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There are any number of reasons why someone might be interested in seeing
The premise probably isn't one of them: it's a comedy about the history of prostitution in six episodes. The credits are the attraction: One of the segments is directed by Godard and features his usual star/spouse Anna Karina. Another is by Philippe de Broca with Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Claude Brialy. Other cast members include Raquel Welch, Elsa Martinelli, Marcel Dalio in one of his last roles, and Jean-Pierre Léaud who has so often played François Truffaut's alter ego, Antoine Doinel, and is one of the fully clothed characters from "Last Tango in Paris" (1972). There's Disappointment #1: Léaud has only a very small, non-speaking part.
Two of the six segments are very weak, the one set in modern day Paris, and the prehistoric one. Neither is especially funny. The former has Dalio in a small role as a lawyer. The latter is not much better than Ringo Starr in "Caveman" from 1981 (although Michèle Mercier is an improvement on Barbara Bach).
The French Revolutionary episode is the one directed by de Broca, and fairly well in fact. Now, the English language version of this film is dubbed. I got the feeling that this segment would be fairly funny in a subtitled version; the dubbing throws the comic timing off a little bit. In a 15-minute sketch, there's not a tremendous amount to work with but Jeanne Moreau is good under the circumstances. J-C Brialy is a little subdued compared to a more animated performance of his which I saw recently, in Claude Chabrol's "Les cousins" (1959). If they'd had a bit more luck, or savoir-faire, or something, they might have created a French answer to "Start the Revolution Without Me" (1970).
Raquel Welch stars in the most amusing episode, relatively speaking. It's apparently set in 1890's Vienna (Emperor Franz Josef is on the paper money). One could probably say that Raquel's greatest classic role was as the injured party in the "Cannery Row" lawsuit. Finely nuanced she was not, normally. But she makes an appealing light comedienne here, and she can really fill a lacy Viennese corset. The Belle Époque it assuredly was.
There is an oddly un-debauched episode set in the days of the Roman Empire. The Emperor visits the proverbial House of Marcus Lycus -- see "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1966) for its Borscht Belt view of Ancient Rome -- only to find the Empress moonlighting there. The episode itself is rather unaccomplished, but the Empress is played by the exquisite Elsa Martinelli who may never have looked better than she does here -- a thousand ships, skin like alabaster, lips like carbuncles, all that sort of thing. Elsa's flair for comedy has had more room for expression elsewhere, but, by Jupiter, she looks like a million sesterces.
By far the most interesting episode is the one directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Its humour is bone dry -- in a century still to come, when the Soviets appear to be running things, you'll need a wrench to remove a woman's clothes. (Will that be imperial or metric?)
It's surprising considering the film's subject matter, but this is the only episode to contain actual nudity and even then it's done in photographic negative.
Shot at Orly Airport in Paris, the segment is in a tinted monochrome. Combine this with its bleak, futuristic outlook, and I was reminded of Chris Marker's "La jetée" (1962). Was that intentional? The story switches to colour once the lovers kiss.
The overall feel of the film is quite a lot like that striving-to-be-naughty "Love, American Style" television programme from 1969. Call it "Love, European Style". Only in its poor English transfer, it is definitely less successful. I wonder if there's any connection between the two?
The sketch film was a staple of European cinema in the Fifties and Sixties.
It allowed directors to work out some interesting ideas in 15 to 20 minute
segments, on small budgets. Most of the directors on view here are forgotten
today--Indovina, Bolognini, Autant-Lara--or in eclipse: de Broca, who never
was a real new wave filmmaker, but who had a sure grasp of commercial
cinema, is known today for Le Roi de coeur.
The stories are mostly silly, the actors are often mediocre: Elsa Martinelli and Michele Mercier are Eurobland, like Capucine or Dana Wynter. Jeanne Moreau is terribly wasted in a boulevard farce with ridiculous costumes--her hat is bigger than she is. Nadia Gray and Dalio sing a lusty song together in the otherwise forgettable Autant-Lara. We have to wait for the final episode, Anticipation by Godard, to experience a real jolt. Nobody has used everyday settings like airports and office towers to create menacing environments the way Godard has; there's terror in that chrome and Formica. Jacques Charrier with his vaguely Teutonic looks is perfect as the Russian who just wants some human contact (excellent sound work to give him a foreign accent). Marilu Tolo and Anna Karina as the sensual and spiritual aspects of prostitution are wonderful. There's more punch here than in the 90 minutes of Alphaville (which admittedly has some wonderful scenes).
This film is definitely worth seeing. The film is made up of six
sketches by six directors, each revolving around the theme of - you
guessed it - the world's oldest profession: prostitution. It begins
with a ridiculous segment that explains the origins of cosmetics as a
primitive stone age invention.
The acting throughout is not good but in a very entertaining way, that is, until Raquel Welch is on screen. She is better than ever and I almost wished her segment would not end, not knowing what was to unfold later in the film.
After a few more lightly entertaining segments, the film takes a considerably different tone. In fact, it's a sonic jolt that filled me with tension and excitement. I first saw this movie on Quentin Tarantino's 35mm print, and had no prior knowledge of it's existence. So, naturally, I was surprised to see Godard's name appear at the beginning of the last segment, entitled Anticipation. Among these mostly light-hearted and ridiculous comedy segments was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. At first, I thought the mention of Godard's name was a joke. The story is set in the future and is meant to depict prostitution in the years to come. It is, characteristic of Godard, unlike anything you would expect. I won't give away any details, for the experience is best seen fresh, and makes this movie worth seeing for Godard's segment alone. Come for Raquel, and stay for Godard.
Sketch film. 6 segments telling the history of prostitution through ages.
The one I liked the most: Jean-Luc Godard's Anticipation. Great imaginative
work, with the use of black and white to amplify segment. I also liked
Claude Autant-Lara's segment (Aujourd'hui) and Franco Indovina (L'Ère
préhistorique). It's also a film that showcases the most beautiful actresses
from the time: Anna Karina, Elsa Martinelli, Jeanne Moreau,
Out of 100, I gave it 78. That's good for **½ out of **** stars.
Seen at home, in Toronto, on February 14th, 2004.
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