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Méfiez-vous des blondes (1950)
Dull, not that exciting
Did you ever wonder who was the French equivalent of Cary Grant? It was Raymond Rouleau. They had height, elegance and imperturbability in common; they were even born the same year, 1904. This film by Hunebelle shows Rouleau's abilities off pretty well, but I have to say the wisecracks and the physical comedy are well below the Hollywood standard that Grant exemplified for so many years. If this is a Michel Audiard script, it's not up to the high standard of his best work.
If you care, there is a gangster named Costelli who has made lots of money in the drug trade out of Indochina (it's the 50's, remember?) and a woman turns up dead in Georges Masse's apartment, and the police suspect him. I was busy admiring Martine Carol's lovely face and body for most of the running time.
Faust is back
I didn't know what to expect when I bought the Blu-Ray edition of Faust. I had heard it years ago on CD, a poor transfer of the 1950's complete set with Nicolai Gedda, but this did not prepare me for the wonderful experience the Met has given us here. Yannick Nezet-Seguin has become my favourite opera conductor; he does a splendid job in the pit. Rene Pape is a tremendous singer, I have always enjoyed his interpretations and here he is a wonderful Mephistopheles. Silky at times, at times threatening, he is always memorable. Jonas Kaufmann sings so well that his matinée-idol looks (he's the Cary Grant of opera) are secondary. Russell Braun always moves me as Valentin; his death scene is affecting.
Marina Poplavskaya, whether in vocal trouble or not is a touching Marguerite. She copes very well with some unfortunate costumes and staging. I will remember her performance, especially in Act 5 when her situation is desperate.
L'exercice de l'État (2011)
Politics is a blood sport
The car crash comes out of nowhere, on an abandoned road with no traffic either way: the crazy suddenness of it, the violence leading to a death, it's a tremendous piece of film-making. Editing, camera work and sound all come together impressively.
The film is a bit loose in the narration, there are perhaps too many small roles that don't have much to do with the central characters, but all in all this is a picture that is worth seeing. Olivier Gourmet, whom I have enjoyed in many films over the years, here shows some impressive acting skills. This politician is in trouble: he's got to close some train stations and the union is on his back--in France the unions are much more powerful than in North America. His desire not to make waves runs up against political realities; he's running out of time. Philippe Scholler also wrote the music for the film; it's very evocative.
Le guetteur (2012)
Melville it sure isn't
I gave it 5 and that is generous, considering this film does not achieve many of the goals it sets itself: it is not really suspenseful, the characterization is often vague, the plot is not clear at many points (too many characters don't improve matters). There is a Hollywood gloss over this picture that depresses me; surely a French film can call upon a tradition of thrillers dating back to the post-war years: Le salaire de la peur for example. I thought of Melville of course (Le deuxieme soufflé and Le cercle rouge) and Alain Corneau (Police Python 357). The kids who would troop off to see this one will be quickly bored.
There is little point in trying to single out any of the actors for praise or blame; they seem interchangeable in their roles. Daniel Auteuil looks glum most of the time--did they not pay him enough? Olivier Gourmet from those great Dardenne movies promised much, but his part was clumsily written and not really understandable.
The world of the locks
When the body of a woman is found in a stable beside a lock on the Marne canal, Maigret is called to investigate. It's a problematical case made the more puzzling by the seeming indifference of the dead woman's husband Sir Lampson (wonderful Michel Lonsdale). Bruno Cremer uses his usual analytical skill to solve the case.
The world of locks keepers and bargemen is brought alive in this episode, taken from the novel 'Le charretier de la "Providence"'. There is excellent use of the buildings and boats on the canal, made vivid by some fine cinematography. Michel Lonsdale reminds me once more why he is one of my favourite actors.
Maigret tend un piège (1958)
Sweaty August nights in Paris
This year was devoted to deepening my appreciation of Simenon's works; this is the best film version of his novels. From the first scene, with a nervous Insp. Lagrume trying to keep abreast of a violent confrontation in the Place des Vosges--the fourth killing by a sadistic serial killer--to the ending with Lagrume again trying to curry favour with an exasperated Maigret, this film held me spellbound. The acting is superb: Gabin has his best role since the glory days with Renoir in the 30's, Desailly is extraordinary as the wretched Maurin, pulled by mother and wife both and hating it, Annie Girardot is wonderfully sensual and determined as the young wife, and Lucienne Bogaert plays the mother from Hell with the greatest skill. The hatred the two women have for each other is palpable. All the supporting players turn in fine work, especially Gerard Sety as Jojo the gigolo who manages to stir the emotions of Yvonne Maurin, for a while at least.
It seems there is no general Region 1 release for this film; that's a real shame. I found a cheap knockoff without special features in a cutout bin in Montreal. Please let's have a proper reissue.
La vie d'un honnête homme (1953)
Marvellous Michel Simon
If you are looking for virtuosic direction--fast cutting, swooping camera work and the like--don't bother with this. Visually the style is a bit clumsy; some scenes run on too long and the sets can be a little skimpy. If great acting from the star is what you want, then you'll get it here. Simon is terrific, just as good as he'd been in Panique in 1946. The contrast between bourgeois respectable Albert and rough-hewn Alain (just back from Canada, where he'd done prison time for some indiscretion) is beautifully well-drawn. Imagine a man who tells everybody that his twin brother died at 18 because he's ashamed of him, then imagine all the compromises he's had to make, all the hypocrisy he's had to live with over more than three decades: that's Albert, and Simon brings this out superbly. The other actors support the star capably. It was great to see Louis de Funes when he had a full head of hair, and Claude Gensac before she became matronly.
La fête à Henriette (1952)
It starts off very well: two scriptwriters, one short and irritable (Henri Cremieux) the other tall and phlegmatic (Louis Seigner) are batting around ideas for a new film. They come up with some characters: Robert, a press photographer; Henriette, daughter of a National Guard commander; Marcel/Maurice, a charming but not-very-honest man about town. These three, plus a half dozen more characters will spin a most entertaining story for the next 90 minutes or so.
I won't get into a discussion of Duvivier's place in cinematic history, nor whether we needed the New Wave or not, nor even the use of film-within-a-film. I will just say that this is a very inventive and charming little comedy that really should be on DVD. There is a tremendous virtuosic sequence about 60 minutes in--Marcel tries to rape Henriette in a car, she escapes and he chases her up the stairs in a building under construction--that must be seen to be appreciated.
Maigret: Maigret et le fantôme (1994)
More engrossing than most
This Maigret episode is set in Finland and deals with art forgery and other forms of cheating. Heinz Bennent, whom we remember from Le Dernier metro (he played Deneuve's husband forced to hide from the Nazis) is effective as a shady gallery owner and dealer. His wife is cheating on him with a thug who's good with guns. Maigret is in Helsinki to investigate the shooting of his colleague Lognon, and stumbles upon the shady art dealings by accident.
Bruno Cremer is often outshone by the guest actors, this is no exception. Besides Bennent, there is Elizabeth Bourgine who plays his wife; she's very demure as she hides her past from the authorities.
The Maigret series fits me like a glove. I enjoy watching Bruno Cremer slowly working out his problem as he fills his pipe and lumbers through the set. He is much more fun to watch than Jean Gabin was: you waited for Gabin to explode in anger, then when he did you just waited for the final credits to roll--nothing more to see. I much prefer a thoughtful Maigret.
This episode has some first class acting. Tall gaunt Olivier Achard plays a man condemned to death who can't seem to respond to Maigret's questions, even when he could be cleared. Emmanuel Salinger is really good as a cynical villain--I remember how effective he was in Desplechin's early films. Marisa Berenson is celebrity casting. The club is beautifully filmed; the camera darts in and out of tight little groupings at tables, great to watch. Lovely music too.