Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Una giornata particolare (1977)

May 8, 1938 was a special day for people in Rome. Hitler was in Rome and a parade was held on that day, with both German and Italian armed forces. This movie starts with about 5 and a half minute documentary of Hitler's arrival.

Sophia Loren plays Antonietta, an ordinary house-wife who lives with her husband and six children. While others go out to watch the parade, she stays at home doing her chores, until when her bird escapes and neighbour Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni), helps her to catch it. Gabriele is at the point to commit suicide when Antonietta knocks his door. The two begins to build a friendship. The movie is slowly, but the images are so beautiful. I like the colour. It begins in the morning and ends in the night, when Antonietta goes to bed. I put here a still which I like very much, where it seems the screen are divided into 3 parts: Gabrielle preparing the table, a hanging coat on the wall, and Antonietta standing against the open door.

Antonietta flirts with her new acquaintance, but soon she finds that he is not what she has thought. His political view and sexual orientation have made him lost his job and that very night he will be deported to Sardinia. [That reminds me of a movie I have watched on TV, Un amour à taire, how the Nazis don't like homosexuals. It was a scary movie.]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

La Reine Margot

The beginning of this book was even harder to read than The Black Tulip. It seemed to me Dumas poured the whole French court in the first chapter that it was difficult to remember who's who. However, after I got used to the names, the book was very enjoyable to read, and like other works by Dumas, this is very worth the money.

The story begins with the marriage between Henry of Bourbon, the king of Navarre, and Marguerite de Valois (Queen Margot), sister of King Charles IX, on 18th August 1572 at the Louvre. It seems there will be peace between the Protestants and Catholics, but queen-mother Catherine de Medicis and Duke de Guise reassure King Charles that the Huguenots (=French Protestants) are dangerous. 6 days after the wedding fête, the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre takes place. 

In this book there is also a beautiful story of true friendship. Two handsome young counts, Coconnas, a Catholic, and La Mole, a Protestant, meet for the first time on the evening of the massacre day in an inn. They go to the Louvre together - each for his mission, go back to the inn, dine and play cards together, until comes the time when Coconnas has to kill his new friend because of his religion. La Mole escapes and finds refuge in Queen Marguerite's chamber. La Mole and Coconnas will meet again and, after La Mole's conversion, both serve Duke of Alençon. While La Mole has an affair with Queen Marguerite, Coconnas with the Duchess de Nevers. After King Charles become ill, La Mole and Coconnas are sent to jail, accused of using spell on the king. Both are tortured and beheaded in the end. King Charles agrees to sacrifice his sister's lover to save the family's name, for he knows La Mole and Coconnas are not guilty. It is his own mother who undeliberately poisons him. The story ends with the death of King Charles in 1574.

Catherine de Medicis tries anything to get rid of Henry of Navarre, her son-in-law, but every time there is always the hand of Providence who sabotage her efforts. Henry of Navarre is smart and it's interesting to read how he always escapes from his enemies.

My favourite character in this book is 25 year old La Mole, who has dark complexion, blue eyes, and melancholic smile. I think it's perhaps he is so helpless on the St Bartholomew night, and he helps Coconnas to get well when he is still his enemy. He is also Queen Marguerite's favourite. The last chapters where they torture him is very moving. I hoped he was as fortunate as Coconnas, but no. The strong friendship between them makes Coconnas choose to die with him than running with his beloved Duchess. Coconas says: "As for you, La Mole, you have offended me by thinking for one moment that I would leave you. Did I not swear to live and die with you? But you are in such pain that I forgive you." The part where the executioner takes them to the scaffold in a cart, is more moving (at least for me) than the same scene in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities.

The book contains explanatory notes which is useful, but sometimes they are confusing, unless you are an expert in French history. The notes also show that Dumas was not always faithful to history in order to make his plot interesting.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comme un boomerang (1976)

Like most of José Giovanni's movies, the story in Comme un boomerang is not far from prison. Jacques Batkin (Alain Delon) is a successful owner of an international transport business, with a beautiful wife (Carla Gravina), and a 17 year old son (Louis Julien) from his previous marriage. He is always busy and hardly at home. One day he returns from one of his business trips and learns that his only son, Eddy, after taking drug in a party, killed a policeman on duty, and now is in jail. Jacques does whatever he can to help Eddy. He almost succeeds in persuading the policeman's widow to draw the charge when the newspapers reveals his past, that he is an ex-gangster and that he has spent time in jail. Jacques's past becomes a boomerang that destroys all he has achieved in life.

This is a moving story of a father who loves his son so much that he sacrifices anything for him. It's not easy for Jacques to 'get out of the hole' and build a new life, and that he works hard all this time so that Eddy can be proud of his name, to start anew. However, since he is busy, he has no time to watch over Eddy so that Eddy falls into the clutch of drugs. Jacques doesn't need Eddy's mother to tell him that he is guilty. When Eddy tells him how proud he is to have an ex-gangster as his father, so that Eddy gets privileges in jail, Jacques tells Eddy that Eddy is wrong.

Years ago, Jacques could be freed from jail because he pretended to be crazy. This time, when Eddy tries the same thing, it backfires. Like the title "Comme un boomerang" - it makes all Jacques's efforts to save Eddy become useless.

Like in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, where it's impossible for an ex-convict to shake off his past, it's the same here. Those who have worked for and with Jacques Batkin for years has forgotten his merit. When the news about Eddy comes out, they greet Jacques sympathetically when he arrives in the office in the morning. When it's known that he is an ex-gangster, when he arrives in the office, they pretend they don't see him. Later his father-in-law demands that the name Batkin is to be taken off from the company's name.

A year after Eddy's arrest, both father and son have been tired. For his last effort, as he cannot help his son with an honest way, Jacques contacts his old friends and arranges an escape for Eddy. He and Eddy will flee to Vesuvius, the Italian border. A radio reporter reports how the father and son are being pursued by police helicopters. Should they pity the Batkins? No one weeps for a police murderer, especially if the late police leaves behind 3 kids, says the reporter. However, in this movie, José Giovanni and Delon have successfully made us have pity on the Batkins.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Armaguedon (1977)

Armaguedon is the first movie where director Alain Jessua used a novel for the story. He usually insisted to write his own movie, but after a series of failures, he looked for a good book to be adapted and David Lippincott's book was chosen. Jean Yanne plays Louis Carrier, a television engineer, who inherits 25 millions after his brother's death. He decides to let the world know about his existence by sending threats to kill someone important, under the name of Armageddon. The name Armageddon comes from a book called Apocalypse, from The Bible. He reads: "Armageddon. The wrath of God. The punishment. The last judgement." With his accomplice Einstein (Renato Salvatori), who is mentally retarded, Carrier sends to the police all over Europe photos which show him with important people, to show that he can kill them if he wants. In the scene where Scotland Yard receives his message, we can see a secretary reads to her boss what they got that morning: "12 letters insulting the Queen, 2 bombing blackmails, 8 criminals denounce, 3 threats to rape Princess Anne. Nothing out of ordinary." Nevertheless they go on with the Armageddon case.

Inspector Vivien (Michel Duchaussoy) who investigates the case, invites his friend Dr Michel Ambrose (Alain Delon), a psychiatrist. Dr Ambrose wants to help Carrier, but after a failed trap, Carrier becomes angry and kills 2 young people. He then demands his film to be played on European channels so that he can send his message, or a room filled with spectators of a live TV show will be bombed.

When I hear the word 'Armageddon', I think of something so destructive, like the Michael Bay movie, for example. So there is something funny in this Alain Jessua movie. Every time I see a line like "10 days to Armageddon", I wait for something horrible to happen. In the movie, Carrier 'only' kills 3 people: the young man & woman, and a character played by Michel Creton who tries to blackmail him. [I'm not sure what happens to Einstein. He carries the bomb. Does it explode in the end? If yes, that makes 4. ] In the movie the media nicknames him 'The apocalyptic killer', although at that time he hasn't killed anyone yet (Creton's body hasn't been found).

I like very much the scene inside Madame Tussaud museum in London. It is nice to be able to see what it looked like in the 70's.

1 chance sur 2 (1998)

Twenty-eight years after Borsalino, director Patrice Leconte successfully re-united Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo in this entertaining movie. Vanessa Paradis plays Alice, a 19 year-old girl, whose mother dies while she is still in jail. On her release, she receives a tape from her mother, telling her how 20 years ago she loved passionately 2 men at the same moment and one of them is her father. We can guess who the 2 men are: Belmondo plays Léo Brassac, an ex-commando leader who turns into a garage owner; and Delon plays Julien Vignal, an ex-safe cracker turns into a restaurateur. Both are not young anymore, so it is amusing to see the stunts here, which culminating in the end with Brassac jumps from his car to grab a ladder thrown from a running helicopter and climbs up. This scene even amazes their enemy: "Doing that, at his age; it's disgusting."

The first half of the movie is filled with how the Brassac and Vignal try to win Alice. Brassac with his car collection and Vignal with his helicopter. Then Alice, in running away from some rascals, steals a Russian mob's car which happens to carry a suitcase contains 50 million dollars. The police, who have been keeping the mob under surveillance, are the one who takes the suitcase; but the Mob don't know that and keep hunting her. One of the most exciting moments - apart from the scene dedicated to Borsalino (where we can hear the theme song of the 1970 movie) - is when Brassac and Vignal use bungee-jumping to get information from the Mob's lawyer.

In the end, for Alice, having two fathers is happier than only one, especially when two of them love her so much. It's every girl's dream to have a father who can save her from the mafia - perhaps that is what Patrick Leconte wants to say. Like her mother, Alice cannot choose between Brassac and Vignal.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Prime Suspect (1991-2006)

I like crime/detective stories. It's interesting to see why and how a murder is done and how the police find the murderer. A few weeks ago I found out that Prime Suspect boxset was on discount, so why not? And I was not disappointed. The series was great.

The first of the series is perhaps the best of all. DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) - they say she is the first female DCI on TV series - has to prove herself in a male world. It is amazing to see her work. At first her subordinates are not very willing, but they end up admiring her. What I like about this series is, it shows how hard the police must work to find evidences. They have to interview so many people and dig many files. Tennison has about 10-20 people in every meeting and tell them what to do, and I imagine each of them tell their own subordinates what to do.

There are 9 different cases in this series. After watching the first, I wondered if they could find something to beat it; and perhaps they did because I enjoyed each show. From all 9, it's Prime Suspect 4: The Lost Child which I like less - because here it seems the police failed to find the culprit, but only by confession. My most favourites are Prime Suspect 1 and Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness, so I think I like it when the killer is someone who looks kind and lovable in the outside, when the police don't have any proof and only because Tennison's hunch that they are after this suspect.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Manon (1949)

Manon was not as I had expected. After Le corbeau, L'assassin habite au 21, and Quai des Orfèvres; I waited for a crime/detective movie. Manon is a drama instead, a tragic story of 2 lovers, Robert Dégrieux (Michel Auclair) and Manon Lescaut (Cécile Aubry).

Robert, a member of Resistance, helps Manon when the other women want to shave her head as a punishment, being accused as a Nazi collaborator. They become lovers. Robert wants to join his parents in the country to save money, but Manon is a city girl, so they join her brother Leon (Serge Reggiani) in Paris. To earn their living, Robert does illegal activities. Manon wishes to marry Paul, a rich American, and asks Leon to keep Robert away from her, which culminates in the murder of Leon by Robert. Robert flees to Marseilles, but Manon joins him. Both are found in a ship to Alexandria as stowaways. They then join the Jews who are heading to Palestine, to start a new life.

Compared with the 3 movies of H.G. Clouzot I have seen, the plot in Manon is the one I less like, and actually I found the main lead actor unconvincing (or perhaps I was tired.). However, from the artistic point of view, this is an excellent movie which has many beautiful images. I can understand why it won The Golden Lion in the Venice Film Festival. The one I most like is a upside-down image (because its Robert & Manon's reflection on the spring) when they both are holding hands in the oasis. The ending scene is also very beautiful: Manon's dead body hanging from Robert's back and her breast peeks from her torn clothes.