Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Conformist (1970)

I think The Conformist is more beautiful than 1900. There are so many beautiful shots here, especially the outdoor scenes in Paris, the dancing, and the blowing leaves when Marcello and his mother get out of the car.

Set in 1938, the story centers around Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who works for the Fascist government to atone the murder he has done when he was a child. "Everyone wants to be different from the others, but you want to be the same like everyone else," Italo remarks about Marcello. Marcello doesn't want to be different, because there will be less risk if he is the same as everyone else. The movie begins with Marcello and Manganiello, his colleague, follow Professor Quadri, their target, and his wife Anna. Marcello wants to save Anna, whom he loves, but Manganiello says it is too late. We then follow Marcello's life in a series of flashbacks.

In order to be the same like everyone else, apart from working for the Fascist government, Marcello marries a silly middle class girl; although according to the priest whom he gives confession to, Marcello's definition of "a normal life" is different. Marcello receives an order to assassinate his former professor, an anti-Fascist, who lives in exile in Paris. Taking his new wife to Paris for honeymoon, Marcello makes an appointment with Professor Quadri, meets his wife Anna, and falls in love with her. He almost aborts the mission and asks her to elope, but she refuses. He still tries to save her by begging her not to go with her husband to the villa in the mountain, where the mission will be launched.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

La passante du Sans-Souci (1982)

La passante du Sans-Souci is Romy Schneider's last movie, before her death on 29 May 1982. Her son David died during the shooting. Knowing the fact, I couldn't help noticing how unhappy both her characters were. [She played 2 roles.] When I saw the note in the beginning of the movie "to David and his father", who both preceded her, it seemed like reading a message beyond the grave. 

Max Baumstein (Michel Piccoli), the owner of a big insurance company in Geneva, is also the founder and leader of Solidarité internationale, an organization who fights against violations of human rights. To the shock of his wife Lina (Romy Schneider) , as well as everybody, he murders the ambassador of Paraguay for France. The trial reveals bit by bit that the ambassador was in France in 1933-1934 and responsible for the death of Michel Wiener(Helmut Griem) and his wife Elsa (Romy Schneider), who had taken care of Max since the death of his father by the S.A.

The most haunting scene, was when a S.A. soldier bangs little Max's foot against a tree. What has he done to deserve such thing, except being a Jewish? A minute before he was walking home happily with his father. Elsa screams from the balcony and runs forwards to save Max, ignoring the fact that she is facing a group of soldiers. This boy is not her son, but her husband's employee's; but perhaps as she and Michel don't have any children, they love Max as their own. I can't help thinking how desperately Elsa wants to save Max, like Romy wanted to save her David. I don't know, though, if the scene was shot after of before the tragedy.

I think not enough screen time with Ruppert von Leggaert (Mathieu Carrière) to make Max hate him. Far as I can remember, Max only has seen the German once, when he accompanies Elsa to the headquarters. Perhaps Max sees him regularly in the Rajah Club. I think Maurice Bouillard (Gérard Klein) has more reason to hate von Leggaert than Max, but perhaps Max hates all Germans because of his father, and like Maurice, Max loves Elsa, because later in his life he marries Lina, who looks very much like Elsa. 

As a remembrance, a plaque is erected on the wall of Le Sans-Souci cafe, for Michel and Elsa Wiener, one of the firsts who fought Hilter.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

L'important c'est d'aimer (1975)

L'important c'est d'aimer (=The Important Thing is To Love) is a very emotional movie and only for serious viewers. In the commentary, director Andrzej Zulawski expressed his disappointment when one of the producers asked him to cut a particular scene because his wife fainted when she saw the screening.

The center character is Nadine (brilliantly played by Romy Schneider - who won the Cesar's best actress award for her work here), a failed actress who stars in porn movies. She tells the hero, photographer Servais (Fabio Testi - more a stuntman than an actor. However he would be very useful in the fight scenes. Anyway, he was beautiful.) when he is taking her pictures secretly that "I'm a good actress. I do good stuff. I only do this to eat. So no photos, please." This is a very difficult scene, very emotional, and Zulawski explained that he shot it later, although in the movie it was in the beginning. I saw a still image of this scene on DVD Beaver when I was comparing versions to buy and thought it was very moving.

This movie is full of people trying to survive. Their world is the world of artists: Nadine takes any roles to make ends meet, her husband Jacques (Jacques Dutronc, seemed out of place here, like a joke. He was more a singer than an actor.) lives in his own dreamy world of cinema, Servais has to work for a gangster (Claude Dauphin - here replayed his role in Casque d'or) taking dirty pictures to pay his - and his father's - debts, director Messala trying to make a successful play, German actor Karl (Klaus Kinski - mad as usual) trying to do his best on a job and find another after, etc.

The plot perhaps more focused on the triangle love story among Nadine, Servais, and Jacques. Servais falls in love with her because he recognizes her purity although she is in a mud, and tries to help her by finding her a proper job. Nadine is torn between the two men, because she loves her husband and owes him. He had taken care of her in her difficult past. However, slowly Jacques gives up, and knowing that Servais loves her with his life - unlike Jacques, who gives her anything but to live - finally Nadine tells Servais that she loves him. The ending is not that happy, because Servais is badly injured, beaten by the hitmen of the gangster he has offended when he stops working for him. Servais pays the money back, but the gangster tells him: "Life is not about money."

Interesting that the ending is a mirror to the first scene when Nadine faces a dying man and says "I love you" to him. In the first scene, it is hard for her to say that line, and my guess is, of course, with the director shouts at her all the time, how can she get the right mood? Romy Schneider was very convincing in this role of Nadine, and more for me after what I've been reading about her personal life. It is tough being an actress and after watching this movie I can understand better why many of them go to drugs or commit suicides.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Claude Chabrol Collection (part 1)

Claude Chabrol is considered as the French Alfred Hitchcock. Since I liked Alfred Hitchcock's works and French movies in the 60-70's, I knew that this box-set was not to be missed. What I like about this box-set is with the price of 1, I can get 8 movies at once.

1. Le boucher (1970)

After reading all 8 summaries, I decided to watch this one first. I like tales of serial murders. In Le boucher, the story is more focused on the relationship between Helene (Stéphane Audran), the local headmistress, and Popaul (Jean Yanne), a butcher who recently returned home after serving in Algeria and Indo-China. They become good friends and soon he tells her that he loves her. When a young girl is found dead, the village becomes vivid. The villagers find something to talk about. There is an interesting comment by Popaul who has seen much misery in the wars: why bother so much over a body when in a war "We counted bodies by the lorry-load". However, in a little village, a murder "is savagery". "War is horrible, but it's a job to be done." says an old villager. It's not clear why the murders start. The culprit only mentions that "It's like a nightmare. I can't breathe until I've stuck my knife." Not all butchers who have gone to wars start butchering young women after returning to their homeland. I also don't quite understand why Popaul takes the lighter from Helene's drawer; why not leave it there? -but I also don't catch the meaning of Helene's laughter when Popaul can show her that he still has the lighter. Is Helene thinking that she is wrong? "Oh, the lighter I found was not his." or she realizes that he is too smart that he has bought another one. She must have noticed that he just came back from town, where he bought the cherries in brandy.

2. Les biches (1968)

The movie opens with a rich lady named Frédérique (Stéphane Audran) picks up a street artist, Why (Jacqueline Sassard). Frédérique takes Why to her villa in St. Tropez where they meet an architect, Paul Thomas (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Why spends a night with Paul, but Frédérique wants him for herself. Paul seems cannot decide between the two, but he ends up with Frédérique because of her strong personality (or maybe her money). The relationship among the 3 is complicated because of the strange love between Frédérique and Why. Why begins to wear Frédérique's clothes and imitates her style, the way she talks, etc; like Tom Ripley imitates Dickie Greenleaf. However, if Tom Ripley deals with the difficulty to hide the body and cover his traces, this one ends with the death of Frédérique, and a happy ending for Why, and perhaps also for Paul.

3. Les noces rouges (1973)

Lucienne (Stéphane Audran), wife of the mayor (Claude Piéplu), is having an affair with his deputy, Pierre (Michel Piccoli). Pierre's wife is ill, while the mayor never loves Lucienne - that is what Lucienne and Pierre say to justify their doing. The mayor himself is not a saint and is trying to make personal profits with the people's expenses. Pierre kills his wife and helps Lucienne to get rid of her husband. The police and every body else suspect nothing, until Lucienne's daughter writes them a letter about her mother's affair. She is a strange daughter, I must say, because if I wanted my mother to be happy, I would have stayed silent. The scene where they murder the mayor reminds me of The Postman Always Rings Twice, especially when she comes back to get her handbag.

4. Nada (1974)

I enjoyed this one very much. Was also surprised to see Fabio Testi in this, because I only watched L'important c'est d'aimer yesterday. The story is fast paced and very thrilling. I think when it was released it must have made an excellent box office hit. Members of a leftist group, Nada, kidnap the American ambassador for France from a brothel and takes him to an isolated farm. They only want to make their point to the recent government and if the police come to raid the farm, they prepare to surrender. However, the head of the police, has his instruction from the Minister of Interior's right-hand man, determines to kill all the kidnappers, is even ready to danger the ambassador's life so that Nada gets the blame and loses the sympathy of the people. Interesting this one is, shows you how dirty politics is. If anything goes wrong, just point someone to become the scape-goat.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Manon Lescaut

First published in 1731, Manon Lescaut tells about a defrocked priest, son of a nobleman, who falls in love with a beautiful girl who is fond of wealth and pleasure. The hero was similar to the author, Abbé Prévost, who once joined the Benedictines, before writing novels.

This thin novel (155 pages) begins with the first narrator telling how he meets a young man, the Chevalier des Grieux, who is following a beautiful outcast being transported to America. Two years later, the narrator meets him again and the young man tells him his story.

The Chevalier is only a step away from entering ecclesiastical career when he sets eyes on beautiful Manon, who is to become a nun. They elope together, but he is found by his family and taken home. Separated from his mistress, he studies the religion again, only to meet her again in a seminar. They elope again, and this time, with the involvement of Manon's brother, to keep their purse full because "Economy was not Manon's outstanding quality any more than it was mine." (said the Chevalier), they plan to deceive a very rich man, Monsieur de G.M., who reports them to the police. They both get detained, but escape later. They plan a revenge to G.M.'s son, but the cunning man beats them again, and this time, Manon is chained and sent to America. The Chevalier follows her until New Orleans, but when they are to be separated, they flee to the desert, where Manon meets her doom.

Manon is a materialistic young girl and the Chevalier, who is crazy about her, does anything to keep her. His problem is he is not very rich and as he knows how Manon loves money, he becomes jealous and suspicious when she uses her charms to attract wealthy men. At first, Manon only has fun with the Chevalier, knows that his father will never give him permission to marry her, but as times flies, and realizing how much he has sacrificed for her, Manon is ready to love him with all her life.

Before meeting Manon, the Chevalier is a perfect son. "I resolved to lead a good Christian life devoted to study and religion", but his determination to keep his mistress has corrupted his moral. "What fatal power had dragged me down to crime? How came it that love, an innocent passion, had turned for me into the source of all misery and vice?".

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Et Dieu... créa la femme (1956)

I heard that ...And God Created Woman caused a shock when it was released. Now that I've seen it, I can see that throughout the movie the sexuality of Brigitte Bardot was exposed deliberately.

Juliete (Bardot) lives with her foster parents in St. Tropez. From the first scene we can see that she is not an ordinary girl: She sunbathes in the front yard, completely naked. Her boyfriend Antoine (Christian Marquand) thinks she is easy. Her foster mother cannot stand the scandal anymore and decides to send Juliette back to the convent, but Antoine's brother, Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) agrees to marry her, after being fed the thought by Carradine (Curd Jürgens), a wealthy businessman who secretly loves Juliette.

Juliette makes many provoking gestures, like in the crowded bus scene, or the way she walks, which I think over-acted, but perhaps Roger Vadim told her to walk that way. She is not as bad as people think, for having overheard what her boyfriend thinks about her, she determines to keep her dignity. At first she marries Michel so that she can still stay in St. Tropez, but slowly she realizes that a husband like Michel is hard to get. Michel believes in her, while others think she is only a toy. She tries to be faithful to him and finally her happiness is to see him smile. She leaves a message to Carradine that she doesn't like the apple anymore. (Cannot remember the line exactly. The apple symbolizes the forbidden fruit. In the beginning of the movie, Carradine and Juliette talk about Eden, the devil and the apple.) The return of Antoine to St. Tropez triggers the fatal incident, and who gets the blame but poor Juliette? Luckily Juliette has Michel who does anything to keep her and wise Carradine who saves the day.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Les tontons flingueurs (1963)

Literally the title perhaps means 'my annoying uncles'. I like this kind of comedy from Georges Lautner where the actors play seriously. Lino Ventura played Fernand Naudin, an honest businessman who sells tractors. His old friend, an old mafia boss known as 'The Mexican' dies and leaves him his business. Naudin is also expected to take care of The Mexican's daughter (played by Sabine Sinjen. She was very fetching here). The other gangsters of course don't like a new stranger becomes their boss and try to get rid of Naudin. "C'est un revolt?" Naudin asks his notary. "No, Sire. C'est une revolution." [This piece of famous conversation comes from The French Revolution, when Louis XVI heard the commotion.]

Bernard Blier and Jean Lefebvre played the Volfoni brothers, who state strongly that they refuse Naudin as their new boss. After experiencing a series of attempted murders, Naudin believes that the Volfonis are behind them, but it is not.

The strength of the movie also comes from the dialogues, supplied by Michel Audiard, one of the best in his field. For example, when Naudin's hitman, Pascal, expresses his disappointment after eliminating easily his enemies: "They could have had their chance from their look-out under the trees. These days there are less and less trained infantry. The spirit of foot-soldier doesn't exist anymore. It's a mistake." And a nod to 'Touchez pas au grisbi' when Patricia's friend goes into the kitchen and is about to touch the suitcase full of money, Maître Folace (the notary) barks to her: "Hands off the loot, b***h!" And this is my favourite:

"By the way, your dwelling is not easy to find. I've been driving around for 1 hour."

"The police has been looking for 10 years and they haven't found it."

The ending where shows Pascal and his cousin calmly goes into the church after assassinating the culprit, confirms my earlier post that gangsters are usually religious.... and honest. Naudin is told that: "A driver for clandestine transport does not only have to meet qualifications, but he must be also honest."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Carambolages (1963)

Like the title suggests, this comedy from director Marcel Bluwal, is like a carambole game. Once it hits, it hits more than 1 target. Jean-Claude Brialy played the lead role as Paul Martin, a smart employee in a giant company in tourism industry. Paul is about to marry his superior's daughter and needs money, but the company "rewards seniority, not talent". To achieve a higher position, Paul must wait until one of his seniors dies or retires, and that can take years. As he cannot wait that long, Paul has a little plan. What happen instead is a series of accidents which remove Paul's bosses one by one, and in the end of the movie we see him becomes the CEO.

The board of directors of 321

Louis de Funès played Charolais, the original CEO. He is the first victim because of his own undoing. Interesting that Paul's or Charolais's schemes to harm other fail. While Paul is lucky, at least for the time being, this proverb applies to the latter:"Whoever digs a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolls a stone, it will return on him." (Proverbs 26:27)

Paul himself doesn't go unpunished. When in the beginning he soon to be marry and has a son (with 2 different women, though), now there is no wedding and no son for him. Furthermore, he feels threatened when a smart, ambitious employee (played by Alain Delon), like himself in the beginning of the movie, appears and says to him exactly what he said to Charolais. Paul is afraid he cannot escape his karma.

A Man Escaped (1956)

Watching this movie is more like watching a documentary than a theatre movie (although it's based on a true story), but I read that director Robert Bresson is different from others. This is a wonderful work of art. Every frame is beautifully shot. The English title is perhaps not right because there are 2 men who escaped. The original French title states that 'a death row inmate escaped'- Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut. True, there are 2 men escaped, but one of them are not from death row. The 2nd part of the title, the wind bloweth where it listeth, is from John 3:8 "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." This discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus is about being reborn, which the inmates see that once they get out of the prison, they start a new life.

Set in Lyon, 1943, this movie centers on Lieutenant Fontaine (François Leterrier), a Resistance member caught by the Nazis. This is about how he plans his escape in details, and finally realizes it. The movie is gripping from start to end. It could be more thrilling if the title was different, because with 'A Man Escaped', we knew that whatever he did, he would succeed in the end.