Happy New Year 2017
It is the last day of the year and thus
time for the annual status on my blog.
I wish all my readers a happy new year. May
2017 be a better year than 2016.
2016 was a year where it was difficult to
be an optimist. I learned a new word: "nativism", which is about as
contrary to everything I believe in as is possible. Of course the concept is
not new, it has been around for at least two hundred years, but it has not coalesced
like this since the forties. When you travel as much as I do and see as many
people as I see it is really difficult to come to terms with the nativistic
mindset and telling people they are wrong seem to have the opposite effect.
However this is not a political blog, so I
can stick my head in the sand and focus on what I do here.
New Year is also anniversary time for my
movie project. Seven years down the line it clocks in at 368 movies plus a few
extra down the list and a handful of titles from the Danish edition. I am very
close to finishing the fifties (expect a post on that topic in a few days) and
a new decade beckons in the horizon.
In 2016 I watched and reviewed 54 movies
from the List, which continue the downward trend. I had expected to cover a few
more movies, but things did not turn out that way and a movie per week seems to
be the realistic pace for me. Alas, as I keep saying this is not a race. Also I
did watch and review a few movies off List.
The period covered in 2016 was 1955 to
1959, both years included and while I will return to the issue in my decade
concluding post, I can say that this was a most interesting period in movies
with high’s and low’s, of course, but interesting none the less. My excitement
with this project is unabated.
2016 was also the second year of my book
blog and after a rough start that project is now on track. My ambition of five
books per year from the List holds as I am now 10 books down. It does not take
a Ph.D. to figure out that it will take a medical miracle for me to complete
the List, but I have no intention of doing that. It is all in the process.
Followers of the book blog will however
have noticed that nothing has happened since October. That is not laziness on
my side, but due to the nature of the next book on the List. Gargantua and
Pantagruel is a brick ticking in at 1000 pages, which is okay, I do not mind
big books, but it is also a 500 year old comedy that is not funny. Ugghh. Going
is slow and it is likely to take me a few more month to get through that one.
Still, despite this late setback I enjoy
the book project as well, if nothing else then for that fascinating window into
I wish everybody a very happy New Year and
hope that you all will have a great time tonight. I certainly intend to.
break movies have a long history and seems to be recurrent phenomenon from the
earliest of movies to this day. The List also has its share of them. But why is
prison escape movies so popular? Have that story not been told enough times?
think about it, it is a bit odd, really. Prisoners will as a rule be in prison
for a reason, so these are what we would categorize as bad people. They are in
prison to a) punish them and b) keep them away from the rest of us. Then why do
we root from them when they want to escape? In the case of prisoners of war the
picture is simpler. These people’s only fault is that they were caught by the
enemy and we can easily root for them. But what if the convicts were hardened
criminals? Would we still be so eager to see them escape? The surprising answer
is “yes”, though we may feel a bit disturbed by that answer. I think there is
something fundamentally human in wanting to escape imprisonment and it appeals
to us. Also the prisoner is the underdog against an overwhelming opponent and
we like to see the weak win over the strong.
thing about “Le trou” and the reason for this lengthy introduction is that it cuts
the prison break theme into the bare bone. This is the condensed essence of
this story fed directly into our veins. Five hardened criminals digging their
way out of prison and I so want them to succeed.
is based on a novel written by an ex-convict who took part in such an endeavor back
in 1947 from the infamous La Santé prison in France. The book is supposed to be
a quite precise account of the events and Jacques Becker, who made the movie,
was apparently very faithful to the novel. Several of the prisoners were hired
as consultants and one of them, Jean Keraudy, is even playing himself in the
movie, though by the name of Roland. So, yeah, this is a movie that tries to capture
exactly how it was in that cell in La Santé.
prisoners, Geo (Michel Constantin), Manu (Philippe Leroy in the role of the
author), Monseigneur (Raymond Meunier) and Roland are cell mates. They have for
a while been planning their escape, when, at the opening of the film, a fifth
prisoner is added to the cell. This is Claude (March Michel), a young, well-educated
man charged with attempted murder. The four inmates are forced, though
reluctantly, to include Claude in their plans. Then work begins and we see them,
through the eyes of Claude, hammer their way through the concrete floor,
explore the cellars of the prison and eventually dig a tunnel past a blockage
in the sewer. This is filmed in a way to make this feel real. A simpler film
may have simply shown some hard working men and then jumped forward to the
completed job, but not “Le trou”. The filming is a stretched out affair lasting
at least five minutes of hammering the floor a slab of actual, real concrete!).
Sounds boring, but it is not. Instead it made me FEEL the work and tension and
eagerness to get through that floor. It feels like real time, the release when
they get through is physical, it is simply sublime. Same goes for the other
sequences. This is not about being pedantic and technical, but to enable us to
share the sentiment of these prisoners. I have never seen it done like this
before and I am very impressed.
character development of the prisoners is also interesting. Of the four original
inmates we never learn that much detail of their background, but we learn
plenty about them from the way they act and deal with the situation. They are
all very well defined characters, very well developed, but never explicitly
described. Again sublimely done. Claude is the exception. He seem to be less
described from his actions and is often a passive observer. Instead he is the
only one of which we are offered a backstory. In that sense his portrait is
more conventional than the four cell mates, a detail that is worth noting.
ten minutes of the movie are very interesting, but it would be a complete
spoiler to reveal the details. Suffice to say that it brings in a completely
new dimension to the movie and although my first reaction was disbelief I soon
after realized that this was a masterstroke. If this movie did not already
standout, the ending places it far apart from conventional prison break movies.
is one of the best prison break movies I have ever watched and, albeit very
different, is on par with Bresson’s “A Man Escaped”. If you ever wondered how
it would be like to dig your way out of prison this is the movie to watch, but
even more, if you are interested in the psychology of the wish and need to
escape prison you will probably not find a better movie to watch. These people
might not, and should not, last two days on the run, but you so much want them
to succeed. So much.
that I am starting to get overly negative in my reviews. My excuse is that I
try to find both good and bad sides to the movies I watch and therefore end up
with a balanced review, but I am frank enough to admit that sometimes I get
carried away and swoon over a movie or get all negative and maybe that is
beginning to tilt towards the negative. Maybe it that as I move forward in
history the bar is increased and I expect more from the movies I watch. With that
in mind I went into “Rio Bravo” thinking that this is a movie I will like, this
is a movie I should say a lot of positive things about.
It did not
take long however before I started thinking that maybe I had chosen the wrong
movie for my reform. There are so many things here that rubs me the wrong way. Yet
I should be more positive so let me start out in that mode.
is a pretty movie. The set is clean and iconic and is filmed with style.
Although we keep going around in the same sets they work pretty well and the
colors are nice.
Angie Dickinson as Feathers, a gambler girl who accidentally finds herself in
the small town of Rio Bravo, is real pretty and adds a nice decorative element
to the set.
love that Dean Martin’s character is called Dude. If I was a western character
I would want to be called Dude.
problem with “Rio Bravo” is that it is a backward gazing hodge-podge. It throws
together elements and styles that generally hark back rather than look forward.
As a western it is incredibly old school. A bunch of anonymous henchmen of the
bad guy (John Russell as Nathan Burdette) is laying siege to a small town to
get one of their number, an equally anonymous Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) out
of prison. The defense of the prison is in the hands of a few good and
sympathetic characters headed by John Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance. This is
like the oldest western cliché in the world. Where “High Noon” took the basic
story and turned it around to something new and exciting, “Rio Bravo” turns it
back into something known and predictable.
also does not seem to take itself serious. Comedic elements are thrown in with
a very loose hand, but instead of providing release and humor it dilutes the
nerve of the movie and it is just not funny enough to be a comedy as such. For me
a western is either gritty as hell or an outright comedy. The halfway place is
is the element of Feathers. With or without her this would have been exactly
the same story. The romance between her and Chance is odd, but I can forgive
that. Love is a strange fish. The problem is that it is forced and
fundamentally unnecessary. The reason it is there has nothing to do with the
story, but because somebody decided the story needed a love interest, because,
well, the audience wants such a thing… or do they? Dickinson does a good job at
being a third wheel, but that is essentially what she is.
Hawks I have always held in high esteem. His back-catalogue is truly impressive.
That is why I was completely baffled by the poor direction the actors are
getting here. Wayne looks like he would rather be somewhere else, the bad guys
look like they were picked from the extra’s queue and what was that with Ricky
Nelson as Colorado, the young gunslinger? Rarely have I witnessed a worse
casting. Completely unbelievable and very poorly directed. What was Hawks
thinking? Again it feels as if somebody decided that this movie needed a teenage
idol for the girls to moan over and to hell with it if he did not fit into the
brings us to the songs… come on…
that is what it is. If you asked a computer to cook up a western from elements
producers would think the audience would like you could get something like Rio
Bravo. Disjointed and bland and insincere.
this may be less important if I enjoyed watching it, but at 135 minutes it
creeps along too slowly to ever get me out of the chair and even the final show
down, the piece de resistance of the movie, fizzles and never really turns
I know, I
know, I promised to be positive. I am really sorry, that will have to be next
time. I promise.
Hiroshima, min elskede
Resnais is back. He was the guy with the blow to the stomach movie, “Nuit et Brouillard”
and with Hiroshima as part of the title I had a fairly good idea where this was
I was only
partly right. The first 15 minutes is indeed continuing in the same vein with
death and destruction and heart breaking footage of children crying out for
their parents, radiation damaging and terrible deformities. Then the movie change
and for the rest of the running time it is a fictious story of two lovers in “modern”
Hiroshima, a French woman (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese man (Eiji Okada)
having an intense affair (both are married we learn) that evolve into a very
intimate and trance-like recall of events at the end of the war. Not the
Hiroshima bomb, although his entire family died in the blast, but of her lover,
a German soldier, who was shot at the end of the war.
I have very
mixed feelings about this movie, most notably with the strange juxtaposition of
the nuclear bomb and the confession of a wartime love affair. I fully
understand the need of a memorial to the victims of the bomb, both for the
terrible suffering of these people and to prevent a modern repetition (actually
the blast was repeated only three days later) and the strong pictures, and by
all that is holy these are very strong pictures, are justified. I also
appreciate the raw emotion and intimacy of the confession story. It is very
arty, but I tend to like art movies the stylized dialogue is poetic,
pretentious, yes, but it actually works. What does not work is the two things
gut-wrenching first 15 minutes I felt completely numbed and unable to appreciate
the following story. It feels obscene to even compare her personal story to
that of the thousands of destroyed lives in Hiroshima. Sure, it is very
important to her, but frankly, even to her I should think that such tragedies
would make her suffering seem trivial. Instead her recollection is overpowering
her, associating her Japanese lover with her lost German boyfriend and she is
falling to pieces before the camera. At first I could not believe what I was
watching. Then I felt angry at the comparison and only near the end did I start
to feel appreciation for that part of the story.
to the extra material the theme is awareness of forgetting…
That is one
of those pieces of information you need a few minutes to digest. In fact it
still baffles me. The story of the lovers I read as one of catharsis, a cleansing
process that is necessary for her in order to carry on with her life. That she
tells the story to a Japanese lover in an impossible affair, just means that
she is taking a break from reality to get this done. She will never see him
again and that is where her pain should go as well.
What I do
not understand is why it is her and not him who is going through this
cleansing. As far as I can tell he needs it a lot more. Or maybe the whole idea
is that he already had it? That being in Hiroshima is dealing with the past
instead of hiding it away?
A lot can
be said about the poetic style of the filming and the dialogue. It is highly
stylized and is using symbols to convey its meaning. It is of a kind that you
would either love or hate. Love for the poetry and hate for the sheer
pretentiousness. Oddly enough I find myself more on the “love” side of that
fence. Once I accept that a movie is an art movie I can put on the proper
glasses and enjoy it as such. Either way you cannot ignore the massive
intensity of both Riva and Okada. This is emotional porn and the nakedness is a
lot more than absence of cloth. This should engage the viewer, but how can you
when you are already numb?
need to reconcile myself with the two very different movies in this package
before I can truly say that I like this movie. Maybe I am just missing the key
and eventually it will come to me. Until then I will park my evaluation on
I think I
have worked out how Robert Bresson’s movies work.
you into the brain of a character going through some sort of crisis or and
makes you see the whole thing from the inside of his head. In “Diary of a
Country Priest” it was a priest going through a religious crisis, in “A Man
Escaped” is was a prisoner during the war and in “Pickpocket” it is a, well, a
from inside the head of the prisoner was fascinating and very interesting and
one of the best French movies I have watched. The priest however was massively
uninteresting and I did not care one bit for the character. As a result this
was a terrible movie to get through. With “Pickpocket” I am afraid we have
landed in that ditch again.
The head we
crawl into is that of Michel (Martin LaSalle), a man who develops a severe case
of kleptomania. He steals some money at the race course and gets so excited
about it that he cannot stop again. Michel is a terrible amateur, but soon he
meets a true pro who trains him into an expert pickpocket.
lost to the world. His mother dies, friends walks out on him and he hardly
recognize a girl, Jeanne (Marika Green) with an obvious (and inexplicable)
crush on him. The only thing Michel cares about is his stealing. Eventually he
develops a paranoia, believing that everybody is on to him. When his friends
are caught he goes away for a while, returns a few years’ later, steals some
more and are caught.
point Jeanne has a baby with a man who does not care about her and she looks to
Michel to help her. Great help he is.
problems here are many.
I do not care about Michel. He is obsessive and selfish and completely
impossible to root for. It is not just that he has chosen a despicable profession,
no, this guy is a complete asshole with room in his life for just himself. Sometimes
the mind of a criminal is fascinating and interesting, but not Michel’s. Only
in the sense that stealing is like a drug for him and that his behavior and
mental state closely resembles that of an addict. That is perceptive of
Bresson, but not enough for me to take a real interest in Michel.
apparently demanded a certain kind of natural acting. I cannot say that has
benefitted this movie. Michel walks around with dead eyes, like a zombie,
deepening my lack of interest. All dialogue is clipped, surreal and at times
outright stupid. It is not so much that it is confusing (and it is), as it feel
artificial and serves as a repellant against interest. At least the “Diary…”
had some interesting characters and a few good dialogues, but I cannot even
remember one such in “Pickpocket”.
There is a
point to the movie, besides showing us the inside of the head of a victim of
kleptomania, which is something about that in prison he finally finds Jeanne
and that this is somehow his cure, but it is thin, really thin. It is sad and
somewhat unbelievable that a pretty and smart girl like Jeanne only have Michel
to help her. I mean, Paris is a big place and Michel has done everything in his
power to turn her away from him. It is more believable that Jeanne is the only
one left for Michel, but that she should now suddenly be able to cure him… nah…
being the pessimist.
did not care for Michel and his affliction and combined with the filming
technique this movie felt twice as long as its modest running time. Bresson is
truly a hit or miss director whose certain style is so dependent on his
subject. In this case it was a miss for me. Sorry.