This week’s Criterion streams on Fandor were less thematically related than usual, as they showcased a collection of films which simply included numbers in the title. Those present included good films I’d already seen, most notably Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and Jean-Luc Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967). My weekly viewing from this selection included a pair of impressive films, both new to me, featuring both the largest and the smallest numbers on the list.
The obvious highlight comes late in the film, as our hero and his fiancée find themselves hiding on stage behind a prop during a live operatic performance, for reasons complicated though coherent. The scene the crowd sees is a song between two lovers who have been quarreling, but realise they can’t bear to be apart, and we watch the hidden couple as they realise wordlessly that the song is saying everything they’d like to. It’s a rare quiet moment in an otherwise frantic film, and it helps to ground everything that happens around it. Apart from this scene, none of the songs are especially memorable, but they mostly stay out of the way.
Kurosawa focused more than once on the malaise of returning soldiers. A few weeks ago I wrote about his film Stray Dog (1949), where an ex-soldier turned to a life of crime. In this slightly earlier case, Yuzo is shown to have fallen into depression. He distrusts the world he’s come home to, and sees himself being left behind as it moves on around him. In a genuinely surprising move (be aware that I am about to describe the final moments of this film) Masako turns to the camera and address the audience directly. She pleads for the public to understand the difficulties faced by her generation, left disenfranchised by the war, and even asks the audience to participate, clapping in encouragement to show support for Yuzo. The director’s message: that this generation would eventually return to full function, but they would need time, and they would need help.
This structure-defying directness is so far removed from anything else I’d seen from Kurosawa that it came as a real shock. It’s a powerful conclusion to a very good film.