I’m finally getting to this, Demy’s feature follow-up to Lola, still in his talky black-and-white period before exploding into song and color the following year. The story of an easily led young man (Claude Mann of Army of Shadows and India Song) who gets hooked on gambling by his friend (Paul Guers) then spends a week in Monaco with excitingly self-destructive career gambler Jeanne Moreau.

“If I loved money I wouldn’t squander it. What I love about gambling is this idiotic life of luxury and poverty. And also the mystery – the mystery of numbers and chance.”

Moreau is a sympathetic outcast – not just a single mom, but one who has abandoned her family for her own freedom, something unimaginable at the time. Claude isn’t so sure about the lifestyle, is inclined to hoard his winnings and wants to get back to normal life eventually, but he immediately falls for Moreau enough to forgive her recklessness and infidelity. She disappears more than once – they do end up together in the final shot, but who knows after that.

T. Rafferty:

Bay of Angels takes place, as Demy’s movies always do, in a kind of Wonderland, where the rules of ordinary life seem to have been suspended for a while. (And like Lola, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and 1967’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, the setting is near water, in port towns, where everything feels provisional, a stop on the way to somewhere else) … The gambling scenes are montages cut to a quick tempo, using mostly dissolves, and pass by in a dreamlike blur, the wheel turning, the players betting and watching, the croupiers brisk and impassive. In every other scene, the takes are long and fluid, without many cuts — they have a wandering, leisurely rhythm. The alternation of styles gives the movie a tension that has nothing to do with conventional suspense. In Bay of Angels, as in no other movie about gambling, whether the players win or lose feels fundamentally irrelevant. The experience is all that matters.

Hour-long, splendorously Wellesian, elegant little movie about storytelling, made between Chimes at Midnight and F for Fake. Why does nobody ever talk about this one? A French production (I watched the English-dubbed version) based on a novel by Karen Out of Africa Blixen and shot by Willy Les Creatures Kurant.

On Macao (a Chinese island then controlled by Portugal), Welles is a fat rich man who takes things very literally, cares only about his accounts, which his accountant (filmmaker Roger Coggio) reads to him every night. One day, Coggio reads his boss the prophecy of Isaiah instead. Welles doesn’t like prophecies, things that are not yet true, so he counters with a “true” story he heard about an old man who hires a sailor to sleep with his young wife, to produce an heir. He’s enraged when the accountant tells him this is a fable, retold by many sailors with variations, and Welles insists that they perform the story for real so that somebody in the world will be able to tell it truthfully. He’s got the old eccentric rich man part covered, now just needs someone to play the young wife and poor sailor.

A poor sailor:

In the town square, the great Fernando Rey (a couple years before Tristana) gives some back-story. It seems that Jeanne Moreau (same year as The Bride Wore Black) grew up in the house Welles now occupies, until her dad killed himself over a 300-guinea debt to the old man. Coggio talks her into playing the wife out of curious revenge – she agrees for a price of 300 guineas. They pick up an honestly down-and-out, recently-shipwrecked sailor (Norman Eshley of a few 1970’s murder films – one thinks of Welles’ own role in The Lady From Shanghai) and pay him five guineas to play the role (he doesn’t seem familiar with the fable).

Coggio awaits Moreau’s reply:

Afterwards:
– “Now you can tell the story”
– “To whom would I tell it? Who in the world would believe me if I told it? I would not tell it for a hundred times five guineas.”

And the accountant finds Welles dead in his chair.

This Is Orson Welles reveals that there were supposed to have been a series of short films based on Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) stories. The Heroine was canceled after a single day’s shoot, and A Country Tale was to star Peter O’Toole. Welles would later adapt another Blixen story into The Dreamers.

PB: You were interested in the idea of power…
OW: No. He doesn’t have the power – you show that it’s meaningless.
PB: He fails-
OW: It doesn’t even begin to work – it’s a dream. That’s the whole point of the story. He has no power: not that he does have it, but that he pretends that he does. It all turns to ashes.
PB: Why does he die?
OW: He’s getting ready to die when the story begins. And he dies when the thing can’t work. He dies of disappointment, in his last gasp of frustrated lust.

Senses:

Welles was only in his early 50s when he made The Immortal Story for French television, but it appears as an almost too perfect summary of his career; a metaphorical tale of impotence, memory, power and mortality made on a tiny budget in Europe it both chases its own tail and is a deeply felt film of melancholy mood and sensibility. The film has the quality of a miniature; short in length and minimalist in design. It also appears depopulated, as if the product of a fragmented dream or imagination.

Camille: “Can I come during the day, from 5 to 7?”
Marcello: “The magic hour for lovers.”

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Simon Cinema (Michel Piccoli) isn’t doing too well, confined to his mansion-museum with his butler (Truffaut/Duras vet Henri Garcin) and best friend Marcello Mastroianni (as himself, sort of). Film student Camille (Julie Gayet, the girl with the giant gag vase in My Best Friend) is hired to talk with Simon about movies for 101 nights, and her boyfriend (Mathieu Demy) takes advantage of her position to cast the legendary Mr. Cinema in his student film.

Michel and Marcello:
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Garcin and Gayet:
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But the plot is just an excuse for some fun. Every star of French cinema shows up, major films are mentioned (nothing is discussed in any depth – no time). Anouk “Lola” Aimée, Catherine Deneuve and Robert De Niro take a boat ride. Sandrine Bonnaire appears as both her Vagabond self and Joan of Arc. Piccoli drops the Simon shtick and the white wig for a minute and compares cinematic death scenes with Gérard Depardieu (“that old devil Demy!”) before a poster of their co-starring Seven Deaths film…

Gerard and Michel:
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Sandrine d’Arc:
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Hanna Schygulla (Fassbinder films, Passion) and Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim, The Lovers) play Simon’s ex-wives. There are seven dwarfs. There’s a conspiciously Bonheur-looking sunflower shot. Alain Delon arrives by helicopter (reminiscent, though it maybe shouldn’t be, of the out-of-place helicopter in Donkey Skin).

Gayet with Alain Delon:
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Jeanne and Hanna:
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It’s all very light and playful. I’m sure I missed a thousand references, but it keeps many of them obvious enough to remain accessible (if you didn’t catch the meaning when a bicycle is stolen outside the mansion, someone cries “italian neorealism strikes again!”).

Mathieu Demy meets Fanny Ardant:
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The credits list how many seconds and frames were used from each featured film – impressive – and also all the stolen music cues.

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tour bus guy: “Glad to see you on form.”
Simon: “Form of what?”
“Why, you seem content.”
“Form and content, a debate even older than I am.”

At Cannes:
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NY Times: “While covering so many bases, Ms. Varda never makes more than a glancing allusion to anything, and at times the film is such an overloaded grab bag that it grows exasperating. Or even baffling; for unknown reasons, Stephen Dorff turns up in a pantheon of great Hollywood stars.”

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LA Times: “Michel Piccoli plays Monsieur Cinema, who embodies the history and spirit of film, and in particular, that Fabulous Invalid, the French motion picture industry itself. (Since Varda is such a playful director, Piccoli is sometimes simply himself.) Monsieur Cinema may have been inspired by the director of the landmark Napoleon, the late Abel Gance, whom Piccoli resembles when he puts on a long silver-white wig.”

Lumiere brothers:
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Doctor Belmondo and Jack Nance:
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A program of shorts that played at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival to mark its 60th anniversary. Pretty terrific bunch of 3-5 minute shorts by possibly the best group of directors ever assembled… worth watching more than once. Each is about the cinema in some way or another, with a few recurring themes (blind people and darkness, flashbacks and personal stories). Katy watched/liked it too!

First half of shorts (second half is here):

Open-Air Cinema by Raymond Depardon
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One Fine Day by Takeshi Kitano, continuing his self-referential streak.
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Three Minutes by Theo Angelopolous is a Marcello Mastroianni tribute starring the great Jeanne Moreau.
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In The Dark by Andrei Konchalovsky
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Diary of a Moviegoer by Nanni Moretti
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The Electric Princess Picture House by Hou Hsiao-hsien
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Darkness by the bros. Dardenne
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Anna by Alejandro González Iñárritu
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Movie Night, the first of two gorgeously-shot outdoor movie starring chinese children, by Zhang Yimou.
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Dibbouk de Haifa, annoying business by Amos Gitai.
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The Lady Bug by Jane Campion.
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Artaud Double Bill by Atom Egoyan.
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The Foundry, comic greatness by Aki Kaurismäki.
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Recrudescence, stolen cell-phone bit by Olivier Assayas.
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47 Years Later very self-indulgent by Youssef Chahine.
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