Innocence (2004, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

Iris is brought to a spooky boarding school by coffin (it’s actually not that spooky, except for the fact that it appears in a strange movie called Innocence and people are brought there via coffin), is given a schedule and a colored-ribbon hierarchy, dance lessons, play time and a series of rules to never break, then we wait to see what happens when each rule is broken.

The instructors, including Marion Cotillard, the same year she was so good in A Very Long Engagement, and Hélène de Fougerolles of Va Savoir, are businesslike with a vague sadness – rumor is they’re former students who tried to escape and are punished by remaining here forever. Normal students take dance classes for a few years, then in their final year they perform in front of a paying audience in an underground theater that seems like it’s going to be more sinister than turns out, but the movie sticks to its title until its final images when the graduated students are released into the world, and we see our first glimpse of masculinity for 110 minutes.

“Obedience is the only path to happiness.”

Based on a 1903 story from the author of Pandora’s Box and shot with all natural light by Benoît Debie (Calvaire, Irreversible). Supposed to be less story-driven than a sumptuous sensual experience, so it’s a shame I watched in SD. But I had it on my mind since her new movie is being released and since I was just looking at greatest-film polls (somehow wrongly thinking that this one appeared on the BBC list), so was anxious to watch.

A runaway:

M. D’Angelo:

Another disappointingly blatant allegory — they’re back in fashion, it seems — but in this case it doesn’t matter so much, as Hadzihalilovic’s unnervingly precise direction kept me thoroughly engrossed … the opening sequence of “establishing shots” alone is so exquisitely judged, in terms of composition and juxtaposition and even duration, that it more than compensates for the jejune content.

The Sounds of Science (Jean Painlevé & Yo La Tengo)

Eight underwater documentaries by Jean Painlevé, with soundtrack by Yo La Tengo recorded live in 2005. This is probably the avant-garde shorts collection I’ve watched the most times, but I’ve never bothered to take notes on the whole thing before, though I noted watching a couple of these with Katy here, and a bunch at Eyedrum with their original soundtracks here. The original films had their own music with wry voiceover, which is preserved here via subtitles. Geneviève Hamon is credited as codirector on half of these.


Hyas and Stenorhynchus (1927)

Crabby creatures that camouflage themselves with bits of algae and sponge, with a side focus on those worms that live inside long tubes and bloom out like kinetic flowers.

The VO calls this pose “a Japanese warrior”


Sea Urchins (1954)

Turns out sea urchins, and everything else in the ocean, are super weird and interesting. Below is a close-up on some of their feeler-protrusions. This is the first film in the series where Painlevé constructed the title and “fin” endcards with a stop-motion arrangement of the title creatures.


How Some Jellyfish Are Born (1960)

Set in Finistère in Brittany in NW France, close to the island of Ouessant where Epstein’s Finis Terrae was filmed thirty years earlier. The topic here is very tiny, crawling jellyfish that cling to algae, full of poisonous structures, and how they’re born is less exciting than the seahorses and octopi, sprouting out of pods like sci-fi space creatures.

Some jellyfish:


Liquid Crystals (1978)

A major change from the other films both in subject (no animals here) and musical accompaniment (loud!), just some ass-kicking micro-photography of crystal formation.


The Seahorse (1933)

I’m not sure Painlevé deserves the “surrealist” tag applied to him, even though the surrealists supposedly loved his films. But he’s definitely playful, with the informative but humorous voiceover, and here when he overlays silhouettes of sea horses with a terrestrial horse race.

This one mostly focuses on the way sea horses give birth. Basically the males get pregnant, with a pouch full of eggs implanted by the females, then he carries the eggs until it’s time to convulsively shoot baby sea horses everywhere.


The Love Life of an Octopus (1967)

Octopuses (this is actually more correct than “octopi”) are absolutely horrific creatures. The way they move in water and on land, and the way they fight and eat and mate will all give you nightmares. It even gives octopuses nightmares – the film shows a couple mating, the male keeping “a prurient distance” while “pallid with fear”. However, the way the females produce giant strings of a half-million eggs, and stay in the nest slowly stirring them to keep them clean with fresh water, the eggs finally exploding into thousands of tiny octopodes, is quite beautiful.


Shrimp Stories (1964)

Maybe the only scientific undersea documentary to ever include a Groucho Marx impersonation. On second thought, maybe we can call Painlevé a surrealist after all. Shrimpies are such cuties, and I started to see how horrible it is that we eat them ten at a time, and thought this was going to be troubling. But then the film shows how they shed their hard skin as they grow (“like a ghost emerging from its diaphanous cloak”) and while defenseless before a new shell is formed they’re often devoured by their fellow shrimp, then they didn’t seem so cute anymore.


Acera or the Witches’ Dance (1972)

The most unfamiliar creature of the series, walrus-molluscs that swim in a blobby mushroom-dance when they’re not having perverse multi-partner sex. Love how the film has flash cuts to a woman dancing in a flowing dress as visual metaphor.

The Decameron (1971, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

I guess I’m starting to get Pasolini’s style, thanks not to this confusing movie but to the blu-ray extras, which say he combines his knowledge of art and iconography with deliberately naive framing and ignorance of film history and style, influenced by Gramsci (“the revolutionary potential of the arts”) and the neorealists (who insisted on a “high level of political and cultural engagement on the part of directors and writers”). In retrospect I can see how these ideas work, but in my experience of watching the movie, it seemed like a silly bunch of populist, amoral comedic sex stories, lightly enjoyable.

First, someone is murdered in a cave, but it’s dark and I’m not sure what’s happening or if it’s important.

Then Andreuccio (Ninetto Davoli) is scammed by a princess who claims to be his long-lost sister before ejecting him into a toilet and stealing his money. He finds fortune with grave robbers later that night, stealing a gemstone ring from a bishop’s crypt.

Masetto pretends to be stupid and mute in order to gain favor with the nuns and eventually have sex with all of them.

A husband returns home to his cheating wife Peronella where she has stashed her lover in a huge vase, pretending that he’s interesting in buying it. This is when I realized that none of these episodes are related in any way.

Legendary liar/forger Ciappelletto (Franco Citti, title star of Accattone – aha, learned that he’s the murderer in the prologue) is dying, gives a final fake confession to a very impressed priest.

A multi-part episode framed by the story of a painter (Pasolini himself) working on a mural… also featuring young lovers Caterina and Ricardo caught nude on a balcony and forced to marry… Lorenzo is killed by his lover’s brothers and she finds his grave and keeps his head… and a sex fiend returns from the dead to tell his buddy that the afterlife has “nothing against screwing around”

Back to the painter: “Why complete a work, when it’s so beautiful just to dream it?”

Won a prize in Berlin (despite featuring some of the laziest dubbing work I’ve ever seen) where Vittorio De Sica took the Golden Bear. “It also quite infamously started a trend of pornographic films based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, something Pasolini actually found very upsetting,” per Patrick Rumble’s vital video essay.

Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Eiichi Yamamoto)

“Anything… so long as it’s bad.”

Billed as a long-lost feminist animation, as if viewers would be fooled – and some were. In the first ten minutes our heroine is gang-raped by nobles, who conspire to keep the townspeople desperately poor, then she sells her soul to the devil for revenge, and it only gets more grim from there. Yes, it’s nothing but pure punishment for the shining couple of Jean and Jeanne, introduced as some Christian ideal couple before Jeanne is repeatedly devil-raped, brings plague and orgies to the people and is ultimately burned at the stake and Jean becomes a hated tax collector and nobility puppet then gets murdered at his wife’s execution.

Jeanne getting hella raped:

Jeanne joking around with penis-satan:

It’s kind of a musical, making the most of very limited animation – mostly long pans across large still drawings. I appreciate the indie-animation ambition and the uniqueness of having so much sexual imagery, but the end result is dated and unpleasant.

Surely it’s not the movie’s fault for being so shitty to the people, and especially to women, for truly history was very shitty, especially to women, but after murdering our heroes the movie hastily tells us that women (ahem, topless women) led the French revolution so I guess that makes up for everything. The illustrations are pretty cool, anyway.

D. Ehrlich with context:

Strange even by the impossibly high standards of Japanese cinema, the wild and exhausting Belladonna of Sadness was conceived by Osamu Tezuka — the godfather of manga — as the third and final chapter of Mushi Productions’ Animerama trilogy (a series of explicitly adult animated films that also included erotic riffs on “Cleopatra” and “A Thousand and One Nights”).

Lumière! chapters 3-4

Two more sections from the amazing-looking Lumière blu-ray:

Chap 3: Enfances

La Petite fille et son chat (1900)

A horrific film introducing early filmmakers to the problem of making movies with animals. The action is a girl in a preposterous hat hand-feeding a hungry cat, but the cat loses interest halfway, ditches the film and has to be thrown back into frame. The girl’s a much better sport – in the second half you can see the cat clawing her arm, but she continues to act through the pain, pushing further back in her seat in case the animal goes for her eyes next.


Premiers pas de bébé (year unknown)

Kid in wind-inflated clown clothes walks unsteadily down the sidewalk, then falls down – a comedy or a tragedy, depending whether you like kids.


Pêche aux poissons rouges (1895)

Mustache man works hard to get a kid in a diaper-hat to reach for the fish, which she does occasionally in between trying to keep a steady foothold and trying to pull the whole thing over – kind of a failed attempt at a filmed action, but maybe film was super expensive so they released it anyhow.


Petit frère et petite sœur (1897)

Boy and girl swing in circles until they fall down, what fun. The film hasn’t run out yet, so he picks her up and they start again, with the girl shooting a “what? I thought we were finished” look into camera.


Enfant pêchant des crevettes (1896)

Kids in increasingly ridiculous hats skim the water with shrimp nets while their parents hover nearby.


Le goûter des bébés (1897)

Two girls at either ends of a table while young Casanova sits in between feeding them grapes. According to google, the title translates as The Taste of Babies.


Baignade en mer (1895)

Older kids dressed as escaped convicts jump off a rickety diving board into the sea.
I’ve seen some of these before (and taken the exact same screenshots).


Enfants jouant aux billes (1896)

A game of marbles, at an unfollowable distance even in this beautiful HD edition. The dirty kids in their adorable period garb are still worth watching, though.


Défilé de voitures de bébés à la pouponnière de Paris (1897)

Long train of nannies with babies in buggies.


Chapter 4: La France Qui Travaille

Ateliers de La Ciotat (1899)

What is happening? Spinning gears and flywheels, as workmen carry large things about.


Chaudière (1896)

Men climb down a ladder, then remove the ladder. What is that thing? Ah, English title is Loading a Boiler, not so thrilling.


Ouvriers réparant un trottoir en bitume (1897)

Spreading what looks like black tar on the ground – looks hot and miserable.


Défournage du Coke (1896)

I’ve seen this one a bunch of times, and it’s fascinating… super-hot coal residue, sliding slowly out from whatever contraption this is, one guy hosing it down, others hesitantly attacking it with poles, finally increasing the pole action towards the end.


Laveuses sur la rivière (1896)

There was a laundry shed for ladies along the river. Nicely framed shot – my favorite part is the men standing lazily above watching the laundry get done.


Transport d’une tourelle par un attelage de 60 chevaux (1896)

Sixty horses towing a massive whiskey barrel (or a turret, acc. to google translate). This film has a cut, because obviously the Lumières wanted to see the line of the horses then the giant object wheeling into view but a supervisor holds the line, so it seems they stopped shooting until it resumed.


Pêche aux sardines (1896)

Untangling fish from the net, which goes slowly because the fishermen keep turning around to look at the camera.


Les pompiers I: passage des pompes (1896)

So cool, horse-drawn firetruck passing through, as street traffic moves aside for them.


Attelage d’un camion (1896)

More horse-pulling action, this time a smaller team than a few films ago, pulling a less interesting load (concrete blocks).

Young Girls of Rochefort (1967, Jacques Demy)

Sept. 2016:
Watched this again in the beautiful blu-ray restoration, along with Agnes Varda’s documentary. Of course, I take back the comment below that the music is unmemorable – I find no showtunes memorable until I’ve heard them a second time, and now I feel like I’ve known the twins’ theme song forever. Had completely forgotten that there’s a murder in this movie, a family friend who hangs around the café is arrested for chopping up a girl named Lola-Lola (Blue Angel reference?). Re: the English version of The Young Girls, it’s glimpsed in the Varda doc, but apparently nobody thought it worth restoring and adding to this box set, so that’s probably the final word on that.

Transporter Bridge, transport me away:

Oct. 2007:
Not a total musical like Umbrellas was, and no connecting characters between the two, just a brief mention of the town of Cherbourg. This one has the same longing tone as the previous film in parts, but mostly it’s a much sunnier film, a loving, colorful, musical tribute to Hollywood escapist classics.

At this point, Demy was far out of touch tonally with his French New Wave contemporaries. Umbrellas characters were at least affected by the ongoing war, but Rochefort, coming after the more politically-engaged Muriel and Paris Belong To Us and The War Is Over, is in its own insular world for the most part. A few years later, after the May ’68 riots and Godard’s and Marker’s hard turns to the left, after even Demy’s wife Agnes Varda had filmed Black Panthers and contributed to the Far from Vietnam project, Demy would continue to go his own way, filming a musical fantasy fairy-tale with Deneuve and Jean Marais in 1970. By that point, I gather that he was not well-liked by his New Wave filmmaker/critic contemporaries. I don’t think he is well-liked still… I’ve been reading that his career was pretty uneven, and only a quarter of his films are talked about regularly. I guess Demy’s films have had to be recontextualized to be appreciated, removed from the radical French 60’s and enjoyed as pure cinema.

Danielle Darrieux (star of Madame De… and the cheating wife in La Ronde, later in 8 Women & Demy’s Une chambre en ville) plays Yvonne, mother of Catherine Deneuve, her tragic real-life sister Françoise Dorléac (of The Soft Skin and Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake) and young Boubou.

Yvonne regrets having left Boubou’s father Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli) ten years ago. Delphine (Deneuve) keeps missing her dream man, an artist/poet doing his military service, Jacques Perrin (of Donkey Skin, Cinema Paradiso, the Kieslowski-penned 2005 Hell). Solange (Dorléac) dreams of meeting famous American composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). And they all (more or less) meet up and fall in love at the end of the movie.

L-R below: Darrieux, salesman George Chakiris (West Side Story), Josette, romantic Perrin, George’s partner Bill, Gramps

Guess I’m not so musical-savvy, don’t know what to say about this one stylistically. I mean, it’s bright and colorful and fun, less sense of loss and longing than Umbrellas, but I kind of miss that. Gene Kelly is a cutie, fits in just fine.

Katy asks why the mother has to work all day at her diner to get by, while her daughters live high in their fancy apartment and pretty dresses from teaching song and dance lessons. Are the realism and the fantasy rubbing against each other uncomfortably, or is the mother paying for Boubou’s school and still helping to support the girls until they get married? If the latter, I’d hope they’d take a shift at the diner once in a while.

This and Umbrellas had a funny combination of set and location shooting, with Demy doing location shots in the actual towns, but repainting the storefronts to his liking. Nice music, nothing memorable for me, having heard it just once. The girls refer to Jules and Jim and composer Michel Legrand. The camera should count as a cast member since it is engaged by the other characters and dances around with them. A self-reflexive movie then, both in its use of the camera and its reference to musical convention. Bright, solid primary colors abound.

Jonathan Rosenbaum: “There are English-dubbed versions of both Umbrellas and Young Girls; I haven’t seen the latter, but the English version of Umbrellas is so unrelievedly awful that I’m happy to have missed the dubbed Young Girls.” Although if the IMDB trivia page is to be believed, Rochefort was fully shot in English as well as French, so it might be worth hunting down an English version if it still exists anywhere.

Varda cameo as the shortest nun:

Caroline Layde for Senses of Cinema:

However undemanding and lollipop Demy’s films may appear, they present some nuance and sophisticated intertext, and they share a certain charm, vivid and unified. His films inhabit worlds in themselves that may peripherally refer to social reality and the real world but remain content as alternate realities of poetry, color, and music … Demy’s consistency of vision itself justifies his inclusion among the “auteurs”, defined by André Bazin and François Truffaut and expanded by Andrew Sarris as distinguishing themselves with their salient visual language from mere metteurs-en-scène. Demy certainly created a signature style of poetry and innocence and clung to it. Yet this quality also has a sophisticated aspect, suggesting the dream worlds of the surrealists and of Demy’s inspiration, Jean Cocteau. It is fitting that the American critic Gary Carey has described Demy as “the Joseph Cornell of French cinema”.


The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993, Agnes Varda)

The town of Rochefort threw a party and screening for the 25th anniversary, invited Demy’s family, Legrand, the set designer, the producer and cast. Bittersweet memories for some, pure joy for others. Film and video of the festivities along with film clips and Varda’s excellent 16mm footage from behind the scenes.

“The memory of happiness is perhaps also happiness.”

Jacques on set:

La Ciénaga (2001, Lucretia Martel)

A movie where nothing happens but with menace everywhere – cutting racism, teens with guns and machetes and driving cars, fistfights, drunkenness, people with bad eyes and extra teeth and covered in cuts, talk of affairs and killer rats.

I’m about a month behind on the movie blog, and this one has stuck with me really well – not the details and specific interactions, but the general atmosphere of doom and stasis, the sense of being stuck, and the one guy José who escaped to Buenos Aires, returns home then can’t seem to leave.

D. Oubiña:

There are too many characters in La Ciénaga (The Swamp, the name Martel gives to her fictionalized version of her hometown), and their relationships remain confusing even after we’ve finally managed to identify their family connections. It is difficult to tell what is central and what is secondary in each image, as the story avoids emphasizing any one situation over another. But that is precisely what is so distinctive about this stunning movie … La Ciénaga is precisely a movie about unproductive pursuits, wasted time, the dissipation of energy, inactivity … the story develops in a sly and calculatedly affecting way. She sets up these disturbing situations, then avoids and ignores the potential damage, as if the eventualities had never existed. But we remain unsettled by the accidents that seemed inevitable, and they stay with us as what could have occurred, or what could still occur at any moment.

There’s a side plot about virgin Mary appearances on the side of a building. Matriarch Mecha (Graciela Borges, in Argentine films since the 1950’s) drunkenly falls and cuts herself up at the beginning. I think Tali (Mercedes Morán, mother in The Holy Girl) is a neighbor or an aunt. Luchi is the boy who falls to his probable death from a ladder at the end.

Been meaning to watch this forever, then picked it on the night after it appeared on someone’s BBC list – someone who voted for Mysteries of Lisbon, Margaret and The New World in his top three, so can be trusted. This won an award in Berlin where it premiered with Fat Girl, Bamboozled, Traffic, Wit and winner Intimacy.

Wolf Children (2012, Mamoru Hosoda)

Maybe my favorite of the four Hosoda movies we watched. Katy complains that it conformed to gender norms, as the girl suppressed her wolf nature to fit in with other schoolkids, and the boy went full-wolf into the wilderness. And we both thought it odd that the kids’ mom makes love with their werewolf dad while he’s in wolf form.

But most of the movie is about the mom trying to raise two wolf children, with nobody she can confide in, and while I usually don’t go for all-sacrificing parent stories, the unique challenges here along with the kids’ gradually-developing personalities and the mom’s low-key perseverance added up to something special. The advantages of animation are more apparent here than in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, as the kids transform into wolves and back at will (and unconsciously) in the middle of shots.

Mouseover for wolf children:
image

Adam Cook:

This is certainly the closest Hosoda has come to replicating the magic of Miyazaki. In fact, several scenes seem to deliberately reference the great man’s work, particularly the sequence where the children discover their new provincial home for the first time.

Movies from a Hundred Years Ago

I was going to watch more of these, loaded a Borzage thing and a Lubitsch thing on the laptop, but for months I haven’t felt like continuing, so I’m pulling the trigger.

His Wedding Night (1917 Fatty Arbuckle)

Fatty is a soda jerk who also keeps an eye on the perfume counter and gas pump. Gags about Al St. John trying to steal his girl, Buster Keaton delivering a wedding dress, and Fatty putting chloroform in a perfume bottle to prevent customers from over-sampling the expensive stuff all come together magically in the end. Arbuckle’s a strong dude, picks up romantic rival Al and hurls him across a room. Arbuckle also sexually harasses a woman and a donkey, and pretty quickly learns to use his chloroform bottle for evil. Very nearly cinema’s first gay marriage before Keaton is unmasked.

Modeling:


The Rough House (1917, Fatty Arbuckle)

A psychotic chef (Fuzzy St. John), hapless grocery delivery boy (Keaton) and an idiot manchild (Arbuckle) destroy a house. Then the chef is fired and Arbuckle is the new chef. Friends are invited to dinner, one is a thief, cops arrive, many people fall down, and the house is pretty much destroyed again. Main value to be found in this pile of randomly-edited violence is Arbuckle’s dancing dinner rolls, apparently stolen (and perfected) by Chaplin for The Gold Rush.


Dreamy Dud. He Resolves Not to Smoke (1915, Wallace Carlson)

Finally I am watching the movie with the greatest title of all time, and it’s a bit of a let-down… pretty much a tame Rarebit Fiend episode with a pipe-smoking boy and his pervert dog, full of horrible slang.

Urban Dictionary is conflicted about what this might mean: