Andy gave us some Jean Painlevé action from a different DVD than the one I’ve got. Love the “FIN” made up of stop-motion creatures at the end of most shorts. Love the octopus crawling through the mud, the way sea urchins walk with thin suckers that stick out past their spines, the umbrella dances of the acera, the camoflaged crabs, and everything about the sea horse. These are crowd-pleasers. Nice to hear the original music, which is actually really neat, especially the early electronic sounds.

Also saw something called Predatory Mushrooms by one of Painleve’s influences, Jean Comandon – microscopic mushrooms create three-cell nooses to ensnare and eat tiny worms. Sounds icky, but it looks bizarre and wonderful. Could’ve used some music (GBV’s “Mushroom Art”). And the 1898 The Separation of Siamese Twins by Dr. Doyen. It’s not the doctor sawing these two people apart that is most disturbing, it’s their inhumanly spindly legs. Also could’ve used music, maybe something by Ministry.

Always happy to watch Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice again. I only said one sentence about it last time, which is not fair. Seems to be a humorous portrait of a rich, beach-side tourist town with thrilling associative editing and the occasional staged scene (guy gets super-sunburned, woman in beach chair changes clothing repeatedly). Watched on 16mm. For music I suggest some Luna, or a jaunty classical piece.

I am pleased to say that the movie never quite dives into gritty, depressing realism. It seems like it will… I mean, the second scene is set in a horrible homeless shelter with our hero lying half dead on the floor, his leg smashed after a car ran over it, being dragged unconscious into the showers by the shelter’s other miserable-looking occupants. But forty minutes later he is motoring down the Seine towing Juliette Binoche on waterskiis, surrounded by fireworks in what must’ve been one of the most exuberant film sequences of the decade. When he’s sick of it, he throws away his crutch and in the next scene his cast is gone too. The movie reminds us of real-world problems but its heroes are above them… homeless, sick, injured, lonely, hungry, fighting with each other, but never so bad that the next scene can’t fix everything.

Guy with the busted leg is Alex, resourceful homeless guy who lives on the under-construction bridge with his scary mentor Hans (who dispenses whatever drug Alex needs to sleep at night). Binoche is heartbroken Michelle who was a painter before she started going blind and ran away from her treatment. After they fall in love, Alex rebels when he hears that a search is on to find and cure Michelle, preferring her to be dependent on his care. But she finds out and gets the cure, while he inadvertently lights a guy on fire and goes to jail for a couple years. Very romantic-comedy-like, they make a date to meet on Christmas on the repaired bridge and end up together. Sounds dreadfully obvious, and it does get a bit indie-film-cutesy, but the love story and the ballsy storytelling pulled me right in… loved the movie.

Binoche was nominated for a best actress Cesar, but running against Emmanuelle Beart for La Belle noiseuse and Irene Jacob for Double Life of Veronique, the “brave young actress in awesome art film” vote was split, and the award went to elder Jeanne Moreau for a comedy I’ve never heard of. But up against a completely different group of actresses, Binoche took the European Film Award that year. Denis Lavant, also star of Carax’s Bad Blood and Denis’s Beau travail, unsurprisingly (because he’s funny-lookin’) later appeared in A Very Long Engagement. Hans was Klaus-Michael Grüber, previously a director for television, who has appeared in nothing else.

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Learned some stuff on other sites. Everyone wants to talk about the movie’s huge spiraling budget as Carax, unable to use the bridge itself, built a new bridge (and the surrounding buildings!) over a lake for a movie set. And everyone wants to talk about the movie being a flop upon release in theaters. And Americans want to gripe about the nine-year-delayed release to theaters here. And everyone makes a point of mentioning that Leos Carax is a made-up name, but I only saw one mention that the character Alex is a stand-in for the director (real name Alex), who was dating Juliette Binoche while this was in production. Also found plenty of comparisons to other films:

Titanic – for the ending (“king of the world” bit on the barge), fact that it’s a super-expensive movie but plot is a simple two-person love story.

One From The Heart – for the romantic tone, but mostly for the huge, awesomely expensive artificial set created for the movie, and the subsequent damage to the director’s career after the movie was not well-received.

City Lights – blind girl, in love with a homeless man, regains her sight at the end. Clearly an influence on the story.

L’Atalante – ahh, there’s the one Carax probably had in mind. Protagonists are poor but resourceful, in love but in a rocky relationship, joined by a moody father-figure old man, end up together on a barge. Perfect.

I don’t know why I didn’t get L’Atalante upon first viewing. Maybe ’twas the low-grade VHS tape I rented, or maybe I was drowsy or impatient, but now I see it’s almost as beautiful and twisted a love story as Sunrise.

Provincial girl marries a barge captain passing through town then finds that spending life on the boat with his two assistants is less excitingly romantic than she’d imagined. Tension mounts between the captain and the gruff-looking but tender Jules leading the girl to flee the ship to see Paris on her own. But she doesn’t fare well and the captain goes into a depression, so Jules goes and finds her for a tearful reunion finale.

Not the fault of the video, I guess, because many shots were out of focus on the 35mm print. Must’ve been rough to do so much location shooting in 1934. So many other gorgeous shots and ideas scattered throughout that it’s easy to overlook technical shortcomings. Movie holds a poetic, dreamy state throughout, and the ending seems deserved despite the captain being kinda unlikeable most of the time.

Jean Dasté got small roles in Jean Renoir films, and many years later, larger roles in Francois Truffaut films. He was also the sympathetic teacher in Zero For Conduct.
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Dita Parlo appeared in Grand Illusion and didn’t do much acting after the 30’s.
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Michel Simon was more well-known, starring in The Two of Us, Rene Clair’s Faust, Port of Shadows and at least three by Renoir. Jacques Rivette did a 100-minute Cinéastes de notre temps with him in ’66.
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Cats are thrown at people from offscreen, an obvious influence on Dario Argento.
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Happy ending:
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Zero For Conduct, by contrast, was less anarchic hilarity and slightly more tedious than I remembered it. Still a fun boarding school romp with good characters (the dwarf headmaster, the head-standing supervisor played by Dasté who is on the kids’ side from the start) and great portrayal of repressive school life, friendships and rivalries and minor (and in the end, major) rebellions.

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I watched the above two at Emory on 35mm last November but delayed posting this until now because I wanted to go through the rest of the Artificial Eye DVD.

I dug the Cinéastes de notre temps episode by Jacques Rozier (new-wave filmmaker with Adieu Philippine, also shot some of the stuff on the Contempt DVD and the Cinéastes episode on Bunuel excerpted on the Viridiana DVD). 90 minutes of Vigo stories and interviews with the three L’Atalante leads thirty years later. Michel Simon looks the same, and Dita Parlo is very recognizable when she smiles. Now that I know what Jean Daste looked like in the mid-60’s, I’ll look out for him in The War Is Over. Didn’t realize that Jean Vigo knew Jean Painleve… and Painleve has an indirect connection to Oskar Fischinger.

Not much to say about the two shorts. The Jean Taris doc has some cool photography, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth watching over and over. The Nice doc is more creative, has lots of cool photography, and is definitely worth watching over and over.

Jean Taris, swimming champion:
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À propos de Nice
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