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:

Sure it’s the cutest-ever story of an orphan mouse who befriends a hermit criminal bear, but it also has major subplots about teeth theft at the behest of a sinister orphanage.

Also there’s a family with a dentist mom who works across the street from her candy seller husband, which is funny and low-key cynical but they don’t seem to deserve the chaos Ernest wreaks upon their businesses.

Beautiful watercolor backgrounds, often fading away at the edges. According to the codirector the writing was influenced by Studio Ghibli (naturally) and Kikujiro (ha!).

I was crazy about it, but something seemed off with the English voices. After just having seen The Little Prince and feeling Jeff Bridges was just perfect as the inventor neighbor, I wasn’t feeling Forest Whitaker as Ernest. The movie is short, so I watched it again in French with original Ernest Lambert Wilson (the American in Not On The Lips), which was perhaps an improvement, perhaps not, but either way a joy to see twice.

2006:
The first time I was too blown away by how wonderful this movie is, so entranced by its beauty and mesmerized by the entirely-sung dialogue to quite believe what I was seeing and hearing. Knew I’d have to see it again soon to make sure the dream was true. Still a nearly perfect movie… even more so now that I understand the singing and the flow and the story, and can just get caught up in it.

2016:
Finally looking perfect on blu-ray – I wasn’t thrilled how some colors on the 1990’s film print restoration jittered like a Nintendo game with too many enemies onscreen. Also I’m watching this for the first time since seeing Lola, so that movie’s lead character Roland Cassard as the jeweler who marries Deneuve and his brief Lola-flashback scene are new sources of wonder.

Meeting Roland at Mr. Dubourg’s place – he’s back there quietly gazing at Geneviève.

Other things noticed: how depressed and sullen Guy is after returning from the Algerian war… the crazy wallpaper in the movie and how it clashes and blends with the brightly colored clothing… and the auto mechanic male lead, from Demy who grew up in an auto garage.

When visibly pregnant Geneviève breaks down and agrees to marry Roland: “If he refuses me as I am, it means he doesn’t have deep feelings for me. If, by some extraordinary chance, he accepts me, I’ll have no reason to doubt him, and I’d be a fool to turn him away.”

And on Guy: “I would have died for him…”

Rosalie Varda played the lovers’ daughter in the final gas station scene – I saw Rosalie again in Uncle Yanco the same day.

Didn’t expect to find a 1954 photo of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais holding a Fernand Léger print in the blu-ray extras:

This is France, but we’re not bothering with subtitles or even accents, because those hadn’t been invented yet in the 1950’s. WWI, fighting against Germany, with rightly celebrated tracking shots through the trenches, from the clueless higher-ups patrolling the men they know nothing about, to the middleman Major Kirk Douglas, a serious star some five years after The Big Sky. Posh general Adolphe Menjou (in one of his final films) has pressured scar-faced general George Macready (evil older husband of Gilda) into commanding an attack to capture a hill in exchange for a promotion. The attack will be a huge failure, killing hundreds of men. Two higher-ups (Gen. George and Lt. Roget) will act supremely dishonorably, the former by sending men to die in a pointless and poorly-planned maneuver and ordering fire upon his own troops, the latter by personally killing a subordinate with a grenade in a cowardly moment. But both will get off without punishment, instead picking three soldier representatives to die by firing squad for the operation’s failure, futilely defended in military court by Kirk.

Three dead men: Paris (Kiss Me Deadly star Ralph Meeker) because he’s the only witness to Lt. Roget’s murder of a soldier, Ferol (Timothy Carey, who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie, but it’s wonderful) and Arnaud (Lloyd the Bartender from The Shining), who had a great pre-fight speech about death vs. pain, and gets knocked down by Ferol in their holding cell and has to be executed while unconscious on a stretcher.

I thought of it as a powerful anti-war film (with a different approach to the insanity of war than Dr. Strangelove), but Gary Giddins’s commentary says it’s not exactly anti-war, but “about power, class, manipulation and the absurdity of war as a continuation of those civilian instincts.” He also says the pre-battle politicking between officers isn’t in the source novel.

The Future Mrs. Kubrick:

Menjou at Marienbad:

J. Naremore:

Kubrick is especially good at drawing sharp visual and aural contrasts between the château where the generals plan the war and the trenches where the war is fought. The Schleissheim Palace outside Munich, where much of the action takes place, later became a location for another film that depicts upper-class intrigues amid the architecture of a decadent past – Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad – and the opening sequence in the palace interior, where Adolphe Menjou suavely manipulates the ramrod stiff but insecure George Macready, was influenced by one of Kubrick’s favorite directors, Max Ophuls, who had died on the day it was staged.

Two friends, spiky-haired Fuchs and moppy Witold, rent a room from Sabine Azéma (maintaining her manic energy from Wild Grass) and Jean-Francois Balmer (That Day, Chabrol’s Madame Bovary). They share the house with young couple Lena (Victória Guerra of Lines of Wellington) and Lucien (Andy Gillet, Celadon himself) and Azéma’s niece/maid Catherette. Then the boarders are invited on a trip to the country with the family. That’s all that happens – but not really, as most of the characters start out wired, talking nonstop and behaving strangely, and animals and people may or may not be dying, showing up hanging from trees. At the end I thought it was all quite astounding to watch, but wasn’t sure what it all meant.

K. Uhlich:

What does it all mean? Wrong question. And it’s probably absurd to even ask. Better, instead, to fully submit to Žuławski’s last symphony of insanity and paranoia, which ends, cheekily enough, with a gag reel (quite the meta final statement).

C. Huber in Cinema Scope has the best explanation of what is actually happening here:

Attempting to forge order from the chaos of the real world, Witold builds a private cosmos founded on arbitrary associations. Increasingly aware of facing a universe of possibilities, in which every connection can be randomly made, and thus is equally profound and silly … Witold is seized by an existential vertigo … In short, it becomes impossible to distinguish the awesome from the absurd, and Zulawski’s cinema of intensity has been zig-zagging with furious power between those two poles for nearly half a century.

Bonkers and gorgeous-looking, as I’d hope and expect from the late Zulawski (only the second of his films I’ve seen, after Possession), shot by young André Szankowski, who was in demand by the old masters (Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon, Oliveira’s Em Século de Energia). Based on a book by Witold Gombrowicz (which does indeed feature a writer lead character named Witold), who has also been adapted by Skolimowski (30 Door Key).