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|7 reviews in total|
What starts out as a typical criminals-on-the-lam movie turns into a didactic moral lesson to prove to its probably youthful viewers that crime does not pay. What is surprising is that in spite of the clichés, the talented acting of the principles make the film much more poignant than it could have been. Tom Neal (most memorable in the classic "Detour") plays with youthful sincerity. His conversion makes it hard to believe that later he was involved in a violent and criminal life himself and actually did time for murder. Rita Johnson is completely winning, as opposed to her obnoxious character as Ray Milland's girlfriend in "The Major and the Minor". She brings her own sincerity to her stereotyped character and makes it more believable. The emotional impact of the film is also the result of the script's mixed dramatic and documentary approach showing the characters from inside and out, and Jacques Tourneur's perfect pacing.
I agree with another reviewer that love is not the real subject of the
film. The characters think they're feeling love, and they're certainly
looking for love, but in such a shallow and conniving way they're
incapable of getting beyond mere sensuality at best. This is a film
which starts out superficially, as superficial as its characters. Their
lack of depth is underlined by the interviews of more interesting
people that we would almost rather be following, but we're stuck with
this trio of narcissists trying to impress each other through attitude,
clothes, and money-- each locked within his competitive self and each
masturbating in his or her own way. The director's own vanity fits in
perfectly with his fetishist approach, the Wong Kar Wai-like sensual
slow-motion to heighten gesture and make us take a long hard look at
these high-strung game players.
The viewer must be patient and wait for the second part when the film, in dealing with the repercussions from the narcissism of the first part, takes on depth. It is during the last twenty minutes that the actor/director succeeds in dealing with real emotions, not the imitation ones of the first half. Now a new tension sets in that builds to its vociferous climax where the actors are required to go beyond what they have demonstrated up to this point. Watching these neurotic Montréalians (when they finally grow up, they can be the manic-depressive characters in a Denys Arcand film), the viewer goes through the gamut of his or her own memories of attraction and rejection, bouncing around like the ping-pong balls that the expressive actors represent in their own attraction/flirtation/appeasement fluctuations. In fact, the more the film is watched with introspection, the more relevant it becomes.
The fact that this film is being considered for Emmies and not Oscars reveals the problem with adult drama in the US (my native country) today. The years covered by this production, mostly the sixties and early seventies, when autistic people and the role of women were so poorly understood-- and it is an important element in the film that the main character meets rejection because of problems not only with social acceptability but also with those of gender-- in mainstream America, were the golden age for many engaged and dramatically engaging film hits. This kind of cinematic and emotionally-satisfying fare pleased the general public and filled the coffers of the movie studios that now reject practically every intelligent project that comes their way, and actresses like Claire Danes and so many others have to wait years before being offered something that truly suits their talent, and then it is often for the "small" screen. It is no surprise, then, that every contributor to this film seems to recognize the importance of what they are involved with, totally aware of their part in this beautiful tapestry of character acting, intelligent direction, sensitive teleplay writing, graphic design, photography, editing, and sound effects (with reserves for the music which often sounded like a Philip Glass piece being used in a scientific documentary film). This harmonization and the emotional satisfaction it brings about when we are experiencing-- almost living-- the film bring back memories of those sixties and seventies film masterpieces like "The Last Picture Show," "Nashville," "Five Easy Pieces" or "Raging Bull" whose technical and emotional unity created fans of American cinema all over the world and were appreciated by audiences who paid little attention to their "PG" or "R" ratings and turned out in large numbers (of course this feeling that even the seamstresses who stitched the costumes were committed to the message and meaning of the film they were working on is often perceptible in great films from all periods-- be it "Carnival in Flanders" or "Ed Wood"). In the US, what is left of these audiences now have to turn to cable TV or Sundance Festival "Independent" films. In Europe, Hollywood's serious reputation continues to decline as audiences stop expecting American films to be worthwhile. I sincerely hope this film will be viewed in movie theaters as a shared experience among its viewers there: it deserves a theatrical release and will serve as a reminder that American cinema can still be rewarding. In the meantime, let's hope for as many Emmies as possible and thank HBO for continuing to carry the torch for the seriously ailing American popular cinema. Great films like this make us recognize how rare these experiences are nowadays. Maybe in the future Claire Danes, the other actors, the director, and crew members will be "up" for an Oscar after doing more outstanding work for the "big" screen.
After years of hearing many cinema buffs here in France putting Guitry
down for the filmed-theater aspect of his first films and finding some
of these films hard to sit through myself, I came across a quote from
Mae West that Guitry's "Roman d'un tricheur" was one of her favorite
films. So I decided to keep trying.
"Roman" was more inventive than the previous films, as if Guitry had taken his contemporaries' criticism to heart, but a bit predictable for 21st century expectations. Yet it was fascinating to see Guitry falling in love with the means of expression that cinema had to offer him after he had lambasted the medium when talkies first came out.
This exploration continued in "Les perles de la couronne" and now reach their pinnacle in "Remontons les Champs Elysées," truly his most beautiful black and white film. The framework of a teacher telling students about his fore-bearers through the evolution of Paris' most famous street foreshadows the tone of Cocteau's future personal interventions in some of his best films. The fact that Guitry the actor is a teacher here justifies his talkativeness, and perhaps this frees Guitry the director to glide, sweep and whirl the camera around the lovingly created sets-- at some point the viewer wonders if Ophuls had something to do with the filming. Jump cuts are employed with the same elegance that would highlight Goddard's work at the end of the century. All of this to serve a comic and dramatic structure where humanity outweighs a kind of patriotism that never degenerates into chauvinism. This is thanks to Guitry's affectionate criticism of the foibles of those who inhabit his country and create its evolution. One of his best films and one of the best films of all time.
I thought I had seen every Bergman film ever made, so I was thrilled to
stumble onto this one the week after he died. I had no trouble
following the intertwining stories because I kept track of the
characters' names and their relationships. So what confused many
viewers seemed totally justified, especially compared to films in our
post-Altmam era where more and more we see "stories" where seemingly
unconnected people's lives crisscross and are junxtaposed ("Magnolia,"
and "Babel" to name a few).
The filming is fantastic for the time and prefigures the use of close ups in "Through a Glass Darkly." Very different from "Port of Call" just before and "To Joy" just afterwards. I found the film less bleak than "Prison," its lyrical moments prefiguring "Summer Interlude," one of my favorite early Bergmans.
The lesbianism was blatant enough for me, much more obvious than in "Young Man With A Horn," made around the same time in the US. Curiously, this section of the film helped illuminate Bergman's use of the theme in "The Silence," and this makes me want to view that film again. The fact that this is a film Bergman didn't write is intriguing, because he harmonizes his visual language to the rhythms of the screenwriter's oral one. The dialog was rather light for the seriousness of the situations. Perhaps Bergman himself would have been heavier-handed.
Lastly, there are the actresses, and here Bergman's direction of actors seems to solidify, as I find his previous films much more uneven on this score. Here the women, especially the young dancer, show real depth.
Keep in mind that this is not his first film, but still an early work, a seed that will grow into later masterpieces. Then you won't be disappointed, even after the mediocre last minutes of a work that definitely showed promise.
After viewing the unfortunate "Golden Bowl" (also by James Ivory) the
day before, an exposure to "Le Divorce" was certainly a refreshing sip
of champagne. This may be the first James Ivory movie I've seen where I
forgot to look at the sets (unlike Ivory's other French venture,
"Jefferson in Paris"). This is mostly due to the depth of certain
actors and the fact that this time Ivory decides to close in on them
rather than frame them. When the book came out, as an American living
in Paris for 30 years, I avoided reading another set of American
observations on everything French that foreign residents here hate, and
I can't say that the movie avoids the pitfalls of throwing around
generalities. Yet this is kept to an astonishing minimum, perhaps
because few of the main characters really consider themselves typical
representatives of their native country. Instead of a plethora of
reflections coming out of their mouths, "the French are like this, the
Americans are like that," the viewer can actually draw his own
conclusions about which country has the "nicest" people and the place
of formality when it comes to private matters. After all, would the
story have been that much different if it had dealt with class
differences in New York City? The characters who do tend to generalize
are perhaps the least involved in what is going on. They form the real
"décor" of the film, rather than the wallpaper and polished furniture,
although these elements certainly haven't been omitted.
I find it strange that the two most interesting actors are supposed to belong to the subplot, Kate Hudson and Thierry L'Hermitte. The latter is currently being wasted in his late middle age in French films, and, like Louis Jourdan in "Gigi," manages to bring a little subtle something extra to the most stereotyped part in the film. I'd like to see him extend what he has done here, if any producer or director can be bothered.
The film had such a short run in France that I missed seeing it in a movie theater, and it was dismissed by most French critics on its release like the way that some of the American characters are dismissed by their French counterparts in the film itself. It would be a shame to overlook this light but not lightweight effort, for it has a surprisingly natural charm and raises interesting questions about how much the culture that forms our conditioning influences our very humanity.
The experience of watching this film in 2006 has been similar to
watching Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother to Knock" after having seen
her later, greater performances. Maggie Cheung's (Garbo-like)
capability to release interior emotion that will later haunt viewers in
"In the Mood for Love" is beginning to take root in "Yuen Ling-yuk."
Later on, Wong Kar Wai was able to use editing to sculpt her
performance into consistent, unrelenting intensity. Here she is just
beginning to explore the boundaries of her talent. This fits in with
director Stanley Kwan's need to create a work in progress, like the
productions we watch as they are filmed. He both exploits and denounces
the artificial milieu as the actors slip in and out of their roles and
the film steps in and out of period. The trial-and-error method of Yuen
Ling-yuk is matched by Kwan's letting Cheung find her way through the
moods of the character, as if she were trying on a different mask for
each moment of the life she is embodying. By 2000 the integration of
facial and corporal expressions into dramatic expression would be
It would be interesting to know which directors saw this film when it was shown on the festival circuit. Did Tim Burton know that he had a Chinese counterpart who also let his affection for a forgotten era in cinema guide the pace (disconcerting for many) of his tribute when he made "Ed Wood" a year later? In 1999 when Benoît Jacquot filmed "La Tosca," did he think of this film for his distancing technique that juxtaposed real singers at a recording session filmed in black-and-white with their operatic characters in colorful period costumes? Perhaps even Scorsese took inspiration for "Aviator" from the 1930s shadowy wood-paneling/glossy brilliantine look that comes much more easily to Kwan.
This film can be placed alongside "Sylvia Scarlett" or "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," wherein young actresses were given the freedom to go beyond what they had done before and reach for what they would do, under the guidance of a director whose search to take the viewer into (then) uncharted waters inspired the performers to deepen their potential.