Movies - Foreign postsFriday November 07, 2008
Madame, reading from newspaper: “Fears of war in the Pacific.”
Woman 1: What does “Pacific” mean?
Woman 2: "Peace."
— from the English translation of the "La Maison Tellier" segment of Max Ophuls' Le Plaisir (1952)
The film, based upon the works of Guy de Maupassant, is split into three stories that reflect three levels of pleasure. The first, "La Masque," about an odd man at a dance, may be the best cinematic representation of a short story I've ever seen. An event unfolds. It feels sad, and not. Lessons are learned, and not. Nothing more can be done with this. It's deep, but perfectly enclosed.
Ophuls is great at giving us such sad, deep, shrugging moments in his films, no less than in the second part and centerpiece of Le Plaisir, "La Maison Tellier," in which a house full of prostitutes close up shop for a weekend to attend the communion of the Madame's niece in a nearby village. On the train there, an older couple gets on, the women pretend to be more than they are, and Madame Rosa (Danielle Darrieux), who will factor greatly as the story unfolds, feigns a husband: a thoughtful man, she says, who sends her dresses and jewelry and flowers. "He kisses my hand and tells me wonderful things." The conversation is with her friends, but is meant for the older couple, the scowling old woman. Ultimately it's a conversation with her heart. It's a bittersweet moment, but, in Ophul's hands, it's more sweet than bitter, and more poignant as a result.
Ophuls keeps doing this kind of thing: Here's life. He's not even shrugging. He's not pushing. Just...here's life.
One-sentence Review of 'The Edge of Heaven'
We're all connected, but we keep missing the connections; but if we're patient, and open, we wind up connecting on a deeper level.
After seeing Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven last night (recommended), I looked up one of its stars, Hanna Schygulla, on IMDb.com, to confirm that, yes, she was the star of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, which led me to this plot synopsis of the film:
This movie follows the life of a young German woman, married to a soldier in the waning days of WWII. Fassbinder has tried to show the gritty life after the end of WWII and the turmoil of the people trapped in its wake.
That was the thing about Fassbinder. He tried and tried but always failed miserably. So glad IMDb had the courage to point this out.
Le Pays de Cons
I've been hip-deep in idiocy lately. And not just my own.
Sunday evening Patricia and I watched Le Diner de Cons, a 1998 French comedy from Francis Veber (La Cage Aux Folles, Le Placard), whom I met last spring at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis for an Alliance Francaise-backed showing of his fun, lightweight, La Doublure (The Valet). Very tan man. Le Diner de Cons, The Dinner Game, literally “The Dinner of Idiots,” is a better film. Most of the action takes place in one room, so it feels like it could be a play. Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) is a well-off intellectual who participates in a weekly Wednesday night dinner game with friends. The goal is the intellectuals’ version of Dogfight: Who can bring the biggest idiot?
So Wednesday’s approaching and poor Pierre is without a good idiot to bring...until, on the TGV, his friend sits next to Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret), a well-meaning bore who regales him with pictures of his matchstick-built landmarks (Eiffel Tower, etc.). Unfortunately, the day of the dinner, Pierre wrenches his back playing golf and can’t make it...but Francois still shows up at his house. It will be a while before he leaves.
What’s great about the film is that we’re initially horrified by this dinner, by such bastards who would make fun of dim sweethearts like Francois Pignon, and any Hollywood version would surely lapse into the sentimentality of lessons learned — Francois demonstrating smarts, Pierre his heart — and there are intimations of this in Le Diner de Cons. But ultimately Veber is made of sturdier, funnier stuff. In the end, as horrified as we initially were by the game, we have to admit that it’s Francois Pignon’s very idiocy that allows some karmic balance into the universe.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Rick Shenkman’s book, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter, in which he argues that the problem with our political system is less the politicians and their marketers, who dumb down the message, or the media, who sensationalize the contest, than us, the mythical, Capra-esque people, i.e., “The People,” for whom the message is dumbed down and the contest sensationalized. It’s not a bad argument at not a bad time. The sad part? Unlike the ending of Le Diner de Cons, our idiocy isn't exactly bringing any kind of balance, karmic or otherwise, into the universe.
Bob le flambeur
Last May I did a piece for MSNBC, to coincide with the opening of Paris je t’aime, on the Top 5 films set in Paris. It was an excuse to see more French films before a bike trip along the Canal du Midi in June and July. Unfortunately I screwed up the deadline, had to rush it, and even without the screw-up I didn’t have the depth of knowledge you’d need for a good piece on the subject. I still don’t (the more you know, the less you know, etc.), but a new list, or at least an addition to the list, would probably include Bob le flambeur, Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1956 take on an aging gambler and a perfect crime caper. Those shots around Paris from a speeding car window in 400 Blows? Melville does it four years earlier around Montmartre: Gorgeous shots of a life that doesn’t exist anymore. For a genre film, made a few years before Truffaut, et al., broke, the movie feels very New Wave.
Many films are suggested in this one. A shot of Anne (Isabelle Corey) dancing alone to a jazz band reminded me of something Roger Vadim did with Brigette Bardot in Et Dieu...crea la femme — which featured Isabelle Corey as well. Obviously The Good Thief, with Nick Nolte, is a direct remake, but there are also strong elements of Bob le flambeur (the debonair, moralistic gambler with the young protégé) in Paul Thomas Anderson's Sydney or Hard Eight. The film is beloved.
For all the great metaphoric use of Montemartre as both heaven and hell (from Sacre Coeur to Pigalle), and for all of Henri Dacae's gorgeous early-morning cinematography, what’s interesting about the story, and please accept all the usual spoiler alerts here, is how it upends the perfect-crime caper. A gambler (Roger Duchesne), on a losing streak and near broke, decides to rob a casino with the usual team of handy and not-so-handy men. He drills them like a military unit. Parts of the scheme begin to unravel (an informant hears about it, tells the police) but are solidified again (the informant is killed for other reasons), and it’s set in motion even as the police are closing in.
Then the reason why it was necessary in the first place unravels. Bob, the point man in the casino, begins to gamble and his luck begins to change. He keeps winning, and winning, and he forgets all about the caper. After several hours he remembers, but his men and the cops arrive at the same time, there’s a shoot out, and Bob’s protégé, Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), is killed. That’s a good take on the heist film: the heist never happens but the hero gets rich anyway. The denouement includes a good conversation between the cops and Bob on how much time Bob will do and what a good lawyer can buy you.
This is my fourth Melville film (Le Samouri, L’Armee des ombres, Le Cercle Rouge), and while I like him intellectually, his cool may be too cold for me. His leading men don’t intrigue. For all of Bogie’s cool, remember, he was a helluva talker.