation with usually strange metallic noises (rather than music) – this seems almost completely bewildering. And although it remains bewildering to some extent, in retrospect it takes on more significance. This is certainly an absurd world in which the principal figure – the fearsome Madame Kabal – is rubbed out a number of times by the illustrator, a representation of whom appears in order to introduce himself to the woman. But it would be difficult to speak of what we are seeing as being in any way a regular narrative: it's more of a long series of often shape-changing figures with no apparent reason for their metamorphosis: virtually nothing is constant, and possibly the large number of butterflies in the film – which of course undergo four changes in their life – is an indication of this change of life.

But there are also animals, which are unrecognisable as any in existence, with the possible exception of maggots. And there is much mechanical behaviour, even the suggestion of the making of bombs (this being the time of the Cold War). And then there's Monsieur Kabal.

M. Kabal is a minor figure in this in comparison with his wife: he makes fewer appearances in the film, and is much smaller in size, quite probably dominated by his wife. He also seems to be spending quite an extent of time looking through his binoculars to the world outside the drawn one, where short film clips show us the 'real' moving world in colour, frequently with scantily clad young women.

18 December 2021

Walerian Borowczyk's Blanche (1971)

Walerian Borowczyk's Blanche is set in a convincingly medieval (thirteenth century) context with musical instruments of the time. The lord of the manor (Michel Simon) in his eighties and is married to a very young and beautiful woman played by Borowczyk's wife Ligia Branice as the Blanche of the title. And everyone falls in love with her, including (mutually) her stepson Nicolas (Lawrence Trimble) and the people visiting the castle, such as the king himself (Georges Wilson) and his page Bartoloméo (Jacques Perrin). Much blood will be spent, and not a great number of the protagonists will survive, apart from the king and the dove (which surely in some respects represents Blanche herself?).

This is said by many to be Borowczyk's best film, and I can believe it: a sumptuous feast.

Zoé Wittock's Jumbo (2020)

Zoé Wittock calls this film a 'romantic fairy story', which it certainly is, and she was inspired to make it on learning that Erika Eiffel had married the Tour d'Eiffel: in fact she sought out Erika to visit her before making the film. Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant in a brilliant performance) is a young woman living with her mother Marguerette (Emmanuelle Bercot), now in a single-parent relationship and who only with difficulty could be more different from her daughter: Marguerette is a non-too-bright bartmaid eager for sexual encounters she can come upon; Jeanne works in an amusement park (actually Plopsa Coo in Belgium), is very shy and sexually inexperienced, and quite possibly at some low level in the autistic spectrum, but then who isn't?

Wittock didn't choose the Tour Eiffel as it is too static, but tentatively Jeanne develops a relationship with the machine Move-It, which she renames Jumbo and which she rapidly falls in love with, reading signs from the machine that it is responding to her attentions. The park director Marc (Bastien Bouillon) is attracted to her but can't understand her. As she tends the park at night she gets to see Jumbo a great deal, and on one occasion has an orgasm: the oil from the machine is seen in the light of sexual fluid, and there's an almost surreal sequence in which she bathes in the oil.

If the main theme is objectophilia, the sub-plot is the intolerance of humans towards difference, of not accepting people and ridiculing them because they don't fit in with the norm: her mother thinks she's crazy; Marc (who on one occasion has indifferent sex with her but still lusts after her) is as insensitive as her mother: at the annual amusement park ceremony he presents Jeanne with an employee of the year award, and then says that Move-It is moving on because (falsely he claims) it's not attaracting enough people. On stage Jeanne attacks him.

Later, Marguerette's new boyfriend Hubert – who has previously remained in the background and not seemed to have much to say – berates Marc for his intolerance and tells him to leave Marguerette's property, only to turn to her, criticise her for her intolerance and inhumanity to Jeanne, and promptly leaves Marguerette. Yes, Marguerette has a lot of growing up to do very quickly, and almost the final scene shows her, Hubert and Jeanne standing underneath Jumbo, with Hubert and Marguerette (separately) playing the role of vicar, with Jeanne dressed in white with a bridal veil.

For a first feature this is a stunning movie, and let's be honest: it's an important one too.

16 December 2021

Patrice Leconte's A Promise (2014)

A Promise is Patrice Leconte's first (and almost definitely only) English film, and also has the theme of voyeurism (vide Monsieur Hire, Le Mari de la coiffeuse, Le Parfum d'Yvonne, for example) of the coveted object.

Almost universally, the critics panned this adaptation of Stefan Zweig's story and negatively compared it to other cinematic Zweig adaptations: Max Ophul's Lettre d'une inconnue (1948) and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). I find this somewhat baffling because I really enjoyed A Promise

The main criticisms were the slowness of the film, its inability to contact with the viewer, the perceived wooden acting of Richard Madden (playing Friederich Zeitz), but this is a film about a very bright but initially poor graduate who quickly gains the attention of Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman), the ailing director of a prominent steel company in Germany. Soon, Friederich is gaining a great deal of confidence from his boss, who becomes reduced to working from home, which Friederich frequently visits to inform his boss of the business activities. There he meets Karl's much younger wife Lotte (Rebecca Hall) and her son, to whom he is giving lessons. In fact he is soon moving from his garret to join them in Karl's very comfortable home.

This is where the problems multiply because Friederich has fallen in love with his boss's wife, and any apparently constipated acting is inevitably a result of Friederich concealing his emotions, which Lotte also has to do too because her feelings are mutual.

Then a major emotional crisis occurs, where Friederich has to spend two years in Mexico: the two (platonic) lovers can hardly stand it. And then the two years become seven as World War I intervenes and the (virtual) couple are even unable to correspond. When Friederich eventually returns Karl has died and the two find communication difficult. But their feelings for each have not changed and they tentatively begin the relationship. This was the part I found the least difficult to take: most people like a happy ending but me? No thanks, I prefer real.

Walerian Borowczyk's Goto, l'île d'amour | Goto, Island of Love (1969)

Goto, l'île d'amour is in a number of ways an ironic name for such a dystopian depiction of this island cut off from the rest of the world in 1887, which has changed very little technologically since then and is ruled by the tyrant Goto III (Pierre Brasseur).

Work is hard and the main relaxation the men seem to have is the state-ruled brothelsThose having committed a certain number of crimes have to fight it out with another offender, the winner being reprieved, the loser receiving the death sentence. Goto's wife is Glossia (Ligia Branice) – all inhabitants' first names begin with a hard G – and she has horse riding lessons with Lieutenant Gono (Jean-Pierre Andréani), with whom she soon begins an affair.

The huge fly in the ointment is the reprieved criminal Grozo (Guy Saint-Jean), who starts to slime his way up the rungs of Gotan society, largely by 'discovering' the body of Goto III, who appears to have killed himself but in fact has been murdered by the ex-criminal, who also convinces an elder that Gono is the killer, who is given the death sentence. And although Grozo is in love with Glossia and intends to marry her, when Glossia discovers Gono's fate she kills herself. This early feature – along with Borowczyk's previous short animated films – will set the seeds for his future erotic feature films.

15 December 2021

André Cayatte's Verdict (1974)

This is an André Cayatte courtroom drama, with Térésa Léoni as an unglamourous Sofia Loren and Jean Gabin in his penultimate acting role as the judge Leguen. Térésa's son André (Michel Albertini) is accused of the rape and murder of a young woman in her late teens, the daughter of a teacher from Lyon, and Leguen seems bent on serving a life sentence on him. André's father was a notorious crook, and this is an example of Cayatte (fiercely against the death penalty) showing mitigating circumstances. This is Leguen's final case before retiring with his diabetic wife Nicole (Gisèle Casadesus), who Térésa has kidnapped in return for Leguen turning round the way the verdict is heading, thus saving her precious son.

Leguen then works to defend André, and is successful when the verdict is announced that he is innocent. However, André confesses to his mother that he is in fact guilty. Térésa leads Leguen to the house where she is in full awareness that his wife has killed herself by refusing to take insulin, and consequently drives herself into a brick wall. The ending of this film – the suicidal drive – is very similar to that in À chacun son enfer (1977).

14 December 2021

André Cayatte's À chacun son enfer (1977)

André Cayatte was a lawyer before becoming a film director, and his films – if not concerned with courtroom dramas  – often appeal to social injustices, sometimes with popular actors. Cayatte was against the death sentence not only because of its juvenility, its loi du talion (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth) mentality, but because it failed to recognise anything but black and white reasoning, or other perhaps far more hidden, complicated circumstances. Severing the head of a person, turning that person into two, dehumanises not only the guilty party but also the people responsible for that decision and the people carrying out their orders to do it.

Cayatte better illustrated his ideas in Nous sommes tous des assassins (We Are All Murderers) (1951), which in spite of gaining many converts to his cause still left thirty years before the death penalty was lifted in France. This film is not a courtroom drama but a take on kidnapping leading to murder in a familial situation.

Madeleine (Annie Girardot) and Bernard Girard (Bernard Fresson) have had their young daughter kidnapped for a large ransom, which they pay via instructions on a walkie-talkie, the instructions to which Madeleine follows in her car, leading to her collecting her daughter, although she is dead. Commissaire Bolar (Hardy Krüger), a rather inhumane cop, tells Madeleine that the killer is in her own block of flats, and Michel (Stéphane Hillel), Madeleine's son, admits to her that he killed his younger sister out of hate, she was only his half-sister of Madeleine's later marriage. Result: his mother doesn't drive them to the cop shop, but to oblivion: memories of Cayatte's previous Verdict (1974).

11 December 2021

Ingmar Bergman's To Joy | Till glädje (1949)

The title of this comes from Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy, on which part of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is based. The film is a seven-year flashback and we learn of the accidental death of the protagonist's wife at the beginning of the film. Stig (Stig Olin) and Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson) play violin in an orchestra directed by Sönderby (Victor Sjöström*) and soon marry with children. It's the huge ambitions of Stig that are the problem, and he wants to be a soloist, although Sönderby knows that this will not be possible. Then Stig starts becoming involved with Nelly (Margit Carlqvist). This is far from being Bergman's best film, and I think it's mainly the melodrama that spoils it, although some may consider that the music redeems it.

 *Sjöström (1879-1960) was a noted film director who also starred in Bergman's Wild Strawberries.

10 December 2021

Ingmar Bergman's Port of Call | Hamnstad (1948)

This early Bergman is a condemnation of hypocritical bourgeois values, a criticism of a society tied up in knots with its ideas of good and bad, moral and amoral, etc. It is something of a minor master work for so early an example of the giant of cinema Bergman would become.

Berit (Nine-Christine Jönsson), meaning to drown herself, throws herself in the cold water but is rescued. Later, Gösta (Bengt Eklund) sees her at a dancehall and they spend the night together, Berit's father being away at sea – a job from which Gösta has just returned and doesn't want to go back to – and her mother away for the night. Berit works in a factory and Gösta now works at the docks. Gösta has left when Berit's mother (Berta Hall) has returned, although she notes that there are cigarette butts in the ashtray and Berit doesn't smoke. When Berit leaves for work, her mother calls Mrs Vilander (Birgitta Valberg), her daughter's probation officer: there is a chance that Berit will have to return to reformatory school.

Initially via the pregnant Gertrud (Mimi Nelson) in desperate need of an abortion, we later learn what Berit feels she must tell Gösta about her past: several years before, the girl went to live with a man, was discovered, and sent to reformatory, where she met Gertrud. She has had a number of sexual liaisons, which Gösta hypocritically (all part of the double standard, of course) finds difficult to stomach. After a botched backstreet abortion Gertrud has to be sent to hospital and dies: Gösta finds this intolerable, although in the end he gets together with Berit and they decide that instead of escaping they will learn to take the flak and continue in Stockholm.

Robert Hossein's Point de chute |Stumbling Block | Falling Point (1970)

Les Yeux cernés (1964) is the only other film of Robert Hossein's that I've seen, although I'd describe both of them as clever psychological thrillers. Catherine (Pascale Rivault) has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by Vlad (Johnny Hallyday) in a shack by the sea which resembles something that wouldn't be out of place in a western. Both Vlad and Catherine have nothing in common and nothing to say to each other, but Vlad has to ensure that she doesn't escape until he gets his share of the ransom from the other kidnappers: the 'caïd' (Robert Hossein) and the 'inspector' (Robert Dalban).

Unfortunately Vlad has allowed his mask to be taken off and Catherine has seen this, and the other two see that she's seen it. In an attempt to ensure that they'll get the money, the other two start a relatively mild form of torture on Catherine, recording her screams to send to her father. This disturbs Vlad, who proposes that she write a letter to her father to encourage him to pay the money, and the others agree to this, although they state that he must kill Catherine anyway as she has seen his face.

Catherine is aware that Vlad has a weak spot, that he has more humanity and the others, and tries to exploit this. In the end Vlad holds a gun to the others to allow Catherine to escape while he takes their car. But the car won't start and Vlad runs for it like the girl, the 'caïd' aims his rifle and shoots Vlad, the girl sees Vlad shot and she too is shot as she runs to him: the film finishes as Catherine dies just as it seems this unlikely couple are about to kiss. Unsettling, not exactly a run-of-the-mill movie.

Benoît Jacquot's À tout de suite | Right Now (2004)

À tout de suite, based on Élizabeth Fanger's true story J'avais dix-huit ans and in grainy black and white, very much has a Nouvelle Vague air about it. Set in 1975, this film shows the bored art student Lili (Isild Le Besco) – who comes from a comfortable middle-class background – falling under the charms of the Moroccan Bada (Ouassini Embarek). On learning that he is a bank robber from watching the news on TV, she doesn't hesitate in leaving home with Bada, his partner Alain (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and his girlfriend Joelle (Laurence Cordier).

They pass the border into France with ease and live it up with the stolen money, but hide it in their clothing when moving on to Morocco, until Lili gets stuck at the customs in Greece and inevitably loses track of Bada and the others. Lili is the hero of a story which doesn't like heros: she doesn't lead, she's led, and neither Bada nor Lili are in fact named in the film itself.

7 December 2021

Bruno Dumont's La Vie de Jésus | The Life of Jesus (1997)

Bruno Dumont's first feature, La Vie de Jésus, is inspired by Ernest Renan's first edition of La Vie de Jésus (1863), which caused a scandal in the Catholic community as it treated Christ as a human being, without the divinity. This film deals with humanity in the then present day, 1997, and it concerns the social problems of the day. It is set in the north-east which has come to be seen as Dumont's territory, although this is not set on the Côte d'Opale but in Bailleul where Dumont was born, a town more than thirty miles south-east of Dunkerque.

Freddy (David Douche) is a young and unemployed epileptic and a kind of leader of a gang of five which spends most of the time riding around the town and surrounding countryside on mopeds. He lives with his mother Yvette (Geneviève Cottreel), who runs the Au Petit Casino café, and he has an intense loving and sexual relationship with supermarket cashier Marie (Marjorie Cottreel): one scene in a field depicts obviously unsimulated sex.

Improbably, the gang also play in an (old-fashioned type brass) band, and Freddy is very fond of his caged pet chaffinch: in another weird scene, there's a singing contest with people's pet birds in cages in the street, to judge which chirps the loudest.

But there's a dark underbelly of racism in the town, and a north African family is forced to leave Yvette's café due to comments, one coming from Freddy being bougnoules, the closest French equivalent to 'nigger', although it's usually applied specifically to North Africans: as the family make a hasty exit, a trumpeter plays a few notes of  La Marseillaise, just to let them know that they're in the 'wrong' country.

Young Kader (Kader Chaatouf) is one of them, and he and Marie have both taken a liking to each other, although Marie warns him off as it would be anathema to the gang to see them with each other, although at one point Marie takes the persistent Kader's hand and puts it inside her underpants, angrily saying: 'C'est ça que tu veux, euh, c'est ça ?' ('Is this what you want, huh, is this it ?'), to which Kader immediately redraws his hand and shouts 'T'es malade ou quoi ?' ('You crazy or what ?'), and he walks away. Later, she apologises and holds herself to him in a friendly manner.

But it's too late for everyone now anyway. Marie leaves Freddy after the gang are involved in the sexual abuse of another girl. And they hound down Kader, forcing him off the road and Freddy repeatedly kicks him in his head. Hauled into the cop shop, Freddy learns that Kadar has died in hospital: he escapes, takes off on his moped without a shirt or any belongings and, well, the end.

For a first feature, this is a magnificent performance by Dumont, especially as the cast are non-actors.

6 December 2021

Bruno Dumont's Jeannette, l'enfance de Jeanne d'Arc | Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2017)

As this film is directed by Bruno Dumont, we must of course be prepared for strangeness. This was not filmed in Domrémy, now Domrémy-la-Pucelle in Lorraine, but like so many of Dumont's films this was filmed on the Côte d'Opale. And although this is 1425 and everything is designed to look like we're in the Middle Ages, this musical leads us well away from that period.

Bresson is an obvious influence in this, although (dare I say it?) I was almost reminded of Jacques Demy but with completely non-professional actors in this very odd film. Here we have the early days of Jeanne d'Arc, at first an eight-year-old called Jeannette (Lise Leplat Prudhomme), who begins by singing from Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d'Arc (1910) by Charles Péguy, who is a huge influence on this film. Jeanne is worried about the Hundred Years' War, and confused about which position to adopt to it. Her friend Hauviette (Lucile Gauthier) fears that Jeanne will turn strongly towards religion: she is seeking advice from the nun(s) Madame Gervaise (Aline et Élise Charles). Yes, that's two people in one, singing and dancing as one.

But the songs and the dances aren't medieval and there's a lot of head-banging and modern music and in the second part, when Jeanne (Jeanne Voisin) is several years older, her uncle Durand (Nicolas Leclaire) sings rap. But by then she's overcome her doubts and decided to go to Orléans and fight the English. The rest is history, although is that repeating itself in Brexit? I jest, I think.

5 December 2021

Bertrand Blier’s Buffet froid (1979)

Buffet froid is often spoken of as an absurd black comedy, and also seen as Blier's masterpiece. I can't disagree with any of those words, although I have to add that in this film Blier is doing something quite extraordinary: he is reversing expectations at every possible opportunity, and in so doing creating a hilarious and completely unpredictable movie.

A number of scenes are set in the area of La Défense, which was at the time under development. Unemployed thirtysomething Alphonse Tram (Gérard Depardieu) addresses the only other person at the La Défense métro station (an accountant), and on showing the man his flick knife appears to be threatening him, although he offers him the knife which the man puts on another seat away from them, but which mysteriously disappears. The accountant makes his getaway on the next train but then, on wandering around some underground corridors, Alphonse finds the man dying with the knife sticking in him. Something to do with Alphonse's false memory, or...what?

Alphonse has been living alone with his wife in a new tower block in a very plush appartment for an unemployed man, until he learns on his return home that a new resident has moved in. Alphonse goes to welcome the man – Morvandieu (Bernard Blier), a police inspector – and tells him that a man has been murdered in the métro. But Morvandieu has no interest in this: he believes that criminals are best left in the outside world, instead of inside where they can teach innocent people to be criminals; in any case, we come to learn that Morvandieu has murdered his musician wife because he hated her music. When an unnamed killer (Jean Carmet) confesses to Alphonse that he's killed Alphonse's wife, Alphonse invites him in and so, along with Morvandiau, another of Blier's film trios is created.

And they will go on to more murders mostly without apparent reason until the trio is broken by another killer, hired for the purpose of murdering Alphonse, although he kills Carmet by accident (Morvanieu having told him that he is Alphonse), and when the duo chase after the hired killer a mysterious and seductive young woman helps them and they end up in a rowing boat. Alphonse, in one of the few logical moments in the film, kills the killer by throwing his knife into his back. And then, about to retrieve his knife, he learns that Morvandieu can't swim, so drowns him. It seems that Alphonse and the young woman are about to get very intimate, although she shoots him dead because her father was the accountant on the métro.

There are no answers because there are no questions, or no questions as there are no answers, but this is indeed a masterpiece from Bertrand Blier.

Toby MacDonald’s Old Boys (2018)

Toby MacDonald’s first feature is a quirky remake of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, set in Caldermount public school for boys in the 1980s with the bespectacled and very young-looking scholarship boy Amberson (Alex Lawther) playing Cyrano for the dim but dashing Christian as Winchester (Jonah Hauer-King). The subject of the love of both of them, in other words the 1980s Roxane, is Agnès (Pauline Etienne), the daughter of the French teacher Babinot (Denis Ménochet overplaying like mad). Taking the place of the poems at the beginning are home-made video cassettes, begun by Agnès who sends Winchester one of a pastiche of Bob Dylan's famous casting away of cue cards, only it's not 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' (1965) playing but updated to Plastic Bertrand's 'Ça plane pour moi' (1977).

All this is acted out against the macho atmosphere of bullying, hazing (tipping pails of water on heads and dunking in the toilet) and a bizarre sports ritual resembling rugby but called Streamers and played in a river. Lawther plays brilliantly, and Hauer-King and Etienne are fine, but most of the other cast seem to be taking things to farcical levels and the main plot often gets entangled or suspended in the violent macho ethos. There is a good idea hovering around, but it gets lost in the mêlée. It's not worth the time.

Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika | Sommaren med Monika (1953)

Summer with Monika was adapted from Per Anders Fogelström's 1951 novel. This is Stockhom and the pushy young Monika (Harriet Andersson) meets young Harry (Lars Ekborg) in a gloomy café during his lunch break: both are working-class dogsbodies and they arrange to go to the cinema together. Sick of the abuse she's receiving from her alcoholic father, Monika leaves home and the couple spend the night on Harry's father's small motor-boat. Following another row at work, Harry leaves his job and the two leave Stockholm in the boat and spend a blissful summer cruising around. Monika gets pregnant.

The summer ended, they return to the capital, where Harry gets a job and starts night school in preparation for married life with his new wife. But Monika just complains that the enjoyment has gone, they don't go to the cinema anymore, etc. Harry returns one day to find Monika with another man. End of the relationship, Harry takes custody of the child and dreams of the life that was.

In the States the title was changed to Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, with the sales pitch being the nudity in it.

4 December 2021

Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night | Sommarnattens leende (1955)

It's a long time since I've seen a Bergman film, and I certainly hadn't seen this, the film that led to him being an internationally renowned film director. It's far from the normal film that some would describe as 'Bergmanesque': bleak, full of existential angst, suicidal thoughts, etc. This film though may treat the same subjects but in a comical way, and it is, after all, described in the title as a romantic comedy ('romantisk comedi'), even if it's unmistakably Bergman.

This is a fin-de-siècle tale starring the middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand), married for two years to the nineteen-year-old Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), who's still a virgin but who tells him she's working on not being: let's face it, these things take time, especially with the upper middle class, and the family servant Petra (Harriet Andersson) tells her she lost her virginity at sixteen; and Petra seems to have a mature but teasing way of dealing with Fredrik's sex-starved son (by his first wife) Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam).

Between wives, Fredrik had an affair with actress Desirée (Eva Dahlbeck), who is now (boringly) in an affair with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), who is married to Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist), a friend of Anne's. Things start to come to a head when everyone is invited (with some plotting) to the home of Désirée's mother for a Midsommar bash, and Henrik throws a real funny and starts getting suicidal during dinner.

But as most of the planet apart from me must have seen this film, let's cut to the quick and I'll say what I found so funny about it before and after the dinner. Petra's prick-teasing of Henrik is obvious, but what of Fredrik secretly visiting Désirée and (after falling in a huge puddle, being thrown out by Malcolm: holding his own still wet clothes and in borrowed underwear? There are many funny, almost slapstick gags (yes, this is Bergman) but surely the best must be Henrik's failure to hang himself? That's not even black humour, it's just comical: his neck-strap slips off its hook, he falls to the wall and in so doing presses a button which releases a concealed bed on which his beloved is sleeping. But here's the killer: perhaps in recognition of Henrik's excitement on seeing Anne, and/or perhaps in recognition of unintended auto-erotic asphyxiation, a cupid-like/angelic sculpture above the static headboard raises a looong bugle as if in erection.

OK, I forgot to mention Fredrik being challenged to Russian roulette, Malcolm losing and instead of receiving a bullet in the face gets a heap of soot, but that's a minor issue: this is a whale of a laugh from Bergman, and I never thought I'd live to say that.

Wesh Westmoreland's Colette (2018)

This biopic begins in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne, where Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightly) is very willingly being courted by Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West), a 'literary entrepreneur' who uses other writers in his name and is commonly referred to as Willy. They get married, Colette moves to Paris with him and soon finds out that his tastes aren't only literary: he is an egotist with a love for expensive living and a taste for prostitutes, believing that sexual promiscuity is in the nature of men. But his expensive lifestyle is finding the better of his bank balance.

Colette has a writing talent and she is soon writing 'Claudine' stories which Willy is using under his name. She becomes a great success, many products now bear the name 'Claudine', and Willy reaps the benefits of fame and fortune. At the same time, Colette is discovering herself sexually, particularly with 'Missy', aka Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough), who dresses like a man. 'Missy' is perfectly aware that Willy is taking advantage of Colette, who she knows is in fact writing the part-autobiographical Claudine tales.

Colette and Missy perform at the Moulin Rouge and cause a scandal by kissing at the end of the show. Unbeknown to Colette, Willy (fearing economic ruin) sells all the rights of Claudine: when she finds out she leaves Willy for good and begins her life (which will continue with Missy) as author of her own works, although the film only tells of her highly successful future in written captions and photos which appear onscreen at the end: this very colourful film is only a biopic of Colette's early years.

3 December 2021

Andrew Haigh's 45 Years (2015)

Forty-five years is the length of time Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) have been married, and are due to have a celebratory dinner at the Assembly House, Norwich. Then Geoff receives a letter written in German telling him that the body of Katya, his girlfriend who died fifty years before, can now be seen in a melting glacier (global warning) when she fell down a crevasse. Now surely questions should start here: how did whoever sent the letter know Geoff's address after all this time?; how could they possibly know the body is Katya's?; etc, etc. The script is already more full of holes than a colander.

Kate doesn't know about Katya (and note the name resemblance), doesn't know that Geoff keeps a scrapbook of memories of his relationship with Katya in the loft, so has no idea that she died with her and Geoff's embryo inside her, but she sees numerous slides of her that Geoff has kept and she looks like Kate. So all this time Geoff has harboured the secret that Kate is really a substitute for Katya, has kept the same interests the young couple had? And as Geoff drenches himself increasingly into the past Kate secretly delves into it too and becomes increasingly alarmed. Instead of comforting her deranged husband she gets increasingly jealous: of a woman who died fifty year before! Is an audience still out there?

The anniversary party takes place, and Geoff gives a good speech and says he's always loved his wife, blah, blah, but is he really thinking of Kate, or Katya, when he says that? And after ninety minutes of bland, impossible to believe script I was expecting that Geoff would kill himself, just die, or at the very least confess his undying love for Katya in front of all the guests.

This truly drab film won a host of awards and nominations and it's true that the acting is excellent. But it's all for no purpose, and I certainly won't be watching any more films by Andrew Haigh.

2 December 2021

Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Unless you don't know beforehand, The Sisters Brothers seems a grammatical error, a film in need of an apostrophe, until you realise that 'Sisters' is in fact the unlikely surname of the brothers. It's also a little unusual that male and female should stand side by side in this Franco-American film by Jacques Audiard, who is noted for his testosterone-strewn films such as Le Prophète and in my view the very disappointing Deephan. His latest, Les Olympiades, apparently marks a change, but we shall see.

The DVD cover doesn't look like my kind of film at all, but then I really have to decide on my opinion of Audiard, so I have to give this movie a go. This is 1851 and the Sisters brothers (and here the capitalisation makes sense) are the hired killers Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), employed to discover the formula permitting gold to be detected from the chemist Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), and by any means possible, which of course includes torture.* Journeying on horseback (of course) from Oregon to California, the detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also not only on the trace of Warm but meets him, gets him to join him on the trek, and soon he is following Warm's cause rather than the killers': the creation of a philanstery or socialist community in Dallas, Texas.

When Eli and Charlie eventually find the men they go along with the prospecting, although the formula is so noxious that it kills Warm and Morris, and Eli has to have Charlie's arm amputated. But no longer in danger of repercussions from their boss the brothers go back to their mother in Oregon where they are welcomed and almost appear as long-lost pets. An odd and very unexpected ending.

*It needs noting that the brothers are very different from each other, and in spite of his violence, in a number of ways Eli comes over as somewhat effeminate.

1 December 2021

David Lean's Brief Encounter (1954)

Brief Encounter is written by Noël Coward and based on his 1936 play Still Life. It's an impossible and unconsummated love story revealed almost entirely in flashback with the voiceover of the protagonist Laura (Celia Johnson). It begins with Laura and Alec (a GP) in a railway refreshment room where the gossipy Dolly (Everley Gregg), an obviously unwelcome acquaintance of Laura's, joins them. The whistle blows for Alec's train, he shakes Dolly's hand and discreetly presses Laura's shoulder as he makes his exit. Laura then has an odd turn, leaves the room for a moment and returns to receive Dolly's (again unwelcome) sollicitations, made even worse by her incessant chatter when the two take the train home. Clearly, a traumatic event has happened which will be revealed in the flashback.

Laura has two children and is married to Fred (Cyril Raymond), a caring but dull man who seems more interested in the Times crossword than anything else. Laura meets Alec at the station café when he removes a piece of grit from her eye. The two later meet by chance in a tea-room in Milford Junction, a town Laura visits every Thursday, and where she also takes out library books and finishes her trip by going to the cinema. At the tea-room they meticulously half the bill, including the tip, and innocently go to the cinema together: a film advert warns of the future: 'Flames of Passion coming soon'.

Alec insists that they do the same thing the following Thursday, and although Laura is initially reluctant, she turns up a the tea-room and is visibly disappointed that Alec isn't there: he's been forced away. So they meet again the following Thursday, significantly disliking the film Flames of Passion and instead hiring a rowing boat: Alec isn't very good at it and the boat gets stuck at a bridge. They are obviously falling in love, although the middle class mores of the time dictated that they should behave respectably, not allow their passion to conquer them: consequently their feelings for each other are unfulfilled, not permitted to blaze in physical terms and naturally die, nor get stronger and (horrors) lead to divorce. So they must just behave as young children – and Laura a few times sees Alec as a child: a compensatory mechanism? – and merely stick to kissing. That bridge is significant, and another will appear later: when Alec drives his love into the countryside, he takes Laura to a bridge, and on their final meeting they return to it, spending several hours there, but of course never crossing it: the film is in part about limits, and bridges can divide as much as they link.

Laura and Alec live in a hypocritical, supposedly ultra sophisticated universe where so many things are taboo, must remain unspoken. As a homosexual at a time when such activities remained illegal, Noël Coward too knew something about taboos. For the working class, though, things were different, much freer, although it's amusing to note things in their universe that wouldn't be be accepted today – the server in the refreshment room, Myrtle (Joyce Carey), who effects a none-too-convincing middle-class accent, overplays her indignance when railway worker Albert (Stanley Holloway) slaps her behind, but she is happy when Albert tells two smutty soldiers to ''Op it'.

All the same, as Alec remarks in this film about not only middle-class love but mature love: 'You're only middle-aged once!', giving him his excuse to treat them both to a champagne dinner. But society is closing in on them, they are being recognised in public, the lies start, Laura leaves a scarf in the flat of a friend of Alec's as she hastens to leave on hearing the friend returning. Things are beginning to look sordid, and the escape comes when Alec sees a chance for him to emigrate with his family, although he gives Laura the choice of deciding to tell him not to go. But now we return to that first scene in the refreshment room, the insufferable chattering of Dolly, and we see that that turn Laura had when she had to leave the room was a failed suicide attempt: it wasn't Fred or her children that prevented her from jumping but simple cowardice.

And what did Fred think of all this, had he any knowledge of what was going on? The end is ambiguous, so we don't know. What we do know though is that this is a superb film that never – well, maybe for a few moments when Laura's dreaming about Venice, etc – creaks: it shows its age of course, but it's still completely rivetting, still emotionally disturbing.

Nigel Gordon's Syd Barrett's First Trip (1967)



Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon was a film student in London and a friend of Syd Barrett. He filmed this in the summer of 1966 on a return visit to Cambridge, the pair's home town. They are with friends in the nearby Gog Magog hills and this is Syd's first trip on psychedelic mushrooms: in the jerky eleven-minute film Syd holds a bunch of mushrooms, and mushroom caps adorn his face on the reverse of the DVD. The director says that it is his wife Jenny in the yellow mac 'talking to a tree'.

The second half of the film shows Nigel on the balcony of 101 Cromwell Road, London SW7: it was shot by Lucy. It also shows Pink Floyd outside Abbey Road Studios in April 1967 after signing their first studio contract with EMI. Syd Barrett (1946-2006), co-founder of the band in 1965, is said to have developed psychosis after taking too much acid. He was officially removed from the band in April 1968.