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. Quadrille (Sacha Guitry)
  2. Yi Yi (Edward Yang)
  3. Female Trouble (John Waters)
  4. Gojira (Godzilla) (Ishiro Honda)
  5. Le Bonheur (Anges Varda)
  6. Late Chrysanthemums (Mikio Naruse)
  7. Street Without End (Mikio Naruse)
  8. Effi Briest (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  9. Mother Küsters Goes To Heaven (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  10. Chloé in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer)

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1- I have to say that I found Yi Yi quite dull and hard to get through. I felt that same way about his other film A Brighter Summer Day. I feel particularly bad about that since A Brighter Summer Day is often cited on ‘The Best’ lists of various kinds. I think my problem with that film (and I admit I didn’t finish watching it…yet) is that it is an examination of ‘youth gone bad’. I find that topic pretty tedious. Yi Yi is about a very unhappy family. I wished I could have loved it. I was hoping it would have been a Taiwanese Tokyo Story, but that is an unfair expectation for any film

2- I had never seen any of the early, super-raunchy films of John Waters. They were being featured on the Criterion Channel and the completist in me watched Female Trouble. It is just what you think it will be. Divine is divine, the raunch is quite over the top but it is so much fun, disgusting fun assuredly, but fun. Not to everyone’s taste, not even sure if it was to my taste, but I am glad I watched it. I was amused for 2 hours, but the last image was quite upsetting. I don’t feel the need to visit any of the other early stuff anytime soon. I would like to watch Serial Mom again. That was hilarious.

3- For thoughts on Godzilla, please see this.

4- I usually don’t read about movies that I don’t know before I see them.  For some reason I read a little about Le Bonheur by Agnes Varda.  The article described it as the most horrifying ending of any film the author had scene.  I’m glad I had that heads-up because the ending and indeed most of the film, while perhaps not horrifying, is definitely upsetting. The trick is that the entire film is shot beautifully, on lazy beautiful summer days in France, with lazy beautiful people.  But just scratch the surface! Yowza.  I am showing this to my film group soon.  Looking forward to their reaction.  Yes, I think Varda was a genius and I am woefully behind getting to know her films. That will be corrected forthwith.

5- Late Chrysanthemums  has everything that makes a film by Naruse wonderful.  Dispassionate but penetrating psychological portraits, understated sadness and a beautiful complicated performance by Haruko Sugimura, one of my Goddesses of the Criterion Universe.

6- It has been great having the Criterion Channel to catch up with directors I have loved but whose work I haven’t seen in years.  Rainer Werner Fassbinder was amazing prolific and sometimes uneven, but when he was on fire he was on fire.  I am amazed at the range of his works.  Early, annoying experimental or epater le bourgeois stuff gives way to extraordinarly rich works commenting on German history and German present.  Effi Briest is based on the novel by the great German social critic, Theodor Fontane.  Even though this is seems to be a ‘costume drama’ don’t be fooled.  The social critique is lacerating. It is gorgeously filmed by Michael Ballhaus, who had a long career in Hollywood working with Scorsese among others. Plus it stars another of the Criterion Goddesses, Hanna Schygulla.  What more do you need?

6Mother Küsters Goes To Heaven (or better translated as Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) is another wicked masterpiece of social criticism and no one comes out unscathed: the Capitalists, The Communists, The Anarchists, they  are all ineffectual and self-important.  Anchoring all this hostility is the presence of Mother Kusters played by the great Fassbinder regular, Brigitte Mira. Mira played the ‘Jane Wyman’ roles in Ali:Fear Eats The Soul, Fassbinder’s spin on All That Heaven Allows by his idol, Douglas Sirk.  In this churning world of bitterness, Mutter Kusters is the ‘great-souled man’, just by being her simple self.  There are two endings to the film, apparently.  The first is a sudden, nasty, violent ending communicated only in title cards. The second, which was only intended for US consumption, is funny, sad, sweet and ultimately light-hearted ‘happy end’.  I would like to think that this was Fassbinder’s preferred ending.

Brigitte Mira

7-Chloé in the Afternoon is the last of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. It seems to be a discourse on adultery and it raises an interesting question of when adultery becomes adultery.  The adulterous couple spend most of the film rationalizing that what they are doing is not morally wrong because they keep redefining what they are doing.  I won’t spoil the ending but I would love to hear what you think Rohmer is positing at the end.