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"L'assassinat du Père Noël" opens with an act of defiance, the village
school teacher Villard announces to the onlooking children that there
are two ways to be successful in life, either through one's own hard
work ("propre industrie") or the imbecility of others ("l'imbécillité
des autres"). This is a slightly bemusing point decades later without
the context that the film was released in 1941, during the German
Occupation of France. It is one of those breath-taking moments you see
in films of the Occupation where someone essentially risks their life
to defy the Nazi death cult (another is a sotto voce mocking of the
Nazi salute at the end of "L'assassin habite au 21"). Here "imbecility
of others" would appear to be referring to the support of the people
for the rise of popular fascism. The censors appear to have been too
square to notice any of this. There is further poignancy when you
realise that one of the stars of the movie, Harry Baur (as
Cornusse/Santa Claus), was tortured to death by the Gestapo very
shortly after this film was made.
The plot is about a snow globe village at Christmas, and you know that given the title of the film, and indeed if you were a cinema-goer at the time, from the movie posters, that Santa Claus or someone dressed as him will be murdered. Who killed him, the Baron who has mysteriously returned after many years, or one of the various "pillars of the community" we are introduced to. It is a noir film for sure, the village in claustrophobic, snowed in, the atmosphere is thick, which bits are as they seem? Is fair foul or foul fair to borrow from Monsieur Shakespeare.
It doesn't really matter whodunit, not to me anyway, and so I wasn't bothered by the quick wrap up at the end of the movie. The main theme of the film for me was truth and fantasy. The teacher Villard is a commie and a freethinker, not of the obviously deplorable kind, he has a lukewarm heart as well. But his search for the "truth", who he is the champion for is ridiculed by the events of the movie, although he is a "freethinker" his thoughts are obviously not free enough to realise that Catherine, championing fantasy, is almost completely unmoved by his wooing, and indeed that the reason for this is that they are no match at all. Perhaps the truth is like the white vermouth he habitually orders in the bar, not a particularly palatable drink. Perhaps the primary motivation for exposing the truth, is a deep-seated hatred. However the movie is even-handed, there are perils to fantasy as well, Cornusse and his cockamamie stories, for all their charm, mess with the heads of the children, as you evidenced by the bitter speech of the Baron, who heard them in his turn, and was led by them into misadventures. Catherine at one point talks of wanting a knight in shining armour husband who will kill any other man who looks at her, romantic fantasy can be pathetically cruel.
The encirclement of the police near the end of the movie is perhaps a message to the audience to hold tight, the world is coming to save us. There are hints throughout that even greater themes are lying just between the surface of the film, which plays with narrative and explores the nature of narrative (a paradoxical falsity that allows us to believe we have made sense of things) marvellously well. The two old men playing Belote may be our only gods.
Noce Blanche is a story where a philosophy teacher falls in love with a
"wayward" 17-year-old student of his. Viewings of this will likely be
motivated by the subject matter, however the film does offer up
substantial insight into the human condition. What is very interesting
about children, especially bright ones, is that they can see through
the hypocrisies of the adult world through all our false pride and
double standards, and love means everything to them. They are trumped
by the muscularity, cynicism, experience and judgement of adults. But
they see through us, Mathilde sees straight away that François, despite
a wife, career, and friends, is completely alone in the world, she sees
it because it is obvious and she has not been desensitised.
There are two particularly interesting philosophical ideas that come up in François' classes, that we are the unknowing accomplices of our "other self" the subconscious, prisoners of its fate, and also that people who choose to study metaphysics, choose death, as a preference over life.
The aesthetics of the movie are very subtle, it could easily be mistaken for one of those French dramas where the camera is simply pointed at the actors, but there is a palette of blue and greys here, and I ended up freezing the view a few times to admire the stills. It is far from being ostentatious or mannered however.
The story ends up feeling quite Grecian in the end, but who am I to say unrealistic, reality is almost always stranger than fiction. Works for purposes of titillation for sure, but also has great depths. Two successful watches in a row from Brisseau for me, following on from The Girl From Nowhere, more adventures to come!
L'été takes place mostly at a large country house in Normandy, called
Le Broy. A young activist has left Paris following the riots of 1968
and is spending some time on her own at the house. The house is owned
by friends of her parents, who are not using it that season, but it's
due to be refurbished at some point, which stops the stay feeling
She spends time corresponding with a friend, listening to classical music and thinking about her partner who she has left behind. She also spends quite a lot of time frolicking in the gardens and the surrounding countryside. The movie anthologises a lot of the slogans from the 1968 rioters, maybe the touchstone here is "Vivez sans temps morts - jouissez sans entraves" or "Live without dead time - play without hindrance".
Reading about 1968 would be a pre-requisite for watching this movie. It is still an inspiring time for me. A group of very beautiful French students decided it was time to overthrow the government and free people from the oppression of parliaments, laws, consumerism and wage slavery. They weren't even close to a victory, but their lessons for personal fulfillment live on. The world wasn't ready for these actions, but the Time of Cherries will come again.
The young lady is often shown naked, which is in line with the theme of sexual revolution for 1968.
Although the movie is playful, there is also a sense of grief, those that make revolution only halfway, dig their own graves, is a very poignant slogan. The lady is shown with her face being reflected in some old dark glass, as if she has a foot in the next world.
It is ironic that a privileged upper middle class woman holidays in her wealthy parents friends' home, and also that she comes across quite a lot of people working, and all she does is essentially take leisure. Not inconsistent with '68 principles, but a fairly essential comment. I know that if any of my reactionary friends watched the movie they would hit the roof seeing this contrast.
The music is perhaps represented as being in touch with the revolutionary instincts, no brash Russians, but mellifluous Monteverdi, Couperin, Handel, Bach etc. One interesting tune was Fantasy for guitar imitating the harp in the style of Ludovico, by Alonso Mudarra. The major expression of grief and betrayal is expressed by a relating of the plot of Kleist's novella Michael Kohlhaas, which ends in a baroque act of defiance.
My heart goes out to the filmmakers. This film sits apart from the other three seasons in the Tetralogy of Marcel Hanoun. The others are much more connected in a group.
I've seen this film described as Mumblecore, I think it is a useful
starting point to describe the film, though I think it has marked
differences. Both this movie and Mumblecore movies in general concern
relationships between young white heterosexual folks with relatively
privileged upbringings, who are undergoing changes in their lives, or
are stuck in the Doldrums hoping for the wind of change. The thing is
that Mumblecore often has a warts and all approach, and a comic aspect.
So you might get a boy and a girl having a conversation about the
internet porn they watch. The difference with The Exploding Girl is
that, largely the characters in this movie are shown in a positive
light, employing a lot of discretion, and there's no attempt to tickle
your funny bone, plus the movie often actually looks really good (as
opposed to the hand-held shakiness of Mumblecore).
The two main characters are Ivy and Al. Ivy is studying at Ithaca, but on a break, whilst Al is a friend of many years who stays with her over the period. Al is studying evolutionary biology at college and talks about Goldschmitt's theory of hopeful monsters, which I thought was a really good metaphor for the stage of life Al and Ivy are at, i.e. going from being really good at being kids to learning how to be really good as adults. A hopeful monster is a missing link in evolution between different more steady lifeforms.
Ivy has seizures and is on medication so she has to be careful about drinking, which makes it difficult to engage with a lot of the party life and experimentation that happens at college. Al is sympathetic with this and so they spend time hanging together. Both of them have different romantic interests but seem to do have the potential to do really well together. They're both great young people, which is the thing I liked about the movie, that it showed how great they were. I liked the writing, little things like Al recording his own songs on a tape recorder, with rather overstated lyrics! I felt kinda envious at the end because I wished when I was that age I could have shown a girl the things I was proud about (and vice versa). At one point Al went to see a Zed and Two Noughts (described as an English film called Zoo) with some friends. I watched that alone at about the same age.
They're both pretty gentle and thoughtful. The main reason I wanted to write a comment about the film is that it made me feel like being a bit more gentle and thoughtful. Corollary to that was that I went out and bought a friend a doughnut. It had jam and cream in it, when I came back he said he didn't like cream.
The title of this film leads you to believe that it's a Michael Myers
slasher movie, but it isn't. It's an authorised use of the franchise
label, Carpenter himself was involved in the production, but it's a
really different type of horror movie from the first two.
I knew it wasn't a Michael Myers film (I wouldn't actually have watched it if it was!!) but I wasn't familiar with the plot. That's actually quite a good way to watch this one.
Scenario-wise the film is about as preposterous as it's possible to get, say as preposterous as toxic waste from a chemical plant producing Nazi zombies with laser guns. And if you care about such things, do not watch the movie. It's not just the premise either, there are particular plot developments that seem unfeasible.
That aside I found the film genuinely to have a horror atmosphere right the way through, and it contained moments of truly abject horror and byzantine creepiness. It has been pointed out to me that Nigel Kneale (uncredited), the writer behind Quatermass was involved with the project, and a lot clicked into place when I heard that, because you can feel some of the atmosphere of Quatermass 2 in the scenario here, and with the dialogue about Samhain, that just had to be written by the same guy who was writing the Hobb's Lane dialogue for Quatermass and the Pit (i.e. connecting the present with a quickly established supernatural past).
Plus Halloween III is genuinely a horror film with messages, about corporatisation of culture, surveillance, the insidiousness of mass media, in a way that really sunk in for me, it wasn't just window dressing. You could even view it as positively avant-garde, it's almost Baudelaire-ian in its rejection of modern culture. People have scratched around for the villain's motivation, but for me it doesn't lie much further afield than this quote from Baudelaire, "Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing 'evil'and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil." It presents wickedness as its own reward Dan O'Herlihy is particularly great here, who you may remember as "The Old Man" in RoboCop. He is an utter creep in this movie! The movie, however lumpy and problematic it is plot-wise, maintains its high standards in terms of visuals and soundtrack the whole way through (John Carpenter does the soundtrack). It actually gets good enough visually that I would say it has some pretty iconic images.
Recommended to people who liked films like Michael Mann's The Keep or Richard's Stanley's Hardware. That is people who like atmosphere-thick narratively-fractured horror movies.
So imagine if Bob Guccione kidnapped Werner Schroeter, forced him onto
a diet of magic mushrooms, and at a point of a gun and with the regular
administration of scopolamine put him to work making a serial killer
movie. That's Mascara.
I actually can't believe I just watched that movie. I had an odd defeated day, and I got some Mazarin Omnipollo beer in (tastes as good as it sounds) and knew I needed to see something off the chain. I hadn't figured out how far off the chain this movie was, psychologically it was like being in an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon watching this movie. In my long film watching experience it has set a new high watermark for the bizarre. Carlo Ponti famously exclaimed "What?" when he saw a film Polanski made that was then in homage called "What?". But Polanski was a mere amateur at confusion compared to Patrick Conrad, the director of Mascara.
Police superintendent Bert Sanders (Michael Sarrazin) is an opera maven, and regularly attends with his sister Gaby Hart (Charlotte Rampling). There is more than a small hint that these two have a closer relationship than is recommendable between siblings. Sanders, in his late 40s, lives in with sis, and has massive problems with sublimated desire and sexual confusion. He visits a secret underground club where leading citizens dress in black tie, and watch drag queens lip sync Strauss and Gluck as well as pop music (including a Kris Kristofferson song). There's also some highly stylised S&M going on in antechambers. He's in a chaste relationship with a transsexual girlfriend who does cabaret at the club. When she comes onto him, all hell breaks loose, the tonne of psychosexual gelignite in his head blows sky high and he spends the rest of the movie alternating between catatonia and psychosis, digging himself in deeper whilst covering his tracks and trying to stop his sister getting with the dressmaker for the local opera house.
Parts of the movie have genuine pathos and are tres trans sympatico, but others seem almost hideously exploitational. The impression comes across that Partick Conrad is messing with you with some of the twists, like an experiment in blowing the viewer's mind.
And you know Charlotte Rampling is in the midst of all this acting her skin off at points. Unbelievable. She was not afraid of appearing in off the charts projects for sure, The Flesh of the Orchid is another superb example (no way could she have pretended that she was off for a straightforward gig with that one, not when James Hadley Chase wrote it!!!).
Wanna get unhinged? Put on some Mascara baby.
This film of Thomas Heise, called Material, is a collection of film
footage he collected over the years, not used in other projects. In the
way it is structured together it gains more than the sum of its parts.
The general topic seems to be the collapse of East Germany aka the DDR,
though the spectre of the Third Reich is there too, for example a play
being put together has to do with that and skinheads appear towards the
end of the film. There is little music except "From Hanover Square
North, At the End of a Tragic Day, The Voice of the People Again Arose"
the last movement of Charles Ives' Orchestral Set No. 2, which
originally refers to the moment when Ives learnt of the sinking of the
Lusitania, but here I think refers to the process of Germany emerging
from lost decades. There is a scene where some of the production team
from the play access some dangerous ruins, no doubt from the war, and
end up finding an apple tree in the overgrowth inside. In relation to
the original project it is likely unimportant, but in the context of
the film here it is very beautiful in its metaphor, a light at the end
of the tunnel.
Other scenes appear to include footage of the Monday protests in Leipzig, seminal in the dissolution of the DDR, apparently because the secret police the Stasi did not have a major presence in the city; some pleas from prisoners in Brandenburg for further extension of an amnesty that was happening at the time; a residents meeting; a parliamentary session; children playing in ruins; footage of models of buildings by the Berlin Wall, footage of an art installation which contained miniature buildings too, but also model people in provocative situations; a cinema where a riot breaks out during the showing of what looks like a political documentary.
A fairly common feature was people being given the chance to speak their minds freely, which is so beautiful.
It was a slog as a viewer to watch this for nearly three hours, and I stopped at points to look into some of the relevant history as context, on the Internet. However, in its portrayal at the angst and confusion of a nation, it hit me as the credits rolled, with much more of a punch than Rossellini's Germany Year Zero, which I also watched recently.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched Behold a Pale Horse twice in a row. It's a long movie where
little action happens until the end, and there are no heroes.
Manuel Artiguez is an outlaw who has continued to fight the Spanish Civil War for twenty years after defeat, from his base in the French town of Pau. His raids appear to serve little to no purpose other than as acts of defiance. His adversary is Captain Viñolas, a venal and rather fatuous adulterer, who despite being a Catholic is as far from grace as the radical atheist Artiguez.
Nothing appears to keep the men alive except for adversarialism and antagonism. A small boy Paco, crosses the border to find Artiguez in the hope that he can inspire Artiguez to avenge his father and kill Viñolas. He sees a bull on his trip, and it's pretty clear this represents Artiguez, who knows no other course of action than to fight (and, it's hinted at, womanise). The other children have a natural reaction to Paco, seeking out Artiguez, why would you do such a thing? There are several scenes in the movie where the old revolutionaries are shown alone, interspersed with many vibrant scenes of the young healthily enjoying themselves. Artiguez and Viñolas have become rather insistent irrelevances, in a region which wants to forget the bloodshed. The two of them engaged in a savage and stupid dance of death The young priest Francisco attempts to engage with Artiguez but has little effect. He is a confused man who is only just able to tell the difference between the warmth of his own heart and the coldness of logic. He is a neophyte, although he is able to put a few good thoughts out there. The baroquerie of Lourdes, shown in the movie hardly aids the case for religion with all its fetishisations.
It is a sad movie, full of manifest failure on the part of all its participants. One of the final scenes is of several dead participants led out on mortuary trolleys, all for once profoundly equal, the tragicomedy of their lives at an end.
The rich black and white photography seems often visually allegorical in its combinations of compositions and saturations. This is particularly the case where Viñolas antagonises a bull as a picador. It is an entirely bewitching movie.
Duvivier seems capable like no other of really laying out the most
unpalatable truths. The movie shows a group of resistance fighters
assemble for a reunion 15 years after the war is over. It's genre is
whodunnit (who betrayed our leader in this case), but it's a lot more
impressive than that suggests. What the structure does do is allow for
a lot of suspense, the movie really kept me fascinated.
Right from the start nothing appears particularly heroic about the group, their meet up is as awkward as an SS reunion. After the war they all went their separate ways pretty much (with exceptions, such as Marie-Octobre and Francois, the rich industrialist who funds her fashion house). Why is this important. It feels like they maybe did dirty things together, took justice into their own hands, skulked around in the shadows. Maybe their cause justifies everything, I guess that would be the traditional view anyway. I'm in my mid thirties and I never met anyone who believed in a cause, people choose activities and roles that suit them, that is all, killing as an activity is much more fundamental than the cause it underlies. Some people prefer to be prisoners, other warders.
There is something extremely unhealthy about the male "comrades" and their attitude to Marie-Octobre. At the beginning Francois introduces her as "notre fleur de fusil", or the rose in our guns. Her role generally seems to be "unattainable sex object". She refers to the gathering at one point as a "huis clos", a term for a closed proceedings, but surely meant to evoke Sartre's play ("No Exit" in English), about the pain of being aware of yourself an an object to others' perception, set in Hell. I refer to them as comrades in inverted commas because they are all quite ready to suspect one another at the drop of a hat. In a particularly galling act of cowardice they all name of the person they prejudge as being guilty and anonymously drop their name on a ballot into an urn.
No new truths are discovered in the course of the meeting, these are all people who know one another, all they have to do is work out, in a rather anally retentive fashion how each individual's proclivities could have lead to the death of their leader.
I personally found the elegant and aristocratic Francois almost intolerably overbearing and sanctimonious. His view of order must be imposed on everyone else. I never felt more in favour of anarchy than when watching this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Falling is an interesting movie. It didn't get much of an international
release on home video or in the cinema, and I had great difficulty
tracking down a copy. I was initially surprised at this because György
Pálfi broke out into the international market with movies like
Taxidermia, Hukkle and Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen (this last one
is particularly excellent) and I would have expected he had enough of a
brand to secure an international release even if the movie was a
misstep. As it turns out, one of the episodes in the film, I'll term it
the dcotor's appointment episode, is so brutal and vile, that it's not
hard to understand how it didn't get released outside of the festival
circuit. It's not just that the scene is miserable, it's more the lack
of an obvious message to redeem it. The movie's overall message seems
to be about cultural degeneracy and newly emergent selfishness,
generally these seem to be fresh messages, although the elderly couple
who talk past each other seem to be less au courant.
Palfi is not alone in thinking that society is undergoing a fall from grace, I guess the other famous Hungarian director with the same message is Béla Tarr (very different approaches!). I agree with the message, I think my generation broadly rejected every value that their parents had, and through the baby out with the bath water. Generally people have chosen to use their new freedoms (sexual, religious etc) to destroy themselves.
Overall Falling feels rough around the edges and plays a few wrong notes. What I felt missing was any sense that the director actually cared about the fall from grace he's describing. This is much more apparent in a film such as Jan Svankmajer's Lunacy.
For reference I will list the episodes and what they are meant to represent in my opinion (in order of my recollection). You should not read this unless you are happy with "spoilers".
* Old long suffering couple. This is a fairly ordinary episode which frames the rest of the material. The couple (could be married or could be selfish old man with a live-in housekeeper, hard to distinguish!) ignore the needs of one another and the lady attempts to kill herself twice (the unordinary bit is that she manages to survive both plummets from the top of her apartment block). This is the failure to sustain love through a long term relationship.
* Yogics. A group of new age disciples receive banal instruction from a cult-like leader. One member is able to levitate but is told off for showing off, he then merges into a wall in an attempt to jump through it. I guess it is amusing in that for all the talk of opening one's heart chakra, this appears to be as insular a grouping as any of the others in the movie.
* Throuple. So a lady called Dede decides that one boyfriend is not enough and a second one is moved in. She acts as if this is some sort of completely reasonable step and boyfriend number one is unreasonable for resisting it. This scenario is presented as some sort of ultra trashy romcom. This is a tragedy of people trying to reinvent the relationship focusing solely on their own needs.
* Gynecologist. A lady decides that she wants to have an operation to be "repregnant", i.e. she pays an obstetrician/gynaecologist to reinsert her already born baby into her body. This is all presented in a very matter-of-fact way. It appears that this will lead to the child's death, the doctor talks about the baby being "reabsorbed" by the body. It was not very clear to me what this episode is trying to tell the viewer. It could be that there is suggestion that society focuses much more on mothers than children, like motherhood is a cult in-and-of-itself, and not about self sacrifice anymore. I'm not sure really. It came off as crass to me.
* Naked party guests. So this segment is not particularly original, Manet for example did a famous painting where there is a naked woman at a picnic with some fully clothed men (Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe - at the Orsay in Paris). The woman in this case is portrayed as naked at a party because she is a trophy, she is stripped of her opinions, in the end she meets a man in the same position, and it's suggested they will have an affair. This is a tragedy of a breakdown in the sacrament of marriage.
* Terrorised child. A child lives in fear of his father, represented by an omnipresent actual bull in the apartment. This is the fall from grace of the family unit.
* Germaphobes. A couple who misunderstand the imperatives of hygiene are engage in a folie a deux where they become obsessed with creating a perfectly sterile environment. They have intercourse without touching one another and then there is an abject end to the episode.
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