Monday, 21 July 2014

JULY 21, 2014

LE TROU / The Hole (1960)  Directed by Jacques Becker. ****

Another cracking prison escape drama based on a true story, this time one that happened in 1949. Four long term inmates are about to put their escape plan into action when a new arrival is put in their cell. Is he a snitch or can he be trusted?  Eventually they decide to trust him and the film meticulously shows us the work the men have to do to put their plan into action. Becker (CASQUE D'OR and GRISBI) is content to hold on a man digging through rock for minutes on end and it certainly heightens the suspense because we, the audience, genuinely feel the effort involved (thankfully not physically!). There is obviously more to the story and I don't want to give anything away. Terrific performances by the entire cast (which includes Philipe LeRoy and Michael Constantine). Like A MAN ESCAPED, a classic prison drama.

Friday, 18 July 2014

JULY 18, 2014

UN CONDAMNE A MORT S'EST ESCHAPPE/ A  Man Escaped **** (1956) Directed by Robert Bresson.

I have to admit that I've never really fallen under the spell of Robert Bresson. I certainly don't dismiss his talent as many knowledgeable people take him very seriously (perhaps not as seriously as Bresson takes himself), including Louis Malle and Paul Schrader. I have enjoyed both LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE (from a Cocteau script) and PICKPOCKET, both of which are in my collection, but his later films have never held much of an attraction despite their high ratings. Having said that, I must say I loved A MAN ESCAPED and watched it twice within twenty-four hours.  The plot (based on a true story) tells of a resistance operative imprisoned by the nazis in Lyon in 1943 and the film meticulously depicts his efforts to escape - made even more urgent when he is condemned to death.  I found the whole film very suspenseful and the tension is in no way diminished buy knowing the outcome - it's not so much "will he do it" as "how will he do it."  Bresson's style is minimalist and any acts of violence take place off screen. Francois Letterier conveys a whole world of emotion with very little expression (watch his eyes) although he was not a professional actor, only making one more film, Alain Resnais' STAVISKY, although he went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter. On my first viewing I couldn't understand why he looked so familiar until I realised he bore a striking resemblance to a young Alan Alda. I'm sure that somewhere this film is called an existential classic. I wouldn't argue with that assessment but I'll settle for nail biting thriller.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


 "DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D resembles James Cameron in its audacity, its generosity and its commitment to change the spectator’s view of the world. Through his work and the emotion it inspires, he has awoken consciences, while at the same time transforming movie-making, taking it to a previously unknown dimension of pleasure.”

Bruno Barde, director of the American Film Festival in Deauville, France.

I'm still laughing, are you?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

JULY 9, 2014

THE GOOD THIEF (2002) Directed by Neil Jordan ****

An English/French/Irish remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's BOB LE FLAMBEUR which is well worth seeking out. The setting changes from the Paris/Deauville setting of the original to Nice/Monte Carlo and the eponymous Bob is now an expatriate American gambler/junkie excellently played by Nick Nolte. The rest of the cast are European. Like all good heist films this one twists and turns until the sting in the tail. For me, a remake of Melville is almost sacrilegious but Jordan pulls it off beautifully and wisely never tries to ape the original. I'm already looking forward to seeing this one again.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

JULY 2, 2014

LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/Children of Paradise (1945) Directed by Marcel Carne. *****

It is probably one of the symptoms of being a movie buff that you get the urge to make lists. Our top 100, 50 or 10 favourites of all time, top films in individual genres, top directors etc. I do and I'm pretty sure you do as well. These lists often change as our taste matures and, of course, as we see more films. They can rarely, if ever, be definitive. It was Peter Bogdanovich who, when asked to list his favourite films of all time, pointed out that such a list would change from day to day, depending on his mood. He qualified the list that he gave by saying, "This is today's list, not yesterday's or tomorrow's."  I long ago gave up trying to list what I thought were the best films of all-time. How can anybody decide that?  But what is my favourite film of all-time?  For several years now I've usually said it was Ingmar Bergman's sombre WINTER LIGHT, although some days it became Michelangelo Antonioni's L'ECLISSE (an indecision I share with my friend Rickster) before shifting back again. There are, of course, other candidates from such directors as Vigo, Hitchcock, Renoir, Kurosawa and Carne amongst others.  Recently I cancelled my subscription to Love Film and have spent many evenings revisiting many of my favourites. I've decided (and it will no doubt change again) that my present favourite film is Marcel Carne's LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS. I must have seen the film four or five times over the years and never fail to be drawn into the world Carne and writer Jacques Prevert create. Great characters (several based on real people) are brought to life by great performances from the likes of Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur amongst others. But what really excites me is the ending because no matter how many times I see the film and, even though I know what is coming, I still feel shocked by it, still taken by surprise, as though this time it might end differently.

Monday, 30 June 2014

JUNE 30. 2014

LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE/ Second Breath (1966) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. ****

LE SAMOURAI / The Samurai (1967) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. *****

My introduction to the world of Jean-Pierre Melville came at a lunchtime screening of SECOND BREATH in a private viewing theatre in Wardour Street circa 1967. The film had been bought by the company I worked for and to this day I am convinced they never understood what a gem they had. For my part I was hypnotised by the movie. A year or so later LE SAMOURAI somehow managed to get a general release and it just blew me away. A few nights ago I watched both films again and the intervening years have done nothing to diminish my admiration for either. Over the years I have managed to see the majority of Melville's movies from his first LE SILENCE DE LA MER, LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES and ARMY IN THE SHADOWS and, of course his other classic gangster dramas, BOB LE FLAMBEAU, LE CERCLE ROUGE and LE DOULOS. Only his final film, UN FLIC, disappointed me - but maybe I need to see it again. Melvilles gangsters exist in a world of violence which has its own rules of honour and loyalty although both are, for the most part, illusory and are paid lip service to in much the same way as his characters adopt the trenchcoats and fedoras of their Hollywood counterparts. Then there are the iconic actors - Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Yves Montand and Gian-Maria Volonte. Just-perfect Melville.

JUNE 30. 2014

Monte Hellman on film directing.  (CLICK TO SEE INTERVIEW)