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

  1. Three Colors : Blue (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  2. Three Colors : White (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  3. Three Colors : Red (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  4. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock)
  5. La Haine (Mathieu Kassowitz)
  6. 3 Faces (Jafar Panahi)
  7. Beau Travail (Claire Denis)
  8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (George C. Wolfe)
  9. King of the Hill (Steven Soderbergh)
  10. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)

1- What a joy to watch the entire Three Colors trilogy again! I even revised my original assessment to be even more enthusiastic, especially about White. See my original review with additional comments here.

2- Marnie. Yikes. See my thoughts here.

3- La Haine had been on my radar for a while. 25 years to be precise. I finally caught up with it, and I wonder if time hasn’t dealt unkindly with it. It has a very restless 90s camera style that indicates grittiness but now looks a bit dated.  The story is quite aimless, but I am sure that was intentional to underline the aimlessness of these unemployed young men living in a banlieue just outside of Paris. The choice of having a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian as the friends/protagonists seems very 2020, but must have been unusual in 1995.  The gang members are as intimidating as The Sharks and The Jets. Who would have thought that the cutie-pie who starred in Amelie would have turned out such a gritty film for his directorial debut?

4- One of the joys of the Criterion Channel is that I have been able to get to know the works of the great Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami. For someone like me who loves to analyze structure and who appreciates a good metafictional turn, these films have been fantastic. 3 Faces is one of the many films Panahi has made since he was officially silenced by the Iranian government and given a ban of 20 years before he could start filming again.  Not sure how he does it, but this ‘illegal’ film was shown at Cannes.  Maybe it is just a feint on the part of the Iranian government, or maybe Panahi has just too great a stature on the international film circuit, that it would be counterproductive for the government to do anything more to enforce the ban. Thank god they don’t because this film as well as This Is Not A Filmboth made under the ban, are two of the most satisfying films I have seen all year.

5- Beau Travail. Well, it is a riff on Billy Budd with the homoerotic element brought to the fore, or maybe not.  I had seen it when it came out and didn’t care for it very much, despite the male pulchritude on display.  It is more of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad in the desert than anything else.   It seems to be brave about the male on male gaze, but to what point? I don’t know.  I found it hard to sit through a second time.

6- I saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom  when it premiered on Broadway in the 80s and it had no effect on me.  Since then, August Wilson has become a sacred cow, so I need to tread carefully when I say that I think that the play is pretty poorly constructed.  The linking, random, jokey conversations that the musicians have to pass the time are really enjoyable but when the big arias about “RACE” come up, they jarringly intrude on the proceedings. Everyone is saying that this film version is just a filmed play to which I say a) “It isn’t and b) “Why is that a negative?”  This is Chadwick Boseman’s last performance and I found it over the top. I fear that he will be lionized the way James Dean was lionized, both dying beautiful and young.

7- Steven Soderbergh is one of those directors who I feel is making movies just for me. They hit me exactly in the right way.  I ‘get’ them perfectly.  I loved Contagion and Side Effects and I really loved King of the Hill.   I had seen it when it came out and loved it.  It holds up beautifully.  Jesse Bradford gives one of the best child actor performances I know of.  The period evocation is wonderful. It feels as if you have a window into that time and not that you are watching a studio reconstruction of 1933 St. Louis.  Please watch this. It is a beautiful, beautiful movie.  The closest thing I can compare it to is To Kill A Mockingbird, although King of the Hill is less epic.

8- In deference to the great Fern, I voluntarily watched It’s A Wonderful Life again this Christmas Eve. It was on network TV complete with a million commercial interruptions.  This was the way I first saw it in 1979 and the only alternative was to watch it on Amazon Prime in a colorized version. Anathema.

When I first saw this movie it was before it was elevated to its current unshakeable status as ‘The Greatest Christmas Movie of All Times.”  It was just another movie from the 40s and I was enchanted by it.  On second and third viewing I became aware that the film profoundly depressed me.  There is a weird dichotomy at the end of the movie.  In a rush of overwhelming love and friendship, the good citizens of Bedford Falls perform a Christmas miracle of sorts and collect the $8,000 dollars which will prevent our hero from going bust and to jail, and worse, being in thrall to the ludicrously evil Mr. Potter.

I know that this is supposed to be the quintessential ‘happy end’ but at that point in the movie, I still have an awful taste in my mouth from the fantasy scene that preceded it. In essence, the town of Bedford Falls would have become a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah if George Bailey had never lived.  And yet…. and yet… when he lives it only is saved from that fate by having every single one of George’s dreams crushed and everyone else he knows, go on to wonderful things.

I think that people love it because of what they think it is saying, but if you actually look at what it says, YIKES.



Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy

REVISED 12/17/2020

(Spoiler alert: but they don’t really matter…as I explain below)

Please get used to me extolling the virtues of The Criterion Channel. It will probably go on for quite a while. It just a few short weeks I have caught up with so many films on my ‘should see’ list.  This is a list of films that I feel I should watch to become as well-rounded a film connoisseur as I can be. This is not a list of things I necessarily want to see, but that I feel I should see.  Unfortunately or fortunately, ‘should’ is a big word in my aesthetic self-education.

More often than not, these ‘shoulds’ have turned into wonderful experiences. I was dreading watching the big films of Tarkovsky, but I was thrilled by both Stalker and The Sacrifice, especially the latter.

I had seen The Double Life of Veronique and Dekalog by Krysztof Kieślowski.  The former left me cold and confused. The latter was often stunning. This told me that I “should” see his last films,  Three Colors Trilogy.

I found two thirds of the Three Colors trilogy to be stunning, as well. Blue and Red I found emotionally, intellectually and formally overwhelming.

When discussing or thinking about films, I am most interested in in them as films.  So many conversations and reviews of films don’t go much further than the plot, and thus are no different from a book discussion.   Of course, there are many films that are only about plot. They are indeed entertaining, and don’t merit deeper technical analysis.  But what gets me interested are films where the plot is the jumping-off point of the discussion.  For example: there are scary bird attacks in The Birds which drive the plot forward,  but how does Hitchcock make them scary? How do they affect the rhythm of the movie. How do the bird attacks lead us to sense what Hitchcock ultimately wants us to think the film is about? Ultimately, is the film even about the bird attacks? (Hint: no). See me after class for that discussion.

To discuss only the stories of The Color Trilogy will miss the greatness of these films.

All three films are organized around their title colors.  They represent the Tricolor of France. Kieślowski and his script collaborator mistakenly understood the colors of the French flag to correspond to the mantra of the French Revolution, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, so right or wrong, these colors and concepts became the templates of the movies.

Blue is the most affecting portrait of grieving that I can think of. The cool blue palate of the film at first seems schematic, but it creates a somewhat motionless world into which our grieving heroine retreats. The wonder of the movie is that the grieving evolves into a depiction of reintegration into life. There are many ‘blue’ motifs. A glass chandelier from her daughters bedroom. The liquid blue of the swimming pool she visits after each step of the (unbeknownst to her) reintegration into the world of the living.  These all evolve throughout the film into totems of hope.  At the end Kieślowski gives us a beautifully shattering montage of all the characters who have helped our heroine out of her isolation and whom, we realize, she has helped transform in many ways.  What is the liberty meant here? Liberty from self-imposed Hell, perhaps?

I’ve seen Juliet Binoche in two films recently and I am beginning to think that she might be the world’s greatest living actress. Her performance is here is one for the ages.

White seems like a failure, but perhaps it seems that way because it comes between the other two masterpieces.  It just doesn’t compare. Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony is wonderful, but can seem inconsequential when listened to next to his Third and Fifth. Of course, this is not the fault of the Fourth Symphony, nor, perhaps, is it the fault of White.  First Matra of Mitchell Brown’s school of criticism: never blame a work of art for not being what it isn’t.

I vaguely remember one of the ‘lighter’ episodes of Dekalog.  It concerned two brothers (I think) and some humorous antics with a valuable stamp collection. I didn’t buy the whimsy, but Kieślowski had created such a powerful tapestry with the other nine episodes that I was able to see this episode with the proper weight it deserved.  This is more or less my reaction to White.

But ah, Red!  I recently reread Pericles by Shakespeare and it struck me that the extended philosophical and emotional discussions Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintingant have throughout the film have the same reforming purpose as Marina’s discussions in the brothel.

It is hard for a writer or actor to portray a character who is ‘only good’. If you don’t have the talent to do this, then the character quickly turns two-dimensional.  No fear of that happening here. The Valentine that Irene Jacob and Kieślowski is delicate and a tower of strength. Valentine is as strong as Athena but as kind and intuitive as Cinderella. As in Blue, the overarching direction is healing and reintegration into the world.

The last few minutes of Red  wrap up all three films in a way that many have found contrived. Not me. When you are dealing with themes like reintegration into the world, freedom from self-inflected damage and finding ‘correct’ love, I think contrivance is perfectly fine.

UPDATE 12/17/2020


I rewatched the entire trilogy in preparation for a discussion with my movie group.  I am happy to say that I was completely wrong about White. This time around I found it quite amusing and I found the main character of Karol Karol incredibly endearing.   Watching it again, I was tickled to see the main couple from White make a super brief appearance in Blue.  The first time I watched it I would have had no reason to notice such periphery characters.  This time it thrilled me to realize what a giant universe Kieślowski and his co-write created with these three films.  Endlessly satisfying movie watching, emotionally, morally and entertainingly.







The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan/Carl Froelich)
  2. Come and See (Elem Klimov)
  3. Three Colors : Blue (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  4. Three Colors : White (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  5. Three Colors : Red (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  6. Seduced and Abandoned (Pietro Germi)
  7. The Nun (Jacques Rivette)
  8. But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit)
  9. All or Nothing (Mike Leigh)
  10. Yotsuya Kaidan (Keisuke Kinoshita)


1- I had little interest in watching Mädchen in Uniform. I had the feeling it would be a campy pre-Nazi Lesbian exploitation film that we were supposed to watch and feel superior to, the way we were supposed to watch and feel superior to Reefer Madness. I humbly submit my apologies to all responsible for this masterpiece.  This early sound film shows a German film style that still had some of its roots in Expressionism but unlike The Blue Angel of the same year, I feel that it is pointing to a new direction.  A blend of super-realism combined with not-too-excessive touches of Expressionism.  What would we have seen if that Nazis and their stifling hold on creativity did not come to power two years later? This film gives a good hint at what it would have been like. What I also find so astounding is that the Prussian dictatorship of the school is shown up for what it is. Something that would never have happened two years later.

2- Back when everyone was congratulating themselves for making or going to see films like Schindler’s List and Life Is Beautiful, I realized the fatal flaw here: Unless you were going to follow the hero or heroine into the gas chamber and actually watch them die, you are trivializing war and the Holocaust. Of course, I realize no one would go to see such a film and I doubted that one would ever be made. Therefore, I was stunned by Elem Klimov’s 1985 film Come And See. The title is a refrain from the Book of Revelations as one horror after the other of the Apocalypse is introduced. We follow a 16 year old boy Flyora as he becomes a partisan fighter against the Nazi invaders in Belarus. His idealism leaves him totally unprepared for what he (and we) encounter.  I feel it would be an injustice to describe what transpires here in any kind of detail.  It is the hardest film I ever sat through. Remarkably, it was the only film Klimov made. It may be one of the greatest films I have ever seen.

3- See my review of Three Colors Trilogy   And, of course, see the Three Colors Trilogy

4- Seduced and Abandoned dates from a time when post-Neorealism in Italian film was gradually being replaced by ‘lusty’ domestic sex comedies like this one and Divorce Italian Style.  At the time they were seen as sophisticated and more liberated than comparable movies being made in the US. They make me cringe.  This movie, which I read was supposed to be made as a satire on Italian laws that allowed a man who impregnates and abandons a woman to be exonerated, if he comes back and marries her. Sexist at best, misogynistic at worst. It is hard to imagine what women of the time were feeling, if they were not feeling outrage.

5- If you know me personally, doubtless I have foisted on you one of my favorite films, Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating.  Despite all the happiness this film has given me (and hopefully others!), I have never been able to penetrate any of Rivette’s other films.  I am glad to say that I found The Nun mesmerizing. It is an adaptation of (of all things!) La Religieuse by Denis Diderot. It was serendipitous to watch it in the same week as Mädchen in Uniform. The two depictions of the brutalization of women play off each other powerfully. It is completely consonant with the anger and outrage of the #metoo movement. Unfortunately, Soeur Saint-Suzanne, the nun of the title, doesn’t make out as well as the Prussian school girls. Her story is horrifying  The lead role is taken by the luminous Anna Karina, muse of Jean-Luc Godard.  I am actually looking forward to watching this again very soon.

6- I am sure that the creators of But I am a Cheerleader were very proud of themselves in the late 90s for making a wacky teen comedy about a gay conversion camp. Unfortunately it is little more than a cartoon about a topic that just isn’t funny.  Not only is the topic not funny, and the film’s handling of it ham-handed, but it is so poorly and sloppily researched and executing.  Here is a case in point (go ahead and accuse me of picking nits). There is a young Jewish man in the group to be converted. Both he and his father are shown throughout the film wearing that classic Jewish signifier, the yarmulke. BUT! These Jews are wearing wearing the ones on the right, not the left:


If anyone making the film had bothered to do any research and talk to an actual Jew, they would have found out that for day-to-day wear, the ones on the right are worn and the ones on the left are for special occasion, often given out as souvenirs of wedding or bar/bat mitzvahs. You would never see an observant Jew wearing them during their day-to-day life.  It is as if someone said, “We’ll make these guys Jewish and we’ll let everyone know by putting one of those beanies on their heads”.  Look, I know this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but it just shows you how sloppy this movie is. To see a film that treats this topic with the gravity it deserves, please see Boy Erased

7- I don’t have any idea how to write about Mike Leigh’s movies. He is a master. He is Michelangelo, Beethoven and Springsteen all rolled into one. His films are rich, profoundly moving, deeply resonant.  All Or Nothing is as good a place to start as any.

8- So many of Japanese films from the golden era take their stories from Kabuki and Bunraku.  I had seen a later version of The Yotsuya Ghost story, but that was more like slasher-porn Kabuki.  Yotsuya Kaidan is the real deal.  Not sure why it is in two parts.