Friday, August 29, 2014

Le Crabe-tambour

1977, France, directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer

A compelling film on several levels: the colonial backdrop is convincingly sketched, while the film's structure, filled with flashbacks to several different time periods, plays with the viewer's sense of time in ways that ensure you are constantly on your guard. Despite the obviously constructed aspect to the story, there's also a realism that's at times almost literally queasy, since the film's present is set on board a naval vessel patrolling the stormy waters off the Newfoundland coast. Best of all, though, are the performances -- Jean Rochefort in a performance of extraordinary restraint, even by his standards, but with fine support from both Claude Rich and Jacques Perrin, the latter playing the kind of character who would seem to belong to high mythology if it weren't for the fact that he's based on a real French officer.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

2013, UK, directed by Declan Lowney

A rare big-screen adaptation that works rather well, mostly because Steve Coogan's character works so well in any format -- radio, TV, film -- since his monstrous self-absorption and complete obliviousness to the rest of the planet remain intact. The plot, of course, is entirely absurd, purely a vehicle to place Partridge in circumstances that allow him to confirm exactly what we already know about him, but the pace of the jokes is all that really matters, and the quality control in the form of writer Armando Iannucci, whose work has served Coogan so well through his career, is very much in evidence here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

World War Z

2013, US, directed by Marc Forster

Like almost all such films, this is much more effective in the sections where it reins in the scale -- the CGI set pieces look exactly like CGI set pieces, whereas the sequences with a limited cast and a cramped setting are taut and nervy. Those sections, and the dilemmas they portrayed, linger surprisingly long in the memory -- it's still a blockbuster in scope and execution, but there's something more ambitious at the core.

La Maison des bois

1971, France, directed by Maurice Pialat

Pialat's 1971 television series is an immersive, all-encompassing work, set in a small French village during the Great War and using the experiences of a handful of Parisian children sent to live with a rural family as a means to sketch French society of the time. The format is perfectly suited to Pialat's expansive, quietly observational style -- there's ample space for the privileged moment and for scenes to unspool in unhurried fashion, whether it's the lazy Renoir-esque summer picnic (with it's comedy interstices) or the tableau of weary, homesick soldiers passing through. Pialat finds ways to insert all of the key elements of wartime village life -- the home guard, the church, the school, even the local aristocracy. It's only when the film leaves the rural setting that it stumbles: the seventh and final episode seems awkwardly tagged on, undercutting the poignancy of what came before. I've read online that Pialat himself didn't like the episode, though can't find a source for that; whatever the reasons, it feels like the work of another, with far less of the subtlety that makes the remainder of the work so compelling.

Friday, August 15, 2014


1976, France, directed by Maurice Ronet

An intriguing film, originally made for French television but then given a cinema release, that does a fine job of imagining the Herman Melville short story at feature length. The original plot is very straightforward, perhaps best suited to short length, but Ronet expands by giving us more insight into the life of the narrator, Melville's employer (beautifully played by Michel Lonsdale, in what seems like a tailor-made role for one of such lugubrious appearance). The overall mood of ennui really gets under the skin -- it's a film that becomes more distressing the more you allow it to leach into your own emotions. Until I came across the adaptation, I had no idea that Maurice Ronet, whose piercing blue eyes enlivened so many films in the 1960s, had done any work behind the camera, but he's absolutely assured in his maintenance of tone here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Le Cave se rebiffe

1961, France, directed by Gilles Grangier

A straightforward crime caper, but the level of professionalism on both sides of the camera ensures that it's never less than a pleasure: Gilles Grangier is no great stylist, but he keeps his story in crisp forward motion and Michel Audiard's script, if not quite as pearl-filled as in something like Les Tontons flingueurs, still has great fun with criminal argot (you really need to tune the ears in to pick up the sense at times). Gabin apparently refused point blank to leave his beloved Normandy estate for the tropical location shoot where we were supposed to first meet his character, yielding some unconvincing South American decor, but he's otherwise in fine form. Jean Gabin was only 53 when the film was made, but he plays much older -- he was never really afraid of embracing his changing physique and the roles that came with it. And Bernard Blier, perhaps because he was prematurely bald, never seemed young to start with -- whether he was playing a student in the 1930s or a rumpled policeman in the 1970s he looked remarkably similar.


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States