Friday, October 30, 2015

Un éléphant ça trompe énormément

1976, France, directed by Yves Robert

Enjoyed this one enormously, in particular for the fine Jean Rochefort performance, and despite the not-always forward-looking sexual politics, with the entire film built around the pursuit of an affair. The scene of consummation and aftermath is absolutely exquisite, as are the attempts to preserve some dignity in farcical circumstances, while Rochefort's moustache is a character unto itself at times. I was keenly attentive to the various off-camera points of interest, and had not previously realized that Danièle Delorme, who died just last month after a very long career, was also a very active producer -- including of Le Plein de super the same year. Although I didn't discover the connection until afterwards, the quartet of male pals in both films had already put me in mind of the Cavalier picture (especially since one of the men in each case was dealing with a departed spouse). More tenuous, perhaps, but I couldn't help but detect a reference to Jeanne Dielman in one brief scene where we spy Delorme methodically making dinner. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Je tu il elle

1975, France/Belgium, directed by Chantal Akerman

Watched in hommage to Chantal Akerman, who sadly ended her life recently. I had not seen this before and it was an eye-opener, the work of a strikingly confident young director who has both a very strong personal set of ideas and a set of aesthetic criteria for her project, both visual and aural (the use of sound as a surprising tool for de-eroticization, for instance). The film very obviously sets the stage for some of her subsequent work, in terms of holding the gaze for extended periods of time, the interaction between sound and text (and the disconnects between the two), and so forth. Quite literally mesmerizing at times. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Le Témoin

1978, France/Italy, directed by Jean-Pierre Mocky

Vintage Jean-Pierre Mocky, an absolutely acid take on sexual relationships between young and old and, ultimately, on miscarriages of justice. The confident management of tone from the sex farce of the opening twenty minutes or so to the brutal realism of the final shot is quite remarkable -- a very difficult trick to manage, but Mocky was clearly very much in control of his material and his two fine central actors. Noiret already had a well-established "type" by the late 1970s, which the director uses very much to his advantage, and the same is true of Alberto Sordi, who I've only seen in Italian films. Indeed, the use of Sordi was so apt that it was a great surprise to discover that the role was originally intended for Jean Gabin -- it's hard to imagine he would have captured the innocent abroad tone that's so crucial to the first half of the film. Also of note was the mise en scène, particularly the placement of actors in many scenes -- there's a wonderful sense of movement within the frame, to often comic effect. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Signé Furax

1981, France, directed by Marc Simenon

The film derives from a 1950s radio show with which I have no familiarity whatsoever and thus no sense of fidelity to the original. Absent that knowledge, the film came across as something close to a French Zucker-Abrams-Zucker film, with the scattershot approach to visual jokes, verbal gags of both high and low levels, absurd plotting, and general zaniness, though the hit rate was a good bit lower than in the best ZAZ outings. In other words, for every decent part there were a couple of sections that just didn't work for me, although the bit-part appearances kept the interest up (Coluche's appearance was abbreviated in the extreme, two quick scenes). I had not made the connection before but the film was directed by Georges Simenon's son, and there is a brief and reasonably subtle reference to the paternal oeuvre near the end. Simenon fils did not have a distinguished directorial career, mostly assisting on a variety of (high-profile) comedy films in the 1960s before a short career as a director himself.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Shanghai Express

1932, US, directed by Josef von Sternberg

It has been a while since I sat in a cinema seat realizing that I was watching a genuine masterpiece unspool in front of me, on almost every level: the cast (with perhaps the exception of Clive Brook, though that may be as much the character he is playing as the actor's style), the astonishing set design (the scenes in crowded "Chinese" towns are magnificent in their detail), the interlocking aspects of the script, and of course von Sternberg's remarkable stylization on the rhythmic level. More surprising to me in some ways was the sense of humour -- it's often very funny, and surely was a major influence on The Lady Vanishes a few years later. Amazing, too, is the sense of genuine depth to the Dietrich/Brook relationship -- real feeling there, even if Brook's character is a bit limited in some ways.


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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.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States