Berenice (1954, Eric Rohmer)

An Edgar Allen Poe story about a talky, sickly shut-in who stares at everyday objects all day is an odd choice for your first film. The guy (Rohmer himself!) lives with an epileptic cousin, becomes monomaniacally obsessed with her teeth, and eventually they get engaged since neither can deal with the outside world. But she dies one night, and he takes this very melodramatically, then awakens from a fugue days later having dug up the grave and stolen the teeth. It’s all narration and sound effects, shot by Jacques Rivette, still a couple years before his debut short.

Khan Khanne (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

“This is not a film anymore, although it is my best.” What Godard sent to this year’s Cannes instead of appearing in person. Godard is his usual latter-day self, acting the scatterbrained professor, possibly quoting Hannah Arendt and/or referencing Chris Marker, cutting in excerpts from Alphaville and King Lear, using camera shots and sound editing that make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, ultimately making little sense to me, but with a weirdo bravado.

Adieu a TNS (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

Swaying, smoking, Godard recites a singsongy poem over gentle accordion in three parts, the framing tighter each time. I’ve read that this was “a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg.”

The Accordion (2010, Jafar Panahi)

Two brothers play music for spare change, not realizing they’re outside a mosque. A guy threatens to report them to the police, takes their accordion and runs. But it turns out he’s just a poor bastard hoping to earn money with the instrument, so the kids join him instead of killing him with a rock, which had been the other option.

The Nest (2014, David Cronenberg)

Single-take nine-minute shot from first-person perspective of surgeon (Cronenberg) interviewing patient (Evelyne Brochu, Tom’s ally/coworker in Tom at the Farm) who claims she has a wasps nest inside her left breast. Doubles as a commissioned short for some exhibition and a trailer for his first novel, Consumed, out this fall.

Gradiva (2014, Leos Carax)

Another gallery commission featuring a naked girl. This time the girl has gone to buy cigarettes, returns and has a short conversation with Rodin’s The Thinker.

The Legend of Hallowdega (2010, Terry Gilliam)

Unfunny fake investigation into haunted goings-on at the Talladega racetrack from a Daily Show writer. Just terrible. I won’t give away the twist comedic ending because I’m too embarrassed. Ends with a nice Wolf Parade song, at least.

On demande une brute (1934, Charles Barrois)

Early Jacques Tati, who wrote and starred as a hapless actor who accidentally signs up to be a wrestler. Despite all the time spent on audition scenes and the wrestling match, the only good bit is when he tries to keep his shrew wife from absentmindedly eating a pet fish at the dinner table.

Gravesend (2007, Steve McQueen)

Beautiful shots that seem to go on longer than they should, check, yep it’s the guy who made Hunger. One of those art installation pieces that is very cool to read about and less fun to watch. I wanted to like it, and almost did…

From the official description:

Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. .. coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.

Away From It All (1979, John Cleese & Clare Taylor)

Fake travelogue disguised to look and sound like a real one (unless you recognize John Cleese’s voice), very gradually straying from the company line, slipping in notes of humor and aggression. Stock footage takes us from Rome to Venice to Ireland to Bulgaria to Vienna to New York, back to Venice to Acapulco, to a rapid montage of vacation spots as the narrator begins ranting about existential terror. Accompanied Life of Brian in British theaters.

Only two people to mention here: Chomet, creator of Triplets of Belleville, and Jacques Tati, who wrote the partly autobiographical script. Having just watched a couple of Tati movies and gotten a feel for his comedy, this seemed about 10% Tati and 90% Chomet. Maybe that’s underselling it, since Chomet’s previous film was obviously Tati-influenced, with its dialogue-free physical comedy (not to mention the clip from Jour de Fete the triplets watch in bed).

There is a Tatiesque magician, tall guy, somewhat shabby, with an umbrella, a pretty good act and a fed-up rabbit. Rock and roll is in, and magic acts are out, so he finds himself unemployed. Invited to Scotland by a drunken fan, he meets a young girl named Alice, takes her to Edinburgh, but she has expensive tastes so he takes night jobs while trying to continue his magic career. Movie takes place around 1958-60, I think (Mon Oncle is in theaters), while the events on which it’s based would have been in the 40’s. In the end, the magician does not get the girl pregnant then abandon her. Instead she meets a nice boy closer to her own age and goes off with him, the illusionist quietly leaving town unmissed by his now-destitute vaudeville friends.

No spoken dialogue in any real language, just mumblings, like those animated shorts from weird countries that purposely include no dialogue so their movie can play festivals without need for subtitles or dubbing. Katy liked it alright but found it too sad, told me it’s at least better than Triplets, complimented the animation remarking on the characters’ physical presence, the heaviness of their steps.

It’s hard for me to write about Jacques Tati movies, since mostly what I do is recount a movie’s story and actors I’ve seen before, and Tati films have almost no story and no actors I’ve seen before. Watched this one because I’d just seen M. Hulot’s Holiday when I found out The Illusionist would be playing theaters here, and thought I’d keep the Tati ball rolling.

Tati himself stars as a town postman inspired by an American newsreel and by his taunting neighbors to deliver the mail faster and more efficiently. So at least it has more of a story than M. Hulot’s Holiday (its story: “everyone is on vacation”) but really it’s the same type of movie as Holiday, gently introducing a bunch of characters and setting up unassuming comic situations which overlap in time and place, as Tati’s character guides us around town. This time I had even less sense than usual of who’s who in the cast, possibly because we watched the roughly-restored color version (first French film to be shot in color) on our TV, and in the wide shots (most of the film seems to be wide shots) faces looked blurry.

Funny that while he was breaking technological barriers, experimenting with color in this film and with scale in Playtime, he made such backward-looking movies. This may as well have been a silent film, and The Illusionist looks wistfully back from the late 50’s towards the heyday of vaudeville. Parade was his final anachronism, being one of the first-ever features shot on video and featuring mime performances in a circus tent. I can’t say I fell in love with Jour de fete, just found it to be a pleasant good time, but something about Tati’s movies and his career always keeps me fascinated, so I’m sure I’ll come back to watch it again.

I saw this ages ago and didn’t get it. Now that I’ve enjoyed Mon Oncle and seen Playtime a few times, I wasn’t thrown by Tati’s Buster Keatonesque style – series of gags setting up the next series of gags, with funny sound effects but almost no dialogue. Other notable similarities to Playtime: jokes about malfunctioning technology (mostly automobiles, but also an indecipherable train station announcement speaker) and an extended delay before the first appearance of our hero Tati/Hulot.

It’s a weirdly understated gag movie – some big slapstick scenes like when Hulot sets off a box full of fireworks, but mostly more subtle. There are enough unnamed characters intersecting in different ways in each scene to make Altman proud (I especially noticed a young woman with a Princess Leia hairdo).

I watched the original full-length version – most DVDs only have Tati’s own re-edit from the 70’s. I’m sure that by the time I rent the Criterion and watch the shorter version I won’t be able to precisely recall the differences. Half of Tati’s movies exist in multiple versions – Jour de fete is in black and white and color, Mon Oncle is in French and English and Playtime had a bunch of different edits.

Leia with an insufferable leftist who insists on talking politics while everyone is on vacation:

Hulot annoying a hotel worker:

A tumbling act vaults in different styles according to their costumes (hockey players, military parade). Magicians one-up each other. The audience participates. We go backstage and into the lobby. Tati mimes at different sports (badminton, soccer, fishing)…

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Not a documentary of a circus performance but a film (make that a video, one of the first video-shot features, after 200 Motels) with a circus performance in it. Doesn’t look like an existing, functioning circus but a soundstage with paid extras for audience members, complete with choreographed “backstage” scenes. Amused me as well as any real circus (and more than Fellini’s The Clowns). Video quality on my copy was below average, but the editing (and lack of talking heads/announcers/titles) differentiates it from, say, a period PBS special on a circus, and the pacing would confirm Tati as director, rather than simply performer, even if his name wasn’t there in the credits. Whole thing has an attractive draw to it… I liked it better than I thought I should, can’t say just why.

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Rosenbaum has a good theory: “[a] gag is more likely to make us smile than laugh; but the cumulative effect of dozens of such underplayed gags is to make reality itself seem both slightly off-kilter and alive with comic possibilities––every moment brims with potential gags that often require an audience’s alert participation in order to be noticed at all.” He has written a long, perceptive article which makes me want to watch this again immediately.

Wow, this is one of my favorite movies now. I was right about watching it in the theater (on film)… really helped see everything properly. More important, possibly, was seeing it for a second time, already knowing the pace and the organization of story (such as there is a story), being able to sit back and enjoy.

First third (?) of the movie is an architectural dream, all buildings and structure and angles, beautiful and disorienting. Whole movie is concerned with structure and glass.

Funny, but not punchline-funny so much as enjoyable and light, building up towards the end of the crazy restaurant sequence when suddenly humor’s flying from all directions.

I feel like I “got it” this time, but also feel like I missed a lot. Not in a bad way, more in a “could see this again and again” way.

I’d thought Mr. Hulot wasn’t in this one but of course he is. What was I thinking of… Parade?

Katy, Jimmy, Misty, even Adam liked it.