Worth the eight-hour length, which is extremely high praise for a documentary miniseries about a topic that didn’t interest me at all until all the rave reviews and awards started flowing in. Although after sitting through the whole thing I don’t have much to say about it besides agreeing with whichever critic recently said it’s greater as journalism than filmmaking. We were most interested in the pre-murder episodes, about OJ’s adventures in racist America, and how the perception of him changed, than in rehashing the glove fiasco.

A. Muredda, from his fascinating comparison of the two big O.J. movies, which ends with a giant backhanded compliment to The People vs. O.J. Simpson:

For Edelman, Simpson registers as a calculating, charismatic man whose self-written Horatio Alger myth leading up to the murders happened to coincide with critical moments in race relations in late 20th-century America, despite his near total lack of interest in politics. Sociologically astute, methodical, and committed to being non-exploitative in its paralleling of Simpson’s trial with a history of police brutality and civil rights violations dating back at least as far as the Watts riots of 1965 … each episode grapples with a structural contradiction between Simpson’s professional and personal life and the toxic racial context around him.

“If you’re doing a revolution, you should have the guts to kill a person.”

Theoretically, this kind of thing is right up my alley: four-hour, long-take, wide-shot foreign film-fest fare with an elliptical ending. But I dunno, I feel like it made its point in a few dialogue scenes scattered throughout, and the rest of the movie was either waiting around, or following a relentlessly grim plot to its lack of conclusion.

Crime and Punishment, but Fabian (Sid Lucero of Independencia) is our Raskolnikov who does the crime, and Joaquin is his neighbor who receives the punishment. It’s hard to know if Fabian is tormented by his crime, or if he’s just an asshole – after all, he seems equally tormented in the first hour of the movie before killing the moneylender woman and her daughter as he does at the end. After the homicide, the middle half of the movie follows imprisoned Joaquin, locked up with a bunch of not-bad guys and one violent psychopath named Wakwak, and Joaquin’s family led by Eliza (Angeli Bayani of Ilo Ilo and Lav’s Melancholia).

Prison visit:

I think Eliza’s sister Ading isn’t too bright, so Eliza is caring for her two kids and the sister, barely making ends meet by selling vegetables. We think a turning point has come when washed-up Fabian finally confronts Eliza after four years, guiltily giving her the cash he got from selling his murder-scene loot, then coercing his former law professors to take up her husband’s case. We assume the movie’s heading towards Fabian turning himself in (as did Peter Lorre and Markku Toikka). Instead he takes his war on society to a new level, visiting his family home only to rape his sister and kill his dog. Meanwhile Eliza visits her imprisoned husband for the first time in years then dies in a bus crash on the way home. Then Fabian goes for a boat ride, the end.

Played Cannes UCR with Stranger by the Lake and Bastards and Manuscripts Don’t Burn – semi-comprehensible stories with unpleasant characters were in vogue that year.

Fabian sleeping with his best friend’s girl:

Eliza fails to find sympathy from the doomed moneylender:

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope:

An angry narrative by any definition, Norte portrays a country accursed, whose curse, by extension, spills over onto its people; around this curse, furthermore, the backstories of two families weave a subplot of marked importance. In order to prove that their family was doomed to fail from the start, Fabian torments his sister at the end of the movie (the girl is also in a cult, which seems to be a common practice among Filipinos: see Century of Birthing). Their parents, as it turns out, had moved to the US, leaving the kids in the care of hired help. Joaquin’s wife blames his subsequent misfortunes on herself for not letting him work abroad. Rejecting those who have left, the country is twice as harsh on those who have stayed, a theme Diaz has developed before, particularly in Butterflies Have No Memories.

M. D’Angelo:

If Fabian and Joaquin are meant to be distinct individuals, the film is “merely” endless and pointless; I very much fear, alas, that Diaz intends them as class representatives, in which case it’s insultingly schematic verging on outright stupid.

V. Rizov:

Diaz is a formidable talent, eliciting flawlessly naturalistic performances and exhibiting casual visual panache. At 250 minutes, Norte is extremely watchable, and there’s the rub: it’s reasonable to expect transcendence at that sustained length, but instead we get a relatively straightforward tract on political abuses, Christian dogma and social inequity in Filipino society.


The Day Before The End (2016, Lav Diaz)

Also watched this short I found online. Not sure that Norte justified its apocalyptic subtitle, and this short is no Last Night either. Nice b/w photography but not too fun – I think I prefer narrative Lav to experimental. People are rehearsing Shakespeare in public, then wading through torrential rain. This has an IMDB entry, and its description is better than the actual movie: “In the year 2050, the Philippines braces for the coming of the fiercest storm ever to hit the country. And as wind and waters start to rage, poets wander the streets.”

yelling Shakespeare in unison:

Don’t know how Lanzmann did these interviews with such an even temper and tone. Must have taken a great deal of restraint in the town where locals joyfully admitted making throat-slitting gestures at passing trains full of camp-bound Jews, or when interviewing a German doctor in charge of the starving Polish ghetto. My most recent cinematic response to nazis was Inglorious Basterds, and it’s hard to focus on the facts and details here without imagining escape/revenge fantasies.

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

Lanzmann rarely edits an interview, doesn’t use tricks to seamlessly cut out pauses or repetitions. I didn’t deal with the enormity of the film all at once – instead, having just finished Show Me a Hero, I treated this like another miniseries, watching in 60 to 120-minute increments, which made its relentless death-camp horrors easier to take – or maybe not, since I spent more consecutive days thinking about them. The length and focus of the movie seemed on point, but by the time we got to hour eight, talking to people who scheduled the “special” trains who claimed no knowledge of what made them special, I thought okay, this is a bit long.

A phrase caught my attention, upsettingly familiar-sounding this year: the Jews of the ghetto were “forced not only to build a wall, but to pay for it.”

I haven’t got enough documentary history (or holocaust scholarship) to know how this movie changed things, but I noticed a few unique details. In some documentaries the interview subject will get emotional, tear up, and the camera will zoom into to their faces and I’ll think “this is a bit crass.” The same thing happens here, the camera zooming in, Lanzmann patiently urging his crying subject to continue, and it never seems exploitative – interviewer and subject are on the same moral side, and when Lanzmann tells them that it’s important to continue, you’re with him.

Some interviews are recorded with covert videocameras (which, in the late 1970s, were not very covert) broadcasting to a van outside. Per wiki, “during one interview, the covert recording was discovered and Lanzmann was physically attacked. He was hospitalized for a month and charged by the authorities with unauthorized use of the German airwaves.”

Lanzmann shot hundreds of hours of footage and has edited four more feature-length films from them so far. Filmed in part by William Lubtchansky, who was doing great work with Rivette and Godard and Varda and de Gregorio and Straub/Huillet and Truffaut around the same time. Won lots of raves and awards – no oscar nomination, but Lanzmann is now an academy member and was apparently a fan of Son of Saul last year.

Per Kent Jones, Shoah was “the Hebrew word for catastrophe or destruction, which had been in use among some Jews since the early forties.”

Jones on the structure:

The film would consist only of testimonies and new footage shot at the sites where organized killing had taken place, and of images shot where the people on camera were living at the time of filming; there would be no experts making grand theoretical summations; … with two exceptions, the people on camera would be either perpetrators, victims, or bystanders (to borrow the categories established by Hilberg); the film would restrict its focus to the systematic annihilation of the European Jews; and it would be a work of cinema as opposed to an audiovisual historical summation.

By situating his film in the present and creating conditions that allowed us to see that it was coexistent with the past, by questioning his subjects about concrete details only, by creating an atmosphere of quietly urgent attention, by constructing a form that left the impression of multiple possible beginnings and endings, Lanzmann achieved something that was not only unprecedented but was, and is, an astonishment: he returned the Shoah to the civilized world that had disowned it.

Simao loves neighbor Teresa and Teresa loves Simao, cousin Balthasar also loves Teresa, servant Mariana loves Simao, Joao loves his daughter Mariana, and all these loves are doomed, doomed, doomed. Simao and Teresa’s families hate each other, Simao kills Balthasar and is sentenced to prison, old enemies of Joao kill him, and finally Teresa wastes away in a convent, Simao dies on a prison ship and Mariana jumps into the ocean during his sea burial.

Teresa:

So it’s quite unhappy, and reminiscent of Mysteries of Lisbon since they’re by the same author, but also an idiosyncratic movie, with different stylistic tics than the Ruiz. Some notes I took:

– Mirror dissolve to scene of mythology
– Lots of mirrors
– Narrator, rushing through backstory
– Tadeu stomps around yelling insults but all we hear are his footsteps
– Night scenes are just a black screen with subtitles
– Letters are filmed, narrated in their entirety, or their writer will recite into camera
– Flatly delivered dialogue
– Sometimes narrator tells us what would easily have been shown
– Actors stand by patiently waiting for the narrator to finish, like in a Peter Watkins movie.
– Narrator describes Simao killing Balthasar right before it happens

Simao kills Balthasar:

Set in the early 1800’s. Each episode opens with Simao’s younger sister Rita summarizing the previous episode into camera. There are other characters and events – Simao’s brother Manuel, who runs off to Spain with a married woman, and Simao’s mom, a former queen’s lady who misses the splendor of her old life and pulls strings to get her condemned son preferential treatment, and Joao, who gleefully murders Balthasar’s men in order to help Simao – but these are secondary to the whole doomed-love thing.

I used to think of convents as good places before this and Mysteries of Lisbon, The Devils, Mother Joan of the Angels, The Nun, Les Anges du peche, Don’t Touch The Axe, Black Narcissus, and so on. There’s little religion in the convent where Teresa is committed by her family – she’s immediately told not to trust the mother superior, and all the nuns run around gossiping about each other.

There have been at least eight film adaptations of Doomed Love, plus there’s a mysterious 2006-07 series on IMDB with Branco as writer, listing all the Doomed Love characters as well as Father Dinis, Angela and Eugenia from Mysteries of Lisbon – a Branco Universe crossover?

Mariana with Simao:

J. Rosenbaum called it “The Masterpiece You Missed” in his review, reprinted in his collection Placing Movies, which I read at the beach thirteen years ago and I’ve been seeking this movie out ever since. I’m still seeking it… hopefully a better copy surfaces on video someday. I think there are different versions, and I saw the television (color) miniseries. The great Oliveira died between my watching this and finally writing it up, but I’ve got about forty more of his films to watch, so his art lives on.

Rosenbaum:

Intricate dovetailings of narration and dialogue produce some elegant displacements and overlaps in and on the sound track. When the heroine’s father shouts at her in close-up, the sound of his voice ceases at the precise moment that the male narrator announces that the (off-screen) daughter doesn’t hear him because she’s left the room. Much later, the imprisoned hero responds in person to the narrator’s off-screen report of Mariana’s blacksmith father’s announcement (visible but not heard) that his daughter is delirious — a scene much easier to follow than to describe.

Watching this classically wrought example of controlled madness for 270 minutes … I was reminded once again of the battles between narrative and nonnarrative cinema that used to be waged in this room. (Today the battles are over, the warring tribes shipped off to separate schools or summer camps, and a mongrel like Doomed Love, doomed by its own integrity, has to walk the night without the sponsorship of either ghetto.)

Duarte de Almeida of City of Pirates and Past and Present as the ship captain:

P. Cunha in Senses of Cinema:

In Portugal, the film’s critical reception was very hostile. It was also devastating for its director, who was accused of wantonly producing the most expensive Portuguese film made with public subsidy at a time of serious financial crisis. Oliveira was also criticised for moving away from the naturalistic language mandated by television, undermining the legacy of author Camilo Castelo Branco, and not being concerned with the reality of the class struggle Portuguese society was undergoing in the aftermath of the socialist revolution. The debate about Oliveira’s work was so intense that it was even discussed in the national Parliament and inflamed arguments about public financial support for Portuguese cinema.

Doomed Love belongs – along with [Past and Present, Benilde and Francisca] – to the “tetralogy of frustrated loves”, a series of four films that are adaptations of works by some of Oliveira’s favourite literary authors (Vicente Sanches, José Régio, Camilo Castelo Branco and Agustina Bessa-Luís).

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

Rivette:

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.

Hand-off:

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.”

Rivette:

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.

David Thomson:

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.

Watched for Resnais’s 90th birthday. One of the most excellent, entertaining and moving Resnais films I’ve seen. Too bad it’s five hours long so I won’t be able to show it to anyone else. Just two actors (Sabine Azema, recently great in Wild Grass, and Pierre Arditi, her resurrected fiancee in Love Unto Death) play about four characters each. Each movie begins with Sabine thinking about grabbing a cigarette – in one she does, in the other she doesn’t – and builds from there, branching into multiple stories based on different decisions made by the characters, all of them more meaningful and consequential than the cigarette, rewinding to show the opposite decisions and their outcomes, building a structured mega-narrative, showing how the same characters deal with different circumstances.

Smoking

Cartoon character intros. School principal’s wife Celia Teasdale grabs a cigarette, and school caretaker Lionel Hepplewick shows up to look at her garden. Lionel flirts with Sylvie, the Teasdales’ maid.

Five Days Later: the Teasdales admit their marriage is over. Red-cheeked principal Toby decides to leave for a while.

Five Weeks Later: Celia has started over as a caterer, is working her first event with Lionel, who proves a poor business partner. She loses her damn mind, very amusingly, and Toby feels awful and returns to her.

Five Years Later: funeral of local poet Joe Hepplewick, Lionel’s father. Toby has quit drinking, and Celia is still troubled after her catering breakdown. Lionel succeeded in the food industry, married a businesswoman and runs a thriving cafeteria, while Celia, whose idea it was, is a shell of her former energetic self, cared for by her sad husband.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the catering job at the tail end of the breakdown, Lionel comes running up and assures Celia that she can count on him.

Five Years Later: Poet Joe’s funeral, Toby and Celia barely recognize each other. She’s still partnered with Lionel running their successful business, and Toby is a drunken mess. “At each funeral I feel like I’m being buried myself.”

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back in their garden, Toby Teasdale doesn’t leave his wife but proposes a vacation. Lionel is crushed that Celia’s leaving, and tells him the catering thing was just a pipe dream.

Five Weeks Later: comic scene at a hotel terrace. Lionel has followed them, got a job as a waiter, and keeps trying to secretly speak with Celia, bringing her desserts as a pretense. Toby finds out and has him fired.

Five Years Later: funeral for Toby. Celia is accompanied by Toby’s friend Miles, and obsessed Lionel is there working as a gravedigger, still following Celia.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the hotel, Toby restrains himself after learning that Lionel has followed them. Celia admits she encouraged him and Lionel agrees to leave her alone.

Five Years Later: commemorative service to celebrate the school’s anniversary. Celia is still with Toby and they’re unhappy again/still. Lionel pops by, married and successful with a taxi business.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the Teasdales’ garden when Lionel was flirting with the maid Sylvie on the first day of the fateful cigarette, he agrees to go out with her if she’ll stop dating other guys – so he never ends up involved with Celia at all.

Five Days Later: After their date, Lionel starts working on Sylvie, telling herself she needs to improve herself if they’re ever going to make something of themselves. She gets principal Toby to agree to help her learn about literature. Toby’s wife Celia comes home, complains at Toby to stop drinking, saying Miles saved his ass from getting fired. Lionel is pleased that Sylvie is taking her self-improvement seriously.

Five Weeks Later: town festivities and a rare sighting of poet Joe Hepplewick in a wheelchair, talking with Celia, then with Sylvie about her future with his son Lionel. She’s testy when talking with now-unemployed Lionel. Toby is looking better, inspired by his new role as Sylvie’s mentor, but she tells him she’s stopping the lessons because there’s no point. Sylvie gets stuck in the stockade, where she’s to be pelted with sponges later during the festival, and Lionel hits her with one instead of freeing her.

Five Years Later: Lionel and Sylvie have two boys, are christening their young daughter. Lionel is still kind of a fuckup, and he tells Celia that Sylvie is boss in their household. Toby is feeling better since quitting his principal job, acting as godfather to the baby girl. “I’ll personally keep an eye on her education.” “I thought you were fed up with education.” “This is a special case.”

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the festival, Lionel frees her after all, and Sylvie says she won’t marry him, then tricks him into the stockade.

Five Years Later: Principal Toby is sick-drunk at the school’s anniversary celebration. Sylvie is a reporter now, arrives to interview the principal, says Lionel married someone else. “She wasn’t as lucky as you were.” Sylvie thanks Toby for his lessons years earlier. “You showed me the way so I could escape,” and makes the principal feel happy again.

No Smoking

Celia decides against that cigarette, and misses Lionel’s visit, is visited by Toby’s friend Miles instead, who tells her that the school board is about to fire her husband for being drunk and erratic, that Miles is trying to save him. Celia says don’t bother, tells Miles that she’s leaving Toby anyway for being a shitty husband. But when she goes back in the house, Miles tells maid Sylvie to deliver the message that he’s going to try anyway, and that the four of them (he has a rocky marriage to serial cheater Rowena) should have dinner this weekend.

Five Days Later: in the garden, the only two who show for dinner are Celia and Miles – who recently saved Toby’s job at the school. Turns out Toby stayed away on purpose, wanted Miles to talk to Celia, deliver the message that Toby still wants to stay with her. But Miles is in love with Celia. Awkward dinner becomes stranger when Celia’s mom Josephine shows up, asks Miles a lot of questions (but she is very discreet). He is fed up, goes and hides in the shed, as Toby stumbles home and eats with Celia.

Five Weeks Later: confessions on the golf course. “It’s only gotten worse since he stopped drinking.” Red-haired Rowea taunts husband Miles, then gets him to read her a poem.

Five Years Later: Easter, and Miles sees Celia in the churchyard. Toby died years earlier and Miles and Rowena moved away. Back visiting now, but nobody seems especially happy.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the golf course, Rowena tells Miles it’s not going to work out.

Five Years Later: School’s 50th, both couples are broken up, Miles and Toby have moved away and live together, with difficulty, and Celia has scored a job at the school.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the beginning, Miles says he’ll defend Toby to the school board and doesn’t propose any dinner with Celia. Later, arguing with his wife on a walk through the Teasdales’ garden, Rowena locks him in the shed. Sylvie the maid lets him out, and he spontaneously invites her on a walk around the British coast, which he’d always wanted to do with his wife but never got the chance. Celia comes out to talk, says Sylvie left a message that she doesn’t like long walks, and that Rowena is out with another guy. Miles decides to go back into the shed.

Five Weeks Later: Miles is still in the shed, much to Toby’s annoyance. Rowena messes with Lionel, throws his pants in the fire when he removes them to show off, then talks her husband out of the shed, but he says he’s leaving to start over somewhere new.

Five Years Later: midnight mass. Sylvie, now married to Lionel, sees Miles in the churchyard. He’s waiting for Rowena. “You were right. You can’t start over again.”

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the shed, Rowena is nicer to Miles and gets him to come home.

Five Years Later: party at the school, Rowena scares off Lionel, is completely nasty to her husband.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the shed, Celia delivers the message that Sylvie loves long walks.

Five Weeks Later: Sylvie lied, is complaining about her shoes and the cold and leg cramps on the first day of her hiking trip with Miles. They are infatuated though, and share a kiss, rare in this movie, but they’re also getting on each other’s nerves. They talk it out in a travelers’ cabin. “I always have my worst moments in sheds.” Sylvie wanders off, and Rowena arrives to collect her husband.

Five Years Later: Sylvie is just marrying Lionel, and Miles is walking her down the aisle. Rowena comes by in a red Devo hat and is pretty nice to her husband for once.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back on the hiking path, Miles refuses to follow Rowena and falls to his death in the fog.

Five Years Later: a memorial ceremony for Miles led by Toby. “His widow told us he has a preference for sheds,” so they dedicated a shed in the churchyard in his memory. Sylvie and Rowena separately tell Toby that they’ll come at times, sit in the shed and think of Miles. “Incredible, what a story. Hard to understand.”

Nice movie, with good music and a surprisingly strong endings to each title. Not shown above: Irene Pridworthy, school vice principal. Based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn (Coeurs) in which a different series of variations is performed every night, so it takes sixteen performances to catch them all. Resnais and his writers cut it down to twelve for the film. Won an award in Berlin, and best picture at the Cesars, also best director, screenplay, production design and actor, but actress went to Binoche for Blue.

Ayckbourn in 2007:

They all finish with a certain dying fall, except for a couple that go up in mood. In general, the point is that we do have free will and we can choose, but we can’t change unless we make a huge effort. Only Sylvie makes a big change; she’s the one who changes the most. If you don’t change, you just end up in the same place. How many men do we know who end up marrying the same woman again and again! At the end of their lives, people who have unsuccessful relationships will say weren’t they unlucky in love but maybe they were impossible to live with. Anyone who would marry Lionel Hepplewick in Intimate Exchanges must be mad!

I looked up five reviews, and each said the movie grew tiresome and wasn’t inventive enough with its premise – except for J. Rosenbaum, of course.

Resnais’ fascination with a highly theatrical cinema, first broached in Mélo, gets freakishly extended here, with two of the same actors running brittle, virtuosic relays between multiple roles. On the stage, Aykbourn’s plays were meant to be performed over eight consecutive evenings; eliminating the two most “English” scenes — a medieval pageant and a cricket game — Resnais commissioned Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnès Jaoui, his subsequent writers on Same Old Song, to squeeze this into two two-hour features, to be seen interactively in whatever order the audience prefers. In practice, Resnais reported that most French viewers hedonistically opted for Smoking first. And it appears that what they found more palatable than their Anglo-American counterparts is a principal identified by critic François Thomas as pivotal to Resnais’ later films — an alternation between affection and recoil, identification and distance, sweetness and bitterness reflecting the influence of Follies and other musicals by Stephen Sondheim.

Finally I got a chance to watch this, said by some to be Rivette’s finest hour (errr, four hours). I can’t say I agree, but I came in with absurdly high expectations, and having seen nearly all of Rivette’s other films. So its endless theater rehearsal scenes held no surprises, but the movie perked up considerably in the last hour. As usual, I’m feeling more strongly about the film after reading a hundred online articles about it. And unlike in Gang of Four, I actually picked up on some connections between the theater-rehearsal dialogue and the actors’ lives.

Claire (Bulle Ogier in her first Rivette film) lives with boyfriend Sebastien (Jean-Pierre Kalfon, a lead in Love on the Ground). Sebastien is directing a play – Racine’s Andromaque (it’s always some ancient text), which Bulle quits at the start of the film (I think right near the beginning of rehearsals), spending the rest of the movie at home not wanting to do much of anything.

The play rehearsals are being filmed in 16mm for a documentary about the theatrical process – by director Andre Labarthe (a Cahiers critic turned Cineastes/Cinema de notre temps director) and cameraman Etienne Becker (Jacques’s son, he shot Phantom India and parts of Le Joli Mai), playing themselves. So the actors in the film are playing actors in a play, interviewed in character by Labarthe. And Becker’s footage of the play rehearsals is edited into the film proper (which is mainly shot in 35mm by Alain Levent, cinematographer of The Nun).

The amour of the title is between Claire and Sebastien, though it doesn’t seem that way until the three hour mark, at which point Sebastian’s frustrated love life and his play rehearsals have been at a standstill for so long, one of them has to explode. So he takes a few days off from the theater, goes home, and he and Claire get naked and fou, finally tearing through the wall of their apartment to have sex at their neighbor’s place.

Other interesting bits: the play and documentary directors get dinner together and talk about Jerry Lewis. The nature of the sound changes when the movie switches cameras from 35 to the 16mm documentary, but both feature loud, clompy footsteps on the wooden stage. Sebastian’s awful clothes always clash with his awful wallpaper.

Movie takes place over two and a half weeks – title cards display the date. Before the first card, some shots (which make no sense at the time) show Claire on the train, and the wrecked apartment. Claire walks out of the play on the 14th. On the 17th the documentary crew interviews Claire’s replacement Marta (Sebastian’s ex-girlfriend, whom he tries to sleep with again) and Claire starts following Sebastian through the streets after rehearsals.

The 19th: Sebastian is interviewed about playing Pyrrhus himself while directing the play. He sleeps at the theater, gets a call saying Claire tried to kill herself. He returns home, bringing her a record with a dog on the cover. 22nd: She goes looking for an Artesian Basset like the one on the cover, almost steals one from a guy.

24th: Claire in full spy mode, watching out her window and reporting everything into a tape recorder. A weird moment, a shot of two chairs going in and out of focus. Claire invites Marta over, tells Sebastian she wants a divorce, and hooks up with her ex Philippe. The first real crazy scene (if you don’t count the chairs): when she says she’s leaving, Sebastian wordlessly starts cutting up all his clothes.

26th: Claire is back with Philippe, someone at the theater tells Sebastian that rehearsals are becoming impossible. He goes home. 28th: full-on fou. Seb and Claire draw all over then destroy their wallpaper, chop through a wall and make love everywhere, until she suddenly says she’s tired and that he needs to leave. He goes to the theater.

31st: Claire is cutting herself, he tells her to stay. 1st: She is free, has a friend call Seb from the train station to tell him that she’s left. “I feel like I’ve suddenly woken up.”

The movie gets more complicated when you read about its production. Sure, Rivette is directing a feature fiction film, but it’s based largely on improvisation – plus Jean-Pierre Kalfon is really directing the Racine play. He even cast the actors. One of them is Francoise Godde, who played a domestic maid in The Nun. Also in there somewhere is Michel Delahaye, “the ethnologist” in Out 1. Michele Moretti (Out 1‘s Lili, leader of the Thebes theater group) plays (or IS) Kalfon’s assistant on the play. And the documentary filmmakers are doing their thing independent of Rivette’s feature, getting in close and conducting their own interviews while the 35mm camera stays distant and unobtrusive.

16mm:

35mm:

According to a Greek mythology site, the play is from 1667 – “The structure of Racine’s play is an unrequited love chain,” and it’s “the most often read and studied classicist play in French schools.”

Shooting Down Pictures – who gets credit for getting there first, and linking me to a bunch of articles from which we quoted the same things:

Sebastien, made self-conscious of his directing technique after watching rushes of the doc, adopts an increasingly hands-off approach to the production, effectively casting the production adrift in endless rehearsals without a clear sense of focus. … [the film] seems implicitly to be an inquiry on the limits of what straight shooting of spaces and interactions can tell us.

Director’s assistant Michele Moretti and a tired-looking actress:

Rosenbaum:

The rehearsals, filmed by Rivette (in 35 millimeter) and by TV documentarist Andre S. Labarthe (in 16), are real, and the relationship between Kalfon and Ogier is fictional, but this only begins to describe the powerful interfacing of life and art that takes place over the film’s hypnotic, epic unfolding. In the rehearsal space Rivette cuts frequently between the 35- and 16-millimeter footage, juxtaposing two kinds of documentary reality; in the couple’s apartment, filmed only in 35, the oscillation between love and madness, passion and mistrust, builds to several terrifying and awesome climaxes in which the distinctions between life and theater, reality and fiction, become virtually irrelevant.

He also says the movie may have been inspired by the “psychotic breakup” of Godard and Anna Karina.

K. Uhlich:

The result is a mish-mash of ideas and situations both brilliant and inane: a good stateside comparison, coincidentally created around the same time, is John Cassavetes’s Faces, which, like L’Amour Fou, is a jagged-edge black-and-white psychodrama prone to rather unbelievably grand gestures in constrictively intimate settings.

Peter Harcourt:

The films ends with the same shots that had opened it, with the sense of separation and emptiness — Claire travelling away on a train; Sebastien as if defeated, in his apartment; the characters of the play, in costume and make-up, as if ready for a performance; and then that slow tilt down from those few spectators in that huge arena onto an empty stage as we hear, as if from some other space, a baby crying — as we had heard as well at the opening of the film.


Mirror-mirror

Rivette 1975:

Shooting a film should always be a form of play, something that might be seen as a drug or as a game. Even during the ‘breakdown’ scenes near the end of L’Amour fou I was not being tragic as many people thought. I was joking, having fun, and so was Bulle. It’s just a movie, not some kind of cinéma-vérité!

Rivette from an epic, essential interview for Cahiers in 1968:

I hadn’t forgiven myself for the way I had shown the theatre in Paris nous appartient, which I find too picturesque, too much seen from the outside, based on cliches. The work I had done on La Religieuse at the Studio des Champs-Elysees had given me the feeling that work in the theatre was different, more secret, more mysterious, with deeper relationships between people who are caught up in this work, a relationship of accomplices. It’s always very exciting and very effective to film someone at work, someone who is making something; and work in the theatre is easier to film than the work of a writer or a musician.

The film itself is only the residue, where I hope something remains. What was exciting was creating a reality which began to have an existence of its own, independently of whether it was being filmed or not, then to treat it as an event that you’re doing a documentary on, keeping only certain aspects of it, from certain points of view, according to chance or to your ideas, because, by definition, the event always overwhelms in every respect the story or the report one can make out of it.

I didn’t feel I had the strength, or even the desire, to make a film where the woman would really be mad. So this would only be a crisis, a bad patch, as everyone has. And that’s when it became clear that she would be no more mad than he was and even that of the two he was clearly the one who was more sick. The main feeling was also expressed in a sentence from Pirandello that I happened to find when I was reading a bit before starting to write anything at all, which I had even copied out at the beginning of the scenario: ‘I have thought about it and we are all mad.’ It’s what people commonly say, but the beauty is precisely in stopping to think about it.

I believe more and more that the role of the cinema is to destroy myths, to demobilize, to be pessimistic. Its role is to take people out of their cocoons and to plunge them into horror. … More and more, I tend to divide films into two sorts: those that are comfortable and those that aren’t. The former are all vile and the others positive to a greater or lesser degree.

With its four-hour length (Rivette called it “only a little longer than Gone with the Wind, though without the bonus of the Civil War”), it was a flop for producer Georges de Beauregard, who made some fifteen movies I’ve heard of before L’Amour Fou and only one after. The producers butchered together a two-hour version, which Rivette wants nothing to do with. He once spoke of making a finished edit of the 16mm documentary. But it makes sense that the documentary was never finished, just as the play was never produced – he’s more interested in the process than the finished work (see also La Belle Noiseuse).

This was the same year as Army of Shadows, My Night at Maud’s, The Swimming Pool, The Milky Way, at least two by Chabrol, Z, and Bresson’s Une Femme Douce.

B. Kite on the ending:

Sebastien, meanwhile, has learned the perils of true collaboration. Having initiated a process which assumed its own momentum, he now finds himself trapped inside it, inhabiting the shell of a departed life. Mourning is its own paranoia, and Sebastien is left locked in Claire’s old role, shut up in the apartment, listening to the recordings she had made to summarize the findings of her investigation, conducting his own investigation into absence and loss.

P. Lloyd:

The ghosts of Hitchcock, Lang and Preminger, which have haunted the New French Cinema for the last ten, years, have finally been laid to rest, by L’Amour Fou. The classical tradition has outlived its uses; but Rivette rejects that tradition, paradoxically, only because he absorbed its principles, received with thanks all that it has had to offer.

From Robin Wood’s excellent article – obviously I need to get his books:

Clearly, the length of our cinema program is closely bound up with the more obvious conditions of the current phase of consumer-capitalism: alienated labor, the five-day week, the 9-5 job, the nuclear family, a norm common to all levels from employee to executive, necessitating that (weekends apart) “leisure” be packed into a 2-3 hour slot between the time the kids are put to bed and the “early night” required by the next day’s toil. Otherwise, in one of those ugly and brutal, but entirely taken-for-granted, phrases that characterize our culture, “time is money”; and if we are going to surrender four hours of our “money” to watching a spectacle, we must be repeatedly reassured that the spectacle we are buying was extremely expensive, that we are purchasing a visibly valuable commodity. Rivette’s films, on the contrary, are perceptibly cheap … Nor is the length of the films validated by complexities of plot, large numbers of characters, “epic” events. What is the plot of L ‘Amour Fou? Sebastien tries to produce Andromaque; Claire goes mad. Rivette could easily have told it to us in fifteen minutes and spared us the superfluous four hours. The “unjustified” length of the films, then, represents an act of cultural transgression. The question, “Why this length?,” should immediately provoke a reciprocal one: Why the standard length? Why should we automatically expect our movies to last between 90 minutes and two hours, feel cheated if they are less and demand particular justifications if they are more?

We have, then, Rivette making a film of Labarthe shooting a documentary of Kalfon producing a play by Racine reinterpreting a Greek myth.

I know of no other film that so powerfully communicates the terror moving out of one’s ideologically constructed, socially conditioned and ratified, hence secure, position and identity, into… what? Which is precisely the question with which the film leaves one: a political question if ever there was one.

Every year I look forward to the Atlanta Film Festival, getting increasingly excited until some offensive act causes me to sit out the second half. This time I was thrilled to see Ruiz’s five-hour Mysteries of Lisbon on the program, but pissed once it started that they were projecting it from DVD. What kind of rinky-dink festival thinks that is an acceptable practice, and without even an apology or excuse? Picture was muddy and macro-blocky, the color desaturated compared even to DVD screenshots I found online. When I complained about the same issue two years ago after a screening of Beket, an AFF official left a comment counterintuitively stating “screening 35mm prints is cheaper for us to do than any other format we use.” I hope he returns this year to explain the Lisbon situation. Also, the dude from Turner who introduced the film called Ruiz, the seventy year old director of over a hundred films “up and coming,” with no knowing wink or chuckle to imply he wasn’t serious.

The movie was very good, worth taking the time off at 1:00pm on a weekday to see in its entirety, but not my favorite Ruiz movie by a long shot, lacking the anarchist humor of That Day and the shorts I’ve seen. If not for a well-placed deep focus shot here, an anamorphic lens-twisting there, I could’ve believe that any of a handful of dedicated European art directors had adapted the 150-year-old novel into this massive period costume miniseries.

Young Joao is having a fit, deathly ill, dreams he sees his mother, whom he’s never met. When he awakens, Father Dinis of the orphanage begins to tell him about his mother, Countess Angela who lives nearby, forbidden by her domineering husband from even seeing her illicit son. The movie takes on a flashback structure that reminds me slightly of The Saragossa Manuscript, even with the storytellers interrupting themselves to go to sleep, then resuming the next day. It seems Angela was in love with a young man (Don Pedro) whom her father wouldn’t let her marry, she got pregnant, and the baby was to be killed – but the assassin (Knife Eater) cut a deal with a passing gypsy (the priest in disguise) and sold the child.

Mysterious gypsy, left, with Knife Eater:

Back in the present, an outspoken Brazilian (Alberto de Magalhaes, formerly known as Knife Eater) is entering high society. Awesome scene when some guy demands a duel and Alberto straight kicks his ass, the fight shot through the window of the priest’s passing carriage. Angela’s husband, who’d married her despite the priest’s ghostly warning that he would be marrying “a dead slave” since her heart was lost to the murdered father of her stolen child, had become a tyrant who openly carried on an affair with Eugenia the maid and locked Angela in a single room. But the husband gets sick and dies, repenting first to the priest. Oh, and priest, while you’re here, an old monk named Alvaro wants to talk to you, reveal that he’s your father and give you the skull of his wife Silvina, your mother, to take home with you. Flashing back to a scene of the priest’s birth (and mother’s death), we get an excellent long take, following the nervous father from room to room. Knife Eater, in an unexplained coincidence (probably detailed in the miniseries version), marries the housekeeper who once tormented Angela.

I can’t remember who this is – found the screenshots online:

Another sidetrack story, as Elise de Montfort (Clotilde Hesme of Regular Lovers and Love Songs) arrives, and the meddling priest visits to tell her about her mother Blanche, who was adored by the priest, and also Benoit (son of the nobleman who watched over the priest) and a colonel whose life the other two men had saved, Ernest Lacroze (Ruiz regular Melvil Poupaud) – Benoit wins, marries the girl and they have two kids – Elise and her brother who died recently in a duel. A grown Joao, now called Pedro da Silva, loves Elise, but she says to earn her love he needs to avenge her brother’s death, caused by the wicked Alberto de Magalhaes. He returns to Lisbon from France after hearing of his mother’s death in the convent where she’d been living since her husband died. Joao/Pedro challenges Alberto, who won’t fight, tells Pedro that Alberto was the would-be assassin the day Pedro was born, who reformed and turned the money the gypsy/priest had paid for the boy’s life into a fortune, says Elise is always sending infatuated young men to kill him.

Poor Joao’s mother, with priest in the background:

Anyway, probably some other stuff happens, and Pedro gives up and sets sail for Tangiers – seems to be dying at the end, dictating his life story, the movie looping back to his illness at the beginning, making me think perhaps he died in the orphanage never meeting his mother, imagining the whole rest of the movie in a five-hour fever dream. Also in both bookend scenes is his puppet theater, which the movie uses to illustrate the scenes or to set up new ones, and a painting that comes to life in a weird Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting tableau moment.

One of my favorite recurring events in the movie is that during many of the major scenes, the lead characters’ servants are shown blatantly listening in, sometimes in the foreground while the conversations are distant from the camera. I’m not sure what it added up to, all the shifting identities and vendettas and love affairs and parental secrets, besides being an entertaining bunch of stories. And for a movie with Mysteries in the title, everything is pretty well explained by the end.

Lots of writing on this online. More than one mention of Great Expectations, which occurred to me too. M. Koresky’s article is my favorite:

The nun who was a countess. The priest who was a soldier. The nobleman who was a thief. The poet who was a bastard. Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon is a costume drama in more ways than one. … Though it may seem daunting, the size of the film is its chief pleasure. There’s so much room to parry and maneuver, so many doors (some literal) to unlock, secrets and coincidences to be in thrall to. … Whether we’re seeing a death or a regeneration, a dream or a remembrance, the final images of Mysteries of Lisbon, filtered through an amber haze of memory, unites all of the film’s disparate strands in one delirious, cinematic consciousness.

The Feuillade movies I’ve watched just keep getting better – from Les Vampires to Judex to Fantomas – and I’d heard this might be a total masterpiece, but I was disappointed. Mildly, I mean – it’s a fun movie and all, but it doesn’t hold up as a long-form piece as well as the others. Strange to think his films are a hundred years old. Supposedly he was assisted on this by a young Julien Duvivier.

Can you tell these two men in suits apart?

As usual, I dig the opening credits, motion portraits of each major character. Jacques (serious explorer, close light brown hair, wearing a robe for some reason) returns from Indochina (Vietnam) with Tih Minh, “a young Anamite who had saved his life,” with whom he is chastely in love. Jacques is played by René Cresté – Judex himself. In fact half the cast had recently been in Judex and would appear in Barrabas the year after this. Jacques’ comic-relief servant Placide (a goofball with center-parted hair) is glad to be home and see his fiancee, the maid Rosette (dark-haired and suspicious-looking, but she turns out to be a sweetie). Jacques’ sister Jeanne sets out to “educate” Tih while Jacques and Placide (poor guy) go off to India. Two years later they return and prepare for a double wedding.

1910’s special effects:

Meanwhile, Paris is plagued by a string of robberies and kidnappings perpetrated by evil Dr. Gilson (I can’t describe him, since he’s always got some kind of fake facial hair), Kistna (introduced with a turban and beard) and Marquise Dolores (sultry with big hair). Others mention Kistna as the “Hindu servant” of Dolores, but in private he’s shown bossing her around. The big buzz is that Jacques is bringing home a book from India, The Nalodaya, with a hand-written section by someone called Ourvasi. “In addition to revealing the existence of fabulous treasures, this testament could be of considerable importance in the event of a European war.” The baddies get Tih Minh alone when she’s taking a boat ride, kidnap and brainwash her to collect the book for them. But: “Motivated by what he believes is a laudable zeal, Placide erases Ourvasi’s testament,” so they get a worthless book.

Dolores in disguise:

And it goes on and on and on like this. The criminals don’t commit any more major crimes to terrorize Paris, they only try to get this book (well, now it’s the photograph Jacques took of the inscription before Placide erased it) for the next five hours, trying again and again and again with minor variations. Kistna comes over, all neighborly, and asks to borrow the book and see the photos. Tih Minh is kidnapped at least two more times (oh, and it takes dapper, puffy-cheeked Dr. Davesne weeks to restore her memory after the brainwashing incident). Each group breaks into the other group’s house at least once. Twice the baddies get a spy into the heroes’ house and twice they try to poison our guys. People hide in trunks. Fake beards and mustaches of every sort are used then discarded. It’s a cool flick but I’m not seeing how it’s on the level of Fantomas or Judex.

Dolores (?) and Kistna:

My copy of the movie had no sound at all, so I used soundtracks from elsewhere:
– Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane (I am obsessed with this disc lately)
– The Paranoid Park soundtrack
– Zbigniew Preisner’s Double Life of Veronique soundtrack
– Mihaly Vig’s Bela Tarr soundtracks (love those Werckmeister Harmonies songs)
– Volume 3 of the Toru Takemitsu set:
(“music from the films of Nagisa Oshima and Susumu Hani”) – this was ideal.
– Hajime Kaburagi’s soundtrack for Tokyo Drifter didn’t work out, so on to Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet’s Dracula, which didn’t work either.
– Peer Raben’s Fassbinder soundtracks (volume 1 – only the non-vocal numbers)
– Then back to Mike Patton and Mihaly Vig

Not a lot of writing on this movie online besides this nice article by A. Cutler of Slant, so I’ve perhaps quoted too much of it:

The movie doesn’t have a plot so much as a list of incidents. I don’t feel like I’ve given much away, since the one-damn-thing-after-another structure keeps the viewer watching more for what happens moment to moment than for where the story’s going overall. As a consequence of its cliffhangers, and despite its length, Tih Minh zips. … Feuillade is able to depict such wild happenings onscreen because his foundations are so solid. I mean this not just from a storytelling perspective, but from a visual one. The director consistently relies on static medium-to-establishing shots, proscenium-like in their orientation, the camera viewing the characters from a slightly elevated angle, and the lighting’s generally unobtrusive. In other words, Feuillade gives us a relatively normal, stable-looking frame so that the odd happenings within it can seem all the more disruptive.

Feuillade is filming a rousing adventure story, but he’s also questioning the future of the world. It’s a world explicitly without central authority figures, in which the characters fight to assert their own moral order—as one of d’Athys’s companions conveniently says late in the film to justify hunting the thieves, “why inform the police? We are mixed up in the most remarkable adventure in the world, let’s go all the way with it ourselves.” … The film balances its societal poles so that Nature ultimately has to intervene. Toward the end of the film, as the felons flee into the mountains, Feuillade moves his camera several hundred feet back and we see them as specks in the landscape. Unlike Les Vampires, in which the black-clad Irma Vep appears and disappears at her liking, the antagonists here never seem more than human; once the boulders crash, they seem especially so. D’Athys, a bland hero, triumphs over his adversaries not through skill so much as through luck and fate. Rather than a screenplay deficiency, this seems the movie’s point.

Les Vampires came out the same year as The Birth of a Nation, but as Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, Griffith and Feuillade “seem to belong to different centuries. While Griffith’s work reeks of Victorian morality and nostalgia for the mid-19th century, Feuillade looks ahead to the global paranoia, conspiratorial intrigues, and SF technological fantasies of the current century, right up to today.” The most appropriate comparison for Tih Minh isn’t to another silent film, but to a recent hit like The Dark Knight. Both films are about shape-shifting, disguise-donning villains and the heroes who take the law into their own hands to stop them. Both films structure themselves as a series of setpieces alternating between each party’s capture and escape. Both films are allegories about the wars their countries were then fighting (Tih Minh‘s gang is a gaggle of foreigners; several Dark Knight characters call the Joker a terrorist). Yet Tih Minh trumps The Dark Knight stylistically, tonally, and thematically. … The Dark Knight insists that wire-tapping, torture, and government cover-ups are necessary in the name of freedom, accepting these precepts fatalistically; Tih Minh, by contrast, shows us a world worth saving. … One film exhausts, the other liberates; the comic book film thinks it’s addressing reality, but the human film knows it speaks the language of dreams.

Jacques in asylum:

Notes I took:

“She is like Lord Stone. She will not betray us.”

Kistna comes right over and borrows the book, so why the brainwashing?

“But Tih Minh, the beloved, had drunk the potion of forgetfulness and did not even know how to speak anymore.”

I think they are saying that Gilson and the Marquise are psychic

The comedian got pushed over a cliff into water while the marquise tried to rob the house, caught by Jacques and passed out.

25 kidnapped girls in the basement!!

They encounter a petrified dog, aww Kistna is experimenting on cute puppies.

Kidnappees spend their days having pajama fights

Servant caught in wolf trap, Jacques leaves him.

Plac as hero is upright, not goofy as I expected.

Haha, he lures Tih out of the house to the beach using a cat.

Just as Tih is returned home, obsessed with a cat, Rosette is delivering the photos to fake-beard Gilson. Plac and Ros beat the hell out of him. Time for him to face the fact that he is a very ineffectual villain.

Music for In the Realm of Passion fits so well, I’d forgotten it wasn’t part of the movie.

“Agents of Germany” want to steal the secret. Wow, WWI wasn’t over yet.

Baddies hid microphones in the garden. That’s hell of high technology they’ve got there.

Now Gilson and Dolores are trying to steal the document – all they ever do is try to steal the document and it’s getting a bit boring.

Marx killed a servant after breaking in, then shoots her dad. Marx is Gilson!

This is the kind of car chase that was possible in 1918: the bad guys are driving away at top speed, Jacques is able to catch up by running.

Rosette is an excellent shot

Oh it’s all in goofy fun that we drive away the false nuns who threatened our lives by spraying them with a garden hose as they scurry away. They’ll be back in 15 minutes threatening your lives again.

Jacques seems to be telling Tih that pretty girls should be home arranging flowers, not out avenging the death of their father.

Now it’s an evil cook working in the house with a messenger dog, both of whom “no one suspects.”

Why don’t they stop letting people into the house. No nuns, no new servants, not anybody. Stupid rich people with houses like hotels, servants galore and people always coming and going.

Holy crap, one of the bad spies just killed Dolores with a rock.

The heroes’ plan fails, because of course it does. Our heroes are so foolish that when the baddies are disarmed they use Rosette and Placide as human shields, and this works. They’re DISarmed. You can just run around Rosette and punch the bad guys in the face. But no, they all escape.

I prefer inspector Juve and his reporter sideick Fandor from the Fantomas series. Not only are they in higher-definition than the identical suit-wearing blobs of this movie, they’re much smarter.

Oh good Dolores isn’t dead.

They escape to the rooftops! Finally. It’s just not Feuillade without a chase on the rooftops.

The three baddies turn on each other.
One’s head is smashed with a rock.
Gilson is still alive.
Gilson throws kistna off a cable car.
Gilson is blown up by dynamite!
Kistna is found dead.
Dolores kills herself.
Wedding!