The Discreet Bourgeois

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

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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)


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.