Jean-Pierre Melville slowly worked himself up to become a master of the cinematic frame in his heist films, culminating to Le Cercle Rouge where he attains a balance between the visual and the narrative. There are many memorable images here, like the police doing a search of rural grounds or leggy nightclub dancers but my favourite will be the one where we’re introduced to Yves Montand‘s character. A secret door opens in his bedroom and animals make their way to his bed, these reptiles and other creepy crawlies symbolic of something haunting this ex-police officer. It’s style and terror within the same scene, making its audience sweat. That or maybe I like that shade of blue.
- Reblog: NEW WAVE WEEK! Day 5: Jean-Pierre Melville (magnoliaforever.wordpress.com)
This film was part of the Cinematheque Ontario’s Best of the Decade, a series that started last year, a list that I believe no longer appears on the actual Cinematheque website and I can’t remember exactly when the eff I saw it, but for narrative’s sake, we’ll pretend I rewatched it exactly a year after seeing it for the first time. And since I already saw it, I’m not gonna give it a real review, not that I’ve ever done that ever.
Parts of Cache include surveillance tapes capturing George Laurent’s (Daniel Auteuil) Parisian house or long takes showing car rides to his mother’s (Annie Girardot) estate or his adopted brother Majid’s (Maurice Bénichou) apartment building, and then I remembered this is the probably the first movie I liked that partially uses digital cameras, a technical filmmaking method that’s widespread now with at least four Best Picture nominees partially or fully using digital. Despite being printed in 35, the rest of the film feels like it has a digital finish when watched on television, especially with its white and gray colour palette. Cache doesn’t feel like a manicured film, through its form scarier as it captures lives of ordinary people just like those watching it.
Speaking of ordinary people, I understand the de-glam that comes with the ‘art of cinema,’ but this is the dumpiest Juliette Binoche ever looked. Of the two Haneke Paris film’s I’ve seen, he de-glams and modernizes the city. The most ‘Parisian’ thing about it is the salad with red wine, and I’m pretty sure white wine is better for salad. Anyway, I already talked about the colour palette. There’s also the contemporary architecture and interior design.
Thank God for close-ups though, when Binoche’s character Anne gets angry or teary eyed at Georges for hiding Majid from her. In revealing his dark childhood secrets, they share a secret, and she surprisingly doesn’t condemn him.
But Haneke is, and if you’re his kind of audience, you are too. At first I couldn’t buy it because of its in-your-face metaphors. Why are Majid and his son (Walid Afkir) so passive? Why doesn’t Majid think of his son in his last act in disturbing Georges’ conscience? However, Georges becomes such an unsympathetic figure because of his meanness towards Majid and his indifference towards the latter’s son’s declarations. His carelessness in telling lies about Majid is the first and most effective way to ruin the latter’s life.
Think about a scene in the middle of the film during his visit to his mother. He has a terrible dream, his childhood accusations against Majid becoming true, he wakes up and is haunted. Would some of us in the audience be satisfied to see that in the end instead of a jaded Georges sleeping as if nothing has happened? Majid’s son wants to see a man haunted by the latter’s decisions, and we still see that. Rest assured, Georges will be haunted from time to time. And as his mother warns, those dreams will be more frequent as he ages.
The audience can feel the paper where The Illusionist is animated, but on other moments, its colours and shades has its own energy. The film’s usual colour scheme consist of shades of brown, from the titular illusionist Tatischeff’s raincoat to the brownstone streets of the cities where he moves around to do his work. Paris, London, a Scottish town, and Glasgow, where the second half of the film is set. Smoke and cloud travel through the screen weightless like in Miyazaki’s animated films. My favourite part of the film’s aesthetics is when the bluish nights are interrupted by the yellow city lights gleaming from Glasgow’s boulevards. Sylvain Chomet’s film gives us what Impressionist or German painters would have delivered if they knew how to fly. I guess the lines are too fine and colours too full to evade those influences.
Tatischeff and this film becomes a symbol of the uphill climb involved in preserving tradition. His Parisian audience is apathetic towards his tricks. It seems like he isn’t the perfect guy for the stage neither, his head being caught on the curtains. In London, an audience of two, the only ones left after a pre-Beatles band finishes their set. He also has to contend with drunks in parties where he performs. The drunk does give him a card of a pub is Scotland, a long travel through land and water until the fog seamlessly clears, seemingly greeting the man who’s small compared to the mountains. Here they laugh and clap at his jokes, but the crowd, with their pints of beer, look like they’ll cheer on anything. Tatischeff, who seems to have no other job skills, is thankful enough for this full venue.
The llusionist is adapted from the last, unfilmed script from French auteur Jacques Tati, and this film is then technically my second Tati. Instead of a relationship between an older yet childlike man playing innocently with children, this film deals with a surrogate parental relationship between an older man and an ungrateful adolescent girl growing up, finding their way from the small town to Glasgow. Both face the world’s volatility in the late fifties, her moving within the urban, fashionable world and him coping like the other struggling vaudeville acts living in the same hotel. This film differs from my first Tati, Mon Oncle, with this film’s grownup sensibilities. The material even feels sad to have grown up. It’s depressing enough not to make me love the movie, but I respect how it boldly faces this reality nonetheless.
I saw this film in theatres, with a small, weeknight crowd of a handful of post-hipster couples, appreciative of the film’s nostalgia. The film ends with the city lights all slowly turning off, but I know there are people who will hold on to the film and its old-time charms. 4/5
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.
The Robin Wood retrospective offered a film by my second favourite director, Michael Haneke. He directs like a painter. In “Code inconnu,” Anne’s (Juliette Binoche) boyfriend’s teenage brother Jean throws food wrapping at a beggar named Maria (Luminata Gheorgiu), angering Amadou, a young bystander.
Wood said of the first eight minutes of the film as “among the most astonishing instances of virtuosity in the entire history of mise-en-scène.” It’s not showy, and subtlety must be part of the criteria for a great long take. Haneke makes the conversations as the star instead of his own camerawork, and the events in the background are unmistakably authentic. The scene shows the experience of new Paris like any other city, with unrelated events and shops strung together in a street. When something happens like a confrontation between two teenagers, it feels more like a steady fire than an explosion.
This film uses Binoche in her best capabilities, and it’s a sadness as a latent actress lover that I haven’t had a chance to watch all of her films, especially the ones in French. That said, I’m ambivalent about Anne. She’s an inconsistent actress – she delivers one of the intentionally worst readings of Shakespeare on film – she’s passionate about the people in her life, and she’s probably racist. I do have a few problems with her character. Why does she have the worst wardrobe in Paris? Why would she be grumpy to a boyfriend that hot? Why wouldn’t she complain about her neighbours?
The same questions arise with the other characters. Why is Jean unhappy about both the city and the country? Why does Maria go back to Paris after being deported, as the film shows how happy she is in Romania? Why is Amadou so nice all of a sudden? And does Anne’s boyfriend Georges realize how creepy it is to take people’s pictures on the subway?
The man who introduced the film also said that the film encapsulates the capitalist lifestyle that continuously exploits. Another way of looking at the film is that terrible things happen to four people and more terrible things happen to them while they go on their separate ways. It doesn’t stop. It’s an onslaught on anomie and cruelty coming from strangers, yet they’re not more angry as they should.
This film’s one of the greatest movie about cities, perfectly capturing the meanness and cadence of urban streets. It shows multiculturalism as tense yet not in an aggressive way. It lets people meet and meet again in different places and circumstances, and one seeing another like a different person than before. And it shows people being alone in a densely populated area. This is also surprisingly one of Haneke’s most accessible films, neither sprawl-y nor thesis-y like his other, more acclaimed films. Also, if you’re a fan on colour blind casting or acting, this movie might be for you. The names Luminata Gheorgiu and Maurice Benichou – the latter merely has a bit part, but I care not – are now in my mind. I hope so will be yours when you watch this.
And I will never forget that ending.