Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Some French films....

4 French flicks I recently enjoyed:

DEATHWATCH or LE MORT EN DIRECT - Bertrand Tavernier's 1979 futuristic film (released in 1980) set in a (then) run-down Glasgow and other Scottish locations, as a sort of sci-fi where watching people die on television is the new craze. Its "reality tv" about 20 years before it happened ... and is a weird mix of 70s Hollywood (represented by Harvey Keitel and Harry Dean Stanton) mixed in with icons of European cinema - Romy Schneider and Max Von Sydow. Schneider is fascinating as ever and delivers a powerhouse performance as the woman told she is going to die, who is followed by Keitel with a camera implanted in his eyes to record her every move for the tv company marketing the Death Watch show - sort of an early Big Brother. She goes on the run to avoid her death being a public spectacle, but is she really ill or being deceived? At over two hours it is probably a bit too long and there are longeurs but then Von Sydow enters making the last 15 minutes enthralling. Romy died two years later in '82 and is very natural and feisty here and even de-glamourised is still so beautiful. A fascinating experiment that doesn't quite come off...

LE PEAU DOUCE (THE SOFT SKIN) - Francois Truffaut's 1964 study of an adulterous affair and its repercussions is still a charming movie from that era of lustrous black and white photography. In the hands of another director, this could be a corny melodramatic story (rather like DAY FOR NIGHT's "MEET PAMELA"); in the hands of Truffault, this little gem becomes a credible, melancholic drama - but to modern audiences now the "hero" surely comes across as a smug, self-satisfield individual, cheating on his wife and constantly eyeing up other women. No wonder his wife Franca is dissatisfied. On a routine trip away he makes a play for the air stewardess who is at the same hotel, and this quickly leads to an affair. But would Nicole the attractive hostess - Francoise Dorleac at her vibrant attractive best - really notice this average, if well-known, middle-aged man? He takes her away on another trip but everything goes wrong as his time is monopolised by the provincial people he is lecturing to, and he gets landed with a bore who wants to travel back to Paris with him. Things comes to a head with his marriage and he images he will be setting up home with the hostess, but then his wife finds the photos of their weekend away and takes matters into her own hands. He does not seem too put out about Nicole leaving him, as he sits at his usual place in the restaurant as he arranges to resume his marriage... Its another nice movie of Paris in the early '60s (like CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 or LE FEU FOLLET). Jean Desailly is effective as our hero and Dorleac creates a very modern girl. One nice moment is when they put out the breakfast tray and the cat comes in on cue - which Truffaut had fun recreating in DAY FOR NIGHT.

ANOTHER MAN ANOTHER CHANCE - Not really French, this long unseen rarity turned up courtesy of TCM here in the UK as one of their United Artists titles they are currently screening. I saw it back in '77 so pleasant to catch it again now. It is of course a western reworking by Claude Lelouch of his 1966 mega-hit UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME - as this is another man and another woman in a different time and place. Its a handsome pleasant hazy re-creation of the old west (well apart from the rape and murder of vet James Caan's wife, Jennifer Warren...). It begins in revolutionary Paris as photographer Francis Huster and wife Genevieve Bujold decide to move to the new world and travel by ship to America, then they are on a covered wagon and attacked by redskins and finally decide to settle and open their photography business. Caan also arrives in town, having sold his ranch, and deposits his baby with the underwritten part of the school-teacher - a too-little seen Susan Tyrell. Then cue the influences of Lelouch's original: some years later they visit their children at the school, she misses her stagecoach drive home, the teacher asks him to give her a drive, they slowly open up to each other, he asks to meet her husband and then we get the flashback about how he was killed .... instead of motor cars and racing tracks there are stagecoaches and horse races - and the ending is perfect as he rides on horseback to join her and the children [having brought his wife's killers to justice] as the camera pulls back to leave them as figures in a landscape with a neat voiceover as it fades to a sepia photograph in a photo-album. If you loved the '66 original, you will get a lot of pleasure out of this too, particularly with Caan and Bujold at their most pleasing, both are very likeable here. Lelouch though seems to be out of fashion now, unlike Demy, Malle, Truffaut or Chabrol...

HEAVEN FELL THAT NIGHT [Les Bijoutiers Du Clair De Lune] - Back to the '50s for Vadim's second film with Bardot after their AND GOD CREATED WOMAN sensation in 1956. This is a sunburned film noir, beautifully photographed in colour and CinemaScope utilising some extraordinary landscapes in Spain. BB is the young convent girl returning home to stay with aunt Alida Valli and her lecherous husband who is soon killed by local stud Stephen Boyd, who has been seeing Valli. A powerful scene takes place during the Count's funeral where we see Valli stopping in the village streets and removing her veil which covers her face to stare in silence, at Boyd, as she conceals her passions beneath a steely exterior. BB is sensational as ever but does not come to dominate the film until she and Boyd are on the run though those incredible landscapes. Her scenes with the animals (a donkey and a piglet) are charming - highlighting her future interests. There is also though the brutality of bull-fighting, and a very erotic scene as the lovers finally get together. This one does for Spain what AND GOD CREATED WOMAN did for St Tropez. Bardot and Boyd are perfect here and both look their best, which did not apply 10 years later in that trash western (also made in Spain) SHALAKO in '68 when they were both past their peaks.... Valli too is terrific in a role with shades of her Wanton Countess in Visconti's SENSO. Like the British THE SPANISH GARDENER it captures Spain before all the tourists arrived... though this must have been much more sensational at the time with BB in various states of undress; one can see how she affected the 50s, like James Dean did, being a true archtype, as Mylene Demongeot and others copied her hair and fashions. Just what the '50s needed! The dvd also contains a bumper selection of trailers for all those other BB titles, some long unseen.

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