or Gazing at Women in Cafes: The Movie

Our Hero, who looks like a shirt model, stares at girls in an outdoor cafe while accordion music plays.

In the middle third, he follows a woman through the city, past some conspicuous “Laure, je t’aime” graffiti, finally confronting her on a bus to ask if she’s Sylvie, who me met six years ago at the Aviators bar. But she’s not, and she’s less than thrilled that he’s been stalking her across the city.

An hour in, he goes to the Aviators and stares at more women while Heart of Glass plays.

He is Xavier Lafitte of the recent Saint Laurent movie which was not by Bonello, and she Pilar López de Ayala, Angélica herself. This played Venice in a packed year with Redacted, Mad Detective, The Assassination of Jesse James and I’m Not There.

Patrick Devitt in Letterboxd: “All of the imagery depicted has to do with memory in some shape or form.” Kenji Fujishima has a good writeup in Movie Mezzanine, calling it “alternately enchanting and disturbing.”


Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (2007, José Luis Guerín)

Shot in summer and winter 2004, this is the documentary(?) version of the previous film, in which our unseen photographer revisits the city (Strasbourg, France) where he met Sylvie 22 years before, distracting himself along the way with other women and wall graffiti.

He visits hospitals since his Sylvie was a nurse. No luck.

Besides his faded memory of this woman, he also follows the paths of Dante and Goethe and Petrarque, who all spent time in the city.

Silent and composed entirely of still photographs, cut and cross-faded. This was released a few months before the other, and maybe it would’ve made more sense to watch this first.

I listened to The Mysteries by John Zorn, which I believe was the Director’s True Intent – I called him and asked if Some Photos is supposed to be silent, and he said he’d rather it was scored by John Zorn’s The Mysteries, so there you have it. He didn’t say what to do when the album ended, so I put on some Boards of Canada.

“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.

I suppose the first half is more tense if you’ve read beforehand that the movie involves a terrorist bombing plot – there’s little backstory or explanation as our young heroes walk briskly around Paris, check into hotels, take the subway, looking very serious as they drop off packages into vehicles and trash bins. After a half hour of this, an older-looking mustache guy shoots a dude in his apartment, breaking the simmering tension. Then we see the results of their efforts:

The long second half has our bombers gathered in a department store after hours waiting out the night, for some unexplained reason, instead of going home their separate ways. They blast some Willow Smith on the high-end stereos, shop amongst the high-end toys and expensive clothes, lounge in the designer living spaces, invite a homeless couple inside (Hermine Karagheuz!) and watch the news of their own exploits on TV until it starts to show the outside of the building they’re in. It ends the only way it could, the cops storming the store and killing everyone (even Hermine).

Not sure who everyone was, but our gang included Finnegan Oldfield (Les Cowboys) and Vincent Rottiers (lead baddie of Dheepan). Omar, their inside man at the department store who murdered the other security personnel, was Rabah Nait Oufella of Raw and Girlhood. There’s some fractured chronology, hard to follow even though the current time keeps appearing on screen. This and House of Tolerance were so slick-looking, it’s not surprising he made a fashion film in between them.

Ehrlich calls it “intriguingly inert”:

Bonello’s camera tracks behind each of the kids as they go about their shady business, emulating Elephant as the tactic conjures the same sickening momentum that made Gus Van Sant’s film about homicidal youths so vague and disquieting … It’s fine that Bonello would rather raise unsettling questions than provide unhelpful answers, but his inquiry often feels every bit as confused as his characters.

It does seem confused and perverse, and possibly even offensively wrongheaded (after the Bataclan attack, Nocturama was denied festival appearances and distribution). Why make this film, and what did the characters hope to achieve (in either the first or second half)? Only Blake Williams in Cinema Scope seems to have a convincing, incisive explanation – though you’ve really gotta read the whole thing, so I’m only excerpting his description of the movie’s timeline:

[Nocturama] presents time as indefinite, opposing conceptions of the present as concrete or ahistorical even as it works to augment the gravity of the present happening. Bonello’s choice method for achieving this is through shaping the film’s timeline into something that, were it to be graphed out, might resemble a lightning bolt — working through narrative events from one vantage only to fold back and re-show the same temporal moment again (and again). Many of his time warps are accompanied by either the reappearance of an onscreen time stamp or a repeated music cue, but many others arrive unmarked — especially when Bonello moves us further back in time, such as an extended detour through the initial planning stages for the attack — destabilizing our footing on already tremulous turf.

Parisian Rocky (director Amalric) is taking an American burlesque show on tour through France (but not Paris, because he can’t get a venue). It’s not the most sharply defined storyline, so you just have to enjoy hanging out with this crew, which I did.

Amalric gives himself a weird character tic, always asking hotels and bars to turn off their TVs and music, and stealing handfuls of candies and matchbooks from sample bowls. He drags his kids to a couple of tour stops, and everyone sings a Radiohead song in a hotel lobby.

It’s a warm-hearted movie, nothing amazing until the (amazing) last few seconds. I’ll watch Amalric in almost anything (not Quantum of Solace), and I gradually became able to tell the women apart and get a sense of who they were, but really need another couple of hours.

Skipped the Golden Globes and watched this non-award-winning Rohmer movie instead. Rohmer’s lead characters aren’t always cool cats. In this case, kinda obsessive, immature Francois sees the ex of his girlfriend Anne (Marie Rivière, star of Autumn Tale) leaving her apartment, then runs into him again later and stalks him to the park. While inexpertly following this guy (Mathieu Carrière, a German who appeared in some Volker Schlöndorff movies and India Song) with another girl, clueless Francois runs into super-cute (too young) Lucie, who figures out what he’s up to and helps out as a laugh. Francois stays on the trail after they part, finds out the ex was just walking around with his sister, goes to meet his fellow spy but catches Lucie with her boyfriend and sends a postcard instead. So the title refers to the ex (a pilot), whose wife isn’t even in the movie.

Lucie:

“It is impossible to think about nothing.” The first of the six-film Comedies and Proverbs series. Pretty fun little adventure, but not sure that I got anything meaningful out of it, least of all an illustration of why it is impossible to think about nothing.

Ebert:

The story … reveals little of the texture of this film, which Is about how goofy, sad and driven we can be, especially when our hearts are fueled by self-made loneliness. There’s a lot of talk in this movie … There needs to be a lot of talk, because The Aviator’s Wife isn’t about actions but about reactions, speculations, false leads, hurtful suspicions and romantic insecurity. We need to live within these weaknesses for a time in order to understand them. … The ending, in which the hero chooses alienation over the simplicity of accepting happiness, is sad, and sadder still in that we immediately identify with it.

Francois and Anne:

Lead guy Philippe Marlaud had been in a Maurice Pialat film, died at 22 in a camping accident a few months after this opened, and the young Anne-Laure Meury would return in Rohmer’s Boyfriends and Girlfriends.

2016/17: Watched the new blu-ray and updated the 2008 writeup below.

The brother of Morag (Geraldine Chaplin, then of Cría cuervos and The Three Musketeers, later of Love on the Ground and Talk To Her) is killed. She seeks revenge on pirate queen Giulia (Bernadette Lafont, Sarah in Out 1, also Genealogies of a Crime), infiltrates the castle with help of traitorous Erika (Kika Markham of Truffaut’s Two English Girls and Dennis Potter’s Blade on the Feather). Gradually all of Giulia’s associates are killed off, then G & M stab each other to death, fall to the ground dying and laughing.

Early ambush attempt:

Feels more mysterious and less straightforward than Duelle even though there’s less talk of magic in this one. Morag is apparently the moon goddess and Giulia the sun goddess, though they don’t reveal their powers until the last half hour. I didn’t do the best job keeping track of the minor characters, but I’m almost positive that some of them – including Morag’s brother – keep dying then reappearing in later scenes. In fact, I guess one of the two male pirates, “Jacob” (Humbert Balsan of Lancelot of the Lake, later an important film producer) is also her brother “Shane,” which complicates the plot in ways I no longer understand.

The men of the castle, Jacob and Ludovico:

There are gas lamps and castles and swordfights and magic, all very period, but then there is lots of cool, modern (clearly 70’s) clothing and guns and motorboats. And nobody is cooler than Bernadette Lafont in her bellbottomed pink leather suit (which creaks loudly when she moves). Watching her and Chaplin’s movements through the scenes, and to a lesser degree the other male pirate Larrio Ekson, are the best part of the movie and sometimes appear to be its entire point.

As beautiful and simple as the sun: Giulia with pink jeans on:

Morag and Erika have meetings in which they sit or walk robotically and recite lines in English from the play The Revenger’s Tragedy, so maybe reading that would help somewhat. Then again, D. Ehrenstein says “Analysis begins to run into a series of dead ends. The texts utilized as central sources of quotation… Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy in Noroît — are merely pre-texts, having nothing to say about the films that enclose them, posed in the narrative as subjects for further research.”

As in Duelle, whenever there’s music in a scene the musicians are part of that scene, even when they realistically would’ve left the room. Maybe right before the shot begins Giulia has threatened their lives and told them to play, no matter what. There are long stretches with no spoken dialogue. Lighting mostly looks natural indoors. This and Duelle were Rivette’s first films shot by William Lubtchansky, who would shoot most of the rest of the films (not Hurlevent). William is husband to Nicole L., who edited everything for forty years from L’Amour Fou to Around a Small Mountain.

Morag killing Regina:

Erika playing Morag in the reenactment of previous scene:

Morag playing Regina getting killed by skullfaced Erika:

I wish I knew how this movie’s title was pronounced, because every time I think of it, Fred Schneider sings “here comes a narwhal!” in my head. It’s gonna be “narr-WHAA” until some Frenchman tells me otherwise. One site translates the word as “Nor’wester.”

Rivette:

When I was filming Noroît, I was persuaded that we were making a huge commercial success, that it was an adventure film that would have great appeal … When the film didn’t come out, when it was considered un-showable … I was surprised. I don’t consider myself … unfortunately, I’m not very lucid when it comes to the potential success of my projects.

J. Reichert:

As with all good revenge dramas (this one inspired by bloody Jacobean plays), the mass of killings begin to far outweigh the initial wrong done and the angel of vengeance experiences moments of doubts and sympathy for her marks—there’s betrayal as well. Rivette shorthands these narratively rich moments, suggesting them in a glance, a line, a change of Chaplin’s face, so that he can maintain focus on the ballet-like movement of his players through space, where stowing recently acquired treasure takes on the aspect of slow-motion acrobatics. The drama climaxes in a clifftop masquerade ball/murder spree/dance performance shot across what looks like infrared, B&W, and color, that combines violence and poetry into a mix that’s literally unlike anything I’ve seen.

Doomed dance party:

Giulia (left) and Morag having stabbed each other to death:

D. Ehrenstein:

The films are devoted to methods that while seeming to reach representational specificity, do so in a manner designed to cancel all possible affectivity. The settings and costumes of Duelle suggest their display in a reserved “theatrical” style, but the camera, while tracking smoothly, does so far too energetically, and when coupled with the film’s nervous angular montage rhythms, disrupts the space it has spent so much time constructing. Likewise each setting (casino, hotel, aquarium, ballet school, race track, park, subway, dance hall, and greenhouse in Duelle, castle by the sea in Noroît) suggests the possibility of an atmosphere the mise en scene never seems directly to create (as in Resnais, Franju, Fellini, etc.).

Similarly acting styles clash with one another. Flip off-hand cool (Bulle Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) wars with highly stylized affectation (Hermine Karaheuz, Geraldine Chaplin) rather than the work holding to the latter mentioned category for an overall tone as would be logically demanded by a project of this sort … The film’s essence is thus not reducible to a specific moment, but must be seen in the working through of its positive/negative gestures — unfixed points neither within nor without the films.

Poster shot: Morag and Shane… or is it Jacob?

Michael Graham:

Like any Rivette film, [Noroît] took shape gradually, drawing on a large number of deliberately chosen ideas and as many fortuitous circumstances. As important as Rivette’s interest in Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (drawn to his attention by Eduardo De Gregorio), and the curious traditions surrounding the period of Carnival, was the availability of Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont together with that of a group of dancers from Carolyn Carlson’s company. It must be kept in mind that Rivette often conceives a film around particular people; Celine et Julie began as ‘a film for Juliet Berto’. Any casting decision is consequently of primary importance. Further, the selection of Brittany as a location arose as much from certain union allowances permitting a six day week outside Paris, as from a vague desire to spend some time in the country. Once the different ideas and practical considerations begin to sort themselves out and interact, the narrative itself starts to acquire definition. Even after shooting has begun, however, Rivette is enormously influenced by what he may discover the actors capable of achieving.

Emotionally delicate movie focusing first on two young kids who saw their teacher’s classroom suicide, then on Mr. Lazhar from Algeria who lies about his past in order to get a job as substitute teacher. Turns out he was a restaurant manager and his wife the professor (?) was murdered for having unpopular opinions, along with both of their kids in Algeria. So, teacher and class are both grieving, and somewhat help each other along in a less touchy-feely way than one would expect from a plot description.

M. D’Angelo: “I did like that he lies about having smacked one of the kids upside the head, however, and that nothing ever comes of it – just an everyday ass-covering.”

J. Anderson in Cinema Scope:

French-speaking audiences may detect parallels between Lazhar’s story and that of the man who plays him. A popular actor, playwright, and satirist in Algeria, Fellag exiled himself to France after the clampdown on freedom of expression in his homeland manifested itself as a bomb attack on one of his productions. Usually an exuberant performer onstage, the 51-year-old Fellag handles his role here with a quiet precision and a keen sensitivity to his fellow actors that is all the more remarkable when you consider that this could have literally been a one-man show. Indeed, the play on which Falardeau’s film is based — by Québécois playwright Evelyne de la Chenelière — was written for a solo performer.

Iris is brought to a spooky boarding school by coffin (it’s actually not that spooky, except for the fact that it appears in a strange movie called Innocence and people are brought there via coffin), is given a schedule and a colored-ribbon hierarchy, dance lessons, play time and a series of rules to never break, then we wait to see what happens when each rule is broken.

The instructors, including Marion Cotillard, the same year she was so good in A Very Long Engagement, and Hélène de Fougerolles of Va Savoir, are businesslike with a vague sadness – rumor is they’re former students who tried to escape and are punished by remaining here forever. Normal students take dance classes for a few years, then in their final year they perform in front of a paying audience in an underground theater that seems like it’s going to be more sinister than turns out, but the movie sticks to its title until its final images when the graduated students are released into the world, and we see our first glimpse of masculinity for 110 minutes.

“Obedience is the only path to happiness.”

Based on a 1903 story from the author of Pandora’s Box and shot with all natural light by Benoît Debie (Calvaire, Irreversible). Supposed to be less story-driven than a sumptuous sensual experience, so it’s a shame I watched in SD. But I had it on my mind since her new movie is being released and since I was just looking at greatest-film polls (somehow wrongly thinking that this one appeared on the BBC list), so was anxious to watch.

A runaway:

M. D’Angelo:

Another disappointingly blatant allegory — they’re back in fashion, it seems — but in this case it doesn’t matter so much, as Hadzihalilovic’s unnervingly precise direction kept me thoroughly engrossed … the opening sequence of “establishing shots” alone is so exquisitely judged, in terms of composition and juxtaposition and even duration, that it more than compensates for the jejune content.

Sept. 2016:
Watched this again in the beautiful blu-ray restoration, along with Agnes Varda’s documentary. Of course, I take back the comment below that the music is unmemorable – I find no showtunes memorable until I’ve heard them a second time, and now I feel like I’ve known the twins’ theme song forever. Had completely forgotten that there’s a murder in this movie, a family friend who hangs around the café is arrested for chopping up a girl named Lola-Lola (Blue Angel reference?). Re: the English version of The Young Girls, it’s glimpsed in the Varda doc, but apparently nobody thought it worth restoring and adding to this box set, so that’s probably the final word on that.

Transporter Bridge, transport me away:

Oct. 2007:
Not a total musical like Umbrellas was, and no connecting characters between the two, just a brief mention of the town of Cherbourg. This one has the same longing tone as the previous film in parts, but mostly it’s a much sunnier film, a loving, colorful, musical tribute to Hollywood escapist classics.

At this point, Demy was far out of touch tonally with his French New Wave contemporaries. Umbrellas characters were at least affected by the ongoing war, but Rochefort, coming after the more politically-engaged Muriel and Paris Belong To Us and The War Is Over, is in its own insular world for the most part. A few years later, after the May ’68 riots and Godard’s and Marker’s hard turns to the left, after even Demy’s wife Agnes Varda had filmed Black Panthers and contributed to the Far from Vietnam project, Demy would continue to go his own way, filming a musical fantasy fairy-tale with Deneuve and Jean Marais in 1970. By that point, I gather that he was not well-liked by his New Wave filmmaker/critic contemporaries. I don’t think he is well-liked still… I’ve been reading that his career was pretty uneven, and only a quarter of his films are talked about regularly. I guess Demy’s films have had to be recontextualized to be appreciated, removed from the radical French 60’s and enjoyed as pure cinema.

Danielle Darrieux (star of Madame De… and the cheating wife in La Ronde, later in 8 Women & Demy’s Une chambre en ville) plays Yvonne, mother of Catherine Deneuve, her tragic real-life sister Françoise Dorléac (of The Soft Skin and Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake) and young Boubou.

Yvonne regrets having left Boubou’s father Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli) ten years ago. Delphine (Deneuve) keeps missing her dream man, an artist/poet doing his military service, Jacques Perrin (of Donkey Skin, Cinema Paradiso, the Kieslowski-penned 2005 Hell). Solange (Dorléac) dreams of meeting famous American composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). And they all (more or less) meet up and fall in love at the end of the movie.

L-R below: Darrieux, salesman George Chakiris (West Side Story), Josette, romantic Perrin, George’s partner Bill, Gramps

Guess I’m not so musical-savvy, don’t know what to say about this one stylistically. I mean, it’s bright and colorful and fun, less sense of loss and longing than Umbrellas, but I kind of miss that. Gene Kelly is a cutie, fits in just fine.

Katy asks why the mother has to work all day at her diner to get by, while her daughters live high in their fancy apartment and pretty dresses from teaching song and dance lessons. Are the realism and the fantasy rubbing against each other uncomfortably, or is the mother paying for Boubou’s school and still helping to support the girls until they get married? If the latter, I’d hope they’d take a shift at the diner once in a while.

This and Umbrellas had a funny combination of set and location shooting, with Demy doing location shots in the actual towns, but repainting the storefronts to his liking. Nice music, nothing memorable for me, having heard it just once. The girls refer to Jules and Jim and composer Michel Legrand. The camera should count as a cast member since it is engaged by the other characters and dances around with them. A self-reflexive movie then, both in its use of the camera and its reference to musical convention. Bright, solid primary colors abound.

Jonathan Rosenbaum: “There are English-dubbed versions of both Umbrellas and Young Girls; I haven’t seen the latter, but the English version of Umbrellas is so unrelievedly awful that I’m happy to have missed the dubbed Young Girls.” Although if the IMDB trivia page is to be believed, Rochefort was fully shot in English as well as French, so it might be worth hunting down an English version if it still exists anywhere.

Varda cameo as the shortest nun:

Caroline Layde for Senses of Cinema:

However undemanding and lollipop Demy’s films may appear, they present some nuance and sophisticated intertext, and they share a certain charm, vivid and unified. His films inhabit worlds in themselves that may peripherally refer to social reality and the real world but remain content as alternate realities of poetry, color, and music … Demy’s consistency of vision itself justifies his inclusion among the “auteurs”, defined by André Bazin and François Truffaut and expanded by Andrew Sarris as distinguishing themselves with their salient visual language from mere metteurs-en-scène. Demy certainly created a signature style of poetry and innocence and clung to it. Yet this quality also has a sophisticated aspect, suggesting the dream worlds of the surrealists and of Demy’s inspiration, Jean Cocteau. It is fitting that the American critic Gary Carey has described Demy as “the Joseph Cornell of French cinema”.


The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993, Agnes Varda)

The town of Rochefort threw a party and screening for the 25th anniversary, invited Demy’s family, Legrand, the set designer, the producer and cast. Bittersweet memories for some, pure joy for others. Film and video of the festivities along with film clips and Varda’s excellent 16mm footage from behind the scenes.

“The memory of happiness is perhaps also happiness.”

Jacques on set: