BuÃ±uel’s least-well dubbed movie, filmed in Mexico and spoken in French. Diamond miners and soldiers are having a showdown when a mysterious stranger wanders into town, but instead of impressing everyone with his skills a la Yojimbo he’s an asshole to everyone – this is Shark (That is the Dawn‘s doctor Georges Marchal), who needs a place to stay so he shacks up with prostitute Simone Signoret, who is beloved of miner Castin (Clouzot regular Charles Vanel).
The miners-vs-soldiers war reaches a climax in a midnight firing squad which leads to a riot. Our heroes escape (with fake priest Michel Piccoli and a mute girl: MichÃ¨le Girardon of the earliest Rohmers), getting very lost in the jungle, walking in circles. They reach the promised land, finding a crashed plane full of food and jewels along the way, rescued and rich, but Castin goes mad, throwing his diamonds in the lake and murdering everyone.
Politically the movie may side with the miners, but once this crew forms and heads into the jungle, BuÃ±uel is more interested in exploring the hypocrisies that exist in every human heart. And so the priest is a fraud, the prostitute is an opportunist, and the miner loses his mind … Death in the Garden concludes with a more subversive poetic image: two figures blithely paddling across a South American lake as if they were in a Venetian gondola, when in fact a literal and spiritual wilderness surrounds them.
I’ve seen this – and the remake! – before, but long enough ago that I only had a few images and plot points in my memory. The twist is so good because the cover story is so believable – boarding school principal Michel is married to Christina, having an affair with Nicole, and is a real piece of shit to everybody, the two of them included, so they team up to murder him. Of course, why wouldn’t they? But the real plot is to get the nervous wife out of the way and collect her inheritance. After the murder plot goes wrong in various nerve-wracking ways, she’s finally scared to death by his apparent resurrection.
The happy trio:
Allegedly, Hitchcock wanted to make this before Clouzot bought the rights, so it’s salting the wound that the private detective is named Alfred. He hangs around the morgue looking for cases to investigate, and latches onto this one without anyone asking him to, then busts the two lovers in the last scene. The staging in this is so lovely. I’d have to rewatch Wages of Fear to see which I like better, but should probably rewatch that anyway just for the pleasure of it.
Alfred is Charles Vanel of Wooden Crosses and To Catch a Thief. The nervous wife was played by the director’s nervous wife VÃ©ra Clouzot, who did die of a heart attack a few years later. Costars Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse would reunite much later in Army of Shadows.
Same director, star, writer, editor, cameraman as Z. New still photographer Chris Marker and assistant director Alain Corneau. Instead of communists being attacked by the fascists in charge, this time a group of communists is destroyed by their own party. It’s a depressing slog of a movie, a feature-length torture session ending with the men delivering their well-rehearsed but completely false “confessions” and being sentenced to death.
This time we’re in Czechoslovakia in 1951-1952. Yves Montand plays one of the three who only got long prison sentences, Simone Signoret (a year after the even more depressing Army of Shadows) his wife, and Gabriele Ferzetti as his interrogator Kohoutek (not the subject of the R.E.M. song).
Haunting flash-forwards – the worst of which comes during the trial, when the fourteen men on trial enjoy a hearty laugh and the image bleeds into their ashes being scattered on a frozen road weeks later.
Warok, as always:
The film was an important step in the public expression of Western leftist intellectualsâ€™ disillusionment with Soviet Communism … The Confession was the first film that zeroed in on torture as a seemingly endless ordeal, a systematic and relentless process aimed at delivering a specific outcome.
The Second Trial of Artur London (1970, Chris Marker)
Marker was on-set during the making of The Confession, as was London, portrayed by Yves in the film. Marker focuses on the idea that the book and film can weaken the communist movement by showing horrid things done in its name. Obviously the participants in the film’s production would disagree, and Marker lets them explain why. Unbelievably, after the film’s completion, London is again accused of being a spy and stripped of his Czech nationality. But he is defended: “The witnesses who remained silent in 1952 speak up today.”
My favorite line about the film sets: “A retirement home, unmodified, becomes a prison.”