Couple of juvenile delinquents, looking like the French Keanu Reeves and Natalie Portman (she’s Virginie Ledoyen of The Beach) are caught stealing Deep Purple records with great close handheld camera. Gilles buys dynamite after getting kicked out of class and clashing with his parents. Creedence “Up Around the Bend” plays at a fire dance party, “Me and Bobby McGee” plays in a concrete bunker, later we hear a Nico song from The Inner Scar. This is somehow my second movie in a row where a French person gets stabbed with scissors. The couple flees together into the country looking for a place that might not exist. He wakes up with the girl gone and finds a note we don’t get to read. Good movie, full of youth and fire, though not as good as the Jesus Lizard song.

Kid does not have a bike, and lives in a group home but keeps escaping to look for his dad, a sous chef who sold the bike and doesn’t want to be a dad anymore. Enter large-hearted hairdresser (and Haute Tension star) Cécile de France, who takes a liking to the boy (even though he’s a bit of an asshole) and buys his bike back. Gaining a new mother-figure is outweighed by Dad (Jérémie Renier, naturally) telling him not to come around anymore, so Kid immediately gets mixed up with a gang of criminal youths. He stabs Cécile when she tries to keep him from going out to conk a newsseller with a baseball bat. The newsseller takes revenge, but everyone is alive and intact in the end, and Cécile remains large-hearted despite having to pay back the money her shitty adopted son stole. The Kid would go on to play Jean Renoir’s little brother in a biopic.

As mentioned in the Loznitsa movie, I attempted to repeat White Nights Fest here, only to realize the Loznitsa was far from a straight adaptation. But once again, Bresson can be counted on for Dostoevsky fidelity. After reading the short story I rewatched the Piotr Dumala short, which makes more sense now as an adaptation, though he added the nudity and insects. In fact there’s more sex in all the movie versions than in the book, unless it’s implicit there and I missed it. No insects in the Bresson though, just monkeys, both alive and skeletal.

Our lead pawnbroker had been a bank manager in his dark past (a soldier in the book). Bresson’s film contains much media outside the main story – she listens to LPs of tinkly instrumental music, they go to the cinema to watch a Piccoli/Deneuve film, and to the theater for a Hamlet swordfight (practice for Lancelot). Bresson solves the problem of the entire book being an internal monologue by the pawnbroker after his wife has died, simply by having him speak aloud to the maid. The actors perhaps more actory than in his previous films – deadwife Dominique Sanda would go on to a long career, eventually appearing with Piccoli herself (and if not Deneuve then Nico and Bulle Ogier and Léa Seydoux and Isabelle Huppert ain’t bad).

Léa Seydoux is a famous TV newscaster, known for onsite foreign reports and for giving playfully confrontational questions to the president at home, lives with husband and kid in an insane performatively-rich house. At work she gives too much on-camera direction, saying “got that?” a half second after every speech – her segments must be a nightmare to edit. There’s a minor car crash (she rear-ends a motorcyclist) and a major one (her husband and kid plunge off a cliff), and every personal tragedy or professional fuckup is just another tabloid headline. She starts actually caring about the stories she covers, but the public image and end result is the same.

France will be seen next in the Cronenberg, her TV producer is in the brand-new Quentin Dupieux and her husband was in Personal Shopper. Doesn’t feel very Dumontian, except when accident victim Baptiste is around. It’s all very nice-looking (and with great music by the late Christophe) but a traditional media/celeb satire seems like small fries after Slack Bay.

France with producer:

France with husband:

Despite technically being a Sundance premiere, we were the first in-person audience for a movie made to be seen on a big screen with a big soundsystem. I should look up whether the archival footage even had sound, or if this was a foley fest. It puts together a good heroic narrative, the volcanologist couple turning their studies from gently predictable “red” volcanoes to dangerous “gray” volcanoes, and after authorities ignore warnings in Colombia and thousands die, they make a scare film about those deaths, which convinces people to evacuate next time. Filmmaking saves lives. A slick movie, not as personally troubling as others today, despite all the deaths. Kyren Penrose opened, solo acoustic, and we got beer and pretzels at Broadway afterwards.

Famous lecturer Jean Desailly (of a couple Melville films) picks up stewardess Francoise Dorléac (a couple years before Cul-de-sac) and talks endlessly about Balzac at the bar. He falls for her, but is married, and the whole movie is about how hard it is to have a secret affair. It’s even harder because he’s well known, but he acts like Francoise has no other options, and is a pain in the ass to her for almost their own relationship, so when he finally proposes, she breaks up with him. And then his wife finds out.

The music took the whole thing seriously from the start. It’s a suave, smooth looking movie, each scene patiently revealing. A jump cut or two just to remind us this is the FNW, overall more admirable than any fun to watch.

In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.

Michael Brooke for Criterion:

Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).


Les Temps Morts (1965)

I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.


Les Escargots (1966)

A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.

My third in a trilogy of White Nights adaptations. I belatedly discovered that James Gray’s Two Lovers is also a loose/partial adaptation, too late, will save it for my next Dostoevsky binge. All three are set in their own present-day, displaying current technology – Bresson’s tape recorder, Visconti’s jukebox, now Vecchiali’s cellphone.

He’s nasty in this one, but after a prologue where he insults an older man, he meets the girl and the dialogue veers close to the original. Video-looking long takes here, the actors standing still, one of them usually hidden in shadow. Besides the phone, her backstory monologue is interrupted by a couple things. Her voice fades out into the waves, then back in, repeating from earlier than where we left off but with the camera on him instead, reminding me of the Francisca repetitions. Also, he starts correctly guessing details of her story, as if he’s read this book before.

The long dance scene seems to reference the Visconti more than the novel. A b/w sidetrack conversation between him and his stepmom feels like filler, even if it does reference the cobwebs from the story and prove he wasn’t lying about being named Fyodor.

This played Locarno with La Sapienza and Horse Money. Vecchiali is a lesser-known Cahiers critic-turned-director, and I’ve heard his 1970’s work is good. Our lead actress is a Vecchiali regular, and our guy played the two Remis in Two Remis.

Finally getting to Dumont’s debut. Parts of this movie about a dimwit boy in a nowhere town look familiar from Lil Quinquin – a yard where they fix up their car even looks like a location from that movie, and there’s a character named Quinquin. But this was before Dumont had learned to be funny or unpredictable, from his punishing slow art cinema days. Maybe the crappy marching band was supposed to provide levity, but in the end it’s simply no fun to watch a crappy marching band. This doesn’t give me much hope for L’Humanité – I’m guessing that’s as misleading a title as this one, which follows a kid who Dumont wants to portray as a sensitive soul, with his epilepsy and pet finch and cute girlfriend. But the kid’s also a horrible racist, and finally catches the Arab guy he’d seen hanging around with his girl, and uses his head as a soccer ball. The non-pro actors in this stayed non-pro. I was surprised to recognize the finch-song contest from Arabian Nights.

Nicholas Elliott for Criterion:

Rather than a description of the film’s contents, the title is an unusually active element of the viewing experience, a riddle that prompts the viewer to see beyond the low horizons of Freddy’s existence and imagine how the spiritual might be reintroduced into this context. In the trickiest of ways, Dumont titles the film to prime us to look for good where there is evil. Yet he does not ask us to like Freddy, only to accept that he exists…