First time watching this in high-def… oh my.
First time watching this in high-def… oh my.
Jeunet has made his brownest film since Delicatessen. Surely City of Lost Children and A Very Long Engagement were very brown indeed, but this one wins the brownness prize of the decade. I was very pleased with this overall – nevermind the haters, it’s more mad Jeunet fun, junkyard contraptions and insane plot contrivances help one obsessed individual win out, yay. Until the minute after it ended… then the whole thing felt kind of empty. I guess Dany Boom (My Best Friend, The Valet) had a valid reason for going after the two big arms companies in town (run by Nicolas Marié, who I’ll only recognize again if he wears those same glasses, and the great André Dussollier of Coeurs and Wild Grass) and I guess the junkyard denizens can help him out, because that’s the sort of thing that happens in movies, and I suppose he sort of succeeds (one CEO goes to jail and the other disappears). But it feels like all the thought went into the mechanisms and mannerisms, and not enough was put into the big picture. If I sound like a cranky newspaper critic, so be it – I felt like one. Maybe it’ll improve on repeat viewing – Engagement did.
More cast. Marie-Julie Baup plays Calculator, a diminutive, bespectacled number cruncher who reminds of the female lead in Delicatessen (and in case you weren’t thinking of Delicatessen, Jeunet drops a non-sequitur reference to that film in the middle of a spy sequence, just like he drops references via highway billboard to Micmacs itself). Michel Crémadès is a junk artist with a smiling, elfin face that seems like it should have appeared in Jeunet movies past, yet somehow hasn’t. Dominique Pinon gets to be his merry self. Omar Sy has a thing for turns-of-phrase sayings that doesn’t really translate (or just isn’t funny, don’t know which). Then you got cutie contortionist Julie Ferrier and parental figures Jean-Pierre Marielle (Coup de torchon, The Da Vinci Code) and chef Yolande Moreau (Amelie, Vagabond).
Musco (1997, Michael Smith & Joshua White)
A fake 1984 infomercial for a music-oriented lighting equipment company. I don’t get it. It was part of an art installation, and I don’t get those in general, maybe because I don’t live in New York.
Flash Back (1985, Pascal Aubier)
Two-minute short – soldier is killed in combat, life flashes before his eyes represented by photos going back in time until to the earliest baby picture. Guess Pascal had to find an actor with lots of family photos for this.
The Apparition (1985, Pascal Aubier)
A guy’s bathroom light makes the Virgin Mary appear in a church across town. Aubier ought to be at least as popular as Don Hertzfeldt.
Un ballo in maschera (1987, Nicolas Roeg)
Things I like:
1. That the king is played by a woman (Theresa Russell) with a mustache
2. That the action takes place in an ellipsis (“…but”) between the opening and closing text (“King Zog Shot Back!”)
Nice piece, set to music by Giuseppe Verdi. First segment of the anthology film Aria, which I must watch the rest of when I’m not so tired (next segment put me to sleep in a couple minutes).
Universal Hotel (1986, Peter Thompson)
“1980, I have a strange dream. Between the fortress and the cathedral is the universal hotel.” Slow, calm analysis of photos and reports about a nazi experiment where prisoners were frozen then revival was attempted using boiling water, microwaves and “animal heat.” “I make statements about the photographs which cannot be proven. I speak with uncertainty.” Increasingly intense, with narrated dreams illustrated with photography tricks, a murder-mystery without an ending. Last line: “they come while I’m asleep.” Scary, and I would not have watched this right now had I known nazis were involved, but now I’m glad I did.
Universal Citizen (1987, Peter Thompson)
Now in Guatemala, Peter talks with a concentration camp survivor who told himself he would move to the tropics if he survived. He did, so he does, laying in a hammock, floating in the warm water, working on the sun roof of his house, listening to Armenian records and refusing to be filmed. Mayan ruins. This time the dream/nightmare scenes lack narration. Ends with a joke (and a shot from the beginning of the other film). Oh wait, no it ends with depression after the credits. I preferred the joke.
Bunker of the Last Gunshots (1981, Jeunet et Caro)
There’s an insurrection inside the bunker. A timer count backwards, people have gas masks and eyegear and prosthetic limbs, there are shootings, eletroshock, cryogenics, there is complicated machinery, tubes and wires and hidden cameras. Possibly they are Germans, it is possibly post-apocalyptic, and the soldiers possibly go crazy and kill each other. I am not entirely sure of the politics, but it’s a neat little flick, definitely full of the clutter style of their later features.
Opening Night of Close-Up (1996, Nanni Moretti)
That’s just what it’s about. The nervous cinephile (Moretti himself) who runs an Italian theater is opening Kiarostami’s Close-Up and wants everything to be just right.
World of Glory (1991, Roy Andersson)
“This is my brother. My little brother. I suppose he is my only true friend, so to speak. [both look away uncomfortably]” I just checked and yeah, Roy Andersson is the acclaimed deadpan comedic filmmaker who made Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. I’d believe it, and be almost excited to see those two after viewing this short, a guy grimly introducing us to his sad life, with he and others looking slowly into the camera as if we’re to blame for all this – except why did it start with a mini-reenactment of the holocaust? The whole rest of the movie I’m wondering that… he won’t let go of the “blood of christ” wine pot at mass and it’s supposed to be a funny scene but I’m thinking “the holocaust?!?”
Reverse Shot explains:
World of Glory locates a society — ostensibly the director’s native Sweden, but easy interchangeable with any modern European country — so paralyzed by ennui, anxiety, and desperation that its inhabitants are apparitions. The main character is a thin, pasty man who takes us on a guided tour of his life — his loveless marriage, his stultifying job, his pathetic day-to-day activities. It was not until the second time I saw the film that I realized that this character had been present in the first shot: dead center of the frame, turning away from the proceedings every so often to fix us with his gaze. His meek, self-effacing misery in the later scenes thus comes into sharper relief: a person who does not act to avert tragedy endures beneath its weight.
Je vous salue, Sarajevo (1993, Jean-Luc Godard)
“Culture is the rule, and art is the exception. … The rule is to want the death of the exception, so the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.” This two-minute piece is a montage made from a single photograph, with voiceover. Directly to the point, I like it better than almost all of Histoire(s) du cinema.
Origins of the 21st Century (2000, Jean-Luc Godard)
A bummer of a film, montaging footage from news videos and feature films (The Shining, The Nutty Professor, Le Plaisir) over quiet music with the occasional commentary or block lettering, war and death, pain and happiness and a few plays-on-words.
If 6 was 9 (1995, Eija-Liisa Ahtila)
Sex, split-screens and supermarkets. More people looking into the camera confessionally, but all about sex this time, not too similar to Today.
Can’t figure what a full hour-long Ahtila film would be like, but she’s made two of them so I’ll find out eventually.
Zig-Zag (1980, Raul Ruiz)
Ruiz had adapted Kafka’s Penal Colony ten years earlier so surely he knows he’s making another Kafkaesque film here. A man named H. “realizes he is the victim of the worst type of nightmare: a didactic nightmare” when, late for an appointment, he finds himself part of a global board game at the mercy of pairs of dice. The game keeps changing scale, zooming out, so H. has to travel further distances more quickly – from walking to taxi to train to plane. Rosenbaum (who says it’s Borgesian not Kafkaesque) says it was made to promote a map exhibition in Paris, which to me just makes it more strange than if it was promoting nothing at all. “The history of cartography [is] the business of labyrinth destruction.”
Either H. or the mysterious gamer was played by Pascal Bonitzer, cowriter of some of Rivette’s best films. “We now live in the pure instantaneous future.”
From a year when I was watching more movies than ever, and starting to get obsessed with my favorite filmmakers. Visually distinctive films that became instant all-time faves included Mulholland Drive, Pulse, The Royal Tenenbaums, Artificial Intelligence, Monsters Inc., Donnie Darko, Winged Migration, and Amelie. I’d caught up with Jeunet’s previous features on video (including the brilliant Alien Resurrection), always impressed by the atmospheric fantasy worlds, rube goldberg devices, intensely detailed production design, playful editing, cartoon camera angles and rubber-faced Dominique Pinon. With Amelie, he took his fantasy visions and hurled them into the present-day real world, creating a romance flick that keeps forgetting to be romantic because it (like the protagonist) is too easily distracted by everyday wonders.
The cigarette-counter lady in Amelie played a lead in Not On The Lips. She did look awfully familiar.
Our narrator was the VHS-watching realtor in Hearts/Private Fears
And holy crap, Katy knew just from the trailer that the veggie-stand guy starred in Angel-A.
Gymnopedies (1965, Larry Jordan)
An egg floats around on different backdrops interacting with various objects, all cut-out animation a la Gilliam or Borowczyk, set to calm piano music. Feels more like a proof of concept than anything else – if there was a narrative present, I didn’t catch it. Cute, though.
Lipstick (1999, Pascal Aubier)
Single 6-minute shot beginning under a bed, unsubtitled. Family is getting ready to leave for a trip, the mother is briefly visited by her lover who comes in through the window. Aubier was assistant director on some French New Wave classics in the 60’s, now an actor and a director of (mostly) comic shorts. Liked this a lot (and not only because of the naked dancing), will have to check out more of his stuff.
Ark (2007, Grzegorz Jonkajtys)
Iffy-looking 3D animation tells apocalyptic story with a twist ending. Our guy wasn’t really the lead scientist onboard an ark of the last surviving humans searching the oceans for new land, just a crazy old man in a convalescent home. Ha! Bah.
Happy-End (1996, Peter Tscherkassky)
Found footage of a couple sitting down for dinner, toasting the camera, drinking… and drinking and drinking! Dancing, drinking, sitting, more drinking. Different days, different clothes, edited together, eventually with scenes superimposed atop each other, a haunted distortion of a French pop song as the soundtrack.
Two Solutions To One Problem (1975, Abbas Kiarostami)
Very short with narrator, two kids get in a fight over a torn book. We tally the damages then rewind, and instead of starting a fight, they help repair the book and remain friends. Nice.
Blah Blah Blah (2006, Dietmar Brehm)
Liquor bottles. Close-ups of objects with strong textures, overexposed porno, an action film in extreme-fast-forward, long pause on an ashtray, back to the liquor bottles, etc. Audio is a quietly rainy/windy day with a metronome hit every three seconds. Looks like old 8mm or 16mm color with some monochrome sections. Pretty alright, probably better in a theater surrounded by like-minded shorts instead of following up a cute Kiarostami piece.
A Girl, She is 100% (1983, Naoto Yamakawa)
Wow, that wasn’t very good at all. They must’ve thought it’d be the simplest Haruki Murakami story to film. Straightforward, with some good still photography and some bad acting by our IMDB-unknown hero, closing with some rockin’ 80’s music.
Foutaisies (1989, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Young Dominique Pinon with 80’s hair tells us about the things he likes and does not like. Very Amelie-feeling, with Delicatessen opening titles (and Deli‘s lead actress).
The Hitman (2001, Ruben Fleischer)
Mary Lynn Rajskub decides to be a hitman, but her first mark (Paul F. Tompkins) decides not to go through with it and asks her out instead. Just your typical indie comedy short. From the director of Girls Guitar Club, whose film career didn’t take off, I guess.
What Is That (2001, Run Wrake)
Buncha funny animated business involving insects and meat and ringing sounds. Cute, but only three minutes long and pretty inconsequential… not up to Rabbit level. Guess it’s an early work.
Film Noir (2005, Osbert Parker)
Awesome, very short. Like Fast Film but slower. Some After-Effects-lookin’ animation combined with models and lots of cutouts – not trying to tell a story, just cool visuals/mood. Ahhh, the internet reveals that it was all created in-camera – impressive!
Banquize (2005, Claude Barras)
Boyer’s French Dictionary: “banquize – heap of floating ice frozen together in close masses.” Might be called Banquise, actually. Simple animation, fat kid wears his snow clothes in summer, dreams of living on banquize and playing with penguins. One day trying to hitchhike there he drops dead from heat/dehydration. Hmm.
Herakles (1962, Werner Herzog)
Herzog’s very first film, six years before his first feature. This was really good, and not like anything else I’ve seen by WH. Pretty simple structure so I’ll let wikipedia take it below.
The film relates to six of the twelve labours of Heracles. The film starts with shots of young male bodybuilders working out in a gym, posing on a stage and flexing their muscles. Each of the labours are then announced by on-screen text in the form of a question, followed by related scenes of modern challenges intercut with the bodybuilders. The audio track of the film is saxophone jazz and sounds from a gym.
The question “Will he clean the Augean stables?” is followed by scenes of a garbage dump, “Will he kill the Lernaean Hydra?” is followed by a huge line of stopped traffic on a motorway and people walking around outside their cars, “Will he tame the Mares of Diomedes?” is followed by scenes of car racing and several race crashes including a crash into the spectators and shots of the subsequent disaster and piles of bodies, “Will he defeat the Amazonians?” is followed by scores of young women marching in uniform, “Will he conquer the giants?” is followed by shots of rubble of a destroyed apartment building and men in uniform searching the wreckage, “Will he resist the Stymphalian birds?” is followed by jets flying in formation, shooting missiles and dropping bombs on training targets. The last shot of the film is of a bodybuilder’s buttocks as he goes off the stage through the stage curtains.
Matta (1985, Chris Marker)
“What I am showing here is no exhibition. It is an appeal: Come and play with me! It’s a very lively game, but nothing happens.” Simple interview with Chilean artist Matta (not surprisingly an Allende supporter), an original member of the surrealist group, talking coherently about his art and all art, human beings, dimension and meaning. Would be nice to get/make a transcript. Would be even nicer to have been able to see the Matta paintings that Marker frames him against, but my video was too low-quality to make out much visual detail.
Watched on porch with passing traffic and marauding cockroaches and j0sh0rZ. Still great, though cluttered. Was thinking that it might be better if the whole underground rice-eater group from the sewers wasn’t in the movie at all. Useless to try comparing the Jeunet movies… is this “better” than City of Lost Children? Are the new ones “better” than the old ones? Why does nobody like Alien Resurrection except me? Katy liked this pretty well, I think.
Sure seems like a much more enjoyable movie the third time around. No need to keep the details and characters straight this time, just appreciate the look and the story and the excellence of the whole thing. In theaters I remember spending too much time reading subtitles and not enough time looking at the visuals. Looks disappointingly small and plain on TV, though. Katy seemed to like it.
Jan 2022: This was the second post on this blog – that’s a long time to go between viewings of this movie. I’d been wanting for months to rewatch it with Katy but finally watched alone the night Gaspard Ulliel died. There is a LOT of killing in this, maybe she’s not keen to see so many people shot and stabbed and blown to bits.