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Into the Silent Sea (2013)
Do not go gentle into that good night
This is an awesome short movie. I don't know anything about the director nor the actors, but I was blown away when I first saw it. I have rarely seen something that powerful, beautiful, moving and profound.
A Soviet cosmonaut is floating adrift in his capsule, waiting for the death to come. One of his desperate calls for rescue is picked up by an Italian radio engineer and the two men form a bond in a very special way, as memories are unfolding in the cosmonaut's mind... There's a lot that I could write about "Into the silent sea", but my only recommendation is "just watch it!". Depending on how you feel when you watch it, "Into the silent sea" will affect you in many ways. This fine thesis film (yes, it was made by a grad student!) won a dozen -- well-deserved -- awards around the world.
No one's really beautiful...
(...there are just mediocre men)
When the movie ends, you just know what "Ugly" stands for. Another missing-child movie? Hey, wait. Since Villeneuve's "Prisoners", we know that there is still something new to bring to this film genre. Two references came immediately to my mind when watching "Ugly": "Fargo" and Korean thrillers. The movie borrows a nice set of money-hungry losers from "Fargo" and a frantic pace and plot from Korean detective movies. Add a pinch of dark humor and social critique and you're bound to have a startling piece of work that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the even more startling ending. Sometimes you'll get the impression that everything goes way too fast, but be patient, each erratic behavior, each twist in the narration has an explanation. The story starts with the kidnapping of an aspiring actor's daughter. This aspiring actor (Rahul) has a suicidal ex-wife married to a temperamental police captain, once Rahul's rival when they were kids. Rahul has also a best friend who is ready to stab him in the back whenever he can. Now, imagine how the situation becomes exacerbated by the aforementioned relationships, then add a fair amount of scheming, double crosses and triple crosses, laced with a good dose of police corruption. You can start to imagine how the situation will evolve and you won't be even close to reality. Because on top of everything, believe it or not, the plot is based on actual facts.
If you want to check if truth can be indeed stranger than fiction, try this one. Well served by very fine (and often hilarious) performances, "Ugly" is a modern film noir of the type you wouldn't expect from an Indian director, except if you keep in mind that India has much more to offer than Bollywood sickly sweet romances.
Piccolo mondo antico (1941)
"Little old-fashioned world" was a tremendous success when it was released in Fascist Italy in 1941. It is said that it was as huge in Italy as "Gone With The Wind" in America. It also started the career of Alida Valli (who starred years later in "The third man" and in Visconti's "Senso")as a movie star.
Having said that, very little of this past glory has stood the test of time. What remains today is some incredible and pompous period film, dull and unimaginative in spite of Valli's beauty and sensibility. Based on a novel that sets a melodramatic romance against a backdrop of major historical events, the story is set in the nineteenth century, during the Risorgimento era. Cut off by his family for marrying below his station, a young nobleman faces war fighting the Austrians and a different kind of war with a vengeful grandmother and neglected wife. Some people regard this film as a forerunner of Italian neorealism. They are dead wrong. "Piccolo mondo antico" reminds one constantly of heavy adaptations of novels as they were made in the 1930s. An established writer before turning to film director, Soldati is far from being Visconti. Let's do him justice by reading more of his novels and reviews.
My Little Princess (2011)
Based on a strongly autobiographical story, I doubt "My Little Princess" will be widely seen, for its subject can shy away many cinema lovers (it tells how a talented photographer literally sold her daughter's soul via erotic shots). And yet, "My Little Princess" deserves to be seen, not only because it is an unconventional story, well told and well played, but also because it makes you think and wonder about what can be done for the sake of art. And the answer is of course not an easy one.
Director Eva Ionesco has a full bag of stories regarding mother-and-daughter relationships and the world of art as it was in the 1970s. To begin with, as bizarre and cruel as they seem, yes, many aspects of MLP are true. Eva's mother is Irina Ionesco, a French photographer of Romanian origin who became famous some forty years ago for her erotic stills, particularly those showcasing her daughter in artsy and suggestive situations. These pictures created much controversy as Eva was only four when her mom began to take fetishist pictures of her. These photos are still a problem for Eva Ionesco as her mother goes on displaying and selling them on the Net and in some art galleries. It can be thus inferred that MLP is without any doubt a therapeutic work of art.
However, Ionesco has managed to lay anger aside when she wrote the scrip of MLP, for her work is astonishingly non judgmental. Young Anamaria Vartolomei (herself of Romanian origin) plays the part of Violetta, torn between Hanah (Isabelle Huppert), her eccentric and over-possessive mother, and her devout great-grand-mother (Georgetta Leahu). The danger was to expose Anamaria Vartolomei to the same unpalatable exhibition Ionesco has herself experienced, but the director knew exactly where to draw the line. There is more suggestion in the film than anything else, when Hanah takes pictures of Violetta for instance, then there is only brief nudity and it concerns only adults. Not that the film is an innocuous one -- of course it isn't (cf. the upsetting scenes with Jethro Cave), but Ionesco chose instead to focus on the psyche of a child who would do anything to gain her mother's love, then who turns into a rebellious teenager.
We've seen Huppert playing icy, half-insane and abusive characters so many times before than her performance is hardly a surprise -- she is nevertheless one of the film's best assets. Looking in turn like a witch or a fairy in her Gothic outfits and Harlowesque hairdo, she is as poisonous and beautiful as a datura. Anamaria Vartolomei is a rare finding, an astonishingly mature girl who was only 10 when the film was shot. She is a born actress.
At the end of the film, while she is saving herself from her mother's clutches, Violetta transforms herself into a sort of provocative Lolita who wears make-up and tight pants to go to junior high school. The future of such a disoriented girl looks quite uncertain, but soon we will find out what happens next as Ionesco has already said that MLP is the first part of a trilogy. Next episode will deal with the period of her life when she was the youngest night bird of all Paris. "A much more funny time for me", she says. With such a promising debut, there is enough to be looking forward to watching Violetta's new adventures.
L'arte di arrangiarsi (1955)
The art of changing sides
Alberto Sordi, one of the major actors in post World War II Italy, had a tendency to make one movie after another, meaning that he could either star in masterpieces ("I Vitelloni" directed by Fellini, to name just one example) or appear in dreadful flicks. It seems that he was never really choosy in his career. He fortunately met a few directors who knew how to direct him and use his skills: not only Fellini, but also Risi, Rosi..., and the lesser known Luigi Zampa. I was expecting another star vehicle for Sordi but "L'Arte di Arrangiarsi" ("The Art of Getting Along") is more subtle than that. Indeed, Sordi plays once again one of those petty characters he has often played. Fortunately, the film was not made just in praise of Sordi's talent. With the story of Sasa Scimoni (Alberto Sordi), Zampa recounts forty years or so of Italian history with irony and dark humor, portraying Italian society with all its imperfections. The main character of the film is an expert at changing sides, his only interest in life being women and money. It wouldn't be so much a problem if Sasa didn't live in a troubled era: from the 1910s to the 1950s, Italy underwent a period of drastic political changes (especially with the rise and fall of Mussolini) and no less than two world wars. Impossible to pull through such an eventful period without getting some fingers burnt, as Sasa will learn. Zampa was a good satirist, but his films did not have the same impact or strength as works from directors like Risi or Fellini. One can tell why when watching "L'Arte di Arrangiarsi": it is a well-written comedy (maybe a little too well-written...), Alberto Sordi is in good shape, but it lacks that little spark that would have taken the film much higher. Maybe it wasn't enough biting? It is nevertheless a very enjoyable film, not only for Sordi's fans, but for all those who love Italian comedies.
Those who love Chéreau can take the next train
"Persecution: active, systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group or individual."
After watching "Persecution", you might just wonder who is really persecuted: Daniel, the short-tempered main character, stalked by a stranger who claims he's in love with him, Sonia, Daniel's girlfriend with whom he argues frequently and can hardly connect, or simply the spectator. Watching a film like this is anything but a treat: unlikeable characters, stark settings, ugly photography, it is French "psychological" cinema at its worst. I don't have a problem with Chéreau, I understand he makes films for an adult and educated audience. Some of his daring choices (as in "Intimacy" for instance) are challenging but interesting, at the very least enough thought provoking to get something out of them. Unfortunately, "Persecution" is a pretentious and overblown piece of work, as if Chéreau gradually became more and more full of himself over the years to eventually forget one essential thing: the audience. "Gabrielle", released in 2005, was already a "stiff" and dry film, well played and well directed, yet haughty and cold. As Chéreau's works get more and more personal, spectators are more and more kept at a distance by the filmmaker. The problem is that films are made for an audience (even if it's not a broad one), not just for the pleasure of wasting money. When artists create works that not only have no appeal for most of the people, but also have seemingly no clear purpose, I believe they lose the sense of reality. I assume that is what happened to Patrice Chéreau, who has proved with other films that he is more than an able director. I don't mind watching a film where the main character is complex, obsessive and quite unlikeable (remember "Naked" directed by Mike Leigh). I don't mind watching wordy films (I've had my share of Woody Allen's and Eric Rohmer's flicks). But I resent films where I am left out, where the story has nothing to catch my attention. Romain Duris (who plays Daniel) is as convincing as a home renovator as Gérard Depardieu as a nun but is very good at getting on everyone's nerves, including the spectators', Charlotte Gainsbourg as the aloof girlfriend is remarkably dull, Jean-Hugues Anglade's intriguing character is sacrificed, secondary characters are not fleshed out as they should have been (poor Hiam Abbass has only a few lines to say). Even what would have been interesting leads were given up by Chéreau (for instance, we never know whether the stalker's character is a figment of Daniel's imagination or not, and that could have added an uncanny touch to "Persecution"). At its worst, the film is extremely repetitive when things begin quickly to stall. In spite of a good opening scene, I couldn't care less about what was going to happen to any of the characters. In other words, I never felt that "Persecution" was a movie really worth my time.
È primavera... (1950)
Beppe Agosti (Mario Angelotti), a cunning yet naive young man from Florence, is sent to Sicily when drafted in the army. There he falls for one of his comrades' fiancée, the dark and stern Maria Antonia (Elena Varzi), and seduces her to eventually marry her. Some weeks later, during a short stay in Milan, Beppe meets the fair and hearty Lucia (Irene Gemma). He soon proposes her... This is how Beppe learns (a little bit too late, perhaps) that the penalty for bigamy is to deal with two wives. Not a very wise move, especially when the two wives live at the two opposite ends of Italy...
Castellani's first film, "Un colpo di pistola" ("A Pistol Shot"), was released in 1942; but it was only after World War II that he made the trilogy of the poor people and young love for which he is best remembered: "Sotto il sole di Roma" ("Under the Sun of Rome") (1948), "È primavera" (a.k.a "It's Forever Springtime" or "Springtime in Italy") (1950), and his most successful work, "Due soldi di speranza" ("Two Cents Worth of Hope") (1952). While "Under the Sun of Rome" and "Two Cents Worth of Hope" got both awards in prestigious international film festivals (Venice and Cannes), "È primavera" did not get the same attention. No wonder why: in spite of a script co-written by Suso Cecchi d'Amico and Cesare Zavattini (who were frequently associated with Visconti and De Sica), this potentially promising work fizzles out towards the end, as if the screenwriters and director didn't know what to do with all their ideas. Performed by non-professional actors, and shot on location from one end of the Italian peninsula to the other, the film follows the steps of Rossellini and De Sica, but in a much lighter way for "È primavera" has indeed more in common with the Italian-style comedies of the 50s than with "Bicycles Thieves" or "Paisa". Castellani's taste for farcical plots and happy endings have led critics to brand him as a "pink neorealist". The burning questions of that time (the opposition between the industrial North and underdeveloped Mezzogiorno, unemployment, Christian ethics vs. modern society...) are cloaked in humor and an optimism that official Italy found probably reassuring after the bleak view exported by the above-mentioned masterpieces. Mario Angelotti is a true natural for portraying Beppe; the rest of the cast is maybe less convincing. It is really a shame that the ending of the film is a little bit of a mess, because Castellani had obviously some skills -- but not enough to match the great masters of neorealism or Italian comedy. Therefore "È primavera" is nothing more than a nice old-fashioned little film, the type you enjoy if you are in the right mood but forget very quickly.
Benda Bilili! (2010)
Kinshasa Social Club
The first scene sets the tone. One of the happiest and most joyous musics starts and what you see is a middle-aged cripple (a man deprived of his legs). And the cripple dances to the music -- and I mean it: the guy doesn't move around by the beat of the music, he really dances. Amazing.
Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye have followed a band made of four homeless paraplegics and three "abled" men, the Staff Benda Bilili, from the streets of Kinshasa, Congo, to music festivals in the cities of Europe. Some have guitars and wonderful voices, some have a wire on a tin or pieces of wood to beat. Another success story? Yes, but there is more to it. There are ups and downs, as life isn't always easy in one of the poorest countries on earth, especially when you have just a sheet of cardboard on which to sleep.
The two filmmakers started to befriend the leader of the band, Ricky, and after becoming enchanted by Benda Bilili's terrific music, they decided to help the small group make a recording. At the time, they had no idea that their commitment would take five years. The other striking character is young Roger, a street child with a gift for music at the beginning of the documentary, a man and an accomplished musician at the end of the film. It's moving to watch him grow, escaping from gang life and God knows what, and making his dreams come true. It's too bad though that we don't learn much about the members of the band, but given the budgetary restraints under which the film was made, I think that it was merely impossible for the filmmakers to delve into this subject.
Look out for "Benda Bilili!" if you can, especially of you dig in African music or/and "cinéma vérité".
Händelse vid bank (2010)
When shorts are more meaningful than full-length features
This amazing short was awarded the Golden Bear in the Berlin Film Festival this year (2010).
Based on a real incident, this short was filmed in just one take. It looks like a video surveillance film, but it says much more than any video surveillance would say.
"Incident by a Bank" recreates in real time a failed bank robbery that took place in Stockholm in June 2006. About everything goes wrong in front of us, not only the robbery but also the reactions of the people in the street, especially two friends out for a stroll who become spectators, commentators, and ultimately documentary makers(!). To say the least, their reactions to the unexpected are both composed and odd (precisely because they are composed).
The result is both chilling and amusing. I don't know Ruben Östlund who directed this but I'll certainly keep an eye on him from this moment on.
Black Mic Mac (1986)
Colorful Blacks and Whites
French director Thomas Gilou has obviously an interest in cross-cultural identities and minorities. He has thus depicted the French-Arabic community in "Raï" (1995) (also a little bit in "Michou d'Auber" - 2007) and the French-Jewish (sephardic) community in "Would I Lie to You?" (1997), his biggest hit so far. In "Black mic-mac" ("Black Mix-Up") (1986), he has portrayed French-Africans in a gentle and warm way, albeit not always in a very subtle manner.
This comedy covers no less than immigrant life, family unity, culture shock, interracial romance and black magic(!). With such ingredients, you would expect one of those challenging intellectual films that the French are (sometimes) so fond of. On the contrary, "Black mic-mac" displays a good-natured humor and always remains on the light side. The "mix up" starts when some African squatters in Paris, threatened with eviction, find themselves fighting against the French administration. For fear that no good will come from the bureaucrats, our group of African squatters turn to their best option to solve the problem: they call for a sorcerer from home. The target will be Michel Le Gorgues (Jacques Villeret), a preventive health service inspector who has to investigate the case. The guy is actually a well-meaning but zealous civil servant who knows nothing about the customs of Paris' African community he discovers little by little (as we do when watching the movie). The sorcerer hops on a jet to Paris to cast spells on Le Gorgues, and while en route he strikes up a conversation with a fellow passenger, mentioning his job pays quite well. The very idea of making some money is quite appealing to the interested passenger who decides to take the sorcerer's place. Once he arrives, the impostor has to act like he knows what he is doing, and at the same time, he had better solve the eviction problem...
It has been years since I have watched "Black mic-mac" (when it was released first, then maybe once on TV). I think it would be interesting to watch it again today, first to check how the movie has aged (probably nicely as I have kept a good overall impression), then in the light of what is going on in France nowadays with the new laws on immigration. It is somehow amazing to realize that back in the mid 80s, forced evictions of immigrants were seen as a potential subject for comedies in French cinema, while now it is the basis of much more militant films (see for instance "Welcome" by Philippe Lioret and "Eden à l'ouest" by Costa-Gavras). Yes, reality has taken over in the meantime. And yet, even though it promotes some unsavory stereotypes (e.g. all Africans believe in black magic and keep live chickens in their house, etc.), "Black mic-mac" remains a refreshing and amusing little comedy. Of course, all things end well and Le Gorgues gets eventually "bewitched" (but not quite as it was intended). One of the biggest hits of 1986 in France, the movie also features a fine score, a good mix of West African music with songs from Youssou N'Dour, Papa Wemba, Salif Keita, to name just a few. Isaach De Bankolé, who plays the scheming but helpful impostor, won a French César for Most Promising Actor in 1987, the first Black actor to win a César ever. One piece of advice: avoid "Black Mic Mac 2" (1988) with a completely different cast and director, which got extremely poor reviews when it was released in France. For that reason, I have never bothered to watch that sequel.
Pourquoi Israel (1973)
"Pourquoi Israël" ("Israel, Why", without a question mark) is Claude Lanzmann's first documentary. Lanzmann is famous for his most prominent work, "Shoah", a lengthy yet powerful and unforgettable history of the Jewish genocide during WWII. "Pourquoi Israël" examines life in Israel twenty-five years after the birth of the state.
Lanzmann said that he was in Germany to study philosophy when the Jewish Agency became the Provisional government of Israel in 1948, therefore not at all aware of what was going on in Palestine. Not a fervent Zionist himself, Lanzmann is nevertheless haunted by what makes Jewish identity and anything related to this topic. It is interesting to note that Lanzmann started to shoot footage for "Pourquoi Israël" right after writing "Elise, ou la vraie vie" ("Elise, or Real Life" -- see that entry) which was a film on the Algerian war. Indeed, it may seem a little odd that someone who is clearly against colonialism would support the survival of Israel, but Lanzmann takes on a non Manichean approach (I wouldn't say "objective", that's something else) when he depicts the achievements and contradictions of the Israeli nation. Through a series of scenes, where the director spends time with many different people (German-Jewish migrants, dock workers, intellectuals, police, prison inmates, and the newly arrived -- especially from Russia), Lanzmann shows that the normality of a "state like any other" is actually abnormality itself. "How peculiar is a place where there are Jews and nothing but", he once stated in an interview.
Is "Pourquoi Israël" "Shoah" before "Shoah"? Yes and no. It is already a lengthy collection of interviews (it lasts almost three hours; that's short by Lanzmann's standards), but it has a faster pace, some mise-en-scene here and then and, yes, some humor, as the film often addresses much lighter issues than "Shoah" (as one may expect). In any case, Lanzmann's works are meant to make you think. As always, you have to be ready to absorb their content and make something out of it.
The title of the film is often incorrectly given as a question ("Why Israel?"). The documentary is rather an answer or an explanation. That is why it is still relevant to watch this documentary, even today (the film premiered in a difficult context, just when Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973), for most of the problems Israel still faces are exposed here. Lanzmann started to make extensive research for "Shoah" right after the release of "Pourquoi Israël", obviously the second part of an insightful trilogy on what is "Jewishness" today (the third part being the documentary named "Tsahal").
Élise ou la vraie vie (1970)
Elise, or the home front
It is often said that French cinema does not tackle the Algerian war very frequently. It is mostly a myth. But whereas there are about 20 French films that deal directly with this topic (there are much more films that only hint at the conflict, such as for instance "The Butcher" by Claude Chabrol, where the main character is a war vet traumatized by his experience as a soldier in Indochina and Algeria), most of them are either political or psychological modest flicks ("Intimate Enemies" is the only action film I can think of). The usual comparison with the Vietnam war is in my opinion really pointless: on the one hand you have a Cold War conflict and on the other hand you have a decolonization war. Of course the American film industry has produced loads of movies on the Vietnam war when the French seem much more reluctant to deal with their history, but when both wars are generally regarded as "dirty" and controversial, the French have to deal with memories of torture, political murders, terrorism (and remember that terrorist attempts and political murders also took place on the French soil), counter-terrorism and the loss of a territory where hundreds of thousands of French settlers lived. Each nation has to fight its own taboos and/or guilt: after all, we are still waiting for the first American film on the Hiroshima nuclear bombing and its consequences.
I understand the Algerian war must be a subject difficult to grasp when you are not French nor familiar with French history. It is always better to read a little bit about the context before watching a film related to the Algerian war. However, if you have a special interest in this period and would like to improve your knowledge on the matter, here are three films I strongly recommend for I believe them to be fair and honest: "Outremer", directed by Brigitte Roüan in 1990 (the French settlers' point of view), "La trahison" ("The Betrayal"), directed by Philippe Faucon in 2005 (a chronicle of a French army unit's maneuvers in the Algerian desert) and this one (on the situation in France during the "events"). These films are by no means Hollywood-style blockbusters nor lavish productions, but they all provide penetrating insights into the conflict and its impact on French society. I have nicknamed this film "Elise, or the Home Front" as the story is set in France while the war with Algeria was going on.
In 1957, Elise Le Tellier, a young woman from Bordeaux, decides to join her brother Lucien, an intellectual with revolutionary ideas who has decided to become a worker in a car factory on the outskirts of Paris (thus abandoning his wife and child in Bordeaux). Lucien has secured a position for her and Elise in turn works on the assembly line in the factory. There she meets and falls in love with Arezki, a young Algerian immigrant. The conflict between France and Algeria makes their life together very difficult, despite the deep love that binds them.
Michel Drach has directed a brave film which hides nothing of the reality of racism in the France of the late 50's. His film has a documentary-like precision when it comes to describe the appalling working conditions in the car factories where thousands of Algerian Muslims worked after WWII. I found this part of the film very interesting. You may find that Michel Drach really took his time to describe the assembly line and the atmosphere in the car factory, but it was the immigrants' confined world as the French authorities and employers did not put in place any large-scale or national program to organize the life of North African migrants outside the workplace. The deafening noise, the racist and macho remarks uttered by the foremen form the backdrop against which the love story between Arezki (Mohamed Chouikh) and sweet Elise (Marie-Jose Nat, then Drach's wife) develops. But don't expect a sugar-coated love story as war and racial prejudice make the romance virtually impossible. Once again the film is very brave in showing the miserable living conditions of the immigrants and the frequent and humiliating roundups and the police searches aimed at them. It shows also some of the tensions within the Algerian community, a hint to the internal fighting between rival Algerian nationalist movements.
The script was written by Drach and Claude Lanzmann (the man who directed "Shoah" years later) and is based on a novel by Claire Etcherelli, winner of the Femina Prize in 1967. Claire Etcherelli was inspired by her own experience as a provincial working girl who got hired in a Parisian factory and as a supporter of the Algerian independence. Sure, "Elise, ou la vraie vie" is a left-wing film, featuring some politically engaged actors such as Bernadette Lafont and Catherine Allégret (Simone Signoret's daughter) in small parts, yet it has nothing of a propaganda work, one-sided, heavy and tedious. The characters and the plot are realistic, the overall tone is sincere. No character is either good or bad, and even activists have their weaknesses (see how Lucien, Elise's brother, becomes more and more indifferent to great causes). Marie-José Nat's acting is touching as the young woman who gradually becomes aware of the world she lives in. Is that real life? Is real life the short time she spends with Arezki? The ending does not say so. As the title of the film suggests, it seems that young Elise has no choice between a stifling life or doomed love and transient freedom.
La chasse à l'homme (1964)
Who hunts who?
The theme of this lightweight comedy is the eternal chase by females after eligible males with the object of matrimony and the endeavors of the males to get away. Edouard Molinaro is considered as an apt director of comedies: after all, he got two Oscars nominations for "La cage aux folles" in 1980 -- "Oscar", "My uncle Benjamin" and "L'emmerdeur" are other highlights in his career. "Male Hunt" may be not as famous, but it is nevertheless a watchable movie in spite of a monotonous script (you get very quickly the idea that women are all manipulative little temptresses). But thanks to a brilliant cast, with the young Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean-Claude Brialy and Claude Rich and such beauties as the Dorléac sisters (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in their prime, i.e. simply beautiful), Mireille Darc, Marie Laforêt, Marie Dubois..., this flick couldn't be a complete failure. And there is Francis Blanche who is as usually a riot as a Greek(!) detective(!!). Bernard Blier is also hilarious as Catherine Deneuve's father. The other strength of the movie is its brilliant dialogs. Michel Audiard had apparently a lot of fun when he wrote sparkling lines that equal (almost) Sacha Guitry in his best plays. Then Molinaro wrapped the whole thing up in a flashy cinematic style (with scenes caught from oblique angles, images within frames, chases à la Mack Sennett...).
A young idle bachelor (Jean-Claude Brialy) aims to get married. His best friend (Claude Rich) thinks he is daft, and desperately, diligently persuades him to give up the reckless idea telling him horrible marriage stories. But on a break-away cruise of the Greek islands our chap meets a predatory young woman (Françoise Dorléac) whose intentions are much more deceptive and whose aim more sure than those of any of the girls he has met...
OK, this movie is not likely to stick in your head for 10 minutes after you've seen it, but you might give it a try.
La promenade (2007)
A gentle stroll
Marina De Van is mostly known for her bizarre parts (as in François Ozon's short "See the Sea") and bizarre films ("Under my Skin", "Don't Look Back"). In this short Cesar nominated film, she shows an unexpected side of herself, more tender and more humane.
David (Gilbert Melki) gets married. On his wedding day, his 82-year-old father (Natan Cogan) tells him that he yearns for a woman and asks him if he could help him. The problem is that old Robert is not very well, both physically and mentally. The other problem lies with David who doesn't know what to do with this request. Moreover, he's very reluctant to help his father cheating on his mother. After some hesitation, he finally sees his father's request as an opportunity to strike up the complicity which is so badly missing between them. David decides to go on a stroll with Robert and the two men soon find themselves searching for a prostitute for the elderly man.
If I compare "La promenade" to De Van's previous works, I find it a much more palatable film. When watching it, you soon wonder how you would react if you were in a similar situation and what you would do then. Although old Robert's request may seem incongruous at first sight, it is perfectly understandable and makes this little tale quite universal. De Van raises the issue of the place the elderly have in our modern society and how their sexuality is addressed. Her film is never condescending nor pompous. Leaving for a while her dark fantasies, De Van displays an unusual affection for her characters. Gilbert Melki is as usually very good playing the son at turns bewildered, comical, irritating and moving -- he is definitely one of the most subtle actors we have in France.
I nostri sogni (1943)
Leo (Vittorio de Sica) and Oreste (Paolo Stoppa), two small crooks eking a living out of small scams, have only a couple of hours to pay a debt to one of their (many) creditors. When passing by the premises of the Tuns company, a large business company, Leo and Oreste have the idea of mingling with the employees (in order to find a way to make money or to be hired), until Leo is mistaken for the owner of the company, Mr Tuns himself (after all, no one has ever met this Mr Tuns, but for a couple of people). The role suits him like a glove, especially when he is asked to attend a concert -- as our two crooks see it as an opportunity to trick more people out of their money. But Leo is supposed to escort a sweet young woman, Matilde Moscapelli, aka "Titi" (Maria Mercader), the daughter of an accountant who works for the Tuns company. Mr Moscapelli has indeed high expectations for his daughter who is herself hoping for a better life. Leo soon finds himself caught between his desperate need for money and his new power as wealthy and mighty Mr Tuns can make dreams come true... Has he any right to disappoint Titi?
Italian filmmaker Vittorio Cottafavi is best known for his pepla and was regarded as a competent director by most critics, although none of his works really stands out. But don't expect wild wigs, heavy make up, exotic folk dances and men in leather miniskirts here as Cottafavi's directorial debut owes much more to Vittorio de Sica than to the Roman Empire. After a couple of years spent studying at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome (regarded as one of the best art schools of the time), Cottafavi graduated in the late 1930s and began working as a screenwriter. He then became an assistant director to Alessandro Blasetti and Vittorio de Sica. Hence his first film, "I Nostri Sogni" ("Our Dreams") released in 1943, featured De Sica as the leading star and was based on a theater play written by Ugo Betti, one of the greatest Italian playwrights of that time. In other words, "I Nostri Sogni" was meant to be a popular success which goal was to distract Italians from their current problems and the harsh realities of WWII. Cottafavi's first work was born under the sign of the De Sica-Zavattini partnership, here actor and adapter one of the most fruitful partnerships in the history of Italian cinema. Zavatini's ironical touch can be felt here and then, and De Sica, well into middle age, was at his best playing light roles like Leo. I was a little afraid of what to expect, given Cottafavi's latter specialization in sword-and-sandal epics (I admit that pepla are generally not my cup of tea), but there is a care for atmosphere and a good cast, including Maria Mercader as the blonde leading lady, with whom De Sica formed a romantic team both on screen and in real life (by that time, De Sica was still married to his first wife and there was no divorce possible in Catholic Italy). The film isn't flawless though: it is mostly uneven, still far from the style which, apart from the genre and production budget, distinguishes the mature cinema of Cottafavi. Since the film was produced in the last months of the Mussolinian regime, it sets out a defence of the working class, morally clean, the soul of fascism, counterpointing the snobbism of the fashionable rich and the extravagance of the main protagonist. However, "I Nostri Sogni" is nothing more than an enjoyable little comedy, very far from the neorealist masterpieces which would soon vault Italian cinema into the world spotlight, but also rather far from the fluff you usually have in the "white telephone films" ("telefono bianco" pictures see for instance Mario Camerini's films).
The revolution in Italian cinema started with white telephones
De Sica, famous for his neorealist masterpieces "Bicycle Thieves", "Umberto D.", "Miracle in Milan" (etc.), was pursuing a wartime career almost indistinguishable from the one he enjoyed in the '30s when he shot "Maddalena...", his second film. Handsome and elegant, De Sica was then the Italian equivalent of Cary Grant. Having seen his most famous films, I was expecting a rare find with "Maddalena...". Well, it was a disappointment, at least from that point of view. It is however interesting to compare De Sica's foremost works with "Maddalena...", a much earlier film which has absolutely nothing to do with neorealism.
"Maddalena..." is typical of the "white telephones" films, that is to say upper-class melodramas and comedies that were popular in Italy before and during WWII, when Mussolini wanted cinema to distract and uphold the consensus. The "telefoni bianchi" or "white telephones" pictures gently mocked upper-class convention while celebrating the triumph of the commonplace and were so named because the characters used elegant and pricey white phones rather than the standard black ones. A stage play filmed on sets in a studio, "Maddalena..." is a sentimental romance with a very predictable plot. De Sica plays a young Austrian businessman (remember that the play was originally written in Hungarian) accidentally entangled in a romantic affair with a dreamy Italian school girl (Carla del Poggio) guess what happens next. The only original turn of the plot is that the complications caused by an anonymous love letter eventually bring two (!) couples together. Like all "white telephones" films, "Maddalena..." says nothing about actual everyday life in the Italy of 1940. While the movie has a good pacing and was obviously directed with energy, there is no more than the artificial fluff you will find in most of the nice little comedies of that era. One can see De Sica's subsequent neorealist films precisely as a strong reaction to that type of cinema. After years of such conventional filmmaking, he was probably yearning to give a new direction to his films, either as an actor or as a director. It was nevertheless Mussolini's downfall which led to the birth of neorealism, when shortage of money and cinema equipments made shootings in real locations with non-professional actors an imperative choice. To be fair, the fake characters and phony plots of the "white telephones" films could only lead to a brutal change, which resulted in the production of left-wing films much more in line with what was actually happening in Italian society. "Maddalena..." can therefore be regarded as part of a preparatory phase prior to a more creative and interesting period in De Sica's directorial career.
Ci troviamo in galleria (1953)
First and forgettable film by Bolognini
Gardenio, an old variety show performer who has once known some success, makes a living organizing third-rate tours in small provincial towns. During a show met with hisses and whistles of disapproval, the spectators demand that Caterina, the bar's lovely cashier, be allowed to sing. The show is a success and the young woman becomes part of Gardenio's small company. A famous impresario notices Caterina and offers her a fabulous contract, which she demands for Gardenio as well. Soon after, the two performers get married. But their paths diverge: while the girl goes on to success, old Gardenio prefers to give up working in television and goes back to performing variety shows in provincial towns, leaving his wife in Rome
Often noted for his sensitivity and disenchantment, Mauro Bolognini was one of the most prominent Italian directors of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Critically and commercially successful, his films featured famous actors and international stars such as Claudia Cardinale, Raquel Welch, Anthony Quinn, Marcello Mastroianni, Gina Lollobrigida, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve, Laurence Harvey and Sophia Loren, and won top prizes at the Cannes, San Sebastian and Locarno festivals. Today, strangely enough, it seems that both Bolognini and his films have fallen into oblivion. While it is totally unfair regarding most of his works, "Ci troviamo in galleria" ("Let's Meet in the Gallery") deserves to stay in limbo for it is far below the par of Bolognini's best films. Far from his usual sensuous mise-en-scene and accomplished period dramas, "Ci troviamo in galleria" is very flat and offers nothing but a forgettable story. It could have been a sort of Italian version of "A Star is Born", but alas it can't stand the comparison. Distributed in France under the title "Une fille formidable" ("A terrific chick"), the terrific girl here is not Sophia Loren in her prime, but unfortunately singer Nilla Pizzi, little known outside Italy. The film was built as a star vehicle for Pizzi whose songs will send you directly into diabetic coma (too much cheese or sugar, I haven't decided yet). To put things in a nutshell, there is little to save from Bolognini's first full-length movie. Even Alberto Sordi's huge fans will be disappointed for he appears in just one scene, playing his own part, not even being funny. Having said that, you can't miss Sophia Loren as the red-haired (!!!) dancer who steals the show in a couple of scenes, especially when she's dressed in a simple swimsuit that hides nothing of her curves. Unless you have a thesis to write on Bolognini and have to watch everything he did, or are part of Sophia's fan club and want to watch everything she did, you may skip this one. To have a full grasp of Bolognini's talent, I advise you to watch instead "Bell' Antonio", "La notte brava", "Libera, amore mio", "La viaccia", "Metello", and many others.
Hamesh Shaot me'Pariz (2009)
In a working-class suburb of Tel Aviv, Yigal, a divorced taxi driver (Dror Keren) works with a psychologist to conquer his fear of flying so he can go to Paris for his son's bar mitzvah. He meets Lina (Helena Yaralova), a Russian former concert pianist who teaches music at his son's school. But she is a married woman on the brink of leaving Israel to join her husband Grisha in Canada. So when Grisha (Vladimir Friedman) returns, Lina must make some difficult choices...
I have rarely seen such a charming movie coming from Israel. Not that Israeli cinema isn't charming, but what we usually get here (in France) is pretty heavy serious stuff, i.e. politically engaged films or "movies-with-a-message". "Five Hours from Paris" is a sweet and delightful little film which brought a breeze of fresh air in the cinema theater where I sat to watch it. The two main characters are absolutely adorable (Dror Keren, you have a fan here!) and director Leonid Prudovsky has written a delicate romantic comedy which is almost like real life. The actors may be not very famous and the setting not really exceptional, yet this film is really endearing, for it delivers quite a simple and warm message: yes, two seemingly different people can grow together and open to love.
I guess I was lucky I could enjoy this film at a nearby theater, for a French chain of art cinemas removed "Five hours from Paris" from scheduling last month (June 2010) in light of Israel's involvement in the Gaza flotilla raid. Let me state here that it was a shameful decision, for there is nothing in "Five Hours from Paris" that could raise your eyebrows. It is on the contrary quite a universal and tender movie. Besides, censoring romantic comedies like this one is clearly not the right answer to the world's great disorder. Under the pretext that this film has the Israeli nationality, it is penalized -- but have we ever censored singer Miriam Makeba when there was apartheid in South Africa? (To be fair and honest, I have to mention that under the media and public pressure, the French chain of art cinemas eventually changed its decision.) I hope that those foolish considerations won't keep anyone away from this little and francophile treat. "Francophile?" Oh yes, I forgot to mention that in spite of the mix of Russian and Hebrew you hear throughout the whole movie, it had a familiar taste to me as it is full of French songs from the 60s (I admit that Joe Dassin's songs are probably the most dangerous things in the film).
Les caprices d'un fleuve (1996)
Giraudeau's humanist nature
Although I don't want to write a tribute to Bernard Giraudeau with this review, I have to say that his death three days ago (on July 17, 2010) has affected me and it is not without some afterthoughts that I write this. One of the leads of French cinema in the 1980s, Bernard Giraudeau was never satisfied with his persona on screen: cast as a seducer in his first films, he later played more tortured characters. Jean-François de La Plaine, the main character of "Les caprices d'un fleuve", belongs to this category and is certainly a complex one. In 1786, after a duel, this French aristocrat is exiled to a French colony in West Africa on the banks of the Senegal river. There, as governor, he presides over a thriving slave trade. He takes a Mulatto woman as his lover and slowly awakens to love for a young local girl named Amélie.
Giraudeau, an actor/director/writer noted for his humanism, apparently wanted to tell a sort of philosophical tale. Indeed, there is a parallel between the distant tumults of the French revolution and its aftermath and La Plaine's experiences in Africa, as he moves from a world where slavery and privileges go unquestioned to wider horizons; yet as France is in turmoil, time seems to stand still on the coast of Senegal. Giraudeau had definitely something to say on the color of love and prejudice. His film conveys nicely his message, but not always in the best way. On the positive side, "Les caprices..." has a good and concerned supportive cast (after shooting this film, Richard Bohringer took the Senegalese citizenship), a sumptuous cinematography and a beautiful score, a superb mix between 18th century music and African music. But unfortunately the weak characterization and the languid pace turn the film into a rather cold piece of work, when this universal story should have been more touching and moving to allow the viewer to reflect on human condition. In spite of a good and original script, I have to say that Giraudeau did not fully attain his goal. However, "Les caprices..." is worth watching, at least for some valuable lessons in History.
Les années lycée: Petites (1997)
Endearing little girls
After her first film "Oublie-moi" (1994) for which she was also the co-writer, Noémie Lvovsky has concentrated mostly on screen writing until "Petites", an impressive film made for Franco-German TV channel Arte, later expanded into "La vie ne me fait pas peur"/"Life doesn't scare me", this time made for the silver screen (see that entry). Impressive... but without any eyewash, "Petites" is mostly a bittersweet approach to the feelings of teenage girls as only a woman could depict.
The story is about four ordinary girls, a little group growing up in France at the end of the 1970s. Emilie (Magali Woch), Stella (Julie-Marie Parmentier), Inès (Ingrid Molinier) and Marion (Camille Rousselet) come from different social backgrounds but share the same problems. They deal with some unstable parents (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Jean-Luc Bideau shine as Emilie's parents), have hard times at school... They are also at the tender age when they begin to look for boyfriends. Emilie is self-conscious about her weight and is bullied by other students, Stella is more confident, Marion is shy and Inès has to deal with her foreign (Spanish) origin. Nevertheless, the girls know that they will never be separated.
Although I have watched "Petites" more than ten years ago and forgotten many details, I remember I was impressed by the re-creation of the late 70s in this film. Orange or bright green sweaters, vintage music, the atmosphere in the classrooms, the cars, people's behaviors... Yes, everything looked so true, so real ! Noémie Lvovsky made the best out of a small budget, and her wonderful quartet of actresses certainly helped ! Marion, Inès, Emilie and Stella literally take your heart away. Funny and moving, the film is also a good representative of the "New French Cinema". Noémie Lvovsky went on with her writing/directing career but interestingly enough, she is more and more successful as an actress today (more especially in "Actrices", directed by her friend Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and in "Les beaux gosses/"The French Kissers").
La vie ne me fait pas peur (1999)
What's life anyway?
"Life doesn't scare me" presents an interesting cinema experience as it took several years to shoot so the main actresses could grow up. Director Noémie Lvovsky first shot a television film, "Petites" (see that entry), with the same characters, and later incorporated footage from the TV project into this film.
You have to understand the title as an ironical one, for "Life doesn't scare me" is about four teenage girls for whom life is nothing but scary. Emilie (Magali Woch), Inès (Ingrid Molinier), Stella (Julie-Marie Parmentier) and Marion (Camille Rousselet) are four friends who grow up in Paris in the late 70s and early 80s. School, parents, boyfriends, illness: some issues are difficult to handle but friendship can heal many wounds.
After "Petites", "Life doesn't scare me" deepens the study of these four endearing girls and their struggle with the ups and downs of adolescence and early adulthood. I could relate easily to "Petites" and its follow-up because of the fabulous re-creation of the late 70s and early 80s. Clothes, songs, habits and of course school life all look and sound true. To me, it was like traveling back in my school days memories. This tender patchwork of a film has obviously benefited from a wonderful cast (with its four remarkable young leads, a good support cast (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi shines as Emilie's mother, veteran Luis Rego is just fine as an aging Spanish immigrant), and even interesting small parts -- where you'll find future Cesar winner Emmanuelle Devos). No special effects, no jumping and running here, but a bittersweet chronicle, a sensitive approach to the feelings of young women. But don't expect a sad film nor a work filled with melancholy, it is on the contrary a fresh, sincere and often funny look on teenage years, those years filled with hope and anguish, laughter and tears, that most of the people remember later as the "good old days". Like "Petites", this film is also a good representative of the "New French Cinema". After this diptych, Noémie Lvovsky went on with her writing/directing career but interestingly enough, she is more and more successful as an actress today (more especially in "Actrices", directed by her friend Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and in "Les beaux gosses"/"The French Kissers").
L'amant de lady Chatterley (1955)
In a nutshell: terrible
With this film I confess I committed the greatest sin of all (when you are a true cinema lover, that is): I couldn't watch it entirely. Yes, I had to turn off my TV set after two thirds of Marc Allégret's "Lady Chatterley" -- something I am not really proud of, but forgive me, I couldn't stand it any longer.
Is there a need to tell the story in a few words? "Lady Chatterley" is probably the most famous adultery in literature (all right, all right, so I have heard about "Anna Karenina" and "Madame Bovary"!). To sum it up: Sir Clifford Chatterley, an impotent landowner, embittered by his injury in the trenches of World War I, virtually pushes his wife into an affair, but doesn't realize it's not with someone belonging to the same social class but with his common gamekeeper. The problem is that I have seen (and really enjoyed) Pascale Ferran's version shot in 2006, which is in my opinion a wonder. Allégret's "Lady Chatterley" cannot stand the comparison. Almost nothing works here. Although I usually enjoy Miss Darrieux's talent, she is terribly miscast in this film. She is believable as an aristocrat (haughty, snob, cold, etc.) but not at all as a woman who awakens to sexuality. I even wonder if she had any idea of the type of character she was playing. To put things in a nutshell: Miss Darrieux in this film is as sensual as a wood post -- it says it all. Then you don't believe a single minute that the story is set in England -- everything and all the people look so French! To make things even worse, most actors speak with a distinct Parisian accent (which was something common in French films until the end of the 50s), except Leo Genn who speaks French with an English accent, which is really odd within that context. Any coherence? Nope!!! Of course, the film strives hard to avoid overt eroticism, and by doing so, is often ridiculous and dull ("Lady Chatterley" minus all the sex? Nah!). If you really want to experience very old-fashioned nudity in a second-rate French movie, try instead "Ah, les belles bacchantes" ("Peek-a-boo") which was released the very previous year (1954) and which is almost as bad (but at least it was meant to be funny, and not only by accident!). And if you ever want to see a delicate adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novel, watch Pascale Ferran's film instead -- please!
Dulces horas (1982)
Remembrances of things past
In this film, directed in 1982, Carlos Saura deals once again with some of his favorite subjects: Spain during wartime, family matters, suicide, memories. "Sweet Hours" is reminiscent especially of some of the films Saura has directed in the early 70s, "Cousin Angelica" and also to some extent "Cría Cuervos". With a rather complex plot structure, Saura evokes Spain's tormented memories of the Civil War and the years which followed Franco's victory as well as the hidden conflicts which may occur in a family.
"Each person is an entity made of memories. Even if one doesn't want to, we're made by the past" once stated Saura in an interview. Juan Sahagún (Iñaki Aierra) would certainly agree with this theory. In "Sweet Hours", Juan Sahagún is a writer who often takes refuge in the past. He is tormented by it -- by memories of his elderly father who went off to South America and by memories of his young and beautiful mother who committed suicide in 1942. Therefore he has written an autobiographical play, Sweet Hours, which contains some of the key scenes of his childhood. The play is in rehearsal and Juan attends the sessions, following a regressive and romanticizing impulse to rebuild his own "sweet hours" by slipping in and out of the actors' reconstructions and his own memories. He even falls in love with Berta (Assumpta Serna), the young actress who is rehearsing the role of his mother and who bears a striking resemblance with her. But the past is never quite as attractive as you imagine it. Juan's sister, Marta (Isabel Mestres), feels that her brother idolizes someone who never really deserved unconditional love. In order to dispel her brother's errors, Marta gives him the correspondence between their parents written during the period when their father was in Argentina. Marta is certain that the letters will work as an eye-opener by revealing a domineering and slightly mischievous matriarch who actually drove her husband to abandon her
It is a bit strange to see that "Sweet Hours" has fallen into a sort of oblivion today. It was one of the first Spanish films I watched as a teenager, around 1984; I don't think it has been featured on a national TV channel here ever since. As I was learning Spanish at school with a teacher I was very fond of, I guess I was ready to love everything this teacher would show us. I remember that it was quite a challenging film to watch for 15-year-old kids, but Saura was regarded as THE great Spanish director by then (along with Buñuel), Almódovar still being unknown outside Spain at that time. Although "Sweet Hours" is one of the most complex films Saura has written, his narrative strategy is relatively simple: Juan is a grown man in the drama, a pre-teen boy in the flashbacks but this could be confusing to a not-so-mature audience. Nevertheless, I have always thought that "Sweet Hours" had a charm of his own. Since it is a film I had recorded for my Spanish class, I had kept the videotape so I could watch it again to write this review. The experience proved to be an interesting one as I could compare my memories and what I saw on screen. I think I never perceived right the Oedipal subtext when I first watched the film some 25 years ago, when actually it is quite obvious! As a matter of fact, the mother-son relationship could be the most shocking part of the film to some people, although Saura deals with the theme of incestuous desire in a delicate way. Yet, the film's real subject is the danger of nostalgia. Juan has not only a distorted image of his mother, he also remembers the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War as "the good old days" via the warm recollections of his family. Ironically enough, we soon learn that Juan comes from a Fascist family through scenes in which the Nationalist cause and conservatism are either ridiculed or presented via petty characters, such as Tío Angelito and Juan's grandmother. "Sweet Hours" tells us about Juan's emancipation from nostalgia, yet the whole film can be seen as a metaphor for Spain: the country had to liberate itself from its Fascist past to be able to face its future. For that matter, "Sweet Hours" can be regarded as the last film in a series where Saura uses memories of the Civil Spanish War to depict a bourgeoisie asphyxiated by militarism, sexual taboos and religious fanaticism. After the release of "Sweet Hours", Saura felt free enough to move on with a totally different film on flamenco, "Carmen" -- one of his greatest triumphs.
The Burning (1968)
Frears' brilliant first effort
After working as an assistant director for Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson, Frears made his debut in 1967 with this short feature, a tale of racial tensions set in South Africa during the apartheid era.
Somewhere in South Africa, on a seemingly beautiful day, an old lady sets out with her grandson, her colored cook and chauffeur for her weekly visit to her sister's farm, in spite of the rumors that some sort of uprising has occurred. Signs of unrest are obvious as they make their way in the country, but the old lady ignores them and decides to go on with the journey. When they finally arrive, they discover a deserted house. A group of Black South African militants arrive a little while after. The chauffeur succeeds in diverting them so that the old lady, the little boy (who takes with him the keys of the car) and the cook can escape. Sadly enough, the chauffeur fails to escape as he can't use the car. He is eventually caught by the lynch mob and is burned in his car whilst the little boy looks on in horror. Meanwhile, the old lady picnics calmly with her cook on a hilltop, facing the sunset, as if nothing is going on.
Within 30 minutes, Stephen Frears says more about apartheid and oppression than any long lecture would do. Shot in a crisp black and white, Frears' film depicts a society where racial problems pervert all human relationships (see the opening scenes where the references to people's color are constant). The grandmother is an interesting character: haughty and snob, she obviously lives in her own world and does not seem to care about many things as long as she can stick to her routine. More likable (but not really an angel), the little boy (with whom we can easily identify) loses his innocence. Frears is subtle enough to avoid both melodrama and demonstration, using metaphor to describe a disintegrating civilization. "The Burning" is a clear indication of what Frears would become later: a director with a keen eye to social and racial tensions and a close attention to actors.
Half the film it could have been
Marc Allégret never struck me as a very creative director. Nevertheless, some of his works are worth mentioning ("Fanny", "Gribouille" and of course "Entrée des Artistes", probably his finest prewar film). "Orage" belongs to the same bunch of films, that is to say nice, old-fashioned theatrical movies which all achieved success in their time.
"Orage" ("Storm") marked Charles Boyer's return to France after two years spent in Hollywood, not without some success. Yet the film was made rather to boost the burgeoning career of Michèle Morgan, Marc Allégret's protégée. Based on a play by Henry Bernstein, who was then a popular playwright, it can be seen as the story of a sort of middle-life crisis as experienced by André Pascaud (Charles Boyer), a peaceful construction engineer married to the adoring but rather dull Gisèle (Lisette Lanvin). When André's brother-in-law Gilbert (Robert Manuel) asks him to intercede in his favor with his aloof girl-friend Françoise (Michèle Morgan), André instantly falls in love with the young woman. But Françoise is the type of woman who multiplies affairs while waiting for the big love, therefore she doesn't take anything too seriously. She remains a mystery to most men (including André), with the exception of one of her ex-lovers (Jean-Louis Barrault) who claims he is the only one who can understand her -- but isn't he simply jealous ? We could have had a story of bitter passion, betrayal and fiery feelings. Instead, there is a rather hesitating (if not predictable) plot which never seems to know what to do with M. Morgan's character. While her cold classic beauty serves her character well, it seems the authors were not daring enough to portray her as the fascinating bitch she could have been. Or maybe it was not intended as such in the original script and it was M. Morgan's interpretation which gave a peculiar flavor to Françoise's character. Anyway, the ending will look quite poor for all those who were expecting something intense. As for Charles Boyer, he is... well, quite himself as the handsome yet easily influenced cheating husband. He doesn't do much but does so really well. Remake: Franco-Italian co-production "Delirio" (1954), with Raf Valone and Françoise Arnoul.