Friday, March 27, 2015

Les Vécés étaient fermés de l'intérieur

1976, France, directed by Patrice Leconte

A fine example of a bad film that remains interesting for all kinds of extra-textual reasons, not least the list of collaborators (on both sides of the camera). For the most part, I'm a Patrice Leconte afficionado so there's some automatic interest in seeing where the director got his (feature-length) start, however inauspicious, though it took his career some time to recover after this débâcle. His next film, Les Bronzés, is no masterpiece but it is a good deal more coherent than Les Vécés, and is certainly a better reflection of the comic spirit of the times. 

In theory, the earlier film had many of the right ingredients -- co-written by a writer (Gotlib) from the comic book tradition, a key source for 1970s comic cinema, and very much anti-establishment in spirit; starring a new entrant on the acting front (Coluche), with his own anti-establishment credentials; and backed up by an experienced actor (Jean Rochefort) who was nonetheless very sympathetic to many of the emerging trends, but who ended up absolutely detesting the film (thankfully he forgave Leconte a decade later for Tandem and several further pictures).

Between them, though, they managed to deliver an extraordinarily flat, old-fashioned picture, with the blame very much on the writers/director. The jokes are often thuddingly obvious, and visually the film has very little to offer. Very, very occasionally, there's a brief snippet of some interest -- two or three shots in the early going that might well have been snipped from a Wes Anderson film, but that's about it.

The other big problem is Coluche, though I'm not sure if he himself is the problem or whether Leconte needs to take the blame here, too. Very, very few directors made good use of the actor in his relatively brief cinematic career, and almost no-one managed to make good comic use of him. My sense is that his persona was fundamentally much better-suited to sketch comedy rather than film comedy, where it frequently comes across as rather wearing. 

I'm indebted to a fascinating French-language blog post at Le Broccoli qui Tousse for some of the biographical details.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Love Brewed in the African Pot

1980, Ghana, directed by Kwaw Ansah

Kwaw Ansah was the victim of some awful timing, starting his cinema career just as Ghana's cinemas went into terminal decline in the early 1980s: the arrival of the VCR combined with an extended curfew to close many of the venues that were already struggling after a decade of economic upheaval. There is almost no hint of that offscreen turmoil, though: the film is set at a vaguely-defined point shortly after independence and focuses on the confrontation of tradition and modernity (intermingled with issues of social class). Like Sembène, Ansah is blunt about the ways in which many leading figures in post-independence Africa echoed their colonial predecessors, even striving to emulate them (thus the tragi-comic figure of the father with his pith helmet and his insistence on certain forms of dress and address). For the most part, Ansah displays a fine observational eye for the tensions between different views of the world, zeroing in on the distaste of the educated elite for traditional observances (a theme that was common in Ghanaian newspapers of the 1950s), though the film shifts gears quite radically in the final twenty minutes, and the move to a more consciously Shakespearean/metaphorical register is jarring.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nous ne viellirons pas ensemble

1972, France, directed by Maurice Pialat

Pialat worked with major film stars for the first time on Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble but the transition is seamless, and he extracts a performance of exceptional complexity and humanity from Jean Yanne, 
despite the character's overtly boorish aspects. Indeed, it's rare to see an actor embrace an unsympathetic part quite so fully: one scene of physical abuse is the more distressing for the sense that real people were hurt in the making. The filming process surely influenced Yanne's subsequent turn, at least in the films he made as a director, to a lighter register, quite a departure after a decade with Chabrol, Godard and Pialat. The rhythm of the film is beguiling despite the subject matter of an extended breakup: there's a sense of a pendulum swinging in ever smaller arcs as the inevitable outcome approaches, and yet there's no hint of the melodrama that often accompanies such a scenario. Indeed, the prevailing tone is one of deep melancholy, even tragedy for characters who struggle to communicate at the most fundamental level despite their constant verbal interactions. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Une si jolie petite plage

1949, France, directed by Yves Allégret

I've little to add to David Cairns' excellent overview, which was prompted me to seek the picture out in the first place. It's another fine entry in the cycle of desperately downbeat films produced in post-war France, films that are impossible to read as anything other than part of the struggle to come to terms with the country's recent past. The conclusion here is especially bitter, though perhaps it's only from the depths of the abyss that renewal can come.

Mille soleils

2013, Senegal, directed by Mati Diop

A beautifully moving companion piece to Touki-Bouki, though it functions well in its own right even for those who haven't seen the Mambéty film as a kind of confrontation between a man's present and his past (though the context is very different, it occasionally made me think of Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing). The opening shot is especially good, bringing together a whole range of themes -- modernity/traditional culture, movie stardom/reality, a love and celebration of the cinema -- in one place, while the film as a whole provides a useful insight into current inter-generational tensions in Senegal. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Among the Living

1941, US, directed by Stuart Heisler

An entertaining genre mashup, blending horror plotting with noir-ish camerawork in a manner quite characteristic of the period -- Siodmak's Son of Dracula, for instance, has equally striking camerawork in certain passages. This film has some exceptionally vibrant scenes, and the tracking shots through town are especially good -- unusually mobile and quite effective as a means of dramatizing the mental state of the character they accompany. The extended bar/dancing scene put me in mind of another Siodmak film, Phantom Lady: Elisha Cook Jr's frenzied drumming seemed of a piece with the nightmarish vision of entertainment on offer here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Killing of Angel Street

1981, Australia, directed by Donald Crombie

Despite its flaws, Phillip Noyce's Heatwave is a much more interesting take on events surrounding and succeeding the disappearance of Juanita Nielsen in 1975: this a prosaic film, saddled with a dreadfully obvious soundtrack and a weak romantic subplot. However, Liz Alexander, in a very rare lead role, is generally strong as the primary character, growing in conviction as the film develops and proving very convincing at the finale.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


2013, US, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

The last remaining 4-year-old in America has now seen Frozen, and a lot of 2013/2014 Halloween costumes suddenly make much more sense.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Born to Kill

1947, US, directed by Robert Wise

As brisk and brutal as The Sound of Music is lengthy and overblown (which is not to say I don't like the latter film). Lawrence Tierney gets more screen time than usual even if his role is very similar to his standard tough guy fare and he's given a run for his cold-hearted money by Claire Trevor. They both watch Walter Slezak walk away with the film, though: he's quite brilliant as the self-interested detective quick to sense the chance to maximize his own opportunities. By contrast, as much as I enjoy his weaselly presence in other films, I couldn't quite figure out Elisha Cook, Jr's purpose here: his character seemed more narrative device than actual person and at times he comes across rather awkwardly as one of Tierney's inner voices, surely not the intended effect.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


2010, US, directed by Nathan Greno & Byron Howard

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adieu poulet

1975, France, directed by Pierre Granier-Deferre

Pretty formulaic stuff that's beset by mismatches: Francis Veber is hardly the best candidate to script a gritty, ripped-from-the-headlines politico-police story, though why director Granier-Deferre didn't simply abandon some of the more slapstick elements is beyond me. Ventura is solid in a role that demands nothing of him -- he's far more interesting in L'Emmerdeur or Garde à vue, from roughly the same period -- but to my mind Dewaere, an actor I generally worship, is miscast. His energy works wonderfully well in other films but on this occasion it makes him seem as though he has breezed in from another picture entirely, one that's more satire and less exposé. The film's most enjoyable quality is the portrait of Rouen as political quagmire: there aren't many films set in the Normandy city, and for all of his conventional qualities Granier-Deferre is almost always strong on atmosphere and location.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Garou-Garou, le passe-muraille

1951, France, directed by Jean Boyer

A routine 1950s Bourvil vehicle, taken from a Marcel Aymé short story that is heavily watered down in this telling -- the Occupation-era story finishes in literal suspense, of a deeply discomfiting nature, whereas this postwar version is a sometimes slapstick romantic comedy despite Bourvil's awkwardness around women. Some of the dialogue is zesty enough, most likely due to the presence of Michel Audiard, and Gérard Oury co-stars, years before he turned to directing.


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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.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States