“They talk too much to be happy.”

Descriptions of this film focus on the blank-faced young married couple in crisis, visiting the fishing town where he grew up, debating whether they should stay together. But the couple seems to appear in about one third of the movie. The rest is about the town itself and its residents – daily fishing, problems with the law and health board, a teenage couple who want to start dating, a jousting competition in the river. Since most of the movie defies plot summary, the married couple gets more attention than they maybe deserve.

He says something like “you change your mind so much, I’m always a day or two behind.” And I’m so glad I never finished watching this with Katy (she made it about 20 minutes in), because most of their conversation is about their failing relationship, whether or not they’re in love and should break up. Katy will take this personally and think I’m trying to ask these questions indirectly myself. Also any movie containing any sadness makes her sad. Best to stick with Hello, Dolly!

Resnais-style camera moves (he was the film’s editor – the same year he made Toute la memoire du monde), some highly posed, French-poetic shots of the couple, which are all the more arresting against the reality of the small fishing village. But Varda doesn’t shoot it like reality. The sea, the clotheslines and nets, the shacks and neighborhood cats all look like an expensive set, arranged for the pleasure of her camera. An unbelievably accomplished debut.

Of the two actors, Silvia Monfort was in a couple movies with Jean Gabin, also a Robert Bresson movie I’ve never heard of, and Philippe Noiret was the uncle of Zazie dans le metro, also in Topaz and Coup de Torchon.

Ydessa, The Bears, and etc. (2004)

I like documentaries with twist endings. There’s a shocker at the end of artist Ydessa’s gallery display of thousands of framed photographs of people holding teddy bears: a bare-walled third room containing only a mannequin of Hitler, kneeling as if in prayer. Ydessa’s parents were holocaust survivors, and some of their family members didn’t survive – the exhibit is dedicated to them. I didn’t warm up to Ydessa very much, but I like the layout of her exhibit, the photos themselves and the film.

Nice Varda-esque touch: Ydessa says she’s created a fiction that looks like documentary: that everybody is happy and has a teddy bear. “Reality and fiction – I’m somewhere in between.” And of course in her montage of photos from the exhibit, Varda sneaks in a photo of herself as a child.

7 P., cuis., s.de b… (1984)

I think the title is real-estate shorthand for “seven bedrooms, kitchen and bath.” Shot in a former hospice during an exhibition created by Louis Bec, who played the older father. So I’m not sure which of the visual ideas came from Bec and which from Varda, but it’s a remarkable little film. Unseen realtor is showing this property to unseen doctor, the doctor moves in, starts a (large) family which grows up fast. They go through a couple maids and their oldest daughter gets a boyfriend and rebels against her father. Older yet, and the father has died. The rooms go from bare to slightly dressed to crazy – the bathroom totally covered in feathers at one point. Characters speak through each other, repeating phrases like in Marienbad.

Yolande Moreau, who’d play a chef in Micmacs:

You’ve Got Beautiful Stairs, You Know (1986)

A celebration of the Cinematheque and its front steps, intercutting with famous film scenes set upon steps. Some semi-re-enactments – I liked the buggy tossed down the steps, Potemkin-style, and the mildly concerned man at the bottom who leaned over to check that nobody was inside.

It snowed in Atlanta so everything shut down for an entire week. As is now traditional, I celebrated by watching a pile of shorts I’d long been planning to see (some as part of the Auteur Completist Initiative).

The Dreamers (1982, Orson Welles)
Welles as an old man narrates the story of opera singer Pellegrina Leone (Oja Kodar), who lost her singing voice in a fire. It’s all Welles and Kodar doing monologues. Maybe all of Welles’ films come down to monologues. Constructed from fragments, with black screens where footage was missing, narration recorded with the sound of rustling script pages. Ooh look, a Don Quixote reference. Not the most exciting of the many late-career Welles fragment films… personally I’d like to see more of The Deep.

Orson in his magician hat:

Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969, Kenneth Anger)
Good camerawork, but ridiculous movie. I think with his images Anger is trying to say that the military is a death-obsessed homosexual cult. I think with his audio Mick Jagger is trying to declare the death of interesting music. I think with his performance, Anton LaVey is trying to expose himself as a silly clown.

That is a nazi flag, but what is he burning?

Le Lion Volatil (2003, Agnes Varda)
Julie Depardieu (Guillaume’s younger sister) works for a psychic, while an aspiring magician named Lazarus Combes (Anton LaVey would be pleased) works at a tourist-trap dungeon around the corner. Every day on their lunch breaks they meet in front of the Lion of Belfort memorial – the same one featured in Rivette’s Pont du Nord and Paris s’en va. Their brief almost-romance doesn’t pan out, but more interestingly, Julie starts hallucinating variations on the lion – first it has a giant bone in its mouth (as supposedly suggested by Andre Breton), then it vanishes and is replaced by a giant housecat. Special effects + Vardaian whimsy = happiness.

Les Dites Cariatides (1984, Agnes Varda)
A tour of caryatids – human statues used as building columns or ornamental facades – throughout Paris, with poems by Baudelaire. “The Peloponesian city of Karyate aided Persia in a war against other Greeks, but Persia lost. The Greeks took revenge on Karyatian collaborators, slaying all the men and enslaving the women. They were paraded as spoils of war. The noble women were triumphantly shown in their lovely gowns and finery. To illustrate their punishment, architects used these statues on public buildings instead of columns.”

The Calligrapher (1991, Bros. Quay)
Three short (15-sec?) segments rejected as BBC2 ident bumps. My favorite kind of Quay film – awesome stop-motion with no human actors, repetition or long-winded confusing mythological story.

Storytime (1968, Terry Gilliam)
This came out while the show Do Not Adjust Your Set (a precursor to Flying Circus) was in production. Opens as a poorly-animated (in Gilliam’s magazine-cutout style) story of a cockroach named Don, who is then stomped on by a man called Jeremy Trousercrease… and so on, each minute-long concept leading into another. Even features a “we apologize for the previous cartoon – the animator responsible has been sacked” disclaimer, which would be reused in Monty Python. Not exactly a lost masterpiece, but a fun little series of cartoon gags.

Pandoora (2002, Takashi Miike)
Just a cheesy samurai music video – does not count as a Miike movie. It ends with our hero about to face off against a giant mantis. What, were they expecting a sequel?

Male (1962, Osamu Tezuka)
Lots of play with frame sizes and positions as a male cat narrates, talking to the man of the house, about how sex should be simple and private and should not end in stabbing your partner to death.

The London Story (1986, Sally Potter)
A woman conspires with a door opener and a retired photocopy machine operator, takes a government minister out to the theater and while he sleeps, replaces his speech about the future of Britain with a new one, causing panic in the media the next day as the conspirators enjoy a choreographed dance on a bridge. Delightful.

Reasons To Be Glad (1980, Jeff Scher)
More of Scher’s fanciful drawing and incredible editing based on rotoscoped (?) images and set to a Dinah Shore song.

The Bum Bandit (1931, Dave Fleischer)
Oh my. A Popeye-muttering train robber gets out-toughed by a passenger in the form of Proto-Betty Boop (still with the dog ears), the robber’s abandoned wife, who steals the locomotive and the bandit, closes the shades and makes with the sweet pre-code lovin’.

Betty and the Bum:

Negro passenger with stolen chickens:

Russian Rhapsody (1944, Robert Clampett)
Watched this recently on the big screen but it never gets old. Hitler’s plane is taken out by gremlins from the kremlin. Why don’t we have wartime cartoons anymore? I want to see the Penguins of Madagascar take on Osama Bin Laden.

Vinyl (1965, Andy Warhol)
In the 60’s it was revolutionary to make slow, cheap movies with bad gay actors, but not anymore. There are probably three filming as I type this. This isn’t technically a short film, but I gave up after thirty minutes, having dozed for the previous ten. A dude recites Burgess and dances to pop music – and it’s all one shot. Wikipedia says it was filmed unrehearsed, which I don’t doubt, and says it’s one of the “1000 films to see before you die,” which I do.

Not a very popular movie, not easy to find or widely discussed, so I wondered about the title. Is it “Lion’s Love” or “Lions’ Love” or just “Lions Love”. Title card on the movie says:

“Lions Love Lions Love Lions Love by Mama Lion”

So that clears that up.

Jim and Jerry, writer/performers of the musical Hair (and therefore the cringe-inducing song Age of Aquarius), along with Andy Warhol model/actress Viva, lounge around an L.A. mansion speaking hippyese, apparently playing themselves. Shirley Clarke, also playing herself, comes to stay for a while since she’s meeting Hollywood bigwigs about getting an independent film produced. Bad things come in threes within a couple days in June, when RFK and Andy Warhol are both shot and Shirley overdoses on pills. All but Kennedy turn out okay.

I’m not sure what the movie was getting at. The other Varda film I didn’t love, One Sings, The Other Doesn’t, at least had a point, exploring feminism from a number of angles, but what is this one getting at? That violence is a drag? That Los Angeles is full of phony hippies?

There are scenes in a film studio where a producer is meeting with Shirley’s representative trying to agree on a project. The budget works out, but ultimately the studio won’t give her final cut, using careful phrasing like “of course she has creative control, but we might have to change things after test screenings.” And we get a scene (the only one I loved) where Shirley refuses to “overdose,” so Agnes jumps in front of the camera and does it for her, showing Shirley that it’s no big deal. But I wouldn’t say the movie is about the difficulty of making a movie. No movies ever get made here except Varda’s, and Viva’s acting career is barely mentioned.

AV: “I’m trying to make a movie”
SC: “Right, it’s your story, you do it.”

L-R: Jim Morrison, Agnes Varda, Frank Zappa

Auteurs quotes PFA in calling it “a deliberately decadent riff on fantasy, immaturity, and violence: American culture, 1968,” so I guess it’s that.

Eddie Constantine shows up at the door for a little scene, but I didn’t catch Jim Morrison (besides the photo above) or Peter Bogdanovich – IMDB claims they both appear.

Mostly it’s bubbly hippies talking over each other, singing, improvising and pretending to be deep. This is pretty much exactly how I imagined 1969 to be. It must have been unbearable. I like the brief street sign montage of roads named after movie stars – didn’t know about that, but should have guessed.

Viva: “I’m tired of all this emancipation crap”
“Please turn the camera off.”

Shirley Clarke with cardboard camera, an image Varda would re-use in Simon Cinema

“Should art imitate, exaggerate, and/or deform reality?”

Even Varda runs out of patience with these guys sometimes – I like that she speeds up the action, replacing the sound with string music, whenever the scene gets long or the dialogue is less good.

They watch Lost Horizon on TV, as old to them as Lions Love is to me. The hippies find out they don’t get along with children. Frank Zappa appears again in a montage of drawings after title card “the witnesses.” It’s ironic since Frank hated hippies. The apartment whispers things to Shirley. One of the guys suspiciously uses the line “let the sun shine in.”

“Why Kennedy? Why do they always shoot Kennedy?”

I did love the ending, an interview with the three lead actors (Jim takes off his fake wig), ending with Viva who wants to just breathe for a while, a long closeup as she does exactly that. Warholian? Possibly.

Eddie Constantine visits Viva:

Also found a lovely TV interview with Varda and Susan Sontag, whose first film Duet for Cannibals was just out. Varda starts by protesting the introductory speech’s use of the word “grotesque,” says her stars “are not grotesque people at all. They have long hair and they live like free people.”

“It’s not a story; it’s a chronicle, I would say.”
“It’s mainly a film about stars, stars-to-be, political stars…”

Sontag joins Varda in attacking the interviewer – A.V. calls him racist for continuing to use the word grotesque, and S.S. contradicts him when he tries to speak about all of underground cinema as if it’s the same kind of thing. He tries to get out of it, uses phrases like “labyrinthine convolutions” and mentions Dostoyevsky, but it’s too late for him. It’s funny to me that Varda’s film is in English and Sontag’s is not.

More craziness from Lions Love:

Precautions Against Fanatics (1969, Werner Herzog)
“Have you ever seen a dishonest man with a chest like this?”
Said to Werner’s cameraman by a one-armed man in a suit: “What are you doing here? Go away!” It’s not clear who is supposed to be here where they’re filming, in the training area of a horse racetrack. Some guy is repeating himself and karate-chopping flat stones. This cannot actually be happening! It is all pretty wonderful, a parody of a behind-the-scenes documentary. Made in between Signs of Life and Even Dwarfs Started Small, both of which I need to catch some day.
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Organism (1975, Hilary Harris)
Time-lapse footage and readings from biological textbooks portray a large city (New York, of course) as a living organism. The dated 70’s sound design is unfortunate but otherwise it’s completely wonderful. Makes me wish I had a classroom of kids to show it to. He worked on this for years, inventing a time-lapse camera in the 60’s for the purpose. Bits from Scott MacDonald “As late as 1975, Harris apparently felt that time-lapsing imagery was unusual and high-tech enough to justify his frequent use of science-fictionish electronic sounds as an accompaniment. … Hilary Harris shot some of the New York City traffic shots used in Koyaanisqatsi, though apparently Reggio didn’t see Organism until after his film was well under way.”
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L’Opéra-mouffe (1958, Agnes Varda)
Somehow I missed this during Varda Month – one of her earliest shorts hidden amongst the copious features on a Criterion DVD. Varda films either herself or another pregnant nude women, then goes on a rampage through the marketplace, mostly capturing the faces of people shopping there, with interludes featuring actors (incl. Varda regular Dorothée Blank, as nude here as she is in Cleo) clowning around. Sections highlight public drunkenness, anxiety and affection. I want to say this is my favorite of her shorts so far, but then I remember they’re all so good. Delightfully scored by a not-yet-famous Georges Delerue.
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“I was pregnant. I felt the contradiction of expecting a child, being full of hope, and circulating in this world of poor, drunken people without hope, who seemed so unhappy. I felt tenderness toward them, especially the elderly. I imagined them as babies, when their mothers kissed their tummies.”
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Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1966, Gene Kearney)
A boy named Paul starts to obsess over snow, allowing the snow in his mind to filter him from reality. Creepy and well shot. Later remade as a Night Gallery episode with Orson Welles narrating. Makes me think of the Handsome Family song “Don’t Be Scared,” with its line “when Paul thinks of snow, soft winds blow ’round his head,” except it’s one of their very few comforting, happy songs and the movie is anything but.
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Une histoire d’eau (1961, Truffaut & Godard)
A girl wakes up and the whole town is flooded from melting snow. She meets a guy (a young Jean-Claude Brialy) who offers to drive her to Paris before nightfall. Music is weird – gentle flute or horns punctuated with bursts of percussion. Ooh, a Duchess of Langeais reference… in fact there are a ton of references in her quick monologue narration, which ends with spoken credits.
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The Forgotten Faces (1960, Peter Watkins)
Revolution in Budapest. Nice reconstruction, convincingly documentary-like – where’d Watkins get all those guns? No sync sound, a TV-sounding narrator. One part, the reading of a communist speech turns briefly into a dramatic propaganda montage – don’t see that happen much in Watkins’ films.
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The Perfect Human (1967, Jorgen Leth)
“Today I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days.”
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I like the British narrator. “What does he want? Why does he move like that? How does he move like that? Look at him. Look at him now. And now. Look at him all the time.” There’s no diegetic sound, but if this was dubbed in a studio, why does there have to be so much tape hiss? A fake documentary and a stark white delight, with slow zooms in and out, gentle string music, and a general sense of serious absurdity. Only saw, what, a third of this in The Five Obstructions.
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Les Maître fous (1955, Jean Rouch)
Document of a group in Ghana called the Hauka doing something involving wooden toy guns, red ribbons, chicken sacrifice, dog-blood-drinkin’ and having lurchy foaming-at-the-mouth fits. I’m not ever quite sure, because the French narration has been auto-subtitled by google – whatever they’re doing, the subs call it “having.” After they’ve had, the film crew catches up with them at their day jobs, not freaked-out cultists anymore, just working hard, smiling at the camera. This is one African film that Katy didn’t want to watch, because Rouch is an exoticizing anthropologist. So what’s going on that this film makes the best-ever lists? A Rouch tribute page says he popularized direct cinema/cinema verite, that he was known for rethinking ethnography, and a documentary surrealism (sounds like Jean Painleve). Ian Mundell says the film “drew plaudits from the Nouvelle Vague, in particular from Jean-Luc Godard. They liked the fact that Rouch’s fiction emerged from an encounter between the actor (professional or non-professional) and the camera, and his willingness to break the rules of cinema.” Paul Stoller says Rouch crisscrossed “the boundaries between documentary and fiction, observer and participant,” but I take it that’s more about his later films, which I’m thinking I would like better. So it’s seeming like this film gets awarded because it’s one of the most-seen of his films and because of its influence, not because it’s Rouch’s best work.
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Nicky’s Film (1971, Abel Ferrara)
A mysteriously silent possibly gangster-related 6-minute film. I can’t imagine even a Ferrara scholar gets much out of this.

The Hold Up (1972, Abel Ferrara)
Super-8 production made when Abel was 21, seven years before Driller Killer. A few minutes in, I realized it’d be much better with the director commentary turned on. “And away we go. Wait, it’s the other way. Which way is she looking?” Um, some guys get fired from factory jobs, hold up a gas station, get caught. The song “Working on a Building” is heard.
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Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1976)
An expanded version of Pauline and Darius’s trip to Iran in L’Une chante, l’autre pas. Pauline and a narrator comment on the sensuality of Persian architecture. I would’ve liked it if the feature had been edited more rhythmically like this short (or if the picture quality had been as good).
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Du Coté de la Côte (1958)
Fun, half-hour exploration of tourism along the coast, more gentle than Vigo’s À propos de Nice and simpler than a Marker travelogue.

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“These parks, overpopulated with merry people attracted by the Latin shore, foreshadow the dead people seeking eternal rest there. In both cases, space is limited because of its good quality. It is a well-rated coast.”

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Les Fiances du pont Mac Donald (1961)
The short within Cleo from 5 to 7 is apparently considered its own little film. “I wanted to provide a little relief for Cleo. … So I thought at the beginning of the third part of the film, where films often have a lull, a weakness, a slow-down … I would introduce something uplifting. My other goal was to show Jean-Luc Godard’s eyes. At the time, he wore very dark glasses. We were friends, and he agreed to this little story about glasses in which he must take them off and reveal his big, beautiful eyes, like Buster Keaton’s.”
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Ulysse (1982)
This was fantastic. Varda finds an old photo of hers, taken in 1954, and investigates. What was she thinking about at the time? What were the models in the photo thinking? She looks them up and asks. Agnes: “This almost painful investigation taught me so much about what an image says, what it says to each of us, and what it cannot say. It merely represents.”
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AV: “How does she see her own goat image? Without making animals talk, like in American cartoons, or defining memory as a rumination of mental images, may I suggest that there is an animal ‘eatingmagination,’ a self-predatory imagination?”
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Salut les cubains (1963)
Months after Cleo from 5 to 7 opened, Varda went to Cuba to photograph the country’s inhabitants for an exhibit which opened in Havana (introduced by Raul Castro!) before it moved to Paris. She also made this film out of the photos, narrated by Michel Piccoli. Subjects include the Castros, famous national artists, workers, dancers, posters and drawings and artworks. She creates action sequences, animating the photos, best of all with this guy dancing for the camera.
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Mentions Marker’s Cuba Si, which came out a couple years before. In her introduction, Varda says twice that “we must place it in the context of 1962,” since the Cuban dream society didn’t turn out the way the French leftists hoped it would. Interesting that she made such a happy, idealist film as this, then her next feature would be the happiness-breakdown of Le Bonheur.
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These last two were reissued in the 2004 collection Cinevardaphoto with a third, current short about a teddy bear collector, but somehow I didn’t have subtitles for that one. If Cleo from 5 to 7 and L’Une chante, l’autre pas revealed Varda’s kinship with the filmmaking of husband Jacques Demy, these shorts represent a definite (and oft-mentioned) kinship with Chris Marker, and either of them could stand alongside his best documentaries. The commentaries are more personal, less consciously witty. The images are wonderful, and the sense of investigation, of images and memory, the psychology of the films puts them on the Marienbad and La Jetee side of the new wave fence… my favorite side.
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Elsa la rose (1965)
A portrait of Elsa in the words of her husband Aragon, who has spent their entire relationship writing and publishing poems about her. Varda calls them a “famous couple and fervent communists.” Elsa is filmed as Aragon imagines and remembers her, says she repeated the exercise with her own husband for Jacquot de Nantes. In voiceover, Piccoli reads the poems as fast as he can, a hilarious idea. First movie Lubtchansky and Kurant shot for Varda.
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Elsa: “The readers of these poems expect me to be 20 years old forever. As I cannot satisfy this need for beauty and youth that the readers have, I feel guilty and it makes me unhappy. That’s what’s terrible, they’re not just for me.”

Réponse de femmes (1975)

“Women must be reinvented.”
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Agnes has a few minutes to state the case of all women, socially and politically. Lots of nudity, which she points out is not exploitative unless used to sell a product or titillate viewers.

Coming attractions (when I’ve got subtitles): Black Panthers (1968)
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I think these might be time-lapse shots of the tide going out, but the picture quality is too poor to be sure. This is gonna be a rough one…

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Opens with a closeup of Catherine Deneuve smiling, a good sign, but soon she and husband Michel Piccoli are in a car crash. Afterwards, she can’t speak anymore and he has a harry potter scar on his forehead. Some eerie, powerful string music and many close-ups of crabs later, we’re at a seaside town where the couple have come to recuperate. Apparently they don’t talk with the locals much because there’s plenty of gossip going around.

Sheet salesmen:
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Doesn’t take long for things to get weird. Small hands drop buttons into pockets. Piccoli (whose character name is also Piccoli) gets scammed by traveling sheet salesmen. Fishermen provide La Pointe-courte flashbacks for the viewer. Piccoli beats a chef with a dead cat. But it’s not a comedy! Something dark and eerie is definitely going on.

Piccoli talks with a horse. The horse talks back.
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Piccoli is a writer working on a story, and when we see him writing the dialogue being spoken by a woman across town, I’m never sure afterwards what is really happening and what’s part of his meta-movie.

horse: “What is your story about?”
MP: “It’s about a man who knows how to control people by remote control. … but it wouldn’t last very long, a minute at most. This guy would be a bad person, with an evil mind. He wouldn’t be human or animal anymore.”

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Soon Michel meets a bad man with an evil mind, Mr. Ducasse, who lives in a tower. He’s hired kids to drop magic discs into townspeople’s pockets which enable their wills to be controlled by his super computer. Ducasse calls the townfolk his “creatures”, gets Piccoli to play a game of Battle Chess with him over the fate of the town and of MP’s wife. MP is losing, but decides he doesn’t have to take Ducasse’s crazy misanthropic shit anymore, destroys the computer and tosses Ducasse from the tower. I’ll let NY Times give away the ending below.

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Other notes I took while watching:

Catherine writes him messages, which I can’t read from the poor picture quality, and even if I could read them, they’d be in French. I have nice DVDs of Varda and Demy movies here, but I choose to watch a junk bootleg instead. Odd priorities.

The dead cat came with a piece of iron that makes the lights go out and causes people to act strange.

He just told a rabbit that his wife is pregnant.

Thief Max burns money, puts on diving suit, gets shot by partner.

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You can’t tell much about the camerawork from my lo-res letterboxed videotape, but it’s one of the first films shot by William Lubtchansky (a decade before he began his 30+ year relationship with Jacques Rivette) along with two others. Interesting that all of her films until 1977 had multiple credited cinematographers.

Village Voice calls it “really botched” in their roundup for this year’s retrospective… “If it’s about anything, it’s about the creative process in action and stars that fine actor Michel Piccoli as a novelist who bases the characters in his story on friends and acquaintances.”

Ebert: “a complex and nearly hypnotic study of the way fact is made into fiction. It seems to operate on many levels, but in fact it operates on only one, illustrating how fantasy, reality and style are simultaneously kept suspended in the mind of a creative writer.”

NY Times: “Then love conquers all. The survivors of the seven subplots make happy arrangements — for example, the statuesque hotel keeper (Eva Dahlbeck) gives up mistressing for the town doctor and begins with an underage busboy. The writer almost completes his novel. The wife gets her voice back, pronounces her husband’s name (“Edgar”), and has her baby — a bawling creature who at the end fills up the screen precisely to balance (and somewhat to resemble) a crab creature that fills it at the beginning.”

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The movie’s studied anthropology and attack on human behavior reminds me of Resnais’ Mon oncle d’Amerique. And also of Bjork’s “Human Behavior.” There’s definitely, definitely… definitely no logic.

Good to see this again. Funny that all I really remembered is one of the first scenes with Agnes asking a couple reluctant women about gleaning, and Agnes talking about her own hands.

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I’m feeling uninspired, so we’ll let Senses of Cinema do the talking:

The official subject of this film is gleaning, the act of gathering remnants of crops from a field after the harvest. As Varda demonstrates, people can be discovered throughout the French countryside gleaning everything from potatoes to grapes, apples to oysters, much as they did hundreds of years ago (though no longer in organised groups). More figuratively, there are also urban gleaners who salvage scraps from bins, appliances from the side of the road, or vegetables from stalls after the markets have closed. And then there’s Varda herself, a gleaner of images, driving around France with a digital camera and a tiny crew (at times, she wields a smaller camera herself, permitting an even greater degree of intimacy).

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Varda has a (sometimes contested) reputation as a feminist, left-wing artist, and this is very much a political film, though it offers a series of poetic metaphors and concrete encounters in lieu of an explicit, closely reasoned argument. My guess (based mainly on anecdotal evidence) is that the political outlook of The Gleaners And I has a lot to do with its popular success – even if Varda herself, who began filming back in 1999, wasn’t fully aware how thoroughly she was tapping into the zeitgeist. Without specifically referring to political movements or events, the film embodies a quasi-anarchist ethos now in the air in all sorts of ways – a resistance to consumerism, a suspicion of authority, and a desire to reconnect politics with everyday life.

Agnès enjoys a pilfered fig:
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Katy liked the movie, and the next day she felt like going out to pick figs. Shot on a handheld digital videocamera. The picture/framing isn’t always beautiful, but she keeps things quirky enough to stay interesting amongst all the talking heads.

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As with Le Bonheur, Varda has taken over the DVD’s special features section herself with a whole hour-long follow-up film entitled Gleaners & I: Two Years Later (2002) Gleaners was her most locally popular and globally well-distributed films in decades, and she racked up awards and fan mail, so here she addresses concerns and gaps in the previous film and catches up with some of its stars.

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Killer finale, the heart potatoes, symbol of the Gleaners film, old and wrinkled as it sprouts new life. As the credits roll, sudden cutaways to closeups of the potatoes, exactly as in the opening credits with the sunflower in Le Bonheur.

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Camille: “Can I come during the day, from 5 to 7?”
Marcello: “The magic hour for lovers.”

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Simon Cinema (Michel Piccoli) isn’t doing too well, confined to his mansion-museum with his butler (Truffaut/Duras vet Henri Garcin) and best friend Marcello Mastroianni (as himself, sort of). Film student Camille (Julie Gayet, the girl with the giant gag vase in My Best Friend) is hired to talk with Simon about movies for 101 nights, and her boyfriend (Mathieu Demy) takes advantage of her position to cast the legendary Mr. Cinema in his student film.

Michel and Marcello:
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Garcin and Gayet:
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But the plot is just an excuse for some fun. Every star of French cinema shows up, major films are mentioned (nothing is discussed in any depth – no time). Anouk “Lola” Aimée, Catherine Deneuve and Robert De Niro take a boat ride. Sandrine Bonnaire appears as both her Vagabond self and Joan of Arc. Piccoli drops the Simon shtick and the white wig for a minute and compares cinematic death scenes with Gérard Depardieu (“that old devil Demy!”) before a poster of their co-starring Seven Deaths film…

Gerard and Michel:
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Sandrine d’Arc:
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Hanna Schygulla (Fassbinder films, Passion) and Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim, The Lovers) play Simon’s ex-wives. There are seven dwarfs. There’s a conspiciously Bonheur-looking sunflower shot. Alain Delon arrives by helicopter (reminiscent, though it maybe shouldn’t be, of the out-of-place helicopter in Donkey Skin).

Gayet with Alain Delon:
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Jeanne and Hanna:
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It’s all very light and playful. I’m sure I missed a thousand references, but it keeps many of them obvious enough to remain accessible (if you didn’t catch the meaning when a bicycle is stolen outside the mansion, someone cries “italian neorealism strikes again!”).

Mathieu Demy meets Fanny Ardant:
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The credits list how many seconds and frames were used from each featured film – impressive – and also all the stolen music cues.

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tour bus guy: “Glad to see you on form.”
Simon: “Form of what?”
“Why, you seem content.”
“Form and content, a debate even older than I am.”

At Cannes:
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NY Times: “While covering so many bases, Ms. Varda never makes more than a glancing allusion to anything, and at times the film is such an overloaded grab bag that it grows exasperating. Or even baffling; for unknown reasons, Stephen Dorff turns up in a pantheon of great Hollywood stars.”

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LA Times: “Michel Piccoli plays Monsieur Cinema, who embodies the history and spirit of film, and in particular, that Fabulous Invalid, the French motion picture industry itself. (Since Varda is such a playful director, Piccoli is sometimes simply himself.) Monsieur Cinema may have been inspired by the director of the landmark Napoleon, the late Abel Gance, whom Piccoli resembles when he puts on a long silver-white wig.”

Lumiere brothers:
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Doctor Belmondo and Jack Nance:
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