Oh yes it made me cry at least once. Yes I was impressed with the music. Yes some of the acting was really nice, and yes Russell Crowe seemed not to fit in. Same stuff everyone else has said, I’m sure, but two months late.

Hooper is the guy who made The King’s Speech, and has apparently let the big budget and musical numbers fog his memory of how to effectively edit a film. Huge Ackman is the former criminal, pursued unto death by supercop Crowe. Huge’s ex-employee and future oscar-winner Anna Hathaway dies a miserable prostitute, so Huge rescues her little girl Amanda Seyfried from her horrid keepers, welcome comic-relievers Helena Baron Carter and Sacha Bonham Cohen. Seyfried falls in love with Eddie Redmayne, whose doomed compatriots (including some very good young non-movie-stars who make us forget all about Seyfried for a spell) attempt another French Revolution. Huge saves his adopted daughter’s boyfriend, then suddenly dies of old age so they can carry on.

Film Comment:

This movie is by definition hobbled, with no chance of equaling Raymond Bernard’s exquisite and resonant 1934 version of the novel, which unfolded over five luxurious hours. The stylistic elegance and visual coherence of that early French cinema adaptation have been traded in for an all-out sensory assault.

Jim Emerson’s hateful review round-up was pretty hilarious. “The actors are playing to the balcony while the camera (and those wide-angle lenses) push their faces into ours. It’s like Full Metal Jacket: The Musical! with all the parts played by R. Lee Ermey.”

A simple story with just a few main characters, which Denis lovingly photographs, obscures and abstracts. Unlike many of her others, it’s almost immediately easy to grasp this one’s character relationships, which may account for its higher reputation than her later films, or probably it’s just this one’s timing, exploding her international festival/critical reputation. Not that I mean to be ungenerous to Beau Travail – it’s terrific, and must have one of the best film endings of the 90’s.

Based on Herman Melville’s story Billy Budd. Commandant Michael Subor (The Intruder) leads a French foreign legion camp in Djibouti. Denis Lavant (Lovers on the Bridge) is training a bunch of men. But Lavant feels that he’s losing authority to new guy Gregoire Colin (35 Shots of Rum), so he looks for an opportunity to strike back. That was my interpretation anyway, but looking through comments of other filmed versions of Billy Budd, it seems that his motivation is never quite clear. Either way, he sends Colin on a doomed hike through the desert. Presumed to have killed the recruit (we later see Colin gettin rescued), Lavant is dismissed from the armed forces and set to be court-martialed. And just when you’re wondering why cast the great Denis Lavant as an immobile authority figure, he breaks out into a crazy awesome fantasy-sequence dance.

Doesn’t seem to follow the novel’s plot too closely – in the book, Budd is executed for accidentally killing a superior officer, while here he saves a man and kills nobody. The book was turned into a famous opera, and Denis uses songs from that instead of her usual Tindersticks. Mostly, she turns the story into an abstract dance of bodies in the desert, with emotions felt rather than explained.

J. Rosenbaum:

The fact that [Subor] is named after the hero of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat and played by the same actor almost 40 years later adds a suggestive thread… Most of all, Denis, who spent part of her childhood in Djibouti, captures the poetry and atmosphere — and, more subtly, the women — of Africa like few filmmakers before her.

Not at all surprised when the end credits told me it’s based on a novel. The novel was Herman Melville’s follow-up to Moby Dick, which according to wikipedia was “a critical and financial disaster… universally condemned for both its morals and its style.” The movie plays like a piece of tragic literature without feeling uncomfortable in its present-day setting. I mean that as a compliment, but it also means the plot, as strange as it initially seems, has a feeling of inevitability. It opens on a rich couple, happy, alive and in love, so I know things won’t end well. Maybe it would be interesting to someday make a movie that opens on a loving couple who manage to stay that way.

Anonymously bestselling author Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu, star of Don’t Touch The Axe) is engaged to marry Lucie, but already a weird incestual vibe is creeping in when he calls his mom “sister” and gets all clingy around her. His best friend Thibault returns from travels, congratulates Pierre on his engagement to their mutual childhood friend Lucie, seems sincere about it. But Pierre is distracted by a stalker, and when he finally catches her, she claims to be his long-lost sister Isabelle, hidden away and raised in Bosnia. So Pierre visits some good places to die: the highway at night, a massive unstable rock, a waterfall, then tells his fiancee and mother that he’s moving to Paris by himself.

Pierre and mother:

Pierre tells Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva, sinister stalker in The Intruder): “for the world, you’ll be my wife,” even though nobody in Paris knows who he is so it shouldn’t matter. They immediately run into trouble on both sides of the law, Thibault throws him out, and newly-disillusioned Pierre is having trouble with his follow-up novel. His agent: “The need to spit the world’s sinister truth in its face is as old as the world itself.” Another woman and a little girl travel with them – I was never sure who they were, exactly, but the girl dies after being smacked in the head by a passer-by, and the couple moves again.

Now they’re in a warehouse run by a drums-and-feedback noise conductor and his all-black-clothed orchestra – just the kind of thing people assume goes on in Paris – and now their public/private roles seem reversed, as they sleep together when nobody is looking, but stay in separate beds. Back in the country, Pierre’s distraught mom (Catherine Deneuve, the same year she did Ruiz’s Time Regained) gets on his motorcycle and dies on the highway at night – so it beats the massive rock and the waterfall as the movie’s foreshadowed death monument. Lucie tracks Pierre down and stays with them (“we’ll say you’re my cousin”).

More troubles: Isabelle jumps off the winter ferry trying to die, Pierre publicly identifies himself as the author of the bestselling novel but is called an impostor, nobody wants his new book (“a raving morass that reeks of plagiarism”), Thibault is harassing them, and Pierre is getting shit from his conductor/landlord, whose musicans apparently also double as his private militia. So Pierre grabs some guns, goes into town and blows Thibault’s head off, is packed into the police van as his women both run after him, then Isabelle walks in front of a speeding ambulance.

It struck me as ironic that Pierre is trying to write a great, tortured novel, seeking the ultimate truths, while all his relationships are full of lies. Watched this because I enjoyed the unhinged awesomeness of Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge and his Merde short, and I’m hearing that his new one is bananas. But this was apparently the grimly serious piece between features of transcendent weirdness, despite a blood-soaked dream-sequence or two. I was looking forward to the Dirty Three score, but it’s actually by Scott Walker – what was I thinking of?

Lucie, in happier times:

Senses of Cinema:

If compared to Jean-Luc Godard and later Philippe Garrel in his first works, in Pola X we find a Carax closer to Jacques Rivette – who, not in vain, has declared that for him this is the most beautiful French film of the ’90s. The Rivettian airs can be found, for example, in the importance of the ideas of conspiracy, secrecy and masks; in the shots of large interior spaces like factory buildings and chateaus; and, above all, in the treatment of time: so many meters of film are used to follow the characters’ journeys, living the process with them – at the beginning of the film we follow Pierre all the way from the chateau where he lives to Lucie’s home, including the ferry ride; similarly, at the end of the film Carax spends a lot of time following Pierre’s journey to Thibault.

Masters Coppola and Scorsese, who dedicate much time and money to the worthy cause of film preservation, restored this 1960’s Polish film and brought it to the States, where I’m sure a sparkling, freshly-subtitled 35mm print enjoyed an acclaimed week at the Film Forum. Then these giants, pleased with their accomplishments, went off to watch Tales of Hoffmann at George Romero’s house, while some fly-by-night company bought the rights to a video release, made a middling transfer and issued an interlaced DVD.

Alphonse is so goofy and weak-looking, even next to the flamboyantly-feathered Uzeda. I assume from the actor’s Polish James Dean reputation that this was an unusual character for him.

Rebecca Uzeda: Beata Tyszkiewicz also played Edith Piaf’s mom in a 1983 Claude Lelouch movie

I’ve just finished reading the book by Jan Potocki. The movie wisely cuts out the last half of the book and skips to the final couple pages, missing the Wandering Jew and about a month’s worth of the gypsy chief’s stories within stories within stories. And since it is all stories within stories, composed mainly of meaningless sidetracks (Bunuel was a big fan, and I’d like to think he had this in mind while writing The Phantom of Liberty), I won’t go on forever with plot summary.

Alphonse being told his cousins are pregnant:

The first person Alphonse meets at the haunted inn:

The whole thing seemed to have a more comic, amused tone than the novel – noticable from the first framing story (the titular manuscript, being read together by enemies during wartime, in the midst of a battle). Zbigniew Cybulski (star of Ashes and Diamonds, killed by a train a couple years after this) is our hero Alphonse, constantly having his honor tested by ghosts and servants, heathens and temptresses. He teams up with cabalists Pedro and Rebecca Uzeda and mathematician Don Pedro Velasquez (Gustaw Holoubek, also of Wojciech Has films The Hour-Glass Sanatorium and A Boring Story), hooks up with his cousins Emina and Zibelda, meets Zoto and his hanged brothers, and spends not so much time with the gypsy chief (whose name I’ve forgotten at the moment).

Young Lopez Suarez and his outraged father:

Pasheko (Franciszek Pieczka) was my favorite actor:

Good looking movie, straightforwardly filmed without stylistic excess or ghostly effects. The rumbling electronic music sometimes does the movie a disservice. I’m sure the cinemascope-shot film looked a hundred times better in theaters than on my laptop – fingers crossed for another revival.

I’m guessing Alain Robbe-Grillet liked this shot:

A Zoto brother:

This story (stories) was remade as a miniseries a decade later in France – nobody seems to know much about that version (not in English, anyway). The only other Jan Potocki adaptation was by Raoul Ruiz in the 80’s. W. Has doesn’t immediately seem like a filmmaker I must seek out, but his Hour-Glass Sanatorium does sound good.

I was looking forward to this, due to my recent Rivette obsession, but didn’t expect to love it, since it’s a period piece about upper-class people unable to declare their love for each other because of societal restrictions, and I tend to hate that kind of story. It’s nice to watch fave Rivettian actors Bulle Ogier and Michel Piccoli and Barbet Schroeder (all sharing a scene) but they’re hardly in the movie and they play gentle, wise elder friends and relatives, with a bit of dialogue but no passionate acting showcases. I got my Rivette themes and trademarks served up: conspiracies, secret rooms, performance (explicitly at the convent, but throughout as the two toy with each other), real locations with creaking wood floors, oceanside drama, but all enslaved to this book-to-film adaptation of Balzac – something that I thought Rivette just said he’d never do in the DVD interview on Belle Noiseuse, that he dances around Balzac in his film writing (that one and Out 1) because a direct adaptation would be impossible. In the story, Montriveau is one of the notorious 13, but the name of the group is never stated here. Anyway, we also get very good performances from the leads – Guillaume Depardieu, lookalike son of Gerard who once played his dad in flashback in Les Misérables, with his false leg used to great effect here on the wooden floors… and Jeanne Balibar, who I don’t remember from Code 46 or Clean, and haven’t seen yet starring in Va savoir.

Not much outward passion to the movie, emotions seem detached (I know, that was the point, sorta) but it has a quietly affecting ending aboard Montriveau’s ship after he breaks into the convent and finds the Duchess dead. The plot being easy to follow, I started paying attention to nerdy cinema stuff like the quality of light (all supposedly from sunlight and candles) and the sound (music used very sparingly, as usual). Sound was rough because of the loud hissing and gurgling noises coming from the ceiling at the Landmark, and picture was even rougher since the film was projected out-of-focus (except for the left third of the screen, which looked lovely). So it was easier to measure the quality of light than, say, the details of costumes and decor. I’m not much for decor anyhow.

Definitely closer to Hurlevent (Wuthering Heights) than to anything else I’ve seen Rivette do. At least I learned how Duchess of Langeais is pronounced (vaguely: “lawn-jay”). This Balzac story was previously filmed a few times, from a 1910 lost silent to a 1995 TV version adapted by the co-writer of Goya’s Ghosts.

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Excellent analyses found on other sites:

E. Howard:

Games are the film’s central conceit, in fact, whether they be word games, mind games, literary games, games played between appearance and feeling. The game being played at the narrative level takes place between a General and a Duchess … But this is only one game that Rivette is toying with, and he plays an entirely different one with the audience, a game of subtle winks and sly nods that continually disrupts the placid surface of the narrative … This narrative disruption is mirrored in the way the General’s story to the Duchess, about his time lost in the desert after escaping from the enemy’s imprisonment, is continually interrupted, usually by the listener’s short attention span and her tendency to divert the flow of the conversation just as the story is reaching a critical juncture. This results in the General’s story being doled out across three successive evenings that they spend together early in their relationship. On the third night, as they settle in to continue the story, Rivette frames the Duchess in a tight closeup as she asks her would-be lover to finish the tale. At this moment, she turns a sly sidelong glance directly into the camera, maintaining eye contact with the audience, as though to include them in the game.

This game of narrative interruptus is also carried through in the way Rivette uses the text of the film’s original source, a novella by Honoré de Balzac. This is a rigidly faithful adaptation… with texts from the novel periodically included as intertitles to highlight certain moments or get at the characters’ internal states. The titles are also used to convey the passage of time, which is parceled out in scrupulously precise measures: “one hour later,” “twenty-two minutes passed,” “she waited twenty-four hours.” These titles often seem to abruptly cut off the action, sometimes flashing up on screen when, after a long scene of near-stasis, a character is right in the middle of completing the scene’s first real movement or action (most often: leaving the room). The passage of time, like everything else in the film, is subject to Rivette’s subtle humor. After the Duchess kicks her friend out of her house, a title informs us that it one hour passes (a very common interlude), and surprisingly in the very next scene there’s the General again, still standing in her parlor, walking around it aimlessly, looking like only five minutes has passed since she ordered him to leave. Rivette’s use of these titles is obviously very sardonic and mannered, as when he uses a long series of images of the Duchess at a party as though it constituted a clause in between two dashes in a sentence: “the Duchess searched for him —” followed by the visuals and then, when the dangling phrase had almost been forgotten, “— in vain.”

J. Romney:

Characterised as a sort of Napoleonic wild beast ill at ease in the tameness of Restoration Paris, Armand – a general newly returned from Africa who initially fascinates married duchess Antoinette with stories of his exploits – is associated from the start with the great outdoors, prowling Mallorca’s windlashed ramparts, while Antoinette is first seen doubly imprisoned, in nun’s cowl and behind a grille.

The film is largely set in a series of enclosed salon and boudoir interiors, an overtly theatrical domain in which Antoinette is a surpassing mistress of mise en scène. Preparing for Armand’s first visit, she arranges herself for maximum effect on a canapé, in discreet déshabille, ordering her servant to lower the lighting (the thematics of light and heat later extended in the fireplace that Armand pokes with barely contained sexual frustration, and in the brand with which he threatens Antoinette).

As actress, Antoinette is skilled at the well-timed entrance and exit, whereas Armand habitually arrives too early, or storms inopportunely into the star’s dressing room. It is part of Armand’s revenge that he at last masters both mise en scène and performance, in a startlingly excessive scene that replaces Antoinette’s poised comedy of manners with a lurid melodrama: in it, he plays a menacing Byronic ravisher, supported by masked men hovering around a brazier. This sudden eruption of violence in the middle of an analytical drama may seem wildly incongruous, yet the tonal discontinuity comes directly from Balzac’s story, and Rivette achieves the seemingly impossible in making such a disjunction work convincingly on screen. The violence at the heart of the story, together with its cautionary-tale aspect, is foregrounded by Rivette’s reversion to Balzac’s original title for his novel. The reference is to a veiled warning that Armand gives Antoinette, the axe being the English one that beheaded Charles I – the implication is that the reckless cause their own downfall. In reality, however, Armand himself figuratively wields the axe that will destroy his own chance of happiness.

D. Kasman:

How strange that a filmmaker who through the years has so loved process, often in terms of acting and theatre, of seeing the expression of things worked out awkwardly before us, and conspiracy, in terms of the hints that everything out there, out of sight and out of the film frame, may be connected, has decided to adapt a reserved, 19th century historical chamber romance. Oh, but with such a surprise we then get to engage in the pleasures of the hunt! For then we find things like this: how is the navigation of social rules and norms—a very real thing with a very allusive existence—like the theatre and how is it like a conspiracy? Well, it is not without reason that Rivette opens the film at the melodramatic peak of the couple’s aching separation—the Duchess a nun on a remote Spanish isle and separated from the General by the convent’s metal bars—and then transitions and flashes back five years to the couple’s meeting and affair through two sweeps of a theatre curtain. The stage then is not the actual island (filmed on location), but is the interiors of the Restoration period, in all their glory, wood boards creaking like an empty stage. …

It is like a game played again and again with different moves but the same results, the repeating drama inside the haunted house of Celine and Julie transposed to thinking, feeling participants. The drama exists in a hanging kind of closed-off world, all frustrated performances that are almost content, as the playfulness and acting gets close to true expression, true connection. But something holds everyone back, holds the drama back, holds the love back, and gradually both General and Duchess become obsessed with this vague, menacing limitation, a mysterious stopgap to happiness that can neither be seen nor surmounted.

Whew, I love all these themes that get read into Rivette’s work. I always wonder whether he’s aware of them and consciously shaping his films in this way, or if the themes are unintended and they are more or less created by the critics, or if they’ve just become a part of his creative process, so much that he doesn’t think about them as consciously as he used to, and they become more subtle and have to be drawn out by a viewer well familiar with his previous films.

D. Ehrenstein:

The film is “dryly funny. Especially so when “the 13” make their appearance in the last act, looking more like a left bank version of the Keystone Kops than a fearsome secret society.

I think the title Hurlevent means something about the wind.

Well-bred Catherine loves Roch, an orphan her family has raised from a young kid with the help of servant Helene. Catherine’s brother William has taken over their estate and wants to get rid of Roch. Cat meets Olivier by chance and stays at his estate, gets to know him and his sister Isabelle, he eventually proposes. Roch disappears after overhearing a conversation about his being below Cat’s social class, comes back rich three years later, Cat and Olivier are now engaged and William is a drunken gambling addict. Roch wins the estate from William and hangs around until Catherine dies from illness.

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Movie opens with a great looking dream scene of Catherine and Roch on a rocky hill while William watches, hidden. Has a few interesting parts like that, but mostly just a good-looking literary adaptation of a dreary story. Rivette’s not especially proud of it either… I think we can mostly ignore this one.

Interesting soundtrack, only used in a few scenes. Valérie Hazette in her Senses of Cinema article says: “The only concession to lyricism can be found in the magical accents of Le mystère des voix bulgares, a Bulgarian choir’s album.”

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Rivette says about the adaptation: “I had decided not to re-read it: I asked Pascal to summarise it for me. I only wanted to have the outline of the story and of the characters, that’s all. And from the start, I told him: “Only the first part”, because I knew about the second part. I had a very strong memory of the Wyler movie – because I hate it – and of the Buñuel movie because, as you know, I find it very beautiful. The characters are 40, but still, the movie remains very, very powerful.”

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Francois Truffaut died a few days after the shoot. “For the whole length of the shoot, every single day, we were expecting to receive the phone call that would tell us ‘François has died…’ it was a truly harrowing situation.”

“Since it was necessary to condense quite a lot, by force of circumstance, I believe that it is indeed the most elliptical of all my movies. Otherwise I might have made a three or three-and-a-half hour movie, like I usually do. But there, we were obliged to simplify, to keep to the essentials. It might have given a more vigorous and energetic feel to it …”

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