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.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

French classics - 2

2 elegant films from Proust / those '70s bad boys / a late Chabrol nerve-shredder ...

TIME REGAINED - Many film-makers (Visconti and Losey for instance) have attempted to bring Marcel Proust's monumental novel "Rememberance of Things Past" to the screen and failed - Harold Pinter even did a script which did not get produced. With the Palme D'Or nominated TIME REGAINED in 1999, based largely on the final volume, Chilean director Raoul Ruiz (1941-2011) accomplised the seeminly impossible: a highly successful adaptation with captured the essence of the work as never before. 

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) is on his deathbed. Looking at photographs brings memories of his childhood, his youth, his lovers, and the way the Great War put an end to a stratum of society. His memories are in no particular order, they move back and forth in time. Marcel at various ages interacts with Odette, with the beautiful Gilberte and her doomed husband, with the pleasure-seeking Baron de Charlus, with Marcel's lover Albertine, and with others; present also in memory are Marcel's beloved mother and grandmother. It seems as if to live is to remember and to capture memories is to create a work of great art. The memories parallel the final volume of Proust's novel.
It probably would help to have read the Proust classic, as otherwise the viewer is rather at sea, as there is no clear linear narrative, as we go back and forth with the dreams and recollections of the narrator. The large cast - Deneueve and daughter, Vincent Perez, Emmaneulle Beart, Melvil Poupaud - come and go, at all those soirees we attend. John Malkovitch is the Baron de Charlus, whom we see getting flogged (and enjoying it) in that male brothel where soldiers idle their time until a client calls .... all very discreet of course.   I do have another Ruiz lined up for soon - that tv series MYSTERIES OF LISBON.

SWANN IN LOVE, 1984 - Elegant and educated bachelor, Charles Swann, moves in the most powerful and fashionable circles of Paris in the 1890's. When he falls in love with Odette de Crecy, a courtesan, his friends warn him against marriage. Odette ensnares him, and he is gently but firmly cast out of society amidst everyone's great politeness.
Few period films look as lush as SWANN IN LOVE (well, maybe Visconti's L'INNOCENTE and Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON, or Minnelli's GIGI), Volker Schlondorff's 1984 film, based on a fragment of that Proust tome, is easy on the eye, as lensed by the great Sven Nykvist, as again we are back at those French high society soirees, with hostess Fanny Ardant (who looks divine in that red gown). Jeremy Irons has an ideal role as Swann (after his BRIDESHEAD REVISITED and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN), and Alain Delon (above) is a very raffish Baron de Charlus forever eyeing up waiters and delivery boys. Ornella Muti (so deliciously naughty in FLASH GORDON and NEST OF VIPERS) is the mesmerising Odette ...
SWANN IN LOVE, like TIME REGAINED, benefits from knowing the Proust books, but as it is it is perfect arthouse costume drama recalling that era of how the rich lived with all their servants and clothes and horses and carriages, where image and wealth were everything. It is all there on the screen but, unlike Visconti's L'INNOCENTE, the story is fatally lacking in pace and does not hold the interest.

LES VALSEUSES, 1974. Back to the zany '70s (those tight fitting bell bottom jeans!) with Bertrand Blier's shocking comedy drama ...
Two whimsical, aimless thugs harass and assault women, steal, and alternately charm, fight, or sprint their way out of trouble. They take whatever the bourgeois characters value: whether it's cars, peace of mind, or daughters. Marie-Ange, a jaded, passive hairdresser, joins them as lover, cook, and mother confessor. She's on her own search for seemingly unattainable sexual pleasure.
This 1974 film is the controversial, groundbreaking classic that shot Gerard Depardieu to stardom and also marked the arrival of director Bertland Blier, and also talented actor Patrick Dewaere who also had a great career (THE BEST WAY TO WALK, 1976, - French, gay interest labels) until he shot himself in 1982. 
Our 2 aimless drifters spend their time stealing cars or bicycles, roaming the French countryside, breaking into a house in an out-of-season resort, after Patrick has been shot in the groin by an irate car-owner they had stolen from. It is just a grazed testicle according to the doctor they force to treat him, before stealing his money. Without female company Gerard finds his pal attractive and forces himself on him, Dewaere doesn't complain too much ... soon they are back on the road, and taking their turns to satisfy the impassive Miou-Miou who tags along with them, but no matter what they do she cannot get aroused until .... Another time they follow a woman just leaving prison - Jeanne Moreau, whom they wine and dine and book into a hotel with, until she surprises them.... This is after that encounter with the young mother (Brigitte Fossey) breastfeeding her child on the train, on her way to meet her soldier husband, then there is the young Isabelle Huppert ....

This is not a movie for everyone's tastes, as our in your face delinquents commit outrage after outrage, but is wildly funny, and we had seen nothing like it back in 1974. They remain mean-spirited innocents at heart, rebels against the bourgeois, restrictive society they rail against. 
I wouldn't want to know them, and do they humiliate women? Beefy boy Depardieu (before he piled on that recent weight) is as magnetic here as the young De Niro (they are both in Bertolucci's equally astonishing 1900 in '76) - the 2 top actors of their era. LES VALSEUSES (aka MAKING IT or GOING PLACES) is still one of the key French films of the Seventies.

LE CEREMONIE, 1995.  We have been going back to those early Claude Chabrol's lately: LE BEAU SERGE and LES COUSINS, LES GODELUREAUX and A DOUBLE TOUR, LANDRU as well as his late '60s classic era (LES BICHES, LE BOUCHER, LE FEMME INFIDELE etc and I like his 1975 with Romy Schneider, INNOCENTS WITH DIRTY HANDS) - see Chabrol label for reviews. Chabrol must have been one ofi the most prolific New Wave directors, IMDB list 73 titles he directed (Truffaut only did 27). Here is one of Claude's later ones - from a Ruth Rendell novel "A Judgement in Stone" ... 
Wealthy family the Lelievres have taken on the extremely efficient but strangely detached Sophie as their live-in maid. Her free time is spent alone in her room until she meets local postal clerk Jeanne who has a disturbed history and a grudge against Sophie'es new employers. As the pair begin to bond the family grow increasingly concerned. The happy family life listening to opera is contrasted with the mean, petty world the outsiders inhabit, as Sophie tries to conceal her illiteracy ...

Like IN COLD BLOOD it is a sombre story of what happens to a family and why ....... to say any more would spoil what is a gripping, engrossing film. Jacqueline Bissett as the poised lady of the house interacts nicely with Sandrine Bonnaire as Sophie and Isabelle Huppert as the dangerous Jeanne leading Sophie on, are all excellent here; it is a perfect late Chabrol, a thriller that builds in tension to a shocking and violent climax.

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