Friday, 30 May 2014
LES LYONNAIS/Gang Story (2011) Directed by Olivier Marchal. ***
One of my favourite genres is the French gangster film, especially the classic films of Jacques Becker and Jean-Pierre Melville. The characters in Melville's films seem to live their lives as though they were in an American film noir while Marchal goes for a grittier realism. GANG STORY is based on a real life gang of gypsy criminals who operated out of Lyon (hence the original title) and concentrates on two life-long friends, Momon and Serge. Momon has become a sort of Godfather figure while Serge, more impulsive, has been on the run for thirteen years. When Serge is captured Momon finds himself torn between his more settled life and his loyalties to his old friend and is slowly drawn back into a world of violence. The film is convincing on all levels and I must say I liked it better than MESRINE although I wouldn't like to disrespect that film which is a classic in its own right.
CARNE TREMULA/ Live Flesh (1997) Directed by Pedro Almodovar. ****
Almodovar was a bit of a mystery to me. I knew he was highly regarded and a couple of my friends count him among their very favourite directors, but somehow he kept slipping past my radar. That changed when I caught THE SKIN I LIVE IN on television (and immediately ordered a copy from Amazon) which seemed to me a sophisticated mixture of Georges Franju and an up-dated Bela Lugosi mad scientist movie. I also ordered a box set of some of the director's older films. I watched TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN which was well made, well acted, very erotic (Pedro does erotic very well) but didn't really work for me, despite seeing how it might work for others. The box set has sat on my shelf for months, until last night when, without too much enthusiasm I watched LIVE FLESH - and loved it! The plot is complicated and to try and describe it would undoubtedly involve spoilers so I'm just going to settle for recommending it. The title, LIVE FLESH, refers not only to the eroticism of a few scenes but perhaps to the film's sheer physicality - sport, sex, violence, physical handicap. can't wait to get back to that box set.
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Friday, 23 May 2014
CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953) Directed by Arthur Hilton. *
The first astronauts on the moon discover a race of black clad women who plan to steal their rocket and conquer earth. Well, it's enjoyable trash time, folks! English born director Arthur Hilton was better known as a film editor and did stirling work in that capacity for Sam Fuller, Fritz Lang and Robert Siodmak (Hilton was nominated for an Oscar on Siodmak's THE KILLERS). While it is far from outstanding the film does bear comparison with titles like QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, although, of course it doesn't have either colour or Zsa Zsa Gabor. Instead with have Marie Windsor who, given a good film noir role or horse to ride can leave Zsa Zsa standing any day. But poor Marie can't do much with this sub-standard effort. Her romantic interest in the movie is divided between veteran Victor Jory and the nominal star, Sonny Tufts. Jory plays it straight and gives the film a better performance that it has any right to expect while Tufts spends most of the film looking either unsure or embarrassed, the latter probably because he has to deliver the film's funniest line when he has to inform his fellow astronauts the "We've got something jammed up our rear end!".
LA VERITE/ The Truth (1960) Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. ***
Henri-Georges Clouzot is rightly remembered for his three great films, THE CROW, WAGES OF FEAR and THE FIENDS but this later work, while not in the same class, is of considerable interest. Brigitte Bardot, in a stronger dramatic performance than usual, plays a girl on trial for murdering her former lover. That she is guilty is not in question but the reason why is the truth that needs to be revealed. Clouzot carefully manipulates our perception of the characters as the story slowly unravels in flashback. It would be easy to name Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION and Alfred Hitchcock's PARADINE CASE as precursors but the film that constantly sprang to mind was a later film, Nicolas Roeg's BAD TIMING. Bardot is fine in the lead but the greatest pleasure, for me, were the performances of those two fine actors Paul Meurisse and Charles Vanel (respectively the corpse and the detective from THE FIENDS) as the opposing councils. Recommended. A free download from You Tube.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's LA VERITE (Watch now)
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
LAISSEZ-PASSER/ Safe Conduct (2002) Directed by Bernard Tavernier. *****
I often wonder if when watching films like GODS AND MONSTERS and SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE how much the degree of enjoyment is increased or decreased by knowledge of the careers of those depicted in the films (in those examples James Whale and F.W. Murnau.) Back in the 1960's I was lucky enough to see a 1943 French fantasy film LE MAIN DU DIABLE directed by Maurice Tourneur and starring Pierre Fresnay. Bertrand Tavernier's SAFE CONDUCT uses as its background the peculiar circumstances surrounding the production of this film. Made by Continental, a German production company based in occupied Paris but making French language films. The star director at Continental was veteran Maurice Tourneur (father of Jacques Tourneur) and it's top script writer, Jean Aurenche. Also at the studio was Henri-Georges Clouzot who at the time was making his classic LE CORBEAU. The story of SAFE CONDUCT is told through the eyes of Aurenche and Jean-Devaivre (then an assistant director but later a director). Tourneur is a supporting character as are various other luminaries of the French film industry at the time, notably Charles Spaak (who wrote LE GRANDE ILLUSION) and writer Pierre Nord. Others like Arletty and Harry Baur are mentioned in passing. Clouzot's presence is strong but he is never actually depicted. Tavernier fills out his story with details of life in Paris under the nazis occupation (food is a recurring motif) and Aurenche's involvement with the resistance which leads to an almost farcical sequence involving British intelligence (more successful than the rather stilted London scenes in Melville's ARMY IN THE SHADOWS). Much in the film is tragic but there is great humour as well and a genuine affection for the characters - Tavernier having known them personally. But the question remains : If I had not known at least the basics of the situation in the French film industry during the nazis occupation and able to pick up on names like Tourneur, Fresnay, Clouzot etc would my understanding of the story and the immense pleasure I got from it have been greatly diminished. Whatever the answer, for the dedicated cinephile with more than a casual interest in French cinema it is a real treat. Tavernier is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite French directors and some have suggested that this film is his masterpiece.
Sunday, 18 May 2014
JIGKUMON/ Gate of Hell (1953) Directed by Teinosuke Kinogasa *****
Stunningly beautiful colour photography marks this great Japanese film. It was supposedly, the first Japanese film to be commercially successful in America. A samurai falls in love with a married woman and despite her protests tries everything to persuade her to leave her husband and marry him. The tension mounts as the samurai's behaviour, fed by jealousy, becomes more and more erratic, leading to inevitable tragedy. I love Japanese cinema and found this film particularly engrossing. Excellent performance by actress Machiko Kyo who, the following year, would co-star with Marlon Brando in TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON.While the title may suggest a traditional Japanese ghost story it actually refers to one of the city gates as well as having a more metaphorical meaning. Highly recommended.
ODD THOMAS (2013) Directed by Stephen Sommers. ***
It is nice to report that I really liked this film by Stephen Sommers. I liked his DEEP RISING and his two MUMMY films were pleasant enough (if not what the older fans probably wanted) but confidence in him took a nose dive with the truly awful VAN HELSING. His latest fantasy, based on a book by Dean Koontz isn't great but it has a lot going for it. There is an attractive young cast who unlike teens in other films play characters who are neither irritating nor stupid, there is Willem Dafoe in a sympathetic role, some good special effects and a witty script. Odd Thomas (that's his name) is a short order cook in a Californian desert town who can see dead people - and is actually believed by those who know him (a nice twist) who begins to realise that something very nasty is about to happen to his home town. Can he avert it? It's very well done even if audiences with the slightest savvy will be one step ahead of Thomas most of the time. In the sentimental final scenes the films does actually contradict itself but even those moments are well done. It is all very entertaining although to carry the idea through to the indicated sequel would seem a step to far.
Saturday, 17 May 2014
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF (2012) Directed by Mike Figgis. **
A film within a film. A scriptwriter is creating a scenario which may or may not be about how he did or did not murder his wife fifteen years before. A French girl disappears after a party at his house and is found dead in a nearby canal. Her twin sister turns up for the funeral and becomes a house guest. The story never quite goes the way you expect it and the search for the murderer (who may be the writer or the sister) is discarded along the way (think L'AVVENTURA). I was ready to give up after twenty minutes as the construction of the movie seemed to me laborious and pretentious in the extreme. So why did I stick with it? Well, I'm not a huge fan of Mike Figgis's films (except maybe for LIEBESTRAUM) but he is one of the true mavericks of what is left of the British film industry and without doubt a serious film-maker prepared to try innovative ideas. So I stayed with it and was sort of glad I did. I can't say I was entirely happy with the experience but no doubt it was intriguing and sometimes you've just got to trust the director - even if you don't quite see it.
Monday, 12 May 2014
LE DEJEUNER SUR L'HERBE/ Picnic on the Grass (1959) Dir: Jean Renoir. ***
If the picture above conjures up the work of Jean Renoir's famous father there can be no doubt that this was intentional on the part of the director. The sixty-five year old Renoir chose to film this at his ancestral home, his father's studio and where he met his first wife. Renoir was quite literally going back to his roots. A famous biologist (Paul Meurisse) wishes to promote his theories about artificial insemination over passion and to this end a press conference is arranged at a beautiful picnic spot. Into this wanders an old goatherd and his goat. As the old man begins to play his flute a high wind arise as if by magic and disrupts the picnic. After the wind has subsided all of those present begin to discover their primal human passions. The Pan/Satyr imagery had appeared before in Renoir's work. I'll be honest and say this is not one of my favourite Renoir films although it seems much admired among his last handful of movies (only two more would follow) but I certainly would not discourage anybody from seeing it. It has great moments (I found the tree montage strangely moving for some reason) and I certainly enjoyed it more than ELENA AND THE MEN, but I still had the feeling that with very little effort the story could be remade as a Carry On film. I liked it more on the second viewing.