An open letter to the province of Quebec.
I channel surfed my way into a film called Les Innocents, which turned out to be Bertolucci‘s The Dreamers. Having seen it before, the French dubbing makes hasn’t changed how this film is a cineaste quiz that, unlike Tarantino films, gives the audience the answers with delight. It is a love letter to cinema after all, and that this second time watching it, I’m getting and remembering more right answers. One of these days I hope to match the trio’s film knowledge, winking at each other’s references after going to the movie theatre. Also, how it has Eva Green‘s character Isabelle instead asking ‘quel film’ and for that matter, that this film introduces us to Eva Green and we still thank it for that. That there is no way Eva Green isn’t or doesn’t speak French. How Michael Pitt‘s body makes me not wanna eat anything. How I will always want to visit Paris because of how they visually capture the city’s energy and anger. How I still vie for and romanticize revolution and that I still think of the joy of watching Michael Pitt’s Matthew as he dresses up like James Dean, walking the streets of Paris, and thinking to myself ‘That’s a real cinema lover,’ and not those snobs polluting universities today. How I wanna run through the Louvre with two people I love in a fraternal way, because I’ve accepted the possibility that no other gay guy loves movies. All because of this movie.
This was my first Bertolucci, a director I know now through his portrayals of flapper girls, threesomes and the dangers of fascism and communism.
And the nudity, which you guys are probably used to more than we are. I don’t remember much nudity – I’d remember such things. Well, aside from Isabelle dressing up as Venus de Milo – real cineastes are well rounded people who know art. Or Isabelle finding her picture on Mathew’s crotch, but not the crotch itself. Or the three young people discovered by Isabelle and Theo’s (Louis Garrel) parents, the former naked and sleeping peacefully like angels. But there’s more. Isabelle Matthew have sex on the kitchen floor while protests are happening outside, As both Matthew and Theo find out that Isabelle loses her virginity that night, Matthew and Isabelle kiss, her blood on Matthew’s hands and on both their faces. When she finds out about her parents discovery, she dresses up and tries to kill herself, but is stopped when something breaks their windows. Here, like in any Bertolucci film, sex and politics clash as they take on their most primal, animalistic and violent forms.
Enough of my pontificating. First. No scaring by putting it on the TV Guide listings as an adult NC-17 film. Although yes, it made me feel cool to finally have seen an NC-17 film.
Second. We English Canadians are generous enough to use subtitles when we put movies with your language and other language on the big or small screen. Do the same, please. During the commercials, you guys renamed that horrific Leighton Meester movie ‘Le Coloc’ and dub it in French! I don’t care if you’re trying to preserve your culture by Frenching everything, we in English Canada do that by watching hockey or something. I know it’s ridiculous if I’m trying to play with my rules on your channels, or that I’m complaining about characters in Paris speaking French. That I’m complaining even if the actors themselves did the dubbing. That I’m complaining about the dubbing of a minor masterpiece and a piece of crap instead of the apparent dubbing of the Marx Brothers. None of this dubbing crap. I’m actually one of those people who wanna remember the conversations between the sex scenes.
Hazy childhood movie memory – Pu Yi goes from child emperor (Richard Vuu) to teenager (Tao Wu), either doing group martial arts warm-ups or military warm-ups with the Communists within the Forbidden City. That’s probably not how the movie actually goes.
My first film class showed Visions of Light, where it talks about this film’s use of symbolism through colour. Red means tradition and authoritarianism. Yellow, apparently is transition but I think it’s actually marks discovery. I haven’t seen Visions in a long time. I remember Pu Yi’s tutor Reginald Johnston’s (Peter O’Toole) bike being yellow. Lastly, green, and thus all the cool colours – even brown, strangely enough – means change, abdication, moving away from Pu Yi’s (John Lone) Imperial past. The words ‘open the door’ are often said with hostility in this film. This is the first movie I remember to use blue as a feminine colour, worn by women in the Forbidden City, or blue lighting/screen to depict an escape where the women are in focus and in their most troubled and precarious. Or white for loneliness. Great cinematography from Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci’s longtime collaborator.
I’ve tweeted that a big chunk of The Last Emperor is the Asian Conformist, which is reductive, yes. Bertolucci’s about style and morally cold-hearted characters, a combination he masters here. The film is essentially political, as it publicly calls out authoritarianism’s hypocrisies. I suppose knowing that Pu Yi wasn’t that nice of a person makes the film more morally complex. It makes an emperor’s story relatable because it’s about any individual’s growth from unwanted independence to confusion to selfishness to adult self blame to resignation. Lone performs this rollercoaster of an arc beautifully, like playing hide and seek with the character’s moral ambiguities, changing depending on the man’s place in life. Other great performances include O’Toole’s enunciation, Maggie Han as Easter Jewel and Ric Young as an interrogator, the latter two camping it up without distracting from the film’s even tone.
8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987)
Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)
Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
I couldn’t hold out on this series any longer. I should have done this at July 14, but I don’t think Kieszlowski released his Trilogy movies at that date neither. I chose the screen caps for the colours, but I hope national allegory and emancipation are captured in these images as well.
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Age of Consent (Michael Powell, 1969)
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1975)
Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)
The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
Ballast (Lance Hammer, 2008)