Archive for the 'Classic' Category

20
Mar
15

Chronicle of a Summer

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chronicle-of-a-summer

I’d heard the term “cinema verite” and like many wrongly thought that referred to a film that’s extremely realistic. It turns out that’s not exactly right. For my classic movie resolution, I watched Chronicle of a Summer by the inventors of cinema verite, two French sociologists. Cinema verite is a sociological film that forces people to come to the truth. Released in 1961, captured on black and white film, which adds a filter of reality that color couldn’t strangely enough, Chronicle of a Summer sets out to prompt real people to come in contact with truth through interviews and discussions that begin with the simple question: Are you happy? The directors behind the film are Jean Rouch, an engineer turned ethnological filmmaker who mainly worked in Africa and Edgar Morin, a sociologist based in Paris.

With two directors, the film does have two distinct moods. Viewers can feel when the somber, analytical Morin is in charge or when the more playful Rouch has the reins. The film begins with a woman agreeing to interview people on the street asking subjects whether they’re happy. It turns out that in Paris in 1960 few were. Still the film gets under your skin. Though neither director has gone to film school, the creative shots grabbed me and did feel very real. At times the film just shows people, working in a factory, eating lunch, walking down a street. They’re shown in their individualism in a way that’s compelling and fresh. I liked some of the subjects more than others. For the most part, the subjects came off as sincere and they presented a snapshot of life in 1960. I found the ending simple and powerful. Rouch and Morin gather their subjects for a screening of the film followed by a discussion. We hear their reactions whether they thought some people were exhibitionists or authentic, whether the whole endeavor was true to life or indecent. People were honest and through this scene were elevated beyond just being “performers” or “subjects” to being co-creators. Chronicle of a Summer is a Criterion Collection film and as usual features some worthwhile bonuses. The best was an insightful interview with Faye Ginsberg, who worked with Jean Rouch after he made this film.

23
Feb
15

Jeux Interdict, Forbidden Games

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Set in WWII, Jeux Inderdict (Forbidden Games) follows Paulette, a girl of maybe 5, who’s fleeing Paris with her parents. Refugees run along a country road as I suppose they do now in the Middle East. As war planes bomb a bridge, refugees seek cover. Paulette gets separated from her parents as she runs after her little dog. Soon, both parents and her dog are killed by German bullets. Paulette’s left to wander amongst the refugees.

Eventually, Paulette crosses paths with Michel Dollé, an older farm boy who’s searching for a cow that’s scared by the bombs and shooting. Michel brings Paulette to his poor family and they take her in. There’s no other place for her to go, other than to the neighbors, whom they view as snobs. The father does not want the neighbors to get a good write up in the local paper for taking in a war orphan.

Though he’s probably about 9 or 10, Michel’s the most educated of his family. He knows all the prayers by heart and regales Paulette with facts about animals and religion.

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Paulette’s been carrying around her dead puppy and Michel convinces her to bury it. When Paulette sees a cross in the Dollé’s house, she’s curious. She never knew what they were for. Thus Michel leads Paulette to build their own private cemetery in a deserted mill and they begin to steal crosses from wherever they can get them–graves, churches, hearses.

The adults can’t understand who’s taking the crosses and the rivalry between the neighbors grows.

All in all, Forbidden Games  is a natural, haunting film that mixes innocence, war, poverty, generosity and faith. It’s a simple, yet profound film, one I doubt anyone could make today.

16
Feb
15

Touchez Pas Au Grisbi


Directed by Jacques Becker, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi! (Hands Off the Loot!) is an unusual gangster film. Released in 1954, the film chronicles a genteel, older gangster, Max, who’d like to cash in his gold bars and retire. Max is very debonair and respected in his circle. We never see how he got 50,000,000 Francs in gold, which is usually what the main focus of a gangster film would be.

The first hour of the movie we see his life, his friendship with Riton, who’s a sidekick, rather than an equal, his girlfriends, his evenings at a little restaurant and night clubs. He’s involved with a platinum blonde showgirl, while Riton’s showgirl Josy is brunette — and is getting some action on the side with another younger, gangster. Max stumbles on Josy and her other lover, which leads to a good scene when Max takes his friend home, presents him with the facts about Josy and shows us how good friends should care for each other in troubled times.

The movie’s pace picks up in the last thirty minutes. Angelo, Josy’s real love interest, abducts Riton using him as leverage to get Max’s gold. Loyalty forces Max to get Riton back and in doing so there’s the sort of a pursuits and shoot outs you’d expect in a gangster movie.

I thought the acting was good, but the first hour of the movie should have more plotting, just a little more. Show us Max getting the gold. I can be patient with a film that wants to go off the beaten path, but I almost gave up on this one. Finally, the very end of the film is abrupt and left important points about Max’s future up in the air so I can’t give this a thumbs up, unless someone knows more about Jacques Becker or French noir films.

25
Jan
15

The Two of Us

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Claude Berri’s autobiographical, The Two of Us is a gem set during WWI in France. It opens with Claude, a mischievous boy, stealing a toy tank from a toy store getting chased all around. Claude finds trouble at every turn driving his father to distraction. Because since they’re Jewish, the safest path for the family is to lay low, but Claude constantly calls attention to himself with his troublemaking. A family friend arranges for Claude to go live with her Catholic parents.

The problem is that “Grampa” is quite a bigot and spouts all sorts of anti-Semitic slurs. Claude is coached to hide is religion so he’ll be safe in the countryside. Nonetheless, he’s mercilessly bullied for being the new kid from Paris. You just can’t win.

Based on the director’s own childhood experience, there’s a sophisticated treatment of a close relationship that grows in spite of prejudice. Played masterfully by Michel Simon, Grampa loves this boy and takes him under his wing, dealing with his troublemaking with patience Claude’s father couldn’t muster. Berri chose Cohen to play Claude while visiting a Jewish school and seeing him getting into trouble in class and later hiding from the principal behind some curtains. The shoes poking out from under the curtains gave him away. A natural actor, Cohen brings a realism to his understated performance.

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The Two of Us, as Truffaut commented, shows how most French people lived during the war, those who weren’t in the Resistance or helping the Germans. People just going about their business; people who could be both kind, loving, and yet be hindered by ugly beliefs. It’s a deft film that can portray bigotry without supporting hatred all the while showing the goodness mixed in with the prejudice.

The Criterion Collection’s DVD, as usual, includes insightful short interviews that deepen one’s understanding of the film.

If you liked Claude Berry’s later films, Jean de Floret or Manon of the Spring, you’ll love The Two of Us.

18
Jan
15

The Inheritance (1962)

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Until I saw The Inheritance I knew nothing of director Misaki Kobayashi . Until I started my movie New Years resolutions, I only knew of Kurosawa and Ozu. Japan has manymore directors whose films still have power.

The Inheritance shows the materialism of post-WWII Japan. It’s set in the 1960s and the Japanese have prospered. They aren’t trying stretch 35 yen to last all day as the characters in the ironically titled One Wonderful Sunday did. With a jazzy soundtrack, The Inheritance tells the story of a company president who’s learned he’s dying of cancer. He decides to track down his three illegitimate children so his materialistic young wife doesn’t get all of his 300,000,000 yen fortune.

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We see the story through the eyes of Yasuko, his aloof secretary, who could pass for a Japanese Audrey Hepburn. the employees who’re supposed to hunt down the children, all get yen signs in their eyes and make deals with the wife. The man’s son leads a life of desolation and his youngest daughter has died, but his wife and employee try to pass off their secret daughter as the heir. (They had a fling behind the man’s back.)

As the man’s health deteriorates Yasuko moves into his house. His wife is not welcoming in the least. The boss does make a play for Yasuko, who lacks the power to push him away or leave the house. Since she’s living in an apartment she describes as a concrete box, the idea of getting more money appeals to her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this look at Japan. It’s a story of conniving and greed done in a way I wouldn’t expect. If you’re looking for a different sort of drama, see if you can find The Inheritance. My library had the Criterion Collection DVD. I wish they had an audio commentary or more extras as it’s a film I’d like to learn more about.

06
Jan
15

Downton Abbey, Season 5 Premiere

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After months and months of hype and waiting, Downton Abbey’s fifth season began in the U.S. It’s a favorite show of mine, but I’ve never seen so much promotion. For crying out loud I saw three ads for Downton on CBS’ Sunday Morning — they’re in competition. CBS just had one promo for The Good Wife, which is on opposite Downton. Did PBS advertise on other networks as well?

It felt good to see the familiar faces of the Crawley clan and their servants. The costumes are always stunning. Julian Fallows offered his usual fare: verbal digs from the Dowager Countess, plots from Thomas, Cora going along with most everything, light moments with Mosely, Edith unsure and worried, and Mary capably preparing to take over the reins of Downton while mulling over her suitors.

Fallows packed a lot into the episode, which picked up where the last one left off although I was surprised that while the adults haven’t aged much, the children’s ages seem to have doubled. We learned that little Sybil calls her grandfather “Donk” as in donkey. How perfect! I love children’s names for grandparents and this one will keep Robert humble.

SPOILERS

While dedicated fans have already seen the new episode, let me note the following comments contain spoilers .

I’m glad that Miss Baxter told Cora that Thomas was using her and confessed that she’s been to jail for theft. Cora was discrete and fair with Baxter, who now can work without constantly worrying about Thomas.

  • There was no revelations about Bates. Perhaps he killed Anna’s rapist; perhaps he didn’t. It’s hard to say.
  • Edith seems to visit her daughter Marigold at the farmer’s house quite a lot. The farmer’s wife suspects that Edith’s got eyes for her husband, but I’d think these visits would be conspicuous to neighbors too. Alternative theories would come up and someone would get it right. Anyway, the husband’s sharp and he proposes the visits stop and agrees for a new story to explain them, because Edith can’t stop. Funny that she spends more time with her daughter than Mary does with her son, George.
  • Edith’s going to blow it. We all know that. The idea to bring Marigold to England was foolish and too tempting. I do have sympathy for Edith, but it irks me to see foolishness in any form. I’d love to see Edith get some gumption and hard as it is, send her daughter back to Switzerland. Then she should find a life’s passion and throw herself into it. Be a victor, not a victim, Edith!
  • Lord Gillingham visited Downton to woo Mary. Blake’s no where to be seen and Mary seems like the “out of sight, out of mind” type of woman. Any thought of Blake was fleeting. She’s agreed to go off with Lord G. to see if they’re compatible. I’m not sure that’s really historically accurate. Besides a week’s vacation isn’t a great way to learn about a person, especially when you’re traveling first class insulated from life’s trials and tribulations. The tryst is to be hush hush, but all secrets come out on TV. Seems to me there are other ways to gather the information Mary seeks. Also, is this going to be like the horrendous Bachelorette show? Will Mary give Blake a similar week?
  • Daisy’s starting to try to learn math. She’s struggling, but hats off to her for trying to take charge of her life. It’s funny how the high ranking staff had a pow wow about this. Carson and Mrs. Patmore worry that it’s too stressful for Daisy who already has a good job, in their opinion, while Mrs. Hughes supports Daisy’s desire to get more education.
  • As a surprise, Rose decides to invite the teacher Tom befriended to Cora and Robert’s 35th anniversary dinner. This Miss Bunting sets my teeth on edge. Throughout the evening she makes controversial statements such as questioning the need to remember the heroes of WWI (which we still do 100 years hence) and tries to cause trouble. She lacks the awareness to know that you can disagree, but you needn’t be rude and rabble rousing only rouses rabble. Tom’s just embarrassed and it took every ounce of patience and decorum for Robert not to toss this guest out on her tush. Miss Bunting was just boorish and self-serving. Her aim was to stir things up so she could then confirm her prejudices about the upper class. I really don’t like her and would love it if Fallows dropped her from the series, but I do doubt that. I fear Miss Bunting will go after Tom. What a pain!
  • Romance was on the horizon for Isobel Crawley, but Violet interfered as only she can. Violet does not want Isobel (Matthew’s mother) to marry a lord and gain status. So she hosted a big lunch inviting Dr. Clarkson, who’s sweet on Isobel and a beautiful widow who might divert Lord Whoever’s eye’s away from Isobel. It’s too soon to know whether that worked.
  • Robert’s nose got out of joint because the town committee wants Mr. Carson to lead the committee on the WWI memorial. Carson was as if not more upset by this unusual choice. My everything’s in flux!
  • Jimmy’s old employer showed up and they had a thing in the past, which gets rekindled. Almost literally.
  • The show ended with a house fire starting in Edith’s room. I’m not sure what happened. Did Edith try to burn that book with Gregson’s writing in it? Anyway Thomas was lurking in the halls trying to get dirt on Mary and to act as a lookout for Jimmy when he noticed smoke coming from Edith’s room. He swooped in and rescued Lady Edith, thus securing his job, which was on the line since his plot against Miss Baxter was discovered. I like justice so it would be fine with me if Thomas were fired. They can always bring in another devious footman and show Thomas in town, plotting against the family. I’m sure blackmail is in his skill set, as Lady Mary may learn.

I think Fallows could have made more of the fire. It was hard to believe the fire department could get their as fast as they seemed to and even with Robert and Tom’s quick response, I’m surprised there wasn’t more damage.

29
Dec
14

Vanya on 42nd Street

julianne moore Vanya on 42nd StreetAndré Gregory, who starred in My Dinner with André, is certainly unique and directs like no other director. Vanya on 42nd Street is such a unique play or project and finally a film. He assembled a wonderful cast including Wallace Shawn and Juliette Moore to get together and rehearse Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for years. Several times a week the actors would perform this play — for 4 years. It wasn’t till the third year that they started to invite a handful of guests to watch them. Eventually, Louis Malle agreed to direct a film version of their play.

The story involves an extended family, who like the family in The Cherry Orchard, have money problems. On top of that several men in the story are smitten by Yelena, a beautiful young woman who’s married to an old scholar. There’s lots of conflict in the family revolving around personal grievances and what to do about their money problems. Because the actors performed this play so many times over a long period and thus became intimate with their cast members they reported that this story was like no other to them thus there’s a depth to this performance that’s palpable and like no other performance. The actors perform in a gorgeous abandoned theater in ruins, which resonates with the play’s theme. Both the play, translated by David Mamet, and the Criterion Collection interviews are engrossing. The interviews made me appreciate the meticulous acting this process afforded. I’d definitely watch this again and again for the story and fine acting.




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