Movie Review: The Double Life of Veronique (1991)


Title: La double vie de Véronique / Podwójne życie Weroniki
Release Date: 15 May 1991
Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Production Company: Sidéral Productions | Zespól Filmowy “X” | Norsk Film | Canal+
Summary/Review:

The Double Life of Veronique is not really a movie that can benefit from being summed up or explained, so I’ll try to keep this short.  In Krakow, Weronika (Irène Jacob) is a young and up-and-coming choral vocalist.  At one point she sees a French tourist taking photos of a protest who looks just like her.  Meanwhile, in Clermont-Ferrand, France, music teacher Véronique (Irène Jacob) feels grief for something she cannot explain. She soon finds herself in a mystery of receiving phone calls and packages from an inscrutable puppeteer/children’s book author, Alexandre Fabbri (Philippe Volter) that seems to connect to her existentialist crisis.

Like a lot of European art films, The Double Life of Veronique doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but is compelling in the manner of a half-remembered dream.  There are lots of shots of looking through doors and windows, reflected images, and inverted camera obscura effects for people who enjoy symbolism.  Alexandre is kind of creepy, but again, this is a French film, so I guess he’s supposed to be romantic.  Irène Jacob is terrifically expressive in her dual role and I think the film owes a lot of what works to her performance.  This is definitely a film about feelings rather than plot, and Jacob brings out those feelings.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Two for the Road (1967)


Title: Two for the Road
Release Date: 20 September 1967
Director: Stanley Donen
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Summary/Review:

I learned about this movie in an odd way, through the vintage cars parked outside of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  One of the cars is a 1957 Ford Country Squire station wagon that is used in Two For the Road.  In fact, various vehicles are key to the story of this film which depicts the crumbling marriage of Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) and Mark (Albert Finney) over several road trips through southern France.  Different trips at different times in their 12 year relationship are expertly intercut with the different cars offering a clue as to what year they are in.  We also get to see a great variety of fantastic fashions and hairstyles for Hepburn.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, and the experimental style in which its edited is really effective.  Hepburn is excellent and offers a more mature performance than her earlier films.  Finney is also good, although I found Mark to be such a jerk that I really wasn’t rooting for him and Joanna to save their marriage.  There are some odd tonal shifts in the movie that sometimes work as the movie shifts between drama, romance, and comedy.  But then there are also some “funny car” gags that fall flat and travel problem jokes that would not be out of place in an inferior movie like The Out-of-Towners.  So it’s a mixed bag, but definitely a movie that felt unique and worth watching once.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Black Girl (1966)


Title:La noire de…
Release Date: 1966
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Production Company: Filmi Domirev | Les Actualités Françaises
Summary/Review:

This film was made a few years after Senegal gained its independence from France and is considered one of the first feature films created by people from sub-Saharan Africa.  It explores the themes of lingering colonialism and imperialism through the story of a young woman named Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop).  She leaves her impoverished village near Dakar to work for a French couple in their apartment on the French Riviera.

While she expects to care for their children, Diouana is surprised that the woman, known only as Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek), makes her do all the household chores and cooking. In flashbacks, we learn that Diouana worked as a nanny for the couple when they were living in Dakar and that Madame was treated her much more generously.  Over time Diouana feels trapped in the apartment, not allowed to explore the French village where they live, and falls into a depression with tragic consequences.  The final scene is a haunting image of how colonizers will always be haunted by their past, especially if they fail to make reconciliation.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Fantastic Planet (1973)


Title: Fantastic Planet
Release Date: 11 May 1973
Director: René Laloux
Production Company: Les Films Armorial | Ceskoslovenský Filmexport
Summary/Review:

Fantastic Planet is an animated film that seems made for late-night showings to an audience stoned of its gourd.  The movie is set and the planet Ygam where the dominant species are  the giant, blue, humanoid Traags.  They share the planet with the descendants of humans from Earth who are known as Oms.  Some Oms are kept as pets by Traags, but most live in the wild and are considered vermin to be exterminated by the Traags.

The story focuses on an Om named Terr who is adopted as an infant by a young Traag named Tiwa.  He is able to escape with her instructional headset and use it to share Traag knowledge with the colonies of wild Oms.  Using this knowledge, the Oms are able to begin to fight back and attempt to leave the planet.  The movie can be read as a metaphor for many things – racism, genocide, animal rights, or even the forces of nature.  The movie felt longer than its 71 minute run time and has a disappointing deus ex machina resolution, so this is less of a socio-political message and more of just a journey into the weird.

The pencil-sketch animation style reminded me of something I saw on children’s shows in the 1970s such as the “Pinball Number Count” on Sesame Street. The fanciful settings and the jazz funk fusion music are eerily similar.  I give it points for its visual imagination and funky grooves, but not much else.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: The Story of a Cheat (1936)


Title: Le Roman d’un tricheur
Release Date: 19 September 1936
Director: Sacha Guitry
Production Company: Films Sonores Tobis; Cinéas
Summary/Review:

Sacha Guitry directed, wrote (from an adaptation of his own novel) and starred in The Story of a Cheat, alternately Confessions of a Cheat. Guitry plays a man in his mid-50s writing his memoir and narrating the extended flashbacks of his life, including all the dialogue of his younger selves ( Serge Grave and Pierre Assy) have with other people. The Cheat’s story begins when he is orphaned as a 12-year-old and then runs away from his guardians after they rob him of his inheritance.  The cheat works as a doorman and elevator operator at hotels, serves in the military, becomes a croupier in Monaco, and is charmed by beautiful women into participating in various cons and crimes.  Eventually he becomes a professional card cheat, learning from his life experience that he makes money when he cheats and loses money when he’s honest.

The film is whimsical but I never find it laugh out loud funny.  I wonder if this film inspired Jean-Pierre Jeunet because the stenatorian narration and quirky life story are reminiscent of movies like Amélie.  Mostly though, I just started to feel that Guitry should shut up and let people act, because that non-stop narration got grating.  I found The Story of a Cheat a mildly-entertaining picaresque but there’s nothing really great about it.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Pierrot Le Fou (1965)


Title: Pierrot Le Fou
Release Date: 5 November 1965
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Production Company: Films Georges de Beauregard
Summary/Review:

I struggle with these French New Wave films, especially Godard’s, so I’m a bit relieved that this is that last one on my list.  Although I think I may have been more receptive to Pierrot Le Fou had I been more in the mood for a weird, experimental film.  The movie is about a man named Ferdinand Griffon (Jean-Paul Belmondo, who just recently passed away) who leaves his wife and family and boring middle-class life in Paris to run away with his old girlfriend Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina).

She insists on calling him Pierrot, which he hates.  They go on a crime spree across France and are chased by both the police and gangsters from a right-wing paramilitary organization opposed to Algerian independence.  Pierrot le Fou was clearly an influence on Bonnie and Clyde. The movie is more of a montage than a linear plot, linking various vignettes together.  Some are comedy, some are eccentric, some are violent, and a couple are even musicals.
There’s a lot of overlapping narration from Ferdinand and Marianne, and references to philosophy and literature. I’m probably missing layers of significance but it all feels very pretentious.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Contempt (1963)


Title: Le Mépris
Release Date: 29 October 1963
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Production Company: Rome Paris Films | Les Films Concordia | Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
Summary/Review:

Contempt is a movie about making a movie.  In this case, German director Fritz Lang plays himself directing an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey on location in Italy. Sleazy American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) thinks that Lang’s vision for the film is too artistic and wants to create a blockbuster instead, so he brings in French playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) to rework the script.  Javal’s wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) accompanies him to the film shoot.  Early on it is established that they both suffer from a lack of confidence, Paul in his writing, and Camille of whether she is worthy of love.

Things are sent into motion when Paul has Camille ride with the lecherous Prokosch when going to his house for lunch, and then doesn’t show up himself until 30 minutes later.  Camille fears that Paul is offering her to Prokosch as a beautiful young woman in order to advance his career.  When Paul later sides with Prokosch over Lang on changes to the film, she is further disgusted with his lack of integrity.  The better part of the film is the argument between Camille and Paul, first in their unfinished apartment and later on the cliffs at Capri.

This movie feels like it’s the type of movie that American sketch comedy shows spoof when they do a sketch about European films.  Beautiful people in various states of undress argue past one another, shouting they’re no longer in love, while repressing why they feel that way.  For some reason, Bardot is completely naked for a good portion of the film with the camera lovingly panning over her bare bottom.  Bardot certainly has a lovely bum, but I’m not sure how presenting it to the audience repeatedly adds to the film’s plot.  This movie is supposed to be Goddard thumbing his nose at mainstream filmmaking, but it feels to me like it’s just a poorly made melodrama.  The constantly swelling music is inappropriate to the mood and Bardot and Piccoli seem to be acting wooden deliberately

I don’t know, I guess this is one of those movie I’m just not going to “get.”

Rating: **1/2

 

Classic Movie Review: Casque D’or (1952)


Title: Casque D’or
Release Date: 16 April 1952
Director: Jacques Becker
Production Company: Robert et Raymond Hakim | Speva Films | Paris-Film Production
Summary/Review:

Casque D’or refers to the helmet of golden hair on the head of Marie (Simone Signoret), the center of a love triangle between the ex-con carpenter Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani) and the mob boss Félix Leca (Claude Dauphin).  The Belle Epoque story feels like a gentile predecessor to West Side Story. More significantly it is a predecessor to the French New Wave movement which is probably why it made it on the Cahiers du Cinéma list.  The film is well-produced and well-acted, but I found it a bit dull. The famed final scene takes on the senseless violence of capital punishment.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Visitors (1993)


Title: Les Visiteurs 
Release Date: 27 January 1993
Director: Jean-Marie Poiré
Production Company: Gaumont
Summary/Review:

I watched the hit French comedy The Visitors back in the 1990s and remember it being a funny, Monty Python-style comedy.  It surprised me that the French could be so crude. The story involves a 12th-century knight, Godefroy de Montmirail (Jean Reno) and his servant Jacquouille la Fripouille (Christian Clavier) who through the machinations of a wizard are to travel through time to right a mistake.  They are accidentally sent to late-20th century France instead, where they meet Godefroy’s descendant Béatrice (Valérie Lemercier) and learn that Jacquouille’s descendant Jacques-Henri Jacquard (also Clavier) now runs the Montmirail castle as a hotel. Chaos ensues as Godefroy looks for a way to return to his time, while Jacquouille begins to like the opportunities for a peasant in post-Revolutionary France.

This movie is not the laugh riot I remember.  If anything, it seems to lack ambition for telling a bigger story and taking advantage of the culture clash and fish-out-of-water elements for comedy.  Instead there are a lot of gags involving people hitting other people and breaking things, which gets old fast. I don’t know why I liked it so much all those years ago, but it still does have certain charm. Reno is great at never breaking from his serious character despite all the madness around him.  Meanwhile Clavier is like Rowan Atkinson in his ability to be funny by doing things that are very dumb.  It’s a mystery why this movie became such a global hit, but despite all its flaws I still have a soft spot for The Visitors.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Van Gogh (1991) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter V

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Van Gogh
Release Date: 30 October 1991
Director: Maurice Pialat
Production Company: Erato Films | Le Studio Canal+ | Les Films du Livradois | Films A2
Summary/Review:

I admire the artwork of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.  I’ve been to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and seen his art at other museums, watched the film Loving Vincent animated in the style of his art, and “Vincent and the Doctor” is one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who.  Despite all that, I am only familiar with the basics of Van Gogh’s biography, so I was looking forward to this film.

Jacques Dutronc portrays Van Gogh in the final two months of his life in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise on the outskirts of Paris.  It’s largely a straightforward biopic, and Pialat’s approach eschews sentimentality and sensationalism.  For example, the story takes place after Van Gogh mutilated his ear but Dutronc’s ears appear in perfect condition.  The movie focuses less on Van Gogh as an artist and more on his interpersonal relationships.  This means a lot of people being goofy about trying to find something to talk about with an artist and Van Gogh being incredibly grumpy about it.

Key relationships include Dr Paul Gachet (Gérard Séty) the physician and amateur artists who Van Gogh consults who is ultimately helpless in dealing with Van Gogh’s mental illness.  Vincent also has several conflicts with his brother Theo (Bernard Le Coq), the art dealer who supports his career.  Theo’s wife Jo (Corinne Bourdon) is sympathetic to Vincent and advocates for him.  Van Gogh also forms a romantic and sexual relationship with Dr. Gachet’s daughter Marguerite (Alexandra London) while continuing an existing sexual relationship with Cathy (Elsa Zylberstein), a prostitute from Paris.

The movie is basically a sequence of Van Gogh having arguments and sex and there being very little emotion involved in either.  I know it’s probably more my fault than the film’s but I had a lot of trouble watching this movie. I ended up watching it over the period of four days because it just couldn’t hold me attention.  If the purpose of Van Gogh is to recreate the feeling of  emptiness the leads a talented artist to chose suicide, it does its job.  But ultimately I can’t say that is what I want from a film.

Rating: **