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 Film I’ve Seen

  1. The Bakery Girl of Monceau (Eric Rohmer)
  2. The Color of Pomegranate (Sergei Paradjanov)
  3. Carmen Comes Home (Keisuke Kinoshita)
  4. Tampopo (Juzo Itami)
  5. The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  6. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
  7. La Captive (Chantal Akerman)
  8. Toni (Jean Renoir)
  9. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  10. 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.

Sister Ruth

Small Back Room

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.


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Mary, Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke)
  2. Vice (Adam McKay)
  3. Beautiful Boy (Felix Van Groeningen)
  4. The Letter (William Wyler)
  5. Pauline at the Beach (Eric Rohmer)
  6. Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
  7. Now Voyager (Irving Rapper)
  8. The Freshman (Andrew Bergman)
  9. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
  10. Green Book (Peter Farrelly)


1- Why does every biopic about Mary, Queen of Scots include a climactic scene when she and Elizabeth I finally confront each other, setting the way for the denouement? It never happened in history. One would think after 100 years of films, someone would care about accuracy, right?  Well, Schiller didn’t in his Mary Stuart play, so why should Josie Rourke, I guess. What bothers me most is that there is a kind of anti-feminist twist to this false history, because the confrontation usually is between a vibrant, beautiful and sexually active Mary and a powerful, grotesque and decrepit Elizabeth.  Elizabeth wins this round in history, but not to the way the movies see it.

2- I am hearing a lot of curious backlash against Vice. Most of it is evidence of the worst sin of film criticism: knocking a movie for what it’s not. Vice is not a documentary.  It is not historical drama.  It is somewhere between the two, and it is unashamedly biased in its portray of Dick Cheney and his evil circle.  It is also hilariously funny and inventive in its narrative style.  It is its own kind of movie.  Deal with it or move on.

3- I always think it is unfair to compare and contrast two films, but when they are as similar in form and content as Beautiful Boy  and Ben is Back it is hard not to.  Ben Is Back is the more nuanced of the two ‘good upper middle-class teenager becomes tortured drug addict’ movies.  It does devolve into a police procedural in the last act, and ignores all the interesting character development it made up until that point.  Beautiful Boy is just pretty self-righteous. Knowing that it is the memoir of the father and the son, it is hard to see the two of them as not being self-aggrandizing.  The titles at the end tell us that the kid has been sober for 8 years, but how he got there is never explained. All we see it the kid continually falling off the wagon, the father using it for book fodder, the two of them reconciling and then the whole mess happening again. Frankly, don’t watch either of these and see Boy Erased instead.  It is a powerful meditation on the limits of parenting.

4- Ah, Bette Davis.  The more I see of her, even in her not so great films, the more I realize that she is the greatest actor in film history.  Histrionic? Sometimes. Brilliant? All the time. And she could do tragedy and comedy and history.  Sad that we never got to see her do Shakespeare.  Could you imagine a Bette Davis Lady Macbeth or a Bette Davis Goneril or a Bette Davis Volumnia?  The Letter is endlessly wonderful. William Wyler gets the most out of every actor in this film.  Bette Davis is so overwrought at the end, but the performance has been so carefully modulated that the final explosion is cathartic.  Plus you have the terrifyingly disdainful glare of Gale Sondergaard. Unforgettable.

5- I love the films of Eric Rohmer.  They are little, perfectly polish moral problems played out among beautiful, talkative people in beautiful French locales. Pauline in the Beach is almost Talmudic in how it sets up its conflicting takes on what is just, what constitutes a good kind of love, and how people justify bad behavior to themselves.  I want to see all his movies.

6- As a victim of a somewhat abusive childhood, it thrills and amazes me each time I watch Now, VoyagerThe portrayal of family cruelty and its damages is unrelenting in the first part of the film.  That is what makes Charlotte Vale’s self-healing and triumph so satisfying….you’ve been with her in the depths and are there to watch her surpass ever other character in the film. Her life will be wonderful.  As I have written before, I believe it is quite a feminist message. Charlotte is helped along the way by sympathetic men but she moves beyond them and the final line is, to me, a manifesto that she has grown beyond the need of a relationship to be whole.  Who else but Bette Davis could play this role.  She so embodies the earlier tortured Charlotte, that her transformation is awe-inspiring.


7- I have successfully avoided all superhero films up until this point.  The rapturous response to Black Panther coupled with its cultural imperative made me curious to see it.  I was right to be avoiding it.  It took me three sittings to get through it.  It is hailed as empowering. But does giving the same kind of dumb entertainment and exploding cars and incomprehensible plots really mark an advance of some kind? Watching this I felt the same way I felt watching Brokeback Mountain. I felt I was being told, “Here is a film that can make you feel proud about yourself.”  Uh, no. Here is a poorly written cliche-ridden film pandering to Gays disguised as a breakthrough. Same here.  I will admit that super-hero films are not my genre, but man, can’t a movie be coherent at least?

Let me just say, finally, that I really wanted to love this film and I really wanted to celebrate its notion of empowerment. I felt the opposite

8- There are comedies that become immortal because they created a self-contained universe that is not dependent on the real world. I am thinking of Palm Beach Story (as I often do), as well as Shop Around the Corner and Broadcast News.  I would add The Freshman to this list.  Yes, a lot of the surface humor is derived from Brando’s self-parody of Don Corleone.  But the world it creates rivals Alice in Wonderland.  The performances are perfect. Maximillian Schell, for goodness sake! And let us not forget the Komodo Dragon being serenaded by Bert Parks.

9- Although I did get sucked into its feel-good ambience and happy ending, I think Green Book is an embarrassment.  It is the kind of self-congratulatory race relations story that would have seemed daring in 1970 but now seems painful. Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of a Bronx Italian borders on insulting and Mahershala Ali looks like he can’t wait for the whole ordeal to be over.  You’ll feel like that too

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Black Girl (Sembene Ousmane)
  2. Far From The Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger)
  3. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Till The Clouds Roll By (Richard Whorf)
  5. The Mummy’s Ghost (Reginald Le Borg)
  6. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  7. Peterloo (Mike Leigh)
  8. Rasputin, The Mad Monk (Don Sharp)
  9. The Mysterious Doctor  (Benjamin Stoloff)
  10. Le Rayon Vert (Summer) (Eric Rohmer)


1- I had seen clips from Black Girl on TCM when they did that terrific series on World Cinema.  They were so haunting. I was glad to get the chance to see the whole film.  Powerful, poetic, tragic and very beautiful.  That mask, wow!

2- In my last post, I decried turning great novels into film. Well I was a little wrong. Far From The Madding Crowd is a very commendable attempt to turn Thomas Hardy’s novel into a film.  The book, of course, is way better, but the movie hits on all of the book’s main points and really gets to the emotion behind it all.  Pretty arty camera work by Nicholas Roeg considering that this was a typical big-budget prestige project. I want to read more Hardy.

3- I am currently teaching a course on the Great American Songbook and this weekend I will be speaking about Jerome Kern.  I figured that it would be a good time to watch Till The Clouds Roll By, even though I knew that its ties with reality were very tenuous.  It turns out that they were ridiculously tenuous.  This had hardly anything to do with Kern’s life, the way that Night and Day has nothing to do with Cole Porter’s life and Rhapsody in Blue has nothing to do with George Gershwin’s life.  What this film really is, is an excuse to have MGM’s musical stars do star turns singing or dancing to Kern songs, which is fun enough.  But what a stinker of a movie.

4- The Mummy’s Ghost – it is Hallowe’en season and I must watch as many classic horror movies as I can, many of them bad.  Like this one.  How can a 61 minute movie feel like it is three hours long? At least it had that classic Universal horror-romance atmosphere.

5- Thanks to Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay, true friends who helped be to wrestle with just what the hell Persona is. I have seen and loved this movie many times but could never articulate what I felt it was. Thanks to K & M I’m a little closer to that goal.  All three of us are pretty convinced that it is a masterpiece sui generis.

6- Mike Leigh is a giant who walks among us. I may through the word ‘masterpiece’ around too much, but his films really deserve the name.  Peterloo is an epic yet intimate depiction of one of the first labor rebellions in English history, and its terrifying suppression. I hope it gets wide release.  I saw it at the Chicago Film Festival and I hope it doesn’t disappear.

7- I get such perverse pleasure from All That Heaven Allows. I love showing it to new people, because by the end it is not what they expected.

8- Please see Le Rayon Vert and read my post about it.









Le Rayon Vert aka The Green Ray aka Summer

I saw this Eric Rohmer film when it came out in 1986. It was released under the title Summer, which is a particularly useless title which doesn’t mean much, except that the film takes place during summer vacation and the heroine is preoccupied with how to spend the time.

The French title is Le Rayon Vert which translates to ‘The Green Ray’. This is the name of a long-forgotten novel by Jules Verne which has a great bearing on the film’s entire story arc.

I had nice memories of it but I hadn’t seen it again until TCM (Heaven bless them!) showed it last week. I was bowled over by it.

The plot is very simple: Delphine, a secretary, has been dumped by the friends she intended to spend the vacation with. She desperately tries to come up with alternative plans, because no self-respecting Parisian can remain in Paris during August. All her attempts pan out disastrously. The blame for this bad time can partially be laid at the feet of our heroine. She is second only by Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse in her infuriating sense that she is right.

The difference between Delphine and Miss Woodhouse is that, as we slowly discover, Delphine is actually right. Her restless bouncing from vacation spot to vacation spot, her despairing hopes for discovering love are outwardly neurotic, but as we spend more time in her company, we realize that there is something bigger going on here.

Rohmer is the king of the static camera. This allows his characters to sit, discuss, debate and argue in a very Gallic way for a very long time. The conversations are captured by Rohmer with a loving irony, but the beauty of it all is that, for all her comical self-involvement (you should hear her rationalization for being vegetarian!) we realize that Delphine could be teetering on the edge of the abyss. The attempts to have ‘fun’ seem to get more desperate. Her final attempt at fun in Biarritz seems to be heading for the ultimate French bummer. Then a very peculiar thing happens. Love comes to the rescue. We realize that Delphine and her skepticism about happiness was right up until now, but the magical moment in the Biarritz train station changes everything.

Delphine, who has armed herself with all kinds of rationalization that prevented ‘happiness’, finally realizes that now is the time to let go of them and embrace happiness.

At that beautiful moment we realize that she was right all along and our loving head-shaking at her foibles was wrong.

This is the most convincing depiction of falling in love that I can think of, and it comes as a beautiful relief for Delphine and for us.

I was delighted by the resolution of this film, because at the end you realize that what seemed like a director’s loving look at a neurotic was actually a director showing us a person learning that she doesn’t need her rationalizations any more and that by casting them off, she can be happy. Ecstatically so.

Unfortunately, this film doesn’t seem to be available in a reliable region 1 (USA) edition. Get with the program, Criterion Collection.

In the meantime, if you would like to see it, (and believe me, you would like to see it), I have it on my DVR.