Monday 30 November 2020

CINEMA REBORN - Claude Sautet at the Randwick Ritz - VINCENT, FRANCOIS, PAUL...AND THE OTHERS (France, 1974), Sunday December at 4.00 pm

For this wise, beautifully acted, and enormously moving portrait of a trio of lifelong friends at the crossroads of middle age, Claude Sautet recruited three of the leading French stars of their generation—Yves Montand, Michel Piccoli and Serge Reggiani—and also helped nudge the career of Gérard Depardieu into stardom. As the three older men try to vicariously relive their youth through the aspirations of a young professional boxer (Depardieu), the director weaves us through their lives as myriad crises erupt, concessions are made, and time marches on. It ranks among Sautet’s finest contemplations of the human condition.


Vincent François Paul…and the others  had its Australian premiere at the 1976 Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals. In Sydney at least it was a last minute addition to the program and there were no notes about it in the catalogue. It has rarely if ever been screened in theatres here since that time. Still, memory says it in Sydney at least filled up the State Theatre and sent the crowd home very happy. 

Which is exactly the sentiment the great Roger Ebert recorded when he reviewed it for its first release in the US way back in the day. The first couple of paras of Ebert’s review set this out very precisely. 

We walk out of "Vincent, Francois, Paul and the Others" and we think, yeah, that's pretty much the way things are. We don't know whether or not to smile. The movie takes a group of friends in their 40s and observes them for a period of weeks. At the end of that time, we find ourselves recognizing them: They're like friends of ours. They may even be like ourselves. 


To begin with, they're always in motion. There's little time for reflection, stock-taking. Marriages break up and there's hardly time for a postmortem before an affair begins. Careers that looked rewarding turn into dead ends. There are money problems. Some of the people they've loved are barely memories, but others leave wounds that will never heal. They have secrets, even from themselves; they feel guilt and remorse and a vague anxiety. They smoke all the time and drink too much, and sometimes they're too tired to sleep at night. And yet this movie about them isn't, finally, depressing. The director, Claude Sautet, doesn't take his slice of French middle class life and turn it into a portrait of despair. These are tough people. They've survived, and they're resilient. They may have abandoned specific ambitions, but they're incapable of giving up hope. These are poor dumb, silly, lovely, doomed, beautiful human beings.


If you wish to read the rest of Ebert’s rave notice then just click here


In some ways this film marks a key moment in Claude Sautet’s career. This is the last film in the Sautet season at the Ritz in which the veterans Yves Montand, Michel Piccoli and Serge Reggiani appear. Henceforth the season concentrates more on the younger talent of the French cinema.


To book tickets for Vincent etc  Click here to go to the Ritz website

Sunday 29 November 2020

On Netflix - Quentin Turnour dissects TERRA NULLIUS - Episode 6 of THE CROWN (Peter Morgan, UK, 2020)


Emma Corrin, Josh O'Connor as Di and Charles in Australia
The Crown  series 4, Episode 6

Some reading this might not yet have waded deep enough into the new series of Netflix’s THE CROWN to have got to Episode 6 ‘TERRA NULLIUS’. But this is of intrinsic interest, as it is largely concerned with Charles and Di’s 1983 Australian tour.

It’s a new entry in the long tradition of Antipodean Cinema: Hollywood, European and Japanese attempts to imagine life Downunder in a northern hemisphere studio backlot. As with all these films and TV, some parts will be hard to take for locals. 


Like THE CROWN’s first series, Spain is substituting for Australia, with green-screened Uluru and Sydney Opera House, and an army of Foley artists doing Australian voices. Series showrunner Peter Morgan’s use of the motif of ‘Terra Nullius’ suggests he might be missing the point of debates around the legal term’s meaning and context. And the various Australian actors taking minor roles in the episode all fall into that usual bad habit of Australian actors playing Australians offshore of feeling obliged to work the Strine too hard. 


Bob Hawke (Richard Roxburgh) and Prince Charles
(Josh O'Connor),
The Crown  series 4, episode 6

Even Richard Roxburgh as Hawke seems to be closer to Max Gillies’s original Hawkie than to a dramatic performance  (although the recreations of leadership in THE CROWN have always been wayward, varying from the Jason’s Watkins’ subtle Harold Wilson to Gillian Anderson’s current, woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous breakdown cartoon of Margaret Thatcher).

Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson)
The Crown  series 4

More interesting for us is the episode’s dive into Australian screen heritage. The new THE CROWN series is already taking a lot of flak in the UK press for Peter Morgan’s long-standing tendency to concertina historical events and characters. He’s always done that back to early dramas such THE DEAL and THE QUEEN. 

But as the series moves into the more remembered recent past, it’s starting to enter UK Culture Wars terrain and take hits from the Murdoch London tabloids.Buying into the history of the Australian Republican Movement is to extend the series desire to ask for trouble to our local commentariat . 


It’s  interesting however that the first to troll THE CROWN’s read of early 1980s Australia have been researchers at FOUR CORNERS. They quickly picked up that it’s unlikely recreation of a February 1983 FOUR CORNERS special live audience roundtable with then still Opposition Leader Hawke is indicated on screen as having taken place on 26 February. Although it does get right that  the FOUR CORNERS classic was always broadcast on a Saturday night back in the day, it’s a date which didn’t make sense.


You can see Four Corners’ Twitter attack here, pointing out also some of the things Peter Morgan has Hawke say but didn’t, and also showing highlights from the original program.


Interesting to compare THE CROWN’S ocker-ised FOUR CORNERS interviewer with the real host, Wesh-born Huv Evans —probably the last Presenter standing at ABC who still spoke BBC-English. This FOUR CORNERS ep. is held in the National Archives, as well as the ABC Archive.


Not mentioned by FOUR CORNERS, but maybe a greater pleasure was another, extended scene where Olivia Colman’s Queen sits back in Buckingham Palace watching an old 16mm film copy of THE QUEEN IN AUSTRALIA; the official 1954 Australian royal tour film which was the first colour feature film made in Australia. It says something about the power of that film’s record of an extraordinary moment of Australia national hysteria that it seems to have gotten major attention from Peter Morgan and director Julian Jarrold. It’s nice to hear the voice of the film’s original narrator, Peter Finch echoing through THE CROWN’s Buckingham Palace set. 


THE QUEEN IN AUSTRALIA is also preserved at the National Archive.

Claude Sautet at the Randwick Ritz - Sue Williams introduces CÉSAR AND ROSALIE (France, 1972)

Hello, I am Sue Williams from the Australian Film Critics Circle and I am here to introduce today’s movie César et Rosalie – one of Claude Sautet’s best-known, and best-loved, films.

Although it was made in 1972, César et Rosalie has all our modern obsessions – love, loneliness, bromance … and real estate.

It features a tug of love between the older, coarser César (a rich scrap metal dealer played by Yves Montand) and the younger, more handsome graphic artist David (Sami Frey).

They are vying for the affections of Rosalie, played by the glowing Romy Schneider. 

It’s a romantic comedy, by any definition, but considering it was made in a country that revered Jerry Lewis, it is actually quite restrained. That said, it fairly rattles along … there are no “longeurs” in this movie.

But it is very French.  Where else could a young man approach his love rival and say “I love your wife …” and have the older man reply “take a number and join the queue.”

The film conjures up several familiar French phrases. Ménage a trois … cherchez la femme and ‘Ca Pleine Pour Moi.” OK, Plastic Bertrand was Belgian … ça ne fait rien.

I have exhausted my limited French, you’ll be glad to hear, but what this movie reminded me was that three things had not yet made it to France in 1972 – seat belts, feminism and smoke alarms.  

Hollywood uber-critic Roger Ebert said this was "too pleasing a movie not to review", and that it was "the sort of thing the French, with their appreciation for the awesome complexities of a simple thing like love, do especially well." 

I agree.

It’s an intelligent and funny romance, and what further makes it worth watching is the interplay between Yves Montand, Romy Schneider, and Sami Frey. 

And keep your eyes peeled for a 19-year-old Isabelle Huppert appearing in only her fifth movie.

So bienvenue and please enjoy César et Rosalie.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Streaming and on BBC Channels - John Baxter revives THE JOHNNY WORRICKER TRILOGY (David Hare, UK, 2011-2014)

'...a kind of perfect role", Bill Nighy


            Given its failure to anticipate 9/11 and other disasters, the international intelligence community has clearly lost the plot. The problem may be the sheer number of people involved. Efficiency in espionage appears to be inversely proportionate to the number of agents.  Why else would East Germany, where the Stasi spied on everyone, fail to envision the fall of the Wall? 

            Spying is simpler in the cinema. Hardly had Tom Hanks and his busty assistants driven Russia from Afghanistan in Charlie Wilson’s War than he changed hats to become the lawyer in Bridge of Spies who saves Soviet agent Rudolf Abel from execution. Catch Hanks spending a decade tracking down Osama bin Laden. He’d have nailed him in an afternoon, with no more help than an adoring aide to keep the Martinis flowing.

            A similar thought appears to have motivated David Hare in writing and directing his trilogy of spy dramas about MI5 analyst Johnny Worricker, played by the imperturbable Bill Nighy. 

            Produced by the BBC, Page Eight (2011), Turks & Caicos and Salting the Battlefield (both 2014) reduce espionage to the matching of skills among a handful of dedicated individuals. As in most spy fiction, winning or losing are abstractions.  Nobody believes the recovery of “the plans”, the exposure of the mole or the outwitting of Karla, Moriarty or Smersh will change anything. To Hare, as to his predecessors John Buchan, Rudyard Kipling and John le Carré, it’s all about what Edwardians called The Great Game.

"a thuggish Ralph Fiennes"

            Like George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,  Worricker is the right-hand man of a dying boss, in this case Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon), head of MI5. Almost on his deathbed, Baron entrusts him with a report on America’s clandestine “black sites” and the practice of “rendition”.  Page eight of the document reveals in passing that British Prime Minister Alec Beasley (a thuggish Ralph Fiennes) knows and approves of their existence. 

            Worricker exploits allies, lovers and family to authenticate the report and disseminate its contents.  He’s unconcerned that this makes him a fugitive from his own department, now run by Jill Tankard (a snarling Judy Davis;).  Should we be in any doubt as to where his true loyalties lie, the vicar at Benedict’s memorial service announces that Johnny has chosen the music, then leads the congregation in the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country.

            The last shot of Page Eight shows Johnny standing at an airport, contemplating a smorgasbord of possible bolt-holes.  His story could have ended there, had the popularity of the first film not induced the BBC to fund two more. 

            Turks & Caicos finds Worricker on that particular Caribbean haven for dirty money, eavesdropping on some post-9/11 profiteers who have become rich constructing the infrastructure of illegal imprisonment.  Pausing to take up again with old flame Margot (Helena Bonham-Carter), he sabotages their consortium and the secret fund set up to guarantee Prime Minister Beasley a comfortable retirement, then slips away with Margot just before the axe falls. 

            The third film, Salting the Battlefield – a reference to the practice of victors destroying the economy of the defeated by sowing their fields with salt - might have been better called The Morning After.  Flitting between German safe houses, Worricker is induced to return to Britain with Margot, only to find that his absence has barely been noticed. Jill Tankard now runs MI5 in cahoots with a thriving American intelligence industry, for which rendition and black sites are just weapons in the arsenal of freedom. Beasley has escaped censure by blaming the Americans, then resigning to become a well-paid statesman-for-hire on the model of Tony Blair. 

            Fortunately, Johnny’s enemies are compassionate in victory. He’s allowed to come in from the cold and return to his old office where he can play the Great Game while Tankard and Co. get on with the Greater Game of fighting international terrorism. 

            In all three films, Worricker has a female companion, and sometimes two. In Page Eight, he befriends Syrian publisher Rachel Weisz, the mysterious death of whose brother at the hands of the Israeli Army he’s able to elucidate. “I don’t suppose you’d let me thank you?” she says hopefully when they find themselves alone in a hotel room, but of course nothing so carnal would cross Johnny’s mind. If he were to share her bed, it would be with a metaphorical sword laid between them, a guarantee of knightly restraint. 

Bill Nighy, Winona Ryder, Christopher Walken

            The distressed damsel of Turks & Caicos is Winona Ryder, who, in a different kind of film and another era, would have been called a “moll”. With the connivance of a CIA man, played with loose-jointed glee by Christopher Walken (an actor Nighy greatly admires – “Every move he makes is a dance”), Johnny saves her, before escaping into the dark waters of the Caribbean with Bonham-Carter. (Whistle-blowing accountant Meredith Eaton would have been a more appropriate companion, though her height, a mere four feet, might have complicated the incognito on which Salting the Battlefield depends.)

             “British actors,” said Roger Ebert, “love playing gangsters as much as American actors love playing cowboys.” This is no less true of spy stories, and clearly Nighy enjoyed himself as Worricker.  Asked to describe his character, he said “I wear a dark blue overcoat. I smoke herbal cigrettes in the rain, I stand on Battersea Bridge in the dark and you have to worry about what I’m thinking. It’s a kind of perfect role.”  

            Why would a political writer like David Hare devote three films to something so close to escapism?  Did he, by exposing the aimlessness of espionage, hope to condemn by implication the secret gathering of information and those involved in it? Alas, in the wake of Wikileaks, this is old news.  We are now all too aware that strangers can watch our every move, hear every word.  “Aren’t you worried?” attorney Tom Hanks periodically enquires of Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies.   We can only respond, like Abel, “Would it help?”   

Christopher Walken, Meredith Eaton, Bill Nighy, Winona Ryder, on set

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Cinema Reborn - Janice Tong introduces Claude Sautet's - MAX AND THE JUNKMEN (France, 1971)

Romy Schneider, Michel Piccoli, Max and the Junkmen

Thanks so much for the invitation Geoff and Cinema Reborn and StudioCanal for putting together this fantastic Claude Sautet season at the Ritz 



Max and the Junkmen or Max and the Scrap Merchants is the second of Claude Sautet’s films that pairs the enchanting Austrian-born actress Romy Schneider with one of cinema’s greats - actor Michel Piccoli, who sadly passed away in May this year. I think it’s a timely reminder for us to pay tribute to this vital actor, whose screen presence and cinematic influence will be sorely missed. 


Orson Welles once described Romy as someone who is very attractive, but behind that beautiful face, hides a secret and whatever that secret is, when one finds out, it would turn out to be an enormous joke. I’ve always wondered about that comment, as I’m not sure if it was witty or mean, or both, and if it at all described her personality. Instead, I thought Piccoli remembered her best - in that he saw her not as a great actor, but as a star. And like all stars, they burn brightly but for a short time, (her losing her husband to suicide, then her 14 year old son in an accident, before finally succumbing to a heart attack at the age of only 42). There’s a lot to be said about her tragic fate - and Piccoli’s comment makes you think that it was predestined.


Even with this knowledge, it nonetheless disturbed me to learn that during the shoot for this film, Romy would frequently ask Piccoli about her appearance. And he would always pay her the compliment she wanted to hear: that her lipstick was perverse, or that she looked despicable, ungracious. This would always make her smile - she took pleasure in hearing these words from him, as though they were the ultimate validation of her embodiment of her character, the German streetwalker Lily.


Despite her fate, and perhaps because of her fragility, the onscreen presence of this couple is sublime. Romy’s Lily was dressed by Saint Laurent – bright coloured dresses in scarlet, magenta pink or brilliant violet with a matching ribbon tied around her throat. Or, in the now infamous black vinyl trenchcoat that hid her little black dress with the plunging neckline - her wardrobe was so of the moment and new; and caused a sensation at the time. Her outfits also helped set her world in contrast to Max’s. An ex-judge turned detective, with a private income, as rigid as he was suave in his double-breasted suits, his fedora worn just so - a hint of Melville’s The Samurai, and an echoing of his earlier role in Godard’s Contempt. Lily and Max looked to be the essence of cool: neo-noir in the 70s. 


Max  is based on a novel by Claude Néron, who went on to be one of Sautet’s regular collaborators. Piccoli was actually reading this very book during the shoot of The Things of Life (the film that was screened here last week) whilst waiting for resets and between takes in the apartment with Romy, and they jokingly decided that Sautet should make it into a film. 


Whilst I don’t want to give too much of the plotline away, this is not a film that can be easily classified as a police story or crime drama, nor is it classic film noir, the femme fatale is not really one. Sure, there’s a prostitute, a detective, there’s a gang of petty criminals, and yes, there’s a heist, guns and a shootout too. But you shouldn’t carve a path along these lines; to do so, would be to undermine the narrative that Sautet is interested in telling. The characters and who they represent is simply the surface, and the film, like Orson’s Romy, hides a secret.


Sautet cleverly and seamlessly stitched his introduction of the small-time crooks like that of a casting call: a nickname, a freeze frame and a petty account of any previous crimes. They were dirty, sweaty, laughing, even in the face of unemployment, they were full of life and vitality in contrast to Max, who came across as hard working and principled, was instead monied and cunning, and whose face was but a blank canvas. This mask was later echoed in Daniel Auteuil’s character in A Heart in Winter, and again, this indifference repeats itself disguised in the elegance of Monsieur Arnaud (you’ll get to catch Nelly and M. Arnaud later in December, to be shown as the final film in season). 


In Max and the Junkmen, the blue-toned washed out palette matched the coolness of Max’s moods, casting a deeper shadow over his sombre ilk, and the grainy film stock reminiscent of The French Connection that came out in the same year. Incidentally, the French word ‘flic’ (meaning cop) in its etymological form can be seen as the embodiment of Max’s character, a corruption of all that he knew, the word is itself a corruption of the German word ‘flique’, a criminal slang for a young man, a spy or a tattletale, and Max is a manipulator, of Lily, of his old friend Abel, and even the system in which he serves.


In all of Sautet’s films, there was always an underlying tension, brewing beneath the surface - just like real life; something is always hidden from view, a secret. 


Alienation, corruption, deceit and betrayal - these themes under the direction of Sautet are no longer mere ingredients of a policier story. They are instead the four points of an obtuse moral compass. The impetus that propels Max’s fate (which then links him to everyone he touches) was not, as he reveals to his commissioner, that he did not get the results he needed to catch criminals, or that he was made a fool of by his informer. I think this film delivers Max’s actions as an existential dilemma - one can easily fall one way or another - the compass neither guiding nor abetting - it is simply, just there. Inevitably, the characters lead a life that is governed by random choices in the charting of one’s own destiny. 


I would say that this sense of foreboding that permeates throughout Sautet’s body of work resonates on the level of poetry rather than malice. It requires that audiences be attentive to details, and not only of what we see, but what we hear as well - to listen to the conversations, the music, the ambience, as well as the silences. After all, Sautet had one of the finest ears in the business; in an interview he said that as a child, he remained mute and shy for a long time and that he only cared about music. So I hope that you will take notice of Phillipe Sarde’s score, an unhappy waltz that sounds more like a funeral march with its heavy underscoring of the ¾ time; waltzing its characters to their inevitable future. It is an earworm that refuses to yield and forges on until the very end.


I’d like to end by turning the focus onto Max’s character - his glacial exterior, immaculate in sharply cut pinstriped suits, his fedora, the money and his little flat are but props. Does this exterior belie a burning interior? Can we detect the fleeting telltale signs of the surfacing of Max’s conscience - was it deep hurt we see in his eyes at the beginning of the film, was that a slight twitch of his lips when he was observing Lily, or the whiteness of a sweat-stricken face? Or did we imagine all these things? A judge would certainly be able to tell right from wrong...we can’t help but wonder. There is only one thing we know for sure, that Max lived by his own philosophical convictions to the very end. 


Sautet’s long time friend, the film critic and film director Bertrand Tavernier said of this film, “[t]he policier structure of Max et les Ferrailleurs (1971), [is] one of [Sautet’s] greatest achievements, worthy of Fritz Lang”. Indeed this film can be seen as a neo-noir tone poem that has deep resonances with a man’s futile search for destiny in a humanistic world. Although Max has all the hallmarks of an anti-hero, Sautet’s film leaves tensions unresolved, or rather, his film tells us that certain things are unresolvable and must remain hidden. The commissioner sums it up very well, he said “Max you’re funny, you go in search for something, and when you find it, you’re not happy.” 


Do enjoy the film!




The screening was introduced by Janice Tong – a cinephile and one-time film scholar who has written a major study of Claude Sautet published on the Senses of Cinema Great Directors list. By day Janice is the commercial director for a tech media company, by night she enjoys watching films and good British crime dramas. She also has a particular interest in director Wong Kar-wai, as well as French and German cinemas.



Monday 23 November 2020

On Nine GEM (Digital) - Barrie Pattison renews interest in three remarkable British films - POISON PEN (Paul Stein, 1939), HUE AND CRY (Charles Crichton, 1947) and THE SMALL BACK ROOM (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1949)

 Backing British.

 As I've already observed, Nine Gem is still there pushing out old British movies that we didn’t want to see half a century back. However, if you ignore Tommy the Toreador, the combined works of Cecil Parker and the rest, they do occasionally come up with something of interest.


Include Paul (Ludwig) Stein’s 1939 Poison Pen, critic Ray Durgnat’s favorite movie.


Totally out of step with the work being done around it, this one was a full on rejection of the British coziness of its day, while Clouzot’s Le Corbeau, the much better French film that it anticipates (compare their shock church sequences) fitted right into Occupation France.


Poison Pen kicks off with village matriarch Flora Robson, sister of the vicar, buying a lollipop to replace the one the little boy has dropped outside Edward Chapman’s village main street store and Post Office. Flora is organizing the locals for the Church Restoration Fund Dance that night. Her ward, Ann Todd, got up in a distracting attempt at fashion outfits, is being moved on by Cyril Chamberlain, who is put off (film’s first close-up) to find she is going to marry her fiancé Geoffrey Toone coming back from Australia after a year. The locals gather round the Post Office switchboard to listen in when his call is put through.


Anne Todd, Poison Pen

We glimpse them being good-natured (“not a hint of scandal about anyone”) and then the Poison Pen letters, which we never see, start arriving - all alleging sexual misconduct. In the film’s most disturbing stream, they articulate the no smoke without fire message. Even The Reverend Reginald Tate, who is trying to be the voice of reason, comments on the letter he received “I opened it like everybody else.” Soon a female lynch mob starts hounding “foreigner” (someone not born in the village) Catherine Lacy as the suspected writer, Robson sending them on their way with the rough edge of her tongue.  


Brutish Robert Newton is particularly disturbed by allegations that his pregnant wife Belle Crystall (the 1931 Hindle Wakes, Michael Powell’s Edge of the World) is involved with cheery shopkeeper Chapman. Tate tries to calm Newton’s fears. However, after a few pints, (“fair staggering he was”) he breaks out the shot gun. 


Robert Newton, Poison Pen

Inspector Charles Mortimer of the Yard and freaky hand writing man Roddy Hughes, whose analysis of the calligraphy proves unnervingly accurate, crack the case which has generated madness and suicide. The division of privileged class characters like Colonel Athole Stewart and Mary Hinton ’s families and the servile regional accented proles (“Miss Mary bay’nt at home”) is particularly disturbing here.


This is probably the busy Paul Stein’s best film. He’d been good for two or three productions a year from his 1918 debut, moving from Germany to Hollywood with a range of celebrities fronting his cameras - Pola Negri, Raymond Massey, Basil Rathbone, Doug Fairbanks Jnr. Jeanette McDonald - without being responsible for anything conspicuous. 


Here his straightforward handling proves telling, though the film is still occasionally rough - bad matching on close-ups, lighting units throw shadows on trees out of doors. A strong selection of long serving British character players carry the load, the ubiquitous Chapman or Newton managing to ham his way to prominence. Edward Rigby is in there too and Poor Belle Crysal is once again wasted. Wilfred Hyde White’s brief cameo as the village postman no less, calmly explaining regulations, is nicely comic sinister. 


Flora Robson, Poison Pen

Pity the mystery element is sacrificed too early, taking away any surprise impact. The piece has the feel of a West End success, building to Robson’s third act monologue set piece (“Year after year ... I’ve had no child of my own”) to get spontaneous applause from the stalls. This curiously is the most filmic passage, with its ghost mirror recriminations, though these are not particularly well staged. Her strong performance and the discordant subject matter are the film’s strengths. There’s the unnerving moment of her stepping back from the church door to reveal full choir practice. However, it’s Poison Pen’s sinister contemporary subject and its disturbing view of the elements of British life that were taken for granted in other films which makes it notable and give it it’s small enthusiast following.


Also in the nine Gem line up was the more celebrated Hue and Cry directed by Charles Crichton in 1947. At this distance, it becomes uneasy viewing -  like a threepenny British comic (which still costs 2d here) that has got mixed in with contemporary work like the Alf Sjöberg Hets and “Rubble Movies” like Germania Anno Zero. Throw in “Emil & the Detectives.”


Plot has the London kids gang (token girl) gathering in a bombed out tenement to figure out that the serial in the Trump kids paper is a coded message to a gang of robbers. The vignetted "thinks" inset of the Comic Adventures proves a misleading hint of style in something where the exteriors look like they come out of a documentary on post war hardship.


The coppers take a dim view of being called out on the gang’s imperfect attempts to thwart the crooks. ("I dun a bit of good for that detective inspector") Paul Demel the furrier,  distracted by their rock through his window, turns out to have furs in the cases that the serial describes as containing bodies. The Oxford Circus department store that they hide in to catch the heavies, fills with plainclothes police and watchmen and the kids only get away through the obviously studio sewers where one's uncle used to work - resurfacing when the radio car called to apprehend them, drives off the man hole. 


They approach writer Alistair Sim up his sinister, cat inhabited stairs and find that his serial is being corrupted. However, Covent Garden fruiterer Jack Warner, with whom Harry Fowler has been placed, is not what he seems. The kids intimidate his blonde office girl side kick with a white mouse and, using a bogus BBC news item, get all the boys of London to stream over recognisable streetscapes and join in the scrap with the heavies.


The gang in the rubble, Hue and Cry

Warner's truck escape, crash and mutually murderous pursuit by Fowler makes an alarmingly violent climax for a kid film. 


This one is a more damning account of Austerity Britain that was intended. None of the working class kids have any interest in higher education. The lead, in his unwinding pullover, sees a five a.m. job carrying fruit baskets on his head with a sack

draped over his shoulders as social advancement. The East End gang is sniffy about a toff from Camberwell whose accent proves as broad as their own. Parents are a nagging marginal phenomenon. Another parson is a dour type who throws the comic out of his choir practice window.


The endless, bombed out streets and ugly fashions clash with the Boys Own adventure the film wants to evoke. The comedy of dotty writer Sim blackmailed into the kids’ scheme is at odds with the realist, violent outcome of the Jack Warner plot. Well, at least the kids are the right age. Curiously none of this wave of new talent went on to achieve.

Trump (comic), Hue and Cry

The film is represented as the first Ealing comedy which is a bit much. George Formby among others had been based at Ealing. It does introduce comic elements into the producer Michael Balcon - writer T.E.B. Clake collaboration which would include successes like Passport to Pimlicoand The Lavender Hill Mob but really it comes closer to being a template for the (drear) Children’s Film Foundation with child protagonists in an adult scenario. Sim’s performance and a lively score by Georges Auric, then becoming the sound of the art cinema with his Cocteau collaborations, out class the other elements.


It’s curious to be faced with this one again after a lifetime and find it is a more revealing, more flawed piece than my memory of it.


And then they came up with 1949’s The Small Back Room which I hadn’t seen since the fifties when I bullied the Sydney Film Society into running that one sixteen millimeter print which was all that was left of its half-hearted release here. 

This was the peak achievement for Powell & Pressberger’s Archers group and when Michael Powell  surfaced here, kick starting Australian feature production in the sixties, he confirmed that it only came about when they wanted something acceptable to redeem the failure of The Red Shoes in Britain - before that one became the smash hit in the U.S. where it was the then biggest earning British film.


An unspectacular black and white war movie that never ventures near the front line, The Small Back Room is notable as the first (I think) Bomb Disposal movie, kicking off the Time Bomb (1953) Ten Seconds to Hell (1959) Juggernaut (1974) Danger USB (1979) No Man’s Land (2001) Hurt Locker (2008) cycle.


David Farrar, fresh from the Archer’s splendidly exotic Black Narcissus, is Sammy Rice, a Whitehall boffin in Prof. Milton Rosmer’s department. He’s dogged by alcoholism, a painful tin leg prosthetic and bureaucracy represented by former ad-man Jack Hawkins whose expanding office has consumed half the window of Farrar’s lover, secretary Kathleen Byron. A bureaucrat opportunist ends up paying for lunch and clerk Cyril Cusack is having trouble at home. The department’s standing comes to rest on the success of the new Reeves Gun in which Col. Leslie Banks sees “user problems.”  As if Farrar’s life wasn’t already complicated, Michael Gough involves him in dealing with a new German booby trap which may be got up like a Teddy Bear (“Jerry’s like that”) because it keeps on blowing up children.


David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, The Small Back Room

There are a few digressions like a comic visit by uncredited Robert Morley or barman Sid James refusing Farrar when he’s drunk and aggressive, leading to an “expressionist” nightmare with a giant bottle. Key scene proves to be a committee meeting with Farrar passing a note to his team spokesman which demolishes the other lot - the kind of thing Ken Loach was forever trying to make dramatically potent. Byron walks out - taking the cat - and then the phone rings and its Gough on the line.


David Farrar, The Small Back Room

The segment on the wired off beach is instantly recognisable as Michael Powell - Farrar and Anthony Bushell’s lot striding past the old stone church - leading to still one of the best suspense sequences in film. Renée Asherson’s brief scene, reading back Gough’s notes is extraordinarily potent.    


Follow that if you dare and they can’t quite manage but the ending is still involving. It features a pared down, Pinter-esque key exchange with Banks enquiring about Bushell. “What did you make of Strang?” “He’s alright’’ “That’s what he said about you.” Powell prefered Banks’ “This war will be won by the army, the navy and the airforce - in that order.” 


The film remains the best of all those Britain at war movies in which we recognise the girls dancing with men in uniform, taped windows and ugly fashions. Dark Passage from the same era (filmed 1947) is the only other film I recall where the small parts register so vividly - right down to Clancy Cooper stopping Bogart on the street in that genuine David Goodis moment. You have only to look at London Films other British Nigel Balchin adaptation, Anthony Kimmins’ Mine Own Executioner (1947), which Nine Gem occasionally airs, to see The Archers’ achievement. How Powell & Pressburger managed to get things so right is something which I suspect puzzled them too. When British Cinema has so few exceptional works it's a great shame to sideline this one.

Sunday 22 November 2020

On CESAR AND ROSALIE and more - Author, critic and film-maker Scott Murray recommends a deep dive into the Sautet season at the Randwick Ritz

Sami Frey, Romy Schneider, Yves Montand
César et Rosalie

César et Rosalie 
is for many their favourite Sautet, with a love triangle that is remarkable for its tender depiction of the relationship between the two men of different generations (Yves Montand, Sami Frey) competing for the heart of Rosalie (Sautet’s first great muse, Romy Schneider). The ending is up there with Bresson’s Pickpocket, the melancholic score (as in all Sautet films from Les Choses de la Vie) by Philippe Sarde.

Sautet would create an equally exquisite variation of this love triangle 20 years later with Un Cœur en Hiver (not screening in the Ritz season, but incandescent on the SUBTITLED STUDIOCANAL BLU-RAY). The two suitors are now of a similar age (André Dussollier, Daniel Auteuil), and their desired is played by Sautet’s second great muse, Emmanuelle Béart.


"...Sautet's first great muse..."
Romy Schneider, César et Rosalie

Béart also stars in Sautet’s final film, Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud, about an out-of-work and-love young woman who temps for a retired judge (Michel Serrault) while he completes his memoirs. This a love story that does not defy the 35-year age gap between the characters but explores the connections that exist because of it. The restaurant scene (with the Château d’Yquem), and the one when Nelly awakes while being gently observed, and the heart-stopping moment of reflection at the airport all demonstrate why Sautet is placed by some (including me) alongside Bresson. 


Michel Serrault, Emmanuelle Béart,
Nelly and M. Arnaud

In between César and Nelly, Sautet made (amongst others): Vincent, François, Paul … et les autres, his finest ensemble film, so rarely available with sub-titles, which celebrates the myriad bonds between men; UnMauvais Fils, also rare, exploring the friction between generations, in this case an ex-prisoner (Patrick Dewaere) and his unforgiving father (Yves Robert); and Quelques Jours avec Moi, an edgy and occasionally uncomfortable film, seldom seen, about a retrenched man (Daniel Auteuil) and his attempts to have a young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) love him.


Sautet was never reluctant to tackle difficult subjects or delight in the love between men, and for women. He also made extraordinary films from a female perspective, including Une Histoire Simple and Mado, both radiant and precise, and staring Romy Schneider. (Neither is screening, but Pathé’s Blu-ray of Histoireis glorious and Pathfinder’s DVD of Madoa treasure.)


Sautet could do anything he sought to, with rare sensitivity and rigour.



Claude Sautet