Thursday 28 February 2019

Playtime (1967)

“Playtime” is the third Tati film on the List, following “Mon Oncle” from 1958. I loved “Mon Oncle” as I also liked “Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot” and so I was expecting great things from “Playtime”.

This time Monsieur Hulot, Tati’s character, is visiting an ultra-modern environment in Paris. First there is an airport, cool, straight and soulless. Then we visit an office building in glass and steel with cubicles, uniformed attendants and everything kept in grey and black tones. Hulot is visiting this place to ask for a job, but he keeps missing the man he is supposed to meet and in this extremely streamlined place Hulot sticks out like a sore thumb.

Hulot proceeds to a trade fair where he keeps being mistaken for being someone else. He is invited into an apartment home where his host is intent on showing off their material wealth and finally, he ends up in a fancy restaurant, the Royal Garden.

Meanwhile a tourist woman, following a tour group, visits more or less the same places and their paths cross each other a few times.

This is not much of a story, but that is also the point. With “Playtime” Tati was apparently rebelling against the idea that a movie needs a screenplay. “Playtime” is a series of tableaux on the modern world alienating humanity and the progression through the movie is not that of a story, but the gradual breakdown of the streamlined world into a human world.

This unique and innovative idea is what makes “Playtime” special. It is its strength and it is its weakness. Tati gives himself the freedom to compose exactly the scenes he wants, letting his Hulot character stand in contrast to the uniformity of modern life. That means we get a fairly complete vision and many of these tableaux are truly interesting. But it is also its fundamental problem. This is a 119 minute long movie without a story. How long can you actually watch scenes where nothing is actually happening? Sure, this is a comedy, and Hulot is charming, many of the scenes are curious, but few are outright funny, at least until we get to the restaurant in the end where the movie enters into slapstick. Yet this restaurant scene is 45 minutes long! It has to be tremendously funny to be worth that long a watch. ¨

This does make me strangely torn on this movie. I had to break it up in pieces not to get bored, yet many of the scenes are truly brilliant. I cannot for the life of me see why the restaurant scene has to last 45 minutes, yet it is magnificent. Much of what is great in this movie are in the small details. Guests sitting in the restaurant get a stamp on their backs from the poorly designed chairs, the doorman holds a doorknob to pretend there is a door after it is gone, the dishes the restaurant serves are all the same and the food never leaves the trays. Much of this is not laugh out loud funny, but comical in a quieter way. That is nice, but is it good enough to carry you through so long a movie without a progressing story?

I get the criticism of modern life and it is well placed and executed. It is visionary in scale and style, with enormous and expensive sets built for the movie. Apparently, Paris did not yet at the time of filming have such a neighborhood, Tati built it from scratch. I just wonder if Tati is not shooting sparrows with cannons here and thus over-do it.

I must recommend this movie, it is one to have seen at least once, but personally I much preferred “Mon Oncle”.

Friday 22 February 2019

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Off-List: The Dirty Dozen
For 1967 I will only be reviewing two off-List movies. This is partly because 1967 is such a strong year on the List, I think the largest number of movies for a year so far, and partly because I was not able to find any Danish movies from 1967 I wanted to see and much less write about.

The first of these two movies is “The Dirty Dozen”.

On the page from where I select my off-List movies “The Dirty Dozen” is listed as the most popular movie of 1967 and it was one of the highest grossing movies at the box office in 1967. It is easy to se why. Even now, 52 years down the line “the Dirty Dozen” remains a very watchable movie. Until near the end it keeps a tone and style that would make it very accessible even to a younger audience, especially if you do not think too much about what is going on. I saw it when I was very young and I have seen it numerous times since and it still kindles that boyish excitement of playing soldiers I remember from my childhood. It is tough, yeah, but not overly horrifying (for the first two hours) as if it is mostly a game.

The always great Lee Marvin is the tough as nails Major Reisman, the epitome of the American hero, a confident, resourceful no-nonsense cowboy who is at odds with his superiors but gets the job done. He has pissed off his superior so much that they are sending him on a suicide mission: Attack and kill German brass hanging out on a French chateau deep behind enemy lines prior to D-day. As a team he gets 12 convicts either with a death sentence or decade long imprisonment. These scumbags Reisman has to beat into shape and then take on the mission.

The kicker here is that team. This is a who-is-who in Hollywood: Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland and so on, not to mention Ernest Borgnine as General Worden. A very competent and interesting ensemble. The usual danger is such ensemble movies is that each star needs enough space, but still drown out in the group. Here there are no such problems. All these characters fit into their roles perfectly, and none more than Donald Sutherland as the half-wit Pinkley. That man was born to play an idiot.

There are four stages to the movie. The introduction where we get to know the primary characters. The training, where all these men has to be turned from undisciplined convicts into a semblance of army material. The war game where in slapstick fashion the rabble kick the ass of the arrogant colonel Breed and finally the actual mission in France. It is a long movie, but never boring and the 143 minutes pass surprisingly fast.

There is an adventure to this movie that has been forgotten since, or rather, the recipe is now the stuff of cheap TV-series. An adventure for boys at all ages that makes it so fun to watch. Sometimes it is almost too much, like the laughing sequences that feels pretty dated, but in general it still works.

Not all is perfect though. The premise of the movie, that the army decides to send a bunch of unreliable felons on an important commando mission is laughable, but honestly several armies, not least the German army used convict units for particularly dirty jobs and Hollywood has since loved the general concept.

A second problem, which is actually worse when considering the appeal of this movie to young boys, is how the Germans and their women are herded into the basement and then blown up. The scene where they see the grenades dropped down on them and then get drenched in gasoline is reminiscent of the gas chambers in the death camps and not fun at all. Yeah, it was their mission, but it is also horrifying in the extreme.

Somehow my younger self must have forgotten about this, because I have fond memories of this movie and overall, I feel the same about it today.

Recommended for boys of all ages and probably for some girls too.


Monday 18 February 2019

The Graduate (1967)

Fagre voksne verden
I have been looking forward to “The Graduate” for a long time. It is one of those iconic movies most people know of, though probably not as many have actually watched. Well, I had not until now. Its reputation is massive, and its Academy awards and nominations seem to confirm that.

It does do a lot of things right.

Right from the outset there is a modernity to the style. The first-person camera, the rambling dialogue and the norm-defying attitudes all points toward the seventies and beyond and is so different from the classical Hollywood style. Maybe a bit of French New Wave there…

The music as well with a soundtrack based on actual songs that would have been known to the audience and certainly is today. Using Simon and Garfunkel for this movie was a stroke of genius, and I would dare say that this would have been a very different movie with any other scoring.

Yet, it is probably the story itself and how it unfolds that has made this movie as famous as it is.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is a 21-year-old Graduate who has returned to his Californian home after college. He is aimless and confused, only knowing that the road laid out before him is not the one he wishes to follow. His parents however do not seem to sense this confusion and urges him forward, causing some alienation. Into this pictures steps Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the saucy wife of Ben’s fathers partner. She is a cougar on the prowl and she wants Benjamin.

At first Ben is scared and resists, but after having fended her off once he is intrigued enough that he offers himself to her and they start a purely sexual relationship. When Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) appears, the families urge Ben to take her out, but privately Mrs. Robinson forbids it. When Ben takes her out anyway, he falls in love with her and we have a very spicy triangle.

It was super awesome to see a young Dustin Hoffman. He is one of those actors I always associate with more mature roles, so seeing him as a young man was a revelation. Anne Bancroft, whom I am familiar with from her roles in the fifties was stunning as the icy cold temptress and this is a pretty cool story.

Yet, there was something about this movie that made it hard for me to watch. I have some difficulty putting my finger on it, but I figure it has something to do with the rambling style of the movie. It seems to creep forward at glacial speed only to pick up pace in the end. I found it difficult to actually keep focus on the movie. Another reason may be that I did not actually like any of the characters. We are supposed to root for Benjamin Braddock and in his confused and shy frame of mind that is not too hard, but when he becomes obsessive, he is much harder to follow. At Berkeley be becomes effectively a creepy stalker and that makes it rather unbelievable that Elaine forgives him and give in to him.

Well, in the end it works because he rescues her from her wedding so they can leave be behind their bourgeoise lives and ride off into the sunset, but it did not sit entirely well with me.

“The Graduate” fits well into the late sixties with its themes of sexual freedom, but more pronounced, the youth rebellion of their parent’s lifestyle. I can imagine it being a rallying point for that transformation that took place in those years.

Personally, I am a bit on the fence with this movie, which surprises no-one more than myself. I should love this, but I do not. Yet, it does have so many qualities that I must recommend it anyway.     

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 Choses Que je Sais D'Elle) (1967)

Jeg ved 2-3 ting om hende
Godard again, Hurrah….

I am really on a streak of obscure films here.

Ah, well.

“Two or Three Things I Know About Her…” (“Deux ou Trois choses que je sais d'elle”) is a movie without an actual story. Instead we see some people in Paris and some pictures of Paris itself. I learned from the synopsis in the Book and on Wikipedia that this is a portrayal of Paris and the consumer society, using housewife prostitution as a metaphor of consumerism. Well, I suppose that may well be the case. I could even think this could be an interesting idea, but true to form Godard ruins it and I rapidly loose interest in the movie and what I see is a stylistic exercise, disconnected from the viewer.

A description of the movie (Wikipedia for once gave up on the subtitle “Plot” and replaced it with “Description”) would have to be about the form, because nothing actually happens in the scenes. There is a narrator who whispers a very political commentary to the pictures we see. Apparently, the entire world and certainly Paris is a capitalistic plot to serve the rich against the poor. The narrator is not really certain of what he is narrating and often it seems he is getting confused. The characters, who appear and disappears, sometimes speaks to the camera, sometimes we hear their thoughts and sometimes they have an actual dialogue, often at the same time and with zero connection between them.

There is a contrast between hyper-realism and surrealism that often clashes and either seems to sabotage the other. I do understand isolated parts, like the woman Juliette (Marina Vlady) who walks around in town, drops off her child at a pimp (I presume), goes shopping and then takes some casual prostitution clients. The idea, presumably, is that to live the consumer life she wants she has to prostitute herself and does that with cold casualness.

At every opportunity possible Godard has to comment on America as the big devil and the Vietnam war. How that ties into the rest is unclear to me. Consumerism is an American, capitalistic plot against the poor French?

In the entire movie there was one scene which, in its silliness, stood out for me. For one of the prostitution jobs Juliette and her friend had to walk naked with airline bags over their heads while being filmed by an American client. That was actually funny, though I have a feeling it was not intended as being amusing.

Whatever Godard had on his mind with this movie is drowned out by stylistic artifice, and it seems to me more like artistic masturbation than a movie intended for an audience. As a viewer I am not invited into this movie and feel therefore rather indifferent towards it. Trust Godard to take something that could be a good idea and sabotage it.

I am certain there is an audience for Godard’s movies, but please, please why do we who follow the List have to watch so many of them? Not recommended.


Monday 4 February 2019

Balthazar (Au Hasard Balthazar) (1966)

Hvad med Balthazar?

The last movie of 1966 is “Au Hasard Balthazar”, a movie by Robert Bresson.

This is, at surface value, another one of those movies that does not seem to be about anything.

A girl, Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) and a donkey, Balthazar, go through life suffering evilness from people, life, family and random events. Marie and Jacques are childhood friends, then Jacques has to leave. Marie and her father live on a farm but he is in some unspecified trouble because he is too proud (??). Marie is terrorized by the local bad boy Gérard, but then she submits to him and becomes his girlfriend. Gérard does a lot of stupid and mean things and Marie defends him. One of these things involves an older drunkard Arnold who eventually dies. 

In the end Marie is stripped naked and dies. 

Balthazar is always there in the background with changing owners who usually treat it badly. The only one who seems to care about it is Marie, but eventually it also dies, in the mountains surrounded by sheep after it has been made a saint.

In this perspective this is an immensely boring movie made even worse by the artificial acting, the nonsensical actions and a stilted, sparse dialogue.

The clue here is of course that all this is just symbols for the real story. Without being able to claim that I fully understand it, it has something to do with innocence and goodness in the face of evil. Something about sainthood. Marie and the donkey are good, and Gérard and his ilk is the devil and nobody cares about her and the donkey while they take the pain of the world upon themselves. Something like that.

The problem for me here is that Bresson is so eager to tell the symbolic story that he does not really care about the apparent story. I am all for that there is a deeper meaning, but in this case the emphasis on the symbolism makes what we see obscure and sometimes outright stupid. Marie in particular makes very little sense and is thoroughly artificial. It is a shame, because I can actually see where this could go if Bresson had gone for a more naturalistic expression. We saw something similar in “Diary of a Country Priest” so it is a Bresson feature, but he also made “A Man Escaped” which works great.

According to Wikipedia there are people who absolutely love this movie, while others like Ingmar Bergman apparently did not. He said "this Balthazar, I didn't understand a word of it, it was so completely boring... A donkey, to me, is completely uninteresting, but a human being is always interesting." I tend to agree.

This is a difficult movie to recommend. It is very polarizing, and I am not a fan, though I am certain others will be of a different opinion.

And thus ends 1966. On to 1967…