L’Enfance Neu

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In the same vein as Truffaut’s 400 Blows, L’Enfance Neu presents the story of a troubled boy growing up in 1960s France. In fact, François Truffaut produced this first film directed by Maurice Pialat.

While the actors in both films resemble each other, their personalities and stories are distinct. L’Enfance Neu is about François, an 11 year old, in the foster care system. His mother has abandoned him temporarily when he was 4. She doesn’t write and the boy knows little of her and nothing of his father. At the start he lives with a family, who has had enough of him. He steals, wets his bed, hangs out with the “bad boys” who mistreat cats and probably any other pet or person they impetuously think would be fun to test.

Yet François has his good side. He buys his foster mom a gift with the money his foster father gave him for his own use. He is a normal brother to the foster parents’ “real” daughter, who tells the social worker she likes François and would miss him if he left. The mother has a laundry list of François’ every fault and misdeed and the social worker realizes its pointless to leave the boy in this setting.

So François is shipped off to a new town where he’s placed with an elderly couple, who’ve been foster parents to dozens of kids including the teen Raoul, who lives there now.  The couple is loving and pragmatic. They get exasperated when François gets in trouble with his hooligan friends, but they respond as most parents do and they forget his past deeds and see the good in this troubled boy.

The story doesn’t end by tying a bright satin bow on the end, but neither does it just stop without some resolution. It’s realistic and fair to all sides. It doesn’t provide easy answers. François’ certainly affected by his parents’ abandoning him, but he’s also no worse than the kids who have parents. None of them say, “We shouldn’t through the cat down the stairwell” or “We shouldn’t steal ice cream” at the movie theater. In that scene there were several older boys who knew better. In fact, one of the older boys was a lot more self-destructive than François.

I appreciated the realism and the fair shake all the characters got. You could sympathize with both the foster parents, François and the others in the film. While the foster system is far from perfect, these social workers were conscientious.

Pialat worked with non-actors and the natural performances were as good as any professional’s. This was Maurice Pialat‘s first film, which I highly recommend. I’d definitely seek out others.

 

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Les Misérables, Ep. 5

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While I like Les Misérables, and the novel’s one of my favorite books, there’s some je nes sais quoi aspect that is missing in this production. Perhaps I can’t help but compare a Les Misérables production to the musical, but then why am I completely satisfied with the classics with Michel Simon and Jean Gabin? I watched them after reading the book or seeing the musical and was swept up by the stories. With this version, I’m a bit detached.

This week resumes with Cosette pining for Marius, who’s rather mopey in my opinion. Marius’ friends led by Enjolras decide to seize the moment of General LaMarque’s funeral to start a revolution that will bring about the social change they seek, i.e. better treatment for the poor. Marius is teased for being so in love that he can’t focus on a revolution.

The penniless Marius decides to eat crow and visit his awful grandfather to ask permission to marry. The old man scoffs and just suggests Marius put the girl gramps believes is a pauper up in an apartment and amuse himself till it’s time to marry for status and wealth. Gramps is simply advising Marius to do what he did. To his credit, Marius is appalled and vows to never cross the threshold of his grandfather’s mansion.

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After escaping from jail, Éponine finds Marius and promises to give Cosette a letter from him. Though she’s in love with Marius, she’s willing to aid his love for her rival. She confronts her evil, abusive father in her efforts and while for a time hides Cosette’s new address she eventually tells Marius all and even sacrifices her life for him. The problem with this production was that the love Éponine shows looks so thin. I wondered why she died so Marius, who’s a bit of a wet noodle, could live.

The funeral procession seemed less epic, and probably more authentic, than in the musical. All hell does break loose, but this rush to the barricades didn’t have the impact on me as a viewer as other productions did.

Javert continues to obsessively want to capture Jean Valjean more than he wants to quell a rebellion. This time I wanted a colleague or superior to knock him over the head or ship him off to an asylum.

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Jean Valjean fears Thenardiér and the police and plans to leave France after a few days at a new secret apartment. In addition to retrieving the fortune he’s stashed in the woods, he has to deal with Cosette’s teenage rebellion. Like all her age, she can’t see that her love isn’t quite as important as saving her adopted father’s life. Well, it’s almost excusable as she’s not fully aware of Jean Valjean’s situation. But she does know enough. She’s the one who cleaned his wounds after his fight with Thenardiér’s thugs. He has told her he was in prison. She must remember how he saved her from abuse and neglect.

The episode takes us up to Jean Valjean arriving at the barricade. He’s finally discovered Cosette’s secret romance and selflessly goes to help Marius.

For the most part, Masterpiece has followed Hugo’s story, but as I said something’s missing. Je souhaite que je nouveau quoi.

Les Misérables, Episode 4

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In a blink of an eye, Cosette has blossomed into a young lady. Her friends at school are dreaming of romance and marriage and make it clear that it’s awful that her Papa has agreed that Cosette become a nun and they continue living in the convent. Evidently, Cosette hadn’t thought much about that. She’s appalled and convinces Jean Valjean that she needs to see the real world.

He takes her out to the “real world,” the world of beggars, thieves, prostitutes, urchins and scoundrels. It’s pretty frightening. Jean Valjean didn’t need to go far to expose Cosette to these realities. They were right out their cloistered doorstep.

Jean Valjean finds housing in a poor neighborhood where the same nosy concierge with the bad powdered wig, who ratted out Cosette before she left Paris to find work, works. Hugo creates such a tiny world.

Marius learns all about how his grandfather has lied to him about his father. After confronting gramps, he leaves and finds his own room adjacent to . . . the Thenardiers. Ugh. Yes, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier are just as unctuous as before, if not more so. Their oldest daughter Éponine becomes smitten with Marius, but it’s a one-sided love. Ce Marius cultivé n’est pas exactement beau dans mon livre, donc il est difficile de croire que les filles vont tomber pour lui. 

Javert continues to brood over Jean Valjean. It’s amazing since he must have known and knows hundreds if not thousands of prisoners, but this makes the story work. Hugo voulait nous montrer un pharisien (Javert) comparé à un disciple du Christ (Jean Valjean).

We meet Marius’ friends. They’re young men eager for political change and more egalité in society. Peut-être que s’ils aidaient effectivement des gens pauvres eux-mêmes, ils verseraient une partie de l’égalité qu’ils désirent. These boys are a rougher bunch, in terms of bearing and language, than we saw in the musical, but they’re alright.

Valjean felt badly about shocking Cosette with the real world so he takes her to the Luxembourg Gardens, where Cosette crosses paths with Marius and they immediately fall in love. This part of the story was sped up quite a bit compared to other productions and I think that’s a shame. Jean Valjean notices this love connection and he’s not ready for his dear Cosette to grow up like that.

I was surprised by the many changes from the book in this episode. Some were long-winded explanations, that I didn’t think were needed. In fact, I think they weakened the story. One change was that Jean Valjean explains his criminal past to Cosette. This should make the later parts of the story less dramatic so I can’t see what’s gained.

The episode ended when after getting tricked by Monsieur Thenardier and fighting his way out of the ambush, Jean Valjean and Cosette narrowly escape getting captured by Javert. Each week ends with a real nail biter of a scene.

Yet, it’s impossible for me to not love Les Misérables and I haven’t had a good drama to watch on Sundays since Victoria ended in February, so I am pleased with the show as a whole. I admit I miss the songs, though.

Les Misérables, Ep 1

It’s no secret that Les Misérables is one of my favorite stories of all time. I’ve read the book and seen the musical, the film with Liam Neeson, the film with Jean Gabin and the one with Harry Barr. I’ve loved them all.

I lost track of time and missed the premier of Masterpiece’s newest Les Mis, but fortunately, I taped it and am now ready for episode 2.

Beginning with Thénardier (Adeel Akhtar) robbing the pockets of soldiers killed at Waterloo. As luck would have it, Pontmercy, a solider, wakes up and mistakes Thénardier for a savior. Then in the prison where Jean Val Jean (Dominic West) toils away while being abused, beaten and tricked by the guards and Inspector Javert (David Oyelowo), a 19th century French Pharisee. Early on we also see Pontmercy’s wealthy father-in-law who’s taken custody of his grandson when the boy’s mother died. Vehemently opposed to Pontmercy’s politics, the grandfather forbids Pontmercy to see his own son, Marius, a cutie pie in velvet and frilly collars.

Fantine’s story of meeting Felix, Cossette’s father, this production starts earlier in the book than the musical. We get to see the slimy, philandering Felix who loves and leaves poor, naive Fantine. Interwoven with Fantine’s story, we see Jean Valjean get freed from jail and encounter hostility and injustice till he’s welcome by the saintly Bishop Digne.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the story. It’s a lush production. I always have an odd feeling about computer graphics. I can tell it’s not real (or faux real). I sense something lacking in the vast settings that must be computer graphics.

The story spans decades and contains several plot lines. Victor Hugo dedicated each section of the book according to a main character. The screenwriter has woven several sections together and the chronology’s changed. Some things seem to be simultaneous here, when they weren’t in the book. For example, at the end of episode 1, Fantine’s holding her daughter Cossette, who looks like she is at least a year old. Yet Felix just abandoned her a few hours before. I thought Fantine got pregnant after Felix left her. Also, Jean Valjean has just left the Bishop’s. It seems the timing is off between Fantine, whose story doesn’t need much time to progress to the next stage, and Jean Valjean, who took many years to get to the next point when he’ll meet Fantine.

Even though there are some differences between other productions and these do bother me, the annoyance is small and Les Misérables is a story that can’t be ruined. (Knock on wood.) So far this series is off to a good start.

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

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After watching Jacques Tati’s comedic classic Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, I was surprised to find out it was made in 1956. I’d have guessed during the 1930s. The film uses little sound, but the sound  is used to maximum effect. The sublime, recurring tune keeps playing in my head. Since it’s a happy melody, that’s just fine.

Awkward and unlucky, but well-meaning and kind, Mr. Hulot goes on vacation to a seaside French town. Wherever Mr. Hulot goes, minor disaster follows upsetting the quiet card players or the well-dressed ladies. More often than not, Mr. Hulot is his own worst enemy, but the consequence is usually small–some bruises, embarrassment or car trouble. It’s cool to see an old style vacation

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The film is big on gags and short on plot. The characters are nameless stereotypes, but they do make an impression and each one is bound to remind you of someone you know or love.

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is a delight, but probably isn’t for everyone. The film is slow-paced, a trip to the old days. It’s the first Tati film I’ve seen and folks like Roger Ebert assert it’s his best. I’m glad I saw it because Tati is a master in French film, but I can’t recommend it highly because I think a lot of people want more plot, which they can get from Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd.

On My TBW List

TBR, i.e. To Be Read lists of books is a hashtag and a meme. They’re also real lists. Since there’s been a publishing industry, readers have had lists of books they want to read.

I haven’t seen this yet, but there should be TBW (i.e. To Be Watched or TBS, To Be Seen) Lists. Here’s mine. I’m posting this so I can throw away the miscellaneous scraps of paper I’ve collected in the last few weeks.

1. Like Someone in Love

2. A Kid with a Bike

3. The Petrified Forest

4. Public Enemy

5. The Silence of Lorna

6. The Son, a.k.a. Le Fils

7. Half the Picture

What films are on your list To Be Watched?

Beauty and the Beast

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From the library, I received a Fall Movie Challenge recommendation of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946). It’s a terrific movie that portrays a dream world better than any film I’ve ever seen. This live-action film offers an atmosphere that surpasses most animated films, which are easier to make other-worldly.

Cocteau follows the original fairytale’s plot more closely than the Disney version. He shows a father with financial troubles, two complaining, selfish daughters, one filial, hardworking daughter and a lazy, wastrel of a son. The dynamics of the siblings was key to the drama, I think. From the start we see the brother’s ne’er’do-well pal wooing Belle, with no luck.

After some financial ups and downs, the father on a journey through the forest and stay at a bizarre castle where the statues seem alive as do the arms holding the candles along the wall, mistakenly picks a rose for Belle unleashing the Beast’s anger. Soon Belle agrees to return with the Beast to his castle in lieu of his taking her father’s life.

The castle is one of the best parts of the film. The plants that grow wildly throughout the home and the living statues and lights are freaky and enchanting.

This film is intriguing because in large part to how wild the environment and Beast seem.. Thus while the story is a fairytale, it will appeal to adults with imagination. It would scare young children, but they can enjoy the Disney film. Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast is a wild, imaginative trip for classic film buffs.