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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
MAY CONTAIN SPOILER. Claude Chabrol knew how to make a great movie and over a long career, proved as much again and again. But his considerable output was prone to occasional dips and miss-fires in between the successes. WHO'S GO THE BLACK BOX? / THE ROAD TO CORINTHE is perhaps one of his worst. Like many (most?) of his lesser works it's an international co-production without the elements that he used so well - there is no dysfunctional family, no large country house setting and no bourgeoisie to prod and chastise. Instead we have a very mid 60's staple of glamorous spies and cold war paranoia. But it doesn't work on any level. The plot is too convoluted to follow and the characters too flimsy to care about. There's no one to root for or worry about while the action itself never sparkles, there's no memorable chase sequence and little suspense.The promising cast look out of sorts; Maurice Ronet looks bewildered or bored most of the time and Jean Seberg simply hasn't got enough character to get her acting teeth into so remains cold and detached. She does look great however and provides the visual highlight wandering around her apartment in a tight neon green bra-slip just prior to what should have been the biggest shock in the film but that's somewhat telegraphed so that what you remember is Jean looking sexy and not what happens next... Sadly thats the whole film in a nutshell. Worth a look if you are a Chabrol fan simply to appreciate how good most of his other films are by comparison.
Appropriately there really is very little dialogue in Bergman's THE
SILENCE. Sometimes ten whole minutes will pass between the sparse and
often caustic verbal spats between two sisters temporarily stuck in a
large and mysterious Eastern European hotel while one recovers - or not
- from some unspecified chronic illness that has interrupted their
railway journey. Between the spiteful jibes and the longing glances
into space the pair pay sporadic attention to the young son of the
healthy sister and it's through his eyes that we observe much of what's
going on beyond the walls of the hotel suite. He roams the corridors
(as the boy in Kubrick's THE SHINING would do over a decade later)
encounters a troupe of dwarf performers and a curiously
friendly/sinister/comic waiter who communicates by improvised hand
signals as he, like the other hotel staff members, does not share a
common language with any of the three main characters. This lack of
communication in itself becomes a central element in the pervading and
In the streets below we see tanks rumbling past and occasionally jet aircraft scream overhead. Is this Hungary in 1956? Are we seeing the Soviets quelling the popular uprising? If it is the cars we see are a bit too modern... But the sisters don't seem to know and the language barrier restrains us too. While the boy amuses himself observing the bizarre characters, some of whom he play-shoots with a toy pistol, his bored mother is amusing herself with various men whom she either beds in empty hotel rooms or admits to pleasuring in dark corners of a nearby church. All her encounters are wordless and her actions self-gratifying. This promiscuity highlights an area of the sisterly conflict.While the healthy one flaunts her heterosexuality, the sickly one seems pious and disapproving, although she is not averse to pleasuring herself. In one scene she lies back on the bed during a respite from her illness, unties her pyjamas and slides her hand between her legs as the camera pans demurely away to her face which contorts for a brief moment of release. At other times she seems driven to distraction by what could be an incestuous lesbian obsession with her sister.
This is all deep and obliquely referenced leaving the viewer to form opinions rather than having then handed over on a platter. What is the deal here? Typical Berman! On the production side the photography is superb, as always, but softer and less naturalistic than in his later films. However the opening train carriage scene has no sense of being anywhere but inside a studio with back projection and model work that while it's up to the standards of Hollywood movies of the time,looks very unconvincing today. But the acting is excellent; the little boy is marvellously awestruck and natural, his mother is suitably sensual as she wanders around the interiors in a half open dressing gown revealing glimpses of her panties and the occasional bare breast in a most matter-of-fact fashion. The sickly sister is brim-full with melancholy and regret. Her frustration is palpable. The other characters are largely caricatures in the manner of Fellini, but none the worse for that.
Is it a good film? Answers on a postcard please...It really depends on how you receive it and how shocked you are by the sexual references and the one, brief, graphic scene which back in the day was the cause of much censorship discussion I'm sure!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
CONTAINS SPOILERS. Bergman has such a daunting reputation that for many
of us it's perhaps a leap of faith just to even chose one of his
movies. The expectation is of something deep, brooding, obscure and
rather slow. Comedy sketches have been written around the silences and
menacing composition that are perceived to form the backbone of his
films. There's a lingering aura of Bergman being 'only for the
intellectuals'. Maybe some of this is, at times, true. Maybe not.It's a
personal choice for each of us but the rewards for taking that leap and
staying with a Bergman movie are well worth anyone's time and effort.
None more so than PERSONA which combines a few famously bizarre
surrealist sequences with a phenomenal piece of claustrophobic
two-handed acting by Ullman and Andersson, the like of which I cannot
honestly recall elsewhere. Their beautiful faces, often shot in ultra
close-up are lit to emphasis every pore and minor blemish as if to
highlight that however gorgeous as they are, these are human and
imperfect faces on flawed personalities. The slightest twitch or tremor
is given significance, the quasi-lesbian relationship they appear to
develop is treated with an intense but chaste sensuality and the turns
in the story are arresting and unsettling. The fact Ullman remains mute
and Andersson does all the talking sounds like a recipe for some
chronic naval-gazing. Not so. Introspective it is, self absorbed too,
but Andersson's character has a secret or two which her initial prim,
starched appearance belies. Her graphic description of a pivotal
liaison in her past is truly unexpected in a movie of this vintage. It
must have seemed alarmingly candid when first shown. It still does.
It's also poetic and rather beautiful. I can only recall seeing one
other movie, LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD,in which so much of the dialogue
stems from just one of the characters and at times the direction
PERSONA appears to take(or not, as the case may be)emphasises this
similarity as do the striking monochrome photography and the exacting
use of composition. Surrealist sequences aside, PERSONA is the more
real of the two films, the least fanciful and at the denouement
probably the more satisfying.
What does it all mean? Well thats the rub.As you'll see from the discussion boards on IMDb it's up for constant re-interpretation and perhaps because of this more than anything else it's a film that stays in your head long after the final credits.
The moody opening sequence promises so much, the deserted storm-lashed seaside location, the carefully staged bank 'blagging' and the clever escape all bode well, but it's all down hill from there. The rest of this movie stagnates with a lack of pace, a lack of dramatic effect and far to much screen time given over to dreary details : washing faces, tying shoe laces. To make matters worse the big set-piece features a truly dismal special-effects train robbery straight out of THUNDERBIRDS TV series. Instead of keeping this brief and maintaining some suspension of disbelief it goes on and on and on giving the viewer repeated chances to confirm how unconvincing the model vehicles really are. And this is not the only poor piece of studio work; poorly executed painted backdrops feature in several scenes at a time when on-the-streets reality was already the established way to go. The story is confused, several characters seem superfluous and as the lead character, Alan Delon sleepwalks though the movie. There is laconic and there is plain boring, and sadly he's the latter on this occasion. It's a performance that matches the tone of entire film.
Against a backdrop of the 1968 student riots in Paris Matthew, a young
American student obsessed with movies, hooks up with a brother and
sister,Theo and Isabelle, the twin offspring of a celebrated poet, who
share his passion. The friendship rapidly becomes deep and disturbing;
the twins seemingly enjoying an incestuous relationship and Theo a
bi-sexual disposition towards their new friend. But all is not quite as
it appears. These seemingly sophisticated intellectuals live in a
bizarre enclosed little world of their own, indulged by wealthy parents
and more child-like than the American first assumes. In a film that is
bursting with movie in-jokes and references,the trio join in protests
at the Cinemateque, replicate the 'Louvre record' from BANDE A PARTE in
a scene inter-cut with shots from the original movie and develop a
parlour game of "Name the film or pay the forfeit" ,that soon stretches
the bounds of taste and decency, once the parents have left for the
The trio spend most of their time in the large rambling apartment, which begins as charmingly shabby-chic and descends into student-squat squalor, indulging in ever more lurid sexually charged games. Nudity increases as they become insular and the world outside becomes more distant in a way that evokes a cult film of this era,PERFORMANCE. But THE DREAMERS, being a 21st century film,goes further and among several intimate and unsettling scenes that many might find offensive, the trio take a candle-lit bath in a haze of 'exotic cigarette' smoke which lulls them into unconsciousness, to find on awakening that Isabelle has started her menstruation while they have been asleep...and the bathwater has turned red.
If the subject matter is an acquired taste then without doubt the film looks wonderful. Paris in 1968 is lovingly recreated; the cars and backgrounds are right, the music includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, there is much talk of Mao and revolution. The acting is very good, naturalistic and engaging. The leading trio all fit their rolls to perfection and Eva Green as the pretty, pouting, full-busted,long haired Isabelle is the perfect image (cliche?)of a freethinking 1960s femme fatale.
THE DREAMERS is a significant movie for me. Watching it for the first time I became intrigued by the homage it paid to Jean-Luc Godard's BANDE A PART, a film of which I previously knew nothing. I sought out the DVD, was entranced by this great movie(and Anna Karina in particular!)and have been hooked on French New Wave movies ever since. Re-watching it two years later I 'get' more of the filmic references, the haunting use of the theme from PIERROT LE FOU and the cameo of Jean-Pierre Leaud among others, but most of all I am struck by how intimate and graphic the relationships are portrayed. Not an easy film to like at times and not a film for all tastes but a brilliant one nonetheless.
I like the majority of Eric Rohmer's individual and thoughtful low- budget movies (The only one I have yet to watch being SIGN OF LEO)but PERCEVAL lacks any of the usual charm and engagingly endless chatter. It leaves me utterly cold I'm afraid. It's....well actually it's pretty awful to be frank! Some of the acting, despite the constraints of the stylised elements (intrusive madrigals, forced rhyming and so forth) is good but it's a 2+ hours journey through a cardboard landscape to absolutely nowhere. One sees the credits roll and cannot help asking "is that it?" Rohmer's strength was always to create engaging contemporary love triangles in which much amorous youthful angst was discussed at length in rambling but rather mesmerising dialogue , usually by at least one very attractive young actress. Sometimes the stories ended abruptly or just fizzled out to nothing but in all cases there was an element of reality in that. Rohmer's costume pieces are all far less successful than the contemporary fables. PERCEVAL is the nadir. Everyone is allowed a dud. This is the great Rohmer's.Thats a far better record than most directors.
As he grew older it seemed veteran screen-writer and director Eric
Rohmer grew a little more romantic and a little less cynical of life
and love. His most famous work, the "Six Moral Tales" of the late 60s
are expose's of human failings, pomposity and self obsession. Most of
the characters are deeply flawed and many, though fascinating in their
way, are distinctly hard to like or forgive. In the "Proverbs &
Comedies" series of the 80s , the tales of life are a little softer,
lighter, the characters more sympathetic and once the 1990's arrive and
Rohmer's new "Four Seasons" series finds it feet, that trend has
The FOUR SEASONS stories carry a little more plot and rely less on the fairly heavy philosophy and religious conviction one would have encountered in MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S for example. There is hope where there had been despair.
CONTE D'HIVER is a bitter sweet tale of pretty young hairdresser Felicie and the aftermath of a brief passionate affair with the charming Charles. The result is that she bears his daughter but accidentally loses contact with him before he is aware of this. Life for Filicie is then a matter of putting up with a string of second-best lovers in the vain hope that Charles will somehow re- establish contact.
The action flits between Paris and provincial Nevers and as always the people the dialogue and the direction are wonderfully natural. The cinematography and editing are spare and unobtrusive and the acting is superb. There is one sequence, a lengthy scene in which Felicie watches , and is moved by, a stage production of a Shakespeare play that drags on far to long but otherwise this films almost skips along compared to some of the directors previous works, where the pace is always very measured and very slow. In all, a delightful film with a good cast headed by the attractive Charlotte Very, one of several excellent young actresses Rohmer cast around this time (Amanda Langlet and Emanuelle Chaulet being the others that spring to mind). Recommended
Eric Rohmer's movies are, it seems almost without exception, slow- burners that reward those with the patience to sit through them, preferably more than once in some cases, and think about whats being said as much as whats being shown. This, his first feature in colour requires considerable thought on the part of the viewer, serving up nothing in the way of dramatic excitement and featuring three loathsome main characters who's morals are very in keeping with the era of late- 60s self satisfaction and hedonistic excess. Not that the hedonism is very wild. Jimi Hendrix does not blast from the simple record player that sits near a chair and provides the only music in the film. No one smokes anything illegal or pops any pills, talks of Indian mystics or goes in for meditation. But there is the very liberated (nowadays we'd say reckless) attitude to casual sex, although we don't see very much; the relaxed tangle of naked legs half glimpsed through one doorway, a brief an unrevealing shot of the main protagonist, the disturbingly young looking Haydee, quietly enjoying the intimate attention of another one-night-stand. Otherwise it's all hints and the more effective for that. Haydee is the very image of a swinging-sixties bed hopper. Young, slender, independent, cool and seemingly amoral she wrecks the plans of Adrian, an art dealer with time on his hands, when he finds her resident in a borrowed holiday villa at which he intends to devote himself to doing nothing at all for a few weeks while his girlfriend is in London. Haydee's noisy night-time frolics disturb his sleep and offend his self- declared sense of morality and the added presence in the house of his lazy, grumpy painter-friend Daniel sets up a spiralling tension between them all. But this is pure Rohmer and that tension manifests itself not in fist-fights, broken furniture, tearful confessions and blood-letting, but insults, low-key/nigh-brow arguments, teasing, sniping and political manoeuvring. In fact the more one thinks about the film, and it's one of those movies that does hang around long after the credits, the more one realises it's actually rather more like real-life, certainly as most of us endure it from time to time, than the over-dramatic offerings we are used to from mainstream movie-makers. Haydee maybe cute, Adrien describes himself as handsome and the setting is idyllic but you really wouldn't like to be on holiday with these unsympathetic characters. Observing their antics from without is one thing but to be part of it would be a nightmare! Oddly with it's morality so perfectly fixed in it's own time, this seems far more like a film from the 1970s. Something in it's look and after-the-party sense of deflation and disenchantment fits in with that later decade. Seeing it without knowing the release date you might well guess at 1972 or even later. If Godard's BANDE A PARTE is set in a Swinging-Sixties that hasn't yet arrived, Rohmer's film portrays one that has already left the building, although it's after-effects continue to create a problem. It all sounds somewhat depressing on paper and to some extent it is! It's not an easy film but if you give it time and maybe second look, you might well find there is more to this outwardly simple tale than you thought.
Some film review books claim Antonioni's best work was all shot in
monochrome and thereafter he was less effective, but this movie easily
dispels that argument. Colour gives him an extra tool with which to
elaborate his familiar themes of alienation and failing relationships.
It's the best work I've seen by this darling- director of the art-house
set. The use of colour, the eerie locations, the juxtaposition of
almost horrific industrial installations belching coloured smoke with
deserted ancient Italian streets and the electronic soundtrack (hard to
call it a score as such)is disturbing and arresting. The natural world
is grey and brown, the man-made elements are primary coloured, invasive
and overpowering. Within this landscape, fizzing and gurgling with
pollution and decay we find an unhinged engineers wife who's recovering
poorly from a car accident and struggling to cope the responsibility of
motherhood and being the wife of a man tied up with his career. Some
reviewers pour scorn on Monica Vitti's performance in this difficult
and complex lead role. Does she over act? Is she hamming it up? I'd
prefer to think that she's playing the part of a woman on the edge,
torn in different directions at a moment of emotional weakness, without
the mental strength to comprehend how odd her behaviour actually is -
in short, she's playing it right. Although it must me said her face is
unusually immobile in every role she plays so if her body language
might be considered over- the-top her facial expression certainly never
is. And she has a distinct air of fragility about her. Richard Harris
as the 'other man' in her life is an odd choice for the role. Clearly
speaking English dialogue but dubbed over by an Italian-speaking actor,
and thus lacking the familiar husky lilting tones one expects to hear.
He's rather gloomy,but then so is everyone in this film! His
character's presence seems only to push Vitti's closer to the abyss,
adding another element of unhappiness and uncertainty to her tormented
It's not, as you've no doubt deduced, a happy film, in any way, but it has a rhythm and style which will keep you watching and unlike Antonioni's previous films there is a certain structure which makes it more more accessible. Perhaps in being set among working people (although far from 'working class') as opposed to the 'idle rich' of films like L'AVENTTURA, gives it more gravitas? Frankly the navel-gazing of poor-me-life-is-such-a-bore characters of those films makes them much harder to care about than fragile frustrated Vitti in RED DESERT. For the immaculate visual style and striking use of colour alone, this film is well worth the effort (and it is sometimes an effort)of watching but the story line and Vitti's character also make it worth listening to. One curiosity - why the clearly intentional scenes shot out-of-focus? Bizarre and entirely pointless as far as I could see, but a minor quibble.
Gaspard, a glum loner, arrives at a seaside resort in Brittany and finds himself rather reluctantly entwined with three young women, all of whom want something different from him - at least different to what he wants from them, although exactly what that is keeps you guessing. The pretext is fairly simple and the pace is slow and measured. For much of the time the languid leading man, walks along the beach, across the cliffs and through the town talking at length with bright, brainy waitress Margot. She seems to be dragging him, with some effort, into a platonic friendship while her boyfriend is working overseas. Their relationship never catches fire, it never gets physical and his feeble efforts to change that are easily rebuffed. All the while he constantly moons over the awaited figure of Lena, who maybe his girlfriend, or just a friend-who's-a-girl(even when she arrives, very late in the day, it's hard to tell!) Along the way Margot encourages him to date the flirty Solene, who's almost as ambiguous in her view of relationships as him, although, for a while it seems as if they are making progress as a couple. Then Lena finally turns up,treats him like dirt and life gets increasingly complex. It takes a long time to develop to this point, but the four-way relationship that emerges is engrossingly handled and the ending is amusingly satisfying. It's all done in a minor key, filmed in a smooth and efficient way, scripted in a naturalistic and undramatic fashion and acted so matter-of-factly by all concerned that it's well worth sticking with. Much of the appeal of this movie comes from the performance and personality of Amanda Langlet as Margot. She's a delight and highlights the dismal dithering deficiencies of drippy Gaspard. As with all the Rohmer films I've seen this is not a movie that's filled with high drama or visual pyrotechnics but it does have an appealing reality. Not for all tastes but thoroughly charming in it's own way.
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