The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Casque d’Or (Jacques Becker)
  2. Scattered Clouds (Mikio Naruse)
  3. A New Leaf (Elaine May)
  4. The Elephant God (Satyajit Ray)
  5. The Fatal Glass of Beer (Clyde Bruckman)
  6. Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
  7. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)
  8. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  9. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini)
  10. Panique (Julien Duvivier)

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1- Scattered Clouds is the last film by Mikio Naruse and I was happy to see that his genius was there until the end.  A wrenching character study of very star-crossed lovers (he accidentally kills her husband in a car accident and it goes downhill from there).  It might sound like a retread of Magnificent Obsession but there is nothing the least melodramatic.  A very sad film.

2- I always meant to catch up with A New LeafIt was always talked about as a comic masterpiece, so I was excited to sit down with it and have a good time. Alas, no.  This film is the least funny comedy I have ever seen.  Walter Matthau is a revolting presence in the best of circumstances, but he is terribly miscast as a spendthrift one-percenter who must marry money to avoid having to work, having squandered his fortune.  Elaine May is the pathetic object of his plan.  There is nothing endearing about either of them. The depiction of May’s character is particularly cruel. 

It commits the greatest a comedy can do. It is not funny at all

3- The Elephant God was another big disappointment.  I am used to being blown away but every Satyajit Ray film. No blowing away here.  It is a very curious film for this director. It is a genre film, a detective film.  I realize I never care for detective films (except for Maltese Falcon), because usually they are about solving a mystery and nothing else.  That is what happened here as well. It was fun to see scenes of Varanasi, but the camera work, with its awkward zoom-ins reminds us of the worst of Bollywood films.  So disappointing. The mystery wasn’t even that good. It is the second of two Ray films based on this character. I am not rushing to find the first one.  But you may like it.

4- The Fatal Glass of Beer – “I think I’ll go out and milk the elk.”

5- Memories of Underdevelopment  is another film I have had my eye on for a long time. I feared it would be interesting, but a slog to get through.  It is considered the greatest film to come out of Cuba and it deals with a disaffected bourgeois intellectual who decides to stay behind in Havana when all his family, including his wife, flee the Revolution for Miami.  It is very experimental and quite interesting in the way it presents the character and the post-revolution world.  I wonder how it got made.  I had the same problem with this film that I have with Madame Bovary. It is hard to spend a lot of mental effort on a character that you just don’t like, no matter artistically he or she is portrayed.

6- I am a much better film-watcher that I was 35 years ago when I first watched Solaris. Then, I could barely stay awake.  The Princh says that the occasional nap is part of the Tarkovsky experience.  She might be right. However, I was glad to see it again. I am happy to say that I think I got whatever was to be gotten.  I still question the intentional tedium of the film. I must say that I found it more engaging and provoking than 2001.  I know that is a heretical comment in certain circles.   Still it was a good watch this time around.  I found Stalker and The Sacrifice more satisfying. Maybe Tarkovsky was more engaged with those films. 

7- The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is the first of Rossellini’s historical films that I have seen (not sure if The Flowers of St. Francis counts).  Much criticism is leveled at the film calling it slow and stagey. I found that it was like a window opened onto a true historical happening. All MGM-type frippery was stripped from the character of the Sun King and what you get instead is a portrait of a very shrewd, capable and calculating young man shoring up his power at the beginning of his reign, much to everyone’s surprise. Think Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays.  Great fun and very educational. A lot is written how the master of Italian Neo-realism brought the technique to historical topics instead of gritty stories of ‘today’. Maybe.  I had a lot of fun.

8- Panique was a delight as well.  A French noir film based on one of Georges Simenon’s non-Maigret novels. At the center of the film is Michel Simon playing an enigmatic character who is both savvy and naïve.  Both traits doom him. I never got Simon before but now he is in my Pantheon of acting deities.

michel simon

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Inheritance (Masaki Kobayashi)
  2. Désiré (Sacha Guitry)
  3. To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett)
  4. Riot in Cell Block 11 (Don Siegel)
  5. Gohatto (Taboo) (Nagisa Oshima)
  6. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)
  7. Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  8. Mala Noche (Gus Van Sant)
  9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
  10. Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki)

1- It has been fun and interesting to watch the lesser-known films of Masaki Kobayashi. The Inheritance is a twisty, nest-of-vipers story of a lot of very nasty people jockeying for the inheritance of a very nasty man. It was a lot of fun.

2- After watching so many ‘heavy’ films, it was almost therapeutic to watch Désiré by Sacha Guitry. Comedy of manners, light French sex-farce, whatever you call it, it was a welcome contrast to what I have been watching. This is the third film of his I have seen. Pure delight.

3- I had seen To Sleep with Anger when it first came out and really liked it a lot. I have hardly heard of it since then. Luckily, TCM showed it as part of its Black History month programming. It is a powerful, almost magical realism view of a community who have emigrated from the south to a middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, and what happens when Harry, a reminder of what they left behind, comes to stay and ultimately almost destroy their new, happy lives. I read it as the dangers of nostalgia for a past that was anything but the wonderful thing it is remembered as. In that respect, although it fits beautifully in the African-American narrative it works well with any ethnic group that has begun to intergrate into the larger culture. Is what was lost really that lamentable?

4- Riot in Cell Block 11 is a tight prison film that at 80 minutes really packs a punch. Super ambitious for its small budget, I was surprised to see how sensitive issues (gays in prison, mixing mental patients in with the general prison population, etc.) we dealt with. It was also refreshing to see the warden as the voice of reason and dignity for once. Don Siegel would go on to other tight movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

5- Gohatto is another film I saw at its debut and had not heard of since. It is a gorgeous looking film. The settings are often stylized in a Kabuki-like manner. The story tells of how the arrival of a beautiful young (16 year old!) boy at a Samurai school unsettles the population of macho warriors to the point of almost destroying it. Oshima is perhaps most famous for his sexually explicit In The Realm of the Senses, which was made almost 20 years before Gohatto.

6- There are certain acclaimed movies I just do not connect with. Fargo, Pulp Fiction, It’s A Wonderful Life, The English Patient, Breathless are some examples of this. Add The Great Beauty to this list. I know the fault lies with me. As readers of this blog know, I don’t hold much with awards for films, but The Great Beauty won the Palme d’Or at Canne, the best foreign film Oscar and just about any other major and minor award you can think of. I just don’t get it. It seems like a more lyrical rehash of Fellini’s 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita but the substance was elusive. Some of the imagery was lovely, but it all seemed pretty derivative and I would love someone to explain to me what the point of the whole exercise was. I compare the watching of this film to just barely missing your train and trying to catch up with if for 2 hours plus.

7- Still Walking, however, is a masterpiece. As I was watching it, I kept drawing parallels to Ozu’s Tokyo Story, not a bad thing for any film. It was interesting to watch the interview that Kore-eda has on the Criterion Channel about the making of the movie. He says that it is highly autobiographical. He was aware that people would speak of it as a modern-day Tokyo Story, but he felt that it had more in common with my other god of Japanese cinema, Mikio Naruse, also not a bad thing! It was interesting to me to see that the golden age of Japanese cinema (roughly from the end of WWII through the early 1960s) is still revered by young filmmakers of today, who are putting their own up-to-date spin on the classic family dramas. It is so refreshing to see a contemporary Japanese film with nary a Yakuza or anime cel in sight!

8- Mala Noche was Gus Van Sant’s first feature and it looks like what you would expect from a first feature.  It is very seedy and jumpy, and although it is about sexual obsession (of course), there is nothing the least bit erotic about it.

9- Le Havre , on the other hand, was a delight. I had only ever seen The Match Factory Girl by Kaurismäki and that was an utter misery.  This film has been referred to as a fairy-tale and I think that is appropriate.  I never expected to be so uplifted as I was at the end of this movie! Such a pleasure.

 


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The Phantom Ladies over Paris are finally coming to Region 1!

If you are a friend of mine who has expressed any interest in film at all, I no doubt have gone on and on about the wonders of Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. This magnificent creation is to film what Alice in Wonderland or Master and Margarita is to the novel.

I first heard about it in a tiny blurb in the Village Voice. Andrew Sarris referred to it as three and a half hours of unalloyed joy. “That’s for me!” I thought and I wound up going to see it at the 8th Street Cinema in Greenwich Village two nights in a row. I have pursued it like a big-game hunter ever since.

It was only ever available in Region 1 back in the days of VHS tapes. “Why”, I lamented “could I buy all the seasons of Friends on DVD but not one of the greatest, most joyful, eternally entertaining films of all times? (Not that I am saying there is anything wrong with Friends).

Well, I am happy to announce that on March 16th, Criterion will finally make it available. Go here: https://www.criterion.com/films/29639-c-line-and-julie-go-boating

If you don’t get your own copy, come to my place after you’ve had your Covid vaccinations and we can revel in it together.


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Gods & Goddesses of the Criterion Universe – Part four – One hit wonders

Falconetti

(1892 – 1946)

When I was thinking about creating another entry in this series I thought immediately of Falconetti. Her portrayal of Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc often tops the list whenever people are trying to figure out the greatest film performances of all times. The film is an overwhelming experience, due to the collaboration of Dreyer and Maria (or Renee or Jeanne) Falconetti. This austere and stylized film gets its power from the way Dreyer films Falconetti’s face, almost always in extreme close-up. Her facial expressions flash from terror to religious ecstasy to naivete to inner strength, often filling the whole screen. We get no relief from Joan’s emotional state and she carries us with her through the trial to her death on the stake. It is safe to say that this could only have been achieved in a silent film where the distraction of sound is gone, and all you can do is look at what the actress is doing.

In the other entries in this series, I was able to give an overview of an actors career, showing why they are so essential. I can’t do that with Falconetti. She was mostly a stage actress, and was even a member of the Comedie Francaise, but except for a supporting role in a film in 1917 (which I presume is either lost or impossible to see), this was her only screen appearance.

The wonder of that fact is that she becomes Joan of Arc because we never see her as anyone else. We love Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, but they have a huge gallery of characters who they have played. You are watching a Humphrey Bogart film and not a Sam Spade film when you watch The Maltese Falcon. With Falconetti, you are watching Joan of Arc. The character and the actress are one.

I then began to wonder if there are any other great one-time performances and I could only think of one for the time being:

Leigh McCormack

Leigh McCormack only ever appeared in Terence Davies’ magnificent The Long Day Closes. Because of this, his character Bud is like Falconetti’s Joan, inseparable from the actor and one and the same. There is no Leigh McCormack, there is only Bud, because his performacne is so powerful and we never see him again.

Bud is a boy of 11 or 12 growing up in a poor, fatherless but very loving and protective family in 1950s Liverpool. Despite this wonderful family, and the happiness he feels being with them, he projects a profound sadness and loneliness. This emotion is never explained but it the essential part of this character. His world of home, family, school and movies is evoked with a qualified nostalgia and his sadness is palpable. Sometimes I wish that Davies could have done more films developing his character in the way Truffaut did with his Antoine Doinel, but in reality I am glad he didn’t. Like Falconetti’s Joan, McCormack’s Bud is seared in your mind.

I will try to think of other examples of ‘one-hit wonders’. Stay tuned (or make a suggestion!)


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  2. Where is the Friend’s House? (Abbas Kiarostami)
  3. And Life Goes On (Abbas Kiarostami)
  4. Through The Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami)
  5. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiradie)
  6. Sincere Heart (Masaki Kobayashi)
  7. Gate of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
  8. A Walk in the Clouds (Alfonso Arau)
  9. Ever Since Eve (Lloyd Bacon)
  10. Fountainhead (Masaki Kobayashi)

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1- I love the way the films of the Dardenne brothers deal with moral dilemmas. Evil is identified clearly, but those swept up in it are considered compassionately, and through this compassion often get another chance at setting their lives back in order. The Kid with a Bike is a gorgeous example of the heart of these filmmakers, a heart completely devoid of saccharine or moralizing, but full of understanding for the troubles people (mostly kids) get into.  

2- I had a chance to rewatch the entire Koker Trilogy by Abbas Kiarostami.  I am a lucky man.

3-It was interesting to watch Stranger by the Lake, Gate of Hell and A Walk in the Clouds in quick succession. All three were bad films with great reputations, and they made for very dissatisfying viewing:  

     a- Stranger by the Lake was hailed as a Hitchcockian Gay thriller. Is there any term that is more incorrectly used than ‘Hitchcockian’?  Just what are people saying when they describe a movie in this way? That it is suspenseful? Then it is clearly the wrong adjective for Stranger by the Lake. A bunch of mostly Gay men cruise a lovely lake all summer long, going off into the nearby woods to have sex.  Then there is a murder which our ‘hero’ witnesses but does not report because he is currently sexually obsessed and involved with the murderer. Why does this film have such a great reputation? Is it because the Gay sex is (very) explicitly portrayed? Is it because it is from a Gay viewpoint? I don’t get it.  Isn’t it a terrible Gay stereotype that Gay men are just sex machines putting themselves in danger to get the next thrill? Is this still how we want to be portrayed? The storytelling and character development are flaccid (pardon the pun). The pace became monotonous.  Even the copious nudity of very handsome men grew tiresome.  On top of it all, it has a non-ending. So after almost two hours of dull exposition, you don’t get a payoff. 

    b- Gate of Hell was the first Japanese film to win a best foreign film Oscar.  That was still an honorary award and not a proper category until a few years after.  The thing that is most often mentioned about it is that the color photography, by Eastman, is stunning.   Well, yeah. But at this point it just looks garish.  The storytelling is sloppy, the acting amateurish.  It was directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, who in the 1920s created what is probably the most experimental (read : insane) film ever to come out of Japan: A Page of Madness. That film, with its narrative innovations, stylized action and general nuttiness make Gate of Hell even more disappointing because you know that the director had a unique vision at one time, and it is nowhere evident here.

    c- My friend Donna called me and begged me to watch A Walk In The Clouds.  She wanted confirmation that it was as horrible as she thought it was.  Well, it kind of was.  Discussing it with her after I watched it, I suggested it was like a Hallmark Channel movie that had greater ambitions, and I think that is basically what the problem is: tonal ambiguity.  A Hallmark Channel film knows what it is: superficial story telling with happy endings, formulaic to the max, with no pretentions to depth.  A Walk In the Clouds has all the shallowness of a Hallmark Channel film, but every once in a while it strikes a note of seriousness – and it never succeeds.  The acting is hopelessly bad.  The fact that Keanu Reeves is the star should set your mind at rest that nothing remotely resembling good acting will be encountered. I was amazed to see that Giancarlo Giannini played the heroine’s Napa Valley Vineyard-owning, extremely short-fused father. He was the Art House Cinema darling in the 70s and 80s. Here, he does nothing but rant about lost values and family honor.  To call the character a cartoon would be kind.  Anthony Quinn is also on hand as the more down-to-earth grandfather/patriarch, but even he can’t escape cartoonism. There is a grape-stomping ceremony that has to be seen to be believed.  How did this film ever get released?

It is a remake of 1940s Italian film which I have never seen.  

4- It was fun to see Ever Since Eve after watching the disappointing Mank.  This was Marion Davies’ last film, and it’s not great but it is fun in a frantic screwball way.   The common rubric about Davies is that she should have stuck to comedy.  True.

5-  I am continuing to work my way through the films of Masaki Kobayashi on the Criterion Channel.  His late great films are yet to come in my viewing.  Sincere Heart was a workaday studio production made in the style of his mentor, but it was sweet enough. Fountainhead  is more in keeping with his later, greater films but it still feels a little rough.

 

 

 

 


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Noir? No, thank you.

Some men there are love not a gaping pig;
Some, that are mad if they behold a cat;
And others, when the bagpipe sings i’ the nose,
Cannot contain their urine: for affection,
Mistress of passion, sways it to the mood
Of what it likes or loathes.
– Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene 1

To continue along this line of reasoning, some men there are who love not a Western, some that are mad when they behold an Action Film, and others, when the Musical sings on the screen, cannot contain their urine.  Well, I can contain my urine, but I can no longer abide Film Noir.

It’s been creeping up on me for the last few years, but now my feeling is definitive.  This past year, I’ve read a few of the classic Noir novels (thank you Aaron) and I had already seen most of the major Noir classic films and therefore feel I have enough material to form an opinion.

So, what is my problem with Noir?

What bugs me are the following:

1- The posture of world-weariness and cynicism that is the lifeblood of these works seems artificial to me. One enters into these films knowing that the world will be depicted in dark and hopeless terms.  By the end, everything will go to Hell, because people are horrible/selfish/amoral and all that remains is to see how the particular dystopia of this film will play out. It is a predetermined pessimism which passes for a gnostic understanding of the way the world really works. It seems to be saying “If you don’t agree with this worldview, well, you’re naïve”.  I am not advocating Pollyannism by any means. It is just that this relentless pessimism is as false as unfounded optimism, but this pessimism has the cachet of sophistication and therefore is embraced by those wanting to be sophisticated.

2- Misogyny is rampant in the Noir universe.  The world will go to Hell mostly due the duplicitous machinations of some dame who loves money even more than she loves herself and definitely more than she loves the poor naïve hero.  The femme is always fatale and the poor naïve hero (who, by they way, fancies himself worldly-wise) will always be undone by said female.  In a weird quasi-feminist twist, these women are always smarter than anyone else in the film. But if you are smarter at being evil, is that really admirable?

3- The clutter of most Film Noir plots is aggravating. The storylines are impossibly convoluted. While watching the films you never quite know what is happening.  When it’s over your not sure what happened.  Don’t believe me? Watch The Big Sleep. I suppose the case could be made that we are supposed to identify with the poor naïve hero who is trying to make sense of an incomprehensively malevolent world that is out to get him. Neither he nor we quite understand how or why the world is out to get him, hence the density, i.e., the clutter, of the plot.  This works in Kafka, but Kafka’s malevolent world seems bigger than anything we can understand and therefore becomes mythic.  Here, the malevolent world just seems cliched.  It is a camp experience.  We know how we are going to feel before the film even starts. I suppose one could say that going into a comedy or a musical or historical drama presupposes a certain experience to come.  With Noir, though, we go into it expecting to be shown why the world stinks.  I guess some people like that.

So do I completely write off Noir? No. There are films that are labelled Noir that I love.  Case in point: The Maltese Falcon.  Why do I love this film? Because in many ways, it is  an Anti-Noir.  First of all, the dialogue is often hilarious and many of the characters are so quirky (Joel Cairo, The Fat Man, The Gunsel) that the oppressiveness of the usual Noir world is dissipated.  Most importantly, though, evil is clearly identified and even though up to the last minute we think it will win, it doesn’t. Sam Spade is heroic because he pushes back on the Noir conventions, and gives us a view of what the world should be.

 

Call me what you want……..

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Le Cercle Rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville)
  2. The Report (Abbas Kiarostami)
  3. L’Argent (Robert Bresson)
  4. Judy (Rupert Goold)
  5. The Thick-Walled Room (Masaki Kobayashi)
  6. Beautiful Days (Masaki Kobayashi)
  7. The Underneath (Steven Soderbergh)
  8. Ordinary People (Robert Redford)
  9. Tabu (F.W. Murnau)
  10. The Great Sadness of Zohara (Nina Menkes)

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1- I am really finished with Noir. I will be posting shortly to explain why. Watching Le Cercle Rouge and The Underneath did not help matters.

2- I was glad to watch Abbas Kiarostami’s The Report.  I have greatly admired just about everything I have seen by him. This is a very early work of his.  It is fascinating because it gives us a glimpse of pre-Revolution Iran.  It is a very grim look at marriage and work life. Interesting that Kiarostami’s work is more life-affirming after the Revolution, which is counter-intuitive to what we are led to believe in the West.

3- L’Argent was the first Bresson I ever saw. I saw it in the theater when it first came out and Bresson was still alive.  It is the quintessential Bresson experience. It is austere, morally unambiguous and a brutal film-watching experience.  Wonderful creation.

4-  I always knew that earlier Hollywood films about Hollywood and other entertainment personalities had to be taken with many grains of salt.  Night and Day has even less to do with the life of Cole Porter than Rhapsody in Blue has to do with the life of George Gershwin. I always thought that things would improve, at least as far accuracy was concerned.  Judy could have been made 50 years ago. I doubt that much of what is portrayed really happened, so why make a picture like this? Renee Zellweger does an ok impression of Garland, but there really isn’t much to hold one’s interest since it just seems so fictionalized.  I had exactly the same feeling watching Mank.  A potentially great story with fascinating characters, totally squandered.   Also, I don’t get the vulture-like glee in portraying great artists in their decline, like Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas.  It seems sadistic to me.  These were all great artists at their respective peaks. Why not show that? Focusing on the sordid declines nullifies what made them great and beloved in the first place.  Do I really want to honor Judy Garland because she was irresponsible, and addicted to pills and alcohol? Nope. Let me watch Easter Parade and Meet Me in St. Louis or even The Clock or Judgement in Nuremberg instead.

5- Having access to the Criterion Channel means having access to large parts of great directors’ catalogs.  I thought I would get a little more systematic in my movie viewing and pick at director whose films I have admired and watch all the other films they have available.   I loved the films of Masaki Kobayashi, especially Harakiri, Samurai Rebellion and the unique collection of ghost stories Kwaidan.  I watched two of his early films, The Thick-Walled Room and Beautiful Days. The former is one of those post WWII films that seems to be prevalent in Japan but not in Germany, films that deal with the guilt and corruption of the wartime leadership, and how it affected the little people.  It is a powerful indictment not only of the Japanese military dictatorship, but also of the U.S. occupying forces that worked in collaboration with them after the war. This is quite interesting when you consider that the U.S. censors had total control over what came out of the Japanese film studios for years after the war.  Beautiful Days is a more traditional effort tracing the loves and trials of three couples.  There is still hints of how the war has made their peace-time lives difficult, but it is a much more conventional film.  Still enjoyable, though.

6-  Films about dysfunctional families resonate with me for reasons you can guess. I was so happy to see that Ordinary People  holds up after four decades.  Its portrayal of self-healing and healing through psychotherapy never seems glib.  The performances are wonderful, especially Mary Tyler Moore who was robbed at the Oscars that year.

7- There are films that I know I need to watch as ‘homework’. I don’t think I will necessarily enjoy them, but I think they will make me a better-rounded film viewer.  I had always heard of Tabu and had seen all the other great Murnau films.   I was glad I watched it.  Such a curious movie to come out four years after sound took over Hollywood.  I think it works better as a silent anyway.

8- One of the joys of the Criterion Channel is that they feature films by unknown or forgotten film makers.  The Great Sadness of Zohara is from 1983. It is a bleak, almost silent 39-minute film about a very unhappy (we don’t know why) Orthodox woman in Jerusalem who leaves her community and travels deep into the Arabic world of North Africa.  She is miserable the whole time and she is miserable when she gets back to Jerusalem at the end.   I may check out some of Menkes’ full-length films that Criterion features.  But then again, I might not.  One can only take so much misery.

 

 


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Gods & Goddesses of the Criterion Universe – Part Three

1- Maria Casares (1922 – 1996)

Maria Casares was blessed with one of the most expressive faces in film history. She made her debut in The Children of Paradis (above left) as the third in the love triangle with Arletty as Garance and Jean-Louis Barrault as Baptiste. Not a bad start to a career in French film! Her portrayal of Nathalie, the unloved wife is truly heartbreaking. And her line at the end, ‘Et moi, Baptiste? Et moi?’, is unforgettable. On the other end of the spectrum is her other most famous role, that of intransigent and yet love-sick Death in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (above right)

2 – Tatsuya Nakadai (b. 1932)

Tatsuya Nakadai is an important leading man in Japanese film. He has worked with Akira Kurosawa in Yojimbo, Sanjuro, as the super cool detective in High and Low, as the Emperor’s double in Kagemusha, and most famously as the King Lear figure in Ran (above left).

His work with Mikio Naruse include When a Woman Climbs the Stairs (above left) and Daughter, Wife, Mother and plays on his dreamboat good looks and ability to play complex young men.

He also has the distinction of having the starring role in what Guinness calls the longest film ever made: Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition. That film, comprised of three 3 hour+ films is a depiction of the Japanese involvement in Manchuria during World War II and Nakadai is our Everyman guide through the Hell of that world.

3 – Hanna Schygulla (b. 1943)

Schygulla was the muse of Rainer Werner Fassbinder much in the way Marlene Dietrich was the muse of Josef Von Sternberg. He even directed her in a film called Lili Marleen about the song that Dietrich made so famous during World War II. Her breakthrough performance came in Fassbinder’s Kabuki-like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (above Left), but the role she will be forever remembered for is as Maria Braun, the ultimate symbol of German survival during the War and the embodiment of the Economic Miracle of the 1950s in The Marriage of Maria Braun.

I will always have a twinge of ‘Ah, what might have been’ when I think of Schygulla. For me, one of the great unmade films is Sophie’s Choice with her in the title role. Of course, Sophie went to Meryl Streep who was swell, but, alas…..

4 – Gunnar Björnstrand (1909 – 1986)

I have remarked before that it seems like the great auteur directors do best when working with a small, loyal group of actors. (See this post for more on this topic)

Ingmar Bergman is certainly a prime example of this, and Gunnar Björnstrand is one of the actors from whom he evinced amazing performances. His range, even just within the Bergman universe, is impressive. The caustic, humanist Squire in The Seventh Seal (above left), is the perfect counterweight to the naïve and tortured Knight played by Max Von Sydow. In this surprisingly funny film, he provides most of the humor, as well as a strong dose of reality in his dealing with the canvas of the apocalyptic Medieval Sweden he and the knight are travelling through.

He is magnificent, if wholly unsympathetic as the Lutheran pastor who is losing his faith before our eyes in the real-time morality story Winter Light (above right).

He also shows a deft hand at light comedy most notably as the frustrated lawyer Egermann in Smiles of a Summer Night and as the husband of Eva Dahlbeck in Waiting Women.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Mother (Bong Joon-ho)
  2. Videodrome (David Cronenberg)
  3. The Devil’s Backbone (Benicio del Toro)
  4. All About Eve (Joseph Mankiewicz)
  5. Black Peter (Miloš Forman)
  6. Local Hero (Bill Forsythe)
  7. Mank (David Fincher)
  8. Housekeeping (Bill Forsythe)
  9. The Christmas Setup (Pat Mills)
  10. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood)

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1- Mother is the third Bong Joon-Ho film I have seen, along with The Host and Parasite. The wicked humor of the other two is missing from Mother, but that might be what makes the horror so unsettling.  The creature in The Host and the shenanigans happening in the rich people’s house in Parasite are so grotestesque as to become intentionally funny. No laughing here.  The mother’s unswerving devotion to her son makes us all complicit in the ending.

2- I remembered when Videodrome came out,  it seemed prescient about where the world of video ‘entertainment’ was heading.   If you want prescient, I suggest another look at Network instead. That film is astounding in its accuracy in pointing to where the world of ‘entertainment’ was headed.  What seemed deep and profound and scary in Videodrome now seems, to me at least, very silly.  Also, the fact that the terror comes from VHS tapes, a format that is now two generations away from the streaming we mostly use now, gives an unfortunate datedness to the film.  That is not the films fault, of course, but it makes it even harder to be frightened of it the way one was back in 1983.

3- But The Devil’s Backbone is scarier and more profound than when first experienced.  I have not liked the films of Guillermo del Toro very much. I find them dull and cluttered.  But not this masterpiece. The setting of a remote orphanage at the end of the Spanish Civil War, located at what seems the edge of the world, is so potent.  The fear is palpable throughout the whole film, but it is also beautiful.  I am not sure if the gorgeous but horribly evil groundskeeper played by Eduardo Noriega is a metaphor for the utter nihilism and vicious repression that the end of the Civil War brought to Spain.  I would like to discuss this with more familiar with the subject. But I will say that Noriega joins Alain Delon and Anthony Perkins in the roll call of impossibly beautiful men who play overwhelmingly evil characters.

4- The charms of the Czech New Wave are too elusive for me.  I feel like the movies are playing in front of me, but just out of my grasp to engage them.  They are certainly not ‘difficult’ films.  The tone just confuses me.  Are they whimsical as well as tragic? Scathing political satire as well as gentle loving portrayals of ‘everyman’? I am not sure, but I usually come away from them still feeling hungry. Black Peter was no exception. Glad I saw it though.

5- Local Hero and Housekeeping are the two other films by Bill Forsythe which I loved at their respective premieres.  For me, they  both were another chance to live in worlds created by the master who gave us Gregory’s Girl. Gregory’s Girl is the lightest of the three, but it is a work of genius and today outshines the other two.  I remember at the time I couldn’t convince people that Gregory’s Girl was greater.   It doesn’t really matter what I think (but Gregory’s Girl is greater)

6- I tricked myself into giving Gay Rom-Coms another chance and watched The Christmas Set-up.  I should have remembered what I wrote here .

7- Unforgiven is too mammoth an enterprise to be dealt with in one of these ‘Last Ten….” posts.  I hope I get the nerve up to write a post that does it justice.