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. Fanny (Marc Allegret)
  2. Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson)
  3. 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)
  4. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  5. Yoyo (Pierre Étaix)
  6. Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson)
  7. Rhapsody in August (Akira Kurosawa)
  8. Shame (Ingmar Bergman)
  9. Sword in the Desert (George Sherman)
  10. The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir)

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1- It was interesting to watch Lancelot du Lac and Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne so close to each other. Lancelot du Lac is a prime example of what we expect from a Bresson film.  It is an austere (very austere) telling of the Arthurian legend of adultery. I found it extremely moving in its depiction of an ideal world devolving into nothingness.  Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, on the other hand, is very atypical Bresson.  His second feature, made from a script by Jean Cocteau, has more of the sensibility of that writer-filmmaker’s work than of the ‘Catholic Atheist’ Bresson we have come to know and perhaps love.  What is so interesting to me is that all the criticism and articles I found concerning Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne has the writers twisting themselves into pretzels trying to prove that this film has all the elements of his later, more ‘Bressonian’ films.  It doesn’t really.  What we have here is the theory of the auteur exercising its tyranny over any thinking about film.  I suppose I am guilty of it too, since I always list films followed by the name of the director.

Also, I am so taken with the performance of Maria Casares in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne .  Best known as Death in Cocteau’s Orpheus and the unloved wife in Les Enfants du Paradis, she has one of the most impressive faces in cinema and was a hell of an actress.

Maria Casares

Maria Casares

 

2-  By watching Yoyo, I completed watching all the films in the wonderful Criterion box set of the complete films of Pierre Etaix.  A genius, ladies and gentlemen, descended from the line of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati.  I hope to write a Have You Tried….  post about him soon.  But don’t wait for that! Untold delights await you from this comic master!

3- Some artists go from strength to strength as they age,  leaving us undeniable masterpieces at the end of their lives. Otello and Falstaff by Verdi, Parsifal by Wagner, The Dead by John Huston are examples of this.  But there are other genius who seem to fizzle out at the end of their creative life. It is hard to see how the director of Psycho and The Birds would have been content with Topaze. I was thinking about this watching Akira Kurosawa’s  Rhapsody in August.  This film comes shortly after his majestic epics Kagemusha and Ran, and compared to those mighty cinematic brothers, this film is little more that poorly executed cinematic claptrap. The platitudes about the affects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the Japanese and America survivors some 40 years after the fact, are cringe-worthy.  The whole thing is  inept and  annoyingly sentimental. I really wanted to strangle that gaggle of a kids.

All that I have left to watch of the Kurosawa oeuvre is Madadayo, which, from its description, sounds like a bad Japanese version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I am nervous.

4- In the introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain writes:

‘In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit:  the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Golden Coach by Jean Renoir. I have no idea why the decision was made to have everyone in the film speak English, but because of this, the film often devolves into an incomprehensible Babel.  Even Anna Magnani, the voracious star of the film, lapses into streams of Italian swearing from time to time and she seems much relieved.

 

 

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Have You Tried The Marseilles Trilogy?

The critics of the Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s developed the theory of auterism in which the value of a film is determine by how discernible the mark of the author, usually the director, can be sensed.  For these critics, many of whom went on to be directors themselves, America had such auteurs in abundance.  There was no mistaking a John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock film.  In their eyes, the indelible mark of the creator elevated a film from mediocrity to art.  We can now debunk this theory many ways.  We can point out that film is the most collaborative of artistic endeavors, requiring the skills of cinematographers, writers, actors, costumers, editors and many more.  Each of these people leave a mark on the final product. I guess what the Cahistes were lauding were the directors who, even within the restraints of the Hollywood studio system, were able to create something with a personal vision.

They praised these American films by using as a negative example the French directors of the preceding decades,  directors who made ‘well-made’ films but did not betray any burning individuality.

In my opinion, there is a lot to be said for excellent craftsmanship.  A film can be, I would almost say should be, enjoyable without the audience having to know who made it and why it is identifiable as a film by so-and-so.

Marcel Pagnol, I fear, might have been one of their whipping boys. I did find an article from the Cahiers somewhat praising Pagnol (along with Sacha Guitry) as being filmmakers in spite of themselves. Both men, the article points out, were originally men of the theater, and seemed to view cinema as simply a medium to get a wider audience for their works. There seems to be little doubt that this is the reason why Marcel Pagnol got started in film.

Marcel Pagnol

Marcel Pagnol

Lest you think of him as merely a hack, you need to know that Pagnol was the first film maker elevated to a fauteuil in the Académie Française – one of only six to date.  In fact, he occupied the same fauteuil as Prosper Merimee, author of the novel upon which the opera Carmen was based.  Not bad.

I have loved the films of Marcel Pagnol in the same way that I love the novels of Anthony Trollope.  They both are works that reveal themselves leisurely, allowing you to spend time with characters who you come to care about more than many people in so-called ‘real life’. The plots are very simple, mostly excuses to allow time to get to know the world the characters inhabit.

The best place to start is with his stupendous Marseilles Trilogy. These are three films: Marius (1931), Fanny (1932) and César (1936). The first two originated as stage plays and were directed by Alexander Korda and Marc Allegret respectively.

Actually shot en plein air on the docks of Marseille, the Trilogy, tells the simplest of stories while introducing us to people that we will never forget.  Since so much of the wonder of these films is the story they tell, I feel it would be a betrayal of your future enjoyment for me to spill the smallest bean as to what they are about. Instead I will give you some teasers that I hope will get you to spend six of the happiest hours of your life:

1- Renowned cook Alice Waters named her legendary restaurant Chez Panisse in honor of Honoré Panisse, one of the most lovable characters of the trilogy because she felt that he embodied the joy of life that her restaurant was striving for.

Honoré Panisse

Honoré Panisse

2- The card and bocce games that occur throughout the trilogy are among the funniest scenes in all cinema

La partie de cartes

La partie de cartes

3- No less an authority than Orson Welles said that Raimu, who plays César was the greatest actor in the world. I agree.

Raimu as César

Raimu as César

4- Pierre Fresnay, who plays Marius, is one of the handsomest men ever to grace the screen and Orane Demazis, who plays Fanny, creates one of  the most lovable characters ever.

Marius and Fanny

Marius and Fanny

So please try the Marseilles Trilogy.  If you are a friend of mine, I have probably shown it to you already, more likely than not in one sitting.

No need to thank me.

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu)
  2. Dreams (Ingmar Bergman)
  3. Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock)
  4. The Devil, Probably (Robert Bresson)
  5. The Godfather, Part 2 (Francis Ford Coppola)
  6. Masseurs and a Woman (Hiroshi Shimizu)
  7. Sadie Thompson (Raoul Walsh)
  8. Beauty and The Beast (Jean Cocteau)
  9. Marius (Alexander Korda)
  10. The Story of a Cheat (Sacha Guitry)

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1- Who would think that Yasujiro Ozu, sublime master of the small gesture, could make such a charming little comedy like Good Morning, with its fart jokes and neighborly misunderstandings?  You often read that this is a remake of his silent I Was Born But….., however I don’t buy it.  The earlier film is a graver affair about intergenerational disappointments. However, I do seem to remember that there were fart jokes in that one, too.

2- I thought that Saving Mr. Banks would be a nice, competent film telling the story of how Mary Poppins finally got made.  It was that, but it was quite moving as well, with some striking artistic touches.  I particularly liked the images of Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers finally signing the contract to allow Disney to make the film.  She is seated at a table at her home in London, and opposite here is a huge Mickey Mouse doll Walt had sent her as encouragement. It is a quiet and very funny touch.

3- My experience with Bresson has been sublime (Diary Of A Country Priest, The Trial of Joan of Arc,  A Man Escaped) or excruciating (Au Hazard Balthazar).  The Devil Probably falls into the latter category.  I wish I had the skill to watch his films more critically.  I know I am missing tons

4- We had a real New Year’s Eve treat watching Beauty and The Beast followed by Marius, the first part of Marcel Pagnol’s beloved Marseille Trilogy.  These films become more and more essential to me as time goes on.  I am planning a ‘Have You Tried…………..?’ article on Marcel Pagnol soon.

5- I had heard of Sacha Guitry but didn’t know what his stuff was like.  TCM showed two of his films on their Sunday night franchise called TCM Import. Looks like they have some arrangement with Criterion.  I just watched The Story Of A Cheat, which was an absolute delight.  It seems to be a precursor to Kind Hearts and Coronets, but even funnier and more clever.  Looking forward to seeing more of him.  I may just have to buy the Criterion boxed set.