- The Bakery Girl of Monceau (Eric Rohmer)
- The Color of Pomegranate (Sergei Paradjanov)
- Carmen Comes Home (Keisuke Kinoshita)
- Tampopo (Juzo Itami)
- The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky)
- Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
- La Captive (Chantal Akerman)
- Toni (Jean Renoir)
- Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
- The Small Back Room (Powell/Pressburger)
I continue my feast with the incredible Criterion Channel. So much cinematic catching-up! Loving it.
1- The Bakery Girl of Monceau is a breezy (a la Nouvelle Vague) short which is the first of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. Slight, kind of sexist but fun to watch. It begs the question that if the writers and director show the protagonist as awful to women does that endorse the behavior or hold it up for criticism. I think, in this film at least, the later.
2- One of the great features of the Criterion Channel is that you often have the choice of watching the films with or without commentary. I have seen The Color Of Pomegranates many times and have loved it each time, but I would be hard pressed to tell you what was going on. Watching it with the commentary shed a light on all the Armenian symbolism which I would never have understood. Also, Paradjanov’s oblique way of introducing elements from the life of the protagonist Sayat Nova is beautifully explained. Do you need all this to enjoy the film? No, it is always stunningly beautiful and loopy. But I feel like all these years, I have only appreciated 10% of its greatness.
3- After examining the masterpieces of Japanese movies all these years, it was fun to catch up with lighter fare. Carmen Comes Home was always on my radar because it stars the amazing Hideko Takemine and it is the first color film made in Japan. It is also incredibly dopey. Fun enough for 80 minutes, though. Tampopo is also lighter than the great works I have been studying all these years, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and perhaps even loved it. What appealed to me was that though this film is ostensibly about making the perfect bowl of ramen, it borrows all kinds of tropes from American Westerns and Japanese Samurai films to adorable effect. The genre bending is great fun. At the time it was referred to as a ramen Western. Very apt.
4- Tarkovsky has always been a forbidding experience for me. I loved Andrei Rublev when I saw it in the theater years ago. But subsequent viewings of his films have been daunting experiences. The early Steamroller and the Violin and Ivan’s Childhood I found to be accessible and thrilling. Solaris and The Mirror shut me out completely. But that was years ago, before I had been exposed to all kinds of demanding films. I figured, ‘It’s now or never for Tarkovsky”. Having access to the Criterion Channel gave me no excuse. So, I buckled down and watched two of his films that are supposed to be among his most ‘difficult’: Stalker and his last film The Sacrifice. The Sacrifice affected me much more than Stalker, but I must say that I found both less daunting than I had been led to believe. Could it be that The Sacrifice felt more comfortable to me because of the heavy Ingmar Bergman connection and I am so familiar with Bergman? Erland Josephson starred, the cinematography was by legendary Sven Nyquist, it was shot on a Swedish island and most of the dialogue was in Swedish (although it did look like some of the actors were speaking English and were post-dubbed). I have read that Tarkovsky revered both Bergman and Bresson, but ultimately this is far from a Bergman wannabe the way that the ghastly Interiors is. Like Bresson, it wrestles with ethical and religious questions in a way that is more comforting that Bergman’s approach.
Stalker seems to be a spiritual riff on sci-fi, but I am sure it is more than that. Just how much more I will try to figure out in a subsequent viewing. Yes, I am over my Tarkovskyphobia. Subsequent viewings are in my future.
Something that struck me this time: I never felt bored at any point even during long portions of the film when the camera seems to be looking at nothing. ‘Seems’ is the operative word in this sentence. The camera is rarely still. In scenes when it seems to be focused on an object or a person, it is almost imperceptibly zooming in on that object at a snail’s pace. The effect is astounding. It is almost dizzying in its slowness. It is what keeps you engaged. By contrast, Paradjanov’s tableaux are shot by an inert camera. You are engaged by the riot of visual detail in each frame. Here the emptiness comes alive by the imperceptible movement of the camera.
5- I don’t like the idea of a generational divide. I think it is a lazy way of analyzing differences between people. The majority of my friends are at least a decade younger than me and the friendships are not effected. I am prepared to concede I might be too simplistic about this after watching France Ha soon after Marriage Story. Both films seem to be speaking in a generational voice that I don’t get. Or better put: I might get but I find irrelevant to my life. I wonder if people in their 30s find the the characters in both of these films shallow and solipsistic the way I did. I would love to hear opinions on this. But still: Greta Gerwig, who wrote and starred in Frances Ha, is a tremendous talent at the beginning of what I hope is a great string of creativity. I’m not so sure about Noah Baumbach.
6- Another benefit of the Criterion Channel is access to the films of Chantal Akerman. La Captive is a very loose adaptation of the fifth volume of A la recherche du temps perdu. As such, it is not for everyone. Even though the story is radically changed the central theme, the narrator’s bizarre imprisonment and paranoia about his ‘love’, is very much intact. In fact, I think that this film treatment presents it in a better way than a more ‘faithful’ adaptation would have. If you haven’t read the book, I don’t recommend the film at all. If you have, I would love to hear if you agree that it is a wonderful elucidation of that very strange relationship.
7- With Toni I continued my exploration of all the films of Jean Renoir. This was shot in Provence, under the auspices of Marcel Pagnol’s film company. I had to keep reminding myself that it was not a Pagnol film. It is a fairly brutal story of international immigrants flocking to Provence in the early 30s due to the economic boom happening there. Of course there is infidelity and murder.
8- I had never heard of The Small Back Room. This was surprising because the films of Powell and Pressburger are so well-known and I love many of them. This one is in black and white and made shortly after the Technicolor hallucination of The Red Shoes. It felt like I was in the world of Grahame Green, with an afflicted, self-loathing hero. For me this is a very good thing. Lots of Powell/Pressburger regulars are on hand. Particularly impressive is Kathleen Byron, so memorable as the sex-crazed Sister Ruth of Black Narcissus, here playing the kind of heroic partner we all would want in a time of personal crisis.
Lots of echoes of Spellbound and German Expressionism, with a terrifically nutty dream sequencing with our alcoholic hero being tortured by a demonic whiskey bottle.