The Shout (1978, Jerzy Skolimowski)

Excited by Essential Killing, I thought I’d check out Skolimowski’s only horror film for SHOCKtober. But calling it horror is like calling Essential Killing a political drama, inadequately simple labels for such weird and complex movies. The bulk of this one is a flashback/story told by Alan Bates to Tim Curry while scorekeeping a cricket game at some kind of asylum. Bates admits that he’s changing parts of the story to keep it interesting for himself – and we’re never sure if he’s a patient or what, so the narrator is unreliable to say the least. And as the commentary notes, “casting Tim Curry as your sanity figure suggests that the world is fairly skewed.”

Alan Bates lurks:

A cowed-looking John Hurt (the year before Alien, so the earliest film I’ve seen of his – though I must find Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs from ’74), a church organist by day and electronic composer in his spare time, is happily married to Susannah York (star of Altman’s Images). But one day Alan Bates (Chabrol’s Dr. M, Julie Christie’s illicit lover in The Go-Between) appears, tampers with Hurt’s bicycle tire, then invites himself over. He stalks the couple causing minor mischief then starts not-so-subtly taking over the family.

John Hurt rocks out in his home studio:

Alan Bates, head of household:

To prove his power to Hurt, they go off to the dunes and Bates demonstrates “the terror shout,” taught to him by an aboriginal magician. Somehow Hurt isn’t killed by this, but has a weird experience where he’s holding a stone, believing himself to be the town shoemaker. When he returns home, his wife is under Bates’s spell, and Hurt is the interloper. But he recalls the identity stones, goes off and smashes them to regain control of his household. Back at the house, Bates is arrested for the murder of his children (to which he confessed to Hurt and York earlier). Strange that Bates would be anxious to tell a tale which ends in his own defeat.

You can’t understand the extreme greatness of this shot without watching the whole film:

The police foolishly come for Alan Bates:

Meanwhile back in the framing story, a thunderstorm wrecks the cricket game. Jim Broadbent, in his first film role as “fielder in cowpat,” runs around half-naked smeared in mud or worse. Lightning strikes the scoring box, Bates is killed, and in another odd scene which also played over the opening credits, York comes tearing into the room where the dead lay, distraught.

Fielder in cowpat:

Reminded me of The Last Wave in its aboriginal magic and weirdly apocalyptic feel. Commentary brings up Caligari, which I should’ve thought of. The wife isn’t much of a character, just passed between the two men, but she definitely shows her acting chops in one intense sexual scene. Mostly minimal music by “the two guys from Genesis you probably have forgotten.”

Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder)

One of those long-discussed greatest-films-ever which upon first glance (and second glance) actually does seem to be one of the greatest films ever. It’s a super story with an incredible character for Gloria Swanson and boy, she nails it, but it also helps that I am a film nerd. Swanson helped destroy Erich von Stroheim’s directoral career 20 years earlier and now Wilder casts Swanson as a washed-up super-eccentric former silent actress and Stroheim as her tragic manservant. Enter William Holden and his young friends, all wannabe writer/directors, and a cameo by Cecil DeMille and Wilder’s got room to skewer damn near everything in Hollywood. And he manages to keep the mood comical while preserving a film noir (the commentary calls it monster-movie) atmosphere, without letting anybody’s flaws go unpunished.

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Opens with William Holden dead in a swimming pool, as he introduces his own dead body then narrates his story. Sound familiar, American Beauty?

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A dead-end screenwriter, he’s trying to avoid getting his car repoed when he pulls into a faded mansion just in time to see Swanson and Stroheim preparing to bury her pet monkey. She is pleased to meet a hot young screenwriter, hires him immediately to work on her monstrous script of Salome, which is to be her long-awaited return to the silver screen.

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Holden had no clear prospects as a screenwriter, he’s got no cash and no girl and he dreads the shameful return home to the local newspaper he left to pursue his Hollywood dreams, so he hangs out working on her futile script for a clueless Cecil B. DeMille, realizing too late that he’s becoming her kept boy.

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Was up for bunches of oscars but got its clock cleaned by All About Eve at the awards. Still came away with writing, art direction and music (beating Samson & Delilah, the actual film DeMille is seen shooting on the Paramount set). I don’t know if Golden Globes were important then (or if they are now) but it got picture/director/actress over there.

DeMille and Swanson:
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Immediately preceded Ace in the Hole, a dark time for Wilder. Stroheim would only be in seven more films before his death. Holden would play Audrey Hepburn’s object of affection in Sabrina. Swanson had profitably retired from acting and did not use this as a springboard back in, though she did make quite a few TV appearances.

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Apparently was turned into an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in the 90′s.

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IMDB trivia page is packed. Among the actors who turned this movie down: Double Indemnity star Fred MacMurray, Red River star Monty “Raw Deal” Clift, Mae West (who was not in silent films), early Lubitsch star Pola Negri and Greta Garbo.

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Erich von Stroheim hadn’t directed in 20 years… Queen Kelly with Gloria Swanson having been his downfall. Norma Desmond says DeMille directed her twelve times – he actually directed Swanson six times. Love interest Nancy Olson went on to Disney flicks in the 60′s and Jack Webb (her fiancee Artie) would spend the rest of his career writing and acting for Dragnet.

Holden with Webb and Olson:
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Norma’s “Waxworks” (her bridge partners): H.B. Warner (DeMille’s Jesus in King of Kings, later a Capra regular), Buster Keaton (who was actually doing alright in ’50 with his TV show, in between film roles In The Good Old Summertime and Limelight) and Anna Q. Nilsson (not pictured, who costarred with Warner and worked with DeMille).
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Film/dialogue moment #1: “There was a tennis court… or rather the ghost of a tennis court, with faded markings and a sagging net.” We see the court already, but our screenwriter/narrator feels the need to fill spaces with dialogue and also tell us about it.
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Film/dialogue moment #2: Norma Desmond wordlessly brushes away a microphone.
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Ready for her close-up:
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher)

AV Club: “The script comes from Eric Roth, who would probably by accused of borrowing too liberally from Forrest Gump if he hadn’t written that too.” Wow, dude also wrote that Eric Bana gambler love story I was just mocking yesterday, and my favorite film to hate, The Postman. No wonder writing seemed to be the weakness in this would-be-spectacular movie. Huge issues (hello, racism) were ignored, episodes (hello, Tilda Swinton) weren’t well integrated with the rest of the film, and Button ended up seeming like an unambitious blank who doesn’t do much with his so-called remarkable life.

Katy suggested the unambitious-blank part and some Forrest Gump comparisons, but I wonder if that wasn’t the point, to show a regular guy with parental issues who meets a girl, goes to war, has a kid, rambles around and never quite finds his place in the world, the whole aging-backwards thing being the only remarkable thing about him. That and the movie’s obsession with mortality make it a meaningful story about life and how to live it. Maybe we unrealistically expected Button to be some kinda sci-fi superhero, while the movie was trying to speak to us about life and death, love and loss, or maybe on Christmas day we weren’t in the mood for an extended monologue about mortality, but this came out feeling like a pretty alright movie, a tearjerker to be sure but maybe not the acclaimed masterpiece to which we’d been looking forward.

Pretty nice music by Alexandre Desplat was loud and fuckin’ clear, since 45 minutes before the end of the film our dialogue track almost entirely cut out leaving us with whispered words under a huge score… thanks heaps, Regal. At least we could still hear when we tried hard, since most of the audience was either heavily concentrating or fast asleep by then. Shot NOT by Fincher’s Zodiac guy, and boy am I relieved, cuz in the parking lot I was bemoaning the lack of surprise or interest in the camera setups (figuring the CG effects left no room for surprise), comparing it negatively to the immaculately-shot Milk, which we’d snuck into before our feature started… forgetting that the Zodiac guy actually shot Milk, and some nobody (the D.P. of the last M. McConaughey romance flick) shot The Ben Buttons, thus preserving my aesthetic intuitions.

So right, Ben kills his mom being born in New Orleans on the day WWI ends, is abandoned Penguin-style by his dad, discovered and raised by Queenie and (boyfriend?) Tizzy in an old folks’ home, where unsurprisingly, people die from time to time. Ben meets a girl who is not yet Cate Blanchett but one day will be. Ben, BTW, is incredibly old, confined to a wheelchair, then learns to walk with canes as he grows ever younger. He gets a job on a tugboat, has regular sex with married Tilda Swinton in a hotel, and helps in the WWII effort while Cate becomes a dancer with hip bohemian friends & spontaneous lovers. The time is not right for those two to get together, but one day after Cate’s career-destroying car accident the time is right and they do and are very happy and have a kid. Ben finds out that his real dad is Mr. Buttons, who dies and leaves Ben the button factory he ran. Also dying: war friends, Tizzy then Queenie. Ben is afraid when he grows too young he’ll be a burden (he is) so he leaves Cate and bums around the world instead. Interesting how as his brain becomes less developed and he gets smaller, it’s effectively alzheimer’s disease – he forgets more and reverts to childish behavior living in his childhood home. Cate’s daughter grows up, her “dad” dies, and while caring for her dying mom (still played by Cate, unrecognizably) the day before Hurricane Katrina hits, she learns the whole story in a huge framing device.

Brad Pitt, after a brief spell of manic energy in Burn After Reading, is back to his brooding-as-acting style, which should work just fine in next year’s Terence Malick picture with appropriate wistful voiceover. Cate is wonderful as fucking always – the acting highlight of the movie, she can do no wrong. Brad’s Coen-costar Tilda Swinton is fine with the tiny role she gets.

People I Thought I Should Have Recognized But Actually Shouldn’t Have include TV’s M. Etc. Ali as Tizzy, an otherwise uncredited actor as the African fella who takes young Ben to a brothel, Cap’n Mike: Jared Harris (Lady in the Water), and adoptive mom Taraji Henson (Talk To Me). People I Recognized But Didn’t Know From Where include Guy Ritchie action star Jason Flemyng as Mr. Button. People I Did Not Recognize At All include framing-story secret Button daughter Julia Ormond (Inland Empire), and People I Should Have Recognized But Somehow Missed include Elias Koteas as the blind clockmaker who kicks off the story.

Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)

Very enticing trailers have been advertising this film “from the director of Good Will Hunting,” and I have been anxiously looking forward to it and hoping that’s not true. The visionary director of Paranoid Park or My Own Private Idaho would be ideal, but as long as we didn’t get the bored, paycheck-cashing director of Finding Forrester, I was willing to settle for the director of Good Will Hunting, a movie with good story and acting but no artistic merit that I can recall. Fortunately, he injects more ambition into the mix for Milk, enough to make it a pretty damned good movie… for a bio-pic.

Dustin Black, staff writer on Katy’s Big Love, does a good job, don’t get me wrong, but everyone seems pretty well simplified. There’s only time to hit all the major points of Milk’s political career – his decision to take charge of his life, his camera shop, first boyfriend, bunch of failed campaigns, main collaborators, community-building, exercise of political power, second boyfriend, election as supervisor, passing of anti-discrimination bill, boyfriend’s suicide, assassination. That’s a lot to cover in two hours. Movie covers it all well, neatly packages Milk’s life into an oscar-ready event.

J. Rosenbaum, out of context: “Milk addresses a mindset I would associate with campaign agitprop mode, a mindset that forsakes nuanced and complex analysis for the sake of immediate uplift.” But oh, the uplift! D. Ehrenstein examines the uplift: “As someone who has spent the better part of his life involved in gay activism, to say that I found Milk moving is an understatement. Genuinely political Hollywood films are rare; gay-activist Hollywood films are nonexistent. Milk is both. It’s also a film whose emotions and ideas speak directly to every audience, regardless of political commitment or sexual orientation.” Moving is right – I felt moved. Movie moved Katy in another direction, unaccountably making her depressed. So she wasn’t as pleased as I was, but I didn’t love Slumlord Millionaire as much as she, so now we’re even.

Stars:
- Mr. Milk: Sean Penn, a favorite target of Bloom County in the 80′s, first I’ve seen of his acting since Mystic River, justifiably acclaimed.
- Enthusiastic campaign kid: Emile Hirsch of Into The Wild. He was mostly alone in that one so I didn’t realize he’s the size of a hobbit.
- Milk’s low-key first boyfriend: Spider-Man bad-guy James Franco
- High-drama Boyfriend #2: Diego Luna, star of Criminal and Y Tu Mama Tambien, also appeared with Penn in another gay biopic, Before Night Falls.
- Milk’s Christian coworker and eventual killer: Josh Brolin of No Country.
- The Mayor of Town: Victor Garber (whatshername’s dad in Alias).
- The Only Woman In The Movie: campaign manager Alison Pill was in Dan In Real Life (which I keep thinking I’ve seen, but no, that was Lars and the Real Girl)

Music by Danny Elfman doesn’t draw attention to itself. Cinematography by Harris Savides (Zodiac, Elephant) does – it’s lovely.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle)

Kid is on a game show being asked a series of questions to win 20 million rupees. How does he know all the answers? Is it luck? Fate? Or does each question somehow relate to an incredibly depressing detail of his life? Yes it’s that last one, because this is the most toilet-diving, poo-covered, mother-killing, tourist-swindling, prisoner-torturing, implicitly-sexually-violent movie to ever be marketed as the award-winning feel-good love story of the year.

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Jamal, brother Salim, and hot girl Latika live in the Mumbai slums, parents are killed over religion so they hang out together. Join the local beggar group, but the beggarmaster is gonna blind them to rake in more sympathy cash, so the boys skip town and become Taj Mahal tour guides. Back into the city because Jamal is fixated on finding Latika, just in time to rescue her from being sold for sex by the beggar dude. Salim kills the king beggar and joins a gangster group, turns on Jamal and rapes Latika, eventually gives her up as live-in lover to the king gangster. Jamal, meanwhile, gets a straight job as intern at a call center, gets himself on the Millionaire show, wins 10m one day, gets arrested and tortured by police chief Irfan Khan (dad in The Namesake), tells Irfan (and us) his life story the whole next day, then back to the show and wins the other 10m on the final question. Salim shoots his boss, gets killed (having raped the heroine, he has to get killed), but releases Latika who has a happy ending (with train-station dance sequence) with our rich boy.

Boyle got the writer of The Full Monty and Mira Nair’s co-director, and used his 28 Days Later / Millions cinematographer (who also shoots Dogme stuff). The camerawork, along with a high-energy MIA and A.R. Rahman soundtrack and great editing (ooh it’s Edgar Wright’s regular guy) make for a rockin’ good time of a movie, despite the story. Maybe I’m missing something, because Katy loved it, story and all.

La Commune, Paris 1871 (2000, Peter Watkins)

Story begins March 17, 1871 and ends two months later. Watkins introduces the movie via his two commune reporters (one of whom is played by Peter’s son Gérard, who has also acted in They Came Back and Diving Bell and the Butterfly), showing the set (a factory on the former site of Georges Melies’ studio!) at the end of the shoot. The set is minimal – walls and rooms were constructed, and props seem accurate and well-placed, but you never doubt that you’re on a set – you can see the walls, the lights, sort of Dogvillian. And the camera – of course the actors talk directly to the camera, since this is a Peter Watkins film. The cameraman (Odd Geir Saether from Edvard Munch) is always mobile, always shooting full cartridges at a time to be (slightly) edited later on.

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There are intertitles which comment on the action, fill in missing context, flash-back-and-forward, connect the revolutionary ideas of the commune with the present realities of France. People break out of character mid-scene to talk about the film and about their own present situations, to comment on the relevance of the film and of the commune – but they’re not talking to us, exactly, telling us what to do or think, it’s more that they’re working out their own thoughts and we can make what we will of it. That’s not to say the film is unbiased – it’s extremely pro-commune. The mass media is represented by a more traditionally shot right-wing telecast which gives twisted accounts of the events we see in the commune.

An official statement:
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Most of the actors didn’t have screen credits before this one, but some have gone on to appear in other movies (The Barbarian Invasions, Eric Rohmer’s Lady and the Duke, Science of Sleep, Miracle at St. Anna, etc). They workshopped the story and their own roles, and came up with their own dialogue, full participants of the film. Some of this I learned from the very good hour-long doc on the disc The Universal Clock, which dares to ask questions (like whether Watkins is responsible for his own marginalization) as it discusses his career and the making of La Commune. This would actually be a fine standalone film to play before some of PW’s better movies for the uninitiated – it stands high above the usual DVD-extra fare.

Lots of death and guns in the movie, all offscreen. Nobody is ever shown killed, no actor ever plays dead:
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There’s a lot to say about the Commune and I’m not gonna say it all here. I’m worn out on the topic from watching all seven hours on these DVDs, and I’m pretty sure I’ll remember the important stuff (plus PW’s excellent website has a good summary).

The hated bourgeoisie:
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Was the film good, though? Well, it’s far from my favorite Watkins feature (I’d maybe put it above The Gladiators). While it’s not dry and academic, it’s not exactly immersive – and while I wouldn’t say there were unnecessary scenes or that it should’ve been shorter, it’s exhausting at its present length, a mountain of a movie. The guy’s got a point that films and videos should not have to fit the “universal clock” of a television schedule, but this one didn’t fit the clock of my work week, and even with Katy out of town and my evenings supposedly all to myself, it still took me three nights to watch. So it’s an extremely admirable production, in every sense, about an important topic, but unlike other monumentally long films (hello, Satantango) I’m in no hurry to see it again.

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All About Eve (1950, Joseph Mankiewicz)

I don’t know much about Bette Davis, seems she was a big star in the 30′s and this was her comeback picture (was supposed to be Claudette Colbert but she got sick). Anne Baxter had been in The Magnificent Ambersons, later starred in I Confess, The Blue Gardenia and The Ten Commandments. Movie is over-narrated by both George Sanders (Moonfleet, Rebecca, Voyage to Italy) as a gossip columnist and Celeste Holm (High Society, Three Men and a Baby) as Bette Davis’s best friend. The friend’s husband is “writer” Hugh Marlowe (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Day the Earth Stood Still) and Bette’s beau and eventually husband is “director” Gary Merrill (of noir Where the Sidewalk Ends). Marilyn Monroe, a year or two before stardom but already showing her signature persona, has a small part as an aspiring actress.

Nice cinematography by Milton Krasner, who worked nonstop through the 30′s, shot some good noir pictures in the 40′s, and worked with Wilder, Ray, Minnelli and Hawks after this. Mankiewicz made this the same year as No Way Out, five years before Guys and Dolls.

Um, right, what happened in it? Bette is kinda washed up, I mean still a huge-selling star of stage (not screen) for her celebrated director/beau and writer/drinking buddy, but all the parts are still for younger girls and she’s starting to stretch the definition of young. Enter Eve, superfan who has seen every performance of Bette’s new play. Flattered, they let Eve hang around, but she’s not the innocent thing she claims to be – has been lying about her past and getting cuddly with the two men, conniving to put herself in Bette’s shoes, which she has very successfully done by the end (errr, the beginning, since it starts at the end).

Got a record 14 Oscar noms (winning writing, directing and picture) and even some awards at Cannes, beating out Sunset Blvd. The Third Man took it for cinematography, though. Lots (lots!) of self-conscious swipes at Hollywood (even one at the Oscars) and a few at television. I thought it was a little clunky, a little long, a little dry, overall quite good but didn’t strike my passions. Didn’t see Thee Acclaimed Bette Davis for the most part until the end when she is freaking out, and I guess in a couple other parts (see candy-eating scene below). Katy and Dawn liked it, too.

Who’s that on the right? Why, it’s the great Thelma Ritter, soon to be in Rear Window and Pickup on South Street. Center, facing Bette, is co-narrator and best friend Celeste Holm, and that’s one of the two male leads next to her, frankly they both looked the same to me:
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I loved the bit during this fight at home when Bette is furiously eating candy instead of screaming at this guy:
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Fey George Sanders with titular star Anne Baxter:
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Awesome rear-projection shot. They are just pretending to walk, rocking back and forth in front of a screen. Why?
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Terrific ending, with a new young hopeful who idolizes Eve and pretends (here, in a three-way mirror) to take her place, the cycle starting over again. This was the signature scene for small-time actress Barbara Bates, who never topped it and committed suicide twenty years later.
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The Man Who Loved Women (1977, Francois Truffaut)

Made thirty years ago, opened at the New York Film Festival when I was two weeks old. Director Truffaut died in the 80′s, cancer got star Denner in the 90′s, AIDS got DP Almendros in the 90′s, co-writer Suzanne Schiffman (Out 1 colllaborator) died in 2001, aged cameo-appearers Jean Daste and Roger Leenhardt are dead, but most of the actresses are alive except for Nelly Borgeaud, who died only recently.

Movie seems a teeny bit dated. Charles Denner is a man who works in a wind tunnel, lives alone, and loves women. He wanders around loving women for a while, finally gets the idea to write a book about how much he loves women and all the women who he loves. His book gets published, but due to a woman-love-related car accident, our man doesn’t live much longer. Movie opens and closes on his funeral and the long line of lovely women attending:
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Our guy Bertrand at his wind tunnel – Charles Denner of Chabrol’s Bluebeard, Costa-Gavras’s Z and two or three other Truffauts.
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Our guy’s mom in flashback. She used to walk around in her underwear ignoring her son and dating lots of men. Could this have somehow contributed to our man’s uninhibited love of women? Marie-Jeanne Montfajon, no other movie credits, alas.
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Mistaken identity girl whom Bertrand chases down at the start of the movie, to set the whole woman-loving theme: Nathalie Baye (Le petit lieutenant, Truffaut’s Green Room and Day For Night, Godard’s Slow Motion, Chabrol’s Flower of Evil)
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After the whole mistaken identity thing, Bertrand takes home the rental car girl as a consolation prize. Sabine Glaser hardly appeared in anything after this.
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Lingerie store woman (Geneviève Fontanel) has always been flirty with Bertrand, so he asks her out to dinner and is shot down. She only likes younger men.
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Former waitress (Nella Barbier) who loses her job while Bertrand is around, so he gets her hired as his company’s receptionist. Never makes a play for her, for some reason.
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Wakeup-call girl: Aurore. Bert has to convince her to go out with him without ever seeing each other first. Doesn’t work.
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The typist who transcribes Bertrand’s novel, until she quits for moral reasons.
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The publisher who stands up for Bertrand’s book, and later lies down for Bertrand: Brigitte Fossey (the little girl in Forbidden Games 25 years earlier)
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Sad girl on the stairs who gets cheered up by Bertrand. At first seems like a scene to gain our not-always-totally-likeable lead man some sympathy, but later we revisit it as Bert edits his novel to tweak details. Rather than making himself look better, he changes the color of this girl’s dress.
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Ex-girlfriend who dumped Bertrand years ago: Valérie Bonnier, of Madame Claude (a Just Jaeckin call-girl movie with Klaus Kinski) and Spermula (a “sci-fi/horror sex comedy” with Udo Kier).
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Another ex-girlfriend who he runs into at a restaurant: Leslie Caron, star of Lili, Gigi, An American In Paris, Is Paris Burning?
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Married woman who has a not-so-secret long-term affair with Bertrand, attempts to kill her husband, goes to prison, is released a few years later, and shows up mysteriously in Bert’s apartment for a menage-a-trois: Nelly Borgeaud of Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid and Resnais’s Mon oncle d’Amerique
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The last pair of legs our man ever chased.
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Special appearance by Jean Daste:
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Katy and I both kinda liked it!

Dil Chahta Hai (2001, Farhan Akhtar)

Katy showed me this Bollywood movie to wash away the pain of Partner. This one wasn’t hateful, loud, empty, an extended music-video ripoff of an already-bad Hollywood film, but I didn’t love it either. Katy said the camera work was very good and often beautiful, but I found it uninspired, generic. Music was unmemorable but not bad. One nice music segment when a couple is at the movies seeing themselves onscreen reminded me of Pennies From Heaven. Story is alright, a light romance about three buddies and their love lives.

Akash (Aamir Khan – ice candy man in Earth, main dude in Lagaan) has a little beard patch under his lip, kinda arrogant but becomes a Good Guy as movie progresses. Gets sent to Australia and falls for a girl his parents previously tried to set him up with.

Sid (Akshaye Khanna – played Gandhi’s son last year) has an uneven hairline, is an artist and a Good Guy to begin with, falls for an alcoholic older woman with a kid and an ex-husband but she dies in the end.

Sameer (Saif Ali Khan – once played a character named Jimmy, but not THE Jimmy) has no distinguishing features or characteristics except that he falls in love with every girl he sees.

Also some women with names like Preity and Dimple, but don’t confuse me here.

Was nominated for 13 Indian academy awards, but got trampled by Lagaan.