Bad Blood (1986, Leos Carax)

Pure cinema! Young, wired Denis Lavant flees girlfriend Julie Delpy to help Hans and Marc (Michel Piccoli) on a heist in place of Lavant’s murdered father, and falls for Piccoli’s girl Juliette Binoche. Camera races Lavant down the street. Amazing skydiving scene (the editing, the parachute’s-eye top-down shot, the sheer audacity). It’s a spare story, and Lavant dies at the end, mourned by both girls. Delpy and Binoche had both previously appeared in Godard films, were later the stars of White and Blue, respectively.

Genealogies of a Crime (1997, Raoul Ruiz)

I was about to start reading my Ruiz book, so I watched this first to feel more current. But it’s near-impossible to feel current with the prolific Ruiz, especially when the book opens in Chile two decades before the earliest of his features I’ve seen (Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting).

There’s much mirroring and many strange relationships in this one. Catherine Deneuve is a lawyer defending a boy her just-deceased son’s age for killing his aunt (her own age). Two bizarre and conflicting psychoanalytic societies are interested in the case – one run by mustachey Christian (Andrzej Seweryn, house butler in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet), an associate of the dead aunt, and the other by his erratic-acting “official enemy” Georges (Michel Piccoli, a couple years after Simon Cinema).

Defendant Rene is Melvil Poupaud, a Ruiz regular who got his start as the murderous little boy in City of Pirates. Catherine’s first strategy is to interview him, but she doesn’t get straight answers. Rene plays a game with Catherine that he played with his aunt, where they switch places, speaking as each other, interrupting with a “beep” if the other person gets them wrong. Rene’s aunt kept a diary about him with shades of Through a Glass Darkly – “I’ll follow his development, his descent into hell.” So Catherine reads the diary at the aunt’s house (under supervision of Bernadette Lafont, pirate leader of Noroit and Sarah in Out 1), imagining the scenes described within with herself as the aunt.

All this leads to a tableau reenactment of historic crimes, posing members of the society according to a painting (callback to The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting), but Rene’s “girlfriend” (actually a hired actress) says it’s an excuse for orgies. Anyway, Catherine wins the case, Rene is free, and Piccoli’s entire society poisons themselves.

But it doesn’t end there. Catherine’s mother died earlier in the film, now her friend the judge dies – she spends lots of time nearly alone at the funeral home. Mustache guy Christian returns, takes her to his archives with Mathieu Amalric (one of Rene’s criminal friends from earlier), explains his theory (referenced in the film’s title) about crime being inherited through generations. “People assume stories happen to them. Actually, they are possessed by stories.”

“We thought you’d end up a murderess,” said Catherine’s mom early in the film. Free but possibly guilty, Rene stays at her house, becomes more and more demanding, takes over her life, until finally she stabs him (and all his friends) to death, ending up on trial herself.

Bizarre Ruizian touches along the way: at key moments, we’ll hear the sound of child laughter or distant applause. While someone is talking, sitting still, instead of a slow camera move, the person’s chair or the decor behind him will be slowly gliding. Piccoli’s character has major dandruff, a distracting detail in all his scenes. And a whole mother/daughter conversation in mom’s curio-filled house is shot from various spooky angles with the knick-knacks in the foreground and the people in the distance.

M. Le Cain:

Solange’s adventure essentially consists of her moving through the various perspectives on a murder case, assimilating and reliving the stories of the different characters as they die, like a giant snowball accumulating more and more snow as it rolls down a hill. Having become both victim and murderer – who were themselves both engaged in a dangerous game of identity swapping – she pronounces herself the ‘universal inheritor’ of all the film’s narratives.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (2012, Alain Resnais)

A slow-unfolding (but always formally exciting) Resnais movie gathering most of his favorite actors in a room for a contrived reason (a just-deceased writer/director wants his favorite actors to evaluate film of a modern performance of his Orpheus/Eurydice play). As the film goes on, the actors in the audience interact with it, reciting lines to the screen and to each other, standing up to perform entire scenes. The movie has a crisp, digital look and Resnais makes walls fall away smoothly, transporting the actors seamlessly into scenes from the play, using split-screens to show simultaneous performances of the same scene. It often seems like the ultimate movie of theater and performance, the work he’s been leading towards at least since the early 80’s (if not earlier, the location-jumping and memory-morphing hearkening back to his famed earliest features). Fortunately, it seems he’s still going strong and will have another movie out next year.

In the crowd: the Smoking/No Smoking team of Sabine Azeme and Pierre Artiti, Mathieu Amalric and Anne Consigny from Wild Grass, Michel Piccoli and Gerard Lartigau from way back in The War Is Over, Lambert Wilson (Not on the Lips), Anny Duperey (Stavisky), and more (can’t expect to know ‘em all on a first viewing).

Actor Denis Podalyes plays the director, who addresses the group by video at the beginning and appears in person at the end, and his brother Bruno Podalyes actually directed the video within the movie.

Slant:

The reference point in the Resnais canon is 1986’s Mélo, which similarly foregrounded and made a virtue of its theatrical source while doubling and tripling the layers of irony, though nowhere near the extreme degree that the director pursues in his latest. .. Resnais suggests that the proper relation between the cinema and the theater is to throw it all together, take the best of both worlds and present it as pure showmanship.

Mubi:

A collective hallucination of people who think they’re talking to each other but are only talking to a screen: it’s the duly-noted theme of Vous n’avez encore rien vu, as the backgrounds dissolve from the screening room into a train station, café, and hotel, while the characters remain seated in place, stuck in some cinematheque of their imagination, foreshortened by Ruizian compositions a plane apart from their own space.

Le Doulos (1962, Jean-Pierre Melville)

I actually kept up with all the plot confusion, so better write this down while I still remember it. Thief Maurice (Serge Reggiani, would-be star of Clouzot’s Inferno) kills and robs his fence/friend Gilbert (Rene Lefevre, Monsieur Lange in The Crime of Monsieur Lange), goes home to girlfriend Therese, hangs out with friends Silien and Jean, then gets caught robbing a house the next night, kills a cop who knew Silien and Gilbert, and gets arrested for both killings, neither of which can be proven.

From another POV (with a few holes), as soon as Maurice leaves Therese’s house robbery, buddy Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of three Melville movies he did between Breathless and Pierrot Le Fou) runs in, ties up Therese (smacking her around first) and asks her where the robbery is taking place. Cops cars arrive just as Maurice’s partner has started drilling the safe – the partner and the cop are killed, and Maurice faints with a bullet wound, picked up by persons unknown in a car. Belmondo visits the police station, a known informer, and offers to call around the bars looking for Maurice – they catch him in one, and he’s arrested. Meanwhile, Therese turns up dead in her car at the bottom of a ravine. Looks like Belmondo has locked up Maurice for offing his cop friend, and killed his girlfriend too. On top of that, Belmondo finds the buried jewels, cash and gun from the Gilbert killing (Maurice had left Therese a map, in case anything happened to him). In jail, Maurice (who’s as much the star of the movie as the over-the-title-credited Belmondo) hires a dude to kill Belmondo once they get out.

But Belmondo turns out to be a true friend who’s extremely good at covering for Maurice’s crimes. Belmondo killed the girl for ratting, saved Maurice at the scene of the heist, met up with his own ex-girl (Fabienne Dali of Kill Baby, Kill) and used the jewels to frame Michel Piccoli for the murder(s). So all is well… or it would be, but Maurice remembers that he’s got a hit man after his friend, so he races to Belmondo’s house and everybody gets killed.

So much twisty plot going on, I barely noticed anything else. Seemed like one of Melville’s more busy, exciting films.

Buy from Amazon:
Le Doulos (Criterion DVD)

Les créatures (1966, Agnès Varda)

I think these might be time-lapse shots of the tide going out, but the picture quality is too poor to be sure. This is gonna be a rough one…

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Opens with a closeup of Catherine Deneuve smiling, a good sign, but soon she and husband Michel Piccoli are in a car crash. Afterwards, she can’t speak anymore and he has a harry potter scar on his forehead. Some eerie, powerful string music and many close-ups of crabs later, we’re at a seaside town where the couple have come to recuperate. Apparently they don’t talk with the locals much because there’s plenty of gossip going around.

Sheet salesmen:
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Doesn’t take long for things to get weird. Small hands drop buttons into pockets. Piccoli (whose character name is also Piccoli) gets scammed by traveling sheet salesmen. Fishermen provide La Pointe-courte flashbacks for the viewer. Piccoli beats a chef with a dead cat. But it’s not a comedy! Something dark and eerie is definitely going on.

Piccoli talks with a horse. The horse talks back.
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Piccoli is a writer working on a story, and when we see him writing the dialogue being spoken by a woman across town, I’m never sure afterwards what is really happening and what’s part of his meta-movie.

horse: “What is your story about?”
MP: “It’s about a man who knows how to control people by remote control. … but it wouldn’t last very long, a minute at most. This guy would be a bad person, with an evil mind. He wouldn’t be human or animal anymore.”

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Soon Michel meets a bad man with an evil mind, Mr. Ducasse, who lives in a tower. He’s hired kids to drop magic discs into townspeople’s pockets which enable their wills to be controlled by his super computer. Ducasse calls the townfolk his “creatures”, gets Piccoli to play a game of Battle Chess with him over the fate of the town and of MP’s wife. MP is losing, but decides he doesn’t have to take Ducasse’s crazy misanthropic shit anymore, destroys the computer and tosses Ducasse from the tower. I’ll let NY Times give away the ending below.

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Other notes I took while watching:

Catherine writes him messages, which I can’t read from the poor picture quality, and even if I could read them, they’d be in French. I have nice DVDs of Varda and Demy movies here, but I choose to watch a junk bootleg instead. Odd priorities.

The dead cat came with a piece of iron that makes the lights go out and causes people to act strange.

He just told a rabbit that his wife is pregnant.

Thief Max burns money, puts on diving suit, gets shot by partner.

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You can’t tell much about the camerawork from my lo-res letterboxed videotape, but it’s one of the first films shot by William Lubtchansky (a decade before he began his 30+ year relationship with Jacques Rivette) along with two others. Interesting that all of her films until 1977 had multiple credited cinematographers.

Village Voice calls it “really botched” in their roundup for this year’s retrospective… “If it’s about anything, it’s about the creative process in action and stars that fine actor Michel Piccoli as a novelist who bases the characters in his story on friends and acquaintances.”

Ebert: “a complex and nearly hypnotic study of the way fact is made into fiction. It seems to operate on many levels, but in fact it operates on only one, illustrating how fantasy, reality and style are simultaneously kept suspended in the mind of a creative writer.”

NY Times: “Then love conquers all. The survivors of the seven subplots make happy arrangements — for example, the statuesque hotel keeper (Eva Dahlbeck) gives up mistressing for the town doctor and begins with an underage busboy. The writer almost completes his novel. The wife gets her voice back, pronounces her husband’s name (“Edgar”), and has her baby — a bawling creature who at the end fills up the screen precisely to balance (and somewhat to resemble) a crab creature that fills it at the beginning.”

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The movie’s studied anthropology and attack on human behavior reminds me of Resnais’ Mon oncle d’Amerique. And also of Bjork’s “Human Behavior.” There’s definitely, definitely… definitely no logic.

101 Nights of Simon Cinema (1995, Agnès Varda)

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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French Cancan (1954, Jean Renoir)

It took me two or three years to finally watch The Golden Coach and then I loved it to pieces, so anticipation was unreasonably high for this one. At first it’s just another Renoir movie, light and magnificent even when being grim and serious, but as the plot threads started to mirror those of The Golden Coach (woman deciding between three lovers) it built to a similarly wonderful ending. So no, not up to Golden Coach standards, but close!

Jean Gabin:
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This was Renoir’s big return to France, his first French movie since the distrastrously received Rules of the Game, so he made a nationalistic crowd-pleaser with lots of dancing girls, just to be safe. In the late 1800’s, Jean Gabin (fresh off Touchez pas au grisbi) is having financial trouble with his high-class variety theater, decides to buy a new place and revive the low-class can-can dance as a popular middle-class spectacle. Calls it the Moulin Rouge, ho ho. Recruits and trains non-dancers including washwoman Nini and gathers old favorite companions including hot-tempered star dancer (and part-time girlfriend) Lola, famous whistler Roberto, and singing assistant Casimir, and gains financial assistance from a visiting prince.

Trouble: Nini is fooling around with Gabin, also has longtime boyfriend Paolo, and is also being courted by the prince. Paolo tells her it’s over if she dances the cancan in public, and she breaks up with the prince (leading to his suicide attempt), so she tries to stick with Gabin, under the condition that he see no other girl but her. His reaction:
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So now, boyfriendless, she throws herself joyously into the dance, choosing art over a steady love life, the same ending as The Golden Coach but in exhuberant dance instead of a solemn speech. Wonderful! Can’t believe Katy didn’t want to watch this back when I kept suggesting it in the apartment. Anyway, I’ll gladly watch again when she changes her mind.

Color and sound and costumes are all brilliant. Acting is usually great, and when it’s not, Renoir keeps things moving fast enough that you can’t tell. I was surprised when Gabin wakes up in bed with Lola – I’d forgotten that you could do that in 1950’s Europe. His scene at the end is great, sitting backstage tapping his foot, imagining the action on stage, knowing all the steps and smiling without having to see. The Criterion essay (or did I read it somewhere else?) points out that this scene lets us know that he choreographed the dance and practiced it with the girls over and over without showing us the actual practices… very effective.

Françoise Arnoul (Nini) had previously appeared in Antonioni’s “I Vinti”, is still acting today
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María Félix (jealous Lola) was a huge star in Mexico. Giani Esposito (the prince) starred six years later in Rivette’s Paris nous appartient.
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Franco Pastorino (Paolo) died a few years later, only appearing in one more film.
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This is the earliest Michel Piccoli appearance I’m likely to see (his earlier films are quite obscure). That’s him in the blue.
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Cameo by Edith Piaf:
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The Milky Way (1969, Luis Buñuel)

This is one of Buñuel’s anarchic sketch films (see also: Simon of the Desert, Phantom of Liberty) which he made in between his relatively more normal, subversive upper-class films (in this case between Belle de Jour and Tristana). I still think I appreciate his films more than I enjoy them, but the more of them I watch, the more I feel that his career is unassailable, that his last twenty years of filmmaking produced one long masterpiece. It turns out I had seen this before, though I barely remembered it. Must’ve rented the tape from Videodrome. Don’t think I finished it last time, because it got foggier around the halfway point.

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Such a smart and well-researched movie, I don’t feel qualified to discuss it. I can discuss the cinematic aspects though. Good photography with no surprises, unusually long shots but not noticeably/showoffy long. Buñuel’s movies always feel the tiniest bit too slow for me, too perfectly calm and collected, the acting and sets and camerawork too high-quality for their content, which I suppose is the point.

The plot is a “picaresque”, two beggars wander into various scenarios during their long walk from Paris France to a holy pilgrimage spot in Santiago Spain – although it turns out they’re not on a pilgrimage themselves, they just heard there’s a huge crowd in Santiago where they can get rich on spare change. Different historical periods and bible stories blend into their present-day 1960’s voyage without anyone batting an eye. They meet Satan(?), the Whore of Babylon, and lots of people discussing the six central mysteries of Catholicism and their associated heresies. They do not meet Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Marquis de Sade or the Pope, but they’re all in the movie via sidetracks from the main action (though one could argue that it’s all sidetracks). Plenty of surreal moments keep the movie lively even when the dialogue is all obscure religious debate.

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French cinematographer Christian Matras was about Buñuel’s age, had also shot most of Max Ophüls’ best films, also The Eagle Has Two Heads with Cocteau and Grand Illusion with Renoir. Co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière (also an occasional actor) worked on most of Bunuel’s 60’s-70’s stuff and over a hundred other movies, including recent ones like Chinese Box, Birth and Goya’s Ghosts. The guy who played Jesus starred in Rohmer’s sixth moral tale a couple years later. Virgin Mary Edith Scob was in Franju’s Judex in the 60’s, and lately in some Raoul Ruiz films and the newest by Olivier Assayas. Of the two tramps, the older would be in the next two of Buñuel’s French films, and the younger would star in Clouzot’s La Prisonnière and Godard’s Détective.

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In the DVD interviews, Ian Christie tries to make us feel better for not knowing the historical references – he says nobody knew them. He got a press kit. The film was influenced by The Saragossa Manuscript, which sounds cool. “What heresy means for him is a kind of metaphor, I think, for human beings’ fascination with arguing about the immaterial, the invisible, trying to bolt it down and make it literal.” Screening when it did, it was alternately seen as cleverly reflecting or having nothing to do with the political and social upheaval in late 60’s France. Interview with the writer and documentary on the DVD are both pretty alright, nothing that needs repeating here.

Our two bums with the whore of babylon:
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Michel Piccoli as the Marquis de Sade:
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Alain Cuny as the mysterious walkin’ guy:
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L’Age d’or reference:
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The War Is Over (1966, Alain Resnais)

Resnais’s fourth feature, coming out the same year as Rivette’s The Nun. Watched this once before and have practically no memory of it, so this time I read the screenplay then watched again. By doing so, and by watching it alongside the other Resnais films I’ve seen this year, I’m sure I’ll remember and appreciate it more than I did before, but it also makes me wonder about the nature of Resnais’s art, because he has filmed Spanish writer Jorge Semprún’s screenplay word for word and shot for shot. Semprún describes flashback cuts and actors’ facial expressions, and there it is on the screen. The film isn’t as poetic and dreamy as Resnais’ other films of this period, but it definitely fits in with them, has a similar feel, plays like the work of the same artist. The book felt more tense, and the movie felt more melancholy, like a somewhat lighter Army of Shadows.

Story takes place across just a couple of days (not counting flashes-backs-and-forward) in Paris suburbs, two weeks before a planned protest and strike in Spain. Diego aka Carlos aka Domingo aka The Passenger (Yves Montand, halfway between his starring roles in Let’s Make Love and Tout va bien) returns from Spain to warn his underground anti-Franco activist organization (led by chief Jean Dasté) about the recent police crackdown in Madrid which led to the arrest of some operatives including one good friend. Diego wants to warn his other friend Juan away from returning to Spain, but Juan is already on his way to Barcelona. Diego was himself detained at the border, his false passport inspected by Customs official Michel Piccoli, which leads to complications later. Diego lives (on the rare occasions when he is back in France) with lover Ingrid Thulin (a Bergman regular who is wonderful in this movie) but he also half-heartedly messes around with a young Geneviève Bujold, daughter of the man whose passport he borrowed and herself a revolutionary, but with a younger group that practices impatient and violent means of returning Spain to her mythical (never existent) past Marxist glory. Diego and his group (incl. pro smuggler Jean Bouise, who later played Warok in Out 1) resent that Spain has become a symbol of the radical left but without any definite progress, that they’ve lost more and more comrades promoting these strikes and protests which are never as widespread or effective as intended. They continue their struggle, workmanlike but without much hope… a tone more fitting (in France) for the mid 70’s than the mid 60’s. Interesting that this came out right when Resnais’s contemporaries were about to turn to politics, then he followed it up with the much less political Je t’aime, je t’aime.

Writer Semprún later adapted screenplays for Costa-Gavras and wrote Stavisky for Resnais. He must be the only non-English speaker to receive TWO oscar nominations for writing. Shot by his regular guy Sacha Vierny with music by Giovanni Fusco, an Antonioni regular who died of a heart attack in May ’68.

The movie is called “stylistically orthodox” and “one of his most accessible films.” It’s not reportage-style realism, just straight drama, which never feels heightened by technique even though there are some signature smooth tracking shots and the love scene with Bujold is downright expressionist. I found the look and the camerawork to be more Muriel than Je t’aime, but of course the editing is completely unlike either of those.

Time Out: “Perhaps it is the film’s directness and obviously dated aspects (middle-age male angst faced with effervescent feminine adoration having become such a staple ‘art movie’ subject) that have made it seem a minor item in an often challenging director’s career.”

Harvard: “A series of premonitions told in flash-forward near the film’s conclusion make powerful statements about memory and aspiration, commitment and faith.”

A. Agarwal: “The film ends in inevitability. Thulin, the mistress whose devotion sometimes makes Montand uncomfortable yet at peace with himself, learns Montand is going to be sucked into a trap, and she starts out to let him know and save him from crossing into Spain. The film ends here, yet there’s a shadow of death over it. Either Thulin will not be able to save Montand, or she will be able to save him and Montand will quit this life and spend the remaining part of it trying to make peace with himself and his country.”

Michel Piccoli
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Jean Daste
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Warok
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Genevieve Bujold
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Thulin & Montand
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