Thursday, November 19, 2015

Le Gendarme et les gendarmettes


1982, France, directed by Jean Girault

This is a contribution to the Late Films Blogathon hosted, as every year, by Shadowplay-er extraordinaire David Cairns. 

A picture that counts double in the late film stakes: director Jean Girault died during filming of star Louis de Funès's swansong, the last of their dozen collaborations stretching back to the 1960s. Though their work was never of the highest cinematic order, it's still hard to imagine anyone choosing this particular picture as an epitaph. De Funès looks visibly aged, diminished by the heart condition that plagued him for some years, and indeed he's offscreen for lengthy chunks of the film, suggesting that the script was constructed very much with his absence in mind.


The sixth in a series of films that began in 1964, to which the law of diminishing returns applied with brutal effect (imagine the Pink Panther films, without the benefit of starting at a reasonable peak), Le Gendarme et les gendarmettes scrapes the inspirational barrel utterly dry, and de Funès is very much an old dog going through his old tricks. I've always struggled with his particular schtick, almost always preferring his more subtle onscreen partners, most famously Bourvil in the 1960s, though here he’s paired with Michel Galabru, who has roughly the physiognomy and the subtlety of a warthog, and Girault doesn't make any attempt to rein him in (whereas a director like Jean-Pierre Mocky could deploy Galabru's features to more sophisticated comic ends).


Both actors played in all of the Gendarme pictures, which made for some pretty superannuated cops by 1982, though the plot doesn't bother clarifying why they're still hanging around the station house when they should have been pensioned off. Ah, yes, plot, or in this case a device engineered purely to fill the screen with a succession of comely women who play a quartet of gendarmerie cadets as part an "innovative" training program. One of the four is African, and the daughter of an African president to boot, which provides the cue for a ham-fistedly offensive sequence in which she is depicted in tribal garb -- dancing, of course, as a prelude to a cannibalistic feast. Fans of workplace harassment -- all of it cheerfully tolerated, naturally -- will be heaven here, as will those who believe that female police officers are best attired in garb that looks like that of a Pan Am stewardess circa 1965. That the cadets, entirely predictably, emerge victorious over both their criminal adversaries and their lecherous supervisors doesn't quite excuse all that has come before...


Truth be told, this is not the first year I planned to write about this particular picture but getting through this kind of thing is a slog -- there really are astonishingly few redeeming features, not unlike Jean Gabin's final film, also directed by Jean Girault -- a real career-end specialist, that one.






Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The House on 92nd St


1945, US, directed by Henry Hathaway

Hathaway made something of a name for himself with a string of location-shot, "authentic" 1940s pictures, and this one comes saddled with a good deal of documentary paraphernalia, including a cameo from J. Edgar Hoover, to introduce this purportedly true account of the unmasking of a Nazi spy ring, with the kind of sexual undertones that make you suspect good old J. Edgar would have had a ball with the case files. Unfortunately, as a film it feels neither fish nor fowl -- too plodding to make for great drama, and not effective as a documentary either (though the location footage is quite fascinating).

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Mea culpa


2014, France, directed by Fred Cavayé

The latest in Cavayé's series of action movies is roughly on the same level as his previous film, A bout portant, promising much more grit than it ultimately delivers. I only gave it a shot because of Vincent Lindon, and the actor does what he can with the conventional material. I do like a well-made action film and while Cavayé has the occasional moment of skill in chase sequences he has no idea of how to communicate space and proximity so the sense of peril is fatally undermined. That derailed two big set pieces, and the shame is all the greater since there aren't many French directors seriously committed to this kind of lean genre material

Becks letzter sommer


2015, Germany, directed by Frieder Wittich

A pretty derivative, if fitfully endearing, German dramedy, with very strong echoes of some of Fatih Akin's lighter films (especially Im Juli), as well as every inspirational-teacher/teen-saved-by-music film you've ever seen. Christian Ulmen, the titular Beck, bears a strong resemblance to Paul Giamatti both in terms of facial features and semi-schlubby lovability, and makes it more watchable than it probably deserves. 

Spy


2015, US, directed by Paul Feig

La Loi du marché


2015, France, directed by Stéphane Brizé

Right up my alley: Vincent Lindon combined with echoes of Pialat. I'm not at all familiar with Stéphane Brizé's work, though some of the French-language criticism suggests I should be. Lindon, in full-on Tiredest-Man-in-the-World mode, is an unemployed factory worker seemingly caught in a spiral of re-training absurdity, who eventually finds new employment as a supermarket security guard. At its heart, the film is -- as the French title implies -- a pretty devastating critique of the human cost of the frontlines of capitalistic endeavour, and the scenes where Lindon has to preside over pathetically petty infractions are quite excruciating. Many of the parts are played by non-professionals, and the seams are invisible -- Lindon feels fully part of the world seen here. 

12 Citizens


2014, China, directed by Ang Xu

A Chinese re-working of 12 Angry Men, which necessitates some plot gymnastics in the opening since the Chinese legal system is completely different. After the setup, the film sticks quite closely to the original, sometimes almost word for word (at least if the subtitles are to be trusted), though the setting is somewhat less claustrophobic even if equally sweaty. There's a rather archly theatrical aspect to the physical setup, though the camera is far more mobile than in Lumet's version -- far less classical, but generally quite effective. An interesting transposition, in other words, and not without a distinct line of politico-judicial commentary. 

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Jurassic World


2015, US, directed by Colin Trevorrow

Watch Jurassic Park again instead -- more expertly made, less gender stereotyping.

Dope


2015, US, directed by Rick Famuyiwa

A fairly decent teen-movie entry elevated by two things: a surprisingly sure blend of tones between comedy/crime/social comment and an excellent cast, particularly the three young actors at the centre of the film. The ending went, to my mind, far off the rails -- far too wish-fulfilment-esque, and yet another endorsement of the Ivy League establishment, however inadvertent.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States