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.

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.

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.

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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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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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!

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.

I was looking forward to this, due to my recent Rivette obsession, but didn’t expect to love it, since it’s a period piece about upper-class people unable to declare their love for each other because of societal restrictions, and I tend to hate that kind of story. It’s nice to watch fave Rivettian actors Bulle Ogier and Michel Piccoli and Barbet Schroeder (all sharing a scene) but they’re hardly in the movie and they play gentle, wise elder friends and relatives, with a bit of dialogue but no passionate acting showcases. I got my Rivette themes and trademarks served up: conspiracies, secret rooms, performance (explicitly at the convent, but throughout as the two toy with each other), real locations with creaking wood floors, oceanside drama, but all enslaved to this book-to-film adaptation of Balzac – something that I thought Rivette just said he’d never do in the DVD interview on Belle Noiseuse, that he dances around Balzac in his film writing (that one and Out 1) because a direct adaptation would be impossible. In the story, Montriveau is one of the notorious 13, but the name of the group is never stated here. Anyway, we also get very good performances from the leads – Guillaume Depardieu, lookalike son of Gerard who once played his dad in flashback in Les Misérables, with his false leg used to great effect here on the wooden floors… and Jeanne Balibar, who I don’t remember from Code 46 or Clean, and haven’t seen yet starring in Va savoir.

Not much outward passion to the movie, emotions seem detached (I know, that was the point, sorta) but it has a quietly affecting ending aboard Montriveau’s ship after he breaks into the convent and finds the Duchess dead. The plot being easy to follow, I started paying attention to nerdy cinema stuff like the quality of light (all supposedly from sunlight and candles) and the sound (music used very sparingly, as usual). Sound was rough because of the loud hissing and gurgling noises coming from the ceiling at the Landmark, and picture was even rougher since the film was projected out-of-focus (except for the left third of the screen, which looked lovely). So it was easier to measure the quality of light than, say, the details of costumes and decor. I’m not much for decor anyhow.

Definitely closer to Hurlevent (Wuthering Heights) than to anything else I’ve seen Rivette do. At least I learned how Duchess of Langeais is pronounced (vaguely: “lawn-jay”). This Balzac story was previously filmed a few times, from a 1910 lost silent to a 1995 TV version adapted by the co-writer of Goya’s Ghosts.

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Excellent analyses found on other sites:

E. Howard:

Games are the film’s central conceit, in fact, whether they be word games, mind games, literary games, games played between appearance and feeling. The game being played at the narrative level takes place between a General and a Duchess … But this is only one game that Rivette is toying with, and he plays an entirely different one with the audience, a game of subtle winks and sly nods that continually disrupts the placid surface of the narrative … This narrative disruption is mirrored in the way the General’s story to the Duchess, about his time lost in the desert after escaping from the enemy’s imprisonment, is continually interrupted, usually by the listener’s short attention span and her tendency to divert the flow of the conversation just as the story is reaching a critical juncture. This results in the General’s story being doled out across three successive evenings that they spend together early in their relationship. On the third night, as they settle in to continue the story, Rivette frames the Duchess in a tight closeup as she asks her would-be lover to finish the tale. At this moment, she turns a sly sidelong glance directly into the camera, maintaining eye contact with the audience, as though to include them in the game.

This game of narrative interruptus is also carried through in the way Rivette uses the text of the film’s original source, a novella by Honoré de Balzac. This is a rigidly faithful adaptation… with texts from the novel periodically included as intertitles to highlight certain moments or get at the characters’ internal states. The titles are also used to convey the passage of time, which is parceled out in scrupulously precise measures: “one hour later,” “twenty-two minutes passed,” “she waited twenty-four hours.” These titles often seem to abruptly cut off the action, sometimes flashing up on screen when, after a long scene of near-stasis, a character is right in the middle of completing the scene’s first real movement or action (most often: leaving the room). The passage of time, like everything else in the film, is subject to Rivette’s subtle humor. After the Duchess kicks her friend out of her house, a title informs us that it one hour passes (a very common interlude), and surprisingly in the very next scene there’s the General again, still standing in her parlor, walking around it aimlessly, looking like only five minutes has passed since she ordered him to leave. Rivette’s use of these titles is obviously very sardonic and mannered, as when he uses a long series of images of the Duchess at a party as though it constituted a clause in between two dashes in a sentence: “the Duchess searched for him —” followed by the visuals and then, when the dangling phrase had almost been forgotten, “— in vain.”

J. Romney:

Characterised as a sort of Napoleonic wild beast ill at ease in the tameness of Restoration Paris, Armand – a general newly returned from Africa who initially fascinates married duchess Antoinette with stories of his exploits – is associated from the start with the great outdoors, prowling Mallorca’s windlashed ramparts, while Antoinette is first seen doubly imprisoned, in nun’s cowl and behind a grille.

The film is largely set in a series of enclosed salon and boudoir interiors, an overtly theatrical domain in which Antoinette is a surpassing mistress of mise en scène. Preparing for Armand’s first visit, she arranges herself for maximum effect on a canapé, in discreet déshabille, ordering her servant to lower the lighting (the thematics of light and heat later extended in the fireplace that Armand pokes with barely contained sexual frustration, and in the brand with which he threatens Antoinette).

As actress, Antoinette is skilled at the well-timed entrance and exit, whereas Armand habitually arrives too early, or storms inopportunely into the star’s dressing room. It is part of Armand’s revenge that he at last masters both mise en scène and performance, in a startlingly excessive scene that replaces Antoinette’s poised comedy of manners with a lurid melodrama: in it, he plays a menacing Byronic ravisher, supported by masked men hovering around a brazier. This sudden eruption of violence in the middle of an analytical drama may seem wildly incongruous, yet the tonal discontinuity comes directly from Balzac’s story, and Rivette achieves the seemingly impossible in making such a disjunction work convincingly on screen. The violence at the heart of the story, together with its cautionary-tale aspect, is foregrounded by Rivette’s reversion to Balzac’s original title for his novel. The reference is to a veiled warning that Armand gives Antoinette, the axe being the English one that beheaded Charles I – the implication is that the reckless cause their own downfall. In reality, however, Armand himself figuratively wields the axe that will destroy his own chance of happiness.

D. Kasman:

How strange that a filmmaker who through the years has so loved process, often in terms of acting and theatre, of seeing the expression of things worked out awkwardly before us, and conspiracy, in terms of the hints that everything out there, out of sight and out of the film frame, may be connected, has decided to adapt a reserved, 19th century historical chamber romance. Oh, but with such a surprise we then get to engage in the pleasures of the hunt! For then we find things like this: how is the navigation of social rules and norms—a very real thing with a very allusive existence—like the theatre and how is it like a conspiracy? Well, it is not without reason that Rivette opens the film at the melodramatic peak of the couple’s aching separation—the Duchess a nun on a remote Spanish isle and separated from the General by the convent’s metal bars—and then transitions and flashes back five years to the couple’s meeting and affair through two sweeps of a theatre curtain. The stage then is not the actual island (filmed on location), but is the interiors of the Restoration period, in all their glory, wood boards creaking like an empty stage. …

It is like a game played again and again with different moves but the same results, the repeating drama inside the haunted house of Celine and Julie transposed to thinking, feeling participants. The drama exists in a hanging kind of closed-off world, all frustrated performances that are almost content, as the playfulness and acting gets close to true expression, true connection. But something holds everyone back, holds the drama back, holds the love back, and gradually both General and Duchess become obsessed with this vague, menacing limitation, a mysterious stopgap to happiness that can neither be seen nor surmounted.

Whew, I love all these themes that get read into Rivette’s work. I always wonder whether he’s aware of them and consciously shaping his films in this way, or if the themes are unintended and they are more or less created by the critics, or if they’ve just become a part of his creative process, so much that he doesn’t think about them as consciously as he used to, and they become more subtle and have to be drawn out by a viewer well familiar with his previous films.

D. Ehrenstein:

The film is “dryly funny. Especially so when “the 13” make their appearance in the last act, looking more like a left bank version of the Keystone Kops than a fearsome secret society.

Only thing I’d seen before by Lelouch was his fairly conventional and lightly enjoyable entry in Chacun son cinema, which it turns out was good preparation for this fairly conventional and lightly enjoyable film.

A meta-thriller without too many thrills of its own. I would’ve been shocked if the eminently likeable Dominique Pinon turned out to be a psycho killer and slaughtered down-on-her-luck chainsmoking hairdresser Huguette, as the movie kept implying he would. I also would’ve been shocked if the top-billed Pinon whose character is a ghostwriter and a former magician had NOT been faking his own death at the end, and had actually been killed by famous author Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant of some unseen Resnais and Truffaut films from the 80’s). Judith’s suicide at the end was surprising though, and seemed tonally out-of-place. There’s no evidence that Judith was a potentially-murderous monster (it’s only implied), but we’re not supposed to be upset when she is driven to suicide… I was, a little.

Pinon is on his way to a yachting trip with Judith but stops along the way to stalk Huguette who is dramatically dumped in front of him at a gas station. He waits all night to give her a ride – not because he is the escaped magician serial killer whom the radio keeps mentioning, but because he’s researching roles for “Judith’s” next novel. Takes H. to her rural home and pretends to be her boyfriend for the benefit of her family, then continues to the yacht two days late, proclaims that he’s done ghostwriting for Judith and that this will be his own “first” novel, writes the book onboard, “falls” overboard, hides out for a year, then returns Fury-style during police questioning, gets Judith to kill herself, then gives Huguette a big kiss. Why did he disappear? The book would sell tons more copies as a Judith novel than as a Dominique Pinon novel, and I guess by returning he gets all the royalties, though the movie conveniently ends before explaining that part. Also, in a cute side-plot, Dominique’s sister’s husband (never seen) leaves her and she falls in love with the police detective to whom she reports the crime.

The fun of the movie is its fooling around with thriller conventions, with Dominique alternately set up as the killer, the ghostwriter, and the sister’s missing husband. Pretty good looking film, but nothing amazing. Seems like the kind of slick, enjoyable, not-too-foreign movie that could run at the Landmark for a couple weeks.