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. The Host (Bong Joon Ho)
  2. Nosferatu (Werner Herzog)
  3. La Promesse (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  4. The Mirror (Jafar Panahi)
  5. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)
  6. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)
  7. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  8. Foreign Letters (Ela Thier)
  9. Un Carnet du Bal (Julien Duvivier)
  10. Hotel du Nord (Marcel Carné)

1- Ever since I saw Parasite, I have been thinking about going back to rewatch the only other film of his I had seen, The Host.  I wondered if the naming of the later film was a sly reference to his other huge international hit.  Not sure.  I must say that The Host was as good as I remembered it. It isn’t as rich as Parasite.  There is the same raucous action, but the political edge is not as keen. I think that Parasite was conceived more politically than The Host. The only discernible political thread in the latter is the not-so-subtle suggestion of how America is destroying Korean culture and environment.  I guess that is pretty political after all!

2- I loved the films of Werner Herzog and saw them all when they premiered in the US.  I remember particularly loving Nosferatu. It really holds up well.  It is a very respectful and knowledgeable remake of the famous Murnau silent from the 20s.  Everything works in this updating.  The tone of silent films, from the mise-en-scene to the acting is a beautiful homage to the earlier style.  I had feared that I would now find Klaus Kinski’s acting of the title role too over-the-top.  It isn’t. It is just gorgeous.  Kudos to Isabelle Adjani at the beginning of her film career for channeling every heroine of every Expressionist horror film. 

3- La Promesse  is my third film by the Dardenne brothers.  Another stunning experience.  Much is made of Bresson’s moral constructs in his films.  They are also wonderful but the morality of these Dardenne films is at a much more visceral level.  I found La Promesse  powerful in the way that it makes the viewer complicit in the ethical dilemma, a teenage boy who is helping his unscrupulous father in his shady operation to exploit illegal immigrants in their Belgian town.  Just like the end of Young Ahmed, the resolution of La Promesse comes out of nowhere, but is inevitable and powerful.

4- My excitement of discovering Iranian films is comparable to the excitement I felt when I first discovered the range and depth of Japanese film. So far I have only watched films by Kiarostami and Panahi. I am sure other wonders await me.  The Mirror is another tour-de-force of meta-cinema. I will not divulge the plot nor the meta-ness of the film.  Suffice it to say that I watched the entire movie shaking my head saying to myself ‘It can’t be this brilliant”. I was wrong. It was that brilliant. 

5- The Criterion Channel curates films by theme and one of the themes this month was Women Directors. They suggested many films that I had never heard of. One of them was Bluebeard by Catherine Breillat. I suppose you could label it as a feminist retelling of the Perrault fairy tale, but I would hope that Breillat wouldn’t want her work pigeon-holed like that. It is a very odd film and the fairy-taleness of it is also quite odd and upsetting. I must say I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I am up for her version of Sleeping Beauty just yet.

6- Coincidentally, that other source of my cinema addiction, Turner Classic Movies, is showing a series called Women Make Film, shown in conjunction with Mark Cousin’s 14-part documentary of the same name. The documentary borders on annoying but TCM they are showing many of the films that are discussed in the documentary, and that is where the gold is. The films are from all over the world and from all eras. Some are great. Then there is Foreign Letters. Yes, it was made by a woman, an Israeli émigré to the US. The problem with it is that is seems like a student project and is not very interesting. It is very YA and I never liked YA stuff, even when I was YA. Who knows? It might be great. Just not my cup of falafel.

7- I had always thought of Julien Duvivier as typical of the classic French directors that the Cahier du Cinema brats were rebelling against. Well, of course we can have both the French New Wave and what came before it. We realize that now (at least I realize that now). But, I can honestly say that Un Carnet du Bal ages better than just about any of the nouvelle vague creations I can think of. But why choose? Un Carnet du Bal is the French equivalent of an MGM ‘tradition of quality’ production. A sprawling story, beautifully appointed and featuring many of the great French stars of the day. Think a Gallic Grand Hotel. Not only do you have the legendary Harry Baur, but you get Fernandel as well as my holy Raimu.

8- How fortuitous to watch Hotel du Nord right after seeing Un Carnet Du Bal. Both date from about the same time, and both feature the same richness of plot and character. Hotel du Nord is by Marcel Carné, famous for the epic Children of Paradise. This film is on a smaller scale, but is as lush with a wide variety of characters and subplots. It is linked to Un Carnet Du Bal by the presence of the the enigmatic Louis Jouvet. Carné’s style is often called ‘poetic realism’. I am not sure what that means, but there is a combination of the gritty quotidian daytime world and the dreamlike night world. Arletty is on hand to lend the proceedings earthy humor a few years before her legendary appearance as Garance in Children of Paradise

8- How fortuitous to watch Hotel du Nord right after seeing Un Carnet Du Bal. Both date from about the same time, and both feature the same richness of plot and character. Hotel du Nord is by Marcel Carné, famous for the epic Children of Paradise. This film is on a smaller scale, but is lush with a wide variety of characters and subplots. It is linked to Un Carnet Du Bal by the presence of the the enigmatic Louis Jouvet. Carné’s style is often called ‘poetic realism’. I am not sure what that means, but there is a combination of the gritty quotidian daytime world and the dreamlike night world. Arletty is on hand to lend the proceedings earthy humor a few years before her legendary appearance as Garance in Children of Paradise. Her pronouncing the word ‘Atmosphere’ in her rebuke of Louis Jouvet is worth the price of admission.

On a personal note, when I was in Paris in 2018, my dear friend Lil took me to the Canal St. Martin and sure enough, the Hotel du Nord is there on the banks of this impressive canal!

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Skin Game (Alfred Hitchcock)
  2. Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti)
  3. Consolation Marriage (Paul Sloane)
  4. The Manxman (Alfred Hitchcock)
  5. All The President’s Men (Alan Pakula)
  6. Arrowsmith (John Ford)
  7. Hell or High Water (David McKenzie)
  8. Downhill (Alfred Hitchcock)
  9. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)
  10. La Jetée (Chris Marker)

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1- Early Hitchcock can be very interesting.  Looking for the hallmarks of his later great period is not really recommended.  Instead it is fascinating to see how much the works of the Twenties and the early Thirties are influences by German Expressionism.  Also, Hitchcock made much of the notion of ‘pure cinema’. Watching these early films, I realize that this term really just refers to the aesthetic of the silent film: the image is everything. Everything is communicated by what you see. Sound is unnecessary.  Think of the great set pieces of later Hitchcock like the shower scene in Psycho or any of the rhapsodically delirious sequences of longing in Vertigo or the great bird attacks in The Birds. They are all totally reliant on montage for the emotion.  The only difference between the early and later works, in the regard, is the masterful use of music to enhance the emotion.  But this, too, seems to be feature of silent film making at its best. Out of all the above early Hitchocks, I think Downhill was the most satisfying.  Plus you get a rare opportunity to see Ivor Novello.  He was the most enormous star of his time and is all but forgotten today.

2- Rocco and his Brothers comes closer to an opera than any other film I can think of, and that includes The Godfather. I don’t know how much I enjoyed it, it is way too long, but I did get the feel of a juicy verismo potboiler. Alain Delon is lovely as the Alyosha Karamazov-type brother.

3- Aguirre, The Wrath of God dates from that wonderful last gasp of ‘art house’ film from the late 70s/ early 80s.  I was nuts for this movie when it first came out and saw it half a million times.  I hadn’t seen it in more that 30 years and I thrilled to say that is it just as magical and quirky and satisfying as I found it originally.

4- For some reason I can’t handle stories that deal with time travel. That said, I think I would watch La Jetee any time.  Its audacious story, packed into a brief 30-minute running time, and its unusual story-telling technique of using still photographs almost exclusively, lead to a thoroughly satisfying and, for me, quite creepy experience.