Tuesday 26 March 2019

Week End (1967)

Imagine a movie where elements are combined in the most impossible manner, where things happen out of the blue and causality breaks down all together. Add a good amount of Dadaism and an insane amount of blood. Sounds like a combination of Monty Python and Quentin Tarantino, no? Crazy stuff, but it could be great.

Alas, this is Godard and so this is neither fun nor cool. It is just stupid, confusing and pretentious. No idea or concept is so great that Godard cannot ruin it.

Describing “Weekend” is practically impossible and I am not entirely sure I care to try. The closest thing to a red thread is a man and a woman who is journeying across the land to her parents to secure an inheritance. They beat people up and get shot at. Discuss intimate sex and pass a giant traffic jam. Everywhere there are crashed cars and dead people lying around. Meanwhile the couple will talk about consumer goods or trivial things. Occasionally they will meet people who talk in political statements, usually on the extreme left. At some point they get captured by a guerilla group in the forest.

None of this makes any sense, none what so ever.

Maybe everything is a symbol for something political, the cruel capitalists exploiting the working class, the western world exploiting the third world etc. It is quite possible, and this intension is likely also what kills both the fun of all the crazy stuff and the coolness of all the action.

Obviously Godard had a blast making this movie, giving vent to all his crazy fantasies and as he has cut all ties to conventional film making he allows himself no restraint at all. For Godard this is probably super awesome, but for me as a viewer it looks more like cinematic masturbation. I get absolutely nothing out of watching this.

The best thing about “Weekend” is that I am now done with Godard. Yes, that is right, no more Godard for this reviewer. That calls for celebration.

Friday 22 March 2019

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) (1967)

Pigerne fra Rochefort
Readers of this blog will know that musicals usually do not sit well with me. That out of context singing and dancing are awkward and that I am of the opinion that musicals are made for a different demographic group.

But then there is Jacques Demy.

His “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” caught me off-balance. It had all the ingredients of the troublesome musicals, yet it won me over and now “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort” is doing the same thing though for different reasons.

We are still in silly musical-land, even more so than with “Les Parapluies…”. The characters break out in song at every opportunity, there are dancers in the street going about their everyday dancing as if this is just the way things are in Rochefort and the story is as silly and fluffy as only a musical can get away with. Yet, there is an airiness and a joie the vivre that is invigorating. The Book warned that this is a movie that will make you happy and that is in fact exactly what it is trying its best to do.

We are in the seaside town of Rochefort (how many French towns are called Rochefort, seriously?) in the brightest summer imaginable. Yvonne runs a café on the town square while her twin daughters run a combined dancing and music school nearby. A travelling show is in town with the carnies (migrant carnival workers) frequenting the café. All three girls are looking for their dream man and have somebody special in mind.

Delphine (Catherine Deneuve), the blond twin, has seen a painting of herself and is in love with the unknown painter. It so happens that this painter is a sailor who is in love with, and searching for, this imagined girl he has never met and is frequenting Yvonne’s café. Solange (Francoise Dorléac), the auburn twin, has gotten the idea that the American musician Andy Miller is her ideal, not knowing that this guy (Gene Kelly) is in town and caught a glimpse of his dream girl, which is, surprise, Solange. And Yvonne? Well, she walked out on her fiancé 10 years ago while she was pregnant because she did not like his surname, Dame, pretending to go to Mexico, and has regretted it ever since. Lo and behold, Monsieur Dame has opened a music shop in Rochefort where one of his best customers is... Solange.

There people are walking in circles around each other and you get only one guess if they will eventually find their match.

This should not work, it is so silly. These are people who ditch a guy for having the wrong eye color or surname, but it does work. It is so happy a movie, so easy a tone and so absolutely gorgeous pictures that all the rest does not matter. The music by Michel Legrand is, again, very catchy and even the massive amount of dancing does not bother me too much.

I am not sure I could take this for too long, the saccharine level is dangerously high, but for two hours it was just fine and as a little twist Demy teases us in the end. Just when we think were all this is going, he raises a question mark and ends the movie.

In retrospect I mistrust a movie where everybody are beautiful and looking, exclusively, for someone as beautiful as they are. It is conceited and arrogant and the biggest fraud here is that the target of their dreams love them back. In the world I live in such dreams are doomed, but maybe this is why it is such a bliss to see a story play out where tedious reality has been thrown out the window.

Put your silly hat on and enjoy two hours in happy town. This is one to recommend.

Monday 18 March 2019

Belle de Jour (1967)


Dagens skønhed
“Belle de Jour” is the first of four back to back movies in French. It is not as bad as it sounds, only one of these is by Godard, and the first to feature Catherine Deneuve and that cannot be a bad thing.

“Belle de Jour” is a movie by Bunuel, who seemed to travel the world to make movies. Knowing Bunuel we are in for something out of the ordinary and he does not disappoint on that account. The opening scene alone where Deneuve’s Severine dreams she is taken for a ride in a horsecar only to be dragged out by three men, stripped, bull-whipped and then “had” by one of the men, is so spectacularly different from standard fare that we know we are in for a ride here.

Severine is married to Pierre (Jean Sorel), a surgeon, and live a comfortable upper, or sub-upper, class life. Severine is a controlled ice queen who has difficulty being physical with her husband. Instead she phantasies about being sexually humiliated and losing control, essentially the opposite of her real-life situation. Severine is painfully aware of this dichotomy and is trying to find some way to realize this fantasy without compromising her ordinary life. Instinctively she feels that exploring that avenue can unlock her sexually.

When she hears about a brothel, she decides to try it out and become a prostitute, only, living out your fantasy is not an easy thing and being a prostitute is not a romance. Yet Severine persevere and find fulfillment in being degraded from two to five every weekday. It actually does wonders to her relationship with her husband. That is, until the gangster Marcel (Pierre Clémenti) shows up. He falls in love with Severine and wants her all the time, not just between two and five. This comes to a clash where Marcel shoots and cripple Pierre only to get himself killed by the police. Pierre being helpless and learning about Severine’s “fall” apparently sets Severine entirely free.

There is a lot here I do understand and is very interesting. Severine’s attempt to unlock her sexuality through degradation oddly enough makes sense. There is a part of her she is suppressing and somehow she has to deal with it, her marriage depends on it. It is not the easiest thing to go up to your husband and tell him you want him to throw mud at you, but that is not what this is about. Sexual interaction is forbidden by Severine in her virginal state. She must crush that shell to unlock her sexuality and become a “bad” girl. Being degraded makes her “bad”. Freedom is not to have to be clean. I also understand that Marcel is a personification of her “bad” side, while Pierre is her “good” side and their annihilation means that she can reconcile her two parts, but this part of the movie did not work as well for me as the first part. On the face of it it seems that we are leaving the story of Severine trying to heal herself through the rather dangerous double life she is living, to jump into a deadly love triangle with guns and violence. It is a change of pace and topic that feels out of touch with the preceding part of the movie. Only by reading it symbolically does it fit together, and I am not entirely enamored with these literary tricks. Also, I think it is a bit excessive that Pierre has to be ruined for Severine to be healed. Less should do it.

“Belle de Jour” is a beautiful film. The restored Blu-ray version I watched has bright and sharp colors and the people, Deneuve particularly, look gorgeous. I am certain that is intended, Severine has to be a fallen angel. Considering the topic this could easily have been a very lurid movie, but we actually see remarkably little actual action. Even the discourse avoids the vulgar and coarse and I suppose this is why the movie actually works, rather than being an exposé on depravity.  It is tempting to link this movie to the much later movie “La Pianiste” where Isabelle Huppert is a woman with a similar problem, but that one does go overboard in sexual excess and becomes very uncomfortable to watch, something “Belle de Jour” never does.

It is a recommendation from me.


Wednesday 13 March 2019

Samurai Rebellion (1967)

Off-List: Samurai Rebellion
The second off-List movie of 1967 is “Samurai Rebellion” by Masaki Kobayashi, recommended to me by Bea at Flickers in Time.

This is a period piece taking place in the middle of the Shogun period (18th century), a time where Japan was totally dominated by the feudal relationships between masters and vassals. Isaburo Sasahara (Toshiro Mifune) is samurai and vassal to the daimyo of the region. He is apparently a fearsome swordsman, but also under the thumb of his wife. When the daimyo decides to dump his concubine Lady Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa) on Isaburo for her to marry his son Yogoro (Go Kato), his wife insists that he refuse. There must be something wrong with the girl if she has been dumped after she has given birth to a son. There are serious repercussions to such a refusal for Isaburo and while he disagrees with his wife, she insists and he tries to refuse, but they are forced to take her in to Isaburo’s wife’s surly chagrin.

The match turns out to be a good one. Ichi and Yogoro truly loves each other and they get a little daughter, Tomi. Then the daimyo dies, leaving Ichi’s son as the sole heir. The steward calls Ichi back to the palace since it is disgraceful that the heir’s mother is married to a mere vassal. Ichi refuses, Yogoro refuses to let her go and Isaburo, recognizing their love, supports them. Only the wife and Yogoro’s brother want to get rid of Ichi and tricks her to go to the castle. This makes Isaburo and Yogoro mighty upset and they demand her back. The steward cannot honorably back down and it ends in massive bloodshed.

The issue under discussion here is the feudal loyalty bond versus the moral right. Isaburo is bound to his liege lord as is everybody in Japan at this time and the obedience expected is absolute. But what happens when the orders become immoral? Isaburo is a good and obedient vassal, but is forced to make a call between the feudal loyalty or the moral right. In his honor codex the moral right here takes precedence, but as there is no room for this in feudal Japan he places himself outside society and becomes a rogue.

Isaburo as representative of the moral right is also underscored by the feudal master’s use of immoral methods. They blackmail Ichi, they threaten to kill her, they show up, cowardly, in force to apprehend him and in the end,  they have musketeers shoot him. To the samurai guns were dishonorable weapons and it takes dishonor to fell him. In opposition to this, Isaburo has a fight with his friend Tatewaki Asano (Tatsuya Nakadai), who guards the ports of the fiefdom, in honorable hand to hand combat where Isabura wins because he has the moral right on his side.

There is a lot to like in this movie. The depiction of the samurai era is fascinating in its own right, and this is one of the best I have seen. There is something about the formalism of everything in samurai life, talking, eating, moving, even the living spaces, that is tremendously fascinating. A highlight is of course is the swordplay. Where a western brawl may resemble a dog fight, two samurai facing off is more akin to a cat fight. The moves, jerky and sudden, the slow guarding, circling each other and the strikes, clean, fast and decisive. This is a dance and beautiful to watch, despite its horrific purpose. Compared to this, gunfight is dirty, crude and ugly.

This is not a happy movie. In fact it is terribly tragic and sad, but there is a moral beauty here that is undeniable and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

It is highly recommended.  

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Hombre (1967)

Paul Newman is quickly becoming a staple on the sixties part of the List. 1967 features two films of his as far as I can see, and Hombre is the first one of these. I never heard of this movie before, so I was very curious to see it.

In this movie Paul Newman is John Russell, a white man in the old west who has been growing up with the Apache Indians and feels more related to them than the settlers encroaching on their lands. He receives a notification that his father has died, leaving him a boarding house and a gold watch. With a haircut and a new set of cloth John returns to the land of the whites to claim his inheritance.

John immediately decides to sell the boarding house which means the eviction of the long-time warden Jessie (Diane Cilento) and the boarders including a young couple. John sets out to leave town on the stagecoach together with Jessie, the young couple, Dr. Alex Favor (Fredric March) and his wife, Audra Favor (Barbara Rush) and Cicero Grimes (Richard Boone), an unpleasant man who insists on joining the ride.

What happens next is a road trip where facades crack and real characters emerge for better or worse and in that respect this movie has a lot in common with the classic “The Stagecoach” from 1939. Instead of John Wayne’s Ringo Kid we have the Apache-minded John Russell and instead of an Apache attach the stagecoach is held up by white and Mexican bandits, but the pattern is much the same. Some of the people on the coach ride a high moral horse and falls deep. Some that look decent turn out to be the worst crooks and stereotypes are there to be broken.

In all this John Russell is a Christ figure who is sacrificed for the sins of others. He is doubted and ridiculed, but he is also above the others and the angel of justice. It is not difficult to see this movie as both being deeply entrenched in the western tradition with its tropes and stereotypes and turning it upside down with Christ character and a condemnation of the very western myths it is feeding on. Here the Indians are not the wild scourge of the West, but the victims of avarice and broken promises. Life in the Western hamlet is not one of opportunity but a dead-end that everybody wants to leave behind. Even the common notion of decency is perverted and abused. Leaving Audra to roast in the sun is inhuman, but the same people who complains would happily let the Apache die of starvation.

It is this juxtaposition of the classic and the modern western that makes an otherwise simple and straight forward western interesting to watch. It is an easy watch and pleasant enough at that, but these deeper motives elevate it above the standard fare. In that way it reminded me of “Hud”, another movie by director Martin Ritt.

Paul Newman himself I thought was less convincing as a white Apache. He tried, but at times it just looked weird. Something about his gait that made it look artificial.  Still, it did not ruin the movie even if this was not the performance of his career.

“Hombre” definitely deserves a recommendation from me. Especially if you would like a different take on the classic western.


Friday 1 March 2019

Report (1967)

“Report” is another one of the many wonderful experimental movies on the List… ahem…

While the soundtrack consists of tv and, presumably, radio reports on and around the murder of John F. Kennedy, the visuals is an odd mix of tv clips from the shooting and short clips of all sorts. Some of these clips relate to death and destruction while others are of a more peaceful nature.

The whole thing lasts 13 minutes.

I did not dislike this movie, which is a huge improvement over most of the experimental movies on the List, but I cannot say that I actually get it.

The murder on John F. Kennedy was a major event and this is obviously at the core of this film. It is tempting to think it is a media critique, relating to the coverage and even obsession with the murder, but I suppose it is open for interpretation.

I watch this with a bemused interest, but it does not generate anything but a slight uncomfortability, telling me that life can be hard and brutal.

There is not much else for me to say about “Report”.