Burhan Qurbani, Berlin Alexanderplatz, 2020
You've got to admire the balls of anyone daring to tackle a film adaptation of Alfred Döblin's 1929 novel today, especially since Rainer Werner Fassbinder's much-acclaimed 1980 epic 14-episode miniseries. So far the critics have not been kind - only one of the five reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes is positive, thereby giving the film a miserable 20% rating on that site, which it certainly doesn't deserve (but in fairness, each of the four critical reviews makes several sensible points: this one https://variety.com/2020/film/reviews/b ... 3514681/is representative - but see the film first!). Qurbani, born in Afghanistan but now resident in Germany, and his co-writer Martin Behnke have chosen to set the action in contemporary Berlin, and Franz Biberkopf is now Francis, an African refugee sans papiers. Instead of seedy Weimar-era bars, we have glitzy nightclubs (Franz's guardian angel - of sorts - Eva, runs one of them, and is now partnered by a transsexual - Herbert has become Berta) and gaudy brothels. Reinhold (a stellar performance from Albrecht Schuch) appears much earlier in this version than he does in either the book or the RWF series, and Qurbani's more or less replaced his speech impediment with a strange partially deformed left arm. He shows up at the asylum seekers' foyer quite early on to lure the hapless immigrants into selling weed for him in a local park. Francis, who's played very well by Welket Bungue, is eventually drawn into his circle, and the diabolical Reinhold eventually destroys any chance he had of turning out well (but I won't remind you of the plot, though I'd heartily recommend both reading the novel and watching the Fassbinder series). Jella Haase goes a great job following in Barbara Sukowa's footsteps as Mieze, even if Qurbani seems hellbent on accentuating the hooker-with-a-heart-o'-gold aspects of the story. The result is more conventionally genre-driven (part gangster flick, part melodrama) than Fassbinder's adaptation, but that didn't stop me enjoying and admiring much of what I saw. That said, if you're a purist, the director's decision to have Mieze heavily pregnant at the time of her murder and, worse, have her child survive to deliver a curiously upbeat and unwarranted happy ending will raise eyebrows. You can hit the stop button before the epilogue (it's not very long and you're not missing much without it). Fassbinder's notoriously self-indulgent and overlong last episode, "My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin" also attracted a lot of flak, for different reasons. Whatever, my overriding impression of Qurbani's work is positive: any film / TV adaptation that makes you want to read the book again can't be bad. It's well-made, well-acted and well-paced (I was surprised though to see people moaning at a movie that lasts just three hours, given the time folks spend these days binge-watching crappy series). IHF's own Jon Abbey (if he still posts here - happy new year if you're lurking, Jon), as a huge Fassbinder and Kieslowski fan, will no doubt be even more horrified to learn that Qurbani's next project is to remake the latter's Three Colours Trilogy. I think the word for it is chutzpah.
Eric Lartigau, Prête-moi ta main, 2006
Watch out if you snatch the rip over at KG because it stops dead about five minutes before the end (merdre! looks like I'll have to buy a DVD now.. how awfully exotic). Shame, as this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp of a romcom, and could well be my favourite Charlotte Gainsbourg outing to date. Chabat's always fun to watch, and with Bernadette Lafont as the overbearing matriarch, you can't go wrong. I'm no great connoisseur of romcoms, but they're hard to pull off convincingly and this one's very well done.
James Benning, Twenty Cigarettes, 2011
As its title implies, here are twenty one-shot portraits of people smoking a cigarette, the shot length depending on how long it takes them to do it. As usual, there's more than meets the eye - Benning has carefully selected his backdrop and colour scheme, and admits to "messing" with it in digital postprod. There's a little interview with him here https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=AJDHbPmPse0, but he doesn't go into too much detail (my favourite line is "computers are taking us to a bad place", but you knew that anyway). Elsewhere his wry sense of humour is on display here https://cinema-scope.com/cinema-scope-o ... igarettes/ Smoking has been part of cinema vocabulary since the beginning - think Chaplin, Keaton and Harpo Marx gags, any number of films noirs, the quasi-entirety of the French nouvelle vague, Maria Braun, Usual Suspects, you name it - but as any smoker will tell you, it's extremely rare to just stand still and smoke alone and not do anything else at the same time. Either you're drinking something, or going somewhere, or talking to someone on the phone: Benning's subjects are tightly framed, there's nothing for them to look at other than the camera facing them - the result is an intriguing idea of portraiture, both natural and artificial at the same time. If you don't smoke, the film with neither make you want to start or switch off in disgust, don't worry.
Jim Jarmusch, Night on Earth, 1991
Ha, here's what I wrote about it last time: "Nobody - with the possible exception of Mink Stole - says FUCK YOU as well as Rosie Perez - once more, I found this much more enjoyable than I expected it to be, even the morose Helsinki final chapter. Pathetically anal trivia quiz for those interested: which other film features a scene shot on the Quai de l'Oise (near Porte de la Villette in Paris)?" Well, as nobody answered that question, I'll tell you: it was Rivette in Le Pont du Nord. Anyway, it's aged quite well, I think.
Francis Lee, Ammonite, 2020
I enjoyed this. Of course the romantic aspect was completely fictionalised but was none the worse for it (although the ending was perhaps a bit predictable). Kate Winslet spends the entire film looking gloriously angry, which is ok by me.
But the bit I enjoyed the most was the overwhelming sound of the waves on the stones of the beach, especially as contrasted against the quietness of the rest of the film. My mum grew up on the south coast of England (much further east) and I have a lot of memories of an inescapable wall of white noise of water on small rocks. It's both comforting and disturbing.
John Waters, Polyester, 1981
I'm not sure this particular image is in the film, but never mind, it's hilarious. I've always had a soft spot for Polyester, which sits squarely at the heart of the Waters canon, not as wild and fucked as the early stuff but not as user-friendly and faintly twee as the box office successes that followed it, starting with Hairspray (happily, the director found some of his old form again in 2004 with A Dirty Shame). But my viewing this time - the sixth, seventh time? - was, alas, slightly spoiled by the fact that I'd left my one remaining Odorama card in the DVD box for too long, and only two of the ten scratch'n'sniff boxes smelt of what they were supposed to smell of (the roses and the gasoline).
Stefano Incerti, Gorbaciof, 2010
Good anonymous IMDb plot summary here: "Marino Pacileo, known as Gorbaciof due to the prominent birthmark on his forehead, is an accountant at Poggioreale Prison in Naples. Pacileo, silent and shy, has only one passion in life: poker. He's in love with a Chinese girl called Lila and when he discovers that her father can't pay a debt incurred at the card table, Pacileo steals the money from the prison coffers and gives it to the girl. From that moment on, between losing games, collecting backhanders and committing robberies, he sets out on a slippery slope from which there is no turning back." Not a terribly original story, but Toni Servillo is once again outstanding - Tavernier's remarks on Gabin come to mind again (see reviews passim) - and dialogue is kept to a minimum. Tightly paced and well shot, good work.
Woody Allen, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, 2010
I'll say this for Woody: when he's good he's good, but when he's bad he's fucking awful. Haven't seen them all yet, but this gets my vote for the Worst So Far. Returning once again to England, a country he obviously doesn't understand (he seems to assume everyone lives in Knightsbridge mews houses, men work in "business", women in art galleries, and there isn't a person of colour - as we're apparently now supposed to call them - in sight), he's come up with a Frankenstein monster of body parts from older Allen movies (pseudo-Dostoyevksyan fate meets happy hooker meets.. ugh, I won't go on), ending up with four plotlines that veer completely out of control and fail to resolve - and spectacularly so: for a director with so many fine films under his belt I can only assume he did it deliberately as act of incomprehensible self-harm. There's no reason whatsoever that I can see why he couldn't have shot this shoddy mess back home in New York - not only does the dialogue not sound like English, many of the English actors he's cast don't even sound English either (Anna Friel comes from Rochdale? Christ, you could have fooled me..). That said, there's no shortage of talent - Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas - but the whole affair is so unnatural and convoluted it makes no difference. A real train wreck of a movie, avoid at all costs.
I did see this in a real actual cinema Dan, yes, suitably socially distanced from two rather elderly couples, one of which was keenly discussing whether the lesbian sex scenes were appropriate for one of their friends to see as the credits rolled.Dan Warburton wrote: ↑Wed Feb 03, 2021 3:07 amDid you actually see this in a real cinema, Alastair (you are still down under, aren't you? I see cinemas reopened in Australia a couple of weeks ago)? Jealous! New name for me - the only Francis Lee I've ever heard of used to play for Manchester City (showing my age here) Anyway, nice write-up, keep 'em coming!
Cinemas have been open down here since the middle of last year but at reduced capacity. They were closed a bit longer in Victoria (Melbourne) because of their outbreak but they've been open for months there too. It's been interesting as there's been a lack of big Hollywood movies to show, so they've been showing classics at (somewhat) reduced prices to keep the doors open a lot of the time, which meant I was able to see Goodfellas on the big screen for the first time a few weeks ago. We saw Wonder Woman 84 in a pretty packed cinema just before Christmas but the less said about that the better.
I'm a little younger than you but my first thought on hearing the name "Francis Lee" is balding footballer in a sky blue shirt too
Georges Lautner, Quelques messieurs trop tranquilles, 1973
Symptomatically, the screenshot above sums up partly what I liked about the film: its time-capsule quality, which goes hand in hand with a good humour that makes the ride, though insubstantial, very enjoyable. All in good fun so, with a cast of actors - Galabru, Lefevbre, Lautner's own mother, Miou Miou in her first screen appearance, etc - beloved by the French audience of the time that does what it usually does best, that is, being endearing. The story, adapted from a novel by A.D.G., a good crime fiction writer but also a lifelong supporter of the French far-right, is about a small village in Dordogne, threatened by rural flight, which sees, rather reluctantly, the arrival of a handful of hippies. A few comedic asides still strike an amusing chord now that organic supermarkets, and some habits that come with it, have become ubiquitous - as when Miou Miou looks very disappointed not to find wholegrain rice in the grocery store featured above. Better than what I expected, as far as light diversions go.
I hadn't seen your write-up Dan!Dan Warburton wrote: ↑Wed Jan 27, 2021 12:58 amI'm in no great hurry to go back to work in Paris, or rather Argenteuil - taking the train from St Lazare I see - saw?) the Pont d'Asnières twice a day - but your review certainly makes me want to return to Le Monte-charge, which I thoroughly enjoyed four or five years ago. Meanwhile, thanks for reminding me to grab this one, BenLao Tsu Ben wrote: ↑Tue Jan 26, 2021 11:42 amLe Monte-charge, Marcel Bluwal, 1962
[..] Love how the Paris suburbs are depicted: the bistrots, the going back and forth through the Pont d'Asnières, the meandering quality of the film which is nonetheless tightly bound by a few locations. This makes the feeling of a trap closing itself on the main character, the feeling of menace, very palpable.
Had I known, I wouldn't have needed to write mine!Dan Warburton wrote: ↑Wed Mar 16, 2016 4:36 am
Marcel Bluwal, Le monte-charge, 1962
Nice, tight noir penned - as were many of Robert Hossein's early films - by Frédéric Dard, who might be the closest the French ever got to Raymond Chandler (Simenon not included - he was Belgian) and filmed predominantly at night time on location in Asnières sur Seine in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, with a typically stressed out performance from Hossein and an intriguing role for the great Lea Massari. You've heard of Ascenseur pour l'échafaud no doubt, now try the service elevator (that's what the title means, btw) - imo, it's almost as good.
Emmanuel Mouret, Les choses qu'on dit, les choses qu'on fait, 2020
Has it really been ten years since Eric Rohmer died? He's certainly still alive and well in this latest work of Emmanuel Mouret, which had the misfortune of being released in cinemas barely a month before they all closed again for Lockdown 2 (the sequel wasn't as effective as the original), but still managed 279000+ entries by January this year. Not bad for a wordy "series of interconnected stories about the messiness of love" (quoted from https://www.indiewire.com/2020/06/love- ... 234569594/ - or you can take out a subscription to Le Monde and practice yr French https://www.lemonde.fr/culture/article/ ... _3246.html ) Rohmerian, yes (no bad language here folks!), but Mouret also does a Godard by weaving a real live philosopher - Rene Girard - into the story.
Yes, I shared a few emails with Philip Samartzis who was samartzing from that particularly stringent lockdown they had down in Melbourne.. (Eric La Casa in Paris was seriously depressed too - what is it with those field recordists?
Hm, I could stand to see Ray Liotta on a big screen, but anything scored by Hans Zimmer is likely to send me running in the opposite direction at high speedAlastair wrote: ↑Thu Feb 04, 2021 3:52 amIt's been interesting as there's been a lack of big Hollywood movies to show, so they've been showing classics at (somewhat) reduced prices to keep the doors open a lot of the time, which meant I was able to see Goodfellas on the big screen for the first time a few weeks ago. We saw Wonder Woman 84 in a pretty packed cinema just before Christmas but the less said about that the better.
Yes, when I was about ten or so I used to "support" Man City - never went to a game I should add - until one day I was beaten up for absolutely no reason by a kid down the street who was a rabid United fan. I decided there and then that, as KRS One said later, " all sport is bullshit"
You like long films with complex narratives but extended periods where nothing happens? You'd love test cricket.
You can't beat a game that can be played for 30 hours over five days and still no-one wins.
Like a Wang Bing moviewikipedia wrote:A standard day of Test cricket consists of three sessions of two hours each, the break between sessions being 40 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for tea.
Pedro Costa, Cavalo Dinheiro, 2014
Needless to say, it's slow, serious and superbly executed (nobody films black as well as Costa). There's a tendency to place Costa on the same impossibly high pedestal as Bela Tarr - there are similarities, but I much prefer the Portuguese director. Anyway, was contemplating writing a lengthy piece on this, but I see that someone else has already done it: https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/film-o ... rse-money/
Charles Vidor, Blind Alley, 1939
Nice little niche subgenre, the "desperate criminals on the run take nice normal American family (preferably with annoying hyperintelligent brat) hostage" plot - and several good examples come to mind, notably The Desperate Hours, The Night Holds Terror and Suddenly, featuring, respectively, Bogart, Cassavetes and Sinatra as the baddie. And the baddie's important: the success of the entire venture depends on the viewer being kept in some doubt as to whether he's just going to lose it altogether and butcher everyone in sight, after raping the pretty housewife. But in this early example of proto-noir, our villain is Hal Wilson, an escaped killer with one hell of an Oedipus complex, which manifests himself in a recurring dream sequence (tastefully filmed in photo-negative.. is this the first example of that?). Though Wilson, played by a nervy, chainsmoking Chester Morris, does indeed shoot two people dead in the film (we don't see the bodies though), one feels his girlfriend (Ann Dvorak, a surprisingly sympathetic and sensitive moll if ever there was one) will manage to keep him in check. He's more funny than scary, which is something of a problem. Ultimately it falls to the master of the house, a Professor of Psychiatry played by Ralph Bellamy - far too avuncular under the circumstances and, yes, he smokes a pipe too - to decode the symbols of the dream (not difficult: Hollywood loved this Freud for Dummies stuff), whereupon Wilson wanders outside to be gunned down by the police. As B-movies go, not bad at all, but one viewing's probably enough.
Henri-Georges Clouzot, Manon, 1949
I haven't read the Abbé Prévost's 1728 novel, and have never seen the Massenet and Puccini operas (1884 and 1893 respectively), but I had to check to see quite how many liberties Clouzot and fellow scriptwriter Jean Ferry had taken by setting the action at the end of WWII. Here's a plot summary from https://www.on-magazine.co.uk/arts/film ... ray-arrow/ : "The tale begins aboard a French cargo ship bound for Alexandria, where it will deposit its passengers, a group of Jewish refugees en route to Palestine. Hiding among the goods the vessel is also transporting are two stowaways – former resistance fighter Robert and his wife Manon. The captain discovers that Robert is wanted for murder back home in France, and is hoping to start a new life. Although initially hostile to the couple, the officer agrees to listen to their story and, clearly a romantic, allows them to go free. And that ought to have been where the film ended. Instead it lasts for another half hour or so, in which Robert and Manon’s progress through the dunes, following in the footsteps of their Jewish travelling companions, is followed."
Not a half hour, just 22 minutes in fact, but it certainly feels like an hour.. Clouzot's "Palestine" (Morocco, in fact) bears little resemblance to reality as it was at the time - in stark contrast to the harsh realism of the bomb-scarred buildings in Vire (Calvados) where Robert first meets Manon - though his cast of Yiddish-speaking actors was a nice touch of realism, he's way out of line with the local Arabs, sporting keffiyeh and riding racing camels. And the scene where they ambush the Jewish refugees, indiscriminately gunning down men and women (one of them's pregnant too), has to be one of the most violent and distressing scenes in film history. Clouzot was one dark motherfucker. The moral of the story being the paradise you dream of turns out to be just as hellish as the place you were running away from. Bleak, indeed. And yet, for all its wild excesses, there are moments of absolute cinematic magic - the sight of Robert dragging Manon down the dune and burying her in sand is simply stunning, as is the Normandy air raid. Not for nothing did it scoop the Golden Lion in Venice when it came out. The cast: though Serge Reggiani gets top billing, he plays Manon's sleazy brother Léon - Robert is played by Michel Auclair (a fine actor, who went on to play numerous important minor roles but never top billing himself). As for Manon, Cécile Aubry does a fine job with a difficult role: sure, the character is a pretty unscrupulous gold digger, but her affection for Robert is sincere - hard to pull off, that combination of naïveté and worldliness: I don't think Signoret could have done it any better, but the actress who really comes to mind is Bardot, specifically the character she plays in Clouzot's later La Vérité. I'm sure Clouzot had Manon in mind when he created Dominique Marceau.