I bought Criterion’s Lower Depths double-feature, watched the Renoir version then only took seven years to watch the Kurosawa version. This one by comparison lacks snails, a fancy baron’s house, and a finale where the happy couple walks off into the sunset.

Toshiro Mifune is the big named star, but this is completely an ensemble drama – he’s less the lead than Jean Gabin was in the Renoir. It seems like a play, mostly confined to the interior of a single room, ending in the courtyard just outside. Shot mostly in long takes which, thinking back on vague recollections of Ran, Dreams and Ikiru, might be a Kurosawa trademark.

Mifune lives with a bunch of others in a shitty tenement – there’s the tinker with his deathly ill wife, a gambler, a drunken actor (Kamatari Fujiwara of The Hidden Fortress and Mickey One), an ex-samurai, a candy-seller, and prostitute Akemi Negishi (the only woman on Anatahan). Mifune used to be hot for the landlady (Isuzu Yamada, Lady Macbeth of the same year’s Throne of Blood) but lately has taken up with her younger sister Okayo (Kyoko Kagawa of Mothra, lead guy’s miserable suicide sister in Sansho the Bailiff), incurring the older sister’s wrath. Landlord Ganjiro Nakamura (star of Ozu’s Floating Weeds and The End of Summer) hangs out with the gambler, tries to stay out of the romantic drama but gets killed for his trouble.

Also in the mix: randomly-appearing high-energy Unokichi, and a traveling magical grandpa who shows up to dispense wisdom then vanishes during the murder.

I expected to like this a lot more, considering the last 1970’s Richard Lester star-studded period adaptation I watched. Adapted by the guy who wrote Octopussy and a few later Lester films, which starred some of the Musketeers, so I guess there were no hard feelings all around.

Logan’s Run star Michael York is our excitable young D’Artangnan, who teams with musketeers Oliver Reed (between The Devils and Tommy), Frank Finlay (his follow-up to Shaft In Africa) and Richard Chamberlain (Julie Christie’s husband in Petulia). The evil Cardinal Heston plans to undermine the monarchy by exposing Queen Geraldine Chaplin’s affair with Duke Simon Ward. Heston and his partner Faye Dunaway try to preserve evidence of the affair while the Musketeers ride to their presumed deaths trying to hide it. Doesn’t seem like the most noble use of their talents in service of the king, but whatever, it’s pretty fun. Christopher Lee and Spike Milligan were in there somewhere, too.

Revisiting this after watching so many Rivette movies. The sound design, amplifying ordinary noise from clothes, floors and chairs, usually uncovered by music, is the main familiar element. It may be his most tightly structured film, without any improv, though I’d have to watch it back-to-back with Don’t Touch the Axe to be sure.

“In marrying your sisters, we’ve ruined ourselves.” Anna Karina, towards the end of her Godard relationship, is sent to become a nun by her parents against her will in the mid-1700’s. To her, the experience is just like prison, but she manages to sneak out some letters and secures herself a lawyer (soundtrack plays ocean waves when she’s finally allowed to see him), incurring the wrath of head nun Francine Berge (gorgeous baddie of Franju’s Judex), until her punishment is finally noted by Berge’s superiors and Anna is moved to a new convent.

Karina and Berge have a nun-off:

The new one is a pleasure palace, run by clingy lesbian Liselotte Pulver (of A Time to Love and a Time to Die), whom the father confessor tells Anna to avoid like the devil. Anna doesn’t like this place any more than the last one, finally teams up with an amorous monk (Francisco Rabal, whose face was ripped off in Dagon) to escape. Best scene is with him, as she realizes his intentions and the music goes mental.

Karina and Pulver bond:

Anna flees him and he’s captured – oh, and her mom is dead, her friend who talked her into becoming a nun in the first place (Micheline Presle, Depardieu’s relative in I Want To Go Home) is dead, and now her lawyer is dead. Then she flees the village where she’s hiding out, gets picked off the street by a fancy lady, and finally flees her party right out an upper-story window. This made more sense once the internet told me the “fancy lady” was a prostitute, oops. C. Clouzot: “Rivette completes Diderot’s unfinished novel with her suicide.”

brief moment of happiness, post-escape:

the end is near:

Banned in France for over a year, with much public debate leading up to its eventual release. It’s funny now that this movie was considered so outrageous, falling five years after Mother Joan of the Angels and five before The Devils. Quite a good movie, even if not extremely Rivettian. Cinematographer Alain Levent worked on the first films by Chabrol, Rohmer and Truffaut, shot Cleo from 5 to 7, The Nun and later, Sam Fuller’s Day of Reckoning and Madonna and the Dragon. Adapted again (sort of) by Joe D’Amato in the 80’s and there’s a new version out with Isabelle Huppert.

The only version of the Gatsby story I know, so I can only positively compare this to Moulin Rouge rather than bitch about how he ruined the novel. Got all my hatred at the editing out of the way early, spent the rest of the movie enjoying the script, the acting, the visual excess in a story that seems to demand excess.

Leo Gatsby struck it super-rich, wants to reconnect with old flame Carey Mulligan who’s now married to Brolin-looking Joel Edgerton (star of The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello), enlists the reliably young-and-foolish-looking Tobey Maguire to help. Along the way they piss off dirty Jason Clarke (Death Race) by running down his wife Isla Fisher in Gatsby’s car, so the gun-toting Clarke obligingly shoots Gatsby, providing the tragic ending that all great literature demands.

Gatsbies: There’s a 2000 version with Paul Rudd and Martin Donovan, a 1970’s with Bruce Dern and Karen Black, a 1958 with Robert Ryan, 1955 with Gena Rowlands, 1949 with Alan Ladd and Shelley Winters and 1926 with William Powell and Georgia Hale.

A prequel to Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas that I was very excited for in 1999, less so in 2011 when it finally came out. Depp does a good job dialing back to an earlier, less insane Hunter S. Thompson impersonation, but this origin story for HST’s career, based on his early (but belatedly-published) novel, doesn’t have much to recommend it besides the pleasure of hanging out with Depp’s HST and a new comic sidekick in Michael Rispoli (Summer of Sam) and a decent comeback for Robinson (Withnail & I).

Aaron Eckhart plays a slick wealthy bad guy (and Depp’s part-time employer), gets to make a nice F&L reference, pointing at the ocean saying he needs someone with the right kind of eyes (or maybe HST just wrote that dialogue twice). Amber Heard (star of The Ward) is Eckhart’s hot wife with a thing for Depp. Giovanni Ribisi isn’t entirely successful as a drunk and dangerous crime correspondent on the newspaper (run by Richard Jenkins with a hairpiece), but he isn’t significantly outclassed by the rest of the film so it works out. Someone uses the term “living wage” – did that exist in the late 1950’s?

Drunken Fantasy scene 1: rum bowling alley

Drunken Fantasy scene 2: Rispoli tongue

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.