Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Quai des Orfèvres (1947)

Quai des Orfèvres is a very good movie with several nice musical numbers, although not as funny as Le corbeau and L'assassin habite au 21. I can see how H.G. Clouzot had developed the quality of his work so in later years we got the excellent Les diaboliques. I think the title is not right. Quai des Orfèvres refers to a police station in Paris, while in the movie there is not much of that station. The English title of the version I saw last night on TV was 'Jenny Lamour'.

Poisoned with jealousy, pianist Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier) goes to the meeting place between his soprano wife Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) and the rich businessman Brignon (Charles Dullin) with a gun to kill the pair. When he gets there, he finds the dead body of Brignon. Worse, his car is stolen so it takes a long time to return to the theatre where he plans to make an alibi. Meanwhile, Jenny confesses to their friend Dora (Simone Renant) that she has killed Brignon by hitting his head with a bottle. Louis Jouvet plays the inspector who handles the case, which the press refers as 'a very very very tiny case' since Brignon is a scoundrel.

The plot is good as the Martineaus keep secret from each other. It was a good scene when the inspector came into the couple's apartment and both Maurice and Jenny were worried with fear: she believed she had killed Brignon and the inspector would find out, he felt he was the prime suspect; while in fact the inspector came to ask about their neighbour Dora, who had taken pictures of young women brought by Brignon. The couple's dishonesty to each other will lead into a tragedy, but fortunately it ends well and they will realize how strong is their love. I could guess the ending, though.

Maurice: I've been answering stupid questions for two hours.
The Inspector : And I've been asking them for ten years.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

L'assassin habite au 21 (1942)

I'm glad because this month every Tuesday TV5 shows Henri-Georges Clouzot movies. Next week it will be Quai des orfevres (1947). I love his work, although I have only seen 3 so far: Les diaboliques, Le corbeau and L'assassin habite au 21, which was shown last night. H.G. Clouzot is said to be the French Alfred Hitchcock, but the dialogues in Clouzot movies make me giggle more. With the exception of Les diaboliques, they are more comic than thrilling.

In L'assassin habite au 21, a murderer haunts the city streets and leaves his calling card on each of his victims. "Monsieur Durand", it says. The police finally have a clue: the killer lives on 21 Junot Avenue, Hotel Mimosas, a family boarding house. Inspector Wens (Pierre Fresnay), who leads the investigation, decides to reside there, disguised as a pastor. One more murder confirms that Monsieur Durand is indeed among the lodgers. However, every time the police make an arrest, a new crime is committed. Only later Inspector Wens finds a clue in the program list to celebrate the release of 3 boarders arrested by the police.

Each character is unique: Wens's girlfriend Mila (Suzy Delair) the soprano who is promised a job if she can have her name on the news' front page, Colin (Pierre Larquey) the doll maker, Lalah-Poor (Jean Tissier) the magician, the limp Doctor Linz (Noël Roquevert), Mlle Cuq (Maximilienne) a "young" maid who tries to be a novelist, Kid Robert (Jean Despeaux) a blind ex-boxer - and his beautiful nurse, Mme Point (Odette Talazac) the hotel's owner, Armand (Natol) the valet who can imitate voices. Each one arouses suspicion, except the valet, who always has a solid alibi.


Inspector Wens concludes that the killer is not one man, but three. I wonder how he arrives to that conclusion. It's easy to guess the killer is more than one, most likely two. But why three? Because the word "Trio"? Perhaps from the way Monsieur Durant kills his victims: by strangulation, sword, and pistol.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raboliot (2008)

Raboliot (Thierry Frémont) is a poacher lives with his wife and 2 sons in the French countryside. The story is set after WW1. His problems begin when a new gendarme named Sommedieu (Thierry Gibault), decides to make the law to be honoured and poachers must be punished. At first Raboliot doesn't care, as many poor villagers also live from poaching, and the count whose land he trespasses is in good term with him and won't suit him. However, Sommedieu spreads lies about Raboliot, starts with telling the count that Raboliot is a coward and deserter from army. Unable to pay the fine after the count sued him, Raboliot gives himself up to the police, but Sommedieu deliberately lets him escape so Raboliot will get more jailtime. And Sommedieu doesn't stop there.

Sommedieu is a policeman who is obsessed to catch his prey and he sets for Raboliot. It seems too much. What have Raboliot done to him? However, the French are already familiar with the story of the similar theme: Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (Jean Valjean vs Javert) is the most popular. There is also a movie called Deux hommes dans la ville by José Giovanni (Gino Strabliggi vs Goitreau) which has an obsessed policeman.

The ending is tragic. Raboliot does succeed in restoring his good name. The villagers believe him and Sommedieu's lies are disclosed. However Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe, the director, has determined to give us a sad ending. Sommedieu shoots Raboliot to death before anyone can prevent him.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Horta Doll

I wanted to buy a horta doll after it was shown on TV. I thought that my niece would like one. Several years ago I had seen some horta dolls in a mall, but couldn't remember what mall it was and what store. So I ordered this online. To save postage I bought 3: one for my niece, one for my boss, and the 3rd was originally for a friend's birthday present, but in the end I sold it to one of my uncles. Fortunately, my boss asked me to take care of hers, so I could take pictures of its progress. First picture is the doll, still wrapped. Next is the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 11th day. Today is the 30th day and the grass are still growing. My friend in the US tells me that they have something similar: The Chia Pet.

Jeanne Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (2006)

This story of Madame de Pompadour is interesting, although we are adviced not to learn history from movies, because the details have usually been dramatized.

Consists of 2 episodes, it begins with the meeting between King Louis XV (Vincent Perez) and Jeanne Poisson (Hélène de Fougerolles), the wife of Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Étiolles. The King dismisses the husband and gives her the title Marquise de Pompadour. The King's family soon realize that this affair is different from any other. The Dauphin is the one who opposes the relationship the most (his father trusts Jeanne more in political matters), that he does everything to harm Jeanne: humiliating her and killing her unborn baby. After the death of Henriette, one of the King's daughters, who makes the King promise on her deathbed that he will leave Jeanne, the King suffers because Jeanne is forced to leave Versailles. The wise queen tells the King to follow his heart and he asks Jeanne to return as his royal ally. Jeanne becomes the most powerful woman in France as the King listens to her, which makes those who hate her growing in number. The movie ends with Jeanne's death in 1764 from TBC.

Costumes and sets look great. The story is enchanting. I like the intrigues in the court. The acting is okay, although I don't see much different between the young Jeanne, when she first enters the court in her charming ways, and the old Jeanne, who has become the first woman in France and knows how to handle her enemies. The mean dauphin dies soon after Jeanne and never sits on the throne. The poor Louis XVI is The Dauphin's son.

Le corbeau (1943)

Le corbeau (The Raven) is set in a small town of St Robin which is poisoned by anonymous letters signed by 'The Raven', mostly denounce Dr Germain (Pierre Fresnay. I hope this lead actor showed more emotion. His voice was monotonous, or perhaps it was the bad dubbing.), who commits adultery with Laura Vorzet (Micheline Francey) - wife of the head of psychiatric ward in the town's only hospital - and at the same time has an affair with Denise (Ginette Leclerc), and saves labouring mothers but "kills" the babies. Soon the town is filled with those letters, sent at an amazing speed, 800+ letters in a month, that it is concluded the Raven has nothing to do but composing letters and perhaps the culprit is more than one person.

Things get nasty when Laura's sister Marie Corbin (Héléna Manson) is sent to jail and her house is destroyed by the mob. It's known that Marie Corbin, a nurse, hates Dr Germain because of his sin with her sister. Marie Corbin also dislikes Patient no.13 who complains a lot. Before Marie is arrested, Patient no.13 committed suicide after receiving a letter from The Raven, telling him that his sickness could not be cured and he would be die soon.

Dr Germain, with the help of Laura's husband, Michel Vorzet (Pierre Larquey) does the investigation after the police failed to find the culprit. They summon all the suspects and ask them to write what Dr Vorzet dictates. The theory is, although the real culprit can try to disguise the handwriting, after hours of writing in capital letters, his/her real handwriting will appear. This test is stopped after Denise collaps, exhausted.

The ending has several twists. First, it seems Denise is the culprit; later it turns out Laura is the Raven. Only in the last few minutes, we can really sure about the identity of the Raven. Mother of the Patient No.13, who has sworn to revenge his son's death, carries out her promise.

This work of Henri-Georges Clouzot is not as good as Les Diaboliques, imo. I don't see the reason why Vorzet targets Patient No.13 and Marie Corbin, except he really wants to make Laura suffers. Dr Germain himself doesn't seem to care much until he starts to lose his patients. Vorzet punishes Laura, in the end for her adultery, and in the process by forcing her to write the letters.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Black Tulip

Since I enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo very much, and thought that it was one of the best books I had ever read, The Black Tulip was on my next list to read. I was not disappointed. Although not as thick as The Count of Monte Cristo, The Black Tulip was also very enjoyable and hard to put down. I only put it down because it had been late and I had to work the next day. These 2 Alexandre Dumas works are really worth my money. I am considering to read more works of him. Robin Buss translated both Dumas's work I have and I hoped to find more, but I found out that Mr Buss passed away in December 2006.

Like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Black Tulip also tells about an innocent man who is thrown into jail after being falsely accused by an anonymous letter. Set in Holland in 1672, Cornelius van Baerle is an artist who adores tulip. The city of Haarlem offers a prize of 100,000 florins to those who discovers the black tulip, which is considered as impossible that time. Van Baerle's neighbour, also a tulip grower, is jealous of Van Baerle's success and writes to the authority that Van Baerle is involved in a treason against the state because Van Baerle is the godson of Cornelius de Witt, the traitor.

The beginning of the book is rather hard to devour because of the historical details on the murder of de Witt brothers, but after that the story flows nicely. Van Baerle in his despair will find that there is something more beautiful awaits him than just the black tulip. Dumas's writing is funny at times. This is one of my favourites: "The dog was coming out of a niche in the wall, rattling a great chain, and sniffed at Cornelius so as to be sure to recognize him, in case it might be necessary to devour him some day."

The story in the movie La Tulipe noire with Alain Delon is very different with this one: the location, the time, the names of the characters. Yet in the opening credits Alexandre Dumas's name is mentioned, along with the novel.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Le passage (1986)

The story of Le passage is quite original, only perhaps it was not easy to transfer it to screen. The movie poster is something unusual because we cannot see the face of Delon, although his name is still written in big letters, as big as the title.

Director René Manzor came to Alain Delon with the idea and the latter agreed to produce it. Manzor's real name is Lalanne, so it's natural if his brother Jean-Félix Lalanne was picked to compose the soundtrack and Francis Lalanne performed the theme song. Manzor's son Alain plays David Diaz.

Film-maker Jean Diaz lives with his son David after separated from his wife. On their way to the new house near the sea, Jean and David have a car accident provoked by The Death (portrayed here like a grim-reaper). The doctor actually can save Jean, but The Death sabotages the equipment with his computer. The Death offers Jean to wake David from his coma, but Jean must make an animation movie against the violence for him. To seal the pact, The Death cut off Jean's right hand. So strong the relationship between the father and the son, that David tells his mother that his father is not dead, but is kept in a prison by a 'dreadful beggar'. Meanwhile, Jean finds out that The Death wants to use the ideas in his work to destroy the world. He almost escapes, but The Death kidnaps David and forces Jean to return.

For a 1986 movie, I think this is a wonderful achievement. This is a drama , combined with fantasy, animation and science-fiction. The budget maybe a bit low, but as the idea is very good, the result as a whole is very enjoyable. The most impressing thing is how strong the love between Jean and David. I put there 3 images which I like very much, which depict the unconditional love.

1. David reaching out for his unconscious father. Jean is taken to the left, while David to the right.

2. David touching his father's image on TV.

3. This is like a mirror to picture no.2. Jean Diaz looking at the painting of David.

The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin), in the eyes of his boss Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) is nothing but an idiot. Dreyfus has been waiting for an opportunity to show the world that he has more right to be decorated than Closeau. However, in the eyes of Ponton, Closeau's subordinate, Closeau is the best detective ever and the proud of France.

In this movie, there is a mysterious thief who calls himself The Tornado, who has stolen priceless artifacts: Magna Carta in England, The Shroud of Turin in Italy, and The Imperial Sword in Japan. A dream team is build to catch The Tornado. Closeau is chosen to represent France, but soon the Pink Panther diamond, the proud of France, is stolen. Closeau must find the legendary diamond to repair his reputation like in the previous movie, while in the same time trying to win the heart of Nicole, the woman he adores.

There are lots of good actors in this, like in the Dream Team itself, apart from Closeau, we have Alfred Molina who plays the English detective, Andy Garcia from Italy, and Yuki Matsuzaki from Japan. To help them, there is an author of the book about The Tornado, someone who knows a lot about the thief, played by the beautiful Aishwarya Rai. And there are of course Jean Reno as Ponton and Emily Mortimer as Nicole. Lily Tomlin teaches Closeau how to behave, and as a surprise, Jeremy Irons plays a little role as The Tornado's fence. So little his role that for a moment I suspected he was The Tornado himself.

The movie is quite enjoyable. It reminds me of Fantômas, but Closeau is not as unlucky as Commisaire Juve, and Closeau has more brain. At least after a series of embarrassing events, he does solve the case.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

L'homme pressé (1977)

L'homme pressé or The Hurried Man is Pierre Niox, an art collector who determines to have the most beautiful objects available. Alain Delon plays Niox and in my opinion this is one of the best works he has ever done. Many people (including director Edouard Molinaro) said that in real life, Delon is like Niox, always tries to do several jobs at the same time. In Pierre Niox, there is so much energy and he is so full of life that he is almost crazy. In the movie, Delon's eyes are often like the crazy character's he portrays in Le Gang.

At the beginning of the movie, Niox uses a helicopter to save time so he can arrive on time to buy a beautiful big house. He is always in a hurry: his proposal of marriage, wedding (although not showed on the movie, but I'm sure of it), and honeymoon are done in a short time. All decorators he has called for his new apartment give up because he wants it to be finished too soon. The most crazy thing is when he tells his wife that 9 months are too long, so he wants their baby to be delivered after 7 months. When it comes to art, money is not important for him. He re-buries a beautiful Roman ruin because he doesn't want to be disturbed. There is one object of art which Niox wants so much: a beautiful Greek vase from the 6th century.

One life is not enough for Pierre Niox. 24 hours a day is not enough. He wants to conquer the time, but in the end, he has to surrender to death. Delon plays the death scene wonderfully. He sits in a restaurant, holds the receiver of the telephone, and suddenly has a cardiac arrest. He doesn't touch the chest, but keeps holding the receiver, stops breathing, his eyes dilate, and falls onto the floor. This and the death scene in La Veuve Couderc are my favourite.

Last year I saw the newer version with Anthony Delon as Pierre Niox. One scene I liked, was when he and his friends were in a restaurant and as he thought the waiters were not fast enough, he got up and served the bunch himself.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Le retour de Casanova (1992)

I didn't know what to expect from this movie at first and in fact, I thought the DVD cover was bad. It turns out director Edouard Niermans has made a beautiful movie with lovely images. The quality of the DVD from Pathé is also excellent. Casanova is now old, has many debts, and lives in exile. He looks forward to receiving the permission to return to Venice. Then he meets an old acquaintance, Olivo, whose invitation he only receives because he wants to seduce Olivo's beautiful niece, Marcolina.

It's interesting (and appropriate) that Alain Delon was cast as the grand seducteur. For this role, he gained weight and used make-up to look older and tired. Fabrice Luchini played his valet. The movie was based on a book by Arthur Schnitzler and I read in a review that in the book, the valet did not exist. With the addition of a valet, the life of old Casanova is not as lonely as in the book.

Casanova becomes ill because Marcolina refuses him (or perhaps he is ill because he stands all night in open air watching her window after she told him her lover was to come). There is a touching scene when she refuses his offer of marriage because "I abhor your physic. I find you old and boring. You are egoist, always talk about yourself. Sometimes, when you are talking, you have bad breath. You belong to the previous world." Perhaps for Casanova, this is the first time he is refused and hurt. It's not that he only wants a woman, because in the same house, Olivo's wife, is his ex-lover, has been waiting for him for 13 years and ready to elope with him if he asks. When Marcolina's lover, the handsome lieutenant Lorenzi offends him, he uses all his might to beat him in the game of cards - without cheating as usual - and from his winning, he persuades the lieutenant to lend him his cloak, so when he enters Marcolina's room, the girl would think that he is her lover.

Casanova cannot be proud of his latest conquest because he gets the girl by deception. The movie concludes with his return to Venice and this one is also not something he cannot be proud of, because he has spied his friends.