Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jeux interdits (1952)

I liked Les Felins so much that I wanted to see one more work from director René Clément. After browsing through his filmography, I found that Jeux interdits was one of the most recommended and had won prizes, too. I just finished watched it. My opinion: one of the best movies I have seen!

Before watching, all I knew was that the film was about war in the eyes of children. That it also involved children making cemetery was something I didn't expect. I see now that it is based on Les jeux inconnus book by François Boyer. I always like stories about friendship between a little boy and a little girl. The story is set in June 1940. Little girl Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) with her parents and Jock the dog are among the refugees from Paris. On their way, German planes attack them, and Paulette's parents, and Jock, are dead. It's sad to see her carrying the dead Jock, wandering around, until she meets Michel Dollé (Georges Poujouly), son of a farmer, who takes her to his home. A bit funny to see the Dollés, in that time of war, are at war with their neighbour The Gouards. Michel's father only agrees to take care of Paulette because he wants to show his neighbour that he is better than them. Michel wants to keep the beautiful Paulette forever; Paulette who is clean, wears a lovely dress and smells nice.

The DVD contains an interview with Fossey and she said that at first Clément wanted a girl of 9 - 11 years old to play the role of Paulette. I'm glad that in the end he chose Fossey, who was only 5 years old that time. I love the way she walked in the movie, reminds me of my dear niece, who is at the same age. I love the way Paulette digs a hole for her dead dog. Her innocence is funny and sad at once. It's impossible not to weep at the tragic ending. I want Paulette to see the beautiful cemetery Michel has created for her. I hoped the story ends like the part on the blank page the boy reads to the girl, that they both finally find each other again. I think this is not a movie for children, for the ending is too cruel.

Marie-Octobre (1959)

In August 1944, Gestapo attacked the Vaillance network's headquarters and their leader Castille was killed. 15 years later, one of its member, Marie-Octobre (Danielle Darrieux), meets an ex-German soldier who tells her that one of her friends had betrayed them. Helped by Renaud-Picart (Paul Meurisse), Marie-Octobre invites the ex-Vaillance members to the ex-HQ to find the traitor.

"We may not be 13, but there is Judas Iscariot among us."

Except the opening scene which shows the road to the castle (HQ) and the façade, all the scenes are shot in one big room. It's like watching a play on stage. All the actors are excellent. The idea to gather all characters reminds me of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None at first, but the murder they are trying to solve is a murder happened 15 years ago. Did Gestapo kill Castille? Each of them, who after 15 years are successful in their jobs, tries to remember what really happened. Interesting, because it's now clear that Simoneau (Bernard Blier) is the most disliked, but doesn't mean that it's him who killed their leader. I actually prefer the movie ends when Victorine tells her story, because it would be funny if after all the efforts, it turns out the Gestapo found out about the network because of a blunder. However it doesn't, and they finally find the traitor who confesses he killed Castille in cold blood. It's a crime of passion and greed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ludwig (1972)

This movie is about King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886), from his coronation until the day he was found drown in the river with his physician. They say this king was mad, and here Visconti takes us to a journey, to know about this king, mostly from the testimonies of the people near to him. Falling in love with his married cousin, Elisabeth of Austria (Romy Schneider reprised her role as Sissi, but different from the sweet character from the popular series. Here, she tells Ludwig bitterly about her loneliness, that Franz Joseph chooses to go to war instead to be with her, and how she never gets along with her mother-in-law.), Ludwig is disappointed when Sissi tries to make him marry her sister, Sophie. Ludwig asks for her hand, but later breaks off the engagement. He spends state money to indulge his favourite musician, Wagner, and his favourite actor, Joseph Kainz. He also spends lots of money to build castles: Linderhof, Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee; which are left empty. Finally his ministers cannot endure his eccentricism anymore and has a physician to declare him mad and unfit to rule. He is taken to Berg Castle, where later he and the doctor are dead.

The movie is extremely beautiful. As I have never been to Germany, I am really grateful with the numerous shots of the castles, i.e. when Queen Elizabeth comes to inspect them. The scene I love most probably when Ludwig feeds the swans.

The DVD comes with a documentary about Luchino Visconti from RAI, which is also included in Masters of Cinema's Rocco and His Brothers. However, there are also documentary about Suso Cecchi d'Amico, the writer who has worked with great Italian directors; and actress Silvana Mangano; both are very interesting.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Didier (1997)

This was on TV last night. After reading the synopsis, it seemed not interesting. A dog transfomed into a man, it sounded familiar. However, the reviews seemed good, so I made time to watch. After several minutes, I had to admit that it was better than I had expected. First scene that I liked was when Jean-Pierre Bacri dragged the dog across the airport floor.

It's hard not to like Didier. He is a smart dog who learns quickly: how to use the toilet, not to sniff asses (although still does it once in a while), how to use a fork, to dress, and to play soccer. "Soccer is a team game. If you want to go solo, play golf," says Jean-Pierre. Soccer is never this interesting to watch, especially the last goal. "If he used his paw, it would be another story."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Damned (1969)

Luchino Visconti's The Damned is a very complex movie and should be watched more than once. The story is about the Essenbeck family in Germany who owns a steel factory. It begins in February 1933 with the birthday celebration for Joachim von Essenbeck, who has most of the factory shares. In this party we are introduced to the family members: Herbert Thallman, his wife Elizabeth, and their two daughters Thilde and Erika; Konstantin (a member of SA) and his son Gunther (a student); Frederick Bruckmann, an executive from the factory who is also the lover of Sophie (Joachim's daughter-in-law. His only son has died as a war hero.), Martin (Sophie's son), and Aschenbach (an SS captain). The celebration is interrupted by the news of the Reichstag (the parliament building) Fire. Herbert, who is a liberal, has a dispute with Konstantin, and the conservative Joachim takes this opportunity to choose his successor: Konstantin. The ambitious Frederick, with Aschenbach's support, asks Sophie to help him getting the power. On that night, Joachim is murdered and Herbert runs away to Austria. After his argument with Konstantin, it isn't safe for him to stay. Although his gun is the murder weapon, we all know the killer is not Herbert, but Frederick. Herbert later is be forced to return, because Elizabeth and the two girls are sent to the camp in Dachau. Elizabeth dies in the camp, but in exchange for the girls, Herbert must give himself up. After Joachim's death, Martin, as the sole heir, under his mother's influence, appoints Frederick to be the company's president. Later, Konstantin holds proofs that Martin has molested little girls and uses him for his favour, but Sophie finds out that Konstantin has power on Martin. On the Operation Hummingbird (Night of the Long Knives), in which SA members are massacred, Frederick himself kills Konstantin. At this point, Martin himself has become to hate his mother and destroys her with incest. He still allows Frederick marries her, but gives the new couple poison to drink. That leaves Martin as the most powerful decision maker on the factory which makes weapons.

Visconti paid much attention to details as always, so the production design, sets, and costumes are amazing. I myself particularly like the clothes worn by Charlotte Rampling. Apart from Visconti's name, what made me want to watch this movie was the SA massacre scene, which was included in a program about the director I saw several months ago. I thought the scary scene was very well done.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Le doulos (1962)

In French underworld, 'doulos' means 'hat' and the person who wears it is 'an informer'. Therefore, in English the title is translated as 'The Finger Man', which I think refers to Jean-Paul Belmondo's character, Silien. From the beginning of the movie, we are led to believe that Silien cannot be trusted. At first I also wondered about this, because in movies by Jean-Pierre Melville there is always honour among thieves, and that betrayal is the greatest sin.

The film starts by introducing us to Serge Reggiani's character, Faugel, who is recently out of prison. Faugel visits his fence, kills him, and takes the jewelry, money, the revolver and bury them. He has his girlfriend Therese to watch over a big house for their next job. On the D-day he asks Silien to bring over the tools, and go with Remy. The police come and Remy is killed, while Faugel himself is wounded. His friend Jean hides him, but thanks to Silien, the police can find Faugel and jail him.

The movie features 8 minutes scene shot in one take, when the police interrogate Silien. Melville was so proud of this scene, a proof that he could do it. After watching 4 of his works, where usually the story flows like water, I didn't expect any twist in Le Doulos. When Silien first tells his story, I was considering if he was telling the truth or not. I like the ending, that Silien takes time to look into the mirror, tidy his hair, and straighten his hat; before collapsing.

Les disparus de St Agil (1938)

In a boy's school called St. Agil, Baume, Macroix and Sorgue forms a club. Their goal is to go to America together. They meet at night, when every body else has gone to bed, in the science room, with Martin the skeleton as the president. Sorgue is writing a book and one night when his two friends has left, he stays behind to write a couple of more lines, and sees a man suddenly appears from the wall. He tries to tell everyone, but they don't believe him. (As a writer, he has a strong imagination.) When Mr. Walter, the English teacher, reads HG Wells' The Invisible Man for dictation, Sorgue tries desperately to mention this again, is laughed at by his classmates, and the teacher tells him to leave the class and report to the headmaster. Sorgue never returns. Baume and Macroix have a reason to believe Sorgue has left for America without them when they receive a postcard from him. However, Macroix later also disappears and Mr. Lemel, the drawing teacher, who often gets drunk, dies by falling over the balustrade after claiming that he has something in common with King Philip The Fair.

I like watching the boys from the time before WW2, they are so independent. In the trio, Baume is the leader, and later in the movie he becomes the detective and solves the mysteries, which involves counterfeit money. The movie is full of interesting characters. The teachers, for example, apart from Mr. Lemel, there is Mr. Walter, who worries if he scares the boys or not, and Mr. Planet, who suffers insomnia. There is also Mr. Mazeau, the concierge, who believes the disappearance of both boys connects with the fact that they ask him lettuce. The lettuce, in fact, is for their friend's turtle. My favourite scene is perhaps the music lesson scene, where later Macroix is told to leave and report to the headmaster. If I have any critique, it would be why Baume asks Mr. Walter to join their club. Although Walter does lighten Baume about the postcard from Sorgue, which is not sent from America, and stays with him in the science room to proof Sorgue's story, I still get the impression that Baume doesn't like Walter that much. Perhaps I should read the book.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Persepolis (2007)

My first introduction to Marjane Satrapi was her book Embroideries, which I think was original. I loved how she drew the characters and told the story. I haven't read Persepolis because several months ago when I was looking for it, it wasn't available.

Persepolis is a Greek word which means 'Persian city'. The city was the capital of the first Persian Empire. The movie itself is the personal story of Ms Satrapi: of her childhood in Iran in the 70's, and how she was sent to Vienna, and later went back to Iran again. With the revolution and the wars, the story should have been depressing, but thanks to her unique sense of humour, we can have sympathy for her and her country, and at the same time, enjoy the movie. It reminds me of Frank McCourt and his Angela'a Ashes: the story is sad, but humorous.

I like how they keep the black and white style in the movie, like in the original books. Some scenes, the present scene, are in colour. [The movie is told in flashback style.] I am also glad that they make this in cartoon, because I have to admit that cartoon characters make the movie more universal. In the end, what we, ordinary people, want is not much: we want to live in peace, without fear, and have enough money to eat and send the kids to school.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Deception (2008)

Marcel Langenegger's Deception is quite entertaining. Accountants are usually boring, but having Ewan McGregor as one, although he is given a pair of glasses and monotone hairstyle, I will still be glad if I ever meet an accountant like this one. Here McGregor plays the victim, very different from Shallow Grave, where Christopher Eccleston plays the boring accountant who later becomes a cold blooded killer because of McGregor's Alex's doing.

Jonathan McQuarry (McGregor) meets Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman) in one boring night while he is auditing a company. They quickly become good friends and accidentally swaps mobile phones. McQuarry is then dragged into the world of lonely executives's sex club, known as The List, and falls in love with one of them, "S" (Michelle Williams). McQuarry soon learns that the mysterious Wyatt Bose has given him a false identity, and that the manipulator has kidnapped "S" and will not hesitate to kill her if McQuarre doesn't do what he asks: to transfer some $20 million from the company's account he will audit to a bank in Madrid.

The ending has some twists. I think this movie has several endings because when I thought it was over, there was still more. It would have been different if McQuarry went to the police (Detective Russo looks as if she can be trusted. Why not?) and told her everything. He should have told her about Jamie Getz, about the threat, and that he knew who had killed Ms Wilkinson. But this is cinema, and the writer can do as he pleases.