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