FAHRMANN MARIA is a fable of the occult. As such, it follows VAMPYR in trying to tell a narrative in terms of atmosphere and metaphor. The moody, shadow-shrouded cinematography is just so marvelously evocative; the settings show the great influence of Expressionist design. Yet this design is used to enhance the performances, particularly those of Sybille Schmitz (also one of the leads in VAMPYR) and Peter Voss.
Wisbar's highly promising career was cut short, as he was one of the many who fled the Nazi regime and wound up in the US; though many of the German emigres would succeed, quite a few wound up toiling in the nether regions of low-budget fare for Poverty Row studios. Wisbar, like Edgar Ulmer, was one of those who never quite made the leap to success in the major studios. Wisbar would remake FAHRMANN MARIA as THE STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP, but, though atmospheric, the mythic dimensions of FAHRMANN MARIA are contracted in the American settings. But FAHRMANN MARIA is one of the true classics of the Weimar cinema.
Just as PEPE LE MOKO, QUAI DES BRUMES, LA BETE HUMAINE and LE JOUR SE LEVE had established the Jean Gabin persona in the 1930s (what Andre Bazin had termed "the tragic destiny"), so these four films established the Philipe persona, the sensitive young man overwhelmed by destiny. In UNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE, the small seaside resort out-of-season, with its fog, its desolation, and its ramshackle buildings, is a perfect setting for this story of lost souls seeking connection and (possible) redemption. Madeleine Robinson, as the young woman working at the inn, is Philipe's counterpart: a sullen girl battered by circumstances who nevertheless is touched by the fragility of the young man. The fact that, on a realistic level, Gerard Philipe does not project the hardened facade of a criminal is rather the point: the point of a star persona. In this case, Philipe's projection of an intensely isolated, even alienated, psyche which defined the existential dilemma that was being defined by writers such as Sartre and Camus in the post-war epoch, was really enshrined in this movie.
Philipe would prove to be a more versatile actor than initially assumed; his humor, his athletic vigor, and his exuberance can be seen in movies like FANFAN LA TULIPE and POT-BOUILLE. But UNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE shows Philipe at the apex of his portrayals of tortured youth, a prototype for such stars as Montgomery Clift and James Dean.
In some ways, LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? is the quintessential Frank Borzage movie, with many scenes and themes which echo his earlier films. There is the young couple, struggling to survive severe economic hardship; there are the effects of the Great War, leaving many with few opportunities. There is even the scene where the heroine appears in a shimmering gown, a radiant moment that is a respite from the general squalor and/or misery (this scene can be found in SEVENTH HEAVEN, in MAN'S CASTLE, in THREE COMRADES). LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? takes its young couple (Sullavan and Douglass Montgomery) through various strata of the struggling working class in Germany during the worldwide economic downturn of the early 1930s. Along the way, they encounter a variety of characters, including Muriel Kirkland as the hideously overprivileged daughter of an employer, Catherine Doucet as Montgomery's giddy stepmother, and Alan Hale as her hearty, possibly shady friend. Through it all, Sullavan's empathetic, luminous performance provides the film with its beacon of hope in the midst of turmoil and strife.
This would be the first of four collaborations between Margaret Sullavan and Frank Borzage. (Just for the record, it should be stressed that this film was made at Universal Studios, NOT MGM, where Borzage would start working in 1937; Universal has been one of the studios which has been notoriously problematic in terms of getting their films on various home-video formats, so it's no wonder that LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? is unavailable, but asking for MGM to release a Universal film on DVD is an object lesson in futility.)
WEEKEND begins as a rude and vicious satire in which people in cars become violent at the slightest provocation. It proceeds with a bourgeoise couple (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne) who are bored with each other, openly contemptuous, and seemingly ready to kill. There is the wife's erotic confession, delivered in a quiet deadpan as she is shown in silhouette. This is only the first of many virtuoso sequences which show Godard at his most formally inventive. As soon as the couple gets in their car to begin a journey (they've decided to kill her mother for the inheritance), the viewer knows this journey is one which isn't going to end as expected. And it doesn't. Whimsy, annoyance, rage, disgust and horror greet the couple as this picaresque lurches from Rabelaisean to de Sade (and beyond).
When the movie first opened, Renata Adler in the New York Times wrote that the movie "was hard to take." In a sense, the years have been kind: there are now movies filled with such horrors that WEEKEND can only seem mild-mannered. But as an intellectual provocation, WEEKEND remains a scintillating experience. It should be noted that in 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER and LA CHINOISE, Godard presented his protagonists in ripe, sensual, adoring close-ups; here, everything is presented in medium or long-shot, so that the characters are kept at a distance. Yet Godard is always ready with another joke to keep the movie buoyant: his apocalyptic vision can't help but be filled with passionate rage and humor.
Of all her films, TOUTE UNE NUIT is one of the most seductive. Set during one night, it's a series of vignettes, some no more than a glimpse of a few seconds, of people at night. People sitting in bars near closing time. People sitting at home, waiting. People walking at night. The sense of anticipation, of yearning, becomes palpable.
Some vignettes are longer, but all these stories are fragmented: we're not given a real beginning, though we are given a few endings. There is no real dialogue: we just see a few gestures, a little action, but that's all.
People alone in a bar, then noticing each other. Will they make some sort of contact? A little girl packing her little suitcase: is she running away? Where? It's like we're given the bits and pieces of a larger narrative, but we have to decide what these bits and pieces mean. And then there are those encounters. Someone waiting alone in an apartment, when another person finally arrives. Two people running into each other on the street. All the meetings, often culminating in a kiss, seem to distill the most intense romantic desires.
We want these strangers to find a way not to be alone, and that desire on our part creates a tension which is tactile and erotic. Of course, Akerman has populated her night world with highly attractive people, so we are in a fantasy world of desire. TOUTE UNE NUIT is one of the most romantic movies that i've ever seen; it's funny that Akerman's most famous movie, JEANNE DIELMAN, is a long movie composed of very lengthy takes, while this movie is relatively short, with sharply edited, staccato little scenes. TOUTE UNE NUIT is almost the antithesis of JEANNE DIELMAN, but it shows Akerman in a romantic mood which is filled with yearning, desire and affection.
In this movie, a mother and daughter (she is an adult, starting her own career as a teacher) live in a very emotionally confined situation. The daughter is engaged, but it's unclear whether the mother is actually accepting of this situation, or wants to hang onto her daughter.
The complexities of this situation were often revealed in little offhand scenes which give the feeling of the constrained lives of the two women. I also remember that a lot hinges on the fact that the father in the family had been arrested for some political "crime" and that this hampered the women's social and economic mobility. So the marriage of the daughter becomes the avenue for escape from this social/economic confinement, but the eventual outcome leaves both women in a situation which is even worse.
I remember this as a very subtle movie, and i think Lin Cheng-sheng's movies should have found a greater reception in the West. The subtlety of his films, as well as their quiet beauty, should please discriminating audiences who are attuned to his quiet mastery. I also note that, to date, this has been his last film, as the Taiwanese cinema has lost a lot of its momentum and funding.
When this film was made, cinema in Taiwan was undergoing a radical shift, as a number of artists, led by Hou Hsaio-Hsien and Edward Yang, were trying to create an "art" cinema; Lin Cheng-sheng was one of their colleagues, and his films, though less hard-edged, tried to tell stories of Taiwanese youth and their search for relationships.
PRIMA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE is one of the most youthful films ever made, as well it should be, since it was made by someone who was impossibly young at the time. I hate to say this, but it's the work of a prodigy, a gifted post-adolescent who is trying to find a form to contain his sometimes overwrought feelings about life, love, and politics. There had been many works catering to the teen crowd, movies like WHERE THE BOYS ARE or BEACH PARTY, but, aside from some of the works of Nicholas Ray (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE), no film artist had yet tried to use the medium as a vehicle for a vision of youthful passions from the inside: Godard would follow with MASCULINE FEMININE and LA CHINOISE, Bertolucci with FISTS IN THE POCKET, Skolimowski with LE DEPART and DEEP END, but Bertolucci was pioneering when he made this movie, and the fact that it's "flawed" should not be held against it, as it represents the expression of a very young artist, trying to express his emotions as directly as possible.
That said, her contribution to the series "Boys and Girls in Their Time", PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG GIRL AT THE END OF THE 60s IN BRUSSELS is one of her tightest and most suggestive works. At a little less than an hour, she captures the frustrations, the inchoate desires, and the yearnings of a teenage girl, seemingly adrift, but actually surveying her options and trying to develop her sense of self. This might seem like a slight work, yet it develops with such an assured touch that the slightest shifts seem monumental. This is, visually, a gentle and lovely work, with a bright yet harmonious palette, and some lyrical scenes which help to entrance the viewer. In its small-scale form, this is one of Akerman's most emotionally acute films, and it's one of the finest coming-of-age films about women that i've ever seen.
But it wasn't just the immediacy that marked Godard's films as special, it was the sense of love that envelopes the film. The close-ups of Jean-Pierre Leaud, Chantal Goya, Marlene Jobert and all the others seem to catch these young people at their most vulnerable, their most charming, and their loveliest. Godard seemed genuinely concerned, fascinated, and enthralled by these young people. Of course, there are some difficulties (the ending is like a punch in the stomach; in the interview with Chantal Goya which is an extra on the Criterion Collection DVD, Goya reveals that the Godard insisted on the ending, because he wanted the contrast between Goya's childlike beauty and the horror of what she's saying), but it is a film which still maintains its hold on the affections of so many who loved the film in their youth. And i think the film is like a time capsule, and has much to show new audiences about a special time in the 20th Century.
Just as MASCULINE FEMININE concerned a group of five friends (two boys, three girls), so LA CHINOISE has a group of five friends as its focus (two girls, three boys). The political discussions which had formed one strand in MASCULINE FEMININE now take over, and the film is about the political discourse which became so much a part of the radical Left in the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yet though the film may seem didactic, it is also very tender in its regard for the protagonists. As with MASCULINE FEMININE, the film is filled with close-ups which show Anne Wiazemsky, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto and the others at their most open and vulnerable, for all the political posturings.
Again, as with MASCULINE FEMININE, LA CHINOISE is one of those movies that seemed to sum up the times for many of us who saw the film on its initial release: it just seemed to capture our lives with an immediacy and a relevancy that was startling. No filmmaker before or since has seemed to be able to be so contemporary. Now that period is part of the past, and the immediacy has been replaced by nostalgia, yet there remains a vitality that has kept this movie fresh.
Plus that "Mao, Mao" pop song is impossible to forget once you've heard it.
At a time when HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS is set to open, with its lackadaisical heroine pursuing a writing career as she tries to make sense of her romantic entanglements, it behooves us to remember MY SISTER EILEEN, which (when it was filmed in 1942) is the prototype, as the two Sherwood sisters (Ruth, played by Rosalind Russell, and her younger sister Eileen, played by Janet Blair) come to New York City to try their hands at writing (for Ruth) and acting (for Eileen). The slapstick annoyances, the charmingly maladroit Greenwich Village denizens (part ethnic, part "bohemian"), the stereotypical romantic encounters, all make for a charming entertainment. In the wake of the sexual frankness of HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, MY SISTER EILEEN might seem dated, but it's a lovely reminder of the wit and the humor of the generation growing up during World War II, when women were (again) finding new possibilities in the workplace, but still had the same problems finding proper dates.
But all that's in the past. STROMBOLI must be seen as the revolutionary work that it is. In the past (and this continues today), the film was castigated for its meandering plotlessness, for its seeming aimlessness. These are, in fact, aspects of the film, because the film is not "about" the passions of a woman (though this was how the movie was advertised on its initial release), but about lassitude. In effect, STROMBOLI was the first filmic expression of alienation, literally in the plot device of having Karin (played by Bergman) a displaced person, and metaphorically in scenes such as the one in which Karin is walking through the town and hears voices - she knows that they're talking about her, but she can't understand what they're saying. (The villagers speak in their Sicilian dialect, and Karin speaks in English; there is the scene where Karin redecorates the house, and the women come to stare, but when she invites them to come in, they just stare and skulk away.)
There are so many problems with seeing this film: it was cut and reedited and a voice-over narration was added for its initial American release; the Italian archival version is dubbed all into Italian. The actual version is a multi-lingual (English, Italian, Sicilian dialect) version which runs 107 minutes, with no narrator. In this version, the documentary aspects are fully integrated into the film.
STROMBOLI deserves to be seen in its full version, and deserves to be seen as the precursor of movies such as L'AVVENTURA, Resnais's Hiroshima MON AMOUR and Godard's UNE FEMME MARIEE.
Yet the brilliant color, the rapid rhythms, even the song-and-dance numbers (there are three) color the unhappiness, making this a vibrant tragicomedy. The film veers between exuberance and exhaustion, yet for all its free-wheeling formal invention, this is one of Godard's most emotionally direct films, a piercing lament on the perils of love.
(Godard would make two more films with Karina, the short "Anticipation", and "Made in USA", both films far more "formal" and less emotionally engaged; the end of the Godard-Karina marriage, the subtext of "Pierrot le Fou", would also inspire Jacques Rivette's "L'Amour Fou".)
I've read the novel by Duras, which i love, but i haven't seen this movie since its first release, when my (twin) sister and i were taken to it by our grandmother. We were excited because there were very few movies which seemed to be about twin siblings (i didn't realize that the characters weren't supposed to be twins until i read the novel a few years later). The relationship between Perkins and Mangano did seem to be especially close. I also have no idea where this movie is: there hasn't been a public screening of this movie in the US in almost 50 years! (If there has been, i'm ready to be informed of that fact.)
(Though the film is well-done, the TV show, in this instance, packed more of a punch, and the performances of Linda Darnell and Trevor Howard were exceptional.)