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A very engaging filmed portrait
In 1999, Maya Plisetskaya, the Russian star of the Bolshoi Theatre, agreed to appear before the cameras of filmmaker Dominique Delouche. A unique opportunity for the prima bellerina assoluta to tell about her person as well her persona from her green years to the age of 73.
Thanks to Delouche and through her keen participation, we spectators are made to follow her through the streets of Moscow where, without or within buildings she lived or worked in, she sheds light on her memories : life as a little girl with her father and her movie actress mother, the trragedy her parents went trhough them as of 1937; her training as a dancer at the Bolshoi school, her long and brilliant international career as a ballerina. In doing so, she hides nothing about Stanilist terrorism, nor about the difficulties she had with the control-freak Soviet regime all along.
Of course, what matters most in rich this documentary is Maya's own articulation of what her style actually is. Admired and copied by many (which both delights and irritates her) we learn that her way of dancing is the mixed product of exceptional gifts, of extreme rigor and of fruitful instinct.. One valuable contribution of the filmmaker, apart from filming his subject with love, consists in illustrating Maya Plisetskaya's words by numerous and well-chosen archives, among which clips from ballets like "Don Quixote", "Romeo and Juliet", and the famous, daring and ultra-complicated "Ravel's Bolero", choreographed by her friend Maurice Béjart. Without forgetting naturally the one which brought Maya Plisetskaya undeniable glory, "Swan Lake". Nobody has indeed forgotten the winglike flapping of her arms gradually changing into the slight frizziness of the water. Maya was, is and will indeed remain Odette forever.
Now that Maya has joined the firmament of vanished stars (she died in 2015 at the age of 89), to see her again so full of life, passion and humour is all the more moving, for which we can only thank Dominique Delouche, who has worked so hard to ensure that the greatest names in 20th century music and dance are documented, seen at work and listened to.
Les deux Fragonard (1989)
Interesting but morbid
Not uninteresting but morbid.
Philippe Le Guay's name is associated with comedy. Quality comedy, funny but also well written, subtle stories in tune with our times. Titles such as 'L'Année Juliette', 'The Cost of Living' 'The Women on the 6th Floor', 'Bicycling With Molière' immediately evoke this notion of intelligent humour which is peculiar to their director, whose surname (The Gay Guy) seems to want to confine him to the field of comedy. That would be forgetting on the one hand a certain darkness that always runs through his funny films (the harmfulness of money, class struggle, difficult human relations, old age, the fate of peasants, etc). It would also mean overlooking his downright dark films, which, even if there are only two of them, do exist. Superior to all his other works, there is the extraordinary 'Nightshift' (2001), a film that blatantly describes the dominant-dominated relationship between a worker and the foreman who shamelessly mistreats him. Without a doubt the writer-director's cruelest and most beautiful film work to-date. As for his first feature film 'Les deux Fragonard' (1989), it is not a comedy either, but contrary to 'Nightshift' twelve years later, it cannot boast the noun of masterpiece. Not that 'Les deux Fragonard' is uninteresting, on the contrary. Indeed, it introduces us to two important historical figures, the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Joaquim de Almeida, quite convincing) and his cousin, the anatomist Honoré (renamed Cyprien for reasons of understanding) Cyprien Fragonard (Robin Renucci, dark and tortured). By bringing them together for the sake of fiction, Le Guay offers us a reading of the 18th century, far from the exact but fragmented image of the Enlightenment. As the bicentenary of the French Revolution and its procession of good thinking was about to pass (the filming took place in 1988), the director chose to tell us about the drifts of this new thinking (the liberation of all morality and the realization of the most extreme fantasies leading to sheer horror, the libertine spirit not ensuring happiness) rather than its contributions to it ( limited to the condemnation of a decadent nobility, and the virtues of the progress of science and knowledge). A commendable sincerity and refusal of opportunism. Nevertheless, this is not a really successful film. The period reenactment is good, the cast is good and the performances are overall fine (besides the two Fragonards, Sami Frey impresses as a dark nobleman with perverse tastes, and Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu brings a welcome freshness in the heavy atmosphere of this funeral tale). For a first feature film, the directing is quite correct, without however giving this Cronenberg-style subject a sufficient relief on the subject. Another negative point is the intrusive and uninspired music by Jorge Arriaga, coloring this macabre tale with fake romanticism. But the main flaw may well consist in a certain imbalance between the two parts of this diptych. The project was, it seems to me, to evoke through Marianne, the washerwomanturned model, the dialectic of the impulses that run through every human being, that of life and that of death. By following the frivolous and libertine painter, the young girl first lets her body and her heart full of life speak,. But later, growing disappointed by Fragonard, who is more interested in her as a model than as a human being, she begins to conceive an interest in the dark aristocrat who abducted her, Simon d'Anglas as well as in the other Fragonard, the one dissecting corpses, going so far as to wound herself voluntarily and almost die of it to attract his attention. In the end only, life will triumph, but that won't be enough to counterbalance the whole heart of the film, painfully morbid. To condemn the taste for morbidity when it has deleterious effects is one thing, to make a spectacle of it is another. The fact remains that 'Les deux Fragonard' has enough qualities not to reject it entirely. But it is important to know that it will not be a pleasant show, unless you share the fantasies of d'Anglas naturally. Otherwise, pick any other "light" film by Le Guay, no doubt you'll have a good time.
Étranges étrangers (1970)
Technically faulty but very sincere and enlightening committed documentary
Don't expect anything from this film from an aesthetic point of view: « Étranges Étrangers » is indeed made in a very amateurish way, its editing non-existent, its sound recording polluted by background noises that sometimes make it outright incomprehensible, ; the lighting - especially at night - is very approximate as well, to say nothing of the colors which, the copy not having been restored, have faded desperately.
But if the form leaves to be desired, the substance by compensation is more than just rewarding. Judge for yourself : shocked that five African migrant workers died asphyxiated where they were crammed into a pile of fifty, directors Marcel Trillat and Frédéric Variot set out to investigate the living, working and salary conditions of the migrants that France, in the 1960s and 1970s was bringing in hundreds of thousands as labourers in industry, mining and construction.
In their wake, the viewers first discover the reception of Portuguese families upon their night arrival at the Austerlitz station (only gendarmes and taxi drivers are waiting for them, apart from one or two association volunteers). They are then invited to visit the slums to which these same Portuguese people are relegated (one man interviewed reveals that he has been asking in vain for a decent apartment in a social housing project for ten long years). After that, they are introduced to the "sleep merchants" who cram Africans into hangars (no big deal, according to one brave lady interviewed, since they "like that" !) and make money off their ignominy. In the last part of the report, the viewers go to the scene of the Aubervilliers drama in an atmosphere bordering on riot, before at last visiting a building site that employs a maximum of foreign workers.
In the meantime, the spectator will have been offered interesting interviews notably with André Karman, the communist mayor of Aubervilliers, and on the opposite side, with the powerful boss of a construction company , Francis Bouygues, whose arguments are not convincing but who at least had the courage to face a hostile camera).
In the end, these 58 minutes of committed reportage will have enabled us to draw an unlenient portrait of the undignified way France treated (and sometimes still treats) those coming from beyond its borders to carry out the ungrateful and tiring tasks the French will not do any more. Nothing to be proud of for the Country of Human Rights, to be sure.
So that in the end, substance having prevailed over form, you will probably feel neither annoyed nor frustrated. Just enlightened.
Carnets de voyage: Cuba (2007)
Cuba off the beaten track
The original (and very pleasant) concept of the "Carnets de voyage" series consists of having a graphic designer visit a country, follow him or her with a camera and then offer the viewer the vision of the guest artist, whose gaze is by definition sharper than average. The country here is Cuba and the artist is the young French illustrator Carla Talopp. If Marc Temmerman, the director, has taken up the challenge of this particular episode. He owes it in great part o the benevolence of Ms. Talopp, who knows how to be accepted by the natives, from the child to the old man. This allows us to discover deep Cuba and the real people who live there, far from the wooden locutions of the official political discourse. At regular intervals, drawings by Carla are inlaid into the image, creating an effect that is unique to this series.
The other great asset of this report is the quality of its itinerary. There are of course two star destinations, Havana and Santiago de Cuba, but in between there are only places whose charm vies with their anonymity. Not sure that Vinales, the province of Pinar del Rio, Surgidero de Batabano, Trinidad, Camargüey appear on all the travel agencies' flyers!
This tender and nonchalant documentary is to be seen and enjoyed for its original approach, tone and execution. Definitely.
Sois jeune et tais-toi (2003)
A bizarre short film, whose author's point, at least in this writer's eyes, is unclear.
What we are given to see, and that is nothing new, three boys playing fast and loose in the streets of Paris. Bad tricks galore, meh... The only originality consists of a more or less dreamlike sequence in which two of the rascals start to play "Cinna" in an empty theater before a female figure suffused with an unreal light appears and starts dancing with Jean, the little hero, in her arms. Original, of course, but I personally did not perceive its relevance. This series of scenes, meant to be poetic, in fact just left me perplexed. Allegory of the ideal mother? But then why does Olivier Torrès show us, during the final meal, the little boy's mother as attentive and interested in the story of her little boy. In reality, it is the father who is the problem. Violent, he hits Jean before attacking his wife. Then what?
"Sois jeune et tais-toi" (Be Young and Shut up) is well directed by Olivier Torres and well played by its young cast but what exactly does the director mean? Personally, I do not get his point.
Interesting but frustrating
Here is a documentary that is far from being uninteresting. Cab Calloway is an outstanding musician-singer-dancer whose reputation is - quite unfairly - inferior to that of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. It was therefore legitimate to make this exceptional being better known, for his sense of rhythm, the staggering swaying of his enthusiastic body always in motion, his humour and contagious joie de vivre. Even if we know little about Cab, we haven't forgotten "Minnie the Moocher", well representative of his 1930s style, with its audacious lyrics, rich in the slang of the time (often tackling openly the subject of drugs). But who remembers, apart from the specialists, that from 1948 Calloway gave up his orchestral activities to devote himself to the musical? And in important works at that ("Porgy and Bess" to name but one title). Rediscovered by John Landis, Calloway triumphed afresh in the cult "Blues Brothers" at the end of the 1970s before falling again into (relative oblivion) afterward. Nowadays, at least in France, he is still too little known.
In this respect, the director Gail Levin can call her mission accomplished. In front of her camera appear witnesses, critics and family members and thanks to them, it is undeniable that we learn things, notably the existence of Blanche, his singer -composer and even orchestra leader-sister, just as crazy as Cab himself. But the big problem with this film is that it is talkative, too talkative. Most of the time, people describe what Calloway's personality and style are while the illustration of their words comes second (if at all!). Too often, we are told how great Cab is, and... we hardly see him! The viewer takes their word for it naturally, but would nevertheless like to judge on performance! Not even the contemporary dance sequences and the scenes about the cartoonist who sketches Calloway's portrait, talented as they are, can be fully enjoyed in that they distract us from the essential.
All in all, a documentary as informative as it is frustrating. But to be seen in spite of everything for its wealth of information.
Scenes in the life of a cursed village
The setting is a remote village in Calabria where, six years after the end of the Second World War, the inhabitants live in misery. Transferred teachers who do not stay, no doctor (a woman in childbirth has just died for this reason), it is the end of nowhere. Hope is reborn for a moment when a teacher (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, more sober than usual) comes to fill the post with the idea of transmitting emancipatory knowledge, and even more so when the villagers unite to build a road connecting them decently to the capital in the valley. Unfortunately, these positive forces are quickly flouted by the armed opposition of a local tyrant (Sergio Rubini, chillingly arrogant and brutal).
From then on, despair takes over again and all the ingredients seem to come together to produce an awfully depressing story, either in the form of a Greek tragedy or a dogmatic Manichean political film. Or else of a whiny melodrama with complacently spread out pains, underlined by a thousand violins. Fortunately, this is not so. Thanks to Mimmo Calopresti, a native Calabrian, who excels in both documentary ("Alla Fiat era cosi", 1990; "Where is Auschwitz?", 2005) and fiction (nobody has forgotten "La seconda volta"). For his new film, Calopresti refuses to enter a particular genre. His ambition is higher: in "Aspromonte" he tries nothing more or less than to achieve a perfect synthesis between the different possible approaches to the subject.
To begin with, no undue miserabilism: the sobriety of the tone never prevent the viewer from feeling the effects of poverty fully. No need to spread them out flat, the director instead moves forward delicately, with small touches (the difficult climbing up of the steep hill by the teacher opening the film, the discovery of the interiors and their minimalist furnishings, the rain and mud, etc.). At the same time, he never forgets to sing about the beauty of the natural environment, infusing the audience with his love of the place. Assisted by an excellent cinematographer (Stefano Falivene), in total harmony with him, Calopresti portrays the landscape with a palette of colors that do justice to the vegetation, the stone and the sea below.The wide screen and fluid camera pans make us move smoothly in this setting as wild as it is beautiful. Which, by contrast, will make the abuses to which the inhabitants will be subjected all the more intolerable. To insist heavily would have been counterproductive.
No political partisanship either. Of course, this is a committed film, which chooses its side, that of the oppressed. But it does so without slogans, without disembodied speeches. It is a fact that Mimmo Calopresti always prefers the warmth of humanism to the coldness of ideas, generous as they may be.The characters in "Aspromonte" are first and foremost flesh-and-blood people, with their strengths and weaknesses, their unselfishness and their prejudices, not living clichés or ideas on legs. And this is as true for the grown-ups as it is for the children (You won't forget anytime soon the young actor playing Andrea, the son of the protest leader).
Based on real facts (the case of Africo, made public by a famous 1948 report) as well as on the novel by Pietro Criaco, another Calabrian by birth, this touching, not to say poignant, film, performed by a remarkably homogeneous cast, is a total success in that it manages to bring together in a single work documentary and fiction, psychology and sociology, political commitment and humanism. One must be called Mimmo Calopresti to have achieved such a feat and... "Heart of Stone" to resist all its beauties.
From Aurora to Aurora
In the beginning was the Brother Grimms' tale 'Sleeping Beauty' and its heroine, the beautiful but cursed Princess Aurora. The graceful girl was soon (well, after a long sleep - to be true) to escape from the book only to rule over a wider territory, spanning in fact the big and small screen, cartoons, the stage and even dance. A famous ballet revolving about her was written by Tchaikovsky in 1889-1890. Since then, many ballerinas have donned her frilly finery, one of the most remarkable being Rosella Hightower. famous for dancing the role with Rudolf Nureyev as prince charming. In 1981, twenty years later, having become the dance director of the Paris Opera, Hightower undertook to choreograph and stage the famous Russian composer's work, entrusting the young principal dancer Elisabeth Platel with the role that she herself had danced to tremendous success.
Very interested in this handing over, the dance-loving director Dominique Delouche obtained permission to film the former and the new Aurora at work together before the performance. It was a unique opportunity for him to capture on film this important moment in the history of ballet. It is indeed fascinating for him like for us viewers to witness the elder directing the younger ballerina and to see how the latter adjusts to the steps and dance figures she is being taught.
Like in 'L'Adage' (1964), Dominique Delouche prefers to show the audience work in progress rather than the finished product, the performance, magical as it may appear. At ease when it comes to filming dancers, he always knows where to place his camera: keeping his distance most of the time in order to make us appreciate the ensemble, he deftly varies the shot angles and frames to bring us closer to the two artists when necessary; and without interfering. The show is riveting: passion and benevolence on the part of Rosella, passion and concentration on the part of Elisabeth. One generation passes the baton to the next, and it's very moving.
If you wish to be associated to this event, just watch "Aurore" and you will be happy to find out that, whatever some grim(m) tales claim, princesses never sleep.
Madame Edouard (2004)
Madame Edouard or Monsieur Irma ?
On the poster, Didier Bourdon as a transvestite. Mmm, I started watching the film with suspicion, dreading having to endure one of those heavy-handed comedies, complete with easy and smutty jokes. Happily I was wrong. In fact, from the very first minute, I was hooked by the offbeat tone of this detective comedy. First of all, the character of Madame Irma (ex Monsieur Edouard), a modest help in a local Brussels bar-restaurant, is treated with respect. At no time is she ridiculed, she is simply a man who has always felt like a woman and who, in order to keep in tune with her profound personality, has had to give up everything, including his life as a husband and father. In a blue housewife's apron, without forging his voice, Didier Bourdon embodies Irma with restraint, making her touching under the understanding gaze of the director, Nadine Monfils (her only production for the cinema). The situation in which Irma finds herself, having to reconnect with her adult daughter (Julie-Ann Roth, fresh and natural), is dealt with with sensitivity, far from the comic effects of "La Cage aux folles" for instance. The emphasis is not on "Look, how odd they are, those queers!" but on Irma as a human being, her questions, doubts and hesitations, then on her daughter's surprise and finally on the tenderness that is soon (re)born between the two. No preciosity or chuckles.
The story is police-like, but it is first and foremost a pretext (what interests Nadine Monfils the most is the portrait gallery and the offbeat atmosphere she aims to create). Nevertheless it stands out all right as a whodunit. Sufficiently well-structured, it concerns an investigation into the deaths of three young girls in a cemetery, with false culprits and a surprising ending. The narrative's main interest though, as already mentioned, is to make viewers cross paths with various eccentrics, starting with Commissioner Léon himself (Michel Blanc), a loner who knits in secret and never works without his clingy dog. Among other oddities haunting this gently ruined-up universe, let's mention a lousy but pretentious cook (Bouli Lanners), a barfly with a viper's tongue (Dominique Lavanant), an insolent secretary with depressing bad taste (Josiane Balasko), a very self-confident dwarf (Jean-Yves Thual), a fake blind Coluche look-alike (Franck Sasonoff), a cafe customer who never comes without his cockatiel (Rufus). And let's not forget the mother of the commissioner who is passionate about promotional games and accumulates ratty prizes (Annie Cordy, who speaks with delight in her Brussels accent), Léon's hopelessly clumsy right-hand man (Olivier Broche, the Deschiens' kid) and that's the least of it! In the course of this improbable (and ultimately tender) story, you also come across a thieving priest who shows off his underwear, a clone of the singer Plastic Bertrand even more nerdy than the original, a Guyanese waitress in a typical Brussels restaurant named "Aux Deux Chicons", while three tableaux vivants in homage to Magritte - three men in ball hats - appear without much logic.
In short, a film with the characteristic fantasy of the Belgian spirit. Constantly at the convergence of several genres (thriller, comedy of manners, absurd humour, surrealism, commitment to difference and tolerance), the film will displease those allergic to the mix of genres but will delight those with an open and uninhibited mind.
To be discovered urgently by the latter.
Sticking to one's values or living with the times?
With this bittersweet, somewhat disillusioned chronicle of our « modern » times and how hard it is to maintain left-wing ideas in a world turned ultra-liberal, Judith Davis provides evidence that she is not only a lively young actress but a (very) talented writer-director as well.
Which you realize as of the introductory sequence of « Whatever Happened to My Revolution » . Indeed, Davis wastes no time on preambles: to set the tone, both cheeky and raging, it takes her just two or three brief shots and a few biting lines. In the said scenes, Angèle, the heroine (embodied by Judith Davis herself) is seen face to her two employers. The latter are in the process of informing her of her dismissal, thinking that by dint of lame excuses and dubious humour, they will easily get rid of her. Little do they know the young lady: she is indeed is not the type to lay low. Instead she puts her tormentors in their place - and with powerful irony: rather Katharine Hepbun-like the damsel in distress!
This early introduction of the heroine, both strong and sharp-tongued, is good news, the promise of a film anything but listless. Promise kept, without undue aggressiveness moreover since Angèle is also a person with ideas to defend. In other words, a pure heart, but always ready to use fangs and claws! Which means that, whether you are right-wing or left-wing, you will follow with pleasure a character who, believing in something, bravely sticks to her ideas despite going against the flow. In a quixotic way some would say, who, in tune with the standards of our age and day, hold this truth to be self-evident that... defending an ideal of justice today is foolish. Foolish? Maybe so but if you think twice, which is the most admired nowadays, Quixote or... the windmills? Whatever the case may be, Angèle never lets go. To her, what is just is just and the rest is a bunch of hot air. And what if her parents, who instilled in her the ideals of the Revolution of 1968, have given them up! And what if so many ex-68ers have turned cynically opportunistic, shamelessly betraying what they once advocated. Angèle, as for her, does what she preaches. Which of course is not without hot debates or fiery spats with her interlocutors. But on the other hand... with laughter among the audience.
Not content to play this assertive character with the energy required (a performance facilitated by the assistance in the actors' direction of fellow performer Claire Dumas), Judith Davis proves at ease in all the departments of the undertaking. First as a writer: with all its funny lines, her skillful adaptation (with Cécile Varghaftig) of the collective play « L'Avantage du doute » deftly avoids the trap of filmed theater. Indeed, despite this being her first film as a director, Davis manages to give it fluidity and unity while being able to make the characters evolve convincingly.
An excellent actress herself, Judith gets excellent performances from the whole cast, particularly from Malik Zidi, charming as an atypical school principal, a sort of whimsical playwright and poet and Claire Dumas, lively and funny, especially good in the scene of the happening outside the Pôle Emploi agency. Let's not forget Mireille Perrier, more sensitive as ever as the mother or Nadir Legrand, as effective in the register of coolness as of frenzy.
Notable also for the mastery of its rhythm (lively, almost hectic, at the beginning, in osmosis with Angèle's anger, only to slow down and become more meditative, « Whatever happened to my Revolution » is a true cinematic experience, not filmed theater. Not to be missed.
What is left of the revolution (literal translation of the original title) ? Nothing perhaps except this piece of generational observation which will become in two or three decades time a precious document on our world today.
Murder Most Fair?
What would be a death trap for this film would be to reveal all of its twists and turns. In the skillful play by Ira Levin (author of "Rosemary's Baby"), filmed with diabolical efficiency by Sidney Lumet, quite on the ball on that one, dramatic turns indeed follow dramatic turns, a sure guarantee of thrills and chills galore. A minor work in the filmography of the author of "Twelve Angry Men", this black humor comedy is nonetheless extremely well crafted and offers as a bonus interesting considerations on the functioning of suspense, on the confrontation of the true, the believable, the false and the fallacious. It is really amusing to see before our eyes the mechanism of the crime story we are told being laid bare, without its effectiveness being in any way affected. Another interesting feature is the way Myra, the main character's wife, finds out about herself in time of danger and crisis (forgive me for not giving you more details about that, spoiling the fun being out of the question). As for the cast, I would say it is worthy of this... great little film. Caine-Reeve-Cannon, all good things come in threes ! The deviously cynical Michael Caine is delightful as usual while his partner Christopher Reeve (lights years away from "Superman") brilliantly blows hot and cold. Pleasant, friendly and charming one minute, the young actor can give you the looks of Medusa the next one. And what about Dyan Cannon ? Well just adorable as Caine's neurotic wife.
Great fun throughout, don't miss it!
Intimate portrait of a young female war reporter
"Camille", this is quite a brief title.
Given its announcing a story featuring a person that existed, one could have expected it to be twice as long, in other words it would not have been surprising if it had displayed its heroine's full patronymic name, "Camille Lepage".
But the project of Boris Lojkine in what is his second fiction film (the first, "Hope", is already a classic in its genre) does not consist in erecting a statue to his main protagonist. What the author-director actually wants does not consist in replicating devotedly everything the young photographer-reporter said and did. He in no way wishes to make her a figure of worship; on the contrary Lojkine aims to approach her as a human being, in all her singularity and complexity, with all of her shadows and lights. Hence the use of the mere first name, which suggests intimacy and inner charcter, while the full name would rather have implied an external, hagiographic treatment.
No oily portrayal in "Camille" then, which does not prevent the film from being a detailed account of her life, or more precisely of the last months in her twenty-six years on earth. But more than just relating facts, it is also Camille Lepage's psyche that Boris Lojkine has undertaken to explore. Throughout the film questions arise to which it will not necessarily provide answers: why was photographer Camille Lepage first attracted to war zones? Why did she feel better there than in her own country (France)? Why did young Central Africans become closer to her than her own family? Why did she renounce neutrality and move to the camp of the anti-falaka, a vengeful Christian militia, whose reprisal operations were as violent as those committed by the Muslim radicals ? And to the point of getting killed by their side? So much so that when the end credits roll Camille Lepage will have kept her mystery. But will have taken flesh (and soul) as a complex and authentic human being. In her role, Nina Meurisse is more than just perfect: she IS the young idealistic reporter, from head to toe.
The film's other main point of interest is its documentary historical and geopolitical aspect. Watching "Camille" is like being part of the Civil War in 2013-2014. The facts both accurate and clearly stated. Furthermore, not only does the director know the situation like the back of his hand but, unabashed by the difficulties and the dangers, it is on the spot that Lojkine reconstructs it and with actors and actresses who have taken part in it, which is not so common. Speaking of actors, it is worth noting how convincing they are, whether they are European or Central African. As far as the latter are concerned, the quality of their acting bears witness to Boris Lojkine's talents as an actor director.
And let us not forget some very interesting considerations about the job of war reporter, about what they have the moral right to show or not to show, about the risks they take, about how they can be treated by the protagonists of a conflict. "Camille" says a lot of relevant things, but without heaviness or schematism, always subordinating thought to action, ideas to psychology.
Avoiding any facility, Boris Lojkine will have captivated the spectator from beginning to end with this story which not only rings true but is true. Recommended.
Theda Bara and William Fox (2001)
Not the best installment of the « Couples & Duos » series but worth seeing anyway.
This particular episode of Laurent Préyale's fertile and always instructive documentary series, "Couples & Duos", reunites two European Jewish emigrants to the USA, Theda Bara and William Fox, who, by joining forces in their home country, once met with tremendous success. Added as a bonus to the 2001 Jokanan DVD of « A Fool There Was » (Frank Powell, 1915), the documentary fruitfully complements and enriches the movie that propelled Theda into the light and Mr. Fox (an apt name for someone having had such flair!) into (provisional) wealth .
But, although quite interesting, this item seemed to me slightly inferior to others of the series. For two reasons, first its lack of filmed documentation on Miss Bara (an inevitable evil knowing that only three films she acted in survived) and second (which is less forgivable) a commentary abounding in approximations. Concerning this last point, the narration really shows too much imprecision in the dates as well as permanent confusion about William Fox's company (you are never sure if they are referring to Fox Films, 20th Century or 20th Century-Fox).
Nevertheless the whole thing remains globally relevant. There is even a really good point in terms of construction, the vantage point changing from Bara to Fox to an outside observer, with three different voices performing the narration. Things are constantly put back into perspective this way and the narrative remains dynamic throughout.
As for our couple of heroes, you will learn less about the making of the first vamp of the cinema (the fact is well-known) than about the real Theodosia Goodman (Theda's real name). She was indeed the opposite of Salome, Cleopatra or the « vampire » ruthlessly destroying foolishly seduced men. Theodora was in fact a serious-minded, balanced woman and faithful wife of the director Charles Brabin. Not entirely surprising, but amusing.
As for William Fox, we learn even more about him, career as well as personality, since this great producer, a little too much of a maverick in a too standardized Hollywood, has remained one of the great forgotten among the moguls of the capital of cinema such as Mayer, Zanuck, Zukor or Jack Warner. The discoverer of Theda Bara and producer of Ford's « The Iron Horse » or Murnau's "Sunrise" well deserved a little bit of rehabilitation.
All things considered, this episode is recommended, despite its shortcomings, to anyone interested in film history in general and particularly after viewing "A Fool There Was".
Fine portrait of a great gentleman of music
« The Gift of Music » is one of those exciting documentaries that brilliantly sum up the lives and careers of exceptional artists, in this case Leonard Bernstein, the famed composer-conductor-piano player (1918-1990). Made shortly after his death, the film reveals little about his personal life (which is not the point anyway) but much on his life course and career. Which is done through an impressive number of well chosen archive documents and interviews and speeches of the great man, who was not niggardly of them. The most moving are the sequences devoted to concert rehearsals : How breath-taking, how enlightening and... what fun it is to be given the opportunity to witness Bernstein while he practices his art, driven by the passion and inner fire that never left him.
We also discover an educator concerned about passing on his knowledge and not only to other musicians, but also to the general public. Several archives, including excerpts from the famous TV shows "Omnibus" dating back to the 1950s, are eloquent in this regard.To say nothing of the generous humanist he was, always responsive to others and always ready to defend human rights.
Hohlant H. Hohlfeld, whose cameras followed his friend Lenny for at least two decades, was the ideal person to make this filmed tribute to Bernstein's larger-than-life figure. Well, he sure did a good job, for when the end credits roll, we can't help a twinge of regret: it is a sign that we're going to have to leave each other, our new friend and us. He also had the good idea to ask Lauren Bacall to narrate his work : there is nothing to complain about when a great talent meets another.
To be seen by everyone, not just music lovers.
Concerto de l'aube (1960)
More than just another documentary .
"Concerto de l'aube" is a short that you are likely not to have seen. Nothing could be more normal since as it does not bear the signature of a great name (its directors, Roger Ferret and Yves Prigent, are even outright unknown to the general public), it has never been reissued. It's a pity because this little film is full of qualities.
As a documentary first. On a simple but not poetry-free theme (the end of the night and the break of dawn in a large city - Paris in this case), the filmmakers offer interesting views of the activities of men already or still at work (courier workers or printers, employees of a press agency, porters at the Les Halles covered market, bartenders, fishermen on the Seine, garbage collectors etc.) Animals (dogs rummaging in garbage cans, cats, mice) are nor forgotten nor are the attributes of the modern world (including many illuminated signs). There are also views of places which are, whether ugly, plain or beautiful in themselves, rendered artistic through elaborate chiaroscuro or fog effects, this dialectic of light and shadow finding its resolution in the final shot, with the arrival of the sun consecrating the triumphant day.
We are a little in Doisneau's world and a lot in Jacques Dutronc's "Paris s'éveille". The 1960's are beginning and having been shot at that precise time makes "Concerto de l'aube" a good witness to the evolution of society during the early Glorious Thirties, the modernity (illuminated advertising, Orly, a high-rise apartment block, etc.) being already present but without having eradicated the past (workers who go to their factory by bicycle, the miserable habitat of the post-war era).
Would « Concerto de l'aube » be just that, it would be an excellent documentary but this atypical work is more than that. The difference lies in the fact that the purely documentary part is coupled with a human drama. The shots of the city's activity at the end of the night are indeed regularly interspersed with a sequence in which a man appears. And this man and place are far from insignificant place : the man is an inmate and the place a cell in the death row.. As a result, the mere documentary acquires a new and much greater dimension. Everything we see now acquires a more dramatic meaning: yes, it is the end of the night, yes the day will come, but if for other men dawn means the beginning of a day's work, for him it marks the end of his life. A kind of visual counterpoint that constantly puts you in a state of confusion (should we rejoice or regret that the day is beginning?) that makes this uncommon little film poignant.
The third and final quality that makes this visual poem remarkable is the music that accompanies it, a very beautiful concerto (hence the title) by Michel Magne, far from his muzak for Gaumont's commercial films. Just as the film does with images, Magne's composition unites the elegiac and the pathetic in one embrace.
The whole thing is an inspired work that should urgently be made known, for example by offering it as a bonus to DVD of a great French 1960 film.
"Concerto de l'aube" is a short that you are likely not to have seen. Nothing could be more normal since as it does not bear the signature of a great name (its directors, Roger Ferret and Yves Prigent, are even outright unknown to the general public), it has never been reissued. It's a pity because this little film is full of qualities. As a documentary first. On a simple but not poetry-free theme (the end of the night and the break of dawn in a large city - Paris in this case), the filmmakers offer interesting views of the activities of men already or still at work (courier workers or printers, employees of a press agency, porters at the Les Halles covered market, bartenders, fishermen on the Seine, garbage collectors etc.) Animals (dogs rummaging in garbage cans, cats, mice) are nor forgotten nor are the attributes of the modern world (including many illuminated signs). There are also views of places which are, whether ugly, plain or beautiful in themselves, rendered artistic through elaborate chiaroscuro or fog effects, this dialectic of light and shadow finding its resolution in the final shot, with the arrival of the sun consecrating the triumphant day. We are a little in Doisneau's world and a lot in Jacques Dutronc's "Paris s'éveille". The 1960's are beginning and having been shot at that precise time makes "Concerto de l'aube" a good witness to the evolution of society during the early Glorious Thirties, the modernity (illuminated advertising, Orly, a HLM bar, etc.) being already present but without having eradicated the past (workers who go to their factory by bicycle, the miserable habitat of the post-war era). Would « Concerto de l'aube » be just that, it would be an excellent documentary but this atypical work is more than that. The difference lies in the fact that the purely documentary part is coupled with a human drama. The shots of the city's activity at the end of the night are indeed regularly interspersed with a sequence in which a man appears. And this man and place are far from insignificant place : the man is an inmate and the place a cell in the death row.. As a result, the mere documentary acquires a new and much greater dimension. Everything we see now acquires a more dramatic meaning: yes, it is the end of the night, yes the day will come, but if for other men dawn means the beginning of a day's work, for him it marks the end of his life. A kind of visual counterpoint that constantly puts you in a state of confusion (should we rejoice or regret that the day is beginning?) that makes this uncommon little film poignant. The third and final quality that makes this visual poem remarkable is the music that accompanies it, a very beautiful concerto (hence the title) by Michel Magne, far from his muzak for Gaumont's commercial films. Just as the film does with images, Magne's composition unites the elegiac and the pathetic in one embrace. . The whole thing is an inspired work that should urgently be made known, for example by offering it as a bonus to DVD of a great French 1960 film.
Et si c'était vous... (2018)
End of life, end of dignity?
Marked by the suffering of three close members of her family endured before they died, Muriel Brino is investigating in this film with Aurore Weber on what our society proposes to support patients at the end of their lives in order to avoid unnecessary painful and/or degrading moments
The approach can be praised in that it comprehensively addresses the different ways to end one's life in dignity, whether through euthanasia, assisted suicide or deep sedation. Aurore Weber and her also prove exhaustive by interviewing not only specialists and people directly concerned by the problem but also representatives of five religions as well as personalities from the world of entertainment or literature such as Hugues Aufray, Agnès Soral, Bernie Bonvoisin, Noëlle Chatelet, Marthe Villalonga.
Comparing Belgian and Luxembourg laws and practices with the French situation is also very enlightening.
Knowing how to avoid any complacency, sensationalism or morbidity, the two directors propose an informative film that holds very well.
A must see.
Fine adaptation of an early novel by Victor Hugo
"Claude Gueux", a short novel by Victor Hugo, written in 1834, long before "Les Misérables" and much less known than this mythical work, appears as an early testimony to the author's social concerns. In this book he already shows what will be his trademark, namely a strong empathy for those who are reduced to poverty by an unjust and unequal society. "Claude Gueux" also militates, in the same way as "The Last Day of a Condemned Man" did in 1829, against the horror of capital punishment, another lifetime's combat for its author.
The story concerns a man named Gueux (a French term for beggar), a good cabinetmaker, a loving husband and father who, being unable to find a job, gives in to temptation one day: he picks up on the ground the full purse of a bourgeois who has just lost it, which allows him to offer his two loved ones a little good food, warmth and comfort for one evening. He also pays cash his back rent, which unfortunately betrays him. As a matter of fact, his owner, intrigued by his sudden wealth, denounces him to the Maréchaussée. That is how, only too happy to have found a "culprit", society ruthlessly closes its trap on the poor man and, as an indirect result, on his wife and kid, who will then go down the slippery slope of rejection and despair.
In his film adaptation for the quality series "Au Siècle de Maupassant", Olivier Schatzky succeeds in doing justice to Hugo's text by intelligently avoiding two pitfalls that such a project can present: an approach that is too demonstrative or too melodramatic, or even worse... both. What actually makes this TV movie particularly watchable is undoubtedly its remarkable sobriety. No slogans or moralizing speeches to begin with, only human feelings. Mostly there is no artifice in "Claude Gueux", only natural settings without unnecessary aesthetic but also without exaggerated misery, devoid of strong effects, performed by actors who do not ham it up. At the head of the cast, Samuel Le Bihan is in character the entire running time, never failing to capture the dignity that emerges from his character. Faced with him, in the ungrateful role of Mr. Delacelle, Thomas Chabrol deftly shows the same restraint, but this time in the expression of the implacable prison director's perverse sadism. A last (laudable) mark of sobriety on Schatzky's part is his choice not to show the final execution. The director works in the field of humanism, not of Grand-Guignol.
An excellent television film not to be missed. Illustrating Hugo's rhetoric with relevance, it is not only honest and committed but touching as well. It can, if you are a fan of contemporary music, be complemented by the vision and/or the listening of the eponymous opera by Robert Badinter (libretto) and Thierry Escaich (composer), very interesting as well but, it goes without saying, in a very different style.
La Voix humaine (1971)
Cocteau + Poulenc + Denise Duval + Dominique Delouche = a total work of art
Jean Cocteau's writings, however admirable they may be, seldom play on emotion. Distant in general from his characters, Cocteau explores their revolted, mythical, even monstrous side but not their heartbeats. As a matter of fact, even if his heroes are under the influence of passion, preferably deadly, they are not our brothers in soul. There is at least one exception to this rule though, "La Voix humaine" (Human voice), a singular dramatic monologue featuring no other character than a woman and no other props of importance than a telephone set and handset. As for the action, it can be summarized as follows: a woman speaks on the phone. Naturally, that is just the backbone of the play, which cannot be reduced to just that. First things first, the female protagonist is a great lover and her phone correspondent the object of her attachment. So feelings will matter. Secondly, what will spark interest is that the man, though we cannot hear him (but guess from her reactions) proves eager to leave her without knowing exactly how to tell her, aware as he is of the extent to which she has invested in their affair. The distraught female, who senses the disaster coming, will then weave, during the whole duration of the play, between intuition and denial, despair and hope, rage and self-abasement d. Alone on the stage, she soon becomes the emblematic figure of the woman facing an unwanted separation and, as a result, in the grip of great suffering. An unenviable situation Cocteau himself had to cope with when he wrote his play in 1929, a dark year for him, during which not only had he to manage his break-up with Jean Desbordes but also to undergo a trying drug rehab. His distress was immense and probably prevented him from keeping his distance from his character the way he usually did. Which resulted in the most moving, the most pathetic of his works.
The bruised poet, well inspired by his own experience, was rewarded by public and critical success, which must have been a balm on his wounds. All things equal, he had taken up a hell of a challenge. But wouldn't it be even more complicated supposing a composer dreamed of setting "The Human Voice" to music?
Well, that is precisely what Francis Poulenc did twenty years later. How to dress with music (without resorting to melody) the words both daily and tragic of the grieving lover? How to avoid redundancy? How not to fall into mawkishness? And which singer would be up to the character, physically as well as vocally? Those are the questions the musician could not avoid asking himself. What can be said, judging by the result, is that... he knew all the answers! In "La Voix humaine", Poulenc's greatest achievement is the creation of a melodic curve that succeeds in marrying all the emotions tearing the heroine apart. Also impressive is the dark and tormented orchestral mood amplifying the dramatic intensity of the situation. Even the choice of the vocal performee, soprano Denise Duval, is perfect. In what was to be her most memorable role, the singer knew how to bring out from within herself all the suffering of the one she embodied while expressing at the same time all the nuances required.
The musical piece, performed in 1959 with an orchestra conducted by Georges Prêtre, proved a great success, attesting to the relevance and quality of the joint work of Cocteau, Poulenc and Denise Duval.
Unfortunately, the year of glory (1959) turned into the year of disaster. Four years later, in 1963, Death took its ruthless toll, taking away Cocteau and Poulenc, to say nothing of popular singer Edith Piaf (another interpreter of a monologue by Cocteau, "Le Bel indifférent"). As for Denise Duval, she retired that same year for health reasons. Four human voices that would remain silent for ever...
But the story does not end there. Let's take another seven years to find ourselves in 1970. At the time, film director Dominique Delouche, whose love of music is well known, undertook to adapt Poulenc's version of "La Voix Humaine" for the screen, not as a mere opera recording but as a real film, in every sense of the word, possibly with Denise Duval. As the latter had given up singing, he offered her to lip-synch the opera to the 1959 recorded version, which she accepted. It resulted in a happy - and unique - experience, which allows us today to hear the artist's superb vocal performance and to discover up close, much better than from a theatre hall, all the expressiveness of her body language. Sitting, standing, lying on her back or flat on her stomach, her back turned, going to and fro, her right hand tightened on the handset, her left one feverish, all of her body and attitudes are never at rest, in the image of her troubled soul. Quite brilliant.. And just like Poulenc's music intensifies the perception of the heroine's pangs, its mostly jerky cadence strikingly reflecting the arrhythmia of her oppressed heart, Delouche's puts his empathetic camera at the service of her changing frames of mind. It follows her in her vertigo, spinning around her, taking her in low or high angle shots, approaching her or moving away from her in subtle forward or backward traveling tracks. It seems as if the camera is desperately trying to rescue the poor heroine until, in the beautiful last shot, it eventually admits its powerlessness. A remarkable work by Dominique Delouche, who not content to have initiated this atypical project and to film it so well, also designed the costumes and the settings. In this new version, "La Voix humaine" (distributed in DVD and VOD by Doriane Films, with English subtitles), Cocteau's heartbreaking words, reinforced by Poulenc's music and immortalized by Denise Duval's voice have reached yet another dimension, the one that only the seventh art allows: a total immersion in a human tragedy through the intimacy and proximity provided by the camera's eyepiece. To be watched and listened to with passion.
Good Morning (2018)
An amused smile and a small tear in the eye
A director can have almost unlimited means, a whole bunch of stars, thousands of extras, the best VFX supervisors at his disposal and... make a dud. Conversely, you can have little money, no stars, only a fistful of characters, a single setting and produce a deep and endearing work of art. This is what fortunately happened to Bahij Hojeij. His bittersweet slice of life, "Good Morning", is indeed quite an artistic achievement. Which goes to show that he who can do more can do less. And the reverse!
The single setting is a café in Beirut, a drinking establishment which once was trendy, but whose customers have been deserting it for some time. Upstairs, in the midst of the rare drinkers, two old regulars, an eighty-one year old retired general and a seventy-eight year old former military doctor (Adel Chahine and Gabriel Yammine, both splendid), meet every day to do crossword puzzles. For one good reason, to combat the loss of memory that threatens them. At the same time, the establishment having a large bay window, they have a view of what is happening on the street and duly comment on what they see. Another regular customer is Samir, a journalist who works for an online newspaper. The man, in addition to the fact that he exudes sympathy, proves to be a well of science, very useful when the general and the doctor draw blank on a definition. At their service is Ghenwa, a charming waitress with whom Samir is in love and to whom she is not insensitive.
But single setting is not synonymous with closed world. On the other side of the bay window, to begin with, is the street where all of today's Beirut passes in all its diversity. A series of short scenes involving passers-by and taking place under their eyes serves the two old men as a pretext to discuss diverse and varied subjects among which poverty, religion, corruption, manners, dress codes... There are also the other - occasional - customers whose attitude or comments bring the world outside into the café: one speaks in English on his mobile phone, two women exchange about sex and abortion, Samir and Ghenwa talk about their difficult love life. Even more insinuating is the television set that relays live the terrorist attacks not only in Beirut but in Paris as well (hereby implying that no place on earth is absolutely safe anymore, desîte what Ghenwa desperately wants). The current situation, both local and international, is therefore very present in this behind-closed-doors comedy drama. The past is there too: as a matter of fact, the general and the doctor often refer to their younger years, comparing the manners of yesterday and of today (regression of culture, invasion of religion, galloping Americanization) while knowing how to make the difference if necessary (the general, observing two women side by side, one wearing the Islamic scarf and the other in shorts, saying: 'it is beautiful when everyone dresses in their own way').
The national and international situation being what it is, the two friends feeling the approach of death, the whole film is naturally bathed in melancholy, but one that does not exclude lightness or comedy: the general makes jokes and he and his genial soul keep showing self-mockery.
The result is an engaging film, serious - not to say grave - but easy to digest, which works well - realistically and emblematically. On this last point, the symbols (the building being demolished in the image of the culture of the past, the stained portrait of the poet Mahmoud Darwich...) are well integrated into the action, which avoids any heavy-handedness. Another good point is the fact that the writer-director never turns his characters into shreds of ridicule. He shows their defects when they have but respects them and knows how to make us care for them. Last but not least, I would like to highlight the discreet but refined score by Wissam Hojeij, which aptly reinforces the soft and cheerful melancholy of the images.
Of course, this is not a movie made to please fans of frenetic chase races, epic fights and cut editing. If that is what you expect from a picture show, well skip that one. If on the contrary you favor witty dialogue, restrained emotion and sound reflection, you will enter Hojeij's universe and enjoy every minute of his 'Good Morning'. You will leave the cinema fulfilled, with both an amused smile on the face and a small tear in the eye.
Le voyage inachevé (2018)
Neither too good nor totally worthless
In my eyes, 'War Travelers' is quite an odd object, at times challenging and imaginative, at others awfully conventional and unimaginative.
To begin with, one thing must be said, Joud Said, the director and co-writer, is not the lazy kind. What a whole lot of shots, visual and special effects, camera moves there are indeed in his film! And what an elaborate construction is his! Unfortunately, these real qualities are not enough for me: since in the end I was not too excited by the finished product. To be honest, this is quite a personal feeling. I am aware that not everybody will agree with me, the best evidence being that 'War Travelers' has garnered more than one award in festivals, especially the Audience Award at the Carthage Film Festival.
That being said, let's see what makes me say that "War Travelers" is not such a good film, at least considering the sum of its parts. Certainly not the first third of the movie, which catches on tolerably well. The very first shot for starters is outright amazing: a vertical tracking shot starting from the night sky streaked by the red drag of passing missiles, getting down along the facade of a ruined building only to end... in the bathroom of an underground apartment. To this technical achievement Joud Said adds the irony of making us discover the film's sixty-odd years old hero in... his bath. From the horror of the missiles to its effects on the derelict building to the harmless show of someone washing himself, the contrast is striking. The scenes that follow are not uninteresting either: there is a somewhat picaresque side to the difficulties encountered by the hero in getting his retirement documents, to the bus ride through the ruins of Aleppo (no commentary but the scary images are sufficient!) as well to the presentation of the bossy corrupt bus driver and the motley crew of the passengers. But this state of grace is not to last: the beginning of the trip out of Aleppo into hostile country is the last segment I totally adhered to.
Things indeed begin to go awry when, after being sandwiched between two combat zones, the passengers of the wayward bus decide to settle down in the empty houses of an abandoned village. Little by little, convention and its inevitable corollary - boredom - set in. From then on, there is nothing else to get your teeth into but a stale confrontation between the good ones and the bad ones, the wickedness of an arch villain assisted by an oily subservient right-hand man, the oft-told birth of a friendship between the patronizing know-it-all wise hero and a yet unaccomplished young man, a running gag repeated over and over again and a litany of formulaic words about life, love and happiness, good and evil. Instead of feeling close to these people trying to rebuild their lives as well as a democratic society (a fine theme), I lost interest in such a superficial treatment of the subject
After an hour and a half, it look as if the movie is coming to a predictable feelgood consensual close when, surprise!, everything is brutally overturned. Two false endings and one real one follow, no fewer, which I let you discover. But this bold move comes too late to straighten the bar. Furthermore why make matters so convoluted after so much time spent aligning clichés?
Well, you have understood it, I do not think 'War Travelers' is a good film as a whole. The fact remains that it contains interesting parts, if only by the reflection it gives of the aftermath of Syrian Civil War. To sum it all up, a mixed bag but not an industrial accident.
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Ginger as a young Sarah Bernhardt, not a low point to a French viewer like me!
I see written everywhere (thus replicating the words of Leonard Maltin in his 'Movie and Video Guide') that Ginger Rogers declaiming 'La Marseillaise' at the end of 'The Barkleys of Broadway' is the LOW POINT of the movie. Let me say that, as a French viewer, I totally disagree. What Miss Rogers does here is remarkable on the contrary: she actually brilliantly mimics her model, drama diva Sarah Bernhardt whose style of acting was pompous and bombastic. Such a style sure looks very outdated today but was very much admired and in demand at the time. Now, just imagine Sarah had underplayed her scene the way Ginger does so well in other circumstances, she would never have been accepted by the stiff and starchy jury of the Comédie Française! Even more impressive is the American actress's accent: she indeed delivers her tirade in more than passable French. Well, Americans may think this sequence ridiculous, but not French people. In any case, gallically speaking, it by no means constitutes a LOW but a HIGH POINT of this altogether excellent musical comedy.
Bergman and the (poor) women.
A filmmaker as a cartoon hero, this would have been inconceivable a few years ago. But now it is not an oddity anymore. Just think of Luis Buñuel being the main protagonist of the excellent "Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles".
"Fettknölen", as far as this cartoon short is concerned, features Ingmar Bergman, who had also been the heroof the impressive documentary "Bergman - a Year in a Life".
"Fettknöten", though a bit amusing, is rather disappointing compared with the feature documentary about Ingmar and even more with "Buñuel in the Labyrinth of of the Turtles". The live feature film presents Bergman as a complex man, both a great artist and someone very difficult when it comes to his relation to others, especially to women. In the cartoon, only his way to mistreat the women of his life is shown. Bergman is then reduced to the obnoxious side of his personality: jealous, egocentric, unfaithful, unreliable, which he certainly was... but not just that! An, to tell the truth, that is a bit embarrassing. There is good and bad about this genius, while here all you geta trial against an accused.
The same is true if you compare it to "Buñuel in the Labyrinth", in which Don Luis is shown doing or saying debatable things, but where you will find much more to it than just that.
A little amusing as I said, "Fettknölen" rests on a good idea, that of the lipoma. Not only a growth under one of Bergman's cheeks, it has a funny rounded face and body and, above all it talks. It speaks and disturbs the master who soon realizes that the lump is the voice of his conscience, which he is loath to hear as you can guess and even more so to listen to. This the most entertaining aspect of this cartoon. It unfortunately never dispels the general impression of discomfort experienced from the beginning.
You can watch this little film out of curiosity rather than out of necessity. But don't miss "Bergman - a Year in a Life", a real achievement by the same director Jane Magnusson.
La nave bianca (1941)
A feel for humanity and everyday reality transcends (only mild) propaganda
It is little known but Roberto Rossellini had an artistic life before "Rome, Open City ", one the pope of neo-realism was loath to brag about, since he had put his talent at the service of Mussolini. His first three feature films (gathered under the generic title of "The War Trilogy") were indeed made under the flag of fascism, "The White Ship" being the first of the three.
Filmed in 1941, using (to surprisingly good dramatic effect) filmed achives dating from 9-7-1940 (Battle of Punta Stilo) and 27-11-1940 (Battle of Cape Teulada), "The White Ship" is in no way a criticism of Mussolini's policies. How could it? If it had tried to be, it would never have existed! But can it be qualified as pure propaganda, in the manner of "Vecchia Guarda" (1934) or "Luciano Serra pilota" (1938)" for instance?
The answer to this tricky question is... yes and no!
Yes, on the one hand, because Rossellini is clearly on the Italian side : Mussolini's war is a just war. The opening is telltale in this respect: a mighty battleship is given to our admiration and the martial music that accompanies those glorious shots leaves no doubt about who the victors should be, who the victors will be. But shortly after this embarrassing introduction the tone changes significantly. And we are soon led to think that no, this not a propaganda work, at least that there is more to it than just political brainwashing. For what is Rossellini obviously interested in? Showing how mighty the Italian Navy is? The first Eisenstein-like shots already described naturally give this impression but as the film unfurls, what does the director show us ? A semi-victory won at the cost of many casualties and destructions. And does he present his characters in a heroic light, like so many American or Soviet films? Not at all, the sailors on board are ordinary young men with ordinary feelings: they long for home, think of the girl they left behind, try to raise each other's spirits during moments of relaxation... And when Rossellini's camera shows them in the throes of battle, it does not hide the fact that many get killed or severely burned. Not very effective in terms of propaganda, is it?
Another option that goes against the notion of successful agitprop is the director's obvious privileging the human factor over metaphor or allegory. The officers are little seen and are reduced to the status of men trying to carry out their task as competently as possible. While the sailors, as I have already said, are never shown acting heroically, they are John Does doing their duty, no GI Joes. The same is true for the second part of the story taking place on a hospital ship where the wounded main protagonist has been transferred : all we see is suffering patients and the medical staff at work. Nothing metaphoric about them, they are only themselves as part of a war machine beyond their control. An impression that gets reinforced by the fact that none of the actors are professionals. In "The White Ship", veracity matters more than the official ideology.
It all happens as if Rossellini was instilling the neo-realism to come into what was intended by the authorities as a sheer propaganda object, which saves the film and its maker from dishonor. Is "The White Ship" a masterpiece for all that? Not really ! For three reasons: first it is a hybrid product hesitating between documentary and fiction, between agitprop and realism. Secondly, it has a conventional love story, just worthy of a photo-novel. The third defect may be the worst: the characters lack psychological depth. They ring true but remain superficial all the time, preventing the viewer from identifying with them.
Nevertheless, "The White Ship" is not a film to be disdained. It has a rich historical value and manages to stick to the sailors' and officers' everyday lives rather than produce the pompous call to glory expected by Rossellini's fascist sponsors. Imperfect as it is, it is a valuable document as well as in its best moments, a precursor of neo-realism. Rome will soon be opened.
Fantômes du cinéma forain (2012)
What the worlds now is... crazy collectors!
Collectors are strange people. Maybe even a bit crazy. Take René Charles and Guy Coursaud, the two heroes of this documentary. They have spent an incredible lot of time and money acquiring what? Reels of discarded old film copies, rusty film projectors and old-fashioned vehicles used in a distant past by fairground entertainers! Crazy? Maybe so but supposing they had not existed, very little of the material they have patiently collected would have survived. Yes, both are or were (since René Charles died before this report was made) eccentric, but the world needs eccentrics, because the people of that kind enrich it by not simply following the mainstream flow but by exploring its margins and saving what we others overlook. That is what these two men achieved and the result of their efforts, then stored in a large warehouse in Angoulême, can be admired in Philippe Vimeret's film.
Biographic details are provided by Pierrette Charles (Renés widow), whose tongue is sometimes sharp (a sure antidote against boredom) et technical explanations are provided by specialists, without them being too specific (another antidote against tediousness). The musical illustration is pleasant and there is a funny animated sequence at the end.
On the whole "Fantômes du cinéma forain" is a good documentary, informative, surprising and entertaining. Recommended, especially to film lovers.
Life is a big big tank of water
"All the world's a stage", Shakespeare says. Not at all, "Life is a dream", Calderón answers him back. Nothing could be more wrong, Doris Day assures in her smooth voice, "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries", period. Is that so? Well, not for Christine Caron, aka Kiki, the star of "Aquarelle" (a playful title, quite like her): for her part, what else could life be but a... swimming pool? Life? Just a big big tank of water where to jump, slosh and frolic to her heart's content... before shaking herself dry until an even bigger splash. And where to swim naturally. And where to swim as fast as possible. Didn't the cheerful girl win the silver medal in 100 m backstroke at the 1964 Summer Olympics and the gold medal in the same event at the 1966 European Aquatics Championships? Didn't she, during her swimming career, win no fewer than 29 national swimming titles?
Don't worry, I will not tell inflict my own definition of life on you. You would not care a bit anyway! But what is certain is that it would neither be a pool nor a running track. For I have to admit I am not interested in sports at all. Neither is Dominique Delouche by his own admission. And yet I had a lot of fun watching this little movie. And yet, Delouche had a lot of fun making it and it shows!
Therefore the question arises :what makes this modest sports short a success ?
In the first place I would say: its exhilarating tone. Narrated by Kiki Caron herself, "Aquarelle" indeed gives an impression of healthy cheerfulness and youthful light-heartedness, quite in tune with its heroine's persona. With the star swimmer commenting, nothing seems to weigh more than a bubble, whether it is constant effort, never-ending training or cut throat competition.
The second positive point is the film's thematic consistency with the filmmaker's former and future films. As is well-known, Dominique Delouche has always favored human beings who are not content to live a routine life but who make a point of pushing their limits, whether it is artistically (his portraits of great dancers, musicians, the mime artist Marcel Marceau...) or spiritually ("Edith Stein", "La Messe sur le monde"), so why not those who surpass themselves physically, like Christine Caron? All the more as you can't manage to tame and train your body without working on yourself, which implies mental - and spiritual - strength.
Also important is the director's love of dance, music and rhythm. You can bet that Delouche will not be interested in the results of the swimmer's efforts but in the efforts themselves. Chistine Caron's movements in or outside the water will then be scrutinized, broken down and choreographed just as if she was a ballerina rehearsing.
A beautiful score adds to the pleasure of the viewing experience, especially the baroque-like accompaniment of Caron's last race. A beautiful sequence in which the music, the variety of angles (above and under the water) and the dynamic cutting combine for the best.
"Aquarelle", as previously noted, is not a pure sports film and must be appreciated for the artistic object it is. But sports fan will be interested too (Despite everything it is a filmed report on the famous swimming champion, filmed in 1965, documenting her daily efforts under the supervision of her coach Suzanne Berlioux). Feel free to see it, it can easily be found on YouTube.