Friday, March 26, 2010

Claude Chabrol Collection volume 2

There are 6 movies in this collection:

1. La route de Corinthe (1967)
What I like about this movie is that it's located in Greece. I rarely see a movie with the ruins of Acropolis as background. Compared with other Claude Chabrol works I've seen, La route of Corinthe has more sense of humour, like the scenes with the magician. I also think this spy story is more like Georges Lautner's instead of Claude Chabrol's. An American spy is killed before reporting to his boss (Michel Bouquet) - who is disguised as a Turkish Delight seller - about his finding concerning mysterious black boxes in Greece which can jam missile radar. His widow, Shanny, played by Jean Seberg, is the prime suspect and sent to jail. She faces repatriation, but determines to stay to prove her innocent and continue her husband's work. I am never aware that the relationship between Greece and America is not good, so the plot is rather strange for me. Maurice Ronet plays the late husband's friend and colleague. At first he opposes Shanny and supports his boss to ship her back to America. He doesn't believe her story about her husband's finding. He suddenly changes his mind and helps her.

2. La rupture (1970)
Claude Chabrol apparently loves the names of Charles and Hélène as a couple. Hélène (Stéphane Audran) wants to divorce her husband Charles, a drug addict, after a violent row where he hurt their son. Soon after the kid got out from the hospital, Hélène will take him to Paris for a new life. Her rich father-in-law (Michel Bouquet) wants to get the child custody and hires a private detective (Jean-Pierre Cassel) to damage Hélène's reputation. However, although desperate, Hélène is a strong woman and it's not easy to discredit her.

3. Une partie de plaisir (1975)
Philippe (Paul Gégauff) and Esther (Danièle Gegauff- Paul's ex-wife) are a happy couple, with their little daughter Elise. One day, Paul admits to his wife that he has had several affairs and she is welcomed to do the same. Esther then meets Habib and starts her affair. Paul doesn't like Habib and his friends because they are different from him (their thinking, their skin colour) and is angry to Esther, accusing her that she has been involved too much with Habib and neglected Paul and their daughter. After being humiliated, Esther runs away. Paul remarries, but cannot forget Esther. Although he often despised her in the past, he realizes that he cannot live without her. It's like in My Fair Lady: "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face". In his last attempt to get Esther back, he goes crazy and attacks her so that "If I can't have her, no one else can have her."

4. Les innocents aux mains sales (1975)
This one has excellent plot twists. Romy Schneider plays Julie, whose husband is 18 years her senior and rich (of course!). This husband (Rod Steiger) hasn't touched her for years and it's easy to guess that she takes a lover (Paolo Giusti). She plots with her lover to kill the husband and run away with the money. It sounds like 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', but there is much more to the story. Julie's plan doesn't go well, for suddenly she realizes that she has been left alone and the police suspect her at once. Jean Rochefort animates the screen with his presence as Julie's lawyer. He tells the judge to let her go for in this case there is no victim, no motive (money), and no suspect. The police in this movie are very smart, that it annoyed me because they can guess everything [I wanted Julie not to get caught]. It's a rare thing: smart police in a movie not about police. With solid cast & good script, this movie has easily become my most favourite among all Chabrol's works I've seen.

I think Jean Rochefort was trying to get in the frame.

5. Poulet au vinaigre (1985)
The whole thing runs at a slow place in the beginning before the inspector arrives and on first viewing, I was confused with the names. Stéphane Audran plays Madame Cuno, an invalid widow who lives with her only son Louis. Three men: a butcher, a lawyer and a doctor want to buy her house and demolish it. Madame Cuno refuses and the 3 men intimidate her and her son. The war begins. Louis spends his spare time (he works as a postman) to spy on the 3 men. When the butcher dies in a car accident, Inspector Jean Lavardin (played by Jean Poiret) investigates. His method is harsh and he can even have the heart to torture the old lawyer (Michel Bouquet). Although after the torture the lawyer tells him a helpful little secret, it's actually thanks to his intelligence that he can solve the case. The trailer shows Claude Chabrol serving something (presumably chicken with vinegar) on a tray. He is opening the lid. [see pic below] 'Poulet' can also means 'cop' and in this case points to Inspector Lavardin, a new ingredient in Chabrol's movies.

6. La fleur du mal (2003)
The song Un souvenir in the beginning of the movie hints that the past has something to do with the story. After 3 years in America, François returns to his family in France. He still cannot stand his father, his step-mother is running for the municipal election, his step-sister is more beautiful and in love with him and vice-versa. There are pamphlets which denigrate the step-mother via the family's defaults. Two strong female characters stand out in this movie. The first is Anne, the step-mother, wonderfully played by Nathalie Baye. Anne and her right hand Matthieu knock each door of every tenant in an apartment which she has helped in realizing to build, and the way she keeps smiling - the way a politician should be before election. The other strong female character is Aunt Line, played by Suzanne Flon - whom I usually see in the background. Here she has a bigger role, and it's lovely to see her, as amiable aunt, who is always warm towards anybody, although she is haunted by the past and carries a heavy load on her shoulders. La fleur du mal is a nice movie - and compared to others in this box set, this has the most beautiful appearance as it's the latest - and it ends well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dorian Gray (2009)

"He (the painting) will always look like that. You, Mr. Gray, I'm afraid, will not. We wither and scar because the gods are cruel and hateful."

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is one of my favourite books. I like Wilde's writing style, which is very readable. There are usually also many beautiful quotes in his works. The book is about moral corruption and a handsome young man who sells his soul to the devil.

Basically Oliver Parker did a wonderful job because the 2 essential points from the original novel are well depicted in the movie. Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) comes to London from the country as the sole heir of his grandfather. Dorian in the beginning is an innocent, pure young man, with a beautiful face and body, but a weak mind. Unfortunately, he befriends sinister Lord Henry (Colin Firth), and follows his wicked advices. Lord Henry is actually jealous of him, so he cannot be sincere. Lord Henry says to Dorian: "I envy you. Everything is possible for you, because you have the only two things worth having: youth and beauty." and "Life is a moment. There is no hereafter. So make it burn always with the hardest flame." Dorian's other friend, painter Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin), gives him a painting of his portrait. Knowing that he will lose his beauty in years to come, Dorian makes a pact with the devil so that he will always be young and beautiful. Every time he commits a crime, the painting gets uglier and uglier, that he is forced to hide it in the attic. Twenty years later, Lord Henry is an old man with white hair, but Dorian Gray still looks the same: young and beautiful; but with a terrible secret in the attic. [Almost like Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre. A terrible secret in the attic.]

My only complain is the number of nudity. I think perhaps they can invent various crimes for Dorian to commit, and not merely ruining women or killing those who almost uncover his secret. I had also prepared myself to see a horrid painting in the end, but it turned out not as scary as I'd thought. Anita Ekberg's picture in Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio (Boccaccio '70) is more menacing.  

Yesterday's sermon in my church was by chance a bit connected with this movie: "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1)"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Claude Chabrol Collection (part 2)

Finally I had time to watch the other 4 movies from the Claude Chabrol Box Set.

5. Que la bête meure (1969)

This movie is very gripping and from all 8, I like this one the most. Michel Duchaussoy plays a father who lost his son in a hit-and-run accident. The police try to find the culprit without result, but being a father, he has the patience needed to find clues. With a strike of luck, he finally finds the one who is responsible. He wants to revenge his son and makes a plot to kill the culprit. Meanwhile he finds that his son's murderer is despised by anyone, makes it easier to go on with his plan. The title "The Beast Must Die" is taken from Ecclesiastes 3:19 "The beast must die, the man dieth also, yea both must die." And as it is also written: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. " (Romans 12:19), although the father in the end can revenge his son, he is also perished. However, what we have here in the movie is a father who cannot live if he doesn't avenge his son.

6. La femme infidèle (1969)

Probably bored with his husband's fatness, Hélène (Stéphane Audran) begins her affair. Charles (Michel Bouquet), her husband, starts to be suspicious because every time he calls his wife, she is often unavailable. Charles hires a detective to follow Hélène and finds proofs of her infidelity. He pays a visit to her lover (Maurice Ronet), and after a strange scene where the two talk politely like friends, Charles kills him. It seems poor Maurice Ronet is a preferable choice to play a murder victim. (This is the 4th movie where I see him killed, after Plein soleil, La piscine, and Mort d'un pourri.) The police investigating the case is a hilarious pair, more like  siamese twins with different faces. Officer Duval says all the words, while officer Gobet observes. Throughout the movie, Gobet only says "Madame" and "Monsieur", 2 words.  While getting rid of the body of Hélène's lover, Charles drives by this store (I think) which has an announcement outside (see picture on the left), which gives a nod to Chabrol's Les biches.

7. Juste avant la nuit (1971)
Michel Bouquet and Stéphane Audran again play a couple, with the same first names as in La femme infidèle. Charles Masson and his wife Hélène build a perfect family, but Charles has an affair with his friend François (François Périer)'s wife, Laura. Charles accidentally strangles Laura and although the police cannot find any proof about the culprit, Charles's guilt accuses himself and he begins to confess , first to Hélène, then to François. When both tell Charles that he is forgiven, Charles plans to give himself up to the police. This is the weakest movie among the 8, imo. Or perhaps, I just don't like the plot.

8. Madame Bovary (1991)

I tried to remember if I had read the book of Madame Bovary, but after watching this, I knew that I had not. Isabelle Huppert played Emma, a farmer's daughter who marries Doctor Bovary who has treated her father's broken foot. Emma dreams of a fascinating life, but Doctor Bovary is a simple man and Emma starts to get bored and miserable. The doctor tries his best to make her happy, but this is not easy as she is never satisfied. Emma's efforts to bring happiness to herself by having lovers finally lead her to her doom. This movie is not bad, and helps me in knowing what the book is about. The picture below shows of what I think is the most beautiful scene in the movie. Emma is so happy when she has a lover. "I have a lover," she whispers to herself, with a joy of a child who just got a new dress. To Emma, a lover is something to decorate her life. It seems for her that having a lover is a progress in her life, to have better position in society. She doesn't look for love, but a new adventure in her boring life. What makes Madame Bovary different from other romantic stories is: the heroine dies not because of love, but from shame for she cannot pay her debts.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Weeping and The Laughter

I enjoyed this book very much. Noel Barber's writing style is very readable, yet the story is rich and interesting. The story spans from 1919 until 1947, and centers around Nicki Korolev, the Tsar's godson. In 1919, when Nicki was 12, his family fled Russia for Paris, where he would become the head of local International Red Cross. Apart from Nicki's romance with the beautiful Tasha and the searching upon his lost twin-brother, what I find most interesting is how Russians lived and survived in Paris before and during WW2. 

When Nicki and the family was about to get out from Russia, it was not without obstacle. They were attacked by the mob. The scene was horrible to read, reminds me of the French revolution. The peasants didn't care if they attacked pregnant women and children. They attacked every one different. Also terrifying is how Nazis treated their prisoners and how the French mob treated Nazi collaborators. "Once upon a time war was heroic - about living and dying and behaving like gentlemen. Now - it really affects the innocents, with torture, degradation. It wasn't like that in the history books." I think the worst thing is the feeling of helplessness. If only we could so something, we would have felt better.

This is one of the best historical fictions I've ever read.  

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

La horse (1970)

This work of director Pierre Granier-Deferre reminds me to Le toubib, his later work. The green colour dominates the screen, as it's set in a farm; while in Le toubib we see forests and meadows. I enjoyed watching La horse, although at first I had prepared myself to see at least one horse (and I dislike movies about horse!), but as soon as the movie started, I realized my mistake. The title was in French, and it meant 'heroin'.  

Jean Gabin plays Monsieur Maroilleur, the owner of a farm and runs it with his sons-in-law, while his daughters take care of the house and kitchen. He is furious when his grandson Henri (Marc Porel - who played one of Gabin's sons in The Sicilian Clan) uses the farm to hide heroin until his friends, a gang of drug smugglers, pick the packet up. Maroilleur destroys the packet and hides Henri in a basement so that the gang cannot harm him. The gang terrorizes the farm, kill 27 of his cows (great scene!); but Maroilleur fights back and all 5 members of the gang, who know Henri, die. The police who notice strange things happened in the farm try to investigate.

Jean Gabin is very convincing as a dictatorial farmer. An old man fights a gang of drug smugglers, if it wasn't Gabin, I know I would not believe anything. He chooses to fight to protect the family's honour, so that his grandson doesn't go to jail. "If anyone here goes to jail, it's me." says Maroilleur to the inspector. The police ransack the farm and when they finally find Henri in the basement, Henri's testimony made me laugh. It's so unexpected, yet quite believable, that the judge believes his story and let the old Maroilleur go home.

One thing I found irritating is the soundtrack by Serge Gainsbourg. It's like it had been put there without watching the movie.