Goodbye First Love (2011, Mia Hansen-Løve)

Paris, 1999: Sullivan and Camille are young and in love. He moves to South America, letters arrive less frequently, and flash forward to 2003, Camille has a serious haircut and is taking architecture courses. We see scraps of her life as the years go by, trying to get over Sullivan, dating married professor/architect Lorenz, moving in with him. When Sullivan finally returns to Paris, they get together, but not for long. “I’m leaving you because it’s too late or too soon to start again.”

My first Hansen-Løve movie and it’s a good one, with the beautiful Lola Crèton (Justine in Bastards) made ever-more beautiful by regular Jacques Audiard cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine. The look sometimes made me think of Rohmer, but the way the story and the scenes moved was something else, which I’m apparently not smart enough to describe accurately (Peter Labuza says “sensually naturalistic yet carefully calculated frames”).

In fact I have a hard time defining what makes this a great movie, but I’m convinced that it is. The talk about light in building design reminded me of La Sapienza, a movie I rated more highly than this one on a year-end list, but they could easily switch positions. Ben Sachs’ article in Mubi is a good one:

The movie seems to advance by intuition … Nothing happens comfortably or predictably: Hansen-Løve will devote several minutes to a seemingly mundane action, then advance the plot several months into the future with a simple, unassuming edit. (The greatest elisions, usually skipping over a few years at a time, are denoted by slow fade-outs that suggest the line breaks in a poem.) … The film ends abruptly, and yet at exactly the right moment. Hansen-Løve doesn’t sustain Camille’s final epiphany, which only makes it feel more true to life. The character, now a grown woman capable of elegizing her youth, hasn’t experienced a lifetime of love and regret – she only thinks that she has.

Simon Killer (2012, Antonio Campos)

Maybe it’s a gimmick, but it worked for me, belatedly. I spent most of the movie wondering at the widescreen cinematography (which seems to use its black bars as a weapon, subtracting from the picture rather than adding) and the going-nowhere story, only gradually realizing that friendly, innocent Simon is being revealed as a liar and woman-beater.

Adam Cook:

The portentous title immediately creates an anticipation for the events that will follow. Yet whilst there is a logic to the title, Campos smartly plays with the audience’s expectations as this is not a serial killer thriller but the character study of a detached sociopath who leeches off others before discarding them when they have fulfilled their usefulness. Simon is a complicated and ambiguous character, weak and pitiful yet cunning and manipulative. He is a man who adapts himself to take advantages of situations, appearing hurt and helpless yet always in control.

American Simon is Brady Corbet (part of the Melancholia wedding meltdown) and his girl in Paris is Mati Diop (35 Shots of Rum), and the two cowrote their parts together with Campos, whose third feature Christine premiered at Sundance the week I watched this.

Before Trilogy (Richard Linklater)

We watched these on Mondays (“Before Mondays”) in January.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Celine and Jesse meet on a train, talk for a while, and he convinces her to disembark in Vienna and spend the day with him before his flight out. They ride the trains and buses, go record shopping, visit a cemetery, church and carnival (feat. The Third Man ferris wheel), talk to fortune teller, poet and theater guys, hang out in bars, cafes and plazas then end up in the park with a bottle of wine. Next morning at the train station, plans to meet again in six months. Standard, unadorned romance-movie setup. Nothing new here. But so, so perfect in the dialogue and details. Linklater won best director in Berlin.

Before Sunset (2004)

Carefully maintained real-time structure – only about one edit where I felt time might’ve elapsed, and then no more than a minute. It also shuts out all side characters once the main couple meets again at Jesse’s book event (right after readers succeed in getting him to admit that the girl he’s written about really exists). Conversation starts with reminiscing and explaining why they didn’t meet six months after last time, gradually turns more personal, revealing their dissatisfaction with current relationships, leading to one of my favorite-ever movie endings: Jesse, who parted with Celine last time to catch a plane, not making that mistake again.

Before Midnight (2013)

No more happy reunions – they’ve been together since the last movie and now have twin girls. Jesse is concerned about his son growing up with his mom a continent away and feels out Celine on the idea of moving there, which sparks a massive, movie-length argument that felt almost too real for Katy to handle. At least they’re in a new country, at the end of a writing retreat in Greece, but there’s little time for sightseeing. The first section of the movie has them in conversation with friends (including Athina Rachel Tsangari), a nice way of bouncing our main couple’s middle-aged ideas on love and romance off other couples of different ages.

The Tenant (1976, Roman Polanski)

Happy SHOCKtober!

It’s hard to tell what I watched in SHOCKtober 2013, since I was running months behind and posting movies out of order, but I think it was six movies, from Mr. Vampire through The Black Cat, plus a Last Ten Minutes full of ridiculous horror sequels. SHOCKtober 2012 consisted of a single movie, The Hole. So 2011 was the last big SHOCKtober, and 2010 even got its own horror top-ten list. Time to bring back the shocks – got a bunch of movies lined up for this month.

Polanski himself plays Trelkovsky, who snags a Paris apartment (with an awfully steep deposit) thanks to the suicide of the former tenant Simone, and is made to feel unwelcome by almost everybody. He visits Simone during her final days in hospital agony and meets her friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani of Possession, also Lucy in Herzog’s Nosferatu). Then Trelkovsky attempts to settle in at home (he works as some kind of clerk, shades of Kafka), but everyone is suspicious of him, even the local police, accusing him of rule violations, and Trelkovsky starts to suspect these hostile neighbors drove Simone to jump from her window.

One man and a wardrobe:

French neighbors scheming against Polish Jew, was starting to look like a persecution story, but then Polanski starts believing the neighbors are trying to turn him into Simone when he wakes up with women’s makeup on his face, and another day he’s lost the same tooth she had lost.

At the end, when he has found shelter at Stella’s place then trashes her apartment because he thinks she’s in on the conspiracy, it becomes clearer than Trelkovsky is just nuts. Inevitably, he jumps from the apartment window in front of an imagined audience of mocking neighbors, but the fall doesn’t kill him, and as the police arrive, he lurches back up the stairs and jumps a second time, ending up in a time-loop as he takes Simone’s place in the hospital bed and sees himself and Stella visiting.

Polanski and Adjani pause to watch Enter The Dragon:

Great cast: Melvyn Douglas (40-some years after The Old Dark House) is Mr. Z the landlord. Jo Van Fleet (Wild River) brings a petition (which Trelkovsky refuses to sign) to evict another neighbor. Jeunet regular Rufus (Amelie‘s dad) comes by looking for Simone. Shelley Winters (A Place in the Sun, Night of the Hunter) plays the angry building concierge. Unfortunately some actors have been euro-dubbed, and even the cinematography by Sven Nykvist (between Black Moon and Autumn Sonata) looked just-decent on my video copy.

Jo:

Melvyn:

Ebert called it an embarrassment, also explains there was an apartment shortage in Paris at the time. I guess people were bound to be disappointed in any follow-up to Chinatown, but Canby called it “the most successful and most consistently authentic Polanski film in years,” dismissing Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby as “more or less tailored to popular tastes.” Critics mention Trelkovsky’s meek and malleable nature and the film’s pessimism, but I’m still not sure what to make of the Egyptian references. And am I misinterpreting the image, or at one point is his nightstand replaced with a two-dimensional copy?

Nominated at Cannes the same yeas as Taxi Driver, The Marquise of O, Kings of the Road and Mr. Klein. Based on the novel by Roland Topor, who cowrote Fantastic Planet and played Renfield in Herzog’s Nosferatu.

An American In Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli)

We’ve got three guys who live in the same building over a cafe: painter Jerry (Gene Kelly), pianist Adam (Oscar Levant of The Band Wagon and The Barkleys of Broadway) and semi-rich guy Henri (French singer Georges Guetary). Each has a backstory, love and career aspirations, but only one is Gene Kelly so we don’t spend much time with the other guys.

The ladies: Leslie Caron (whom I recently saw in Surreal Estate) has a killer introduction via musical dream sequence. After Gene acts stalkerish towards her (as we know from watching classic movies, this is the correct approach) she starts to fall in love with him, but whoops, she’s due to marry Henri who once saved her from nazis. Rich, overconfident Nina Foch picks up Gene as his sponsor, then starts to act possessive.

So Gene and his two women take up most of the plot, but surprisingly Oscar gets a long dream sequence of his own, where he plays a dramatic piano piece conducted and accompanied and viewed by other Oscar Levants (someone has been watching Keaton’s The Playhouse). At the end Gene finds out about the whole nazi thing and grudgingly lets his girl go, then proceeds to dream himself a massive, astounding ballet (IMDB confirms Gene was a big Red Shoes fan). Sometime during the ballet Leslie must’ve had a heart-to-heart with Henri, because he brings her back to Gene at the end, leaving one happy couple, two broken-hearted rich people, and one lonely, out-of-work Oscar Levant. Then one assumes Nina pulls her sponsorship so Gene never gets his art show, and the couple lives off Leslie’s perfume-counter pay in their tiny apartment.

Written by major songwriter Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady) and directed by Minnelli between The Pirate and The Band Wagon. The songs have a rocky start with the unintelligible By Strauss, then Gene’s got a great routine for I Got Rhythm but there are children interfering with the song. Finally Gene and George get in a nice version of ‘S Wonderful halfway through. Oh and Gene and Oscar sing one in the apartments where Gene dances in a doorway. But really it’s all about the three dream sequences.

J. McElhaney in Senses of Cinema:

Chris Marker has stated that when he, Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet were in London in 1952 filming Les Statues meurent aussi they began every day by attending a 10am screening of An American in Paris. An American in Paris: a film which, apart from a few second-unit shots, recreates Paris entirely on Hollywood soundstages and the back lot; Les Statues meurent aussi: a documentary short on what happens to African art when it is exhibited in museums where it loses its relationship to the folk culture from which it sprang and as a result becomes lifeless, part of the “botany of death that we call culture.” In a larger sense, the short is also about the nature of art and what it (along with science and religion) means to us in our fight against death, becoming the “instrument of a desire to seize the world.” There are, of course, many ways for an artist to seize the world and consequently many ways for the artists we sometimes call filmmakers to do so as well, through the most rigorous of documentaries to the most stylised of musicals. Marker does not go into detail as to what it was he and his collaborators got out of this daily ritual of watching An American in Paris except to note the “lightness” that they felt watching the film. Consequently it may have been nothing more than a refuge from the seriousness of the work on their own obviously very serious film. But let us suppose for a moment that what these three French filmmakers saw in the faux French world of An American in Paris was a cinematic universe parallel rather than antithetical to their own, one equally possessed with a desire to seize the world and equally concerned with its own version of the “truth” but paradoxically articulating it within the realm of artifice. In the midst of a review of Francis Ford Coppola’s musical One from the Heart Serge Daney describes Coppola as working within the Minnellian idea “that a good illusionist does not ‘break’ the illusion, but constantly multiplies it, ad infinitum. The truth of a mask is not the face but an excess in the mask .. Two minuses make a plus. Two falsehoods make a truth”

Midnight In Paris (2011, Woody Allen)

Valentine’s Day screening with Katy (who liked it more than I did, but has issues with Owen Wilson) ends my 8-year ban on Woody’s new films since his Melinda & Melinda was so awful. Owen is about to marry irredeemably bitchy Rachel McAdams (potentially of the next Terrence Malick movie), so they’re vacationing in Paris with her condescending/republican parents (Kurt Fuller: Karl Rove in That’s My Bush! and Mimi Kennedy: the anti-war diplomat trying to wrestle into the war meeting of In The Loop, also of the Mr. Boogedy movies).

Owen is an annoyingly self-effacing frustrated novelist (but not so self-effacing that he doesn’t push people he’s just met into reading his manuscript) and a lover of old-fashioned things. At the titular magic hour/location he finds himself in his ideal 1920’s, mingling with Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill: Scott Pilgrim‘s girlfriend), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody, wonderful), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and fifty others. Each time Owen manages to stammer out their name and indicate that it’s an honor to meet them, then the famous character gets a couple lines before we’re whisked away to another famous character. Owen also meets non-famous Marion Cotillard, who dreams of an even earlier time, and then that ol’ Paris magic whisks her and Owen back to a pub in the 1880’s or 90’s where she meets her own art heroes (Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Degas) – who dream of an even earlier golden age. This was my favorite bit, where the movie seems to mock Owen and its own nostalgic premise. Marion opts to stay in her ideal past, but Owen returns to his present, dumps his wife (she was sleeping with Michael Sheen anyway), and picks up tour guide Lea Seydoux (baddie who shoots Paula Patton’s boyfriend in Mission Impossible 4).

Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932, Jean Renoir)

Michel Simon (returning from Le Chienne) is Boudu, a crazily bearded homeless guy who grows despondent over the disappearance of his dog and jumps into the river. Hundreds gather to gawk, but one man, a bookseller who was watching Boudu before he jumped, leaps in to save him. The bookseller (Charles Granval of some Duvivier films) is congratulated and given awards for taking the poor man in, so he can’t throw him back out, even though Boudu is wrecking his house and interfering in the bookseller’s affair with his housekeeper Anne Marie. Finally Boudu wins the lottery (!), and so marries lovely Anne Marie, but just after the wedding, floating down the river with the whole family, Boudu topples their canoe and floats away, happily returning to his hobo life.

Simon at his most Charles Laughtonesque:

I can’t figure out if it’s an attack on bourgeois society, or simply an attack on everything. It opens with a couple of telling scenes. Boudu loses his dog, asks the police for help and they tell him to fuck off. A rich woman loses her dog a few minutes later and everyone in the park takes up searching for it. Then a fancy man drives up and Boudu opens the door for him. The man searches all his pockets for cash to give in return, until finally Boudu is tired of waiting and gives the guy five bucks. It’s a very fun comedy, much lighter than La Chienne and with an exuberant performance by Simon. Richard Brody calls Boudu a “walking principle of anarchy, insolence, and truth,” who “punctures the pretenses of decent society with the riotousness of a fifth Marx brother.”

There’s a scene with Jean Daste as a student visiting the book store, and immediately afterwards, a shot of barges on the river. I figured Daste + Michel Simon + barges = a L’Atalante reference, not realizing that this movie was released two years earlier.

Jean Daste with Charles Granval:

Renoir: “The success surpassed all hopes. The public reacted with a blend of laughter and fury.”

Based on a play, which was remade for television in the 70’s, again in the 80’s with Nick Nolte then in 2005 with Gerard Depardieu.

It could be fun to think of this movie as a sequel, since Michel Simon ended Le Chienne as a cheerful hobo, his former life and marriage in tatters. But the accountant of Le Chienne was too mild to turn into a Boudu. Also, his beard wasn’t nearly awesome enough.

C. Faulkner

This is the period of the Depression in France, which accounts for the indifferent remark by a working-class character on the bridge that, of late, people have been throwing themselves into the Seine with regularity.

There is a sense that Boudu exteriorizes something that is in Lestingois himself, that the bookseller has summoned him up from the dark reaches of the personal and social unconscious. Boudu is everything at the center of the self and within society that has been discarded, ignored, or repressed. This “boudu” belongs to filth, to waste, to the unassimilable; he is an instinct, an urge, a drive. (What kind of name is Boudu? Does it connote a substance? An action? A disposition?) This “boudu” is something “savage” (so says Madame Lestingois), summoned involuntarily, that both attracts and repels, in equal measure, and over which Lestingois has no control, as the balance of the film proves.

Assistant director Jacques Becker plays a ranting poet in the park:

Night at the Crossroads (1932, Jean Renoir)

Opens with a great mix of music mixed with machine sound effects and wildly stylish titles, but it gets quieter and more (Re)noirish from there.

Guy’s car is stolen, replaced with another. He blames his Danish neighbors. Cop checks out the Danes’ garage, finds the guy’s car with a dead jeweler named Goldberg inside. The Dane seems innocent of the crime, but suspicious on another level. He wears a villainous-looking black-eyepatch monocle and has a slinky young sister Else with a pet turtle, who claims she asks to be locked into her room when her brother is away, but the inspector finds a key hidden in there. If one goes looking for Renoir connections, the inspector walking around the Danes’ living room playing with all their little machinery is reminiscent of the Rules of the Game. On the other hand, this movie features a car chase shootout, something I never thought I’d see in a Renoir film.

Turns out the crossroads (a garage, a butcher shop, the Danes’ house, couple other buildings) is a den of corruption. Else is actually wife to her so-called brother, and ex-wife of the killer, who’s in league with Oscar the mechanic and insurance man Michonnet – so pretty much everyone we meet is involved. Gangsters arrive, just blasting away at the garage where the inspector has been cracking the case, which leads to the aforementioned car chase.

A nice twisty and foggy detective story. The first adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel. There would be over a hundred more, including Magnet of Doom, Red Lights and The Man From London. Starring nobody who would seem very famous, besides Renoir’s older brother Pierre (later in La Marseillaise) in the lead role. His assistant Lucas was George Terof of Whirlpool of Fate.

D. Cairns:

Renoir’s [camera] does move with a … sense of narrative emphasis, but what he chooses to emphasize in this story often seems quite eccentric. And by his staccato editing, directly zapping from scene to scene, sometimes interrupting scenes with glimpses of mysterious activities elsewhere, he also seems very modern. … The film has in common with Vampyr a feeling that much of the action is taking place elsewhere, while we’re not around.

“I tried to give you the feeling of mud sticking to your feet, and of fog obscuring your sight.” —Renoir

La Chienne (1931, Jean Renoir)

Based on the same novel and play as Lang’s superb Scarlet Street. Middle-aged man “rescues” sexy girl on the street, sets her up in an apartment as his mistress, starts stealing from his workplace in order to pay her, as she funnels all her money to her boyfriend/pimp, who gambles it away then starts selling the Middle-Aged Man’s paintings for extra cash. The Man is despised by his wife, who still worships her deceased first husband – who later turns out to be alive, showing up in search of money. Man sees his chance, reveals the dead husband, nullifying his own marriage, also kills the girl (for which her boyfriend is blamed, and executed), ends up a bum on the street in front of the art gallery that is reselling his paintings for record amounts.

In the Lang film, architecture in the frame is as important as the performers, and Edward G. Robinson is a sap, destroyed by cruel, cruel fate in a cold, cold world. In this version, everything takes a back seat to the performances, and despite his misfortune, the man leaves the movie laughing, going for a drink with his wife’s first husband, now also homeless and destitute. Renoir has always infused his films with a life-affirming energy, so it’s weird that he took on such negative stories as this one, The Lower Depths and The Little Match Girl, only to defy their negative tones with his benevolent humanity.

Simon and his scowling wife, watched over by her (ex?)-husband:

Characters speak more frankly about sex than anyone would in a movie for the next forty years. Camera movement is somewhat rough, which makes sense for a 1931 sound film. It tries, though – when the girl and her boyfriend dance at a party, the camera dances with them. You can see the Moulin Rouge windmill (see also: French Cancan) out the window of the girl’s apartment. But the Moulin Rouge sighting is nothing compared to the connection to Renoir’s final feature, Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir, which features a second husband treated coldly by his wife, always confronted with the gaze of his predecessor from a picture frame. That film also opens and closes, as does this one, with puppet-show curtains, Renoir telling us that life is theater.

Flamant and Marèse, looking briefly like they’re in a musical:

Michel Simon stars – is this only the second movie I’ve seen of his after L’Atalante? After that one, I never assumed he could play meek and sober, but he does a great job, and looks like Trotsky. Upcoming starlet Janie Marèse died in a car accident on the way to the film’s premiere. Georges Flamant survived the same crash – his final film was The 400 Blows. Roger Gaillard, the resurrected first husband, returned in Night at the Crossroads as a butcher.

Ruined, but not down: