2016/17: Watched the new blu-ray and updated the 2008 writeup below.

The brother of Morag (Geraldine Chaplin, then of Cría cuervos and The Three Musketeers, later of Love on the Ground and Talk To Her) is killed. She seeks revenge on pirate queen Giulia (Bernadette Lafont, Sarah in Out 1, also Genealogies of a Crime), infiltrates the castle with help of traitorous Erika (Kika Markham of Truffaut’s Two English Girls and Dennis Potter’s Blade on the Feather). Gradually all of Giulia’s associates are killed off, then G & M stab each other to death, fall to the ground dying and laughing.

Early ambush attempt:

Feels more mysterious and less straightforward than Duelle even though there’s less talk of magic in this one. Morag is apparently the moon goddess and Giulia the sun goddess, though they don’t reveal their powers until the last half hour. I didn’t do the best job keeping track of the minor characters, but I’m almost positive that some of them – including Morag’s brother – keep dying then reappearing in later scenes. In fact, I guess one of the two male pirates, “Jacob” (Humbert Balsan of Lancelot of the Lake, later an important film producer) is also her brother “Shane,” which complicates the plot in ways I no longer understand.

The men of the castle, Jacob and Ludovico:

There are gas lamps and castles and swordfights and magic, all very period, but then there is lots of cool, modern (clearly 70’s) clothing and guns and motorboats. And nobody is cooler than Bernadette Lafont in her bellbottomed pink leather suit (which creaks loudly when she moves). Watching her and Chaplin’s movements through the scenes, and to a lesser degree the other male pirate Larrio Ekson, are the best part of the movie and sometimes appear to be its entire point.

As beautiful and simple as the sun: Giulia with pink jeans on:

Morag and Erika have meetings in which they sit or walk robotically and recite lines in English from the play The Revenger’s Tragedy, so maybe reading that would help somewhat. Then again, D. Ehrenstein says “Analysis begins to run into a series of dead ends. The texts utilized as central sources of quotation… Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy in Noroît — are merely pre-texts, having nothing to say about the films that enclose them, posed in the narrative as subjects for further research.”

As in Duelle, whenever there’s music in a scene the musicians are part of that scene, even when they realistically would’ve left the room. Maybe right before the shot begins Giulia has threatened their lives and told them to play, no matter what. There are long stretches with no spoken dialogue. Lighting mostly looks natural indoors. This and Duelle were Rivette’s first films shot by William Lubtchansky, who would shoot most of the rest of the films (not Hurlevent). William is husband to Nicole L., who edited everything for forty years from L’Amour Fou to Around a Small Mountain.

Morag killing Regina:

Erika playing Morag in the reenactment of previous scene:

Morag playing Regina getting killed by skullfaced Erika:

I wish I knew how this movie’s title was pronounced, because every time I think of it, Fred Schneider sings “here comes a narwhal!” in my head. It’s gonna be “narr-WHAA” until some Frenchman tells me otherwise. One site translates the word as “Nor’wester.”

Rivette:

When I was filming Noroît, I was persuaded that we were making a huge commercial success, that it was an adventure film that would have great appeal … When the film didn’t come out, when it was considered un-showable … I was surprised. I don’t consider myself … unfortunately, I’m not very lucid when it comes to the potential success of my projects.

J. Reichert:

As with all good revenge dramas (this one inspired by bloody Jacobean plays), the mass of killings begin to far outweigh the initial wrong done and the angel of vengeance experiences moments of doubts and sympathy for her marks—there’s betrayal as well. Rivette shorthands these narratively rich moments, suggesting them in a glance, a line, a change of Chaplin’s face, so that he can maintain focus on the ballet-like movement of his players through space, where stowing recently acquired treasure takes on the aspect of slow-motion acrobatics. The drama climaxes in a clifftop masquerade ball/murder spree/dance performance shot across what looks like infrared, B&W, and color, that combines violence and poetry into a mix that’s literally unlike anything I’ve seen.

Doomed dance party:

Giulia (left) and Morag having stabbed each other to death:

D. Ehrenstein:

The films are devoted to methods that while seeming to reach representational specificity, do so in a manner designed to cancel all possible affectivity. The settings and costumes of Duelle suggest their display in a reserved “theatrical” style, but the camera, while tracking smoothly, does so far too energetically, and when coupled with the film’s nervous angular montage rhythms, disrupts the space it has spent so much time constructing. Likewise each setting (casino, hotel, aquarium, ballet school, race track, park, subway, dance hall, and greenhouse in Duelle, castle by the sea in Noroît) suggests the possibility of an atmosphere the mise en scene never seems directly to create (as in Resnais, Franju, Fellini, etc.).

Similarly acting styles clash with one another. Flip off-hand cool (Bulle Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) wars with highly stylized affectation (Hermine Karaheuz, Geraldine Chaplin) rather than the work holding to the latter mentioned category for an overall tone as would be logically demanded by a project of this sort … The film’s essence is thus not reducible to a specific moment, but must be seen in the working through of its positive/negative gestures — unfixed points neither within nor without the films.

Poster shot: Morag and Shane… or is it Jacob?

Michael Graham:

Like any Rivette film, [Noroît] took shape gradually, drawing on a large number of deliberately chosen ideas and as many fortuitous circumstances. As important as Rivette’s interest in Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (drawn to his attention by Eduardo De Gregorio), and the curious traditions surrounding the period of Carnival, was the availability of Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont together with that of a group of dancers from Carolyn Carlson’s company. It must be kept in mind that Rivette often conceives a film around particular people; Celine et Julie began as ‘a film for Juliet Berto’. Any casting decision is consequently of primary importance. Further, the selection of Brittany as a location arose as much from certain union allowances permitting a six day week outside Paris, as from a vague desire to spend some time in the country. Once the different ideas and practical considerations begin to sort themselves out and interact, the narrative itself starts to acquire definition. Even after shooting has begun, however, Rivette is enormously influenced by what he may discover the actors capable of achieving.

It was the baby-monitor jump-scare that lost me. Intriguing backstory open before the movie changes directions, centering on Amy Adams (far less electric here than in Arrival, and given much less to do) reading the rape-murder-revenge novel written by her ex Jake Gyllenhaal, visualizing it starring him with Michael Shannon as a dying cop who doesn’t play by the rules. I suppose the ending should be cynically satisfying, as Adams becomes obsessed with the novel, contacts Jake to meet him and talk about it, and gets stood up. By that point though, who could care about Amy and Jake’s old relationship problems (she got an abortion without telling him, and dumped him for Armie Hammer) or his elaborate literature-based revenge plot, when the bulk of the movie has become the novel itself, a grimy, joyless, desert desperation story? And who can say why Adams gets so sucked in, to the point where she starts seeing jump-scare monsters inside her assistant’s baby monitor, a moment that felt so outrageously cheap that I optimistically figured it would be justified later, or at least be the beginning of a series of visions?

Also it opens with naked fat women dancing in slow-motion. And hey, here’s Love star Karl Glusman and Donnie Darko‘s Jena Malone, both of them returning from another 2016 movie I found ugly and misguided. Standard dialogue scenes were filmed in a flat and boring manner (and the movie is mostly standard dialogue scenes). Diana Dabrowska in Cinema Scope and David Ehrlich on Letterboxd both compliment the camerawork, so maybe I missed something there. At least Jake G. is very good in his role, and Shannon is always pleasant to watch.

The movie that blew up my twitter the most in December, from “bear rape” to “movie pussies”. And it won the golden globe over Carol, Mad Max, Room and Spotlight. But it’s by Iñárritu, who I haven’t trusted since the putrid 21 Grams, and I was ambivalent to his oscar-winning Birdman. So surely the question on everyone’s mind is: did I enjoy The Revenant? Yes!

This one’s not done as a fake single-take – and who told me it was? – but rather shot with a grotesque wide-angle lens by the great Emmanuel Lubezki and edited by Soderbergh’s man Stephen Mirrione. I guess Leo DiCaprio is the gone-native white dude with a half-breed son and the two of them are well-paid to guide and protect a crew of trappers under siege by a group of natives looking for a kidnapped girl, rival French trappers (who kidnapped the girl), snow, bears, and worst of all, their own greedy compatriots. After Leo is half-destroyed by a bear, trapper Tom Hardy murders Leo’s son and abandons Leo to the elements, returning to camp to collect his reward for valiantly trying to help (Tom’s word against nobody’s). But Leo survives a million horrible things, makes it to camp and gets Captain Domhnall Gleeson (having a good year with Ex Machina and Brooklyn) to go after the villainous Hardy.

So yeah, I was convinced by the film, went along with the ride, edge of my seat like a disgusting, frozen, bloodied Panic Room, and didn’t even feel bad about it afterwards. Some folks weren’t as persuaded.

J. Christley:

That The Revenant is egregiously overlong is almost beside the point; audiences will manage their expectations in that regard. What pushes the film, at long last, into the icy river, is its very design, as a monument to slick, mercenary grandeur.

He makes a good point about The Big Sky being a more efficient film, but did The Big Sky have characters named Trapper Hatchet In Back and Dave Stomach Wound?

Two motorbike rebels meet at the site of a tomato-truck accident: Dahai (seen on the movie poster with a shotgun) and Fuzzy Hat San’er, who kills a few illegal toll-takers a few minutes prior. First let’s follow Dahai (Jiang Wu of Shower and To Live), who is openly contemptuous of his corrupt bosses at the coal mine, finally confronting the big boss himself, at which point Dahai gets his ass whupped on an airport runway. Doesn’t take long for Dahai to heal up, collect himself, and take brutal shotgun-revenge on his bosses plus anyone who gets in his way. It’s about the most blunt anti-corruption half-hour screed I’ve seen, showing the problem then proposing a swift solution – and coming from arthouse slowpoke Jia it’s pretty shocking.

It’s an episodic movie, but more interconnected through characters, locations and themes than something like Wild Tales. In a larger city, Fuzzy Hat (Wang Baoqiang of Blind Shaft and Romancing in Thin Air) has money troubles, and a solution: purse-snatching and murder. Xiaoyu (Zhao Tao, just seen in I Wish I Knew) can’t get her boyfriend to leave his wife, goes to work as a receptionist at a masseuse parlor and when some drunken dudes assume they can buy her, she cuts them up. Young Xiao Hui (Luo Lanshan) has shitty luck in the workplace and jumps out his window.

Zhao Tao, never more badass:

A. Cook:

The film paints a bleak picture of modern China for the people in a position of powerlessness. Setting each story in a different region of the country further illustrates this sense of widespread exploitation … Each act of violence is a tragic climax in the lives of the characters who can take no more of the injustices that surround them.

R. Koehler in Cinema Scope:

Jia is sending out an early signal that his film is directed from and for a cathartic response, and as we observe his four characters across four segments — roughly traversing a geographic line across the Mainland from north to south and through the seasons — they operate out of gut instinct and momentary impulse. The contemplative young intellectual artists of Platform are long gone — or likely, by now in the new China, have sold out — and in their place are desperate people doing what they need to do to survive.

Fuzzy Hat and his neglected son:

Marie-Pierre Duhamel:

The last two shots of the film show Zhao Tao’s Xiaoyu watching an ancient representation of her destiny, and the audience of the opera looking into camera. The audience is looking at the audience. This is what consistency is about in Jia’s world: to lyrically recreate reality as a folk singer improvises a ballad, so that the untold stories come to light, and that everyone hopefully remembers them and sings along.

Her essay at Mubi puts the movie in essential context. It seems the most obvious of Jia’s films – I don’t mean that as an insult, since I felt the others all went over my stupid head – but even so, there’s so much depth I missed. And of course the film looks as splendid as Jia’s others, which is what keeps me watching them even when I don’t know what they’re about. Won best screenplay at Cannes, the year of Blue is the Warmest Color, Only Lovers Left Alive and Inside Llewyn Davis.

More consistently great than part one, with higher high points (Robert Morgan!). I’m tempted to make a playlist of ABCs highlights and edit myself a super-anthology but I’ll wait until part three comes out next year.


Amateur
Imagined scenario of cool, efficient sniper in the air vents taking out his target, then reality of tight insect-infested ducts full of nails. Great ending. Director EL Katz also made Cheap Thrills.


Badger
Directed by and starring Julian “Howard Moon” Barratt. Asshole nature-doc spokesman (Barratt) is abusive to his crew, gets eaten by badgers.


Capital Punishment
Local gang of vigilantes take a dude suspected of killing a girl out to the woods and clumsily behead him. Meanwhile the girl turns out to have run away, is fine. Director Julian Gilbey made A Lonely Place To Die, which is probably better than Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.


Deloused
I probably would’ve skipped ABCs of Death 2 had I not heard that Robert Morgan was involved. This was… inexplicable… and amazing, and ultimately makes the entire anthology worthwhile. Involves insects and beheadings and knife-arms.

Equilibrium
Funny and well put-together, with single long takes simulating time passing. Couple of idiots stranded on a beach are unexpectedly joined by a pretty girl. Jealousy ensues, then they return to bliss by killing the girl. Alejandro Brugués made the Cuban Juan of the Dead.

Falling
Israel/Palestine, woman whose parachute is stuck in a tree convinces a rifle-toting kid to cut her down, he accidentally shoots himself in the head. Nicely shot, anyway. Directors Keshales and Papushado made Israeli horrors Rabies and Big Bad Wolves (a Tarantino fave).


Grandad
Grandad is tired of his disrespectful grandson living with him. Jim Hosking is working on something called The Greasy Strangler next. Grandad Nicholas Amer has been around, worked with Peter Greenaway, Jacques Demy and Terence Davies.


Head Games
During a makeout session, a couple’s facial features go to war with each other in classic Plympton style. One of two Bill Plympton anthology segments from this year – we missed The Prophet.


Invincible
Old woman will not die, siblings want her inheritance and try everything to kill her. Stylishly shot (as are most of these, so it’s maybe not worth writing that anymore). Erik Matti (Philippines) got awards for crime flick On The Job last year.


Jesus
I think it’s supposed to be payback on a couple of dudes who torture and murder homosexuals, but when the kidnapped gay guy displays his demonic powers I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. Dennison Ramalho wrote latter-day Coffin Joe sequel Embodiment of Evil and actor Francisco Barreiro is showing up everywhere this month.


Knell
Initial scene where girl witnesses supernatural globe over the building across the street followed by people in every apartment turning violent was like Rear Window meets The Screwfly Solution, then it continues in the direction of total doom. Directors Buozyte and Samper are apparently Lithuanian, also made a surreal sci-fi thing called Vanishing Waves.


Legacy
Guy to be sacrificed is being set free and is arguing with this decision, and I lose the plot after that, but there are groovy, cheap Metalocalypse-looking gore effects. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is Nigerian, has made a million movies so far since 2003.


Masticate
Drugged-out flesh-eating fat man goes on rampage before he’s killed by cop, all in slow-motion and set to a jangly pop song. Robert Boocheck made a short that apparently played in an anthology called Seven Hells.


Nexus
Cleverly timed and editing, goes for tension instead of twist ending since we figure out early on that the distracted cabbie is gonna hit the guy dressed as Frankenstein. Larry Fessenden made Habit and Wendigo and The Last Winter, all of which have been on my to-watch list forever and just came out on blu-ray.


Ohlocracy (mob rule)
After the cure for zombiesm is found, human zombie-killers are sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Hajime Ohata made the non-Kafka movie called Metamorphosis.


P-P-P-P Scary!
Poppy, Kirby and Bart look like escaped convicts, have big noses, meet a face-morphing guy who does a jig, blows out their candles and murders them inexplicably. Todd Rohal made The Catechism Cataclysm, and I might’ve guessed this was him.


Questionnaire
While a guy correctly answers questions on an intelligence test, we see flash-forwards to the “career opportunities” the interviewer has in mind for him (brain transplant with gorilla). I watched Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare just last week.


Roulette
German game of Russian Roulette ends with the sixth-chamber guy shooting his beloved instead of himself, as some unknown evil approaches. Marvin Kren made Rammbock and Blood Glacier.


Split
Like a remake of Suspense but with more baby murdering. Hammer-wielding intruder destroys family of cheating husband(s) during a phone call.
Juan Martinez Moreno made horror-comedy Game of Werewolves.


Torture Porn
Girl in porn audition turns out to be Cthulhu, I guess. Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twins who made American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.


Utopia
Self-driving incineration machines deal with non-beautiful people. Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Splice.


Vacation
Dude is on phone with girlfriend when dude’s friend reveals they’ve been doing drugs and prostitutes while on vacation. The friend is disrespectful, and one prostitute stabs him many times with a screwdriver. Jerome Sable made last year’s Meat Loaf-starring Stage Fright.


Wish
Kids go inside their off-brand Masters of the Universe playset, discover it’s horrible in there. Steven Kostanski made Manborg, which looks similarly wonderful.


Xylophone
Kid won’t stop playing her damned toy xylophone while babysitter Beatrice Dalle (of Inside, the first actor I’ve recognized since Julian Barratt in letter B) is trying to listen to opera records. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made Inside, of course. Credits say Beatrice is the grandmother not the babysitter, which makes sense since babysitters should leave antique record players alone.


Youth
Miyuki hates her mom and stepdad, imagines them dying in tremendous ways. Soichi Umezawa is a longtime makeup artist who worked on Bright Future and Dr. Akagi.


Zygote
Dad abandons pregnant mom with a 13-year supply of a root that delays labor. Horribleness ensues. Chris Nash has made a bunch of shorts.

Still my least favorite of the trilogy, though it’s less mean-spirited than I remember it (final image of Julie Delpy seeking reconciliation after her ex has her falsely imprisoned is mostly what I’ve remembered). Delpy’s in the movie for about five minutes – it’s mostly about her ex-husband Karol trying to get back on his feet after their divorce. She (maliciously) leaves him homeless and unemployed, but he befriends a fellow Pole while begging in the Paris metro, gets back to Poland, earns a fortune in a realty scheme, starts a shady import business, then frames Delpy for his own faked murder. The plot description sounds worse than the film itself, and the character described in paragraph form sounds like a total dick, while Karol seems more cuddly in person.

Karol is Zbigniew Zamachowski, who starred with his hairdresser brother Jerzy Stuhr in the final Decalogue segment, in which they also played brothers. Karol’s Gabriel Byrne-looking Polish friend is Janusz Gajos, a lead in the fourth Decalogue. This won best director in Berlin (vs. Philadelphia and Smoking/No Smoking)

K.K.: “The subject of the film is humiliation – men are not, and do not want to be, equal. The film is also about equality.” His cowriter Piesiewicz: “I knew very well that people in fact didn’t want to be free. All consumerism and advertising is based on us not being equal. Equality of opportunity, yes. But what does that mean? What’s needed most is empathy…”

Also watched the great Talking Heads short again, and…

Seven Women of Different Ages (1979, Kieslowski)

Dancers at different stages. First: young girls being pulled into position by a patient teacher, then older girls being screamed at by an abusive teacher. Rehearsal, then on stage, then a terrified-looking woman doing a routine. An understudy, watching closely but not actually practicing the moves. Finally an instructor of young girls the age of the first segment – I wondered if it’s the actual teacher from that segment, but it’s not. Fits in well with Talking Heads, obviously.

Romeo/Juliet musical from ballet choreographer Robbins (who directed the Broadway version) and Hollywood’s own Wise, who shared the best director oscar. The movie won ten oscars total, and with its reputation still pretty huge, I thought I’d love it more than I did. In ‘scope and full of color, glad we held out for a high-def version at least.

Puerto Rican girl Maria (Natalie Wood, actually of Russian ancestry but whatever Hollywood) is in love with whitey Tony (Richard Beymer). But she hangs with the PR Sharks, and Tony co-founded the Whitey Jets, and the groups’ leaders (Marie’s brother Bernardo and Tony’s BFF Riff) die in a turf fight. PR Chino loves Maria, reveals that Tony killed her brother. Jets nearly rape messenger-of-peace Anita, who then lies and says Maria has been killed by Chino, who really kills Tony when he runs suicidally into the streets. Maria actually lives, Chino goes to jail and everyone is sad. Most of the songs were quite good though, and the dancing was all great.

Wood was a few years past Rebel Without a Cause and The Searchers, and Beymer would play Ben Horne in Twin Peaks. Riff had been a child star (Russ/Rusty Tamblyn), played the lead in George Pal’s Tom Thumb. Anita was Rita Moreno, star of The Electric Company through the 1970’s. Bernardo was George Chakiris, one of the dancing dudes who likes the Young Girls of Rochefort. Outdoor scenes were filmed not on massive sets but in a crumbling, condemned neighborhood of NYC. Wise followed up with a romance where Robert Mitchum plays a Nebraska lawyer.

Full of great twists that I’m about to give away. Soon after Ben Affleck’s wife disappears, and he’s sad and hanging out with his sympathetic sister (Carrie Coon of HBO show The Leftovers, also about disappearing people) and doing press, and the cops are slightly suspicious that Ben might be a murderer, Ben’s secret girlfriend shows up, turning the tables on his perfect husband image. Then after things start getting worse for Ben amd his sister is mortgaging the house to pay for celebrity lawyer Tyler Perry, the movie reveals wife Rosamund Pike (The World’s End), alive and well and plotting to frame him as a murderer as revenge for the secret girlfriend. Rosamund grew up the subject of her parents’ series of children’s books (Amazing Amy) and is not gonna settle for a less-than-amazing husband. She’s also not very street-smart, and soon loses all her money to thieving motel neighbors, and instead of heating up her plan to commit suicide and have her body’s discovery be the final nail in Ben’s coffin, she hides out with super-rich ex-boyfriend Neil Patrick Harris, then decides to claim the whole thing was an abduction, murders Neil and returns covered in blood to perfect husband Ben. Somehow it managed to outdo itself in the last couple minutes with the creepiest ending possible.

Novel/screenplay by Gillian Flynn. Fincher has kept the efficient snappy editing to the rhythm of dialogue from The Social Network. Who’d have thought circa 2004 that I’d end up liking Ben Affleck so much? Was going to quote from the Fincher interview in Film Comment but it’s all too good, can’t decide which bit is best.

DCairns: “Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.” I certainly wonder what Katy would’ve thought, and what conversation would’ve ensued had we watched it together. Maybe someday she’ll have a semester off and we’ll run a week marathon of long movies I wish she’d seen with me: Gone Girl, Interstellar, Margaret

“What goes up must come down.”
“Brilliant!”

No dialogue for the first ten minutes, stylish use of camera, Vincent Price, and a mechanical band called Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards – this is already a favorite movie. Huge step up from the Freddie Francis anthology horrors I’ve watched in Shocktobers past. But British horror just can’t help itself from being campy.

Vulnavia and dog:

Hopefully this was an influence on Se7en, as Phibes (Price, a few years after Witchfinder General and The Oblong Box) takes revenge on the doctors present during the hospital death of his beloved wife via the ten curses of the pharaohs, killing doctors with bats, frogs, rats, locusts, etc. It also may be an influence on the Saw movies, as Chief Surgeon Joseph Cotton has to cut a key from inside his son’s chest before he’s killed by a slow acid drip.

Inspector Trout (Lindsay Anderson regular Peter Jeffrey) figures out the curses thing but doesn’t do much else besides attract unfunny fish-name jokes. Dr. Cotton actually knocks him out to go face Phibes alone. Phibes has an unexplained female assistant named Vulnavia (Virginia North of a James Bond movie and a James Bond knockoff movie). A guy who describes himself as a head-shrinker gets his head crushed by a Halloween III frog mask. Terry-Thomas has a cute role as a doctor who secretly watches snake-charmer films when the housekeeper is away; he bleeds to death but still returned for the sequel.

T-T:

Quality cinematography by Norman Warwick (Tales from the Crypt). Who is Fuest? He went straight from making acclaimed horror films to ABC after-school specials. Gotta check out his Phibes sequel and The Final Programme.

Amazing locust death (LOL at the full-body smiling-woman sketch):