The Discreet Bourgeois

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

The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

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  1. Places in the Heart (Robert Benton)
  2. The Doll (Ernst Lubitsch)
  3. A Matter of Life & Death (Powell/Pressburger)
  4. Going Attractions (April Wright)
  5. Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi)
  6. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
  7. After Life (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  8. Je Tu Il Elle (Chantal Akerman)
  9. The Phantom of the Monastery (Fernando de Fuentes)
  10. Miracles of Thursday (Luis Garcia Berlanga)

1- Places In The Heart is such a lovely, heartfelt film. It almost reaches the heights of a play by Horton Foote. I remembered it fondly and am glad it has aged so well. I am always draw to a story of a group of misfits who band together and make a strong “family”.

2- Thank you TCM for your series of silent Ernst Lubitsch films. What a wonderful opportunity to see the films that got him to be invited to Hollywood in the Twenties. The Doll was made in Germany and has that ‘between the wars” polish we expect from UFA productions. This is a particularly wacky story of an extremely shy and soon to be extremely rich aristocrat who is pressured into marriage even though he is terrified of women. A pretty classic trope of the time. He eventually falls in love with an automaton (who is really a live woman – don’t ask) because he feels ‘safe’ around her. There are wacky monks and forbidding uncles. But the show is stolen by Ossi Oswalda, an unfairly neglected brilliant comedian who plays the woman/doll and had starred in other Lubitsch works of the time. She also played the uproarious Oyster Princess. She is hilarious

Ossi Oswalda

3- Going Attractions is an efficient documentary outlining the history of the American movie going in general, and the history of the great movie palaces in specific. For Chicagoans there is a fair amount of information and footage about the history and restauration of the Uptown Theater. Whenever it is finally finished, it will once again be one of the greatest theatrical venues in the country.

4- My admiration for the great Iranian directors grows exponentially with each film I see. I admire Kiarostami but I love Panahi. Crimson Gold is another wonderful example of Panahi’s pushing the boundaries of traditional narrative. He even cast an actual schizophrenic depressive to play the very troubled main character. This blurring of reality is what makes Panahi’s films so stimulating. This would be a wonderful double-bill with The Mirror.

5- I am not sure what to say about Power of the Dog. It is unrelentingly bleak and I think that is part of what earned it so much acclaim. People feel good about feeling miserable watching a movie. I was surprised to see how reductive it was regarding the hinted-at Gay themes. I expected more of Jane Campion than another outing into the Celluloid Closet.

6- After Life is probably a masterpiece. I had only seen one other Kore-eda film, the magnificent Still Walking. After Life is more epic. It was interesting to watch it soon after reviewing A Matter of Life and Death. The two visions of the Hereafter couldn’t be more different. The main difference is that in the Powell/Pressburger we are never quite sure if the afterlife being shown is real or a figment of the hero’s imagination. In After Life there is no question that it is real and it is reminiscent of the world depicted in Beetlejuice – bureaucratic and messy.

The gimmick of the film, that each person who has crossed over has a week to choose one memory from their entire life to take with them into eternity. While not quite a MacGuffin, it becomes less and less the center of interest as we get to know the recently arrived as well as the functionaries of the after life. It is a supremely movie and delicate film. I need to see everything by Kore-eda.

7- How do you discuss a film that rigorously defies being engaging and is intentionally thwarting any sense of audience involvement? I guess the way to engage it is just to watch it and not try to make it “mean” anything. Je Tu Il Elle is comprised of three short, endless ‘acts’. The first and longest takes place in a bare room with a woman who is writing letters, eating sugar from a bag and rearranging her furniture. The second depicts the ride that the woman hitched with a truckdriver. He talks incessantly. She gives him an unerotic handjob and they eat a meal at a diner and watch an episode of Cannon. The last has the woman visiting another woman who might have been a previous lover. She has the lover bring her food and drink and then they engage in an explicit but also unerotic sex. Then our heroine leaves.

Experimental art is difficult to warm up to, because so much seems to be about the artists’ closely held intentions with the work. I can’t really say how Chantal Akerman wanted us to engage with this film. It is very curious that only a year or so later, she made her masterpiece Jeanne Dielmann. It is more that three times as long as Je Tu Il Elle, and even more rigorous, but the experience is completely indifferent. We watch a woman go through her days and get to know her monotonous routine intimately, so much so that when the routine starts to vary slightly, we are filled with foreboding. The end of the film is overwhelming. Was Akerman more intent on creating something that was experimental while also being engaging? Was the fact that the latter film stars riveting actress Delphine Seyrig what gives the audience more to engage with? I am not sure but I know that I will rewatch Jeanne Dielmann any time. I feel that once was enough for Je Tu Il Elle. I don’t believe that Akerman would have had a problem with this.

8- Marin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project has saved many wonderful films from oblivion, and many of them can be seen on the Criterion Channel. The Phantom of the Monastery is such a treasure. From 1930s Mexico, it has all the delicious atmospherics of the best of the Universal horror films, plus a healthy serving of implied sex thrown in. Extremely enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of atmospheric horror as I am.

9- In the introduction to one of her science fiction Shikasta novels, Doris Lessing wrote that the young people of today don’t appreciate what a gift it is to have so much in print, and that when she was younger there were many things that were just not available. I feel the same thing regarding film and today’s younger generation. They live in a blessed time where just about everything is available with the click of a key. One of the glories of this rich cinematic time is the Criterion Channel. Whole oeuvres of heretofore unfamiliar directors are curated and presented in beautiful editions often with fascinating extras. I have never heard of Luis Garcia Berlanga and there are a slew of his films on Criterion. He was a wicked satirist that really pushed the envelope in Franco’s Spain. I have only seen one of his films so far but I intend to see as many as I can lay my eyes on.

Thursday of Miracles is a wonderfully tight comedy that I am sure got him into a lot of hot water with the Church and the Franco government. But it is not hard to see a through-thread from Bunuel to Berlanga to Almodóvar. That is about as high praise as I can give.

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