Cléo 5 to 7

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Agnés Varda’s 1962 film Cléo 5 to 7 focuses on a beautiful, young singer during the two hours she’s waiting to hear whether she has cancer or not. She’s had her tests and the doctor said to call him at 7. How do you occupy yourself right before you’re going to get such a diagnosis?

Cléo first goes to a fortune teller. She gets her cards read, but the fortune teller gets upset when asked to read Cléo’s palm. Things do not look good. From there Cléo and her maid go shopping and we see how much more grounded and practical her maid is. Sure anyone would be on edge and jumpy at this time, but we figure, given her purchase of a winter fur hat, bought purely to annoy her maid, that Cléo is capricious.

The film made me sympathetic to Cléo. She’s a rising star, but she’s surrounded by men who have little time or respect for her. It’s not till she’s in a park right before 7 when she meets a fellow that she might be able to trust. Her maid and friend are reliable and trustworthy, but really, when you’re about to learn if you have terminal cancer, you are pretty alone.

There’s a lot of attention given to the strangers Cléo passes who’re living as if they have forever (though one stranger certainly does not). These little snippets of action and conversation spice and show what life really is like and how we aren’t the center of anyone’s drama.

The lead Corrine Marchard does a fine job as Cléo bringing her to life in a way that we see her as more than a dizzy singer with a bit of bad luck. Yes, she’s got privilege and doesn’t understand fully how much, but we still want to learn more and understand Cléo better.

The camera work in the film is inspired and masterful, creating a look that remains fresh today.

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Andrew Klavan Interview

Screenwriter Andrew Klavan talks about his views on being a conservative in Hollywood.

The Life of Émile Zola

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The film character doesn’t look like this

As I’ve recently finished Germinal, when I saw the film The Life of Émile Zola (1937) displayed with Oscar Best Picture winners, I had to watch it. Starring Paul Muni, The Life of Émile Zola begins with Zola sharing a cold garret apartment with Cezanne. Both are struggling to launch their creative careers, while trying not to freeze to death. Soon Zola meets a prostitute in a café, hears her life story, writes a novel based on it. When it’s published it’s criticized for its immorality and it flies off the bookstore shelves. Still poor, Zola goes to the book seller who published the book to beg for a small advance. Instead he gets a check for 30,000 francs. He’s rich!

Zola continues to write popular books and lives in comfort and luxury with his wife in Paris. One day his still struggling friend Cezanne drops by to announce that he’s off to the South of France to paint. Paris is no longer the place for him. Before leaving, he feels compelled to point out that Zola has become materialistic and complacent. He’s lost his ideals. This opens Zola’s eyes.

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The story shifts to the army office where treasonous letters are found and the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus is soon arrested and sent to prison. The Dreyfus Affair is a dark corner of French history, showing how quick the army leaders were to allow their Anti-Semitism to condemn an innocent man with out fair due process. The very odd aspect of this Warner Bros. film is that the anti-semitism is never mentioned. If you didn’t know about the history, you wouldn’t realize that Dreyfus was Jewish and that was a factor in his arrest and imprisonment. A 2013 New York Times article stated that studio head  Jack Warner, who was Jewish himself, insisted that any mention of Jewish heritage be removed from the film.

When Dreyfus’ wife pleads with the comfortable bourgeois Zola, she convinces him that the right thing to do is to take up Dreyfus’ cause. The famous article “J’accuse!” results and Zola’s soon arrested for libel. A fierce courtroom battle ensues where Zola is the David to the powerful government’s Goliath. (This time David loses though.)

While this chapter of history is worthy of a film, this production is outdated. To whitewash the events by editing out anti-semitism makes no sense. Muni’s Zola hops around the scenes and is so almost comical in his vibrancy, that it’s hard to take him seriously. Other characters like his wife, Cezanne and the military leaders are one dimensional. The film was the Best Picture of 1937 and won other awards, but it doesn’t stand up to the test of time.

The Crown

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After several friends recommended, Netflix’s The Crown, I’ve started watching. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot in my heart for British historical dramas from Downton Abbey to Victoria. The BBC and itv have won me over.

I did wonder how the American Netflix would do telling the story of the current royal family. From the start it’s clear that Netflix spared no expense in this lush drama with exquisite, expensive costumes and magnificent palace settings. I’ve finished the first season, which contains a lot of flashbacks to contextualize the history. When the story begins King George VI is sickly and Elizabeth is newly married and while educated to become queen, she figures that’s a ways off. Within a few episodes, King George passes away and Elizabeth becomes queen.

Her first Prime Minister is Winston Churchill, who’s played by John Lithgow. Lithgow does a splendid job as Churchill.

One major plot line, that I wasn’t aware of, is Princess Margaret’s romance with Peter Townsend, her father’s personal secretary. Townsend is much older than Margaret and married. This is quite a juicy part of the series. When Townsend gets divorced, he hopes to marry Margaret, however, these plans are foiled because there’s a Royal Marriage Act that prevents royals from marrying without the Sovereign’s approval until they’re 26 years old. In season 1 Margaret is 23. The new queen can’t approve the wedding because although people are starting to divorce more, the royal family is not supposed to in any way approve divorce. Elizabeth is head of the church and the church is against divorce. That confused me since the reason the Church of England began was because Henry VIII wanted to get a divorce. He was a terrible model for morality so I’m wondering how the modern royal family became bound to live by high standards.

Claire Foy does an exemplary job as Elizabeth II. Her voice and mannerisms make be believe she is the queen. Matt Smith does resemble Prince Philip whom I knew was no saint, but now see his cavalier, playboy-ish. I think Smith’s prince is a bit gawkier than the real one, but I wasn’t born at the time shown in the series. Perhaps Philip’s posture was more bent over.

Continue reading “The Crown”

Victoria, Season 2, Finale

Comfort & Joy

Sunday was the finale for this season’s Victoria. I’m not sure what I’ll do on Sunday evenings till Poldark returns in September. (I realize Little Women comes in May, but I’m not that sold on it. I think it’ll be fine but not as captivating. I hope I’m wrong.)

This episode mainly takes place at Christmas and Albert has Christmas Fever. His enthusiasm for having lots of Christmas decorations and carols was fun at first, till his desire for a perfect Christmas becomes irrational and annoying. It’s actually his subconscious way to cope with Uncle Leopold’s claim that he is Albert’s true father..

The episode begins with an officer in Africa saving a little girl whose tribe has been decimated. She’s a princess of a defeated tribe, and  Forbes, told the winning chief that his Queen wanted her. So the poor girl is traded off and Mr. Forbes and his wife take her in. Eventually, the officer takes her to the Queen who takes her in and treats her just line any of her own. Well, in fact, she seems more caring towards Sara, whom she feels great sympathy towards. Yet, all the while, Sara misses her new home with the Forbes.

Uncle Leopold has forced himself as an uninvited guest, his favorite role. Albert tries to force himself to be kind as he’s got Christmas Fever. Victoria is less blind to Leopold’s faults. Like all Brits, she’s not used to Christmas trees and such for Christmas. It was Albert who’s responsible for bringing German traditions to England.

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As if Leopold wasn’t a bad enough, Victoria’s most envious, plotting uncle has returned from Germany – Duke of Cumberland. He came to claim a favorite, expensive diamond necklace. Distressed by the uncle who wanted her dead, Victoria hoped to get some support from Albert, but he was so concerned with his perfect Christmas that he brushed her off. Since Victoria was still getting used to living in the palace without Lehzen, her lifelong supporter. She sure could use a husband who’s offers some support. Albert thought the necklace was insignificant, though giving it to Cumberland gives him strength and probably would result in emboldening him to try some other power play. Then Albert was critical of Victoria for mothering Sara as she did.

Yet in spite of Albert’s behavior, when Victoria was out with Sara and she sees Albert skating on thin ice, when he falls through the ice, Victoria goes into rescue mode and risks her safety, perhaps her life, to pull him out. That was quite a scary moment, and one that actually happened.

While Ernest manages to show kindness to Harriet, who’s understandably upset with him for standing her up when she expected he’d propose. Yet that nasty rash persists, and though Uncle Leo thinks it’s no big deal to hide his condition from a fiancée, Ernest has more principles. So he does tell Harriet it’s over, though he should have.

The episode concludes with Ernest giving Albert some brotherly advice and perspective. Albert’s dreams of a perfect Christmas is a delusion. They did not grow up with ideal Christmases. Victoria comes to see that Sara misses life with Mrs. and Captain Forbes so Victoria sends her back with them, though she always stayed in contact and did pay for her education.

I’ll miss my Sunday night Victoria episodes. Little Women debuts in May, but I don’t know what’s on PBS in the meantime. I’m not expecting much from Little Women, but I hope I’m wrong. I think my feeling’s due to my familiarity with Little Women, while Victoria and Poldark were all new to me.

I’ve enjoyed this second season, despite Albert’s occasional peevishness and the departure of Lehzen, Drummond and Lord Peel.