The story of Tony Revolori, who loved Saoirse Ronan and grew up to be F. Murray Abraham, told his tale to Jude Law, who grew up to be Tom Wilkinson, whose book inspired many. Zero worked with Ralph Fiennes, who slept with Tilda Swinton, who was murdered by Willem Dafoe at the behest of Adrien Brody, who framed Fiennes by threatening Mathieu Amalric and later murdering Lea Seydoux and Jeff Goldblum (and his cat). Fiennes escapes prison with help from Harvey Keitel, runs into cop Edward Norton and military concierge Owen Wilson, clears his name but sacrifices himself to nazi authorities to save Revolori and Ronan. Jason Schwartzman is a Jude Law-era lobby boy, and Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and some others are shoehorned in.

See also: what I wrote on The Wind Rises.

Stefan Zweig (Letter From an Unknown Woman) gets an “inspired by” credit. Cowritten with the guy who drew the paintings at Eli Cash’s house in Royal Tenenbaums.

Katy liked it alright. My mom did not.

Like Rivette, Bresson started his feature career with a nun movie. This is an interesting one in light of his later movies about crime and punishment. On prison trips, young nun Anne-Marie (Renee Faure, lovestruck globemaker’s daughter in L’assassinat du Père Noël) becomes obsessed with Therese (Jany Holt, the prostitute in Renoir’s Lower Depths), trying to get her to join the convent – which she does after her release, but not before shooting a man to death as revenge for her imprisonment.

So, Anne-Marie gets ever more intense towards the woman she thinks she has saved, and Therese is extremely moody, never fitting in at the convent since she’s really using it to hide from her latest crime.


For her disruption of convent life Anne-Marie is expelled, but secretly returns nightly to pray at the tomb of her order’s founder. When she becomes deathly ill, she is discovered and readmitted to the fold; and, upon her death, Thérèse undergoes a change of heart, delivering herself to the police and to her just punishment. .. This route to Anne-Marie’s saintly fulfilment and Thérèse’s transformation passes through continually ambiguous terrain, in which will, destiny, and chance become indistinguishable, and in which saintliness and criminality not only work side by side but mingle.

Head nun Sylvie was in Le Corbeau the same year, and one of the others – I get them confused – was Marie-Hélène Dasté, Jean Dasté’s wife and a stage actress for playwright/novelist Giraudoux, who adapted the story for this film.

Public Affairs (1934)

Princess defies king, flies to nearby Crogandy to marry their clown chancellor, who gets a few funny bits in this visually indistinct, silly-ass comedy. A pretty good extended contagious-yawn joke leads to a plane crash, then everyone in town falls asleep (probably not a Paris qui dort reference). We follow the chancellor from a statue unveilling to a firehouse demonstration to the launch of a ship, with Marcel Dalio (the marquis in Rules of the Game and Frenchy in To Have and Have Not) playing most of the movie’s roles besides the romantic leads.

Rewatched Rififi recently after reading that this is supposed to be a parody. Instead of a team of experts successfully pulling a heist then getting killed off by rivals in the aftermath, we’ve got a team of incompetents who botch the planning and the heist itself, escaping with their lives and nothing more.

Cosimo (Memmo Carotenuto, a croaking Eugene Pallette type) is arrested ineptly breaking into cars, forms the heist master plan but gets edged out of the group. Peppe the boxer (ladies’ man Vittorio Gassman) takes over, teams with aged Cappanelle, tough-looking mama’s boy Mario, new dad Tiberio (Marcello Mastroianni, a couple years before La Dolce Vita) and suave mustache man Michele who keeps his virginal sister Carmelina (Claudia Cardinale in her first year in the movies) locked in their apartment. The plan involves Peppe dating a girl who lives above the shop they plan to rob, gaining access to the building through her.

L-R: Mario, Michele, Cappanelle, Peppe and Tiberio:

By the time of the heist, Cosimo is dead (run down by a bus trying to purse-snatch), Tiberio’s arm is broken, Mario is fooling around with Carmelina, and Peppe’s girl has quit her job. They break in anyway, fail to get the safe, just steal some food from the kitchen, knock down a wall, then slink away. Reads like there’s a ton of comic business, but for an Italian comedy it’s actually pretty subdued.

Mario meets Claudia Cardinale:

Based partly on an Italo Calvino story – what?

Dancer Sugar Torch is surprised in her dressing room, then chased down and shot to death in the street. Enter the cops: Glenn Corbett (star of Homicidal) and James Shigeta (of the musical Flower Drum Song). Delightfully drunk artist Mac (Anna Lee of Hangmen Also Die) points Corbett to painter Christine (Victoria Shaw of Edge of Eternity), who knew about Sugar’s new act, The Crimson Kimono, a geisha thing.

Corbett and Mac:

Lots of twisty witness-questioning ensues, and it turns out the killer is a wigmaker who thought her husband was cheating with Sugar. More interesting is the rivalry stemming from both cops falling in love with Christine the painter, which explodes when Joe beats his partner senseless during an official police kendo match. She ends up with Shigeta, the interracial thing being a pretty big deal for 1959.

Shigeta and Christine:

Evil, decadent Queen Regina V (Seena Owen, doomed queen of Babylon in Intolerance) is engaged to wolfish Prince Wolfram, but he falls for convent orphan Gloria Swanson whose pants have fallen down. I am not making this up. They go on for twenty minutes about her pants falling down, which is a pretty big deal in an hour and forty minute movie. Anyway the queen decides to punish Wolfram by moving up their wedding to the next day. And Wolfram plays a hilarious prank, breaking into the convent, setting it on fire to flush out his beloved, then kidnapping her. This doesn’t end well for either of them when the queen finds out. Wolfram is imprisoned (I like that he receives visitors in “solitary confinement”) and Gloria jumps into the river, killing herself, the end.



But that’s only the end because Stroheim was fired from what was meant to be a five-hour film, so producer Swanson wrapped it up quickly and shipped to theaters. The DVD contains a couple reels of what was shot next, after Gloria was supposed to be saved from drowning in the river: some crazy scenes in an African brothel where Gloria is forced to marry the brilliantly grotesque Tully Marshall (Intolerance‘s High Priest who deposes the queen). The movie pops to life here, turns from a stodgy old costume drama with a few exciting shots into a sleazy melodrama with only exciting shots.

Wolfram, receiving bad news:

Kelly hanging over the river, remembering everyone laughing at her (left) as the queen (right) chased her from the palace with a whip.

Silent movies can get tiresome when they have too many intertitles, each of which lasts too long. Definitely the case here. Produced by Swanson and Joe “JFK’s dad” Kennedy, and supposedly sunk by clash of personalities, increase in Hollywood censorship, and the advent of talkies. I didn’t feel like watching the thousand minutes of extra features today, so I read the Senses of Cinema article instead.


M. Koller:

In the African sequences… the relationship between Regina and Wolfram is mirrored by Jan Vooyheid and Kitty’s loveless, contemptuous marriage. As with Regina’s introduction at the beginning of the film, Stroheim uses a series of vignettes to summarise Jan’s attributes. Jan (Kitty’s benefactor) can also be seen as the degenerate extrapolation of an unredeemed Wolfram; old, ugly, and crippled by syphilis, he is a violent, disrespectful, gambling, whoring drunk.

After a funeral, Natasha is angry with everyone alive, quits her job and pisses off people in the street. After forty minutes of this, the movie-in-a-movie ends and Olga, its lead actress, comes on stage to complete audience indifference. “I’m already sad and tired from work. I’d like to have fun, listen to some music instead of watching such movies.”

Destructive tendencies in the film-in-a-film:

Narcoleptic Nikolai is in the audience. He’s a schoolteacher along with round, blonde Irina. To be truthful, that’s about all I can be sure of. Plenty else happens in the movie, but I’m not sure to whom, and for what reason. It’s kind of a comedy, but seems to be serious underneath. The title seems appropriate (asthenia: abnormal physical weakness or lack of energy). You could also have called it Everybody Is Unbearable. Very talky, with wall-to-wall chatter in half the scenes, languid in others.


Irina attempts “strangers in the night”:

Won a prize at Berlin. The distributor calls it an “impressionistic portrait of the USSR reaching the end of its tether.” Senses calls it a “demented masterpiece,” and goes on to note: “it is interesting to note that while the rest of the world celebrated the fall of communism, the reaction of the people actually living under Soviet rule wasn’t as simple; people felt very confused, and their overall behaviour was – and still is – reminiscent of the asthenic syndrome of the film, alternatively violent and repressed. Even though Asthenic Syndrome was made during the period of glasnost, Muratova once again managed to alienate the authorities. It had the dubious honour of being the only film banned during that period.”

J. Rosenbaum:

It’s a film that alternately assaults you and nods off — usually without warning and often when you’re least expecting it. Mean-spirited and assertive one moment, narcoleptic and in complete denial the next, it bears an astonishing resemblance to the disconcerting rhythm of contemporary public life.

D. Auerbach:

If you don’t know that perestroika is seen as the source of millions of deaths stemming from deregulation, corruption, and crime, the melancholy and despair that fill The Asthentic Syndrome seem disconnected from a particular cause: what is Muratova critiquing, exactly? . . . Knowing the context reveals the emotion behind the puzzling surface.

Katy said let’s start holding theme months again – perhaps Westerns Month, or Robert Altman Month. To delay making a decision, I played a Robert Altman Western. She said it wasn’t bad, but please no more movies like that, so Westerns it shall be.

Foolish me, I actually thought this wouldn’t be so Altmanesque. He made it right after MASH, but I’ve seen Images from the following year, so I’d convinced myself that he didn’t pick up the ensemble overlapping-dialogue thing again until ’75 with Nashville, making a few movies with a distinguishable soundtrack there in between. But no, this one was extremely ensembley and each noisy scene seemed to have been recorded with a room mic placed a couple rooms over. Katy points out that it may have exploded Western conventions in ’71, but now that they’ve been exploded for so long, we don’t see this as a very daring experiment, just a mushmouthed dialogue-heavy flick full of Leonard Cohen songs with a great chase/shootout ending.


Another disappointment: when Julie Christie finally showed up I was expecting a force of nature a la Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar, but she doesn’t do much more than build a bath house and take over the whoring at Beatty’s new pub. As an article in The Guardian points out, our protagonists are “nothing like as confident as they would have us believe.” Recognized Shelley Duvall in a pretty small role as a mail-order bride and Michael “Tanner” Murphy as a businessman who fails to negotiate with Beatty over the sale of his land, leading to a snowy hide-and-seek shootout throughout the town, Murphy replaced by a gang of thugs who do not negotiate. I’m slowly learning my Carradines – a fresh-faced Keith (star of Fuller’s Street of No Return) played a doomed vacationing cowboy.

Mrs. Miller:

Mostly I liked the look, the feel, the light, the editing and pace. I wouldn’t say it had a documentary feel, but it felt like the scenes were happening on their own and the cameras were struggling to keep up (*). Has a good reputation these days, voted one of the greatest-ever westerns by some group or another. At the time, Christie lost her oscar to Jane Fonda, for something called Klute, and Vilmos Zsigmond’s hazy cinematography was only honored at the Baftas, where he was also nominated for Images.

(*) I thought that was a pretty neat thing I’d thought/written there about the movie, but when I went looking for articles I found that everyone else had thought it already. For instance, C. Taylor for Salon:

Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), is a hard-headed madam with dreams of her own, the ones emanating from her opium pipe. The movie feels as delicate, as lulling, as Mrs. Miller’s drug-induced visions, and yet the life it shows us, the town and its people, are so real and sturdy we seem to have stumbled on them. The life the movie shows us is already being lived by the time we turn up. And everything we encounter evolves naturally — the setting, the characters, the story and most of all the mood.

A. Danks for Senses of Cinema:

McCabe and Mrs. Miller follows the coordinates of the most rudimentary of westerns; full of archetypal and cliched characters and situations such as the loner/stranger who shakes up a frontier town and the whore-with-the-heart-of-gold. But these classical or archetypal elements are undermined by the film’s opaque view of its characters, its foregrounding of atmosphere and place (including the ‘atmosphere’ of place, weather), and a technique which captures characters (both their bodies and voices) within pictorial tableaux that emphasise their relativity to the unfolding drama. In this respect, parts of, and indeed images within McCabe and Mrs. Miller resemble a painting by the sixteenth century artist Pieter Bruegel; broken up into interlocking tableaux and brought up to date (i.e. into cinema) by the deployment of favourite Altman devices like the zoom, the pan and multi-tracked sound – these devices serving to distance the events and characters from the viewer while opening up the frame, and the relationship between frames, to the scrutiny of the spectator.

I don’t know why I didn’t get L’Atalante upon first viewing. Maybe ’twas the low-grade VHS tape I rented, or maybe I was drowsy or impatient, but now I see it’s almost as beautiful and twisted a love story as Sunrise.

Provincial girl marries a barge captain passing through town then finds that spending life on the boat with his two assistants is less excitingly romantic than she’d imagined. Tension mounts between the captain and the gruff-looking but tender Jules leading the girl to flee the ship to see Paris on her own. But she doesn’t fare well and the captain goes into a depression, so Jules goes and finds her for a tearful reunion finale.

Not the fault of the video, I guess, because many shots were out of focus on the 35mm print. Must’ve been rough to do so much location shooting in 1934. So many other gorgeous shots and ideas scattered throughout that it’s easy to overlook technical shortcomings. Movie holds a poetic, dreamy state throughout, and the ending seems deserved despite the captain being kinda unlikeable most of the time.

Jean Dasté got small roles in Jean Renoir films, and many years later, larger roles in Francois Truffaut films. He was also the sympathetic teacher in Zero For Conduct.

Dita Parlo appeared in Grand Illusion and didn’t do much acting after the 30’s.

Michel Simon was more well-known, starring in The Two of Us, Rene Clair’s Faust, Port of Shadows and at least three by Renoir. Jacques Rivette did a 100-minute Cinéastes de notre temps with him in ’66.

Cats are thrown at people from offscreen, an obvious influence on Dario Argento.

Happy ending:

Zero For Conduct, by contrast, was less anarchic hilarity and slightly more tedious than I remembered it. Still a fun boarding school romp with good characters (the dwarf headmaster, the head-standing supervisor played by Dasté who is on the kids’ side from the start) and great portrayal of repressive school life, friendships and rivalries and minor (and in the end, major) rebellions.



I watched the above two at Emory on 35mm last November but delayed posting this until now because I wanted to go through the rest of the Artificial Eye DVD.

I dug the Cinéastes de notre temps episode by Jacques Rozier (new-wave filmmaker with Adieu Philippine, also shot some of the stuff on the Contempt DVD and the Cinéastes episode on Bunuel excerpted on the Viridiana DVD). 90 minutes of Vigo stories and interviews with the three L’Atalante leads thirty years later. Michel Simon looks the same, and Dita Parlo is very recognizable when she smiles. Now that I know what Jean Daste looked like in the mid-60’s, I’ll look out for him in The War Is Over. Didn’t realize that Jean Vigo knew Jean Painleve… and Painleve has an indirect connection to Oskar Fischinger.

Not much to say about the two shorts. The Jean Taris doc has some cool photography, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth watching over and over. The Nice doc is more creative, has lots of cool photography, and is definitely worth watching over and over.

Jean Taris, swimming champion:

À propos de Nice

Silent World by Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle beat it for the golden palm at cannes, but it took the “human document” award. The film print said “grand prix” but it doesn’t even look like that award was handed out in ’56. The print also calls Ray “Roy”, but those two seem interchangeable by the IMDB. Supposed to be India’s Rashomon, the one that brought Indian film to the world’s attention.

Daunting to watch a movie known for 50 years as a masterpiece… well-illustrated when I walked into the room early and saw a bunch of freshman watching the end of Citizen Kane.

Oooh, my fourth 50’s film in a week. This came out less than a decade after Bicycle Thief, its inspiration, and the year after Senso, La Strada, Seven Samurai and Saga of Anatahan.

Ray’s first film, with great music by then-unknown Ravi Shankar. Rich drama, very moving and awesomely shot. I kind of expected to be underwhelmed, but I loved it (probably more than the film students around me who sighed a lot and started fidgeting and text-messaging towards the end) and maybe even cried a little. Some of the students did too, so there’s hope for them.

Little Apu is born to overburdened mom, underemployed dad, always-in-trouble sister and elderly aunt. Sis’s friend is getting married. Apu goes to school. Dad gets work with the landlord but isn’t paid for months. Sis steals a necklace. Mom fights with aunt while trying to make sure kids are fed and staying out of trouble. One horribly powerful fight scene when, after the necklace dispute, mom drags sis out of the yard by her hair, collapses against the inside of the door while through the wall we can see Sis crying on the other side.


The scene is edited and scored with such force, seems like it couldn’t be the work of a first-time film director working before his country even had a proper film industry. Anyway, Sis gets sick and dies right before father comes home from the big city (he’s barely in the film) bearing money and gifts. Death scene (during a horrid rain storm) is at least double what the hair-pull fight scene was, with the music peaking into the scream that we never hear from the mother. In the finale, the family is moving to a new town to start again, Apu finds the necklace and throws it in a lake.

Movie feels like a masterpiece despite my pedestrian plot description.

When looking for screenshots I found this scene that wasn’t in the print we watched. The parents have a rare conversation about their lives and bring up moving out of town for the first time.

Ray: “The cinematic material dictated a style to me, a very slow rhythm determined by nature, the landscape, the country. The script had to retain some of the rambling quality of the novel because that in itself contained a clue to the authenticity: life in a poor Bengali village does ramble.”

Ray in ’82: “All artists owe a debt to innovators and profit by such innovation. Godard gave me the courage to dispense largely with fades and dissolves, Truffaut to use the freeze.”

Truffaut walking out in ’56: “I don’t want to see a film about Indian peasants.”


His sister in the rain, celebrating a short-lived freedom:

Outcast auntie:

Sad parents:

Update, Jan 2010: Katy liked it, but says she saw the sister’s death coming.