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Ashes to ashes, 19 February 2017

The movie comprises a long prologue and a short epilogue .

Shot in black and white close to documentary ,the prologue(Berlin ,1921) depicts the assassination of Talaat Pacha ,main responsible for the Armenian genocide ;during the flashbacks ,we are told about the horrors the convict endured ,how his whole family and a whole people were butchered like lambs in a slaughter.Against all odds,he is acquitted and the audience gives him a standing ovation.

The main subject takes place in Marseille and in Beyrouth,sixty years later; a young generation rises and wants to stigmatize the genocide which the Turks have never acknowledged.A young man,Aram,joins the ASALA (Armenian liberation army) ;he blows up the Turkish ambassador's car in Paris but a young cyclist,Gilles ,is seriously injured and becomes crippled .Eaten with remorse ,he leaves for Lebanon where he joins the forces fighting there .

Then the screenplay alternates scenes in Lebanon where the terrorist does not know where he stands anymore and his victim 's horrible fate: " I'm in my twenties ,can he give me back my legs" Gilles's character was inspired by an injured Spanish journalist who reportedly forgave the man who made him a crippled man for live. Aram's mom is eaten with remorse too,she goes to the hospital ,and she leaves him a note which reads :" ask us whatever you need" ;some French critics found it incredible and melodramatic .But Ariane Ascaride is an actress to be reckoned with:I once wrote ,about Guédigian's earlier "Les Neiges Du Kilimandjaro" ,that no living French actress could express compassion as she does ;both movies deal with forgiveness in a shaggy-dog story (that's what the title means)and miss Ascaride ,the director's partner in live ,has a face which can lighten the darkest night.Leprince-Ringuet is equally efficient as the victim who,like many French at the time ,had never heard of the Armenian genocide.

A short epilogue:ten years later, two persons who experimented both tragedy bring back Arem where he belongs .

It's not the first time Robert Guédigian has used intertwined plots: "La Ville est Tranquille "(2000) ,for instance ,could be subtitled "Sous Le Ciel De Paris" sorry Marseille".A thousand miles away from the trends ,the crazes and the feel-good atmosphere which mar much of the French scene, along Philippe Lioret,he stands alone.

Sputnik (1958)
Back from the USSR (Man,I had a dreadful flight), 19 February 2017

"A Pied ,A Cheval Et En Voiture" was such a success that it spawned a sequel "A Pied A Cheval Et En Spoutnik" ,featuring many of its actors,probably inspired by Laika ,the Russian space dog.

Here is the before mentioned sequel : it's not the same director ,not the same spirit,but it does feature the two principals (Noel- Noel and Denise Grey ) plus some other characters from the first installment (Noel Roquevert,brief appearances by Sophie Daumier and Gil Vidal);on the other hand ,Darry Cowl is featured in both ,but not in the same part.

To put it mildly ,it is a far-fetched story ;the story begins with a car crash, and involves a bout of amnesia, a dog and a mouse fresh from a container dropped from a sputnik (=companion in Russian),whose reflexes are as conditioned as Pavlov's dogs, a shoot-out on a farm,a trip to the USSR where the hero is subject to egregious gaffes ("are there many communists over there?"),and even a space trek: probably inspired by Hergé's celebrated "Objectif/Lune /On A Marché Sur La Lune " (="explorers on the moon") (1953-54) , the screenwriters (including the star) have Monsieur Martin play more or less the part of the Dupondt (= Thompson twins) :from his involuntary departure to the artificial gravity ,it bears more than a distant resemblance to the comic strip classic.

Conclusion: the farther one travels,the less one knows. And there's nothing like a good horse,even a Quatre-Chevaux,this car of yesteryear, is no match for this draft animal.

Entirely filmed in studio ,the special effects may seem ludicrous and cheap today ,but at the time it was not so bad .And the fact that such a cock and bull story's got legs is an achievement in itself.

Carmen (1944)
If I love you ,you'd best beware !, 19 February 2017

Filmed in 1942-1943 in Roman studios and on location in Spain .

....but it does not really sound Spanish for all that :besides,Jean Marais -one of my favorite French actors- ,like Glenn Ford in "the loves of Carmen" - is not Latin at all:hence the necessity to make him up outrageously with dubious results;on the other hand ,Viviane Romance's ,(along with Ginette Leclerc ,par excellence the ideal femmes fatales ) choice is perfect ,the part was tailor-made for her.

Based on Bizet's opera (omitting the Michaela character) and on Mérimée's novel ,Christian -Jaque directs a Carmen by the numbers,using now and then Bizet's music ,particularly " La Garde Montante " with a deployment of troops,pageantry worthy of the tour folklore for tourists.Nobody sings ,and the only aria with is heard is the obligatory "'Air Du Toréador".

Fortunately ,Christian-Jaque ,whose know-how never deserted him ,favors Mérimée over Bizet."It was meant to be" is Carmen's motto ,a femme fatale who knows she won't escape from a fate which is written in the cards ;the scenes with Madame Marguerite Moreno as the fortune- teller are a true delight for the cine-buffs :this actress can outshine everyone on the screen when she appears ,weren't it only for some minutes.

The office Catholique Du Cinema forbade the movie to their flock ;the lines are full of saucy sexual innuendos :the bandits regretting they couldn't share the young girl's dowry (and virginity) was a scene too many for them;and if it were not enough,the outlaws,disguised as priests ,ask the travelers to put their money and jewels under saint Cunegonde's wing ,that it to say in their Bible/box;the final scenes ,when Marais asks a priest to give him absolution is too little too late ;it's possible that this edifying scene was imposed upon him by the producers .

In the field of the literary adaptation,Christian-Jaque would do much better with Maupassant's "Boule De Suif"(1945)

Moi Seule En Etre Cause ...., 19 February 2017

....Et Mourir De Plaisir.

The first of the two fantasy and horror movies Roger Vadim made and without any doubt ,his best ;actually,it's arguably his very best movie ever,probably his best screenplay,a story which does not fall apart after the second reel;inspired by André Gide's diary in which the writer wondered why a vampire was always ugly :why couldn't it take the shape of a beautiful woman?The title may have been taken from Camille's lines in Corneille 's Horace (1640)after her lover's death caused by her brother (after all,the heroine is called Carmilla and the action takes place in Italy).

Claude Renoir's cinematography is a feast for the eye ;it 's really a work of art ,when he depicts the splendid Roman landscapes or when he lovingly films the two actresses ,with subtle lesbian overtones.Till the end ,the direct succeeds in sustaining ambiguity -we will never know whether there's a vampire curse or whether it all happens in Carmilla's troubled mind.

At a time when unexpected ends often come at the most awkward moment,when they are almost De Rigueur,the last picture is a model of the genre ,a stroke of inspiration which should make today's director drool.

Although set in modern times,the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe wanders in these mysterious setting .One can wonder why Vadim totally failed when he adapted the American writer's "Metzengersntein" in his "spirits of the dead " (aka "Histoires Extraordinaires" ) segment.

If you should see only one Vadim movie ,it is the one definitely to choose .

Cinderella will not go to the ball., 13 February 2017
7/10

This is the first of the two movies Roland Tual made in the dark hours of the occupation .

A peaceful little river flows in a quiet nature where two ladies with sunshades go strolling.But on the banks,towers up a jail .The prison governor is making rough all over for everyone :the inmates,the wardens and even his family ;it's just a mask : this man (Fernand Ledoux ) is longing for love .In a cell ,a prisoner,Rémi Bonvent, (Jean Marais)sings :first it infuriates the hard man ;but he realizes that this captive has talent going for him,he writes songs,pieces of music and even an opera ,"Le lit A Colonnes" (=the fourposter bed).His daughter (Odette Joyeux) ,who is also the musician's muse ,-though they never met ,he only sees her silhouette at night-is dreaming of an union with aristocratic families who do not invite her to their fetes or their balls.And the inmate's work may mean glory and success....

Contemporary left critics pan the movie,in their Marxist view of the situation:if a commoner ingenue wants to marry a handsome noble officer, young peasants' blood must be shed ,and keep on dancing,Belles Dames!And they set Claude Autant-Lara 's masterful "Douce" (with the same female lead)against this reactionary trash .

Historian Jean Tulard wrote that the director had problems with the German censorship ,as far as his depiction of prison life was concerned .

In fact, "Lit A Colonnes" is an ambiguous work: needless to say,the viewer sides with Rémi Bonvent ,the unfortunate prisoner who got a twenty-year sentence for -accidentally- killing a game keeper while poaching .Travers blamed Marais 'acting,dismissing it as theatrical ,but the great actor could not handle this part any other way.Rémi is a tragic character :a peasant ,he has lost everything ,including his parents' farm (his fiancée ,Aline(Michèle Alfa) has bought it back but the young guy's future is bleak -"I'm here for 18 years "-

Unlike Travers ,I found Marais's performance as a disheveled desperate inmate absolutely outstanding :his androgynous beauty works wonders:you should see his face lightens when the prison governor allows him to work in the church and to play the great organ ;in its last part,the movie turns into a fairy tale where a witch cast a spell : but it's Cinderella in reverse ,not what the 1942 audience might have expected .

And I do not think that the screenwriter (Charles Spaak ,who was anything but reactionary) sides with the dancers who keep on waltzing ,after the bride's unscrupulous dad took from the poor boy everything he could steal.There won't be any scandal,for the good dad was killed by the "villain" .

The subject of the impostor -who steals a novel,a scientific discovery, an opera- has often been treated in the cinema,and is still relevant today ;the action takes place circa 1880 ,but it's not really an escapist movie: bitter irony for half of the scenes are inside the walls of a jail.

At the time ,Jean Marais was married to Mila Parely (who plays Ledoux's mistress);their union was short-lived ,but the actress teamed up again with her ex-husband in Cocteau-Clément's "La Belle Et La Bête " (the part of one of the Belle's sisters 'Felicie). George Marchal,who is cast as the aristocratic officer, was to become a big star in the forties ,before finding his best roles in Bunuel 's films in the late fifties.

Roland Tual's follow-up to this rather gloomy effort was "Bonsoir Mesdames ,Bonsoir Messieurs ",a pleasant look at the radio days.

You should see this movie if you are interested in the French cinema of the occupation ; a sensational actor (Marais) and excellent support by Larquey,Ledoux,Tissier...But Tual was a beginner and a seasoned director was needed.

Stars are out tonight (on earth), 7 February 2017

This movie is an excuse for showing cabaret acts :apart from a short segment which takes place in an observatory ,all the action,so to speak,takes place in the "Blue Ribbon nightclub.

An astronomer (Michel Simon) who was awarded the Nobel prize ,no less, studies the stars and discovers a nova.He receives a phone call from the "Blue Ribbon" :a girl threatens suicide to blackmail a certain Patrice .

Our scientist leaves the milky way and its stars to see other stars ,who perform on the cabaret stage ;here he investigates :who is this mysterious suicidal person? The viewer does not have to be Poirot or Holmes to guess who she is as soon as she appears .

That's not much of a screenplay and about half of the movie is given over to the "Blue Ribbon" acts: a bevy of girls,some of whom topless -which must have infuriated the office Catholique Du Cinema who forbade this filthy flick to their flock-, a stand up comic (Robert Lamoureux)a musical in miniature featuring Ray Ventura ,Ses Collégiens ,his nephew (Sacha Distel ,whose appearance is short) ,Roger Pierre and Jean- Marc Thibault; It's rather plodding and my prize of consolation is Patachou's fine rendering of Brassens 's "Brave Margot" ,the story of a naive peasant girl who unfastens her blouse to breastfeed her little cat and who believes that all the guys around come to see her pet.

Michel Simon is not only an astronomer ;he also was a boxer at the university and it shows;but only his "completist" fans might be interested

;the others had better watch the 1939 Boyer/Simon collaboration ,"Circonstances Atténuantes" ,Comme De Bien Entendu.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
(Green) hats off!, 5 February 2017

Plot:Arlette and her brother are penniless orphans ;as the man is to leave for Africa to work for a long time,the young girl is forced to live with her cousins,four spinsters ,holier-than-thou persons ,who place virtue over everything.But Arlette discovers that one of these ladies with a green hat (title) wrote a diary in which she revealed she had a love ;it was a doomed relationship ;for her part ,the attractive young girl falls for a handsome man,Jacques De Fleurville ,but he's got a fiancée.

Arlette is a modern girl :she swims at the pool, she smokes ,she listens to the radio and she uses a familiar language her relatives cannot fathom.

In direct contrast with that,the four spinsters attend the service at the church every morning,they pray before going to bed at 10 P.M. ,never later;their only friend is the vicar ."but we go to the pictures,says Rosalie,but only movies recommended by the church ! we saw "Robin Des Neiges " (=Robin and the seven dwarfs) and " Blanche Des Bois" (=SnowWhite Hood )

As expected ,Arlette's coming will change everything : she helps her romantic cousin take up with her former suitor ,a bashful teacher ,always a bachelor and who would be so for life without the pretty girl's intervention.

Arlette is in love with Jacques ,whose fiancée (one scene) is grumpy and not very attractive :after one short scene ,she's out the way ,and the young guy is ready to marry the orphan girl,even without a dowry.But the teacher ,grateful ,has plans for his benefactress,wants to marry her with one of his colleagues (Jean Tissier),who could be her dad ...

This is a fusty old-fashioned comedy which become plodding in its last third ,but the scene when Jacques visits the elder sister to ask for his girl's hand in marriage and she thinks he's come to fix the gutter is a funny misunderstanding.Too bad for Dutoit whose doggerel did not charm his belle.

And let's not forget to thank the good Lord :vespers right away.

Knock!Knock! Here comes the healer., 4 February 2017

The healers,the quack doctors ,have always been around;on a large scale, you have Rasputin -who had real powers-,on a smaller one ,you have the charlatan (or the healer with certain powers)) on the block or in the village.

In 1953 ,Yves Ciampi's "Le Guérisseur " failed totally to convince ,in spite of a good cast ;by making his "healer" a fallen (but true) physician ,Ciampi produced a heavy-handed melodrama in which the dice were loaded.

The following year ,Maurice Labro reprized the same subject ,but treated it as a comedy;not much food for thought,and no more convincing than Ciampi's effort,but funnier!

Leguignon (Yves Deniaud) discovers he's got a gift by healing a cat .He tries his hand at human beings and he is very successful ,and the patients flock ,much to the physicians' and vets' displeasure :it's unfair competition,no less.And the healer's daughter is to marry a physician's son .

A thoroughly uneducated man,Leguignon,without a single diploma ,relieves the sufferings and his wife (Jane Marken)makes a packet off her hubby's gift.Pretty soon,the thespians sue the naive meek guy.

The critics wrote it was "bad old cinema" ,but they cannot deny there are lines which hit home and hilarious scenes:

-the trial ,in which the defendant ,who does not always the understand the law jargon,exasperates his judges and his lawyer who desperately tries to save his client:" who cares if the sick was not "legally "healed provided he is healed?"

-the wealthy uncle whose family hopes to inherit and thus are not happy to see him healthier.

L'Enfance Nue, 4 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The recomposed family has often been treated in the French cinema ,mainly in the last twenty years ,but generally on a minor mode, not to say comedies ,the likes of " Genial ,Mes Parents Divorcent' (=great! my parents are divorcing!(sic))

"Une Enfance " is a harsh brutal cruel effort ;and the viewer feels happy when ,at least ,in the very last picture ,a smile lightens the young hero 's face.It is not really the " and he lived happily ever after" ending but some sunlight does break through for a while.

The mom's new partner is a brute,a selfish macho who brings home a bunch of revelers ,a home children cannot find their place ,let alone ,study (the boy tries,but quickly closes his book).

Not only they are outcasts in their own family ,but also at school (the teacher says " your son has no friends ") and everywhere: it will take the whole movie to get him into the tennis court ;the first time he has met a player,he's told it's a private place .Although he 's invited for a girl's birthday party ,our little hero feels he's not like the other ones : this is ,with the last sequence,the only truce in the family feuds with the "stepfather" .When he receives his friend's postcard ,from Italy ,where she visited museums (even when they are not at school, children from educated families get all the chances to succeed in their studies).And involuntary adding insult to injury ,the girl tells the unfortunate boy she is to continue her studies at the Saint Eustache secondary school "for her parents find the public one a place where the wrong people go" .

The positive characters (the grandma,the teacher) ,in spite of their willingness,are helpless ,one individual fighting against the society and the authorities cannot hope to win ;anyway,do they really try to fight or do they know their fight is lost in advance?

Both brats appear more mature than their elders: we see them set the table,whereas the grown ups are drinking ,smoking,and swearing .The boy even tries to protect her mom against his hateful "stepfather's violence " ,a man who's nothing but a grown -up kid who purchases stuff in the supermarket for more than 800 euros.(where does the money come from?probably from drug trafficking)

A sharp contrast between the green nature where the young hero finds solace and takes care of a kitten and the smoky rooms of what was once a home.

The most terrifying scene shows the mother accusing her little one of spoiling,destroying her life.This is the kind of words a child will never be able to forget.

Minor quibble: why do they always use English songs in FRENCH movies?The bland little folk songs do not bring anything to the brats' plight.The old "Il Etait Une Fois' 1972 hit "Rien Qu'Un Ciel" is much better applied on the movie :it's not a great tune,by a long shot,but some of its words ("snuggled up to you") make us think of the boy and his kitten ,who plays the part of a teddy bear for him.

As I wrote,it's a detail.At the time when the "feel-good" movies run rampant on the French scene,we can be thankful to the director for showing the other side of the picture.

Never bored with Borgia, 2 February 2017

First effort in the Martine Carol (then the director's wife) period for director Christian -Jaque :"Lucrece " was followed by a horrible sketch in "Destinées" ,then two costume dramas ("Nana" "Madame Du Barry");"Nathalie" an undistinguished spy thriller was the end of the era .

UNlike the best works of the thirties and forties ,these glossy productions, filmed in color ,were icily impersonal ,but Christian- Jaque knows the tricks of the trade : impressive settings ,glistening colors ,prestige cast (Carol ,Christian Marquand,Pedro Armendariz ,even dwarf Pieral ,Maurice Ronet).Who cares if Martine is too old for the part? (In Delannoy's sketch in " Destinées ,Michele Morgan ,thirty-four,portrayed Joan of Arc!)enter Who cares if a whole sequence is borrowed from "the most dangerous game" ,complete with spears and dogs ?Who cares if the orgies were inspired by Abel Gance 's own version (1935)?

Lucrezia was essentially a pawn in her dad's and her brother's games ,a political way to enter into alliance with a potential enemy :so who cares if she really loves the duke of Aragon?On this point,the movie is accurate.

There's a sadistic scene in which two old men fight for their lives over fires :Lucrezia gladly watches this dubious show. Historians generally agree that the heroine 's bad reputation has been blown out of all proportion ,and she was mainly a patron ,protecting the arts.

It's not among Christian-Jaque's best films ,but it's perfect Saturday-night-at-the -movies stuff.Why deny yourself an entertaining yarn?


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