Follow by Email

Saturday, 30 March 2019

French Film Festival (10) - Barrie Pattison engages with WILD BOYS (Bertrand Mandico) and DILILI A PARIS (Michel Ocelot)

A couple of square peg films in the current French Film Festival make for an interesting study. Palace don't know what to make of Bertrand Mandico's Les garçons sauvages/ The Wild Boys (2017). They shoved it into an evening for Art Lovers who deserved it and then put it into a horror double feature.

What the viewers got is something that you might have expected from someone who has just seen the Aleksey Gherman Trudno byt bogom/It's Hard to be a God and went off and told his mates, who made pop videos, they could manage that - incorrectly.

They did do a film where every surface is wet or clammy or sticky or covered with hair but that was as far as they got. Adding sex organs to rocks and plants and breasts and penises in places they shouldn't be just makes the result shuffle between naive and boring. 

There's a halfway plot aimed at the new "Me Too" audience (we can only hope they have more sense) about a group of early 20th century La Réunion Island school boys who violate their lady art teacher under the influence of a diamante covered skull called Trevor (!) and are punished by their rich parents who consign them to a Hell Ship captained by Dutch seaman Sam Louwyck. He doesn't have to bring them back. The Captain deposits the kids on a mysterious island where the grand design becomes evident.

The surprise ending is already undermined by noticing the presence of glamorous Vimala Pons and Elina Löwensohn but attention has already wandered before that becomes relevant.

Technically the piece has some interest. Shot in super-sixteen with the aperture plate noticeable, they do get a sharp image and go from monochrome to colour effectively but even here the arresting image of Louwyck's face as the rock wall is undermined by the unsteadiness of the second generation effects work. 

The game seems to be to spot how many movie influences show up in the film. Director Mandico, making his feature debut, helped by listing them out starting with Pinocchio (how dare they!) and adding in Lord of the Flies, High Wind in JamaicaQuerelle and a few more. Really you're better off counting the perversions - pack rape, bondage, emasculation, fetishism, infanticide, fellatio, cross dressing -  or are these OK now? 

Something that would do much better with the Museum Art lot is the new Dilili à Paris and that's been shuffled off to a few Weekend Matinées.

Anything by animator Michel Ocelot is an event and this film is his first since Ivan Tsarevitch et la princesse changeante  two years ago. It's disappointing that an artist of his talent hasn't achieved the status of Pixar or Miyazaki.

Ocelot has moved on from the African traditional art model of his Kirikou films and the Arabian nights and set his current offering in Paris of La Belle Époque rendered in realistic photos which carry a buzz from their familiarity. They are not however today's Paris but the pre-WW1 era of Art Nouveau, colonial expansion and elegant fashion. The stone work is fresh, the painted surfaces new and the traffic is drawn by horses.

Onto and into this Ocelot has placed his new characters centering on Kanack pre-teener Dilili (voiced by Prunelle Charles-Ambron) who leaves her protector's lavish Paris home to explore with her new friend cycle cart delivery boy Orel (Enzo Ratsito). However the villainous nose ring wearing Bad Masters are kidnapping little girls and have their eye on Dilili.

To avoid their attentions and enjoy the delights of Paris they enlist the great names of the day in an orgy of name dropping. "A tune Satie!"  and Orel dances with Chocolat. An attack by a rabid dog means rolling down the Sacré Coeur stairs to Louis Pasteur's clinic where Marie Curie is in attendance. There's time to visit Rodin's studio and meet Camille Claudel and chat with the Impressionists posed in front of their canvases - a young Picasso. Toulouse-Lautrec rides the tricycle. We share the makers' delight in having the figures from this work spring into motion in a non-stop parade that doesn't even pause when Oscar Wilde enters the frame. Sarah Bernhardt's jewels are menaced and her brusque chauffeur looks like going over to the dark side. It takes a trip in soprano Emma Calvé's swan boat to foil the heavies' submarine.


It's a letdown when the action detours to wind up the kidnap plot. Of course we've gone on a journey like this one in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris which might have influenced Ocelot but that doesn't diminish the pleasure.

There's a buzz every time we see one of the maker's unshaded figures appear on his detailed familiar-unfamiliar grounds. His ability to produce stunningly vivid colour is unique and recognising him at work in a new, even more involving environment is a pleasure I would urge on anyone - that is if you can find any showings.

I'm still trying to locate Claire Denis'High Life which is in the booklet.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

On Blu-ray - David Hare discovers an uncut version of Hitchcock's PSYCHO

The frame above is part of the trim in length of the shot which Universal made to its US master negative for Psycho back then. Also trimmed were some of the six audible slashing sounds and at least two of the visible slashing knife shots from the shower scene. The full uncut print was obviously archived in Europe as the quality shows nary a drop in detail in this new German Blu-ray released on Turbine label in Germany as part of the Masterpiece collection. 

The existence of the longer sequence has always been accepted outside the USA where it never played uncut. Even back in Oz, for some miraculous reason possibly Hitchcock's own trip to Australia to help promote the film in 1960, it was passed uncut by the then ferocious Oz Censor, (before the "One Armed Bandit”, Dick Prowse took the Chief Censor job in 64.) And when it was being prepped for screening on Oz TV at the newly opened Channel 10 in the early 70s, it just so happened I knew the guy from Ten who did the editing and commercial cue work for the network. In those days they usually screened 35mm prints for broadcast. That transmission was the uncut 35mm too, as was a 35mm theatrical print some of us saw one day at a kid's matinee in suburban Oatley. The print was clearly a first generation, ten years after release.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

French Film Festival (9) - Barrie Pattison ponders CLAIRE DARLING (Julie Bertuccelli)

Claire Darling is a substantial project - name stars, money on the screen, visualisation of an ambitious concept where past and present, real and fantastic appear in the same frame ... and there’s Catherine Deneuve with her three score years and ten still carrying major projects while Brigitte Bardot has become an eccentric cat fancier and Jeanne Moreau is dead.  

There’s a lot to like here and in the opening stages I felt I was watching a big French movie.

In Verderonne, a small village in the Oise, Deneuve’s Claire Darling wakes up in the decaying family home filled with bric-a-brac collected over the years by her wealthy family. This is a film as much about things as it is about people - antique automata, Tiffany lamps, family portraits, a gold ring passed down among generations, a painting of water lilies given her by the devoted local curé, a chiming clock in the form of an elephant.

Deneuve lives alone and she’s more than a little dotty. When the cafe lady brings her regular coffee and rolls breakfast she declares that the day is a Vide Granier - everything must go - and she enlists locals working at the local quarry, which her family owned before it became Sino-Ciment, to take all the memorabilia into the yard. Catherine confuses one of the workers with her late son Simon Thomas (“Are you dead?”) and alternately sees the yard filled with her possessions and greedy buyers or silent and empty. Neighbour Laure Calamy is appalled, knowing the value of the material that is being snatched up both as antiques and as items rich in associations from the days when she was the playmate of Deneuve’s estranged daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, whom she immediately calls back to the house the daughter hasn’t visited for twenty years.

The back story is being filled in with scenes where Deneuve’s character, played by the elegant Alice Taglioni at different non-sequential ages, and her fantasies get mixed with surreal touches - a llama from visiting Circus Benzini runs across the road, its participants mingled with a memory of a decades back children’s costume party.

The books on offer are stuffed with the currency notes Deneuve’s husband Olivier Rabourdin’s hid there to avoid taxes, first greeted with delight, then dismissed when they turn out to be ancien francs no longer currency and then coveted again for their value on e-bay. This sense of fluctuating reality is the film’s essence.

So far, pretty good. Director Julie Bertuccelli stood out from the crowd with her Depuis qu'Otar est parti... a genuinely attractive film. We can forgive her The Tree. Everyone makes bad films when they come to Australia. Think Jackie Chan. However, here she’s got it all going for her and I feel myself sharing the dissatisfaction of the original language reviews. 

The ending does wrap up all the loose ends except for little spectator Angèle Meunier-Bertuccelli and her presence is meant to be ambivalent. However, motivation is hazy, Rabourdin’s stinginess being equated with the death of his insect enthusiast son, the feud over the missing ring, the unopened letters, Deneuve’s premonition of death.  

Julie Bertuccelli is guilty of the thing for which male directors have been carrying the can for years - the male characters - Rabourdin, Father Johan Leysen or the barely glimpsed son - only exist as elements of the women’s stories. It’s nice to see potential middle-aged love interest Gendarme Samir Guesmi making his presence felt despite this.

Monday, 25 March 2019

On Blu-ray - David Hare marvels at Veit Harlan's THE THIRD SEX (West Germany, 1957)


"Marcel André” (above) as "Lolita" playing her peekaboo male/female witcheroo drag act at a then Hamburg 50s gay bar, the Three Fans, in Veit Harlan's wonderful 1957 cautionary tale of the perils of adolescent boy crushes, and the concomitant evils of avant-garde art and music, The Third Sex. AKA Bewildered Youth, or in its original German title homage to the great Richard Oswald's 1919 pioneering gay blackmail silent, Anders als du und ich. 
According to the proprietor of the underground gay bar in this little miracle of a picture, Lolita has just "finished in Paris". Perhaps Paris has just finished with her (him). She looks more like a truck driver than a dragster, even for the Ru Paul stable. 
While the movie doesn't display much of Harlan's originality or the mise-en-scène more apparent in his wartime domestic Agfacolor melodramas like Opfergang, he does end this sequence with a long lap dissolve from Lolita's chiaroscuro-ed face to a pretty wild expressionist arts soirée at seducer-of-youth, Dr Boris Winkler's (below) salon where we're treated to the cinema's first demo of musique concrète, verse libre poetry readings, some very bad abstract art, and a couple of Hamburg rentboys in sateen underpants doing Greco-Roman wrestling.
Essential cinephilia.

Adam Bowen's Talkie Talk #52 - Jordan Peele's new picture at the movies, details of movie soundtracks on 2MBS-FM and a rare screening of the Oz movie about Eileen Joyce WHEREVER SHE GOES on TV

NEW IN CINEMAS THIS WEEK

Us – A family’s peaceful routine is upset when it’s infiltrated by doppelgangers. From Jordan Peele, the writer-director of the excellently creepy Get Out.


Where Hands Touch – a non-Aryan teenager (Amandla Stenberg) tries to survive in Nazi Germany. Hopefully, it’s not as hammy as it looks in the trailer. Also starring Aussie actor, Abbie Cornish.


Lucifer– Malayalam language political thriller.

Five Feet Apart – Teenagers with life-threatening illnesses fall in love.

Dumbo – Tim Burton re-works the Disney original (1941) about a flying elephant. Starring Lucy de Vito, her father Danny and a starry supporting cast.

Diana Ross: Her Life, Love and Legacy – doco about the Detroit diva. 

Rabb Da Radio 2 – Sequel to the popular drama about a Punjabi family during the 80s & 90s.

Arjun Suravaram– Crime thriller about a man accused of cheating banks. A curious reversal of the customary practice. 


MOVIE MUSIC on 102.5 fm …or stream it at finemusicfm.com

Wednesday 9am 
Romeo & Juliet (1968); A Hero of Our Times (1955); Il Casanova (1976); Rocco & his Brothers (1960); The Godfather (1972)

Sunday 12 noon
The Aviator (2004); The Block Busters (1944); The Benny Goodman Story (1934); Fantasma d’Amore (1981); Ah! Quelle Belle Equipe! (1957); Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954); Farewell My Lovely (1975); Touch of Evil (1958); A Prairie Home Companion (2006); The Jungle Book (1967)



ON THE TELLY

Sunday 12. 15amFox ClassicsThe Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – in Mexico, three gold prospectors (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston) form an uneasy alliance. Directed by John Huston, and swamped by Max Steiner’s score.

Sunday Noon 9GemWherever She Goes (1951)- Ealing Studios co-production with Australia; a low-budget biopic of the Australian pianist, Eileen Joyce, (who bookends the film) – her early life in Tasmania and Kalgoorlie. Suzanne Parrett is young Eileen, Muriel Steinbeck is mum, Nigel Lovell, dad; and George Wallace is a comedy-relief stage manager. A curio for film buffs and fans of Joyce’s talent.


Sunday 4.30pm 9Gem: The Vikings (1958) Two Viking half-brothers (Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis) barge around the spectacular fjords of Norway in beautiful ships, pillage English coastal villages, and fight to the death for the favours of princess Morgana (Janet Leigh). Beautifully filmed by Jack Cardiff, plus a score by Mario Nascimbene …the musical ‘hook’ is pumped out by four French horns. Odin!

Saturday, 23 March 2019

French Film Festival (8) - Barrie Pattison reviews A MAN IN A HURRY (Hervé Mimran)

We start Hervé Mimran's new  Un homme pressé/A Man in a Hurry with the premise that if in a film like Les Untouchables spinal paralysis is funny, so stroke victims must be good for a laugh. Though, to give them credit, they do show recovering patient Fabrice Luchini a ward filled with grim fellow victims on respirators unable to move in their beds. 

Derived from the non-fiction book “J'étais un homme pressé” by Christian Streiff, former CEO of Airbus and PSA Peugeot-Citroen, this one shows the rich Luchini character as a hard charging executive who intimidates his major shareholder Yves Jacques with the threat of resigning.  He has lost contact with his teenage daughter Rebecca Marder through neglect. He’s having his way over the new proposed electric car model even adjusting the wave lines on the show room display without worrying about the feelings of junior executives. It takes all the Luchini charm to make this guy acceptable.

After a bad night, he collapses on the way to work and it’s only the prompt action of his chauffeur, actor Gus, in driving him to the hospital that saves him.

Now we get into the story. Still in denial, Luchini is made to realise that he has lost his control of language, this with a major address to an executive meeting in Geneva coming up - jokes like him greeting people by saying goodbye and other malapropisms that must have given the sub-titlers nightmares. His ordering a turd from an unfazed waiter at the corner cafe defeats them.  

He recruits hospital speech therapist Leïla Bekhti full time and starts to develop drills to restore his lost vocabulary and his memory of the layout of his district. Bored with the kids’ picture books she uses, he switches to the Jardin des Plantes menagerie and its real animals.

Drone shot downwards on a speeding express train and we get a King’s Speech scene in Geneva where he manages splendidly with minimum aid from Bekhti, sitting next to him with prompt cards. This makes the company stock lift by two points which delights him only to finds his younger rival is dismissive of such a paltry gain and has given him ten minutes to clean out his desk. Luchini offers to find a new spot for his longserving secretary only to find that she can’t face unemployment at her age and has signed on with the new management.

There is a nice scene with dole clerk Eric Wapler who recognises Luchini’s problems from his own family experience.

At which point the film starts again as Luchini settles in to sort out the relationships with his daughter (that doesn’t go too well) and Béhkti, before his European hiking tour accompanied by his faithful dog - much stamping of his passport and alpine scenics. The scene setting is particularly deft in this one.

They manage to graft a happy ending on all this. The central performance is superior but when they’ve set up support players so well - skate boarding intern Igor Gotesman, the chauffeur who is surprised to be thanked by the normally brusque executive etc, it’s unsatisfying to not find their stories given an outcome.

It's more foreign feel good cinema which should fill up the local art cinemas for a few weeks.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

On Blu-ray - Rod Bishop reviews THE HORSE THIEF (Tian Zhuangzhuang, China, 1986) "It is hard to believe a better Blu-ray release will come our way this year


Released in a limited ‘luxury’ edition by Diskino and the World Cinema Library with materials from Xi’an Studios, Tian Zhuangzhuang’s exemplary ethno-drama of religious life and rural hardship in Tibet has finally been given the treatment it deserves. 

For a film so universally respected and even picked by Martin Scorsese as the best film made in the 1990s - it had a delayed release in the USA - this restoration has been a long time coming. 

Writer Rui Zhang uses minimal dialogue to tell the story of the impoverished Norbu (Rigzin Tseshang), who is trying to support his wife and son by stealing horses and committing the Tibetan equivalent of “highway robbery’’. He is banished from his village and his clan.

Around this story, 5thGeneration Chinese director Tian Zhuangzhuang provides long, immersive documentary sequences of Buddhist rituals, omnipresent vultures, famine, dead livestock, ravishing landscapes, ceremonial dances and sky burials, all accompanied by a soundtrack of naturalist sounds, sparse music and chanting monks. 

Filmed in Tibet, Gansu and Qinghai with a cast predominately made up of non-professionals, Tian’s widescreen landscapes are often overwhelmingly captivating, like something from another world. In Scorsese’s words: “genuinely transcendental”.

The mesmeric mastery of image and sound have led some to summon up descriptive labels like “pure cinema”, comparing The Horse Thief with the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick,Theo Angelopoulos, Abbas Kiarostami, Michelangelo Antonioni and even Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes andDog Star Man. You could also throw in Bresson and his amateur actors and the trailblazing work of Robert Flaherty.

Such comparisons come from foreign eyes and The Horse Thief is also the work of foreign eyes - Chinese looking into Tibet. Discussing the reception of Tian’s films in China, Dru C. Gladney quotes Tony Rayns on the director’s ‘minority’ films believing they show: “the physical and spiritual lives of ‘national minorities’ in Inner Mongolia and Tibet, minus the usual mediating presence of the Han Chinese.

Gladney takes this further and discusses ‘alterity’, the potentially enlightening encounter with ‘the other’ in Horse Thief: “Tian’s motive is not ethnographic; he does not want his Han viewers to understand, establish empathy, or reach any commonality with his foreign subjects. His purpose is that of alterity: by contrasting naturalized, ‘primitive’, and even ‘barbaric’ minority life with the [Chinese] viewer’s own domesticated, ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ existences, Tian calls into question the very basis of that contrast.”

Chinese film expert Chris Berry suggests The Horse Thief’s initial failure to attract a domestic audience is caused by this intrinsic alterity: “Rather than the titillation of otherness packaged for easy consumption, the result seems to have produced the effect of an encounter with radical alterity in which the audience felt excluded and at a loss.”

Norbu’s journey is born from a necessity to support his family while reconciling the morality of his thieving and the need to reaffirm his Buddhist faith. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth marks Norbu’s existence. He transgresses his clan, his culture and his religion and, with his family, is cast out into a fierce natural world, looking for redemption.

Tony Rayns again:“It offers the most awesomely plausible account of Tibetan life and culture ever seen in the west. It’s one of the few films whose images show you things you’ve never seen before.”

The Blu-ray boasts the inclusion of the Tibetan language track (thought lost) as well as the option of the original Mandarin. There are English subtitles for both languages.

And the extras on the Blu-ray are all Rayns. A three-minute introduction to a UK television screening from 1988 and a quite brilliant, recent 40-minute off-the-cuff discussion of Chinese cinema in the 1980s, the 5th Generation filmmakers and The Horse Thief.

It’s hard to believe a better Blu-ray release will come our way this year.

French Film Festival (7) - Barrie Pattison reviews I FEEL GOOD (Benoît Delépine & Gustave Kervern) and gives LE DOULEUR (Emmanuel Finkiel ) and Marguerite Duras a going over.

I Feel Good (title in English) was always going to be a highlight - Jean Dujardin & Yolanda Moreau in a new Benoît Delépine/Gustave Kervern Grands Boulevards release. The makers of Mammuth, Saint Amour and Louise Michel have extended their uncomfortable take on the French scene to include super star Jean Dujardin, here first seen marching down the highway in spray tan and white towling bathrobe to village Emmaüs de Lescar-Pau, a recycling centre with a mural of its founder Henri Grouès L'Abbé Pierre that acts as a sheltered workshop. For the purposes of the story it’s run by Dujardin's bedraggled sister Moreau.

Parallel with her attempts to integrate him into the activities, we get back stories - their old Communist parents played by real life couple Jeanne Goupil and director Joël Séria, Jean’s career as a granny gigolo, his meeting with a school mate who slimmed down and cashed in on a business that earned him a beauty queen spouse still wearing her sash in their tiny backyard pool, Moreau carrying round the parent’s ashes in the family's old Simca, Dujardin detailing his own car to sell on e-bay and finance his wannabe playboy life style or a visit to their now senile childhood medico still prescribing useless downer dope.

As he avoids work and chats up the operators, Dujardin formulates a business plan. He will run “I Feel Good” tours where takers travel to a Bulgarian clinic for cosmetic surgery. Among his customers is nearly unrecognisable Lou Castel (I pugni in tasca) who stomps on a robot vacuum cleaner and with whom Jean engages in a catch the other’s spit training session for his career as a soccer star.

Travel in a truck with airline seats takes them on cultural side trips to the Ceauçescu palace in Rumania and an isolated, decaying Soviet-era modernist ruin stadium which is a bit much for Moreau still remembering her parent’s leftist ideals. The last leg is in a car made over to stretch limo by second hand door panels which the owner is in the process of painting up for weddings as he waits for the group.

The surprise ending is in character with the grotesque body of the film.

Not unlike  Le Grand Bain/Sink or Swim   the film is uneasy watching in the early stages. Dujardin’s character is a hundred percent free of winning traits which makes the sympathy he generates a tribute to the actor and the makers. As much as the performers it is the Emmaüs village which generates fascination, piled second hand articles stacked under the titles, swarms of eager customers pouring in as the gate chain is lowered, a row of out of tune pianos or the wide shot showing them housed in a building tipped over on its side. We haven’t seen anything like this since Edward Scissorhands which also used A-feature production values on it’s unreal subject. 

This one deserves a wide release and applauding audiences.

Film makers have not lost their fascination with Marguerite Duras despite the awful movies she made in person. I once saw a paying audience become a potential lynch mob at a screening of her dreadful Détruire dit-elle. She was very brave to front up afterwards. I prefer John Waters' Polyester gag where low life Tab Hunter's epicure Drive-in offers a Duras triple feature. That's the most relevant comment movies have come up with. She was someone who had an absolute contempt for film form, convinced that audiences would watch anything which had her narration running over it - bits of her old movies, a shot of lawn roller.

Hiroshima mon amour gave her cred though it was not her first flirtation with film. Before that with This Angry Age/The Sea Wall René Clement had Irwin Shaw adapt her autobiographical novel and got a film which was more resonant than a lot of the admired subsequent efforts. I couldn't find a reference to it in the reviews of L'Amant a later adaptation which also in turn has been forgotten.

Undeterred writer director Emmanuel Finkiel has now made a movie out of Duras' decades-lost diary of her years in wartime Paris. As in Hiroshima mon amourwe get passion erased by time and relations with the other lot though no one gets their head shaved in this one ... and we get lots of narration. Finkiel has come up with the innovation of having Duras the narrator appearing in the same shot as Mélanie Thierry, her character - once defocused in a mirror which shares the frame. Thierry was Tavernier’s 2010 La princesse de Montpensier. In the best Duras manner watching her helps me forget  Le Camion. Thank you Mélanie!

The plot has Thierry and her husband Emmanuel Bourdieu part of a WW2 Paris resistance cell. Understandably terrified of being penetrated, they discuss disbanding and are divided over the fact that German operative Benoît Magimel  has taken an interest in Mélanie/Marguerite. Half are afraid and half speculate on whether they can play him. The most distinctive scene, which attempts Duras ambivalence, occurs in a cafe used by collaborators desperate for any news as the city’s fall to the Allies becomes anticipated. Mangimel who still believes that a coming German victory will mean he opens a library in Paris reads to Mélanie a passage of one of her books that he has copied trying to be winning, while her narrator voice is speculating on whether she should deliver him to his death at the hands of the resistance.

The later part of the film, from which Mangimel disappears, is dominated by
speculation about the return of Bourdieu from the camps where Thierry and her resistance man lover Benjamin Biolay must attempt to save him. Their ambivalence echoes Duras’ Un aussie long absence  script.

There's a strong cast and high seriousness go with WW2 drab design (charcoal burning automobiles, dirty glasses in the collaborator cafe, period scanties) reproduced with desaturated colour where the reds of the gas flame or Thierry’s dress stand out in the greys and blue blacks of the colour scheme. They do produce an attention getting surface but they can’t make La Douleur hold attention past the Armistice.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

CINEMA REBORN - Another title NEAPOLITAN CAROUSEL (Ettore Giannini, Italy, 1954)

Editor's Note: Here are the first couple of paragraphs of Peter Hourigan's elegant program notes now posted on the Cinema Reborn website. Click here to go direct to them 


Sophia Loren, Neapolitan Carousel
"Neapolitan Carousel could be called a history of Naples over several hundred years. But this Naples belongs to the same world as the Venice we see in Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), a place of studio sets, streets smooth enough and wide enough for large dances, and colours as vivid as the imagination.  When an iterant storyteller (Paolo Stoppa) sees his sheet music blown around by a wind those songs become the heart and motor of the film.
In 1954 a number of Italian films were released that became classics – Rossellini’s Journey to Italy and Fear, Fellini’s La Strada, Visconti’s  Senso – and a large number of films directed at the domestic audience with actors like Toto, Alberto Sordi and Gina Lollobrigida. Many  of the names are now largely forgotten but not a then 20 year old Sophia Loren.  In that year’s output Neapolitan Carousel stands out because it is so hard to classify. It is as lush and as musical and as fantastic as an MGM musical (think, for example, of Minnelli’s The Pirate). ....."


Monday, 18 March 2019

On Blu-ray - David Hare recommends DADDY LONG LEGS (Jean Negulesco, USA, 1955)

These two screens (above and following this paragraph) from the 12 minute "Nightmare Ballet" choreographed by Roland Petit hopefully give some hint of the extremely high voltage sexuality on display. The film is Daddy Long Legs directed in 1955 in Scope by Jean Negulesco for Fox and shot by Leon Shamroy in their proprietary Deluxe Eastmancolor. The slamdunk Johnny Mercer score is a doozy, perhaps the biggest number musically from the show is "Something's Gotta Give." Fox's great Lionel Newman oversaw the entire musical treatment for the picture. 
And we have Fred to thank for casting Leslie Caron, then 24 in her last dance movie musical - in 1958's Gigi she doesn't dance and I frankly find the film one of Minnelli's absolute worst. Daddy Long Leg's provenance goes back to the early 20th century and a 1912 novella adapted for the movie by Henry and Phoebe Ephron.
It's one of three ingenue/older man tropes to star Caron, beginning with Minnelli’s An American in Paris in 1952, and ending with Gigi in 1958. Donen's sublime Funny Facein 1957 with Audrey Hepburn replacing Caron completes this trilogy-rondelay of older-younger narratives that was a staple for so many 50s screenplays, like BIlly Wilder's two movies with Audrey, Sabrina (1954) and Love in the Afternoon (1956)
But one decade's PC nightmare is another decade's lollipop and in any case the ongoing performance genius of artists like Kelly and Astaire generates a base and an audience for these movies. To say nothing of the old world-new world theme of dance Astaire incorporated into his 50s movies, with Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon(with a nod to Kidd). And this neglected treat from the much maligned post-Scope Negulesco, with triple choreographic credits for Roland Petit (ballet), Astaire himself and superb chorus work, from Dave Robel. 
Negulesco is not taken seriously these days but one ongoing feature of his movies is his own interest and skill in 20th century art and design. There's an office scene here with Mondrianesque walls composed of blocks of color which harks forward to the superb sets he designed for the Office girls' workplace inside the newly opened Seagram building in Manhattan for the 1959 adult soap, The Best of Everything
The sexual politics of that movie, including a hinted abortion, are a testing point for a movie made the year before Preminger busted the Code. As for the 12 minute Roland Petit work for the "Nightmare Ballet", maligned as ever by critics across the globe, it is in fact textually infused with a hugely Freudian visualization of Caron's own adult sexuality, and that of the men young and old dancing around her. One doesn't often think of Petit's work as particularly butch, but here it's redolent with fleshy legs-astraddled, crotch bulging sailors and other specimens of male debauchery and priapic horniness. Negulesco drags the testosterone and sweat out of Petit here in spades. I think the ballet is one of Petit's best works on film. 
The movie is impeccably staged and directed, and while the longer numbers may incline some to sign it off to Minnelli's influence, that is surely a good thing in what was one of the first Scope musicals, with its fantastic opportunities for large scale chorus staging, blocking and fluid cameras. And a musical not made by the Freed Unit. 
The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray of this movie presents a slightly cool but very beautiful color print, true to Negulesco's fantastic palette. The audio appears also to replicate the wowza original Magnetic four channel track. 
A real doozy of a picture.





Sunday, 17 March 2019

French Film Festival (6) - Ken Wallin reports on a screening of THE SISTERS BROTHERS (Jacques Audiard) attended by the director

The French Film Festival screening at the Cremorne Orpheum of The Sisters Brothers  was followed by a Q&A that David Stratton held with director Jacques Audiard. The Orpheum's second largest theatre, the Walsh, was full and the audience very appreciative of what seems an odd inclusion for the French Film Festival, but for the prestige of the director. 

For me, this Western shot in Spain and Romania with four brilliant actors in top form, Joachim Phoenix, John C Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Riz Ahmed, has to be the most interesting of its genre in ages. 

But will The Sisters Brothers be more widely shown? The advertising had suggested it would not be getting a general release in Australia, bizarre given the cast, its accessibility, and the appealing blend of humour and drama. Here's hoping it does get taken up.

The Q&A was  an insightful one as Audiard responded at length in French through an interpreter to very pertinent questions from David and the audience.
 
Jacques Audiard
We learned that:  

1. John C Reilly brought the book to Audiard and enthused him for the project.

2. Audiard filmed it on European locations rather than existing North American ones with their standing Western town sets because he wanted his own look rather than a borrowed one seen in other productions.

3. Stylized visuals such as the depiction of the gunfights, and I suggest, the discovery of the river gold as it is induced to glow in the darkness, are due to Audiard wanting a certain storybook illustration feel to his film.

4. When asked about his interest in the genre, Audiard professed that the Westerns he admired were the American (but not the Italian) ones of the 60s and 70s. However, the model for his film had not been a Western, but Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter.

The connection here I feel is not so much the narrative of relentless pursuit as  Audiard's interest  in that storybook feel Laughton created through an episodic journey and powerful, singular imagery.

Altogether a rewarding afternoon.

French Film Festival (5) - Barrie Pattison reviews SINK OR SWIM (Gilles Lellouche)

Le grand bain/Sink or Swim is directed & co-written by actor by Gilles Lellouche. I've been looking for this one since I saw Lellouche spruik it on French TV's Vingt Heures which SBS broadcasts in its early World Watch programs. This program has regular movie segments which S.B.S. never translates and runs in the news programs they buy it for. See what I mean about the French. 

It's a film about a misfit team who go in for men's synchronized swimming which has been compared to The Full Monty (which Lellouche points out he's never seen all the way through). He's not an Esther Williams fan either. Really Le Grand bain is closer to Jon Turtelaub's 1993 Cool Runnings,the Jamaican bobsled team movie. It arrives the same time as Oliver Parker's British Swimming With Men both apparently derived from the Swedish entry in the event championships.

Hangdog Mathieu Amalric is in a depression. He hasn't worked for two years and the only job prospect is in his awful brother-in-law's awful furniture warehouse. On impulse he tears off the phone number for a men's synchronised swimming training at the local pool. This ("Women play soccer now") ingeniously eliminates most of the set up and lands us smack into the middle of the stories of his equally dysfunctional team members being lackadaisically coached by Virginie Efira between her AA meetings.

Guillaume Canet's marriage is tottering under mummy issues. Benoît Poelvoorde is found sitting in one of the up-ended pools he can't sell. Jean-Hugues Anglade is raising his school age daughter out of a camper van the cops keep on moving out of supermart parking lots. She has to sit him down and tell him his hopes of rock stardom have long since evaporated. Pool man Philippe Katerine is a podgy loser and their token black member Balasingham Thamilchelvan gets curiously short time.

This is not a film offering the sunny chic of Paris. The setting is closer to the ugly backblocks that Benoît Delépin and Gustave Kerven show us in Le Grand Soir, Mamuth and the rest. Lellouche seems to have called on every French movie star who wasn't working that week. Marina Foïs registers particularly nicely even before her super market gossip sequence which must have attracted her to the part.

So far Le grand bain held my attention before I realised how much I was enjoying it. It sneaks up on you. 

We've seen the boys do their shonky routine at a local event, then one of them points out that all they have to do is register to become Team France at the newly established world championships. Then Efira drops out and they fall into the hands of Arab martinet, wheel chair bound Leïla Bekhti (Une prophete), who slaps them and abuses ("forty three seconds - I have little girls who can do forty three seconds") them into exhausting training routines. They have to carry her on their runs. A cheer goes up when Cantet snaps and hurls her, wheel chair and all, into the pool - political correctness takes one for the team. It is a surprise measure of the film's skill that everyone becomes more sympathetic after this.

The always admirable Poelvoorde asserts his presence without needing star treatment (he stands behind the others partly obscured for the poster) He hits on a plan B to equip themselves from a hypermarket with a shoplifting raid - cut to the guys humbled in the manager's office and Almaric crashing the getaway car not knowing they've had to empty Katerine's bank account to get out.

The parallel development of the personal stories, a great routine cross cut to "Physical" as they each work out in their office settings, the camper van trip to Norway, the daunting spectacle of the other national teams, the dawn celebration and the reaction of their tormentors are made to pile on top of one another to provide an irresistible buzz.

It's a great night at the movies even if it doesn't really come together. The film deliberately withholds our views of the guys in action till the end which seems a bit of an ask after the "We were a crap warmup act and now you want to put us into the world championships" set up.

The actors trained with Olympic swimming coaches and can be spotted participating in the final routine. It would be interesting to know how much of that was doubled. 

In his first full feature, Lellouche has pulled off a coup. The film is coining it in its home market and deserves to do the same thing here. Pierre (The Trouble with You Salvadori should take notes.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

French Film Festival (4) - Barrie Pattison reports on the Opening Night attraction THE TROUBLE WITH YOU (Pierre Salvadori)


En liberté!/The Trouble with You was the French Film Festival’s Opening Night and is clearly the kind of undemanding, glossy lightweight that you can expect Palace to pick up for a local run. It even has the standard bearer for popular sub-titled fare - Mlle Audrey Tatou, now edging out of her jeune première leads.

So what’s not to like? Well actually quite a bit.

The film has an ingenious highly structured plot which starts under the titles in a gung ho sadistic action scene where cop Vincent Elbaz smashes the motif door with the picture of the kittens on it to rough up the drug gang (breaking the miscreant's finger with his trigger guard is particularly cringe worthy). 

Turns out this is a story his fellow cop widow, ex-Dardennes star Adèle Haenel, is telling the pair's hero worshiping young son Octave Bossuet. The over the top reverence continues with the French Riviera mayor unveiling of a statue of the late Elbaz in Dirty Harry pose. We never do discover the circumstances of his death on duty.

Haenel has been benched and her associate Damien Bonnard (briefly in Dunkirk) won’t let her join in the raid on the house of bondage that fills up the station with customers in fetish gear. Haenel however discovers from a witness testimony that her heroic ex was a ripoux, a bent copper, and even the engagement ring she promptly flings in the loo was the product of crooked deals like all the high price home comforts that surround her. The kitten door fables she makes up for Bossuet become disturbingly less heroic.

Turns out that Pio Marmaï (Ce qui nous lie/Back to Burgundy) the employee given eight years for a jewellery store heist was actually fall guy in her cop husband’s insurance scam. He’s emerging from the cooler that day, a confirmed hard case. 

Best of the film’s many running gags is his habit of pushing eye holes in the nearest bag to cover his face for convenience store stick ups. Haenel follows the trail of bags to find him with cigarette smoke pouring from the improvised mask he’s wearing as she tries to stop him re-offending back into the Joint. Difficult when he’s into biting off ears in confrontations.

She and the jailbird are attracted, adding to the frustration of Bonnard, and Marmaï interprets Haenel’s advice as “mieux un truand qu’une victime.” This involves Haenel in a call out to the blazing restaurant where they were to have their trist and her joining the line of hookers he sees at the station.

The climax has the video surveillance team unable to interpret the action on their video screens as they watch the brothel properties pressed into service in the up market jewel robbery. (“Is it performance art?”) Like the rest of the film, it's occasionally laugh out loud funny but mainly unsatisfying as Salvadori’s rom com sensibility fails to exploit the material’s outrageousness.

On Blu-ray - Post-Christchurch NZ citizen David Hare takes solace in the magic of Josef von Sternberg's BLONDE VENUS

"You don't look anything like these other women."
"Give me time."
Dialogue unquestionably written by the master of the mordant, Jules Furthmann for Blonde Venus, read by Dietrich and PI Robert O'Connor (below) in a highly veiled Alabama bar cum bordello.
I mention it because in an exercise to insulate myself from the horrors of yesterday's news in Christchurch, and an encroachingly savage depression, I have, as I usually do in these moments, resorted to burying myself in Sternberg and Jean Gabin movies.
So I finally got around to reading the three terrific essays in the booklet for Criterion's great Jo boxset (cover below). The last by Farran Smith Nehme is a miracle of a piece, tackling perhaps the most neglected aspect of Jo's movies, the crew other than him who worked on them and gave them so much of their lustre. 
After giving honor to supreme artists like Hans Dreier and Travis Banton (Set Design and Wardrobe respectively) and how much the two contributed to defining Paramount house style for the thirties, and with it Jo's own series of fantasmagoria as poetic geographical worlds with Dietrich. 
When Farran gets around to the inimitable and totally mysterious screenwriter Jules Furthmann who worked with or without credit on most of Jo's pictures, she describes a moment when an early script idea by Jo and Dietrich for Blonde Venus was passed on to former Broadway writer Sam Lauren. Lauren comments on having to attend to Jo later in his office which he describes as "three times the size of Hitler's."
I needed that today.