Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dombais et fils (2007)

Based on Charles Dicken's Dombey and Son, this 2 part miniseries made by France is actually the best period drama movie I have ever seen. I don't know if it's true to the original novel since I have not read it, but judging from appearance, it is very beautiful.

The writer & director did a wonderful job. With the help of a narrator, it's easy to follow the story and learn about each character in the movie. Charles Dombais (Christophe Malavoy), the owner of Dombais & Son, is a rich widower with 2 children: Florence and her little brother Paul. Mr. Dombais has much hope in his son to follow his step, because without Paul, the name Dombais & Son has only half a meaning. He ignores Florence because she is a girl. Florence herself loves his father very much, and since he ignores her, she gives all her love to her only brother. One day, she ruins her father's hat and goes out of the house to buy him a new one, gets lost, and is saved by Arthur and his two uncles, who own an abandoned theatre. Florence and Arthur will fall in love with each other, although it's impossible Mr. Dombais will ever give his daughter to the poor boy.

Mr. Dombais is an arrogant man and very stubborn. He looks down on women, but his views will change when his two closest friends, all male, betray him. All through the years, only his daughter stands by him and Mr. Dombais's eyes finally open and see that the only daughter whom he has despised, is worth more than any son. One of the maids, Suzanne, represents the audience's feeling. Whenever she has had enough of how the aristocrats behave, she throws her anger to a painting or something.

Best moment: Florence (Déborah François - always sad and melancholic here) plays the piano and sings Berceuse L'Oiseau d'or. "Do you remember the bird dream? The bird of gold. "

Touchez pas au grisbi (1954)

Touchez pas au grisbi (=Hands Off The Loot) is considered a classic and it's not hard to see why. Jacques Becker did a wonderful job, and there are Jean Gabin, Jeanne Moreau, and Lino Ventura. In fact, this is Lino Ventura's first film.

Legendary actor Jean Gabin played Max, the central character in the movie. On September 5, 1953, he and his best friend Riton (René Dary) did a spectacular gold bullion robbery at Orly. One month has passed. Max still wants to wait before taking the loot to a fence, but Riton tells his girlfriend (Jeanne Moreau), who tells Angelo (Lino Ventura), a gangster. Easy to guess that Angelo will do everything to get the loot.

This is a movie about friendship. Two things I like about gangster films are the honour among thieves and how religious they are (the latter is not present here, though). Angelo is the bad guy, but among Max, Riton and Pierrot (Paul Frankeur)-another gangster, there is this strong relationship. They respect each other. If Max wanted, he could run away with the loot and let his friend die [he did considered this at one point.], but he didn't. As Riton dies in the end, perhaps Max feels disappointed because he loses both the loot and his friend, but at least his conscience is clear as he has done his best.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Danton (1983)

Danton is a French-Polish co-production, directed by Andrzej Wajda. The movie tells about the quarrel between two significant figures in the French Revolution: Robespierre and Danton. There was not much about them I learnt at school, so it was interesting to see them became alive, than merely names in history books. I had an impression that since Robespierre was the leader in the Reign of Terror who sent many people to the guillotine, he must be some kind of monster. Here, he is a human being, who cares about his friends, especially Danton and Desmoulins. The Commitee of Public Safety from the beginning want Danton to be arrested, but Robespierre tries to save him, until Danton refuses to co-operate.

Robespierre was played by Polish actor Wojciech Pszoniak, supported by Polish actors. On the other corner, we have Danton played by Gérard Depardieu, supported by French actors. Danton thinks Robespierre has gone too far, while Robespierre believes that in a revolution they must not make any compromise. I think the point of the revolution against King Louis XVI was because the people was hungry, yet 5 years later, in 1794, there was still shortage of bread.

Danton died believing he fought for the right cause, for the better future of France; while during the execution of his ex-friends, Robespierre lied ill in bed - probably his conscience accused him. The ending shows a little boy recites the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which I think has been forgotten by The Committee of Public Safety, who perhaps has been drunk with the power that they kill everyone who doesn't agree with them. Robespierre himself was guillotined less than 4 months later.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Louis Malle Volume Two

When I was browsing movie titles, the name Louis Malle came up. I had heard about this director and as I was reading reviews of his works, which got positive reviews, I knew that I had to watch at least one of them which called 'Au revoir les enfants'. So I chose this box set, volume 2 first. All 5 movies are beautiful to look at. The mother character in Au revoir les enfants and Le souffle au coeur is important, and made me notice the character in the other 3. 

1. Au revoir les enfants (1987)

This movie was the reason I bought this set and turns out to be the best among these 5. Stories about children in the time of WW2 are always interesting and in the hand of Louis Malle, the details, especially how they lived a that time, are amazing. The movie centers around Julien Quentin, who is the top of his class - a boarding school run by priests, until Jean Bonnet comes. Julien will find that the new boy is Jewish, hidden by the headmaster from the Nazis. Julien is sad to be away from his mother, but he later realizes that he is more fortunate than Jean. All child actors are very good and in the moving ending, we will weep along with Julien.

2. Black Moon (1975)
A weird movie, and I cannot get the message. It's set in the future when men are in a war against women. Lily, who tries to get away from the chaos, I guess, finds refuge in a big house. There lives a fat old lady who never leaves her bed, with her son - the gardener, her daughter -the farmer, and many naked children. In a strange scene, the daughter nourishes her mother and later we see Lily does the job. I could watch this movie to the end, because of its beautiful cinematography.

3. Lacombe Lucien (1974)
Lucien is a janitor in the beginning of the movie. He tries to join the Resistance, perhaps because someone says it's patriotic. When he is refused, he quickly changes side by joining the German police instead and rats on the local Resistance leader. Does he really in need to prove himself? He jumps at the first opportunity to betray his own people. While Joseph in Au revoir les enfants becomes a collaborator to revenge the school, Lucien wants to improve his life. It's clearly that a German police lives much better than a janitor. Life has its twist, though, because he falls in love with the daughter of a Jewish tailor. In the scene where Lucien tells his girlfriend not to stand in a queue, depicts well how he thinks that his present job makes him above his people. Again here, the mother- son relationship is good. Lucien wants to make his mother proud at first by trying to join the Resistance. After he betrayed his people, his mother still loves him and vice versa. Pierre Blaise played Lucien with much anger and we believe he has this cruelty inside him.

4. Le souffle au coeur (1971)

This one is about 15 year old Laurent and his teenage life. Like Julien in Au revoir les enfants, Laurent loves his mother, and among her 3 sons, Laurent is her most favourite. Laurent's relationship with his father is not good, that he asks her mother if he is really his father's son. "Why?" asks her mother. "Because I don't love him." While it's normal for Julien to miss his mother, it seems Laurent suffers oedipus complex. "You're my little husband," says his mother. When what is forbidden is done, can they really forget it easily? Just like that? However, it's better than dwelling in the past. Lea Massari, who played the mother, is very beautiful here, therefore it makes sense if Laurent loves her so much.

5. Milou en mai (1990)
Milou's mother is dead and the whole family come to the estate for the burial. She should have chosen a better day to die, because the student uprising in May 1968 in Paris, also affect the country. They cannot bury her in time because of the strike and when the rumors get worse, they have to flee the house and hide in the forest. The dialogues are witty, and we follow the grave situation by the radio. So grave it is, that the family members want to count and divide the inheritance right away, even before the burial. My favourite character is little Françoise. She has a funny haircut and a great curiosity, always asks when she doesn't know. Milou's mother, although she is dead in the beginning, is the tool to unite the family. After the burial, they perhaps won't see each other again.

Le mur de l'Atlantique (1970)

This is one of the funny movies where everything goes wrong and wrong. I enjoyed this very much and had good laughs a couple of times.

The story is set in 1944. Bourvil plays Duchemin, a restaurant owner in Normandy. His place is frequented by German officers, French Resistance members and black marketers; but all goes fine until a RAF pilot hides in his house and sleeps with his daughter. We will see the humble restaurant owner turns into a top spy and steals a very secret document from the Germans. However, the British officers think the document is a fraud and spends 8 months interrogating him. I couldn't guess where the story would lead to as there were many hilarious twists. I hope TV5 will show more Marcel Camus's works.

Bourvil seemed to hesitate to say his lines, which is good as it underlines his character's simplicity. He always looked kind, honest, and caring. This is one of his last projects, so perhaps he had been already ill. [He passed away before the premiere.] I like the scene where a big portrait of Hitler is being carried around and the German soldiers salute it. I wonder if it's because this is a comedy or did they really do it at that time. It reminds me of Donald Duck's Der Fuehrer's Face. Also interesting is Jeff's gift to Mademoiselle Duchemin. If you have found out that the girl you slept with one year ago has born you a son, and you are very happy and want to give her a present, what will you give? Surely not a little rubber cat! -just because she keeps a cat.

What I like the most from this movie is the soundtrack. It's by Claude Bolling. It makes me want to whistle or sing along with them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Vizard Mask

It took me months to finish The Vizard Mask by Diana Norman. I found the first chapters quite hard to digest. I read several sentences, was lost, and had to re-read them again. So slow I was in my progress that at least twice I put this aside to read another novel. Thankfully, the last chapters were interesting. I determined to finish this, as the price of this book was quite expensive, especially for a used book.

the cover by Bill Gregory

The story is set in the 17th century. Penitence Hurd, a Puritan from Massachusetts arrives in London to find her aunt and ends up living in a brothel. She tries to stay pure, but her belief is shaken by the hard life. First, there is the plague and she watches her friends die one by one. Second, the man she loves leaves without knowing that she is pregnant. After meeting female playwright Aphra Bern, Penitence learns how to survive in the world where men look down on women. The stuttering Penitence becomes a great actress - the first woman to play Desdemona on stage - and Prince Rupert's mistress.

The details on how they lived under the reign of King Charles II, King James, and King William of Orange are quite vivid. The most interesting part for me is the Monmouth Rebellion and the aftermath. [This was where I read quicker.] The Lord Chief Justice decides to burn an old noble lady for helping rebels, and according to the author, "Judge Jeffrey's treatment of the rebels is true to the record". It's horrible. I think most of the rebels didn't care who sat on the throne, probably they only wanted to have a king whose religion was the same as theirs, but was it worth it? Why could not they live in peace side by side?

As for Penitence, when she arrives in London for the first time, she is a true Puritan. She holds a Bible in her hand and she can quotes many verses by heart. She knows what is right and what is wrong. However in the end of the book, she concludes what true sin is: "She was a sinner not because she had whored to stay alive but because she hadn't pursued her lover [...] and not only forced him to see her as she was but open his eyes to the fact that he loved her as much as she loved him." To waste life - that is true sin.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Inspector Morse (1987-2000)

For the last few weeks I've been watching this wonderful series on DVD. I had never heard about Inspector Morse before and as far as I know this has not ever been shown on this country. The box set contains all 33 episodes, from The Dead of Jericho to The Remorseful Day - where the main hero finally passes away.

Inspector Morse, played brilliantly by John Thaw, is a highly intelligent man and very Oxford. [The series is set in Oxford, U.K.] He listens to classical music - especially Wagner's, does crosswords, owns a red Jaguar, goes to the pubs, is an art lover, and never marries. Although he joins the choir in church, Morse is not religious. This is interesting, because here if you are not religious, why bother to go to the church at all? Is in Oxford, only in a church we can join a choir? Morse, whose first name is deliberately hidden, although it finally comes out in one of the last episodes, is also an arrogant man. He looks down on his subordinate, Sergeant Lewis, who is not as intelligent as he is; although deep down inside he realizes that he needs the loyal Lewis. I always think that Lewis, who always does the leg-work, is always too tired that he doesn't have time to think and leave it to Morse to solve the puzzle. Compared to other detective pairs (Holmes - Dawson, Poirot - Hastings, Barnaby - Troy), Lewis is much cleverer.

My favourite episode is "Second Time Around", where the murder of a little girl in the past comes back to haunt them. Through the 13 years, we can see the development in the crime world. Criminals are getting cleverer and meaner. In the first episodes, "only" 2 people dies appr. per episode, some of them by suicide. In the last one, there are at least 5, including our hero. My parents once said that years ago, one single murder in a city made a big news all over the country for months. Now every day there are a couple of murders happen.

After 33 episodes, the melancholic soundtrack has grown on me. Referring to the title, it contains Morse code. The box set has English subtitles for hearing impaired, so this series is a good way to learn English. I feel mine is getting worse day by day. Morse's English is Oxford, which has a high standard. My English teacher in junior high school said that it was the same to use who or whom as object, but to Morse, it is a big mistake - the correct one is 'whom'. I guess Lewis's teacher learnt from the same source as mine :-) I want to add that the title is wrong, because Morse is not an inspector, but a chief inspector.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

L'ours en peluche (1994)

L'ours en peluche (=Teddy Bear) is the 9th and last collaboration between Jacques Deray and Alain Delon. Although the movie looks nice with lovely soundtrack, I think the weakest part is, unfortunately, the most important: the script. There are movies with simple plots, yet they are very good. It's not the case with this one.

Delon plays Professor Jean Rivière, a famous obstetrician who also owns a luxury maternity clinic in Brussels. His life goes well, until when he receives a strange phone call which threatens to kill him because he has murdered someone. From here, the movie reveals the answer bits by bits while Rivière tries to remember if he has done someone any harm. Later, he gets a parcel containing a little teddy bear, which reminds him of a young nurse who once worked in his clinic. What seems to him a little affair is the world to her.

For this kind of story, I think it would be better if the answer hadn't been given too soon. As soon as we know who is behind the threats and why, the movie follows Rivière's visits to his friends and family, in which he has an anguished night, thought to be his last night. One refuses him as he has shown indifference to this friend before, one suggests he should forget all this and go on living; but what I find interesting is when he visits his mother (only in French movies one can find a mother of that age in a casino), who tells him to take care of himself as her friend recently lost her son and it would break her heart to know her son die before her.

The ending is not what I've expected, but Delon is the right actor if you want the bad guy to go unpunished and the audience agree with that. Perhaps after considering the whole matter, Rivière concludes that the young girl's death is not his fault. It's only a little affair and if her mental was not strong enough, why he should be responsible? Was it true that if he had spoken to her she would have been saved?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Le Gang (1977)

Le Gang is the 2nd (and last) movie made by Alain Delon and Jacques Deray, based on Roger Borniche's book. Like the first, Flic Story, Le Gang is also set in 1945, when France is recovering after WW2. While Flic Story is serious, Le Gang has much more cheerful tone; the happy music for example. The leader of the gang, Pierrot le fou, has his name changed to Robert le dingue, and to play this character, Delon wore a curly wig and a pair of round sunglasses, and smoked cigars. This change of appearance, I must say, made his acting look better. Throughout the movie, he had these wild, crazy eyes; which are more exciting to watch than the usual blank expression he used when he played a hitman.

The gang profits from the situation after the war. They fill their pockets with money from robbery after robbery. In the beginning of the movie, we meet Marinette (Nicole Calfan), who rushes to visit the gravely injured Robert. Then she tells her story, how she meets him one year ago, when the gang involved in a fight with American marines in the bar where she worked as a hatcheck girl. Although there are many robbery scenes, no one gets hurt in the movie. The only person who gets shot and dies is Robert himself. If there is an almost violence here, it must be when Robert is about to hit the marine's face with a broken bottle. It shows that behind his wide grin, hidden a deep cruelty.

The gang - left to right: Jo (Xavier Depraz) - survivor of a concentration camp, Manu (Adalberto Maria Merli) the seducer, Robert (Alain Delon) the crazy, Raymond (Roland Bertin) the car mechanic, and Lucien (Maurice Barrier) ex Gestapo member.

One time, the gang robs a train station. After the robbers left, one of the victims begins to cry for help, but stops short because he sees Robert is still there. Robert's face is menacing, but this scene turns out to be funny. Well, at least it made me laugh. He runs to escape the police, who are coming, and he succeeds, only to be caught in a raid on illegal immigrants.

Robert's end is also foolish (although the gang often makes the police look ridiculous, especially when they successfully escape from a tight surrounded house) : after a successful robbery, he goes into a jewelry store to "buy" a gift for Marinette. Like The Lord gave Sisera into the hand of Jael, the adventure of Robert- the infamous lead of the gang - ends in the hand of a woman, the jewelry's seller's wife. Marinette has lost the man she loves and gets a beautiful bracelet for a change. However, if I were Marinette, and I feel she felt the same, I would have not exchange him for hundreds of gold bracelets.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Vilaine (2008)

I enjoyed watching Vilaine very much. At first, it looked like Amélie. If I didn't watch many French movies, I might have thought that most of them look like this: narrated, many fast, short scenes to describe the characters. I think the plot of Vilaine was very good.

Mélanie (Marilou Berry, very good in this), is an overweight girl who doesn't know how to present herself. I myself think she will okay if she combs her hair well. She spends too much time to help others that she almost has no time for herself. She loves watching romantic movies like Titanic or Love Story and chats with a boy, but frets when he asks her for a photo and then for a rendez-vous. Aurore, Blandine, and Jessica help her, but when Mélanie finds out that they, in fact, want to humiliate her in her first date, she decides to revenge them and becomes the meanest girl ever.

Vilaine (a.k.a. Ugly Melanie) is a entertaining drama-comedy. Not only Aurore, Blandine and Jessica who are punished; but also Mélanie's boss, who treats her and his other employee bad. While Mélanie is not pretty, this other employee is black, illiterate and illegal. The ending is not convincing, though, but perhaps Mélanie likes him because he is the only one who pays attention to her. Two creatures who get worst fate in this movie, I think, is the kitten - who spends days in the dust bin - and the neighbour's lazy dachshund - who is forced to run after a bus. Mélanie herself also learns something, that she goes too far, that she almost ruins Innocent - her only friend's life.