Friday, May 29, 2009

The Count of Monte Cristo

Have you ever thought, after reading a wonderful book, about how to find all the best books ever written? "Oh, I wish to be able to find another one as good as this." I have read hundreds of books, classic and popular, and often I feel, after finishing a book, how I have wasted money on that one. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, without doubt, is one of the best books ever written.

I bought a book called 'Monte Cristo' in 1996. This version was in bahasa Indonesia and published by Pustaka Jaya. With 790 pages, I thought it was the complete version. Only recently I found out that Robin Buss translated the whole novel. Although I have read more than half the book, I enjoyed very much this new version.

The story is about a sailor called Edmond Dantès, who spends 14 years in jail after being falsely accused as an Napoleon agent in 1815, with an anonymous letter by those who are jealous of him. He escapes, finds a treasure in the island of Monte Cristo, and pays revenge to those who are responsible for his incarceration. "I owe it to God to take my revenge. He has sent me for that purpose." "I have considered myself as the emissary of your vengeance, God." The complex plot makes this book of 1200+ pages seem short. When I told my sister the synopsis of this story in several sentences, she seemed not interested. Only when we were watching a movie version of this, she realized how clever Dumas had tangled the web. The Count of Monte Cristo is not a sort of Rambo. He doesn't just visit his enemies and kill them one by one with a sword or pistol, but builds his plan to the tiny details to destroy them with their own vices and make them suffer as long as possible.

Several months ago I watched the 1998 movie version, made for TV, with Gérard Depardieu as Edmond Dantès. In it, there was a character named Camille de la Richardais, the lover of the count in Paris. I didn't like her, but I was not sure if she was in the novel or not, as I only had read half of it. Now I have read the complete version and she is not in the novel, and I am glad. I like how the Count of Monte Cristo's bitter heart makes him cannot love another woman besides Mercédès - although in the end he finds a new hope in Haydée.

Interesting to note that the character of Edmond Dantès was based on the life of François Picaud who was denounced by a group of friends as a spy of England in 1807, shortly after become engaged to Marguerite. He spent 7 years in jail and in 1814 after his release, collected a treasure informed by a rich Italian cleric whom he served in prison. Free and rich, Picaud went to Paris and found Marguerite had married one of those who had denounced him. He eliminated his enemies by killing one of them with a dagger and another one with a poison, and lured one of their children to prostitution and another into crime. In the end, he himself was killed by his informer-turn-to-blackmailer.

In the novel, Edmond Dantès is not as bad as Picaud. He tries not to touch the children of his enemies and when he sees Edouard's dead body, "he realized that he had exceeded the limits of vengeance". This event troubles him so much that he needs to visit the Château d'If again so that he can remember how he has suffered. His revenge is constructed so well that he doesn't broke any human law (except sending the false telegrams). My favourite part is when he saves Morrel, his ex-employer. "From there, he looked once again towards Morrel who, weeping with joy, was shaking the hands of everyone in the crowd and vaguely thanking his unknown benefactor whom he seemed to be searching for in the sky." Very touching.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of a poor Indian boy named Jamal Malik, a tea server in a call center, who becomes the first person in India to win the 20 million rupees prize in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Jamal is uneducated, so the show-host calls the police when Jamal has already won 10 millions - and the show is to continue the next day - to find out how he has cheated. This movie begins with the brutal interrogation, which shows the level of violence we can expect to see for the rest of the movie. The police inspector is finally convinced that Jamal is honest and that he really knows the answers - throughout parts of his journey in the life, and let him go so that he could appear on the show for the final question.

The movie is fast paced - like other Danny Boyle's works like Shallow Grave and Trainspotting - and cameras are often placed in unusual corners. The portrait of poverty, especially in the story of little Jamal and Salim who live at a trash dump, is very gripping. It's very funny when the American tourist asks Jamal, after the police hit the boy, if he has an insurance. At a point, after the two brothers finds their long lost friend, the 3rd musketeer Latika, they are to be separated. Jamal chooses the honest life, while Salim becomes a hitman for Javed the gangster leader.

The movie, although won many awards, is not without goofs. One of gravest, although I don't know how they play it in India, is that How To Be A Millionaire is not a live show. Also, how can the presenter and the contestant meet in a toilet after a question has been given? However, goofs are not unusual in movies and people tend to forgive them, especially if the movie is as entertaining and good as this one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Une lumière dans la nuit (2008)

This entertaining series, consists of 2 parts, tells about a blind young girl, Aurore Blin (Julie Voisin), who continues her late father's obsession: finding the relation between their ancestor Henri Blin and Louis Braille, the inventor of the system for the blind so that they can read and write. Every person who can help Aurore is soon to be dead and later she also finds that her father's death was not an accident.

The scenes of the past are wonderful. Set in 1825, Henri Blin (Marius Colucci) comes to Paris to the institute for the young blind people to teach music. There he befriends Louis Braille (Melchior Derouet) who tells him about his invention. The nightmare starts when both the French and English armies want the matrix, the original code for the blind writing, so that their soldiers can read in the dark without torches. As Braille doesn't want his invention to be used for war, he hides it. Knows that he is soon to be caught, he tells Blin the hiding place. Now it's Blin who is in danger, but thankfully he has Marie (Julie Delarme), a teacher in the institute, to help him.

The original idea for the story is marvelous and I enjoyed every bit of it. I don't understand, though, why the matrix is worth all the murders. For the armies, I can understand. Aurore says it is worth millions at Christie's. But for the brotherhood of Lux Aeterna, what is the important of the matrix for them? Brother Marie-Thomas wanted it so that the monks who had taken the oath of silence can communicate (Why not used pen & paper like everybody else? They were not blind.) - but is it worth the murders in the present time? The matrix since then had been hid by Henri Blin, yet the blind from all over the world can use the invention. Marie told the English army that only Thomas, brother of Henri Blin, survived after the massacre in the abbey - yet Henri didn't change his name and the spies never found out.

It's interesting to see how the blind use computer and internet.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Astérix aux jeux olympiques (2008)

I read many bad reviews about this movie, saying that this is the worst compared to the first 2 Astérix films: Astérix et Obélix contre César and Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre. I disagree. This one is either as good or as bad. I myself prefer the comic book version. I like Gérard Depardieu as Obélix, but the rest of the cast are not that interesting - except Alain Delon as Jules Cesar. My problem is expecially on the actor(s) who plays Astérix, because I want him to be as small as in the comic books, but I think I ask too much. My sister likes very much the dog who plays Idéfix because he looks a lot like the one in the comic.

This movie is about a young man from Astérix's village, Alafolix, who falls in love with Princess Irina from Greece. However, Jules Cesar's son, Brutus, also wants Irina's hand. These two guys then compete at the Olympic Games for Irina promises to marry the winner. The rest of the story is not hard to guess: Astérix, Obélix, Idéfix, Assurancetourix, and Panoramix accompany Alafolix to the Olympic Games and help him to win the ultimate game: the chariot race.

When Delon's Jules César first appears, a music from The Sicilian Clan is heard. I think the track used is the one called 'Per Nazari e Delon' - very appropriate. In his first scene Delon quotes his own movie titles, remembering his glory days: "César a tout réussi, tout conquis. C’est un guépard. Un Samouraï. Il ne doit rien à personne: ni à Rocco, ni à ses frères, ni au clan des Siciliens. César est de la race des seigneurs." and in a later scene: "On ne réveille pas un César qui dort." It's funny to see Delon and his narcissism - or in this case, Césarissime, like Couverdepus says. I also like how Brutus always tries to kill his father, but always fails.

One of the funniest scenes is when Brutus inspects his regiment and ask the commander to show him the turtle formation from an animal view.

The movie goes well, until Numérobis arrives, in my opinion. Perhaps they want to include guest stars like Zinédine Zidane, Amélie Mauresmo, and Tony Parker. I'd prefer that from the party with the village people in Armorique, after Assurancetourix and Francis Lalanix are thrown with melons (or whatever), the scene cuts to Brutus rowing the boat.

This movie has amazing decors. The 'Making Of' shows how they made the Gaulic village and the Olympic stadium. I am also impressed with the statues of César which capture well Delon's likeness. If Delon wants to make anything like this, I think he should hire these people.

There is also a doll of José Garcia, but I'm not sure if they really made a doll or used another technique.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Zorro (1975)

Eleven years after La tulipe noire, Alain Delon took the role of Zorro. Duccio Tessari, who worked with Delon a couple of years before in Tony Arzenta, directed the project.

The movie begins with the scene of Don Diego on his horse in a desert, while the opening credits roll and the funny theme song by Oliver Onions played. [The theme song is as much fun as 1980's Flash Gordon theme song by Queen.]

Here's to being free, here's to you and me.

Here's to being free, la la la la la la Zorro's back!

Don Diego's childhood friend, Miguel, becomes the new governor of Nuevo Aragón, which has been ruled under the corrupted Colonel Huerta (Stanley Baker). Colonel Huerta sends assassins to kill Miguel who, in his dying breath, manages to appoint Don Diego to replace him, by giving him his ring, and makes him promise not to use any violence. To please Huerta, Don Diego pretends to be his puppet governor, weak and sometimes pansy; but secretly becomes the masked hero, Zorro, to help the suffered people, aided by his mute servant Joaquín (Enzo Cerusico). 

The story can be funny at times and I like the stunts. Moustache, who plays Sergeant Garcia, looks a lot like the character in Disney. I've never seen such huge hamburgers! The plot gets better when Colonel Huerta has a suspicion about who Zorro is. The movie culminates with 11 minutes duel between Zorro and Colonel Huerta.

My DVD is only 118 minutes, but thankfully has English subtitles. I actually wanted the 124' full version, but the only ones I could find were either in Italian or with German subtitles - and I don't speak both languages. I would feel much better if the version I have has the original format instead of 4:3, which cuts the left and right sides of the images.

La tulipe noire (1964)

I haven't read Alexander Dumas's novel of the same title, but I heard that story from the book is very different from this movie. Christian-Jaque, who made Fanfan la Tulipe, directed this. Like in Fanfan la Tulipe, the dialogues by Henri Jeanson are made to tickle your senses. The story is set in June 1789 in the province. According to the narrator, the French historians wrote about lesser heroes, but deliberately ignored someone important. However, thanks to cinema that finally justice is given to the great person: The Black Tulip.

The Black Tulip is a sort of Zorro, a masked hero dressed in black with his horse Voltaire, who robs the noblemen, and is adored by the 3rd Estate. He sends a black tulip to his future victim as a warning. Baron La Mouche, the lieutenant general of police, suspects that The Black Tulip is no other than Guillaume de Saint Preux. In a fight, La Mouche marks The Black Tulip's left cheek with his sword. Guillame calls his twin brother Julien, who is honest and timid, to shake off any suspicion. Julien, who adores The Black Tulip, accepts the task, but later he learns that Guillaume in fact doesn't care with the revolution. Julien becomes The Black Tulip and helps the revolution so that the hero will be adored forever.

This swashbuckling movie is very entertaining. The fight scenes are well done, with funny bits here and there. Alain Delon plays both the twins, with Virna Lisi as the beautiful girl who gets the hero. I like useless lines like: "We are in June 1789. In June. That means 14th July has not happened yet. Let alone the September massacres, of course." and funny one like: "Hosanna! I will remember my last day for a long time!" In the end, Plantin also speaks how the people will always remember 19th July 1789.

The marquis : I want the head of The Black Tulip here! On this table, before Monday.

La Mouche : You will have the head and the rest.

The marquis: I don't need the rest. The head!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Le bossu (1997)

Having seen Henri Helman's miniserie Lagardère, I am familiar with the story of Le bossu. I think the French are very good in creating swashbuckling stories: The Three Musketeers, Man in The Iron Mask, The Black Tulip, Fanfan la tulipe, Le capitan, Cyrano de Bergerac - to mention some of them. [If only Zorro was also created by a Frenchman!] Le bossu (=the hunchback) is one of the most enjoyable swashbuckling stories ever. Apart from the story, I wanted to watch this because of Daniel Auteuil and Philippe Sarde's music.

Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini) should inherit Duc de Nevers (Vincent Perez)'s fortune after his death, but his world tumbles down when he learns the Duc has a child from Blanche de Caylus (Claire Nebout), the beautiful woman whom he also loves very much. Gonzague hires Peyrolles (Yann Collette) and his men to kill the Duc, who is helped by his close friend Lagardère (Daniel Auteuil), whom he has taught his secret sword thrust. Gonzague succeeds in killing the Duc, but Lagardère marks Gonzague's right hand with his sword and swears that he will avenge the Duc of Nevers. "Si tu ne viens pas à Lagardère, Lagardère ira à toi!" (If you don't come to Lagardère, Lagardère will come to you!) Gonzague spreads the words that Lagardère is the killer of the Duc and his baby daughter. Meanwhile, Lagardère travels with a group of comedians, raising the child Aurore. Time passes and Aurore (Marie Gillain) accidentally kills a famous swordsman, using the secret sword thrust her 'father' has taught her. Gonzague realizes that Aurore is still alive. Lagardère, in order to meet Blanche and tell her that her daughter is still alive, disguises as a hunchback and gains Gonzague's trust. When the Duke of Orléans (Philippe Noiret) is about to sign the contract that will make Gonzague's dream come true: to own Mississippi, the hunchback presents Aurore as the true heir of Nevers and points at Gonzague as the killer.

The plots in Le bossu (released in the US as On Guard) and the miniseries Lagardère are not always the same. The ending, for example: in Le bossu, Lagardère ends up marrying Aurore, while in Lagardère he marries her mother. I must say that I enjoy the bits in the miniseries when Lagardère travels all over Europe to find and kill one by one the members of the gang who attacked Nevers in the fatal night and check whether any of them has a mark on his hand. I also like the title Lagardère better because the hunchback only appears in less than 1/4 of the movie, I think - even though it's the original title. (It's based on a book called Le bossu by Paul Féval.) However, Le bossu is still a much better title than On Guard.