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. A Running Jump (Mike Leigh)
  2. Incoherence (Bong Joon Ho)
  3. Girl Shy (Newmeyer/Taylor)
  4. Jacquot de Nantes (Agnés Varda)
  5. The Stranger (Satyajit Ray)
  6. The Erl King (Marie Louise Iribe)
  7. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)
  8. The Secret of the Grain (Abdellatif Kechiche)
  9. An Enemy of the People (Satyajit Ray)
  10. Le Coup de Berger (Jacques Rivette)

1- Mike Leigh, I will watch anything you direct. Even a silly 30-minute short like A Running Jump. It is a frantic little comedy and I guess the thing to appreciate is how deftly Leigh keeps all the plates spinning. Not quite sure what the point was, but I loved spending time with these wacky, somewhat unsavory characters. They delighted me. But, poor Gary!

2- Like A Running Jump, Incoherence is a short film by a master, Bong Joon Ho, director of The Host and Parasite. Where the Mike Leigh is of fairly recent vintage, Incoherence was, I understand a student project. Even so, it is masterfully done and contains the social critique we have come to expect from this master.

3- What a delight to spend some time in the world of Harold Lloyd. Not as sentimental as Chaplin, not as cosmic as Keaton, Lloyd is the third pillar of comedy in the silent era. In many ways his films are most easily digested.

4- Jacques Demy had wanted to make a film about his childhood during the war in Nantes. When he finally was ready to make it, he was too ill. His wife, Agnes Varda, made it under his supervision and you can see it is a labor of love. You can also see how it is a different film from that which Demy might have made on his own. The documentarian side of Varda is present in the interviews she does with Demy, which are sprinkled through out the film. Also, there is a wonderful device which I am not sure is a product of Demy or Varda. When a scene from Demy’s childhood as presented in the movie is a direct influence of scene in a later Demy movie, after the Jacquot de Nantes scene, there is a right pointing arrow, the Demy film scene is shown, followed by a left-pointing arrow returning us to Jacquot de Nantes. It is a neat and very cinematic device, that doesn’t need any elaboration in the film. A very sweet film about someone who seemed to be pretty sweet himself and who was smart enough to be the life partner of Agnes Varda.

5- Sometimes what is known about a film colors the way it is viewed. The Stranger is the film that Satyajit Ray made just before he died. The convention is to view this as a valedictory work much like Shakespeare’s The Tempest. But, we know Shakespeare had his hand in several plays after The Tempest, so it seems too pat a critical trick to explain it as Shakespeare’s ‘farewell to the stage’. I think the same is true for The Stranger. Undoubtedly, Ray was very ill during its creation, but whether it is his ‘farewell to film’ or not, I am not so sure. What I am sure of, is that it is one in a long line of masterpieces stretching from his early Apu Trilogy through the 60s, 70s and 80s. It is rare that any artist has created so many essential masterpieces.

6- The Criterion Channel has wonderful selections that you would never see anywhere else and would never think to look for. The Erl King by Marie Louise Iribe is a good example. This must have been one of the earliest French sound films. I don’t know much about Iribe. She died quite young but was first known as an actress who appeared in many of the serials by Louis Feuillade. This short (45 minutes) film definitely shows the influence of Melies in its trick photography. It is based on the story of the Schubert song based on a famous poem by Goethe. The song is an absolutely taut knock-out at just over three minutes. It is a tour-de-force for the singer who must give three distinct personalities to the father, son and Erl King in a very short time while the music literally gallops to a shocking conclusion. The problem with the film is that it stretches this drama out to the point that all fear is dissipated. Lots of fairies appearing in billowing costumes and a creepy Erl King snarking around, all leading up to a weird scene in a church. I was glad to have seen it. It is amazing what is out there.

If you dont know the Schubert song, please watch this performance by the great German Lied singer, Dietrich Fischer Dieskau:

7- The Secret of the Grain is a Palme D’or winner and depicts the lives of Tunisian immigrants and their friends and family in the port city of Sete. What makes this film so appealing is that it shows the Tunisians as part of the community they live in without highlighting their otherness. Rituals like cooking and Sunday afternoon lunches are filmed with an almost uncomfortable close-up that inserts the viewer into the action. You are at the dinner table. Exposition comes not from the director but from conversation which is leisurely filmed. This is the the director of Blue is the Warmest Color. I can’t wait to see that.

8- An Enemy of the People is one of the last films by the great Satyajit Ray. I don’t know the Ibsen play, but from what I have read, it seems to be a pretty straightforward adaptation of the work into an Indian setting. It seems that the film might end on a more optimistic note that the Ibsen does, but I am fine with that. I know that Ray was quite ill in his last years. This might be why his last films like this one and The Stranger are made up of mostly indoor scenes with very little camera work. The film is still powerful despite this ‘limitation’

9- After a traumatic three days when the Criterion Channel wasn’t working properly, I was back in business. The first thing I watched was Le Coup de Berger by Jacques Rivette. The title is from chess and means fool’s mate. This is a delightful almost Feydeau-like farce of sexual mores and marital deceit. Rivette’s playfulness is front and center even in this early work which predates his first feature-length film. Look quick and you can see a very young François Truffaut as a party guest.