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La Belle Equipe, 30 September 2016

Before the movie begins,lines about what Ménil Montant was appear on the screen,not unlike those in Wyler's "dead end" ;it's a place in Paris between Belville and The Père Lachaise cemetery ,where the working-class live and where children do not have what they deserve.Every town has its "Menilmontant"

Had Frank Capra been living in France,this is the movie he could have made.René Guissart's movie is a fable,or a fairy tale of sorts ("I'm a fairy,says the wealthy baroness ,make a wish!)

Like Duvivier's "La Belle Equipe" ,"Mesnilmontant " is inseparable from the Front Populaire Zeitgeist ;and like Duvivier's heroes ,who win at the raffle ,all begins with a windfall:a poor man,who sells cheap toys on the street (puppets,balloons..),finds a diamond ring and brings it back to its owner,a wealthy baroness,who,for the first time in her life ,discovers that all the children were not born silver spoon in hand. The old man and his pals,along with their protégé ,a young man ,asks for a place where children could play ,a garden for these brats who got a raw deal .

Of course ,the characters are cardboard ,but the players ,all admirable,give them substance :Gabriel Signoret is wonderful in this part of an altruistic old man ,who does not regret the time when he was young,because he " was not a philosopher then";his last scenes will send the impressionable tearing through an entire box of Kleenex;matching him every step of the way is the excellent Pierre Larquey (mostly remembered as the teacher who punishes the pupil in the last scene of "Les Diaboliques" ),full of wisdom and Joie De Vivre.

Although some sunshine does break through,it's not a rosy world for all that.The town notables do not believe this riffraff is able to see their idealistic plan through;they try to dishearten this ignorant populace ,their own concern being the next elections.

The poor don't trust the police either ;"when I brought back a wallet to the police station,they treated me like a thief" says one of them.They are the bourgeois' valets who help them have the slums inhabitants thrown out and who keep them from mixing with the worthies in the inauguration of THEIR garden.

The children are given a long screen time;it's really a Doisneau photo album in motion:in their games,they parody their elders and the picture they give in hot that much flattering;among them ,Mouloudji, who would become a famous actor later and who would keep his rebellious mind (he was the first to record Boris Vian's "Le Deserteur").

Oddly ,it's an old woman who epitomizes the suffragettes and later women's lib:Toinon(Therese Dorny) proposes marriage to Jos (and not the other way about);she 's the only one who dares to tell the hateful bourgeois a few home truths;in direct contrast with her,we have the lovely young Julie (Josette Day,later one of Cocteau's favorite actresses):she would like to work,but her fiancé doesn't want to hear of it:a woman's place is at home,taking care of the children .

For "La Belle Equipe" ,Duvivier had filmed a pessimistic conclusion the producers asked him to change drastically.The ending of "Menilmontant" is totally unexpected and it's the one moment which is not Capraesque at all.Although the children have their garden ,the last pictures leaves a bitter taste in the mouth;it's finally the establishment that walks away with the honors ,those tramps who did all the dirty work are despised,ignored .

Yves Mirande's last lines are worthy of a Duvivier:"the important is for the children to be happy " says Julie ;but Jos 's "let's hope!'does not delude the viewer.And "La Marseillaise" ,which is heard at the end of the movie might have been imposed by the producers to sweeten it.After all,it was no longer a revolutionary ,let one organizing, anthem.

Litan (1982)
Carnival of sorts., 29 September 2016

A maverick of the French cinema ,Mocky is an acquired taste indeed;he retains a small but strong cult over here.

It was not the first time he had tackled the fantasy and horror genre :in the sixties,his fans remember "La Grande Frousse" ,from Jean Ray's "La Cité De L'Indicible Peur".

"Litan " was awarded the critics prize at the Festival D'Avoriaz ,but reportedly booed in the theater;it was a big flop at the box office :anyway ,Mocky's approach is too oblique to gain a wide popular audience.

"Litan" is more painstaking than usual:here Mocky really creates an atmosphere ,with impressive pictures:probably influenced by the fetes he attended when he was a child in the east of France ;the movie begins with a nightmare and ....continues in a nightmarish area ,in The village of Litan (the spelling of which is close to that of Lithan ,spirit of evil);in fact,Nora is the only person in the whole movie to find the village she moves in eerie,maleficent,and threatening.Even her partner Jock tries to communicate,to react to events whereas she almost never does.That's why I sometimes wonder whether everything does not take place in her mind and/or whether she has gone crazy ...because Jock might be dead ,and as they sail on the subterranean river (the Styx?),both in the same coffin (which might remind one of Hergé whose dreamlike pictures are disturbing in" TinTin and Les Cigares Du Pharaon" ).The last sequence -the only one which is not pagan- shows Nora ,in mourning ,and in her eye ,we can spot a "vision" of her (lost?) love .

You have to search your memory to find something vaguely close to "Litan" :apart from Mocky's movie I mention above,we can feel,perhaps,some influence of indie American works such as "carnival of souls" or " seconds" and of his French peers' weirdest efforts ,stuff such as Chabrol's "Alice Ou La Dernière Fugue " and Malle's "black moon" .

The nightmare scene is particularly successful ,with these masked figures,this man standing on a wire with a motorcycle,and this sinister-looking guy who's doing a very strange work;these elements reappear as Nora's fear increases .

Marie-José Nat is ideally cast as this woman lost in a world she does not understand;Nino Ferrer,cast as the head of a research center,wrote a baroque ,but effective score which enhances this strange feast in this heathen town.

For all that,in spite of pictures which can put the viewer into a trance ,or at least mesmerize him,"Litan" ,in some respects ,is a botched job ,the weakest link being ,as it is too often the case with this director ,a desultory screenplay ;hence the commercial failure .

Although not accessible enough,"Litan" is part of the handful of Mocky's movies you should watch.

Asphalt (1981)
Highway 7 revisited or asphalt jungle., 29 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first time I had seen this movie, a long long time ago,I did not like it at all;today I would be more indulgent.

I had found Carole Laure pretty bad but ,when I watched again the movie,I realized that actually it's her part which is hopeless:no actress could get away with so pathetic a story:Juliette is to meet her lover in Montelimar ,but she 's stopped by a policeman and she realizes that she's driving her lover's wife's car ;in brief ,her squeeze walked out on her;she is then harassed by "Le Cousu" ,a sexually obsessed half-wit ,and not only once;she's almost run over by a car .A man (Jean Yanne) takes her on board and crash !enough is enough! that Juliette can survive such an ordeal is beyond belief!

Denis Amar wanted to depict the Summer rush ,when everybody leaves for a well-earned holiday:as anyone knows,the road kills and in the hot summer ,accidents claim the lives of too many people ;he gets support from the army's health services,from the road safety administration and from the Red Cross....

.....Which does not prevent the characters from accidents !apart from Juliette's misfortunes of virtue (and of the highway), a man ,whose mother-in-law demands punctuality ,kills his wife in a car crash and flees,leaving a distraught son;a Beauf (=typical of the archetypal lower-middle-class Frenchman),played by the always reliable Jean- Pierre Marielle ,wants his car ,even without brakes!!the young mechanic keeps repeating it's dangerous ,the vacationist who doesn't want to lose his rented accommodation cares nothing about ....And the telly tells us more :6 cars fell from a viaduct,God only knows why,and a man from the toll gate gets lynched by a wild group of drivers....

Meanwhile ,in the hospital ,surgeons and nurses work miracles,working overtime and trying to save their fellow men's precious lives: Marielle's son's fate ,for this bunch of party animals comes aside as a shock.Anyway,Amar begins his movie in a hospital.

The most moving scene shows a couple of old persons,coming to the scrapyard to open a glove compartment to pick up these foolish things that mean a lot.

Yes ,the mass exodus of people from Paris and other major cities at the beginning of the holiday period ,especially late July/early August is murderous;the problem with Amar's movie is that it deals with cardboard characters, nay unsympathetic ones (with the exception of the barmaid played by Marion Game);the subject had to be broached ,but it is given a "much too much" treatment which mars the good intentions.Too bad.

NB :Watch out for Christophe Lambert's cameo :he's the doctor who "explains" to the desperate Marielle why they need blood.

All the hours hurt,the last one kills, 28 September 2016

Loosely based of Honoré De Balzac's two short stories ,this is the second of the two movies actor Pierre Blanchar directed.As you do not change a winning team,this movie enjoys again Christian Matras 's remarkable cinematography and Arthur Honneger's superb score. "Un Seul Amour" is IMHO ,superior to the former effort.

1)A screenplay influenced by "Citizen Kane" :the heroine's niece inherits her castle and ,with her companion,tries to understand who her relative really was;sometimes flouting chronology (the scene of the deathbed),with a stunning editing which masterfully introduces the flashbacks;and the famous last word " Rosebud" is replaced by the sentence Clara whispers just before she dies :"I've got something else to tell".

2)The romantic escapist movie of the occupation days is given a unusually inventive treatment: the hero gives up his career and his love sacrifices her passion for dancing:the first scene is a ballet ,and Matras's camera captures her dance in the early morning grass ,before she meets her husband.But they know their bliss will be short-lived :"there are happy people,says Clara ,who do not want other people to be so."

3)Other influences show:

that of Henry Hathaway's "Peter Ibbetson ";a dreamlike sequence was already present in Blanchar's first effort;here a happy end , in the hereafter ,where the two ghosts meet in the garden where they were happy ,proves that love triumphs in the end ,because ,in spite of their faults,Clara and her beloved husband remained true to themselves .

....and even Poe's Gothic horror :there's a mysterious door,no one is allowed to open because it hides things better left unsaid.Gérard had a door bricked up ,and the crucifix the dying Clara keeps in her bed causes,in a strange manner,her death.

Like in the great escapist movies of the occupation days ,Carné's "Les Visiteurs Du Soir"(1942) and Delannoy/Cocteau's " L'Eternel Retour " (1943) ,in "Un Seul Amour" ,there's no way out for the doomed lovers;they cannot survive in the world of the living ,which in those days was truer than ever,they are people legends are made of.The impressive last picture follows Clara's fingers as she reaches for the sundial.

Excellent performances by the director and his leading lady ,Micheline Presles;good support by Gabrielle Fontan and Julien Bertheau.

An unsung gem of the occupation days.

Well,you might as well do things in style!, 28 September 2016

"Monsieur Bibi"aka " Faut Ce Qu'Il Faut ",made in 1940 ,was released in 1946,after the Liberation.

It was probably made to cheer the people up,after WW2 broke :besides the two male principals are middle-aged men,and Roland Toutain,here cast against type as the romantic young male lead ,has a relatively short screen time,for he was probably called up. A young man files for divorce ,so as to be able to marry his new love who is pregnant by him;unfortunately ,he has to go to war and to leave his fiancée behind,just after she gives birth to a baby girl. The baby's godfather suggest he marry her (marriage in name only) and thus she will get an allowance as a drafted reservist's wife.The plot thickens when an authoritarian Concierge falls in love with him .

This looks like melodrama ,but in fact ,it is treated as a musical with lots of song ("Par Gentillesse" "IL FAut Ce QU'Il FAut ",the alternate title of the movie,a lullaby and plenty of other ditties);in a dark hour such as 1940,it seems weird indeed,it has to be seen to be believed .The movie was out of time before its release after the war.

Interest lies in the actors:Pierre Larquey as the well-meaning godfather who does not want to be called " grandfather" and Jean Tissier as a registry office minor officer.Otherwise,it's a bit feeble.

NB director René Pujol died in 1942 and did not see the release of his film.

Hooray!Hooray! !t's a Holi-Holiday!, 26 September 2016

Robert Vernay is remembered for his two versions of "Le Comte De Monte-Cristo,in the forties in the occupation days,then in the fifties a remake in color .

Ces Sacrées Vacances (1956) is perfect Saturday-night-at -the- movie-for-the whole-family stuff:from that standpoint,it can be considered a satisfying movie.Art house cinema ,it is not.Full of implausibilities,but eventful ,never a dull moment with the Pinson (=chaffinch ) family.Colorful characters played by seasoned actors.

Pierre Détaille and Sophie Desmarets (and children) embody the fifties vacationists ,at a time you often have to rent a lousy car ;there was no speed limit then :most of the cars were "Deux Chevaux ","Quatre Chevaux,and anyway,we are told that the road safety administration lent their support to the director:who could ask for more?

Funny scenes :

-the breakdown and the garage where the transporter (Jean Tissier) who wish he had been a mechanic tries his best to repair the car.

-the picnic,during which the wife sets the pinewood on fire: the daughter proudly bragging: "we did start the fire!" ;the gendarme (Henri Génès ) making his report and carefully choosing the right words .

-the couple of crooks ,the would be friends ,who are actually hotel thieves;"let's play hide and seek" says the robber to the child when he sneaks into the bedroom by the window.

The American millionaire"s intervention (Jess Hahn) makes the end of the plot very obvious though.

WW2 was not far behind and mom hints at a bridge daddy prevented the Germans from crossing (it's not exactly true,in fact)

Besides,dad and mom want to set an example to their brats: so they are accidental arsonists ,their duty is to shoulder the entire responsibility for it.

People would not say they were looking on Vernay's side to open up new horizons in the cinematographic field of the FRench late fifties;but you would not deny yourself a good time ,would you?

Et Pourtant ... (La Loi De 1920), 24 September 2016

As Pierre Chevalier was famous first for his coarse comedies,then ,in the seventies,for his pornographic movies ,it was easy to relegate "Avortement Clandestin!"(illegal abortion ) to the sex movies ghetto;and however,people who are looking for a dirty flick will not get something out of it.A three-minute orgy depiction when the heroine is raped and that's it.

Sophie is a working-class girl ;she is still living with her mom who has still two children to raise (the father left home four years before);she's got a boyfriend and she lives in the nine-to-five routine.

After her rape,she becomes pregnant;it's 1973 and it would be two more years before the Loi Veil.Rich people can get away with it,going to England or to the Netherlands ,or paying high prices to doctors who abuses their position (the honest doctor tells her so).There is no other course left to a poor girl but to see a street abortionist (a Violette Nozières of the seventies)in 1973.The screenplay does not pass over in silence the power of money and a scene showing rich bourgeois would not have been out of place in a Chabrol's work.As ,the Gendarme says,Sophie and his mom (given away to the authorities by holier-than-thou gossips )are decent people ;and if Sophie's discharged ,her voice over reminds us of other girls' fate,less happy than hers.

Scenes show women marching on the streets ,and the legalization of abortion,thanks to a great political woman,Simone Veil,was a big victory for women's lib.

Like this? try these ....

"Violette Nozières" Claude Chabrol

"L'Amour Violé " Yannick Bellon

(only for highbrows) "Masculin -Feminin " (Godard)

Not dead ? Half-dead,more like., 24 September 2016

It was the first time Jean Bruce 's OSS 117 aka Hubert Bonnisseur De La Bath adventures had been transferred to the screen .

The plot is almost devoid of interest :it deals with thefts of secret documents and microfilms ;it seems that the safe in Mr Lead (sic)'s desirable mansion is not safe at all and that the Deuxième Bureau has been leaking.So begins the task for the best French secret spy and his female counterpart .The title "OSS N 'Est Pas Mort " is justified for the hero spends a good third of the film bedridden in a gloomy hospital where he pretends to be severely wounded after a car crash (sabotage).But he is presented with candied fruit (the box contains a small tape recorder ,smart,huh?)and pastries by sympathetic ladies.

This spy thriller is actually a whodunit: who,in Mr Lead 's house helps the villains get the stuff? Mr Lead? his wife? his daughter? his secretary?his servant?.One of the spies has his way with girls: he tells them nobody likes him,he is now a hunted man,and if she helps him ,he will take her away to the islands in the sun.

In the cast and credits ,the name of the actress who plays the OSS girl (hot Magali Noel )ppears before that of her male co-star;it may be a wise choice ,for Ivan Desny is a listless OSS ,and not handsome enough at that.Yves Vincent ,who created the part of Stanley Kowalsky in " a streetcar named desire" on stage in France ,tries his best with an underwritten (and almost ridiculous) part of the would be miserable spy .Marie Déa ("Les Visiteurs Du Soir" "PIèges" "Orphée" ) is wasted.

Any takers? Cheesecake all over the movie:scantily dressed ladies abound .

OSS 117 was not lucky in the movies: in the sixties,in the wake of James Bond ,six more movies -plus another one ,feat.Sean Flynn in which ,Bonnisseur De La Bath was renamed "Smith"- ,more entertaining ,but not particularly memorable.

It was the naughties before OSS 117 became a popular hero in the movies ,in the riotously funny spoofs featuring the excellent Jean Dujardin.

Mammy (1951)
Mommy, 23 September 2016

Jean Stelli was the melodrama past master;his "Voile Bleu " made sensitive people cry a river during the occupation days.

"Mammy" is a lovely film,half comedy,half thriller ,with a subject close of that of William Irish's ( aka Cornell Woolrich's ) "I married a dead man" .

It owes a big deal to its excellent actors foursome : the old ones (Pierre Larquey and Gaby Morlay ,the star of the before-mentioned occupation blockbuster) ,moving and endearing ,and the young ones (Philippe Lemaire and Françoise Arnoul ) ,both good-looking and playing with gusto.Pierre Laroche and Albert Valentin wrote spicy lines ,sometimes verging on black humor :that Valentin could not survive the liberation as a director was a major loss for the French cinema.

The movie begins with fire fighters cars coming to the rescue of two young lovers who have just committed suicide (it's actually a half- suicide ,for the girl turned on the gas unbeknownst to her boyfriend!);the lines do not lack black humor:

-What happened ?

-Nothing!two youngsters who gassed themselves!

-Nothing? Who pays the gas note?

A medical examiner whose wife is blind and could never get over her grandson's behavior who tried to steal from them and then exiled himself to Canada, has an idea: as the two young people are safe in the hospital ,he will pass them off as the grandson and wife:no sooner said than done .

Is the old lady fooled ? Anyway ,the so called newly weds -who do not get one very well and are both jealous- are welcomed in the desirable mansion where she gives them a superb bedroom (and tells them that a bed is not only made for sleeping and dying) .Very good scenes when the granny asks them to play the piano and tries to talk architecture with her grandson .

Unfortunately,when they were least expecting it,the "true" grandson reappears and he is short of the readies.

Even though the ending is too hurried for comfort ,it's a lovely movie,well written and well acted.

Dead singers society, 21 September 2016

It's delightfully old-fashioned,but it's full of Joie De Vivre and it's really much fun to watch!

This grammar school is really too good to be true :all the pupils are very nice,very polite but they have a tendency to favor jazz music over classical ,predating ,in their own modest way ,the sixties'youth ,when England reigned over the whole musical world .

Mr Dingle,wonderfully portrayed by John Mills ,is a teacher with whom we do need education.When the new headmaster arrives ,none of his colleagues support him ,not even the gym teacher (and however his subject is not considered a serious one either). In the next decade,Dingle would have embraced the Beatles without a moment's hesitation.He's not only a teacher ,he is also the confidant (wait for the "flash"),and ,even without their instruments ,his class can play infectious music -in an extremely well-directed scene.

Imitating the beginning of the French Revolution,the students after a "singing strike" and a conspiracy of silence ,lock themselves in the gym to support their teacher who has been unfairly dismissed (and has become the toast of the local pub).

Plenty of fun with Mr Dingle!

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