This is still the movie I remember from 20-some years ago (filmmaker J-P Leaud is remaking Les Vampires, Maggie Cheung is adrift between crew members, they both get too into their own madness), but I remember it being really excellent, and as the years go by, you forget the specific characteristics that made it so excellent, so it’s nice to rewatch and re-experience that. Every scene is good, but I took no notes, got no screenshots, so let’s watch it again sometime. Fun that Leaud cast Cheung based on Heroic Trio, which they watch together on DVD, and I just watched last month.
Tag: Jean-Pierre Leaud
Watched on Kaurismaki’s birthday, this movie suddenly taking priority after I learned that André Wilms’s character Marcel from Le Havre originated here. Not as much rock music as usual for A.K., but prime cut “Leave My Kitten Alone” plays in a major scene. My second movie this week where someone is given two opera tickets instead of cash. I don’t think the dubbed French quite works, and Sam Fuller’s French seems quite bad, but quite the droll movie.
Marcel is a drunk writer, who meets a couple other poverty-level artists including composer Kari “Polonius” Väänänen, and they become fast friends, sharing cash and a car and living spaces. The painter (Matti Pellonpää, manager of the Leningrad Cowboys) gains a benefactor in Jean-Pierre Leaud then gets deported, Marcel gets set up by publisher Fuller, women come and go but the painter’s love Mimi (Evelyne Didi, great) sticks with them until the end.
With the composer, left, in their ridiculous three-wheeled car:
Mimi with Rodolfo:
Optimally, this should be watched directly after The Rise of Louis XIV by Rossellini. I’m such an idiot about royalty and history that I’d forgotten it was the same king until I looked it up after watching this. I do hope Serra makes films about the deaths of every Louis, so we can keep them all straight.
The King has an infected leg, but everyone’s too deferential to insist he get help or to suggest anything drastic like amputation, so he just lays there and slowly dies. Serra has finally decided that if nothing’s going to happen in his movies, at least they could stand to look nice, which is a huge step forward for him after the last one, but I’m not sure why I keep watching them. It’s attractively underlit, thanks to new cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg (The Challenge). Long takes, with an intriguing performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who’s like an overdressed baby. And it’s probably worth watching the entire movie for the great final line, which was also the title of Cinema Scope’s Cannes roundup article.
I didn’t recognize Patrick d’Assumçao (the guy who isn’t naked in Stranger by the Lake) as lead doctor Fagon, and IMDB is unenlightening about the other two guys who are always in the room, Marechal and servant Blouin.
Catching up… I watched this three weeks ago, and the only note I took says:
Unfun intellectual/political word games
Obviously it’s a complicated (if unfun) movie, so a one-line review will not do. This is where my lack of biographical knowledge on Godard (and lack of interest in 1960’s politics) holds me back, because this feels like an escalation of ideas about consumerism and radicalism and societal ills from 2 or 3 Things and Weekend… but it also feels like a parody, its characters deluded comic-book Mao radicals. This doesn’t seem right, since the ideals of our main characters seem similar to Godard’s own, in his later, more boring works.
Feels like we spend forever in the primary-color apartment with young commies Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto (her first year in film) and Anne Wiazemsky (star of Au Hasard Balthazar the year before). But there’s also an assassination attempt, a guy exiled from the group, suicide, some fun self-reflexivity, and an endless train conversation with a philosophy professor. Literature references abound, apparently, and name-dropping of Katy’s favorite theorists.
Played Venice the year Belle de Jour won, tying China is Near for a jury prize.
Ruiz made a series of films in the mid-1980’s involving sailors, pirates, children, islands, treasure and magic. There’s an explicit Treasure Island reference in Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), and in between the similarly-themed City of Pirates and Manuel on the Island of Wonders, he made the movie Treasure Island, and wrote a book called In Search of Treasure Island.
As I learned from The Golden Boat, I’m not a big fan of Ruiz’s English-language films (actually Klimt was good). Treasure Island is full of fascinating work, especially when the plot comes together at the end, but while watching all I can think of are the language problems. Most actors (not Martin Landau or Anna Karina) are badly dubbed. Dialogue is imperfectly translated and conveyed, and performance styles are inconsisent – I tried to overlook it, but it’s too clunky to ignore. Little things make me think Ruiz wasn’t at the dubbing sessions (paella is pronounced “pai-YELL-ah”). And it’s cool that Jean-Pierre Leaud was cast, but distracting to hear him speak with no trace of French accent.
Ruiz’s Treasure Island isn’t an adaptation of the novel… not exactly, anyway. After a while it starts to follow the story when young Jonathan’s father dies while his seaside home is being visited by Landau (who asks to be called The Captain), then after Jonathan runs off he’s picked up by a sailing shoe salesman named Silver.
Some mutinies and mercenaries later, it comes out that this is an annual reenactment LARP, performed with a different Jim Hawkins every time. Captain Silver is the professor who invented the game, an “expert on game theory” (maybe not coincidence: when Silver gave his real name I wrote it as Omar Amiralay, which is also the name of a Syrian filmmaker who was active at the time). Jim/Jonathan sees through the ruse when he realizes during a gun battle that the fighting is fake, so he goes off alone, commandeering the ship with only Israel Hands (who soon dies) aboard. I start to lose track of the characters as the roles shift (The Dead Father returns as the ship’s doctor, for instance) – shades of the re-enactment identity-blending of The Territory. Even the narrator, who we assumed all along to be Jim/Jonathan, is revealed to be another character, who kills J/J offscreen at the end.
Jim and Helen:
Martin Landau, who dies, comes back to life, declares Jim is his son during an earthquake, and jumps out a window:
It’s fun to analyze the movie afterwards, to go through the screen shots and read reviews – maybe a less painfully-dubbed version exists in another country and will come out someday (argh, a restored print played Paris last month – the poor dubbing remains, and the movie has lost 15 minutes). Anna Karina is very good as J/J’s mom, anyway.
Karina and Helen:
Don’t think I got all the characters straight. Multiple possible captains – besides Landau we’ve got Silver (Vic Tayback of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), the French Captain (Yves Afonso, who appeared with Karina and Leaud in Made In USA), and Mr. Mendoza (Pedro Armendariz Jr. of Walker in a Yankees hat). Mendoza is obsessed with a different ship-mutiny novel, Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. There’s the doctor / Dead Father (Lou Castel, Bruno Ganz’s driver in The American Friend) and J/J’s aunt Helen (singer Sheila). Crabb (Michel Ferber) imprisons J/J, Ben Gunn shoots diamonds from a slingshot. That leaves Israel Hands (Jean-Francois Stévenin, the immortal Max in Le Pont du Nord), Squire Tim Moretti (Jeffrey Kime, the doomed Jim in The Territory), and back on shore before the adventure began, Leaud as a writer (and possibly the narrator), and the creepy Blind Man (Charles Schmitt). Jim/Jonathan himself is regular Ruiz star Melvil Poupaud, returning from City of Pirates.
The island scenes (second half of the movie) were filmed on the coast of Senegal, where Katy is now.
Back on land, The Blind Man with Karina:
Played in Cannes in 1991 alongside Yumeji, Boyz n the Hood, Hearts of Darkness, and three African films. Rumor is that Chris Marker assisted Ruiz in some way. A four-hour cut was planned, but I don’t think it was completed (nobody claims to have seen it).
Ruiz in conversation with J. Rosenbaum:
Treasure Island was a complete misunderstanding, because the money was there at the beginning and then suddenly the money was gone [not there anymore]. So I had to reduce the budget, and do it like a kind of B movie. This movie starts very strangely, with a good atmosphere, and then suddenly we are in a typical TV serial, because it was shot in continuity, so you can see the point at which the money starts to vanish.
From Michael Goddard’s book:
As [the film’s introductory] television transmission is interrupted by a power cut, we are informed that its tale of a coup d’etat, diamonds and treachery continued in Jim’s head. In other words while we may be aware that stories originate elsewhere and come to us from the outside it is we who continue them as they take possession of our imaginations; so before even introducing any of the elements of Treasure Island, the key theme of possession by prior stories that make up not only Ruiz’s film but in a more implicit way the original novel itself is already established.
As in the cartographic game in Zig-Zag this is a game played in real spaces with real lives and deaths but it is no less fictional than the novel on which it is based, while the latter is increasingly read not as fiction but rather as an instruction manual for how to operate successfully in the Treasure Island game.
For one thing, the pirates don’t look much like pirates, more like guerillas, revolutionaries. Jim’s friends the Doctor and the Squire appear without much fanfare. Other characters, like participatory academic Aunt Helen, are without an analogue in the book. The Oedipal strains of the Disney version have gone haywire, as everybody claims to be Jim’s father and nobody seems terribly concerned with treasure. But as Jim says — or, rather, as Jean-Pierre Léaud says, since we learn three quarters of the way through that he has literally run away with the script and has been telling the story from Jim’s point of view — “I didn’t see why we couldn’t just carry on without the treasure. It was an adventure anyway.”
But alas, no reconstruction is perfect: in perhaps the funniest joke in the movie, Silver, disappointed that the action has fallen so far from the book, echoes the sentiments of any reader who has ever been outraged by a movie straying from its source: he fires a machine gun into the air while shouting “It was not written! It was not written!”
Ruiz interviewed by D. Ehrenstein:
When I reread Treasure Island recently I discovered that the structure was stronger than the material. The way Stevenson tells the story is so remarkable that it could be about anything – pirates, kidnappers, whatever. We are surrounded by stories that are like houses we can enter. We play amidst these stories, sometimes being involved in two or three of them at once. In one you’re the hero, in another you’re a secondary character. These scripts are the society in which we live – if you want to be a sociologist. It’s a notion I feel more and more. This has been expressed in many ways – by Stevenson, by Orson Welles, Borges, and many others – this notion that certain stories have the structure of dreams. For those stories it’s as if the cinema had already been invented.
I haven’t watched a narrative (non-Walker) Tsai movie in a while, and I forget that they don’t exactly have stories that make any proper sense. For some reason I was in the mood to watch walker Lee Kang-sheng do nothing much in front of a static camera for many hours, so I double-featured this with Stray Dogs.
Lee is a hapless sidewalk watch salesman who has just lost his father (the father shows up in a prologue before we know who he is). Lee lives with his mom (Yi-Ching Lu) who is taking the father’s death hard. He sells a watch (his own) to Chen Shiang-chyi on her way to Paris, then the movie starts following the two of them separately.
Lee watches a film (Dragon Inn?) with uninvited friend:
Lee watches Leaud:
Chen meets Leaud:
She doesn’t have much story to speak of, hangs around Paris looking lonely, bumps into Jean-Pierre Leaud and gets his phone number in a creepy-hilarious scene, gets sick in a restaurant and goes home with a woman (Cecilia Yip).
Meanwhile in Taiwan (New Taipei City, I think, before it was called that), Lee watches The 400 Blows and becomes obsessed with changing every clock he sees to Paris time, and his mom thinks the changed clocks are signs from her dead husband, starts taping up the windows to conform to “his time”. It doesn’t seem to end well. His case of watches gets stolen, and in Paris, Chen’s suitcase gets stolen and thrown in the lake… then fished out by Lee’s dead father.
The Skywalk Is Gone (2002)
A crazy scene in a movie theater and its restroom in What Time Is It There prefigures Goodbye Dragon Inn. This short, made as an epilogue to What Time Is It There, sets up The Wayward Cloud.
Chen has returned to Taiwan, is looking for Lee but she’s confused that the skywalk is gone, replaced by an underpass, where they pass while Lee’s on his way to a porn audition.
Ed Gonzalez calls Lee and his mom “victims of the mundane and the repetitive”.
“It all comes back to the issue of time, which Tsai views as an immutable burden that people nonetheless seek to control.”
Chen with a walkin’ monk:
Chen just missing Lee:
I enjoy putting characters in environments where it seems like they have no relationships with others because I want to think about what kind of distance we should keep between each other. I also like to put people in situations where they do not have love, because I want to know how much love we need, and what kind of relationships we want.
According to Senses of Cinema, Lee and his movie-parents appeared in those same roles in Rebels of the Neon God and The River.
Movie about chaos and joys of filmmaking, with producers and director, love affairs, on-set PR/media crew, interfering locals, rumor monging, old friends, unexpectedly pregnant actors, stunt doubles, lab mistakes, uncooperative animals, movie references, flashbacks, breakdowns, and an Italian actress who can’t deal with sync sound.
The torture of sync sound!
Real director playing fake director fake-showing his real actors how to act:
Truffaut plays a director and Leaud plays his lead actor – imagine that. The film-within’s plot is that Leaud’s young wife Jacqueline Bisset (Albert Finney’s ex-wife in Under The Volcano) runs off with his dad Jean-Pierre Aumont (Hotel du Nord). Meanwhile on set, Leaud’s girlfriend Dani leaves him (and abandons the film), Leaud goes a bit nuts, then nearly breaks up Bisset’s new marriage with her doctor.
Bisset and her doctor:
Leaud’s film-in-film mom is unstable Italian Valentina Cortese (star of Thieves’ Highway, a friend in Juliet of the Spirits), buzzing around set is script-girl Nathalie Baye (star of La Mémoire Courte), and in his only acting role, author Graham Greene plays the film’s insurer.
My favorite bit: Truffaut, who has brought his experiences on other films into this one, stealing from real life to create fiction, has his director-character write his lead actress some last-minute dialogue stealing from something she’d said earlier.
Equipage equipage equipage…
This was the movie that Godard wrote a nasty letter over, ending his friendship with Truffaut. Godard thought Day For Night was dishonest – M. D’Angelo only accuses it of being slight: “Truffaut shoots for amiable, and achieves it.”
Finally out on video, I got to watch this seven years after seeing Out 1 in theaters.
Rosenbaum calls the two films “radically different,” but to me, it often felt simply like a shorter version of Out 1. Of course, having seen the longer version, I can’t help noticing major differences. The two theater groups’ rehearsal footage is almost entirely gone. Renaud’s disappearance with Quentin’s money is obliquely shown, and the ensuing city-wide hunt for him is even more obliquely included, in the form of black-and-white stills from those scenes inserted between regular scenes, accompanied by a low buzzing noise. There are other appearances of stills, some from deleted scenes from the longer version, sometimes callbacks or flash-forwards to scenes within Spectre.
Admittedly the 13 group felt like a much bigger deal in Spectre, more of a central conspiracy to the film, and I was able to follow the relationships and stories of offscreen characters Pierre and Igor much better, but I can’t tell if they’re really more sharply in focus in Spectre than Out 1, or if during Out 1 itself I was too busy trying to keep the many onscreen characters straight to follow much Igor drama. But looking through articles I quoted in my original Out 1 writeup, Rosenbaum said Out 1 was shaped by “the successive building and shattering of utopian dreams” and Lim says it “devotes its second half to fracture and dissolution,” and that theme and structure didn’t feel as true of Spectre.
The buzzing stills interrupt and fragment primary scenes, and there appears to be more cross-cutting between scenes than in the long version. Conversations sometimes cut off in the middle and never return. The stills appear in greater frequency at times, and disappear for long stretches at others – for instance, when Thomas first visits Sarah at the beach house and convinces her to return to Paris, the whole scene with its long shots plays out without interruption. Sometimes the editing is telling different stories than the dialogue – when Rohmer’s Balzac scholar says “secret societies,” it cuts to the Prometheus group, not returning to Rohmer for a long while.
Obade is far, an 8-hour drive southeast from Paris
They aren’t single frames, but simply production stills. When we tried a shorter version, our first montage ran five and a half hours. Then to make a commercially feasible length, we used the stills to tighten the editing, much the way that Jean-Luc uses titles more and more in his films, as in La Chinoise. Every time there was an editing problem he had recourse to a title. But finally we spent more time on these photos than on anything else, because there were a priori so many possibilities. We wanted the relation between the film and the stills to be neither too close nor too distant, so it was very difficult to find just the right solution. Then we added the sound to the stills. They didn’t work without sound, because the silences interrupted either noises that were very loud or others that were just murmurs. Silence didn’t produce the effect we wanted. I wanted something purely artificial: what we have is just a meaningless frequency, as if produced by a machine, which interrupts the fiction — sometimes sending messages to it, sometimes in relation to what we’ve already seen or are going to see, and sometimes with no relation at all. Because there are stills from scenes, especially toward the end, which don’t appear in the body of the film and are frankly quite incomprehensible.
At the halfway point, after Colin, Frederique and Emilie/Pauline just appeared in the same scene, it lets loose with a whole montage of the buzzy stills. When Rivette says “there is a moment, one single shot even, in which almost all the fictions intersect, as if all these lines had to pass through a ring. This shot we put squarely in the middle: it comes just before the intermission,” is this the scene he means? There was no intermission in the DVD version, but it seems likely.
Ten of the 13: Thomas, Lili, Sarah, Pauline, Lucie (legal advisor), Warok, Etienne (chess player), The Ethnologist, Igor (never seen), Pierre (never seen). Four more whom I suspect: Elaine (because she discusses Lili’s disappearance with Lucie), Marie (because she gives Colin the letters), Iris (because Pauline speaks freely about Igor and her blackmail plot in front of her) and Georges (unseen character I mentioned in my Out 1 writeup, though I can’t recall who he is).
But let’s not read too much into the conspiracy. Rivette again:
In Out, I was already more careful, because the idea of the “thirteen” came rather late. For a long time we thought that the characters might never meet; perhaps there would be five or six completely different stories. We just didn’t know. Still, I had the idea that something should bring them together, and so it was Histoire des treize. But it was just a mechanism. In Paris and, even more, in Out, I don’t take the whole idea of the search for meaning seriously. It was a convenience to bring about the meetings, but it didn’t work with either film, because they were taken to be films about a search. I tried and failed to make people understand, as the film progressed, that this search led to nothing: at the end of Paris, we discover that the Organization doesn’t exist; and the more Out progresses, the more evident it becomes that this new organization of the thirteen which appeared to have been formed never really existed. There had only been a few vague conversations between completely idealistic characters without any real social or political roots. In each case there was a first part where we assembled a story of a search, and a second part where little by little we wiped it out… When I decided to use Histoire des treize, it was as a critique of Paris, which tried to show more clearly the vanity of this kind of utopian group, hoping to dominate society. It begins by being fascinating and tempting, but in the course of the film comes to be seen as futile.
equipage equipage equipage equipage equipage equipage equipage:
“Listen baby, I’m not Marlon. Marlon is on the waterfront.”
Lili and Pauline are somehow connected in running the shop (which advertises Bob Dylan bootlegs for sale in the window), and Sarah sneaks in and out. I thought Sarah was hanging out in the basement, but when they knock out Lorenzo’s man and drag him downstairs, it doesn’t look like much of a place to spend time. Lili is later said to have stolen a million francs and disappeared – but from Lorenzo or from the cases full of important-looking papers beneath the shop, I’m not positive.
Both theater groups begin with “rehearsals” that seem more like acting warm-up activities, then into vague explorations of theme and character. Each group gets a shot in the arm from the entry of a new member – Sarah to Prometheus and Renaud to Thebes. But Renaud’s ideas don’t work for Lili, and she begins to retreat from the group. In the end, both groups have dissolved because their most recent members have left, followed soon by leaders Lili and Thomas to Obade.
More important differences in the ending: Thomas doesn’t have his beachside breakdown, and Frederique doesn’t die (not sure that she even meets Renaud).
Shortly before Pauline’s lover Igor reappears (in the form of a phone call to the beach house), this maybe-strangely-translated conversation – Lili: “Why do you imagine Igor’s in a room here?” Pauline: “Imagine someone is a half, or a full year trapped in a house. No one notices. In the basement, on the floor, in a room.” Lili: “But this is a dream.” Then they agree to search the house for him, but there’s one section to which nobody has the key, and later when the key mysteriously appears, Pauline searches the unoccupied rooms beyond, staring into the infinite mirror. I find this piece of the film interesting since Bulle Ogier (Pauline) would appear in Rivette’s next film as a ghost trapped within a dream house.
Rosenbaum: “The coded messages Leaud intercepts are significantly different in the two films.” Different how? Also: “Much as Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow bears witness to mid-century paranoia by turning imaginary plots into real ones and vice versa, Rivette has a chilling way of both suggesting explanations and dispersing them in this monumental, maddening epic.”
There are some sequences which I think are failures, but after a certain number of hours, the whole idea of success and failure ceases to have any significance. Some things that I couldn’t use in Spectre are all right in the longer version. The whole actor-spectator relationship is totally different in Out, because there the actors are much more actors than characters. There are many more scenes where the sense of improvisation is much stronger, even to the point of admitting lapses, hesitations, and repetitions. There are some of these in Spectre, but relatively few, because we treated it much more as a fiction about certain characters. In the longer version, the dramatic events are a lot more distant from each other, and between them are long undramatic stretches… contrary to what most people believe, one doesn’t learn any more in the long version than in the short one.
On the meaning of the opening title “Paris and its double”:
I wanted the two titles to indicate that the film was shot in April and May 1970 – that, for me, is the important thing, since there are many allusions in the dialogue to that period. It should be evident that the group of thirteen individuals had probably met and talked for some time until May 1968, when everything changed and they probably disbanded.
Out 1: Spectre begins as nothing more than scenes from Parisian life; only as time goes by do we realize that there is a plot — perhaps playful, perhaps sinister — that implicates not just the thirteen characters (including Léaud, as the mystery’s self-styled detective), but maybe everyone, everywhere. Real life may be nothing but an enormous yarn someone somewhere is spinning.
Melancholy character drama about a washed-up pornographer. Technically speaking it’s a very nice movie, though it would help if I knew or cared what the story was about.
Pornographer and subject:
Jean-Pierre Leaud is the title character Jacques, having a rough patch with his career, his woman (Dominique Blanc of Belvaux’s Trilogy) and his son (Jeremie Renier, star of L’enfant), who is in love with Alice Houri (star of Nenette and Boni). At the beginning a narrator sums up Jacques’s career, telling us he never completed his final film The Animal in 1984 (the outline of which reminds me of Borowczyk’s nude-girl hunt The Beast). But the movie isn’t set in ’84, so I’m thinking it’s about Jacques trying (failing) to come out of retirement, with his producer (Andre Marcon, Roland in Up, Down, Fragile) taking over in the middle of his comeback shoot, leaving Jacques jobless and lost again. Ends with Jacques giving an interview to Catherine Mouchet (star of Alain Cavalier’s Therese).
Twin Peaks reference: girl dancing backwards with red curtains
If The Pornographer has one major flaw, it’s that Bonello invests too much stock in Jacques’s integrity as an artist. Although the film is fairly clear-eyed about the kitsch factor within his most sincere ideas … The Pornographer is still indebted to certain romanticist pieties regarding art vs. commerce.
Essentially, the film is about the brutalisation of feeling. Leaud’s performance, a study in weary hope over experience, is as expressive as anything he has done in years. His director isn’t exactly an admirable man, but according to Bonello, whose criticism of French society is scathing, the world is worse than he is.
The Adventures of James and David (2002, Bertrand Bonello)
I still don’t think I have a good sense of Bonello’s style after watching The Pornographer and this silly short about two brothers (played by two brothers). David is a hairdresser who just opened his own place, and James is a DJ in a “Canadian electronica collective” (LOL 2002). They must not have been close, since James barely realizes his brother has financed, remodeled and opened an entire salon. Anyway, David gives James a terrible haircut (worse than the one in Cosmopolis) and that’s the joke, then it says “end of episode one,” and I don’t think there were any more episodes.
Cindy, The Doll Is Mine (2005, Bertrand Bonello)
Photographer (not pornographer) and subject, both played by Asia Argento (I didn’t realize this until the credits). Subject is told to try different poses, patient photographer only shoots when ready, finally asks if subject can cry, “because I think it would move me.” After a snack break, subject puts on a Blonde Redhead track, and manages to cry, which manages to move the photographer. All told, I liked this better than the previous two Bonellos.