Wednesday 29 November 2023

Blade Runner (1982)


Blade Runner

Before I started this project, if anybody asked me for my favorite movie, my default answer would have been “Blade Runner”. Some 700 movies down the line and some amazing movies under the belt, I am not so certain anymore and yet, “Blade Runner” continues to have that special in my heart. Last night’s revisit confirmed that. As if I needed confirmation. I doubt there is any movie I have watched as many times as “Blade Runner”. I know the dialogue line for line and there was a period where I would put the soundtrack on every night before going to bed. Yeah, I am a fanboy.

For those who have watched this less than a hundred times, “Blade Runner” takes place in 2019, yup, four years ago, but also 37 years into the future as seen from 1982. The Earth is a messed up place, ruined, presumably, by pollution, and humanity has gone into space. Artificial humans, replicants, have been constructed to cope with hardships in space, but on Earth they are outlawed. A special unit of policemen, blade runners, seek them out and retire them. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is such a blade runner.

A group of replicants have returned to Earth and are trying to gain access to the Tyrell corporation, the company who makes the replicants. For safety reasons replicants have a lifespan of only four years and this group is trying to do something about that. Deckard is tasked to find them and retire them.

The first impression is that “Blade Runner” is a neo-noir. A classic private eye story with femme fatale’s, uncertain plots and a dystopian world. The cinematic version even had the cliché voice-over. Something later editions thankfully ditched. This narrative is actually the least interesting thing about the movie. Philip Marlowe cyberpunk.

A level below this narrative we find a number of allusions to what it means to be human, a religious fable of the children of God seeking out their maker to challenge him with their lot and a paradise lost tale of Eve biting the forbidden fruit and losing her place in Eden. The wonderful thing about “Blade Runner” is that it is so open to interpretation and leaves clues everywhere. My personal favorite is the sub-plot around Rachel (Sean Young) who start out as an aloof and almost mechanical human, but as she discovers she is herself a replicant, she loses the disciplined surface and reveals her humanity, symbolized by letting her hair out and allowing Deckard to come in. The lost son motif featuring the replicant Roy (Rutger Hauer) is also very strong with him using a “saint” (J.F. Sebastian, Wiliam Sanderson) to gain access to his creator, who is a lonely creature in the forbidding and aloof Tyrell headquarters, i.e. God.

Yet, the element I love more than anything in the movie is the ambience. Yes, it is dystopian, but there is a deep pervading melancholia that gets deep under the skin, strongly driven by the soundtrack and a phenomenal cinematography, This has never ever been done better. Period. When you watch the movie over and over, you discover all these small gems, pieces of music, décor, ambience, a mystifying scene here and there, an ambiguous exchange of dialogue, and everything is so loaded. With meaning, with emotion, with anguish. It is a candy store for the movie lover and it represents everything that science fictions can do when it is great and not just an excuse for special effects.

Talking of special effects, a lot have been made of the special effects in “Blade Runner”, but they are different from the usual effect feast. In “Blade Runner” they are subdued and primarily serve to enhance the ambience of the scene. There are remarkably few explosions and stunts, but every scene has that little special effect that takes us to this terrible, hostile and yet very familiar world of “Blade Runner”.

“Blade Runner” has been formative for me. I would not be the same person had it not been for “Blade Runner”. The best assignment I had in high school was to analyze “Blade Runner” as a post-modernist type case, for which purpose we watched it five times in the school’s basement. When I read or watch science fiction, “Blade Runner” is the golden standard. To me it is not Han Solo chasing replicants, it is Deckard flying the Millenium Falcon.

Yeah, this may still be my favorite movie of all time.


Sunday 26 November 2023

Poltergeist (1982)



I am continuing my trip down memory lane. 1982 was crammed with movies that have had vast influence on me, one way or another. “Poltergeist” is another such movie and this, I am afraid, not for anything positive. Mind you, I was barely nine years old when it was released and E.T. figures were the greatest thing in the world (right after pocket sized video games) and even the little I actually saw of this movie scared the shit out of me. Some of the scenes from “Poltergeist” haunted my nightmares for the better part of a decade after that and even the mentioning of the movie or references to it was enough to trigger anxiety. My relationship to this movie is a very good argument for age limits on movies. This time is the first time I have watched “Poltergeist” since back then. I am facing demons here.

In hindsight it feels rather silly. Although “Poltergeist” was directed by Tobe “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Hooper, this is very much a Steven Spielberg movie and that softens the impact of it quite a bit. At least now it does. It lets us know with some certainty that the principal characters will come out on top and there will be some sort of closure. We will also be looking at this with some sort of childish wonder, even when things get scary. Nobody told me that as a child, but watching it now it is rather easy to dispel the power this movie has had over me all these years. That does not mean this movie is not a scary experience or in any way fails to be convincing. Horror movies have just gotten a long way, especially in terms of jump scares, since then. A movie like “Smile” freaked me out a lot more than this rewatch of “Poltergeist”.

In this house, it is my wife who is into horror movies. She fell asleep about two-thirds in.

Steve (Craig Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams) live in the suburban community of Cuesta Verde with their three children Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins) and little 5-year-old Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Carol Anne talks to what she calls the TV people. She hears them when the TV is showing statics and she is not really afraid of them. That changes when they come out of the television and start redecorating the house. One fateful night Robbie is almost eaten by a tree (!?) and Carol Anne is sucked into the spirit world through a portal in her closet. Now she can only communicate with her family through the static signal on the TV.

Understandably upset, Diane and Steve get help from paranormal investigators from the local university (Ghostbusters, two years before that became a thing). Clearly in over their head, they seek further assistance from a medium, Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), who looks and sounds like something straight out of a David Lynch movie. Together they seek an explanation and embark on a risky rescue mission.

The deeper explanation? Well, as everybody should know by now, never build your home on top of a cemetery.

The two things that stand out in “Poltergeist” are firstly how successful the cinematography is. The setting, the special effects and the characters are believable and convincing and the hair-raising effect of seeing the little girl talking to the television is very powerful. Especially if you are yourself a child. I can vouch for that. Production value is top notch here and I think Spielberg would not have settled for less. The spirits have an uncanny similarity to those from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and that is likely not a coincidence.

Secondly, the human (or “living”) side of the equation is not powerless. Combined, they are resourceful, and they can and do fight back. It is a VERY uphill battle, but there is something they can do and be successful about. Something modern horror seems to have forgotten. This hopeful element, which definitely comes from Spielberg himself, changes the movie from bleak disaster to something almost uplifting. It is still scary as hell, but it is not despondent. The child in me does appreciate that and it earns it extra points from me.

It was good for me to watch it again. The jump scares still have me on edge (jump scares always do, I am SOOOO easy), but the demonic grip this movie had on me have been dispelled. I would even rate this as a good movie, but please please keep it away from children.


Friday 24 November 2023

First Blood (1982)


Off-List: First Blood

1982 was a year of movie legends, specifically movies that may have come out to modest success or appreciation but over the years have gathered a large following and, and in many cases, founded a franchise. “First Blood” is one such movie. It did well at the box office, but less so by the critics. To posterity, however, it is known as “Rambo I”, founder of the Rambo franchise.

I was not in it to begin with. Rambo is not really for nine-year olds, and my first experience was with the computer game and the later movies. In retrospect, though, “First Blood” is by far the best of the series and works perfectly well as a stand-alone feature.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is travelling through the Pacific Northwest, searching for one of the few survivors from his unit in Vietnam, only to learn he died from cancer he contracted while in service. Leaving the homestead of his friend’s family, he approaches the town with the ill-fitting name of Hope. The sheriff of Hope, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), does not like drifters and see it as his duty to keep his town clean of them. He therefore gives Rambo a ride to the other side of town and lets him know in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome. The fact that he is a veteran carries no weight at all. Rambo figures he will go into town to eat anyway so Teasle arrests him for vagrancy.

The staff at the police station do their best to humiliate Rambo, especially Deputy Sergeant Galt (Jack Starrett). For a while Rambo stoically eats it, but eventually he snaps, knocks down the officers and escapes on a hijacked motorbike into the mountains.

What follows next is a manhunt getting larger and more intense with every setback it encounters. It does not matter how many men get hurt, Teasle will not yield, Rambo is going down. Rambo’s commanding officer in Vietnam, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) shows up, telling Teasle he is wasting his men in a hopeless chase, but that just pisses off Teasle even more. Meanwhile, we are getting a 101 in jungle asymmetric warfare by Rambo, who pulls off one amazing stunt after the next on his pursuers.

“First Blood” can be seen for exactly that, one man’s fight against superior forces, one good man who is able to outsmart the bad guys even though they hold all the advantages. And it is good at that. It is intense, inventive and clever. Compared to the later installments of this franchise, everything is within the human possible and Rambo stands as an example of a single elite fighter against a bunch of redneck Sunday warriors. Well, a slightly contrived example admittedly, but the point is that Rambo is not a superhero, he is exactly what America created to fight the war in Vietnam and now the same country has declared war on him.

And that is the second way to look at the film and where this becomes interesting. This is really about the ingratitude of the country to the veterans. Teasle and his gang feel no appreciation for Rambo. To them, he is a hobo and later a menace. They have locked their door for returning veterans. Zooming out from the local community, John Rambo is a tool that has been discarded and the only difference from him and other discarded tools is that he is highly capable. So rather than being appreciated for what the country has made him become, he is chased or in the best case ignored, getting jobs like parking cars.

“First Blood” was one of the first, and really started a wave of, movies about returning veterans and while this wave was specifically aimed at Vietnam veterans, a string of wars since have made this subject relevant until today and not just in America.

Whether you see this as an action movie or a social conscience movie, it works amazingly well. Compared to the fare of the early eighties on both accounts, it stands out as having aged surprisingly well. Sylvester Stallone was already an established star at this time, but for my generation he is more associated with the Rambo character than the Rocky character. Rambo became a by-word for super soldier the world over.

My rewatch of “First Blood” confirmed everything I remembered about the movie and in a very strong year, I still think the List made a mistake leaving this one out. Recommended.

Monday 20 November 2023

The Thing (1982)


Det gruesomme udefra

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is one of those movies that have always flown under the radar for me. That is, until I watched a documentary series by James Cameron a few years ago on science fiction movies that made a lot out of this movie. It looked like a total miss that I never watched it and, knowing it would come up on the List, I braced myself with patience.

Now, I have finally watched it and I can see why a lot of people like it, it has a lot going for it. The reason I am not jumping up and down is that “Alien” was there already three years before and did it better.

The peace on an American research station in Antarctica is disturbed when a dog on the run from some crazy Norwegians seek shelter at the base. The staff find the Norwegians a lot more disturbing than the dog, so they kill the Norwegians and take in the dog. Bad choice. The dog turns out to be a shapeshifting monster from outer space (the “Thing”), which kills and then imitate its victim. It is impossible to tell who is human and who is a space monster and consequently paranoia runs amok.

The helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) takes charge and even device a method to recognize who are humans, but as more and more die, it becomes clear that no one will get out of this alive and, more importantly, the alien must be kept away from human civilization.

Bleak stuff.

“The Thing” is essentially a “Ten little Indians” story. One by one the staff is taken out and the focus of the movie is partly on the paranoia everybody gets caught up in and partly the gory attacks of the monster. And it is really a focus to the extent that there is little else to the movie. Most of the characters are rather flat, there is room for no other topic, but who is next? On the upside, those two elements are done brilliantly.

The monster itself is alien, awful, gory and cunning and the special effects displaying all this are nothing less than amazing. This is a tour de force on what was possible before CGI and even the most outrageous of the displays look real and believable and for that reason so much scarier. I am neither a big expert nor a fan of horror movies, but my amateurish guess is that this is up there among the best when it comes to the monster.

Paranoia always works best in an enclosed space with a limited number of people and here we get both. It is quite amazing that it is possible to fill so much of the movie’s running time with people circling each other with ever increasing madness, but there you are, and it is quite successful as that.

The problem, as I wrote above, is that “Alien” did much the same in 1979 and both Nostromo and the Xenomorph were cooler than the Antarctic research station and the Thing. There is a strong element of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” here as well, but again, it becomes a reboot of something that was itself hugely successful. Combining those two stories may be inspired and my guess is that this will be enough for many viewers, particularly when done with this intensity. My problem is just that I keep thinking about the movie I would rather watch, missing that dark, quiet, sneaky threat. That sense that if you turn around, it is right behind you.

Ultimately, this makes “The Thing” good, but not great for me. I understand why it is liked, if not loved, but I cannot give it that last appraisal. Something about it is just too thin.


Saturday 18 November 2023

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)



I remember when E.T. came out. Not because I watched the movie at the time, going to the cinema was not something we did a lot, but the E.T. figures were the rage. Like in frenzy rage. Most of my classmates would have a figure or a doll, the bigger the better. Some with light in the finger and some who would say the famous line “E.T. phone home”. The fad did not last, none does in second and third grade, but while it lasted, there was nothing else in the world.

E.T. is a classic movie that holds up well, here 41 years later. I watched it last night with my wife and son and it still keeps us engaged, we still feel that lump in the throat and my son would grip my arm and not let go. Mind you, we have all watched it before and not just once. It is the quintessential family movie.

E.T. is an extra-terrestrial botanist who gets left behind on Earth when his spaceship must leave in a hurry. He seeks refuge in the shed of a suburban house and is discovered by ten-year old Elliot (Henry Thomas). Elliot lives in the house with older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and recently separated mother Mary (Dee Wallace). E.T. and Elliot befriend each other and are soon linked on a mental level, sharing their emotions. The children keep E.T. as a secret and Mary only late discovers the alien, ignorant mostly through her own distraction.

The alien needs to go home and while learning to communicate with the children, he builds a communicator to call his spaceship, which they rig up in the forest. It is during this excursion we get the famous shot of Elliot and E.T. on bicycle, sailing past a full moon. It is almost too late for E.T. though. Something on Earth does not agree with him and he turns very ill. Through their link Elliot shares the illness. At this point agents of, presumably, a government agency, enters and takes over E.T. In their hands E.T. finally succumbs. Or does he? Will his spaceship arrive in time to save him?

Steven Spielberg famously explained that the story of Elliot and his family is based on his own childhood and how he dreamed of meeting an alien. A fantasy he also lived out in “Close Encounters”. This connection with Elliot and his family is clearly felt in how fleshed out they are in the movie. This looks and feels like a real family with none of the glamour or crisis of most other movie families. The biggest issue for them is the absent father and the very mundane stresses of just getting along. The ordinariness of this family is what makes the encounter with the fantastic being which is E.T. work so well. We feel it is us meeting the creature and experiencing the adventure. There is nothing spectacular about these children beyond the love they share with E.T. and each other and that love we feel as well. This is what makes this so solid a family movie.

It is amazing how well E.T. holds up after all these years. Look past the dated haircuts and it looks and feels very modern. Part of that can be ascribed to Spielberg’s very talented team, but a large part is also that E.T, the movie, has been admired ever since and has stood as the beacon of what a family movie should be like. A lot of this movie has been imitated, copied or inspired countless times ever since. Make it look and feel like E.T. and you have done it right. Even Spielberg himself has used it as his golden standard. This admiration runs the risk of making the original look cliché, but it is so good that it stands above that. 41 years down the line, E.T. is as effective as it was back when we all ran around with a doll with a light bulb in the finger.

I should mention the most famous actor to come out of this movie, Drew Barrymore. We all know what an astonishing career she has been having, and there, as little Gertie, we can see where it all came from. I think few people can watch E.T. and not fall a bit in love with that little girl.

1982 starts very strong and I have a wonderful program ahead of me for the next few weeks.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1981)


Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I am struggling with my review of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. Or more precisely, I am struggling with my opinion of this movie. It sounds like something that should be great. A teenage movie about high school children going through all those awkward things teenagers deal with: friendships, sex, jobs, school and an undefined future. Irresponsibility and doing things for the heck of it. Since “American Graffiti” this has been the recipe for fun, if juvenile, movies. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” has a cast that is sort of a who is who of the eighties and a very neat production value. Why do I then sit back with a “meh” feeling?

I have spent a few days contemplating that and my best answer is a complete anachronism: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” must have been made by an AI!

The AI was fed with all the ingredients such a film should have: A stoned surfer dude, the shy, inexperienced guy, a know-it-all, the neighbors daughter, the experienced girl, a bit of school, but only enough to present the really intolerable teachers, a bit of sex, not too much mind you, just some breast here and there, as few parents as possible, a party and some sport game to bring the school together. Preferably use some up-and-coming actors, but for heaven’s sake not real teenagers. You cannot miss. Problem is, it is not funny, and I care only minimally for the characters. I think I smiled once (when Brad wanks off to a dream of Linda and she walks in on him, very juvenile), but instead of developing the joke, it just stops there.

It is a fairly chaotic movie, mostly based on vignettes, so a summary can only be sketchy. We follow a group of high school students from Ridgemont High, but since almost all of them work at the local mall, most of the movie takes place there. Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Linda (Poebe Cates) are friends and spend their time at their food stand discussing boys and particularly sex. Stacy has a one-night stand with an older guy who immediately after disappears and Stacy then hooks up with Mark “Rat” (Brian Backer). Rat has a biology class with Stacy and a serious crush on her. He works as an usher at the mall cinema and after some coaching by his dodgy, know-it-all friend Damone (Robert Romanus), he works up the courage to invite her out. When he does not want to have sex with Stacy, she is disappointed and jumps on Damone instead. He makes her pregnant and then ditches her. Stacy’s brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) messes up a number of jobs until he comes into his own saving a 7-11 from a robbery. Surfer dude Spicoli (Sean Penn) makes poor friends with the tough history teacher, Mr. Hand (!) (Ray Walston), but they make up in the end. Also, he wrecks football star Jefferson’s (Forest Whitaker) car.

Yeah, that is sort of it. The vignette format means that it is all a bit disjointed and I had some difficulty working out the point of some of the characters, until I realized that the characters or the scene is there because it is part of the formula. There is no true rebellion anywhere, very little development of character, most scenes are so exaggerated they lose resemblance anything I would recognize, but worst of all, it is not funny.

In many ways this all sounds very much like “American Pie” around 20 years later, but despite being not less juvenile, it was actually fun and, crazy as it sounds, it saves it. No such mercy for “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.

The most amusing element of the movie is the game of spot-the-star. Half the characters went on to have great careers and even those who did not are quite recognizable from other movies in the eighties. There is even a short part for Nicolas Cage.

I keep coming back to how similar and yet completely different “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is to the previous movie I watched, the Danish movie “Kundskabens træ”. Despite taking place in the fifties, it was completely recognizable, it used real teenagers who were hardly actors and had both a deeply sincere story to tell and the hilarity of teenage pranks that were actually funny. Everything “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” does not even though they cover exactly the same territory.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was disappointing, but probably mostly because I expected so much more. It is a movie I wondered why I never heard of it and now I know why.


Wednesday 8 November 2023

Kundskabens træ (1981)


Kundskabens Træ

When I was looking for a Danish addition to the 1981 group of movies, I immediately thought of “Kundskabens træ” and went ahead to acquire it, only to shortly after realize that this movie is actually included on the Danish edition of the List. There are not that many local additions to the Danish List and sometimes they are not even Danish, but “Kundskabens træ” is one of those special movies most people my age will know or know of. It made quite an impact and was watched by one million people in the cinema, which amounts to 20% of the country’s population.

“Kundskabens træ” (literally The Tree of Knowledge, referencing Genesis) is a movie by Nils Malmros about a school class of children from 1958 to 1960. During that period the children grow from around 13 to 15 years old and we therefore follow them into early puberty with all the awkwardness and confusion that entails. While the camera does follow all the children and exposes a lot of the dynamics between them, we particularly follow Elin (Eva Gram Schjoldager). Elin is to begin with a full member of the social circles, but, maturing earlier than the other girls, she gets frozen out. She gets popular with the boys, but when Helge (Martin Lysholm Jepsen) attempts to take it to the next level, Elin turns him down. She is not ready. A feeling largely driven by Elin’s unfeeling parents. Helge, his pride hurt, starts telling stories about her and combined with the envy of the other girls, she soon find herself very much alone. There is very little Elin can do, there is support from nowhere, least of all her parents and she passes from one humiliation to the next.

There is no happy ending to the core story, it really is very depressing and while there is a lot of comedy in the general portrait of the children and their awkwardness, it is always colored by the sad feeling of being outside, such as when Elin, pressured by her mother to host a party, gets told on the phone that they cannot come after all because they had forgotten there was to be a party at another girl’s home. Or when her former friends form groups in class to keep her out. Elin internalizes it all until the end where it boils over, but we feel that pain all the way.

Although this is a movie that takes place in the late fifties, it is all very familiar. Most people will recognize these scenes from their early youth, and I suppose most people will find somebody to relate to in the movie. I think they were a bit earlier out with the dancing and kissing than I remember from my youth, but the dynamics is certainly very recognizable. It is also very particular for “Kundskabens Træ”, and Nils Malmros’ movies in general, that it takes place in Århus in Jylland. From those not familiar with Danish Geography, Århus is the second largest city in the country and very much represents the province. All the actors, particularly the children, have this very distinct Århus accent and quite a bit of the mannerism is different from what you would see in Copenhagen. I took my masters in Århus and spent six years there and when the class goes on a school trip is to Rold Skov, 15 km from where I grew up. This is very much my home turf. If anything, it made me feel even more at home with these children.

Movies that depend on child actors are always problematic. Children are not professional actors, and their acting is often too much or too little, but this is never the case in “Kundskabens træ”. If this movie stands out for something special, it is how natural it all looks. I never got that feeling that they are acting, but bought into the story 100%. That is an achievement.

Nils Malmros was compared to Truffaut, with reference to his “The 400 Blows” and there are a lot of comparisons, but “Kundskabens Træ” is also uniquely Danish, and Malmros managed to tap into this in an uncannily recognizable way, and you cannot watch this without feeling a bit guilty yourself for the Elins you do not help in your childhood. If you were not an Elin yourself.

“Kundskabens Træ” is one of the best movies ever produced in Denmark and is well worth the watch. It did get international recognition and I think an international audience will also get a lot out of it. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Diva (1981)


I watched “Diva” yesterday and have since spent quite a few hours trying to work out this movie. The narrative is complicated, but at the same time ridiculously simple and I understand most of it well. What baffles me is how all those threads and components actually mesh into a coherent movie. The short answer is that they do not, which may actually be the point.

The central character of this movie is Jules (Frédéric Andréi). He is a young postman who lives in a workshop of sorts. Here he has built a temple for opera music with all sorts of technical equipment, especially for the soprano Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhemenia Fernandez) with whom he is completely infatuated. One night at the opera he clandestinely records her performance (and steals her dress). This is significant in two ways: Hawkins has never allowed any recordings to be made of her, making Jules’ recording the only one in existence and, secondly, sitting right behind Jules, two Taiwanese music pirates notice the recording and now they want it.

A second storyline concerns a gangster ring dealing in trafficking and drugs. One of the prostitutes has a recording incriminating the ringleader and she is killed just after dumping her tape into Jules’ postbag. The twist here is that the boss of the policemen investigating the gangster ring and the ringleader is the same person. Not really a spoiler, we learn that early on.

Jules is now hunted by three parties: The Taiwanese for the opera tape, the police for being a witness to the murder of the prostitute and two gangsters, known as “The West Indian” and “The Priest” (Gérard Darmon and Dominique Pinon), for the incriminating tape. Fortunately, Jules receives help from a very odd couple, the wealthy and eccentric Serge Gorodish (Richard Bohringer) and his girlfriend, Alba (Thuy An Luu).

Frankly, this is a mishmash. There is the odd love story between Jules and Cynthia, the weird but terribly clever Gorodish and the three chase groups. There seems to be a social critique of corrupt authorities, a praise of pure art and a big nod towards film noir. As a crime thriller it is almost a joke as the big reveal comes very early (the identity of the kingpin) and the chases are almost comical or at least stylized with Gorodish outsmarting everybody James Bond style. The point, I suppose, is to not be so focused on the narrative, but the appearance of the movie.

This is indeed what this movie is famous for and the alleged reason for including it on the List. It has been celebrated as the movie that started the “Cinéma du look” genre, which is supposed to emphasize style to content. This I understand means to look terribly cool without too much concern for what is actually going on. If that is indeed so, it would explain a lot in the movie. It is both a visual and audio feast. Everything looks and sounds spectacular. The workshop Jules lives in, the apartment (and the lighthouse) of Gorodish, the chase scenes and so on. Both the Taiwanese in their sunglasses and the gangsters look awesome. I bet Travolta and Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” were referencing Pinon and Darmon. On the audio side, we get to hear a lot of opera and in a good way (opera can be unpleasant, but not here) and when it is not opera, the music is either sorrowful and pretty or high-speed cliché action movie tracks. Everything for the senses is loaded high.

As a viewer, this is a bit challenging. You want to go for the narrative and there is enough narrative that you do follow it. It is not obscure as Godard would have done it, but then you are thrown off by the odd set of pieces it consists of. It seems to me that the way to watch it is to step back and enjoy the elements rather than the narrative. Tarantino made this his trademark, but a decade before “Reservoir Dogs”, this style was already practiced in France. In that light, “Diva” gains a lot more value and meaning. It almost begs a repeat viewing, wearing those glasses.

“Diva” has allegedly become a cult classic, and I can see why. At first, I was ready to dismiss it, but the more I consider it, the better I like it, so I guess that makes it a recommendation from me.