Haiti, 1962: a guy dies after walking in shoes cursed with ashes of puffer-fish- innards, becomes part of an army of twilight zombies cutting cane, but awakens from his half-life and returns home.

Decades later, a rich white girl comes along with her petty problems and lack of belief or understanding, causing someone to ruin their life. The white girl is boarding-school Fanny, who befriends Haitian zombi child Melissa. Heartbroken after being dumped, Fanny visits Melissa’s mambo aunt Katy, paying an absurd amount for an improper ritual which accidentally summons the demon god Baron Samedi from that Goldeneye game.

Child (with killer phone case):

Zombi:

Violet Lucca in Reverse Shot:

The Baron taunts Katy for disrespecting her father, and, to use a Lynchian expression, something really bad happens to the girl and the woman. (What, exactly, we do not know, except that they are both being punished.) In the final shot, Mélissa emerges from an endless darkness wearing a white dress, the color of Dambala; for the rest of the West, it will likely read a symbol of purity. It’s perhaps the only image that could make sense at that point, unsatisfying as it may be. Receiving closure from relationships, stories, or life isn’t universally guaranteed.

Nocturama reference:

Mambo X-fade:

A Day in the Country (1936, Jean Renoir)

Set in 1860, a frivolous comedy that becomes a serious romantic drama, all in forty minutes. Watching this now because I just saw a remake in episode five of La Flor. Mr. Dufour, his wife Juliette, daughter Henriette, a deaf elder, and H’s fiancee Anatole take a day vacation, stop at a rural restaurant, picnic under a cherry tree and get wine drunk, then go boating.

Two local men, Henri (played by Renoir’s assistant director) and Rodolphe, are introduced having heavy conversation about the risks of seducing random women. A minute later, they’re interested in the Dufour ladies, so they lend the men fishing poles to get rid of them, and offer themselves as boat guides. Henri scores with the daughter, and years later she’s married to Anatole, an absolute idiot, sees Henri again and says she thinks of him every night.

Katy wasn’t interested, because she cancelled Renoir for being colonialist after watching The River with me thirteen years ago. Abandoned after shooting in 1936, finished and released ten years later, although besides its unusual length, I get no sense of it being incomplete. There are hours of blu extras, but instead I made myself a French shorts feast by watching all my unseen Etaix and Tati shorts from the Criterion sets.


Rupture (1961, Pierre Etaix)

Mostly wordless, with exaggerated sound effects. His girl dumps him via mail, and he attempts to write a letter in reply, but he’s not terribly competent. After a suicide gag (gun-shaped cigarette lighter), he kills himself through idiocy. Etaix’s film debut, also the debut of cowriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who would write six major Buñuel films.


Happy Anniversary (1962, Pierre Etaix)

Etaix tries to pick up a few things on his way home for an anniversary meal with his sweetheart, but every stop causes major problems and delays, and she starts getting loaded on wine and appetizers while waiting. Good subplot of a guy in the middle of a shave who gets up to move his car, loses his spot and ends up driving in circles until the barber closes. More sophisticated than last year’s short (and a better traffic movie than Trafic), won an oscar the same year the Hubleys won for The Hole.


Gai Dimanche (1935)

“Fun Sunday” A couple of no-good drunks and thieves borrow a car and act like tour guides. Tall Tati is paired with shorter comic Rhum, and it’s odd to see Jacques as a crook and a motormouth. The sync sound goes in and out, the editing can be dodgy, but like the scene where our two scoundrels underfeed the tourists while distracting them with magic tricks, the movie gets tricked out with star wipes and slide whistles. Written by the two clowns, directed by Jacques Berr, who made some 60 shorts.


School for Postmen (1946)

After a training regimen by high-pitched boss Paul Demange, postman Tati heads out on his neighborhood route then to catch the mail plane. Overall great, a condensed and superior version of Jour de Fete.


Cours du soir (1967)

“Evening Classes” Tati teaches a course on observation, miming smoking as different personalities, demonstrating a specific way of stumbling up some stairs and walking into a wall, remaking some of his own film scenes. A meta-Tati short, showing the care that goes into each action in his features, though not a barrel of laughs on its own. Same year as Playtime with the same DP – director Nicolas Ribowski was Tati’s assistant director on the feature.


Dégustation maison (1977)

“House Specialty” Filmed by Tati’s daughter Sophie Tatischeff (who also edited Trafic) and shot in the Jour de fête town. A real light sketch, in which a chatty bunch of locals eats tarts.


Forza Bastia (1978)

Not really fitting in at all, though credited to Tati, this is a doc about the excitement around a big soccer match. Lots of props and flags – it looks like soccer merch must be France’s main product. Sweeping water off the field into a metal bucket with an ordinary broom looks like a futile endeavor.

Shots seem indifferently framed, scenes make no sense, the cameras seem low-grade… but his films are far-between now, and this showed up on best-of-decade lists, and in particular the experimental/avant-garde/art list I’ve been following… and Godard has spent more time than anyone thinking about the moving image, so even if I’m not especially entertained, there must be something here.

The sound pans, then cuts abruptly, as does the picture. Was that… a fart joke? Yup, and a conversation about pooping later. Really a lot of nudity and flickering televisions. At least one of the nude couples is an affair (“What does your husband do?”). I assumed while watching that the couples in the first half and second half were the same, maybe at different times, but no, the wikis tell me they were “intentionally cast to physically resemble each other.” The four lead actors were not well-known – their recent roles at the time included Woman in tears, Boxing trainer, Hotel receptionist, and French woman #3.

Originally, I put this off because I couldn’t see it in 3D, and maybe I should’ve put it off some more, because THE SHOT is missing in my version.

Beginning of THE SHOT:

A quarter of the movie is Godard taking his dog for a walk. White God came out the same year, so Godard’s dog Roxy had to settle for the Palme Dog runner-up. I’d still like to see Mommy and Mr. Turner and Saint Laurent from that year’s competition, the others not so much.

AO Scott called it “baffling and beautiful, a flurry of musical and literary snippets arrayed in counterpoint to a series of brilliantly colored and hauntingly evocative pictures.” There’s more writing, and I meant to watch this twice, but who’s got time anymore. I liked it about as much as other Godard features I’ve seen from this century: Notre Musique, In Praise of Love, Film Socialism… but give me Nouvelle Vague any day.

Yoav’s orange coat won the big prize at Berlin this year. We’re still catching up with the year in fests – after this, we saw Honeyland (Sundance) and Atlantics (Cannes), and I hold out stupid hope for Vitalina Varela (Locarno) to play in this town. Too bad that Venice voted to give no awards this year, guess I’ll have to run with critical faves About Endlessness and Cold Case Hammarskjöld.

I watched this – in theaters, no less – but couldn’t fathom what to write about it. Then I read Theo’s review, which is perfect. Tom Mercier made an impression as our French-obsessed Israeli, will appear in the next Luca Guadagnino joint. The beautiful rich boy he fortunately runs into is Quentin Dolmaire (My Golden Days), and his girl is Louise Chevillotte (Lover for a Day). My first Nadav Lapid after meaning to catch up with Policeman then The Kindergarten Teacher all decade.

They Might Be Giants “I Left My Body” still has the edge, but this was good too. Told out of order, we see two-handed Naoufel stalking a girl he likes, getting a job with her carpenter uncle and building her a wooden igloo (Neil: “isn’t a wooden igloo just a hut?”). Meanwhile his hand, severed through his incompetence with power saws, can apparently see eyelessly, kill pigeons, and have little hand-flashbacks on its quest to get back to Naoufel. When it arrives, he’s listening to tapes of his dead parents and thinking about jumping off buildings, and the hand wanders off again.

Mark Kermode:

The primary tone is gentle and melancholic – an almost existential evocation of memory, and the longing to be made whole … Just as the themes of I Lost My Body dextrously juggle light and shade, so the film seamlessly blends 2D and 3D-animation techniques with elements of rotoscoped live-action to create what Clapin calls “an animated world halfway between the tangible and the imaginary”.

We saw Clapin’s Skhizein in an animated shorts program a decade ago – can’t remember it well, but it’s also about a guy who lives in two different places at once. The writer worked on my favorite Jean-Pierre Jeunet movies. Played (won!) Cannes Critics’ Week with a bunch of fascinating-looking features that I could spend all week watching, if I could find any of them.

It’s a good thing Criterion is releasing the slow-moving serious-art early Dumont films on blu-ray, because I need to catch up, and this also gives me auteurist justification for absolutely loving this goony miniseries where aliens visit the town of Lil Quinquin and start duplicating the residents. The twitchy racist cop is given more screen time than ever, but I’m into it this time. Random resident Mr. Leleu gets copied, then Coincoin’s brother Dany, his ex-girl Eve, D’nis, then the captain himself. The Captain and Carpentier find out about the clones, are on the case, guns drawn, with the kids at their side, and then instead of solving the alien mystery, the “Cause I Knew” girl returns as a zombie and the series ends with a full-cast singalong.

Jenn Takahashi opened, promoting her website where she makes fun of things people say on neighborhood message boards, I’m not sure why. My notes say “a variety of weird-tempo rock songs, each better than the last – get the EP” but who was the band? Summer Like The Season? They also say “Katy very tired, did not like movie, then hotel stole her toiletries,” which is accurate, and the Hilton Garden Inn still owes us restitution.

My notes do NOT say anything about the movie, which was a multi-angled portrait of youth at a French water park, mainly memorable for the extremely confident dude who picks up a bunch of girls to meet him after hours.

A series of episodes of Juliette Binoche at various stages of breaking up and getting together with different men, trying to find something that works – mostly conversations shot in longish takes, with one musical exception in the middle. It feels strangely plotted for a conventional movie, and strangely conventional for a Claire Denis movie.

Juliette is breaking up with a banker who wants to continue having an affair and won’t leave his wife – the movie opens with a sex scene between them, and a few scenes later she’s kicking him out of her studio, telling him to never come back. Then there’s a false start with an actor (Denis film veteran Nicolas Duvauchelle), the relationship ending before it really kicked off. Her ex-husband comes over for afternoon sex, then later she tries (and fails) to get back his keys to her apartment (they have a daughter together whom we barely see).

Juliette and the banker:

I think we get an increase in the quality of men as the movie goes on. In the second half, mysterious stranger Sylvain appears at a party, they dance to “At Last” by Etta James and start dating. Juliette is an artist who works with art gallery people – she stands out from them at times, curses their snobbery when on a walk in the country, but they’re still her people and she listens to their bad advice. Terrible wavy-haired Fabrice says she needs to dump Sylvain and date “within her milieu,” she takes this to heart and the lovers argue. She finds out Alex Descas is interested in her (though we’ve seen him with Maxine from the art gallery), and finally there are too many guys with unclear statuses, so she visits a psychic for advice.

Juliette and Sylvain:

Alex and Maxine:

The psychic is Gérard Depardieu, shown in the previous scene breaking up with a girl in a car. Juliette shows him pictures, describes her current possibilities, asks Gérard with whom she can find happiness – and he hilariously adds himself into the mix, describing the kind of man she truly needs with all his own traits. In maybe the movie’s most unusual stylistic quirk, the entire closing credits roll over this scene, so it can cut to black and end after Juliette’s final smile.

Denis fills the supporting cast with fellow filmmakers. The banker from the opening scene is Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men, and before this movie we saw a preview for his The Guardians). Maxine is Josiane Balasko, who has directed movies starring Isaach de Bankolé, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Lonsdale, and so on. Bruno Podalydès is the guy who insists Binoche date within her milieu, has directed nine or ten movies including a remake of The Mystery of the Yellow Room. And Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (who got dumped by Gerard Depardieu) was in Cannes five years ago having written/directed/starred in A Castle in Italy.

This one has an odd structure, opening with a long scene of Mrs. Bouvier being given limited visitation rights to her son Mouton (“Sheep”) in a lawyer’s office, but she is never seen again.

The main section of the film follows Mouton’s work life as an assistant chef at a seaside restaurant. Long takes, long scenes of daily routine – it’s a Slow Cinema thing – then shorter scenes of the same old thing. Mouton starts dating coworker Audrey, but the movie isn’t giving anyone much of a personality or narrative, just spending time with Mouton and the others. Then after an hour, a narrator appears, and at a festival on the jetty some dude drunkenly attacks Mouton with a chainsaw, cutting his arm off.

Group shot: Mouton at far right

Mouton moves away but the movie stays in the same town (Courseulles, on the north coast just across the bay from Le Havre). His friend Louise works at a butcher, gets married to Mimi, has a kid. They live the rest of their lives, as a title card says. Nothing in the movie is especially interesting, but I do keep pondering its unusual structure.

Mimi and Louise:

They remember Sheep:

Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope:

Each scene is invested with an interrogatory naturalism that seems to be imploring just what, exactly, one should be looking for, only to dissolve and leave in its absence the sense that in searching one may be missing the plenitude of the moment. Call it narrative fleecing.

“Life goes on, right?” implores Louise, now with child and no time to write to Mouton. It’s a familiarly wistful sentiment, particularly well suited to cinema’s temporal qualities, but rarely explored with such structural audacity and unsensational curiosity as in Mouton. A vague sense of indifference is immanent in our daily lives, however vigilantly we attempt to observe our departed. Mouton, for all its brute realism, is rather forgiving in this regard, locating pockets of grace in the seemingly forgettable gestures that constitute the hours of a day, and the texture of a life.