Tout Va Bien/Letter To Jane (1972, Godard & Gorin)

Oh whoops – I planned to watch Weekend first, to go from the end of Godard’s beloved 60′s period, skip over his purely political post-May-’68 work with Gorin as the Dziga Vertov Group, and resume with Tout Va Bien and Letter to Jane. But I forgot, and watched this before Weekend. No matter, probably. But as I’d heard, the Godard of the 60′s never returned after ’68. This is so similar to his 60′s movies, despite the bright pop color, the custom-built sets, meta-movie voiceover, married-couple storyline and (especially) major stars. No, it’s as talky as The Owl’s Legacy.

Long-Distance Singer Yves Montand and newly-oscar-winning Jane Fonda were both known to be politically-engaged, and both were hugely popular at the time, so it was perfect casting for Godard and Gorin – plus an opportunity for them to gripe about Montand’s previous “problematic” political films. But G & G really want to polemicize at length, so they note in the voiceover that the stars were cast and given a jaded love story out of commercial necessity.

Unwitting pawns in Godard and Gorin’s political agenda:

Boss Caprioli:

Opens with JLG’s most cinematic-illusion-shattering move yet, close-ups on all the checks he’s cutting for the film’s stars, technicians, sets and so on. The juicy center of the film (shot in nice loooong shots, many of them motionless) consists mainly of dudes giving long speeches about union labor, class divisions, the political system.

“Under a calm surface, everything’s changing. Everything’s changing within every class. And She and He, swept up in it, also change.” Yves is a formerly-idealistic filmmaker (“a screenwriter during the New Wave”), now doing commercial work. Jane is a radio news reporter, and the two are at a factory office when the workers hold a major strike and lock the boss in his office for five days. So we get interviews with the boss (Vittorio Caprioli of Il Generale della Rovere): “the glaring injustices of Marx’ and Engels’ day are over,” and the shop steward: “our salaries haven’t kept up with increasing production, and even less with corporate profits.” It’s weird for a leftist, pro-workers movie that I can easily find who played the company manager, but not which actor played Stacquet the shop steward.

Some business in a supermarket that I didn’t understand because I wasn’t paying close attention anymore, but the long back-and-forth dolly shot reminded me of the factory scene in Manufactured Landscapes. Yves and Jane at their day jobs. Scenes of the factory in operation, of struggle in the streets. A token love-story-resolution ending in a cafe, which seems extraneous even as a joke, since the couple never got any development.

Great cross-section of the factory offices:

Yves, disillusioned:

From an interview with a wide-eyed bathrobe-clad Godard: “It’s quite striking. When workers are interviewed [on TV], these people are given 15 brief seconds when they haven’t opened their mouths all year. We give them 15 seconds, or even three minutes, to speak. ‘What do you think of the strike? What do you think of your lot in life?’ Who can answer when he’s had his mouth sewn shut?”

Letter To Jane (1972)

An hour-long photo-essay posed as a letter to Jane Fonda, analyzing a newspaper photo of her in Vietnam talking (or, as Godard & Gorin rightly point out, listening) to some unidentified men. She’d visited the country after the filming of Tout Va Bien but before its release, starting the ridiculous “Hanoi Jane” controversy, during which the press took the actions of a movie star more seriously than the war itself.

Godard and Gorin take turns narrating (in English), and each takes pains to avoid any interest in their voice, so the movie becomes a didactic lullaby. I got bored almost immediately.

See also: Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice and Farocki’s Workers Leaving The Factory

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer and february shorts

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer (1974, Chris Marker)

It’s not a short (an hour long), but I have little to say about it, so this is a short entry. The movie’s probably of more interest to fans of Yves Montand’s singing career than of Marker’s filmmaking or their shared politics. Marker focuses on Montand’s rehearsals for an upcoming concert benefitting Chilean refugees and he cuts to clips from the concert itself, and clips from Montand’s political films (Z, The Confession, The War Is Over).

Shot by the IMDB-credited Pierre Lhomme (Mr. Freedom, Army of Shadows) as well as Jacques Renard (Celine & Julie Go Boating) and Yann Le Masson. A nicely put-together little movie, but more like your standard fly-on-wall doc mixed with a celebrity personality piece than Marker’s usual style. Montand is passionate about the details, but it’s not my kind of music so I’m not sure what he’s going for. M. Legrand was involved somehow.

Some dude on the sidelines sports a Flo & Eddie shirt:

Lady Blue Shanghai (2010, David Lynch)

Plays like a total Inland Empire outtake (or Darkened Room 2). A confused Marion Cotillard calls security on an expensive handbag (the short was commissioned as a handbag advertisement) found in her room. She grabs it and half-remembers some alternate-existence romantic rooftop chase scene, featuring herself, an attractive man from Shanghai, and an expensive handbag.

My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (2002, Chris Morris)

An unstable Paddy Considine is left in charge of the dog, but can’t manage it. Dog dies, Paddy ends up at the pond screaming at ducks. Nice Warp-sounding music from the director. I enjoyed it.

Mermaid (1964, Osamu Tezuka)

Katy likes when I show her movies I haven’t already watched, then criticizes this one for being depressing and My Wrongs for being unfunny. None of Tezuka’s shorts have been sad before (well, Male has a murder scene), so how was I to know? A re-run of Haanstra’s Glas was better-received. This one’s a 1984/freedom-of-thought parable about a boy who catches a fish and imagines its a mermaid, until the thought police imprison him and try to brainwash away his imagination so he’ll see the fish as a fish. Naturally it ends with the boy freeing his fish and either becoming a merman or drowning himself.

The Uneasy Three (1925, Leo McCarey)

A Hal Roach short starring Charley Chase as a wannabe thief who, with his girl and her brother, pretends to be a musical trio to gain entry to a high-society party and steal a valuable brooch. That’s such a generic-sounding description that now I can’t recall if I wrote it or I copy/pasted it from somewhere. Anyway, they successfully fake being musician/entertainers and frame the real musicians for the crime.

Bull Montana, harpist:

Winston Tong en studio (1984, Olivier Assayas)

A studio recording of a silly-sounding song. I missed the vocalist’s interview in French, but enjoyed Jah Wobble’s rant against commercialism. Also liked the filmmakers’ sound mix, keeping bits of the last take in the mix over the interview, dialing up and down the backing music while Tong is singing. Besides Assayas it’s got Nicolas Klotz (La Blessure, La Question Humaine) editing.

Hokusai: An Animated Sketchbook (1978, Tony White)

Tony, an assistant on Richard Williams’ A Christmas Carol brings acclaimed Japanese woodcut artist Hokusai’s drawings wonderfully to life for a five-minute short. Not having any previous Hokusai exposure myself, I can’t tell which drawings are his and which are interpreted by White. Teshigahara had also made a short doc on Hokusai, and a few years after this Kaneto Shindo would make a feature with the great English-language title Edo Porn.

Endangered Species (2006, Tony White)

I found Tony’s other short on YouTube – a eulogy for the lost art of hand-drawn animation, made in collaboration with Roy Disney. So ol’ Walt is championed at the expense of his competitors at Warner Bros. Also parodied: Roger Rabbit, Fritz the Cat, Beavis & Butthead, artistic diversity, and corporations that would cruelly try to control independent animators and diminish their freedom. Seems weird that a pro-Disney film would be against huge companies. Seems to have mixed feelings about Pixar, and tags Hayao Miyazaki as animation’s hope for the future.

The War Is Over (1966, Alain Resnais)

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
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Jean Daste
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Warok
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Genevieve Bujold
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Thulin & Montand
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