Watched this the same month as Trouble In Paradise, not having guessed how connected the two would be – the book/script of Stavisky even mentions that they stole shot ideas from Paradise. This one seems like a correction to the other, set during the same year with some of the same reference points (such as Trotsky) but here the upper-class gentleman thief is revealed to be a sham, and rather than escaping at the end to start over with his true love, the thief ends up dead, his widow in prison. The final shot is the chauffeur (of the period Rolls they drive everywhere) placing a bouquet of white flowers for her outside the prison.

Bright and lively music by Stephen Sondheim (who had already won three Tony awards in the 70’s) kept the doomed inevitability away until it was too late. Sondheim had already won three Tony awards in the 1970’s by the time Stavisky came out. It’s one of the very few times he’s written music (more than one song, anyway) for films – the other cases were Warren Beatty’s Reds (another movie featuring Trotsky!) and Dick Tracy.


Another story by Jorge Semprún, who wrote the exile-themed The War Is Over. One of Stavisky’s associates (Juan Montalvo, a slimy guy who hits on Arlette but can provide Serge with lots of money) was funding the attempted coup in Spain which led to the Spanish Civil War. In researching the film Semprun found that the same police inspector (named Gardet in the movie) assigned to watch over Leon Trotsky in France was also assigned to report on Stavisky, so Trotsky’s exile was written into the movie, as witnessed by a kid named Michel Grandville. The movie is bookended with Trotsky – first arriving in France, beginning his exile from Russia, and at the end after the Stavisky scandal, being moved further into exile, far from Paris, his political influence feared by the conservatives. Stavisky himself is a Russian Jew in exile – so there are a few connections to the previous film.

The paperback book says it “represents the final scenario” for the shooting of the film, and the intro by Richard Seaver addresses something I had wondered about after reading The War Is Over and believing that Semprun’s script was shot word-for-word with very little added by Resnais: “Once the subject is established, the writer does an initial draft, or treatment, after which writer and director discuss it scene by scene, often line by line, in excruciating detail, until the distinction between writer and director blurs or disappears.” So in fact the books by Semprun represent the collaborative vision of he and Resnais – my beloved auteur is no longer in peril.

The real Serge Alexandre Stavisky was involved in ever-larger finance fraud and was connected with people high up in French government, and when this was made public in January 1934 it led to riots, deaths (incl. the semi-suicide of Stavisky himself), trials for his friends and widow (all acquitted the following year) and political upheaval. Not knowing much about French politics, the Wikipedia articles are hard to follow, but it seems the ultra-conservatives tried to overthrow the leftists in power – eventually one leftist resigned, a conservative replaced him, and somehow socialists ended up in power.

Belmondo, a decade after Pierrot le fou and still looking the same:

Jean-Paul Belmondo as Stavisky/Alexandre is dazzling, a con-man with absolute confidence in himself. Arlette is his glamorous wife, and he’s surrounded by associates, some complicit in his underhanded dealings like assistant Borelli and Serge’s in-pocket doctor (Michael “Thomas” Lonsdale) who keeps declaring Stavisky unfit to stand trial for a six-year-old fraud offense… and some are just content to spend time with Stavisky, enjoying his company and not asking questions, like friend Baron Raoul (an outstanding Charles Boyer).

Arlette: Anny Duperey’s debut was seven years earlier in Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her.

The book says “Barol Raoul’s looks, gestures, diction and bearing are those one would expect a baron to possess in those films where barons play a part.” That’s hilarious… I hope those are the character notes they gave to Charles Boyer.

This was French superstar Boyer’s second-to-last film. I saw him as the star of Fritz Lang’s not-so-good Liliom. He is the second actor I’ve seen lately (after Maurice Chevalier) claimed to be the inspiration for Pepe le Pew.

As Stavisky’s right-hand man, beloved character actor Francois Périer of Nights of Cabiria, Orpheus, Le Samourai, also narrated some Chris Marker films. From the book: “Albert Borelli’s face is impassive, but he has a sharp eye. He is a man of few words but not of few thoughts.”

No wonder I had trouble with inspectors Bonny and Boussard – it’s complicated. Boussard arrested Stavisky years ago, and a couple years afterwards Serge became Boussard’s “informant” – actually Serge pays Boussard to keep an eye on things inside the police department, and the informant thing is just a front so they can meet. Bonny has it out for Serge, hires the blackmailer who comes to the theater during auditions to extort money from Stavisky by threatening to expose his past, and later engineers the police raid during which Stavisky shoots himself. Plus I always have to look hard to tell which Inspector is which, since they look and dress the same.

Inspectors Boussard (left, Marcel Cuvelier, also played an inspector in The War Is Over) and Bonny (right, Claude Rich, star of Je t’aime, je t’aime):

Bad Boy Bonny:

Michel Grandville (Jacques Spiesser of The Man Who Sleeps and Black and White in Color) and Erna Wolfgang (Silvia Badescu), who auditions for a part at Stavisky’s theater (he reads with her, playing a ghost – see quote below):

Lonsdale, after “Serge Alexandre” tells him to get rid of Stavisky and his problems: “The person he once was has become someone else: a ghost he despises. But a ghost who worries him.” And later: “To understand Stavisky sometimes you have to forget files. You have to dream of him and to imagine his dreams.”

Dream doctor Michel Lonsdale:

Gérard Depardieu got his break as a star just two months earlier. Here he has one scene as an excited young inventor trying to get Stavisky to invest in his product:

And back to Erna Wolfgang. I just liked this shot.

One more look at Thomas:

I wasn’t in love with the movie after I watched it, seemed like a really well-done portrayal of a controversial man with great acting and an over-complicated plot, but reading the book afterwards cleared up all the characters and the structure of the whole thing, and thinking back on the story, acting and photography, I’m now liking this better than The War Is Over. Nobody here is a good guy – not even Bonny, who goes against police corruption but for personal & political reasons – but the movie doesn’t judge them, or go into the details of the scandal. It just gets inside their characters and shows where the scandal came from, how one guy’s belief that he could fake his way into the upper echelon ended up shaking the country.


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

Jean Daste


Genevieve Bujold

Thulin & Montand


The latest bit of historical bio-pic entertainment from Kapur (dir. of Bandit Queen, ugh). And it’s not great. One huge weakness is the writing. The writer of the original was here joined (very unsurprisingly) by the writer of Gladiator, so we’ve got very fakey-Hollywood-period-pic dialogue. Katy says this movie defeats the ending of part one, which showed Elizabeth’s transformation into the powerful virgin queen, by having her act all girlish and weak and man-crazy over the (admittedly dreamy) Clive Owen. Owen plays Sir Walter Raleigh, and Abbie Cornish (Stop-Loss) is a lady of the court who ends up with Owen after being practically thrown towards him by the Queen who wants to vicariously experience love, but the queen flies into a rage when Raleigh and the court girl marry. Most of the movie is concerned with this love triangle, but Spain also forms their Armada and attempts to conquer England before being singlehandedly defeated by Clive Owen. We also get a miniature version of the Mary Queen of Scots story (first filmed in 1895, updated in ’71 with Vanessa Redgrave, soon to be updated again by Phillip Noyce & Scarlett Johansson), played here by the great Samantha Morton.

So yeah, we’ve got Clive Owen, but all he does is look dreamy and act cool, even during battle scenes. We’ve got generic loud symphonic music, some bad CG effects and some confusing storytelling. But there are also very good performances (Blanchett, Morton) and some plain-good ones (Geoffrey Rush, Spanish ambassador William Houston), awesome (oscar-winning) costumes, great set design, but nothing tying it all together. Katy didn’t like it either, so I’m free to complain all I like.

Apparently the same love-triangle story was previously filmed as 1955’s The Virgin Queen with Bette Davis and Joan Collins.

A pretty well-composed movie, not bad overall. The artistic look, good framing, lavish sets & costumes all put indie-hack fare like “last king of scotland” to shame, so it’s a fine movie to watch, if nothing great is playing. No doubt that this one isn’t “great”… it’s too even, regular, plain… nothing daring, original or transcendent, just a big pretty movie. Director Forman only pops up every 4-7 years to make another biopic (amadeus, larry flynt, andy kaufman). IMDB says he’s working on another one already.

First, to get it out of the way, the bad. It’s one of those movies where you can play “spot the reshoots”, as newly-dubbed lines show up when characters’ backs are turned and they weren’t supposed to be speaking, or during another actor’s reaction shot, then they’ll cut back to the speaker (in long shot, preferably) and his lips don’t match up. It’s not like I’ve read that this was a troubled production that required reshoots… they’re right up there on the screen. That, and our theater smelled like Windex.

Then the good. I told Katy I hadn’t seen Javier Bardem since Before Night Falls (2000) but I forgot his small part in Collateral (and I missed Live Flesh at the Almodovar retrospective). Fun to watch him croak out his lines with that serious look on his face, but even more exciting is Michael Lonsdale (THOMAS from Out 1) as Bardem’s superior. That shouldn’t be so thrilling, since he’s in Munich and Ronin and other stuff, but maybe that should tell me something about “goya’s ghosts”, that the most engrossing moments were when I was imagining scenes from “out 1” instead.

Funny thing about Randy Quaid (played the king). He’s in nothing but the dumbest movies for twenty-five years, then he gets cast in Brokeback and now suddenly he’s “and featuring academy-award nominee randy quaid” in studio prestige pictures. the Oscar nom was from 1974, not from Brokeback. Heh, from Pioneer Press: “Swedish Stellan Skarsgard plays Spanish painter Goya and where a key theme is that the Spanish people hate their new king because he’s from France. Which is weird, because he’s played by Randy Quaid, whose accent evokes not Baroque Spain or France, but Houston, circa today.”

Yeah, uneven accents and just a not very great movie full of tragedy with sad ending, but there’s even more Natalie Portman torture/imprisonment than in “V For Vendetta”, so if that’s your thing, here’s your movie.

Starts with the end. All movies start with the end now.

Kind of a disappointment. Not just that expectations were high, just that they were so high for so long and movie kept playing and finally I saw it in closing week and by then I knew it’d be a depressing fascist struggle film with metaphorical special effects and had already seen the monster with eyes in its hands a million times in promo photos. Had few delightful surprises to offer, just a good movie.

Let’s see… fascist Spain 1944, little Ofelia’s dad is dead and mom is marrying a psycho captain who moves them into the country to fight rebel forces who camp in the woods. Housekeeper Mercedes is in love with lead rebel and smuggles out food, supplies and information. A showdown ensues, rebels win the battle but not the war.

Oh also Ofelia finds an underground fantasyland where she tries to escape the pain of reality and eventually succeeds by getting shot to death by the captain and reuniting with her dead parents, now king and queen of Pan’s realm. A happy ending, not really.

Katy liked it I think.

Penelope Cruz (All About My Mother, Sahara) is RAIMUNDA. Carmen Maura (star of Women on the Verge) is her dead mother. Lola Dueñas (one of the nurses in Talk To Her) is her divorced sister. Yohana Cobo is her daughter. Chus Lampreave (Leo’s mother in Flower of My Secret) is her aunt who lives “alone” in their home town. Blanca Portillo (the queen of Spain in Milos Forman’s next movie) is an old friend who checks up on the aunt every day, has a missing mother, and develops cancer.

Tons of plot, as usual. Cruz’s husband tries to rape his daughter, is killed. Cruz buries him by the river with prostitute neighbor’s help. Cruz’s dark secret is that daughter’s real father is Cruz’s own father, who was killed in a fire by his wife while cheating with Blanca’s mother… so Cruz’s mother not really dead but hiding with the aunt. Cruz takes over neighbor’s restaurant, runs it for a film crew and gets it back on its feet. Sister hangs out with mom, talks about family, runs illicit hairdressing business from home.

Similarities with All About My Mother are many. Theme of returning home, theme of motherhood and “us women gotta stick together”, taking care of each other and helping raise kids. Everyone’s involved in illegal businesses, friends with prostitutes, drug use (Blanca grows+smokes weed). Secret pasts and secret pregnancies. Men are barely present. No transexuals in this one. Good music scene, not as nice as the Caetano Veloso scene in Talk To Her but close. Funeral scenes, film crews and television appearances. Feels like an Almodovar movie. Imagine that.

Neat scene: sister goes to aunt’s funeral, accidentally walks into the meeting room for men instead of women. More men than we’ve ever seen in one place (including the film wrap party at the restaurant)! Feels not just like the wrong room, but the wrong movie… everyone stares uncomfortably and she’s quickly ushered back into the world of women. Cruz is great, expressive, with her lipsynched song a highlight. Opening scene with all the town’s residents cleaning off their parents’ graves. The mom hiding all over the place. Touching ending, Cruz’s mom thanks Blanca for not mentioning her on television (when searching for her own mother), and comes to stay with her “until the end”.

Katy liked it too.

Katy didn’t watch this one. I don’t know if she would’ve liked it. I guess if she likes children and good photography, it’s a sure thing. Also, Jerri and Jimmy and I liked it, so it has proven widespread appeal among the 25-35 urban-hipster set.

Travelling movie show comes to town with Frankenstein, and two impressionable young girls watch it. Ana and Isabel have spooky eyes and active fantasy lives, but not as visually crazily active as in Heavenly Creatures. The younger (Ana) runs away, gives her father’s coat and some food to a criminal (who is later discovered and killed), eats hallucinogenic mushrooms, dreams her father as Frankenstein, and is eventually found and brought home. She’s been tricked and lied to and condescended to and has grown and gained a healthy distrust of authority. Apparently there’s a lot of political commentary about Spain in here.