Catching up… I watched this three weeks ago, and the only note I took says:

Unfun intellectual/political word games

Obviously it’s a complicated (if unfun) movie, so a one-line review will not do. This is where my lack of biographical knowledge on Godard (and lack of interest in 1960’s politics) holds me back, because this feels like an escalation of ideas about consumerism and radicalism and societal ills from 2 or 3 Things and Weekend… but it also feels like a parody, its characters deluded comic-book Mao radicals. This doesn’t seem right, since the ideals of our main characters seem similar to Godard’s own, in his later, more boring works.

Feels like we spend forever in the primary-color apartment with young commies Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto (her first year in film) and Anne Wiazemsky (star of Au Hasard Balthazar the year before). But there’s also an assassination attempt, a guy exiled from the group, suicide, some fun self-reflexivity, and an endless train conversation with a philosophy professor. Literature references abound, apparently, and name-dropping of Katy’s favorite theorists.

Played Venice the year Belle de Jour won, tying China is Near for a jury prize.

“Let’s quit everything”

Made around the time of Tout va Bien and We Maintain It Is Possible, a few years after La Chinoise, which also takes anti-capitalism to bizarre, somewhat comic extremes. This imagines the “Year 01” in which everyone decides to quit their corporate jobs and disband capitalist society and live as people did before machines, growing crops with their bare hands, which doesn’t sound like fun to me, but I’ve been corrupted by capitalist propaganda I suppose.

“Now I take care of the cows. Milking isn’t much nicer than typing, but it’s direct work … if I want to eat, I have to do it.”

“98% vote to abolish property” – it’s convenient for the plot that everyone living in France is a good-natured, 28-year-old communist. They rebuild society in a pointedly uneducated way, going on instict and vague desire, which sounds like how the U.S. government is operating today. Neighbors and strangers open up to each other, jewel thievery becomes a respectable hobby, and everyone acts like they’re going on a huge vacation.

Mouseover to see this hippie get an idea:
image

Another great idea:

Watched this as part of my quest to see everything Alain Resnais made – he did a few-minute episode set in New York, where bankers leap from Wall Street buildings en masse as the people on the streets excitedly read the Euro news in the papers. The dialogue acting here isn’t great, but it opens with a cool series of quick zoom-outs on imposing buildings. Jean Rouch also contributes a Niger scene, which was short and forgettable but featured a reference to “Petit à petit, Inc.”

New York:

Closes with the title “Fin du premier film de reportage sur L’AN 01,” but after 85 long minutes, there was no more to say. I don’t know much about Doillon, but this came near the start of a long, still-ongoing career. Writer Gébé was editing a satirical magazine at the time, which would later transform into Charlie Hebdo.

Slower and weirder than it seemed from the trailer, which sets up a madcap comedy.
Katy was disappointed.

Mid-1950’s Hollywood: Josh Brolin is a hard-working studio employee who keeps the stars in line and keeps the press (Tilda Swinton) away from the more damaging stories. Period epic star George Clooney is kidnapped by commies, is curious and agreeable, doesn’t seem to realize he’s being held hostage until rescued by cowboy actor Alden Ehrenreich. Those two and Brolin are great, but they’ve got nothing on Channing Tatum as a dancing sailor who’s secretly the commie group’s leader. Ralph Fiennes plays a frustrated director, and we get quite small roles for McDormand, Johansson and Jonah Hill, and reeeeally small roles for Alex Karpovsky and Dolph Lundgren.

Slant:

On the flipside is a cell of communist screenwriters who abduct mega star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) to bleed the studios, only to let slip that their ideals of upending the means of production stem from bitterness over not getting the back-end points they think they deserve. In perhaps the only subtle joke in the entire film, the warped prosperity politics that Hollywood communists bring to the cause is tacitly positioned as a precursor to Scientology, another faddish, extreme cause that the Hollywood faithful would frame in terms of making more bank.

G. Kenny:

The movie makes light of the dialectic as explained to Baird by Marcuse, but it also, in its tricky way, continually invites/compels the viewer to use it. Eddie Mannix is a good man who is very good at his job — but his job seems to be manufacturing schlock. People enjoy schlock, but schlock is arguably an agent of The People’s oppression, so… anyway, one needn’t go on. Suffice it to say that in the cosmology of the delightful Hail Caesar!, regardless of the conclusions to which dialectical thinking may lead, acceptance is the key, and Hollywood, while “problematic,” is more a force for good than the military-industrial complex can ever hope to be. And, finally, doing the right thing is an instinct shared by both company men and singing cowboys, for whatever that’s worth.

F. Cardamenis says the movie “reveals a striking ambivalence about [Hollywood], finding magic in its products but malice in its motives.”

D. Ehrlich’s article in Slate was my favorite, even if I did a sorry job condensing its points below:

[Hail Caesar and The Grand Budapest Hotel] shift through several different aspect ratios and feature Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, and — wait for it! — Fisher Stevens. Both films bake their darker underpinnings beneath a frivolous screwball glaze. More crucially, both films probe the ultimate value of storytelling, and leverage their findings into lucid summations of their creators’ entire career and creative worldview. Hail, Caesar! takes one of the diverse back catalogs in American cinema and forces its various components into a reluctant conversation that changes them all, like strangers who are forced into small talk at a cocktail party only to realize that they have the whole world in common.

[the sailor musical sequence] convincingly argues the value of filmmaking to a universe of indelible characters who are struggling to understand it for themselves. It’s a truth they could see if only they had faith. And that, ultimately, is what Hail, Caesar! argues with greater clarity — if not always greater force — than any of the Coens’ previous films. There is no meaning but that which we convince ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you adhere to communism, religion, or movies: The only way you can believe in yourself is if you believe in something bigger. Who wouldn’t want to be a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest hotel, sir? It’s an institution.

Same director, star, writer, editor, cameraman as Z. New still photographer Chris Marker and assistant director Alain Corneau. Instead of communists being attacked by the fascists in charge, this time a group of communists is destroyed by their own party. It’s a depressing slog of a movie, a feature-length torture session ending with the men delivering their well-rehearsed but completely false “confessions” and being sentenced to death.

This time we’re in Czechoslovakia in 1951-1952. Yves Montand plays one of the three who only got long prison sentences, Simone Signoret (a year after the even more depressing Army of Shadows) his wife, and Gabriele Ferzetti as his interrogator Kohoutek (not the subject of the R.E.M. song).

Haunting flash-forwards – the worst of which comes during the trial, when the fourteen men on trial enjoy a hearty laugh and the image bleeds into their ashes being scattered on a frozen road weeks later.

Warok, as always:

D. Iordanova:

The film was an important step in the public expression of Western leftist intellectuals’ disillusionment with Soviet Communism … The Confession was the first film that zeroed in on torture as a seemingly endless ordeal, a systematic and relentless process aimed at delivering a specific outcome.

The Second Trial of Artur London (1970, Chris Marker)

Marker was on-set during the making of The Confession, as was London, portrayed by Yves in the film. Marker focuses on the idea that the book and film can weaken the communist movement by showing horrid things done in its name. Obviously the participants in the film’s production would disagree, and Marker lets them explain why. Unbelievably, after the film’s completion, London is again accused of being a spy and stripped of his Czech nationality. But he is defended: “The witnesses who remained silent in 1952 speak up today.”

My favorite line about the film sets: “A retirement home, unmodified, becomes a prison.”

London:

Greece 1963: leftist protesters against a supposedly democratic government invite guest speaker Yves Montand. Then he and another guy from the opposition party (Jean Bouise, Warok in Out 1) are clumsily killed, and it’s a race to see if the prosecuting attorney (My Night at Maud’s star Jean-Louis Trintignant) can uncover witnesses and prove it was a murder conspiracy before government-sympathist thugs kill all the witnesses. My first Costa-Gavras movie since hating Mad City in ’97, and it’s way more exciting than his plot descriptions sound, with quick, responsive camera and editing.

Trintignant kinda wins, manages to prosecute army big-shots and prove they were at least complicit in not helping to protect the murdered men. But this is bad news in the long run as the country spirals into authoritarian rule (which is why the film was shot in Algiers), getting bloody payback in postscript upon the leftists who dared to fight back – except the actual prosecuting attorney played by Trintignant, who’d return to Greece and become president 20 years later.

Montand widow Irene Papas (Mother of the River in Inquietude), standing in front of Clotilde Joano (Chabrol’s Wedding in Blood):

Doomed men in back seat, driven by Bernard Fresson (La Prisonniere, The Tenant), with shotgun Charles Denner (The Man Who Loved Women):

Warok-killer Gerard Darrieu (The Elusive Corporal, Mon Oncle d’Amerique) makes an accurate statement about birds to attorney Trintignant:

Montand-killer Marcel Bozzuffi (Le Deuxieme Souffle, Altman’s Images) tries to sneak past helpful journalist Jacques Perrin (Prince Charming in Donkey Skin):

Informant Jean Daste hides in an Elvis photomat:

Oscars for best editing (have I mentioned the editing? it’s great, with sudden flashbacks in the middle of conversations, illustrating thoughts of the people on screen) and foreign film at the oscars (vs. Midnight Cowboy, Hello Dolly), best film from the USA film critics society (vs. Stolen Kisses, La femme infidele), a couple prizes at Cannes including actor for Trintignant (vs. his own My Night at Maud’s and best-picture winner If…).

Cowritten by Jorge Semprún (The War Is Over), of course, and shot by Raoul Coutard (post-Weekend), also of course. Editor Francoise Bonnot would continue to work with Costa-Gavras as well as Michael Cimino, Roman Polanski (The Tenant) and Julie Taymor. Trying to figure out why C-G has a hyphenated name I came across a MOMA press release saying he added the dash “to create confusion.”

Armond White, throwing out the titles of some movies I should really watch:

Carrying on the tradition of the politically informed films of Francesco Rosi (Salvatore Giuliano, Hands over the City, and The Moment of Truth), which turned recent politics into complex, engrossing cinematic myths, Costa-Gavras would proceed to advance the political thriller toward a popular mode. His work paralleled that of Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers) and Elio Petri (The Tenth Victim, We Still Kill the Old Way, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), whose political exposés were also accessible as action films. This trend was distinct from such earnest, earlier cultural movements as Italian neorealism and Russian formalism in that it permitted socially conscious, politically motivated artists to pursue personal causes, infected with the excitement of the era’s post–New Wave aesthetic.

Happily this was more Role Models than The Ten, a conventional-looking comedy full of State alumni and good writing. Only the second Jennifer Aniston movie I’ve seen (and unfortunately the first wasn’t Leprechaun). She and State/Wain regular Paul Rudd are a married couple who flee New York for Atlanta and stay with Rudd’s asshole brother Ken Marino and his drunk wife, then end up at a commune. Aniston hooks up with sellout Justin Theroux, while Rudd can’t manage to score with Malin Akerman, but since it’s a comedy, the married couple pulls through.

As per Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, the movie freely uses hacky old plot points (slimy land developers are trying to tear down the commune) and messes with them (the commune would be safe if Alan Alda, hilarious as the only remaining member of the commune’s original founders, could remember where he put the deed). I enjoyed all the background cameos by Craig Wedren, Joe Lo Truglio as a nudist winemaker, overenthusiastic Kerri Kenney, Todd Barry as Rudd’s coworker in the city, and David/Michael/Michael as TV commentators.

Katy liked it too, pointed out that the title is off-base.

Finally caught up with this. Katy and I both liked. Moore has returned to the concerns of Roger & Me, watches the problems of Flint spread to the entire country, but as usual with him (and unusual for political documentaries in general), does it in a way that makes me interested and excited, not depressed. A couple token scenes of Moore trying to talk his way into corporate offices and an ending where he wraps Wall Street in crime scene tape aside, he seems to have listened to criticism and kept himself mostly off-camera. We noticed he was awfully polite and attentive to religion, trying to expand his support base out of the godless-liberal camp. Winning coverage of a factory sit-in and an evicted family that refused to leave balance out the bummers of underpaid airline pilots, life insurance policies on corporate employees and bullying bank bailouts… well, not really, but he makes it feel that way.

Predictably, critical response was off the charts… some raves, many attacks, and still more highly-qualified minor praises – mostly accusing him of simplifying the issues. But they’re issues that needed simplifying, and the accusation is an easy way for a film reviewer to imply their superior knowledge and understanding to Moore without having to defend themselves with examples. Anyway, Cine File put my thoughts succinctly: “Basically the achievement of Capitalism is to spell out the facts in such a way that they’re impossible to ignore. Nobody does it better than Moore.”

Best of all, I found out that in my lifetime, U.S. Presidents used to say things like this:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

– Jimmy Carter, 1979-07-15

An absolute monster of a movie. No longer called The Argentine and Guerrilla, it’s been simplified to Che part 1 and Che part 2 then run together into a “roadshow” with a 15-min intermission, a printed program, and no trailers, credits or titles.

Part one has flashbacks (or flashforwards, depending on your point of view) to Guevara speaking at the U.N., epic movie music, and titles telling us when and where (within Cuba) the action is taking place. Emphasis on Che’s medical skills and on all facets of the revolutionary struggle: weapons training, psychology and ideology, strategy and inter-group politics. Far as we can tell, it’s Fidel Castro who is leading the men, and Che is going where he’s told – though he gets the final glory of capturing the capital himself (against orders, which were to wait a couple days for the main group to arrive).

Part two: no flashbacks, no narrator, less obvious music, and titles simply number the days since Che’s arrival in Bolivia. Starts out a crafty spy tale, with Che in a master disguise to get into the country with everybody looking for him, then meeting the countrymen who yearn for revolution and think the time is right. Alas, the time is not right… the highly organized military government tracks the men, bombs their camps with help from the U.S., and most damning of all, turns the local citizens against the revolutionaries.

Part one is too much of a hero-portrait with too much of a classic film-history-reenactment trajectory, but part two is too dark, too gritty and hopeless with not enough signposts for the audience. The combination could’ve made for two so-so movies, but it doesn’t – not at all – instead, the weaknesses of each disappear in the presence of the other, forming one extremely strong work, probably Soderbergh’s best.

From the writer of Eragon and Jurassic Park III… I’m serious! Besides Cannes-winner Del Toro and hundreds of unfamiliar faces, we had Catalina Moreno (of Fast Food Nation, Maria Full of Grace), Gaston Pauls (star of Nine Queens), Lou Diamond Phillips (who I didn’t recognize; only place I’ve seen him in 20 years is Bats), Jsu Garcia (Traffic, Nightmare on Elm Street) and a cameo by Matt Damon.

Story begins March 17, 1871 and ends two months later. Watkins introduces the movie via his two commune reporters (one of whom is played by Peter’s son Gérard, who has also acted in They Came Back and Diving Bell and the Butterfly), showing the set (a factory on the former site of Georges Melies’ studio!) at the end of the shoot. The set is minimal – walls and rooms were constructed, and props seem accurate and well-placed, but you never doubt that you’re on a set – you can see the walls, the lights, sort of Dogvillian. And the camera – of course the actors talk directly to the camera, since this is a Peter Watkins film. The cameraman (Odd Geir Saether from Edvard Munch) is always mobile, always shooting full cartridges at a time to be (slightly) edited later on.

image

There are intertitles which comment on the action, fill in missing context, flash-back-and-forward, connect the revolutionary ideas of the commune with the present realities of France. People break out of character mid-scene to talk about the film and about their own present situations, to comment on the relevance of the film and of the commune – but they’re not talking to us, exactly, telling us what to do or think, it’s more that they’re working out their own thoughts and we can make what we will of it. That’s not to say the film is unbiased – it’s extremely pro-commune. The mass media is represented by a more traditionally shot right-wing telecast which gives twisted accounts of the events we see in the commune.

An official statement:
image

Most of the actors didn’t have screen credits before this one, but some have gone on to appear in other movies (The Barbarian Invasions, Eric Rohmer’s Lady and the Duke, Science of Sleep, Miracle at St. Anna, etc). They workshopped the story and their own roles, and came up with their own dialogue, full participants of the film. Some of this I learned from the very good hour-long doc on the disc The Universal Clock, which dares to ask questions (like whether Watkins is responsible for his own marginalization) as it discusses his career and the making of La Commune. This would actually be a fine standalone film to play before some of PW’s better movies for the uninitiated – it stands high above the usual DVD-extra fare.

Lots of death and guns in the movie, all offscreen. Nobody is ever shown killed, no actor ever plays dead:
image

There’s a lot to say about the Commune and I’m not gonna say it all here. I’m worn out on the topic from watching all seven hours on these DVDs, and I’m pretty sure I’ll remember the important stuff (plus PW’s excellent website has a good summary).

The hated bourgeoisie:
image

Was the film good, though? Well, it’s far from my favorite Watkins feature (I’d maybe put it above The Gladiators). While it’s not dry and academic, it’s not exactly immersive – and while I wouldn’t say there were unnecessary scenes or that it should’ve been shorter, it’s exhausting at its present length, a mountain of a movie. The guy’s got a point that films and videos should not have to fit the “universal clock” of a television schedule, but this one didn’t fit the clock of my work week, and even with Katy out of town and my evenings supposedly all to myself, it still took me three nights to watch. So it’s an extremely admirable production, in every sense, about an important topic, but unlike other monumentally long films (hello, Satantango) I’m in no hurry to see it again.

image