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, 17 June 2015

To Indo-china and Japan via the sea wall ....

I liked the French epic INDOCHINE a couple of years back, nice to see it again now, plus also that 1950s favourite of mine, Rene Clement's THE SEA WALL, also set in colonial Indo-China (exteriors filmed in Thailand in 1957); and also Mikio Naruse's 1954 LOST CHRYSANTHEMUMS was also screened here again, I was captured all over again ...... here are my reviews of these ....

INDOCHINE. This was a free dvd in one of our newspapers a few years ago, but I never bothered watching it till now. I like it a lot, it plays like a French GONE WITH THE WIND or a David Lean film with those crowd scenes and sampans sailing on marvellous landscapes .... as directed in 1992 by Regis Wargnier.
Indochina during the 1930s: One of the largest rubber-tree plantations is owned by French colonist Eliane who lives with her father and her native adopted daughter Camille (Linh Dan Pham). Elaine gets to know young French officer Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez); after a short affair she refuses to see him again, as Camille falls deeply in love with him. Elaine gets him transferred to a far island where Camille goes in search of him, despite an arranged marriage. Her saga is rivetting and engrossing, as the fates of the three leads play out, rather like a parable of France's place in Indochina and Vietnam. It looks marvellous - Deneuve is perfect in those 30s clothes, and striding around her plantation in jodhpurs. Colonial life is nicely depicted showing also the brutality meted out to the peasants (like that family Camille travels with to that island).
It is a vast, panoramic love story set in the twilight years of French Indo-China. Comparisons with David Lean are inevitable, considering director Régis Wargnier's use of the setting as a backdrop to the love-triangle between the three main characters. Catherine Deneuve gives a strong, emotionally restrained performance as Eliane, the plantation owner whose colonial paradise is slowly falling apart. Linh Dan Pham is affecting as Camille, Eliane's adopted daughter whose journey from aristocratic ancestry to Marxist induction personifies the changing face of South-East Asia in the period around World War Two. It won the Oscar for best Foreign Film of 1992, and Deneuve was nominated as Leading Actress.
As I said to pal Martin to encourage him to see it, it is a saga featuring glamorous ladie wearing fabulous 1930s frocks in exotic locations making grand gestures and suffering, suffering, suffering while an epic tale unfolds about France and Indo-China; there's gorgeous men in white uniforms a well and some marvellously composed images. 

Another Fifties favourite I have featured here quite a bit, but not lately, is Rene Clement's 1957 THE SEA WALL or THIS ANGRY AGE, which I liked as a kid back in 1958.

Above is a nice clip of Tony Perkins and Silvana Mangano doing their jive number.
There is a lot more on THE SEA WALL (or THIS ANGRY AGE) at the labels below. I loved it as a kid, and it still works for me now, Silvana Mangano is as fascinating as ever, and Jo Van Fleet of course is extraordinary as always, and Alida Valli picks up Tony at the cinema! It was an early international co-production, French/Italian and shot in Thailand, from the Marguerite Duras novel. Tony of course went from Silvana to Sophia Loren in his next, DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, while Clement stunned and fascinated me with his next - PLEIN SOLEIL .... but thats a whole different story. 
Update: I now have my third copy - the first was Italian only / then a friend sourced a black and white copy in English / last year I got a copy in colour and in English with French Sub-titles, copied from French television - and introduced by Alain Delon ! - he must have been commenting on a Rene Clement season ... perfect viewing then.

LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS from 1954 is rather slow-moving and not much actually happens but Naruse creates this mood where we identify with each of his characters and the Japanese life of the time - all those sliding doors! - is nicely depicted. I have not seen any other films by Naruse or much Japanese cinema apart from the Kurosawa and Ozu classics. I love TOKYO STORY of course and Ozu's fellow classics likLATE SPRING and EARLY SUMMER (featuring the great Setsuko Hara as Noriko) and his earlier THERE WAS A FATHER and THE ONLY SON and his final, AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON. Naruse was equally prolific with 91 titles, the best known seem to be FLOATING CLOUDS and WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS - so, more Naruse to explore, then there is Mizoguchi ...
Mikio Naruse's examination of the lives of three idling, constantly complaining, single ex-geishas in post-war Japan is a marvellous character piece. What is the life of a Geisha like once her beauty has faded and she has retired? Okin has saved her money, and has become a wealthy money-lender, spending her days cold-heartedly collecting debts. Even her best friends, Tomi  and Tamae, who were her fellow Geisha, are now indebted to her. For all of them, the glamor of their young lives has passed; Tomi and Tamae have children, but their children have disappointed them. Okin has two former lovers who still pursue her; one she wants to see, and the other she doesn't. But even the one she remembers fondly, when he shows up, proves to be a disappointment. 

 As in Ozu's TOKYO STORY, sadness and nostalgia permeate LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS particularly when Tomi and Tamae are getting drunk and reflecting on their children busy with their own lives, 
while Okin comforts herself with her home and deaf-mute maid. Everyone it seems wants to borrow money from her ... Haruko Sugimura (also in TOKYO STORY as the thankless daughter) is marvellous as Okin. All the characters accept the stoic acceptance of life and their circumstances. Okin has her money and the others have their memories and companionship to keep them going. The men meanwhile, particularly, Okin's two previous lovers are desperate for money ... 

The Monroe Walk ! 
One fascinating moment has the two ex-geishas walking along when a modern Japanese girl strolls by swaying her hips.Tamae asks "Is that the Monroe walk?" as Tomi imitates it. It made me realise that here in 1954 Monroe was already a worldwide sensation since 1953 and her tour to Korea. 

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