The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Bunuel)

Seen this a few times before, and a year or two after watching, I can never remember what I loved about it. The story’s not exciting (similar plot description to The Exterminating Angel) and I recall it being slow and weird, but not weird enough to be memorable. So I watched again, and loved it again, and this time maybe it’ll stick.

Starts out with a bunch of slightly awful people trying to make dinner appointments that never quite work out. They arrive at a house on the wrong night. They walk out of a restaurant whose owner is lying dead in the next room. Their hosts abandon them to have sex in the bushes. Meanwhile, ambassador Fernando Rey is dodging terrorists, and local priest Julien Bertheau wants to be the Senechals’ gardener.

So far a finely-shot, classy-looking film about slightly weird things, then the second half becomes a series of sidetracks. A random officer in a restaurant tells a long ghost story, the ambassador shoots a guy, the dinner table becomes a stage play, the priest takes revenge on the man who killed his parents, the whole group is raided by police and arrested, the whole group is slaughtered, and all these things turn out to be dreams, dreams within dreams, punctuated by shots of the group (minus the priest) walking down a road (recalling a shot in The Milky Way).

Murderous priest:

The sex-in-bushes, priest-employing couple: Jean-Pierre Cassel (Army of Shadows, the king in Lester’s The Three Musketeers) and Stephane Audran (Babette’s Feast, La Rupture). The other couple: Paul Frankeur (The Milky Way, Jour de Fete) and Delphine Seyrig, and her drunk sister is the great Bulle Ogier. So that’s another difference between this viewing and my previous ones: this time I know and love all three lead actresses.

Didn’t realize when I decided to watch this and Day For Night that they won consecutive foreign-film oscars.

Piccoli cameo:

M. D’Angelo:

Hard to quantify the cumulative satirical force this movie brings to bear, as it maintains the same level of genial drollery from start to finish. I always start out mildly amused, wind up gobsmacked… but it seems entirely possible that shuffling the scenes at random would have much the same effect. It’s just a single pointed joke that gets funnier and funnier, abetted by a sextet of actors who refrain from any winking or nudging — Bulle Ogier in particular achieves maximum vacuity without calling attention to herself in any way, but they all embody entitlement with zero fuss.

I’m Going Home (2001, Manoel de Oliveira)

“Deliberately paced, lacking narrative momentum” reads a positive review. I found it very strange (even having seen some of Oliveira’s other films) in an exciting way. It would be easy to write an accurate plot description for netflix, something like “a respected old actor (Michel Piccoli) becomes the guardian of his grandson after losing the rest of his family in an accident, and begins to redefine his life’s priorities.” But that wouldn’t begin to convey the film itself. For instance, Oliveira opens on Piccoli starring onstage in Exit The King alongside Catherine Deneuve and Leonor Silveira. Piccoli plays this scene facing almost entirely away from camera. We see the men backstage who’ve come to deliver the news about his wife and daughter’s fatal car accident, but the men speak to nobody and the scene keeps playing out, watching the back of Piccoli’s head, for about the first fifth of the movie’s runtime. So it’s clear that “narrative momentum” is not what Oliveira was going for.

A while later, Piccoli’s actor has kept working since the accident, a nanny caring for his grandson most of the time. Then he’s (badly) cast in a film of Ulysses directed by John Malkovich. After fumbling a few passes at the English dialogue, he speaks the title and ditches the movie.


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.


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.


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.

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…


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:

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.

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.”


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.


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.


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.”



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.”


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:

Garcin and Gayet:

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:

Sandrine d’Arc:

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:

Jeanne and Hanna:

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:

The credits list how many seconds and frames were used from each featured film – impressive – and also all the stolen music cues.


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:

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.”


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:

Doctor Belmondo and Jack Nance:



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:

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:

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

María Félix (jealous Lola) was a huge star in Mexico. Giani Esposito (the prince) starred six years later in Rivette’s Paris nous appartient.

Franco Pastorino (Paolo) died a few years later, only appearing in one more film.

This is the earliest Michel Piccoli appearance I’m likely to see (his earlier films are quite obscure). That’s him in the blue.

Cameo by Edith Piaf: