Parallel Mothers (2021)

Ho-hum, another year, another exceptionally wonderful Almodóvar movie. Two hours with zero seconds of wasted time – this guy can just make a movie that’s about relationships, but actually about mistaken identity and mourning, but actually about mass murders in wartime. Shot digitally I’m guessing, has a sponsored-by-Apple feel.

Photographer Penelope Cruz and archaeologist Israel Elejalde:

Parallel mother Milena Smit:

Rossy:


The Human Voice (2020)

The least-talky version of this play ever produced, and maybe the shortest movie to ever play Phipps on its own. Absolute luxury mixed with staginess/artificiality.

The Apple sponsorship continues:

A perfectly fine historical drama with some fab lighting and good faces (La Pointe Courte‘s Silvia Monfort). Coming between Beauty and the Beast and Orpheus, it lacks most of the sfx magic of those, but it’s so neglected I was half-expecting it to be lousy. I didn’t even have the correct title, knowing it as The Eagle Has Two Heads, while The Two-Headed Eagle makes more sense.

Monfort is the audience-surrogate newcomer to a castle where the widowed queen has shut herself away for ten years, and is about to hold a ball. Queen Edwige Feuillère (just off starring in a Dostoevsky adaptation) is surprised by a visitor at her window who looks exactly like King Jean Marais, and the bulk of the movie is psychological spy games between these two. She calls him “My Death” (which is very Cocteau) since he’s meant to be an assassin, the corrupt cops outside pretending to search for him. He is of course a poet, and she of course falls for him, in a dignified/suicidal way.

Police chief Jacques Varennes (La Poison) hides in a treehouse, and he and the queen run around giving everyone contradictory orders, until she gets to die with her king as she’s always dreamed (Marais taking a nice fall down the stairs).

The queen uses a room-sized model palace as a shooting gallery:

Final movie watched in the 2010’s. I rewatched Orpheus near the beginning of the decade, and it took me this long to get to the next one. Meant to watch the trilogy closer together, then go through the Lucien Clergue book, but instead it took 15 years and I don’t have the book handy, think it’s in storage. I did find The Eagle Has Two Heads and The Human Voice and The Difficulty of Being, the last of which was written in 1957, so has no wisdom about the making of this film. But like this film, the 1957 book seems very precious and big-headed about the magic powers of Jean’s great poetry.

A semi-sequel, opening with a clip from the end of Orpheus with the dialogue silenced, Jean ends up stepping inside his own film and interacting with his characters Princess Maria Casares and her accomplice Heurtebise. They’ve put Jean on trial for something or other, and this conversation eats up 25 minutes of an 80-minute movie, erasing the memory of the beautiful silence of the opening scene with constant chatter. The underworld actors look terrific at all times, at least. Jean puts himself in the position of being defensive about his art – when you are this explicit about the nature and intent of poetry, it ceases to be poetic. When he first entered the world of his previous film, I thought this is some Beaches of Agnes / Simon Cinema stuff, but this centerpiece trial feels more like an Orpheus DVD extra.

Before the trial, a bewigged time-traveling Jean visits a professor at four times in his life: as a schoolboy (Jean-Pierre Leaud! This played Cannes exactly a year after The 400 Blows), as a baby and a dying old man, and finally the active doctor he’s seeking. He follows a horse-headed man, rediscovers his Orphic character Cégeste, then to the trial, where he gives the best line to another character: “He is a poet, which makes him indispensable, though I don’t know what for.” I liked the lack of set dressing, shooting in an undressed studio and against ancient/timeless walls covered in modern graffiti. Into a Kafkaesque underworld ruled by Yul Brynner, where Jean is javelinned to death then reborn.

From Cocteau’s essay reprinted for the Criterion discs, it seems he intended Orpheus to be the narrative centerpiece between two less-narrative films. And more than those other two, this one was filmed on intuition:

Often, while making the film, I understood so little of what I was producing that I was tempted to call it absurd and to cut it out. At those times, I forced myself to condemn my own judgment and to tell myself that if the film wanted it that way to begin with, it must have had its reasons, or that reason had nothing to do with it.

The essay has one thing in common with The Difficulty of Being: shitting on French audiences, “where every member of an individualistic crowd puts up an instinctive resistance to what is offered him,” for not appreciating poetry and fantasy in cinema. Shot by Roland Pontoizeau, a Resnais associate who’d worked on Le chant du Styrène – the DP of Orpheus was off working with Melville and Rohmer.

AM/PM (1999, Sarah Morris)

Montage of nicely photographed moments within and above a city (Vegas?), somewhat recalling Broadway By Light with the closeups on signage and unique framings of familiar city objects… “the disorienting world of corporate hotels and casinos which utilise and redefine the spectacle in relation to architecture,” per an official description. Each scene of urban life has its own little MIDI song.


Capital (2000, Sarah Morris)

Opens in a parking lot, then moves to things we don’t associate as much with the word capital – Washington DC pedestrians, police, mail sorting, the newspaper. I assume we see Bill Clinton get out of a helicopter, but the picture quality on my copy is worse than ever so I can’t be positive. Finally an edit from a restaurant called The Prime Rib to a close-up of cash money, that’s the capital I’m talkin’ about. The music changes just as frequently as the other film, but here it’s darker and less dance-beatsy. I preferred Henry Hills’ take, called Money… or I’d gladly rewatch AM/PM with the soundtrack from this one. Sarah has made a bunch more movies since these. Her cinematographer moved on to Leprechaun 6: Back 2 tha Hood and the Teen Wolf TV series.


As The Flames Rose (Joao Rui Guerra da Mata)

A new version of Cocteau’s The Human Voice (a copy of which sits prominently on our protagonist’s nightstand) with excellent photography, theatrical lighting changes and fun greenscreen trickery. The lead (only) actor is João Pedro Rodrigues, Guerra da Mata’s codirector on Last Time I Saw Macao, talking on the phone with a longtime lover soon after their breakup, on the day of a huge (real) 1988 fire in Lisbon that destroyed shops and offices and apartments. Joao watches the news coverage on TV, and sometimes his body or his entire room gets overlaid with flame imagery while he sadly discusses the day’s events and the crumbled relationship with his ex. After hanging up, he puts on a James Blake record (in 1988, ahead of his time).

Mouseover to give Joao a new view from his window:
image


Beauty and the Beat (Yann Le Quellec)

Rosalba puts on the red shoes and starts dancing uncontrollably, and I thought for sure there’d be a connection but no, the premise is that she cannot keep from dancing when she hears music, a condition she tries to hide while working as a Paris tour guide. Her driver has a crush on her, invites her on a date, but is obsessed with Northern Soul records. I guess her secret gets out – anyway there’s lots of music and dancing, and that is fine. He was Serge Bozon, director of La France, and she (clearly) is a professional dancer.


Chemin Faisant (Georges Schwizgebel)

Drawings with great texture, the lines transforming into new scenes while rhythmic music plays. I know that sentence would describe thousands of animated shorts, but it’s all I got. “Through paintings that interact on the principle of Russian dolls, we are drawn along the swirling path of the thoughts of a pilgrim, a solitary walker,” says a description online.


Overseas (Suwichakornpong & Somunjarn)

Some handheld followcam action as a young woman in Thailand goes to work as a squid sorter. After work she gets a ride to the police station to report a rape, to obtain a police report for a legal abortion. The cop, who looks to be about 15, is kind of a dick. Codirector Anocha Suwichakornpong made By The Time It Gets Dark, which I heard good things about last year.

Hard to know what to say about a movie I’ve seen a bunch of times and read a whole book about. Looked gorgeous in the theater. To the IMDB!

Belle’s dad was in Tumultes, which I just found a copy of.

Cinematographer Henri Alekan later shot at least two Ruiz movies and La Belle Captive.

Josette Day retired soon after this, but not before costarring with Marais again in Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles.

One of the sisters I’ve seen in both Les Anges du peche and Rules of the Game and didn’t recognize. The other was in Les Biches and the finale of City of Lost Children (Miette, age 82). Belle’s brother Ludovic starred in a Clouzot movie a couple years later.

The movie puts much faith in its makeup effects, lot of Beast close-ups.

JC during production: “I wonder whether these days of hard work aren’t the most delicious of my life. Full of friendship, affectionate disagreement, laughter, profiting from every moment.”

“Is there nothing more to life than carrying the burden of one’s past mistakes?”

Helene (the great Maria Casares of Orpheus) is engaged to Jean (Paul Bernard of some Jean Gremillon films), who misses their anniversary so she has dinner with Jacques instead, shortly before breaking up with Jean. It seems from the conversation to be a mutual agreement to part ways, but for her facial expressions and closing line (“I’ll have my revenge”).

Helene looks up old friend Agnes, a former dancer who has sunken to prostitution, with her awful mother living off her, and offers to help them out, puts them in an apartment where they can escape the men who hound Agnes, who now wants to see no one. But Helene manages to slyly hook her up with her recent ex Jean, and he falls for Agnes immediately but she takes some work.

“cabaret dancer” must be movie-code for prostitute:

Jean manages to get the reluctant Agnes (Elina Labourdette, later of Lola) to agree to marry him, and immediately after the wedding Helene reveals her plot: “You’ve married a tramp, now you must face the consequences,” an awful blow to a classy rich fellow. But scandal is no use – it’s assumed at the end that the couple ends up happy while Helene is bitter and alone.

Adapted by Jean Cocteau (the year before his own Beauty and the Beast) from a novel by Diderot (1700’s author of source novel for Rivette’s The Nun).

Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)

A brilliant-looking hand-painted montage.
Only 30 seconds long including credits.
I’ve been playing it before everything I watch.

La villa Santo Sospir (1952, Jean Cocteau)

Cocteau was hired to decorate a wealthy villa in summer 1950, and documented his own work afterwards. Even in a documentary short he can’t resist shooting in slow-motion and reversing the film.

“Being a professional, I wanted to make an amateur film without burdening myself with any rules.”

Cabale des Oursins (1991, Luc Moullet)

Comparable to Alain Resnais’ plastics short, something that seems like it should be a straightforward industrial film, but goes poetic and absurd. Beginning with a topic even less interesting than plastic factories, “slag heaps made of waste from old mines.” I couldn’t help getting the Hubleys’ rock-based songs in my head (“midnight ride down the rock bottom road, bump-de-bump-de-bump… bump-bump”).

“Coal mining is considered shameful. It has always been hidden underground. Slag heaps are an insult to this secrecy.”

The Case of Lena Smith (1929, Josef von Sternberg)

Fragment of lost Sternberg feature! Lena and friend are at a carnival, witnessing a magic act, a bit overwhelmed. Some cool superimpositions and carnival-glass effects.

Speaking of lost films, there’s also making-of footage on The Day The Clown Cried online, so everybody is talking about that movie again.

Cantico das Criaturas (2006, Miguel Gomes)

Shaky handheld music video for acoustic song by bald guitarist. At the moment this is my favorite Gomes movie. Then on to stylised poetic story of St. Francis regaining memory to anthropomorphized Francis-worshipping nature footage. Ash responded to the sounds of mice and owls.

Trains Are For Dreaming (2009, Jennifer Reeves)

People Like Us-reminiscent mashup soundscape lockgroove with flash-frame alternating strobe edits of faces with scenery. Pulsing ambient soundtrack. Screengrabs can give no indication of this.

Light Work I (2007, Jennifer Reeves)

Sepia animated industrial photography with tone drones. Bubble-chem mixology, molten metal flows. Abstract paint-motion. Aphex Airlines hatefully obnoxious audio. Superb visuals, play some Zorn over ’em next time.

Capitalism: Child Labor (2006, Ken Jacobs)

Oh my god. An historical stereoscopic photograph has been acquired, depicting children in a factory. Ken shows us left frame, right frame, black, on repeat for fourteen fucking minutes, with variations, accompanied (as all a-g movies must be) by ambient music by Rick Reed that gets increasingly hard to bear. I cannot tell a lie: I skipped ahead.

Lullaby (2007, Andrej Zolotukhin)

Among all the analog-looking pencil lines and rumpled paper, there is some sort of software manipulation and either live-action or rotoscoping. I can’t work out how it’s done, but it’s remarkable and original. It is russian, so involves death and bare wooden rooms. Bonus topics: angels and puppets, dreams, pregnancy, birds.

Jacquot de Nantes (1991, Agnes Varda)

A pretty good movie about a kid growing up in small-town France wishing to make films – but if you’re a Varda/Demy fan who knows the backstory, that she’s filming her husband’s childhood memories as he’s dying, it becomes extremely wonderful and moving.

The Beaches of Jacques:

You see inspirations for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Donkey Skin, Pied Piper and Lola, family life, the love for music and cinema. Largely black and white with splashes of color. Varda flips between childhood events and the film they’d inspire, flashing a graphic of a pointing hand from the Demy Garage sign in between.

Jacquot 1:

“Seeing my name there when I was so young gave me a sense of the fragility of our existence.”

WWII occupies much of the film. His father helps with wartime manufacturing. The kids see Les Visiteurs du soir instead of Baron Munchausen because they’re not allowed see German films. In September 1943 his town is bombed. “There were dead all over town.” Adult Demy tells us he’s hated violence ever since.

Jacquot 2:

Making La Ballerine:

Young Demy spends a season with the clogmakers, works with puppet shows, decides he wants to manufacture theater and film sets. After tiring of the 8mm Chaplin film he’s given, he scrapes off the emulsion and hand-draws his own war story on the film. After a failed attempt at live-action shooting, he continues making films alone – stop-motion this time.

Jacquot 3:

Demy is sent to trade school but hates it, makes his stop-motion and keeps dreaming of cinema. The movie ends quite suddenly. “Later, Christian-Jaque came to Nantes to present his film D’homme a hommes. Christian-Jaque was kind enough to look at my film.” Demy gets to enroll in film school. “I met a woman filmmaker, we made a few films, then she gave me a fine son, and now I paint.”

L’Univers de Jacques Demy (1995, Agnes Varda)

Varda’s doc about her late husband’s films, with some personal details and stories thrown in, and interviews with key participants. Varda says they didn’t work together until Jacquot de Nantes, “so I’ll be discreet in this documentary.”

Demy on the set of Lola:

Covering all his films, in no particular order: Lola (with Anouk Aimee, Marc Michel and Michel Legrand), Three Seats for the 26th (with Francoise Fabian), Donkey Skin (with footage of Jim Morrison visiting the set). “I wanted to recreate things that Marais did with Cocteau.”

A Slightly Pregnant Man, then flashback to the war, the nazi bombing of his hometown. “After something as horrible as that, you get the feeling nothing worse can ever happen. And that’s when you start creating a fantasy world.” A Room in Town with Michel Piccoli. La Table tournante, codirected with animator Paul Grimault at the end of both men’s careers. A hilarious montage of scenes from 1954’s The Rebels of Lomanach in which Demy plays the soldier who dies first in every battle scene, then assisting Jean Masson and Georges Rouquier, who encouraged Demy by producing his clogmaker short.

Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Deneuve and producer Mag Bodard. Model Shop, which was “Lola in L.A.” and would have starred Harrison Ford if the studio hadn’t insisted on bankable star Gary Lockwood (heh). Varda catches up with Ford and asks Aimee about the sequel. Demy: “I called it Model Flop, which it was.” On to Pied Piper (also in English), The Seven Capital Sins (Demy drew Lust), and his weird-looking 1980’s Orpheus story Parking, “a fairy tale where there’s no fairy.” Back to Bay of Angels, then Lady Oscar and the TV movie La Naissance du jour (“I like it because I thought it was unfilmable”) before ending on a high note with Young Girls of Rochefort.

So, having just heard about them for the first time, I watched some of Demy’s early shorts.

Le Sabotier du Val de Loire (1956)

A solemn documentary about the clogmakers of Demy’s youth – or perhaps a half-documentary with a dramatic story added, including a death and a climactic wheelbarrow purchase.

Le Bel indifferent (1957)

Demy’s first non-hand-drawn color work, based on a Cocteau play about a very desperate and lonely woman, waiting all day for her man to return, but seeming even more alone when he does. Cinematography by Franju regular Marcel Fradetal.

Lead Actress Jeanne Allard appeared in Varda’s Les Creatures.

Ars (1959)

Another black-and-white semi-doc, this time about Jean-Marie Vianney, parish priest of the small town of Ars, who’d be named a saint after his death. Demy films museums and artifacts while briefly telling Vianney’s story, but most effectively he shoots the present-day town as if the events were happening currently.

Also watched Les Horizons Morts (1951) again – a very accomplished student film.

And happily, Demy’s homemade animations are available to watch in full, apart from their appearances in the above two features.

Le Pont de mauves (1944)
Bombing of the bridge.

Attaque Nocturne (1948)
Looks like the mugger is walking past the Demy Garage entrance.

La Ballerine (unknown date)
I love the pinholes tracing her path.

America as seen but not heard – the soundtrack seems like a post-sync invention, with a fun Michel Legrand score (one of his first films, the year before Lola). Reichenbach spent a year and a half in the States, filming everyday scenes (carnivals, prisons and churches) and special events, including a prison rodeo, a festival for identical twins, a hula hoop contest, horse diving and striptease school.

“This man committed two murders. He is in for a hundred years.”

Is this illegal yet?

A cool movie as travelogue, anthropology and time capsule. Chris Marker wrote a full narration, but reportedly this was adapted by Reichenbach, who considered it too harsh, so Marker’s name barely appears in the film’s credits and he published his own version in Commentaires as L’Amerique Reve, film imaginaire (American Dream). No hard feelings, I guess, since Marker and Reichenbach later collaborated on The Sixth Face of the Pentagon. Produced by new-wave kickstarter Pierre Braunberger, with an introductory note by Jean Cocteau.