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Judging by André Téchiné's 2009 " La fille du RER " and his latest work
to-date, " L'homme qu'on aimait trop ", the French director has
recently developed an interest for actual events, and more particularly
for those produced by duplicity. The two films mentioned have indeed in
common to revolve around a person who made big headlines and did so by
deceiving others (the former centering on the case of Marie L., a young
mythomaniac who, in July 2004, faked an anti-Semitic attack while the
latter revolves around the dubious figure of Maurice Agnelet, a lawyer
from Nice, ambitious,winsome and charming, but also a crook and
probably the murderer of his mistress). But sticking to facts does not
necessarily mean that Téchiné has said farewell to what he had
specialized in, the illustration of the torments of passion (remember
for instance "The Bronte Sisters " and " Wild Reeds "). For in "
L'homme qu'on aimait trop ", the director, amongst other things makes a
point of depicting a passion, and one of the kind he usually delights
in : an overpowering, dark feeling that bonds a troubled heart to
another. But the movie being based on a true story, let's begin by
considering the facts. They concern the Le Roux affair, from its
genesis in the mid 1970s to nowadays. This cause celebre, still pending
after 37 years, involves Renée Le Roux, the manager of a luxury casino
in financial difficulties; Agnès Le Roux, her daughter in conflict with
her; Jean- Maurice Agnelet, a go-getter lawyer close to Renée but who
turned against her after becoming Agnès's lover; and Jean-Dominique
Fratoni, a mafia boss and Renée's business rival who gained Agnès and
Agnelet's support in getting his hands on Mrs. Le Roux's establishment.
An undeniably circumvoluted situation but be reassured, Téchiné gets by
just fine and his account of the facts is both faithful and crystal
Of course, this is no documentary and Téchiné being Téchiné, his film cannot be just that. It also aims to be a work of art and manages to. To my mind, and contrary to what too many critics have said, "L'homme qu'on aimait trop" HAS style. The director is indeed not content to narrate his (interesting) story he also gives an artistic approach, thus intensifying the viewer's response to what they are shown.
One of his objects being to condemn a world corrupted by money (our world in fact !), André Téchiné achieves it not only through dialogue but through art as well. A brilliant Mediterranean sky too blue to be true, the exceedingly glittering golds of Renée's sumptuous gambling- house, the unashamed hugeness of Fratoni's villa and the splendor of his garden tell more by contrast about moral ugliness than a verbal accusation: the more seductive the images are the more the baseness of this tainted world appears. And there is another field in which Téchiné excels, character study. The Gallic helmer delights in digging into the psyche of his characters and trying, like a detective of the soul, to unlock their mysteries. Does he really find the key to Maurice's childish dream to make it big, to Renée's desperate fight for winning back her daughter's love, to Agnès's consuming rage? Not really, but are these personalities really reducible to mere psychology? At any rate, they are three-dimensional and - accordingly -interesting.
Of these three characters, the one that fascinates the director (and us as well) most is obviously Agnès. At the same time idealistic and greedy, fiercely independent and under the yoke of passionate love, ungrateful to her mother but not devoid of love for her, Agnès, contradiction personified, is the real focus of the film and through the mystery of her troubled character, she joins Téchiné's long list of tormented heroines (from the unbalanced Paulina in "Paulina is Leaving" to the Bronte Sisters to Alice in "Alice and Martin" among others). Embodying her is young Adèle Haenen, an amazing concentrate of vital energy. But the young actress, who is often like a bull in a china shop, also manages to translate effectively the insecurities of her character. Such a mix of bluntness and subtlety, of roughness and insecurity is hardly ever seen. She is surrounded by a solid cast (Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve and the little known Jean Corso, who creates an all too believable Fratoni, and the vivacious Judith Chemla as Zoune, one of Agnelet's mistresses).
Some find the movie overlong, but I personally did not; probably because Téchiné has a sense of tempo: he always cuts a scene at the ideal time, never too early nor too late.
"L'homme qu'on aimait trop" is a worthwhile film, beautiful to look at as well as informative, intriguing and giving food for thought. Recommended.
Anna, a girl in her late teens who has missed the last train to
Clermont-Ferrand and lost her baggage, finds herself alone in an empty
Paris station. Appears a middle-aged man walking his dog. The guy takes
her to his apartment and once there tries to take advantage of the lost
creature and have sex with her...
Summarized this way, 'Acide Animé ' can make you fear the worst. And it is true that at first sight such a plot looks just like a pretext for showing sick graphic sex scenes. Fortunately that is not the case. Sure Félix, the male character, is tempted to sexually abuse the helpless girl (isn't he seen swallowing a mysterious pill - a sexual stimulant, to be sure - and pouring another substance in Anna's drink?), but those objectionable urges stay at the level of intentions. For what matters to Guillaume Bréaud, the gifted director of this short, is not to give horny spectators an opportunity to get an eyeful, it is to draw the sensitive portrait of two confused people put side by side by a quirk of fate.
Mission accomplished: Bréaud does succeed in making his two characters (and let's not forget Jacques, Felix's dog!) engaging. Not without defects but engaging. On the one hand you have Anna, a charming young thing, fresh and spontaneous (but maybe not the pretty well-bred provincial we first think she is). On the other, Félix, a somewhat selfish sexually frustrated bachelor (but, as we find out, having kept the spirit of childhood). What separates them is that young and pretty Anna might become a sexual prey for Félix but there is something much more important that genuinely unites them, childhood, at least the part of it which is not gone in her yet and is still present in him despite being twice as old as her. A bond stronger than Felix's attempted assault, which is illustrated by the final scene : still in a state of shock because of what has almost happened to her, Anna nevertheless bursts out laughing. She had a narrow escape, needless to say, but the experience she shared with this eccentric fellow just before was definitely worth living.
And indeed, before things turned sour, the two "misfits" (Anna, whose early love life caused turmoil in her family; Félix, who failed to find a genial soul to share his life), managed to talk (Anna's merry confession, in particular, filmed, played and edited remarkably), to discover each other and - the most original side of ' Acide Animé ' - to have fun together like the two little children they have remained deep inside themselves. Guillaume Bréaud brilliantly translates the ebullience that carries away the two partners when they find out they both know the joyous song " We're Off to See the Wizard " from " The Wizard of Oz " and that they can sing and dance to it! During this marvelous sequence, the director captures to perfection the glee that sublimates the best Hollywood musicals while managing to give us the feeling that these two beings who should never have met have become as one. Of course this impression is only transient and this miraculous unity is soon permeated by Félix's lust, beginning by a rather disgusting game of forfeits. But, oddly (and unconventionally) enough, the miracle, tarnished has it has been, remains a miracle.
Naturally the film would be nothing without the right actors. But in this field too Guillaume Bréaud rises to the challenge: Didier Bénureau and Ludivine Sagnier are just the ideal pick. Bénureau, too rarely seen on the screen, gives a top-rate performance here, underlining with equal talent the dark and bright sides of his character. As for Ludivine Sagnier, still in her teens at the time of filming, she is already an accomplished actress whose talents range from performing her own stunts (running after a train moving off) to speaking alone facing the camera during a whole sequence to singing and dancing in English.
Finely crafted by Guillaume Bréaud, ' Acide Animé ' is a worthwhile short which gave hope that its young director would pursue the same brilliant career as its leading actress. But the movie world is cruel and for all his undeniable talent he has only been able to write three screenplays ever since. He is nevertheless still active and, as miracles do happen, it is not to be ruled out that some bold producer might decide to trust him again. For his - and our - sake.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jean Daskalidès was an amazing man. He was in turns (and sometimes at once) a jazz musician, the manager of Leonidas (the famous Belgian chocolate company), a film producer and director and a... gynecologist! An eccentric, intriguing, multifaceted personality indeed! As far as the movies are concerned, Daskalidès's debut was encouraging; among the shorts he made, a few were noticeable by either their tenderness (" De diefstal "), their cruelty (" Mundo Carne ") or their humor (" Bibi "). His transition to feature film was less fortunate though. And yet when in 1972 the " 6 rue du Calvaire " project was initiated, there was reasonable hope that it might result in a fine atmospheric movie. Alas, the chocolate tycoon's first (and last for that matter) fiction feature was a real disappointment: it was indeed made so amateurishly that on this occasion Daskalidès appeared more as a jack-of-all-trades than the protean figure he was wont to be. Not that this noir crime film is inept. The subject (Hugo, a French engineer, accommodated in his Flemish friend's home, unveils a terrible secret in the family) has potentialities. Clouzot, Chabrol or Polanski at the helm would doubtless have made this adaptation of "De Dames Verbrugge", a novel by Roger d'Exsteyl, a hair-raising and haunting experience. But not Daskalidès who as it happens proves unable to create a real atmosphere of fear. This is due to the director's clumsiness: he indeed makes nearly all the beginner's mistakes: the cinematography is undistinguished, the natural setting (Ghent in East Flanders) filmed in an indifferent way, the editing approximate (uneven rhythm and even worse, padding: oh, those useless night club scenes!) and the acting mediocre (with only one exception, Lut Tomsin, who literally exudes frustration and bitterness). Even top-billed Marie-José Nat is a bad choice. She may have attracted one or two more spectators to the theaters and - agreed - she is very beautiful but why choose a jet black haired Corsican to play a Flemish woman? And why does she always express herself in French while her brother and sisters speak Flemish? Furthermore, the actress can't live up to the ambiguity of her character : she is all right as long as she has to give life the sweet side of her personality but when it comes to her darker side she is not frightening at all, which is quite a handicap. In these conditions, it does not take long before you realize you are doomed to be delivered more tedious than exciting moments and you gradually lose interest. Viewing his own film must have been a reality check for Jean Daskalidès himself: he never directed another feature after that. But he went on producing movies signed by others, one of which is a masterpiece, "Dust" (1985) by Marion Hansel.
To this day, Anna (or Anne) Novion has made three shorts and two
feature films ( 'Les grandes personnes', 2008, and 'Rendez-vous à
Kiruna', 2012 ). It is to be noted that her first film effort
('Frédérique est française', 2000) as well as her two full-length
pictures share a common point: the shock of two cultures, namely the
French and the Swedish ones. A fact that owes nothing to chance,
knowing that the young director has roots in France and in Sweden.
Bringing the latter country to the fore is therefore a natural thing
for her to do. In addition, it is also a guarantee of genuineness on
her part as well as a plus for a French audience not really swamped
with information on Scandinavian civilization. Agreed, Anna Novion has
been living in France since she was born, but she has always been
attracted, not to say fascinated, by her origins on her mother's side.
It accordingly comes as no surprise that besides studying filmmaking
she landed a postgraduate certificate whose subject was "Anxiety, Guilt
and Desperation in Bergman's Work". And that Sweden is the star of
three of her movies.
Moving on to "Rendez-vous à Kiruna", let it be said that the story revolves around Ernest Toussaint, a renowned architect, full of himself and always in a rotten mood. At the beginning of the movie he is seen supervising his team while they are on the verge of winning a competitive bidding contract. So why does he suddenly leave everybody behind and drives away for... Lapland? The explanation lies in the fact that a young man has drowned himself in some remote spot of Lapland and that the victim, a Swedish policeman told him on the phone, is none other than his own son.
On the road, Ernest happens - quite against his misanthropic tendencies - to give a lift to Magnus, a hippy-like young man, also bound North. From this moment on - although he does not know it yet - Ernest will never be the same again... Alternately realistic (what we see on the screen is grassroots Sweden, not a series of tourist sights), comical (the two men's misadventures with a group of aggressive bikers), philosophical (Magnus's grandfather's speech) and touching (Ernest's gradual coming to terms with his inner self; the grandfather's quiet desperation), Anna Novion's road movie goes its long (but not lengthy) way to a heartwarming finale. Psychologically accurate, "Rendez-vous à Kiruna" can also boast an interesting stylistic approach. You will not have failed to notice that Ernest's mental journey (his mind mellowing as the miles trickle away) takes place in the direction opposite to the physical one (the landscapes becoming barer and barer).
This is a serious movie indeed but Anna Novion doesn't mistake gravity for boredom: Arthur's defects are fun to watch ; so is his forced cohabitation with a young man, as cool as he is tense, as modest as he is conceited. She furthermore has a talent to find an unexpected or incongruous detail which appropriately lightens the atmosphere when things get too dramatic or too brain-racking.
As for the two lead actors, Jean-Pierre Darroussin (the ultimate grumpy one) and his Swedish counterpart Anastasios Soulis (a relaxed but far from superficial young man), they complement each other to perfection and carry the movie on their shoulders. They sure are instrumental in the success of "Rendez-vous à Kiruna"
So allow yourself to be tempted by this unconventional journey to the North of Sweden. You will not be disappointed. It is worth the mileage!
The metallic din of a car crash heard off a black screen... A road at
night... A guard rail broken off... A man looking down at a car
overturned on its side in a ditch... The man getting back into his car
and starting dialing 112 for emergency on his cell phone but not
finishing his gesture... The man parking his car near an emergency call
box but hesitating and not pressing the button...
Such is the beginning of "112", Pierre Alt's latest film to-date. Of course it can make you start wondering: is it going to be one of those films with a thesis, of the type André Cayatte once specialized in? Is it going to be a charge against hit and run drivers, complete with such questions hurled at you as "And you, what would you have done in the man's place" or "In your opinion, can this bad citizen benefit or not from extenuating circumstances?" And why not after all? Anyway, you are so abruptly projected into the dismayed driver's mind that you just can't help examining the issue. And as it is far from a silly one, is it that bad to be faced with it once in a while? However, the hypnotic, melodyless music that accompanies the images makes you feel a rat: with such a sound design, this movie is not going to be the illustration of a moral debate, or to be more to the point, it is not going to be just that. Indeed, guided unconsciously both by Samuel Brunel's very unsettling score and by Klaus-Peter Weber's nocturnal cinematography, you gradually sense that the "reality" you are given to see is only an illusion, or else if it IS reality then this reality is in fact permeated by fantasy. Just how, I cannot reveal here for fear of spoiling the final discovery, not unworthy of a tale by Edgar Poe for that matter. An ending that upsets you, makes you reconsider the whole film and want to see it again. As usual, Pierre Alt proves as good in the realistic sequences (in the flashback scenes he tells the viewer nearly as much about his main protagonist as Sautet, Guimard and Dabadie in "The Things of Life") as in the fantasy ones (in which he manages to instill anxiety without having to resort to a cascade of spectacular visual effects). Led by an excellent actor, Berlin-living Henry Arnold, who captures to perfection his character's deep sense of unease, this haunting tale presents another particularity : it was filmed on both sides of the French-German border (in Moselle and in Saarland) and spoken in the languages of the two countries. Just the path "Party Girl" would follow two years later... before winning the Golden Camera at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Our wish is that Pierre Alt, now at the top of his creative capacities, can soon turn to the feature-length format and be as successful as Claire Burger, Samuel Theis and Marie Amachoukeli.
"Rendez-vous fatal" is one of those films which are extremely difficult both to sum up and to review for the simple reason that they entirely rely on the effect of surprise. So, what can I reveal about this second part of the Pierre Alt trilogy (coming after "Douche froide" and before "Chambre 18")? Not much I am afraid, but at least this: like in the two other installments the scene is set in a hotel, the couple in the room is illegitimate and the atmosphere prevailing is uneasy. The rest is for you to discover, for saying more would boil down to just killing the film. On the other hand I can give this reviewer's opinion on something that will not spoil your pleasure: to the question "Does the element of surprise work?", I can answer yes, it does. And with one added value into the bargain: Pierre Alt's allusive sense. Like in the two other films of the trilogy (as well as in latest to-date, "112") the writer-director has the knack for leaving unexpressed bits of truth in the conclusion, thus appealing to the viewers' intelligence for completing the job. This way, we spectators are left to fill in the blanks, thus enhancing the pleasure felt at the final revelation. Moreover, the final twist always retaining a part of ambiguity, we are never dead certain that part of the reality presented does not escape us. All in all, "Rendez-vous fatal" is a fine little thriller in which Pierre Alt displays his many talents, as a writer (for the reasons expressed above), as an actor's director (the economy of Benoît Gourley's acting ; Edwige Baily in turns aggressively sexy and touchingly fragile), and as a technician ( depth of field effects and tilted angles in panic scenes, the dialectic of warm and cool colors, etc.). Well-made, intriguing and effective, "Rendez-vous fatal" has little running time to meet its intended specifications. But it does.
Accepting the world and its ways as they are - however crooked they may
be - and be sociable, at the risk of falseness and compromise or
sticking to one's moral principles and remaining upright at the risk of
keeping a stiff upper lip and becoming estranged from others, such was
the problematics in Molière's classic comedy of manners 'The
Misanthrope or the Cantankerous Lover', written in 1666.
Verifying the relevance and the permanence of this questioning three centuries and a half later, such is Philippe Le Guay's objective in 'Alceste à bicyclette' (Bicycling with Molière), a contemporary cinematic comedy of manners, which might well become a classic of the genre in the years to come.
Our present-time Alceste goes by the name of Serge Tanneur and is personified in a tailor-made role by Fabrice Luchini. Serge is the very type of the demanding actor who places his art above everything else. He is now retired in his home on the Île de Ré because he refuses to go on playing in inferior commercial products. Face to him meet the Philinte of today, Gauthier Valence, his former friend, a fellow-actor who also thinks high of his art, but who has squandered his talent in basely commercial stuff, especially in a TV soap entitled "Dr. Morange", which has made him a star adored by audiences, especially female.
What brings together the two thespians, one stern and pure, the other wavering and impure, is the latter's wish to clean up his tarnished reputation by grappling with loftier material. To this end he is to direct - what else? - 'The Misanthrope' and to play - who else? - the role of Philinte in a prestigious production of Molière's masterpiece. And who has he considered for the part of Alceste ? Well done, good guess: Serge Tanneur!
The question is: will the misanthropist accept to play 'The Misanthrope' alongside a traitor to his art like Gauthier ? Naturally, nothing is less certain...
Revolving around the improbable reunion of two former friends turned enemies, 'Alceste à bicyclette' could be content to be an amusing ego vs. ego comedy, served by two major actors. Which it is actually: how could it be otherwise with Fabrice Luchini confronting Lambert Wilson, the former haughty, aggressive, never getting off his high horse and the latter charming, cajoling but maybe even more devious than his partner? But a closer look reveals a much more complex work dealing intelligently with various themes among which: - how to play a classic and keep current audiences interested, - purity and intolerance; opportunism and sociability, - the moral's of today's world - friendship and betrayal, - true love and philandering. Be reassured though. Philippe Le Guay is not one of those arty artists worked up about things and always giving lessons. On the contrary, the author does his utmost to help the medicine go down by resorting to the best excipient ever, comedy. For sure, when it comes to humor, Le Guay masters all the ropes to perfection. In this particular movie, he runs the whole gamut of laughter, from the most basic sight gags (Lambert Wilson trapped in a jacuzzi run wild; the same repeatedly falling off his bike) to the most sophisticated ones (Serge's way to avenge himself). And that is not all. Not content to be intelligent and funny, "Alceste à bicyclette" has genuine moments of emotion (I refer, in particular to two really moving sequences, that of Serge's return to life through love for an Italian woman and the other featuring a teenager acting in porn movies unexpectedly transcended by her sensitive reading of Molière's text). French audiences were in no way deterred by a movie dealing essentially with the rehearsals of a play written in the language of the 17th century. Over a million people came to see it. This just shows what wonders Philippe Le Guay and his faithful cohort Fabrice Luchini can work. They already done it with 'L'année Juliette', 'Le coût de la vie' and 'Les femmes du 6ème étage'. Let us hope they will do it again soon.
"Douche froide" (Cold Shower) is the first part of an exciting triptych written, produced and directed by Pierre Alt from late 1996 to 2008 now available on DVD at Starlight Productions. The trilogy consists of three shorts (the two others being "Rendez-vous fatal" and "Chambre 18") on the same theme, sex out of wedlock in a hotel room, but with variations which prove imaginative and unexpected. To summarize "Douche froide" would mean giving the viewer a... cold shower, since it would spoil the pleasure of discovery, a key quality common to the three films. Suffice it to say that there is a costly room in a luxury hotel, a French collector and a woman (he met a few hours before) with whom he is spending the night. Oh! I almost forgot, there is also a precious dagger which plays an important part in the story... As for the action, I could easily sum it up (the plot does have a backbone) but if I did so that would be another betrayal to the movie. For the facts as they are seen on the screen are never proved. In the uncertain world of "Douche froide", we spectators are indeed constantly made to navigate between dream (most often bad), fantasy (chiefly unsettling) and reality (not much more reassuring). By way of example, when the collector cuts his finger the event is supposed to happen in a nightmare sequence, so how come he bleeds in the 'realistic' scene that follows? So much so that when, after a remarkable final twist, we think we have understood the whole thing, our next reaction is... to start asking ourselves new questions: How can such or such detail be explained ? Is that dream, fantasy or reality? We do not know for certain and our only wish is... to watch the film again! "Douche froide" is undeniably the most fascinating part of Pierre Alt's trilogy thanks mainly to the spellbinding atmosphere of anxiety the helmer manages to create. Alt, who has a sure hand at it does not need Grand Guignol Effects to achieve his ends: a rainy night outside the windows, bluish cool tones, slick camera moves, intriguing editing, a high angle shot and a minimalist score by Simon-Anatol Weber are enough for him to make the viewer both want to know what comes next and fear it. But neither a sure technique nor effective suspense (as is here the case) are enough raise a film above average; to leave a deep mark it takes substance. And substance there is in "Douche Froide". What actually makes it last in our mind is the way Pierre Alt gets us into the troubled psyche of his male protagonist. The collector should be the conquering hero (hasn't he managed to acquire a very rare artefact and seduced a beautiful woman at the same time?) Why then is he feeling so bad, so insecure, so frail as to prove impotent? And are his sadomasochist tendencies only sexual? Is he in control or is he being controlled by his "conquest"? A question that can be expanded to many specimens of the "male club", however chauvinist they are. Very well interpreted by Féodor Atkine (who captures all the nuances of physical and emotional discomfort) and German actress Marita Marschall (whose mysterious elegance recalls Eva Marie Saint in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest"), "Douche froide" is a short but gripping thriller which lingers on in the mind long after the end credits have ceased to roll.
This is what I would call a "good-bad" film. Let me explain: on the one
hand, "La Chasse à l'homme" (Male Hunt) is a pretty good comedy, witty
(with dialogues by Michel Audiard, that says it all), well-made by the
always competent Edouard Molinaro and played by an impressive bunch of
great actors, many of whom are the children of the French New wave. It
is fun and light-hearted. Plus there are beautiful Greek locations and
the rhythm is good. The question can be asked then : what more do you
Well, it seems to me that for a work of art to be worthwhile it must rest on sound bases and this is the "more" I missed to make me enjoy this otherwise good quality product to the full. For if the form of "La chasse à l'homme" is satisfying, that is not the case with its substance. Blame it on its awfully misogynist tone, which makes adhering to the story and the characters difficult. And whose fault is it? Believe it or not, ... a woman's ! For the scriptwriter is none other than France Roche, better known as a journalist. A woman lashing out at creatures of the same sex, that may seem paradoxical at first sight, but this is hardly the first time a girl has shown herself on par with the fiercest macho female bashers. Even worse (maybe also because the writer is a woman), men are not spared either. Which results in an ultra- cynical apologue whose moral can be summed up as follows: women and men all despise each other but all women invariably manipulate all men into marrying them, however macho and big-mouthed they may be. Sorry, Miss Roche, but all that is a bit brief, don't you think?
Luckily, Edouard Molinaro will pursue the male-female relationships issue in a less cynical, more inspired way. Filmed two decades later, "L'Amour en douce" is an exquisitely delicate romantic comedy, this time reflecting the director's true colors.
Of course, "La Chasse à l'homme" being an unpretentious movie, the viewer can easily set aside all the considerations above and just have fun. After all, it is a film that can boast amusing finds (a hunting party in which the hunters are women and the game three bare-chested men, a parody of French gangster films in the Belmondo episode, the same scenes seen differently through the subjectivity of the three main characters, ...). One can also admire Molinaro's technical mastery : it is a known fact that he always gives close attention to the movie he makes, even when they are just commercial. In the present case, he resorts to all kinds of devices (upward and low angle shots, picture-in- picture, speed up editing, silent scenes with voice over, spoken ones with subtitles) so as to make "La Chasse à l'homme" something other than the bomb it would have been in more careless hands. And of course there are the actors. The stellar cast is justification alone to watch it. It would be too long (and self-evident) to sing in detail the praises of Belmondo, Brialy, Claude Rich, Françoise Dorléac, Catherine Deneuve, Blier, Francis Blanche (and there are some I am forgetting), but Marie Laforêt is an absolute scream as Gisèle, Antoine's languid, depressive and poetic rich fiancée.
It will then be for you to decide whether "La Chasse à l'homme" is a good film (it does have entertaining virtues) or a bad one (for being hollow and over-cynical) or else to join my club and find it, like me, a "good-bad" film.
Milan Kundera once said that the Czech culture of the 1960s was a key
moment of the 20th century European culture. And it is true that was an
all the more wonderful decade as it was sandwiched between dark times
stained with blood (Stalinism) and depressingly drab ones (the
Normalization era). For a time Czech and Slovak artists (among whom
directors Forman, Chytilova, Menzel, Nemec...) managed to break down
the barrier of orthodox thinking. Thanks to them, human beings (however
imperfect they may be) were brought back to the fore and truth (however
inglorious) was placed above propaganda. Not without a good dose of
causticity and cruelty; but.., you know, spare the rod and spoil the
child! Dusan Hanak, the far too overlooked Slovak director of this
little known short belongs to the league of those talented artists who,
by capturing the spirit of the time, revitalized their national cinema.
During the 12 minutes running time of 'Old Shatterhand Came To See Us',
Hanak indeed shows us things and people as he sees them, not through
the prism of party ideologues. Nor for that matter in a neutral,
objective way (supposing there is such a thing as that) : this is
indeed not a plain documentary reporting reality, it is a look on
reality with an asserted point of view, the paradox being that "Old
Shatterhand" may describe the town of Bratislava in the Summer of 1966
much better than if it had been filmed according to the rule book. The
mid-sixties were a time when Czechoslovakia was beginning to be
"invaded" by foreign tourists, particularly from beyond the Iron
Curtain ; in such a context Hanak's obvious purpose was to illustrate
through image, sound and editing a series of contrasts. One of these
emanates from the linguistic gap between the "extra-terrestrials" from
the West and the natives (who on earth spoke Czech back in the 60s,
except the Czechs themselves?); another from the social gap between the
haves (all those foreigners with their fascinating cars...) and the
less affluent locals (including young gypsies shown begging); and a
third one between the pomposity of official propaganda (through
communist songs heard off with words such as 'We are a wonderful crew,
the world is ours!') and the triviality of reality (a potbellied road
worker lazing leaning on a shovel handle; a young worker with his
cigarette stuck in his mouth peeping after a cute blonde, etc.).
An end achieved all the more brilliantly as Dusan Hanak does it without a spoken commentary or direct sound recording, the whole thing being enhanced by the author's cutting-edge irony and total skepticism. Dusan Hanak is undoubtedly a faithful consort of Kundera, Forman and the other masters of Czech (and Slovak) humor. Like them, he joyfully puts itching powder in the back of all pretenses and hypocrisies. Message heard loud and clears by the censors of the time : they shelved the film. But never mind them, they have all vanished into oblivion while this little gem is still there for you to be discovered.
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