Tony Gatlif, Latcho Drom, 1993
Wiki: "The film contains very little dialogue and captions; only what is required to grasp the essential meaning of a song or conversation is translated. The film begins in the Thar Desert in Northern India and ends in Spain, passing through Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and France. All of the Romani portrayed are actual members of the Romani community."
It's not a documentary, for sure, and Gatlif's odd insertions of "plot" - the melancholy mum on the station platform, the shotgun-toting French farmers who move the gypsies off their riverbanks - can be conveniently ignored (much to agree with in this review
https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/s ... b009df.htm ), because the music is so good.
Nanni Moretti, Tre piani, 2021
I rarely agree with Bradshaw but I think he's on the one here https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/j ... profundity - Moretti knows how to push all the right melodrama buttons (that and the sense of humour often recalls Woody Allen), but push them too hard and the machine overheats and refuses to work. Up to you to decide whether you think that's the case here or not.
Céline Sciamma, Naissance des pieuvres, 2007
So my wife decided to read Delphine Le Vigan's D'après une histoire vraie after watching the above-reviewed Polanski film adaptation, and saw that the author (or her principal character, which amounts to about the same thing if you recall) enthuses about this feature debut of Céline Sciamma, a sort of coming of age film about three girls whose odd title apparently refers to the fact that an octopus - pieuvre in French - has three hearts (the English title is the rather bland Water Lilies). They're all in the local synchronised swimming team (a sport I've never been able to see the attraction of, but never mind): one is skinny and shy, one is chubby and desperately wants to lose her virginity, and one likes to give the other girls the impression she's the town tramp whereas she's as inexperienced in such matters as the other two. I wish I could say it was as good as Lucas Moodysson's Fucking Amal, but.. it isn't, despite some solid performances from the three leading ladies.
Céline Sciamma, Petite maman, 2021
Undaunted, we had another shot at Sciamma after reading nice things about this short - 70 minutes - kind of fairy tale / ghost story, if you like, the tale of a little girl who meets her mother when she was the same age. Touching and well made, but a little underwhelming. Mr Kermode begs to disagree:
https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/n ... r-all-ages
Georges Lautner, Il était une fois un flic, 1972
Godard fans will know how thoroughly miserable he made Mireille Darc feel during the shooting of Week End, but here she seems to be enjoying herself so much she can't resist cracking up at every available opportunity, both at the role she has to play (pretending to be Michel Constantin's wife while he tries to infiltrate and ensnare a Nice-based drug baron) and at Lautner's hilariously tongue-in-cheek way of telling the story. Constantin too, though best known for playing heavy and not so pleasant muscle men, is evidently having a blast. Add to the sauce splendid cameos from Michael Lonsdale, a couple of grinning over zealous local cops and a couple of grinning zealous imported Mafia hitmen, plus Ms Darc's incredibly annoying brat of a son, and you've got a recipe for an evening's fun. Enjoyed myself very much.
Radu Muntean, Întregalde, 2021
Another terrific outing from Romania - what is it about Romania, something in the water? - this time telling the story of (Wiki) "a group of humanitarian aid workers who bring supplies to poverty-stricken areas in the Transylvania region, whose trip to the village of Întregalde is derailed after they pick up a disoriented old man (Luca Sabin) who needs a ride. [..] Muntean has described the film as inspired by real volunteer expeditions to deliver supplies to remote Romanian towns; after directly participating in two such trips, he was motivated to think about how much the effort actually helped the villagers as opposed to simply being a way for wealthy urbanites to congratulate themselves for their generosity." As the SUV gets stuck in the mud, night begins to fall and the mobile phone signal fades, panic begins to set in (for us as much as for the characters): are we going Deliverance, or Blair Witch or Evil Dead? Great ending too. Background reading (but beware spoilers!): https://www.screendaily.com/reviews/int ... 91.article
Julien Duvivier, La tête d'un homme, 1933
Oh, I love those early 30s talkies, when directors like Duvivier (and Renoir, Hitch and many others), who were already masters of silent movie grammar, suddenly found themselves able to play with words and sounds. What's intriguing about this fabulous adaptation of a Simenon novel openly inspired by Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is the director's willingness to experiment daringly with all kinds of things: low angle shots (those feet! Bresson must have loved it!), out of the car window tracking shots (love the dialogue over the leisurely drive by "Louis XIV's summer house" Versailles!) and some incredibly slow but remarkably tense scenes where Maigret (played by the awesome Harry Baur) simply looks at the villains (see above) and gives us time to read his thoughts. Standout performance from Siberian-born Valéry Inkijinoff as the intriguing Raskolnikoff-inspired doomed killer Radek. And the music: stunning songs and cameo performances from chanson legends Missia and Damia https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damia_(chanteuse). It all adds up a top-notch thriller, easily on a par with the best of Hitchcock's pre-USA work. Strongly recommended! (And the late great Bertrand Tavernier agrees with me )
Bruno Dumont, France, 2021
Unlike his last two two horrendous Joan of Arc outings, I managed to sit all the way through this. But it's way too long. After "doing" a musical, Dumont sets out to "do" satire, but while Blanche Gardin's breezy breathtaking cynicism might raise the odd chuckle, there's little else to laugh about. Anyway, plot summary of sorts from https://moviebabble.com/2021/12/19/fran ... ial-media/ :
"Léa Seydoux plays the titular celebrity journalist, France de Meurs, an animated and zealous reporter who juggles a busy and famed career in the spotlight, with the private intimacies of her own complicated personal life outside the limelight as a prominent and famous reporter, journalist, and celebrity [..] Segments shown of her show include coverage of reporting on wars in the Middle East, but even these journalistic reports are translated and packaged into entertainment through heavy edits and stylization, capturing harrowing events such as war and recycling it through a privileged and synthetic filter that converts journalistic coverage of these events into pure entertainment for the French public to consume like content."
Lou (Gardin, playing France's manager / coach / minder / assistant) is cynical for sure, but this isn't the sharp, smart cynicism of Tavernier's Quai d'Orsay, where despite their numerous foibles, one senses the director's genuine affection - or at least care - for the characters. Dumont often comes across as positively misanthropic - a trait to be found as much in the bleak violence of his early films as in Luchini and Binoche's horrendous scenery chewing in Ma Loute - and, despite far too many slow meaningful zooms in on Seydoux's tearstained face (damn, she is good at crying on cue), I don't get the impression he cares for her in the slightest. Nor is it clear he wants us to either. To quote another review, https://mysterycatalog.com/2021/11/fran ... mont-2021/ : "In interviews Dumont seems to invoke the work of Debord and Baudrillard to describe his critique of how the omnipotence of mediated realities have confused our sense of what is real but then goes on to naively assert that the art of the cinema can restore it. Instead, France is confused, repetitive and overlong and witnessing the sufferings and tears of de Meurs can be exhausting but not particularly illuminating."
I imagine the director wants us to be repulsed by the brash, flashy (the French adjective clinquant is best) TV studio sets, all CNews saturated colour, though there's nothing exclusively French about the look, and yet at the same time impressed by the opening scene, actually shot inside the Elysées Palace and featuring current President Emmanuel Macron in a cunning montage of snippets from real press conferences (and he does indeed say "France demeure" at some point, which presumably Dumont took as the name of his principal protagonist). Maybe that's the point, the old "Love" on one hand, "Hate" on the other. Sure, Bruno's good at playing with codes - there's no better example of that than the Italian coast car crash scene (that's as far as I go without spoiling folks), complete with slowmotion impact, vehicle toppling off vertiginously high cliff but not (alas!) the obligatory explosion when the wreck hits the ground - but I suspect he was trying for something, erm, deeper here, hence the awful mawkish Christophe soundtrack (of which the less said the better) and those interminable close-ups of Ms Seydoux. Talking of whom, well, yes, I suppose she does deliver, in a way, an exceptional performance - but of an unexceptional character. Anyway, if you think France is objectionable, wait till you meet her husband and brattish boy. Anyway, I think Debord wouldn't have liked it much. Baudrillard, maybe. Another one for the road: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/fran ... eview-2021
Claude Goretta, L'Invitation, 1973
When gentle, mild-mannered, middle-aged plant-loving Remy Placet, after the death of his overbearing mother, moves into a palatial country manor (the local council evidently having bought him out of his mother's cottage so they could build some more faceless housing blocks), he celebrates by inviting everyone from his office - including the two bosses - round for what should be a civilised garden party and which ends up in a Mike Leigh-like catastrophe. Extremely funny, and very well filmed and acted by all - watch out for François Simon (son of Michel) as the mysterious butler Emile. Smashing.
Brian De Palma, Passion, 2012
I'll be back shortly with a write-up of Alain Corneau's Crime d'amour (when I've seen it), of which this is a pretty dreadful remake. I'll save the plot point comparisons for later; suffice it to say that a) Noomi Rapace is depressingly bad (in fact she has been in everything of hers I've seen except for Millennium) and b) Pino Donaggio, who De Palma has stuck with as his house composer for goodness knows how long, is worse. Almost as if to illustrate how generically bland his music is (and it's used almost all the bloody way through, which makes the whole thing even more like a run-of-the-mill TV movie than De Palma's glitzy mise-en-scène), there's a scene where Noomi goes to the ballet, and we get to hear almost all of Debussy's Prélude à l'après midi d'un faune (as a backdrop to a murder, filmed split screen, ugh), which gets my vote for the Greatest Piece Of Music Of All Time. After that, anything you hear is bound to be dull. Plenty of gripes about the story, too - but I won't put the boot in until we've seen the Corneau. Watch this space..
Yves Boisset, Le prix du danger, 1983
This too is a second film adaptation of Robert Sheckley's 1958 dystopian sci-fi novel The Price of Peril (and, yes, I've grabbed an earlier German version which I'll get to shortly), set in the near future where, to distract the unemployed masses and stop them taking to the streets, the enterprising ratings-obsessed CTV channel organises a real life manhunt (evade the five killers for four hours and you get a million dollars - guess who wins). Though the cast is French (and it's a good one: Michel Piccoli as the oily anchor, Marie-France Pisier and Bruno Cremer as the producers, and Gérard Lanvin as the running man) and the locations are in both the Paris region and Belgrade - if you like 70s brutalist architecture, you'll thrill - the currency is dollars and, well, we could be anywhere, really. It's full of action and far too loud, but often riotously funny, except for a scene of real children dying of starvation in Africa (free advertising slot for the NGO, how generous Bruno). I'm hoping the 1970 version is more sedate, if just as cynical; this one left me with a mild headache. Fun, if a tad trashy.
Kelly Reichardt, First Cow, 2020
I'm with Monsieur Kermode on this one https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/m ... toby-jones - and there's a nice interview with the director here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZM-oeG0fZM - if you've got 50 minutes to spare. Which, I imagine, Kelly Reichardt usually has: I love the way she paces her films. Not too slow, not too fast, just right. Why the hell hasn't she ended up with a Palme d'Or instead of Julie Ducournau (unfair comparison, I admit, but Kermode liked Titane from what I recall)? Live in hope.
Federico Fellini, 8½, 1963
I don't recall ever writing anything on this in the past (or anything worth reading, anyway), but what is there to write that hasn't already been written a million times elsewhere? I decided to return to it after watching Damian Pettigrew's excellent 2002 documentary Fellini: I'm A Big Liar, simply because so many of the clips he chose from the Fellini oeuvre came from this film. And I'd forgotten how awesome it is, in all its sprawling, glorious self-indulgence. Like Kane, this is one that's built to withstand exhaustive analysis from whatever direction you care to choose - Freud, Brecht, auteurist theory, structuralist voodoo - and still works its charms every time. Like Welles (and maybe Bergman, or Antonioni, or..), the director might not be your cup of tea, but anyone who claims to love the cinema - don't we all, here? - can't fail to be impressed.
While I'm there, I might as well report a recent discovery, thanks to a retrospective happening in Paris these days, the films by Roberto Gavaldón, a mexican director who learnt the trade in Hollywood as an assistant, went back to Mexico, had the knack to work with very talented people, among them his set designer Gunther Gerszo before he became a famous painter (whom I didn't know before), and went on to make a flourish of beautiful films noirs slash melodrama. La Otra is Sirk doing latino noir, En La Palma de Tu Mano is Nightmare Alley done better (I still have to watch it to be honest but that's what I would like to think as Guillermo Del Toro is coming up with his version of it), La Diosa arrodillada is a story of obsession, reminiscent of Gilda, and La Noche Avanza is the grittier one, adumbrating the sardonic humor of the Coens, with superb takes of Basque pelota that you never saw anywhere else.
Robert Hossein, Point de chute, 1970
After Hubert Cornfield's Brando train wreck The Night of the Following Day (see above, somewhere), here's another flawed film about a kidnapping that ends up in a deserted house on a windswept French beach. This one's better - and the 1080 rip is gorgeous - but painfully slow and excessively arty. Arty being Leone-inspired: we're talking those great big closeups on eyes, and when the eyes are the glacial blue of Johnny Hallyday, why not? I'm no fan of the late lamented pop icon as a singer, but he did make a couple of good films (Corbucci's Specialists and Godard's Détective, notably). He's not too bad here - I guess he'd have to do because Clint Eastwood was probably way out of Hossein's budget - but it's a shame he didn't learn to mime better on that wooden flute.
Marco Ferreri, Il banchetto di Platone, 1988
Ferreri completist that I am, I thought I'd have a look at this 1988 téléfilm - let's just say that a) the special effects leave a lot to be desired and b) Philippe Léotard, with that gravelly hangover voice, was the last actor I'd ever imagine playing Socrates (I guess Alain Cuny had already passed his sell-by date) - well, as they say, been there done that. Glad I've seen it, because I won't be seeing it again.
Peter Bogdanovich, Paper Moon, 1973
RIP Bogdo - I've always enjoyed the O'Neal father / daughter chemistry, but the minor roles are just as juicy (no surprises that John Hillerman and Madeline Kahn are superb, but whatever became of P.J. Johnson? She's terrific!). As far as I can make out, Tatum hasn't died of a smoking-related illness yet, though I see there is one O'Neal on the following list: http://www.menstuff.org/issues/byissue/ ... eaths.html Don't you just love the Internet?
Alain Jessua, Les couleurs du diable, 1996
Cute take on the Faust idea (Ruggiero Raimondi makes for a fine old devil, though why they chose to call him Bellisle - nostalgic attraction for the island off the coast of Brittany? I suspect not - I dunno), with some fine location shots in Rome and a pretty decent Michel Portal soundtrack, but Wadeck Stanczak (French, despite the name, and best known perhaps for his role in Téchiné's Rendez-vous) is rather underwhelming as the artist hero. It's entertaining enough, but not on the same level as Jessua's other outings.
Patricia Mazuy, Peaux de vaches, 1988
Proof that good things come to those who wait - with a Karagarga freeleech due shortly, I can't recommend this smashing new 1080 rip enough. It's a terrific film in every way: great cast - Sandrine Bonnaire, Jacques Spiesser and, in what I think is his greatest role, the late great Jean-François Stévenin (and not forgetting his daughter Salomé, who plays the kid: not his in the film, but that makes the triangular tension all the greater) - superb use of sound and excellent photography of the rainy Pays d'Artois. I can't put my finger on the review where Jacques Rivette raved about this film, but will try to do so. Meanwhile, as I wrote a few years back, this is right up there with the best Pialat and Bresson imho