Friday, July 18, 2014

La Ritournelle / Paris Follies

Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Pierre Darroussin et des vaches charolaises. Click the images to enlarge them.
FR 2014. D: Marc Fitoussi.
    Liste technique:
Scénario, dialogues et réalisation: Marc Fitoussi
Produit par Caroline Bonmarchand
Coproduit par Isaac Sharry
Direction de production Frédéric Blum
Image: Agnès Godard - AFC
Son: Olivier le Vacon – AFSI
Décors: François Emmanuelli
Costumes: Marité Coutard
Maquillage: Thi-Loan N’Guyen
Coiffure: Fred Souquet
Montage: Laure Gardette
Montage son: Benjamin Laurent
Mixage: Emmanuel Croset
Musique originale: Tim Gane & Sean O’Hagan
Une production Avenue B
En coproduction avec Vito Films
En coproduction avec SND, France 2 cinéma, Les Films de la Suane
    Avec le soutien de la Région Ile-de-France, en partenariat avec le CNC, du fonds d’aide Région Haute-Normandie en partenariat avec le CNC et en association avec le Pôle Image Haute-Normandie, de la PROCIREP et de l’ANGOA
    Avec la participation de OCS, France Télévisions, Ciné + et du CNC
    En association avec Indéfilms, Indéfilms 2 & Soficinéma 7 Développement
    Liste artistique:
Brigitte / Isabelle Huppert
Xavier / Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Jesper / Michael Nyqvist
Stan / Pio Marmaï
Régis / Jean-Charles Clichet
Christiane / Marina Foïs
Laurette / Audrey Dana
Marion / Anaïs Demoustier
Grégoire / Clément Métayer
Apu / Lakshan Abenayake
    On the soundtrack: "Trubbel" perf. Monica Zetterlund live 1968 (the lyrics are relevant to the plot). - "The Good Life" ("La belle vie", comp. Sacha Distel 1962, American lyrics by Jack Reardon, 1963) perf. The Drifters (1965). - "The Good Life", perf. Julie London
    Sony Digital 4K projection at Cinéma Studio 28, Paris, 18 July 2014

"Brigitte et Xavier sont éleveurs bovins en Normandie. Elle est rêveuse, la tête dans les étoiles. Lui, les pieds ancrés dans la terre, vit surtout pour son métier. Avec le départ des enfants, la routine de leur couple pèse de plus en plus à Brigitte. Un jour, sur un coup de tête, elle prend la clef des champs. Destination : Paris. Xavier réalise alors qu'il est peut-être en train de la perdre. Parviendront-ils à se retrouver ? Et comment se réinventer, après toutes ces années ? La reconquête emprunte parfois des chemins de traverse..." (La Ritournelle Pressbook)

Ritornello ("a little return", from the Italian: ritorno = return), in Baroque and Classical solo concertos the term used for the first and the last of the frequently recurring orchestral parts, flanking solo sections.

What I liked:
    A realistic, almost documentary approach to contemporary beef cattle breeding. Humoristic angles in the opening agricultural exposition and in the scene where city girls witness a cow giving birth to a calf.
    A strong sense of location shooting in Normandy, in a touristic Paris (sightseeing boats, the Ferris wheel, Musée d'Orsay), and in Israel at the Dead Sea.
    An original interpretation of the comedy of remarriage. At the farm, Brigitte has apparently mostly been taking care of home, but now the children have grown up. There is a turning-point, and a loss of purpose. Brigitte goes to Paris to see the world and meet other people, including attractive men, young and grown-up.
    Jean-Pierre Darroussin is reliable and convincing as the master of the cattle farm.
    Isabelle Huppert displays new and fresh sides of her talent in scenes of comedy, celebration, dancing, and having fun. But she incorporates also a deep and troubled side of Brigitte, the expression of which is her eczema.
    Michael Nyqvist interprets with charisma and dignity the role of the Danish dentist Jesper who stays in Paris in the same hotel as Brigitte.
    The motif of the painting Le retour du troupeau (Charles Sprague Pearce, 1880) with its bergère associations rooted in the school days of Brigitte and Xavier. There are also the Biblical associations of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18) and the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4-7). Those associations are reinforced in the conclusion in Israel.
    There is sensitivity and tact in Marc Fitoussi's* way with the story of a middle-age crisis. And a fine touch of ambiguity in the conclusion at the Dead Sea: is it a moment of regeneration or a start of a final stagnation? Or even imminent death?

I relished the full, rich resolution, the natural colour, and the fine texture in the 4K projection which did justice to the cinematography of Agnès Godard. Nature is difficult in digital, but in this film, in which nature is of the essence, I enjoyed the strengths of digital, and suffered of none of the limitations. There is an oil-painterly quality in the cinematography here while digital cinema often looks like acrylic painting. To be sure, La Ritournelle has been shot in winter which is easier for digital to convey than summer. And at the Dead Sea.

* Fitoussi est un patronyme originaire de Tunisie. "L'origine de ce nom viendrait du sicilien et du grec ancien. Fituso se traduirait par pâtre, berger du peuple. En hebreu רועה et en arméen רעיא. L'origine de la famille remonterait à l'exil romain du peuple d'Israël. Une branche s'installant dans le sud de l'Italie une autre en Grèce. La branche grecque principalement implantee a Yanina, migra vers Venise. La branche italienne migra vers Livourne, et de la vers la Libye, la Tunisie et l'Algerie - le Constantinois." (Wikipedia)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

L'Homme qu'on aimait trop / In the Name of My Daughter

Adèle Haenet, Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve. Click to enlarge the images.
French Riviera [The English title at the Unifrance site]. FR 2014.
Directed by André Téchiné
Produced by Fidélité Films
Genres : Fiction - Runtime : 1 h 56 min
French release : 16/07/2014
Production year : 2013
    Production and distribution:
Associate production company : Fidélité Films
Co-production : Mars films, Caneo Films
Film export/Foreign Sales : Elle Driver
French distribution : Mars Distribution
Executive Producers : Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Assistant Director : Michel Nasri
Authors of original work : Renée Le Roux, Jean-Charles Le Roux: Une femme face à la mafia (1989)
Line Producer : Christine de Jekel
Screenwriters : André Téchiné, Cédric Anger, Jean-Charles Leroux
Director of Photography : Julien Hirsch
Sound Recordists : Brigitte Taillandier, Francis Wargnier, Boris Chapelle, Damien Lazzerini, Cyril Holtz
Production Manager : Bruno Bernard
Press Attaché (film) : André-Paul Ricci
Editor : Hervé de Luze
Continuity supervisor : Claudine Taulère
Production Designer : Olivier Radot
Music Composer : Benjamin Biolay
Costume Designer : Pascaline Chavanne
Catherine Deneuve : Renée Le Roux
Guillaume Canet : Maurice Agnelet
Adèle Haenel : Agnès Le Roux
Pierre Michiels : servant of Ms. Le Roux
Jean Vincentelli : Robert Prudhomme
Even Zakine : Guillaume Agnelet (enfant)
Judith Chemla : Françoise Lausseure
Runtime : 1 h 56 min
Visa number : 136.552
Color type : Color
Aspect ratio : scope
Sound format : Dolby 5.1
    [Franz Schubert: D 279, Piano Sonata (No. 2) in C Major (1815, unfinished – first three movements are extant; the Allegretto in C Major, D 346 fragment is probably the fourth movement)] [tbc]
    2K DCP viewed at La Pagode (57 bis, rue de Babylone, Paris 7), 17 July 2014

Synopsis: "1976. When her marriage falls apart, Agnès Le Roux moves back to the South of France from Africa to live with her mother, Renée, owner of the Palais de La Mediterranee casino in Nice. There, Agnès falls in love with Maurice Agnelet, a lawyer and Renée’s business advisor, who is ten years her senior. Maurice continues to have relationships with other women. Agnès is madly in love with him. As a shareholder in the Palais de la Mediterannee casino, Agnès decides to sell what should have been her inheritance to go it alone. A fixed card game threatens the casino’s financial stability. Someone is trying to intimidate her mother. Behind the scenes hangs the shadow of the mafia and Fratoni, the owner of a rival casino, who wants to take over the Palais de la Mediterannee. Agnelet, who has fallen from grace with Renée, introduces Agnès to Fratoni. Fratoni offers her 3 million francs to vote against her mother in the shareholder’s meeting. Agnès accepts the offer. Renée loses control of the casino. Agnes finds it hard to cope with her betrayal. Maurice also distances himself from her. In November 1977, after a failed suicide attempt, Agnès disappears. Her body is never found. Thirty years on, Maurice Agnelet remains the prime suspect in a murder case with no body and no proof of his guilt. Convinced of his involvement, Renée is prepared to fight to the bitter end to see him put behind bars..." (L'Homme qu'on aimait trop pressbook)

AA: L'Affaire Le Roux is one of the most haunting criminal cases in France since 1977, still topical. In the end credits of L'Homme qu'on aimait trop there is a résumé of the latest turns of the case - from April 2014.

André Téchiné has made a bold decision to film such a true, controversial and topical story, but it has been done before, for instance by Barbet Schroeder in Reversal of Fortune. Téchiné's film remains impartial in the question to Maurice Agnelet's guilt of murder.

From this material one could make be an exciting policier, a bloody mafia thriller, a casino suspense story, or a courtroom drama, and Téchiné's film is a bit of all of that, but mostly is a psychological study.

The formidable Nice casino empress Renée Le Roux is played eminently by Catherine Deneuve in her seventh performance in an André Téchiné film, again different from the previous ones.

Her vulnerable daughter Agnès is interpreted with raw nerve by the new hot young talent Adèle Haenet whom I saw a month ago in Sodankylä Film Festival in her breakthrough role as Suzanne's sister in Suzanne.

Some might see these charismatic women stealing the show and leaving in their shadow Guillaume Canet as the mysterious lawyer Maurice Agnelet. But it is in the nature of the character of Maurice that he is a cool operator, never flamboyant, always in control. From subtle nuances in his eyes and slight changes of expressions on his face one may try to decipher what is going on behind the icy facade of the master seducer. None of that is proof of his being a murderer, though.

In the heart of the film is the pain and suffering of Agnès, who has been unloved by her mother, and is now easy pray for the snake-like Maurice who exploits her self-destructive and suicidal tendencies callously.

More than the loss of her casino in the mafia wars of Nice the disappearance of Agnès is the decisive turning-point for Renée who launches an untiring legal campaign against Maurice and the mafia. She turns into a mother tigress after all. It is too late for Agnès now, but not too late for those who exploit and harass defenseless ones.

Further aspects of interest:
- Swimming is the most characteristic activity of Agnès, and Maurice is usually there watching her.
- Questions of national identity are essential for Téchiné: here a focus is on the African experience of Agnès.
- Maurice is always recording his phone calls, including the suicidal monologues of Agnès.
- The confession of the family chauffeur: from what you overhear from the back seat you can get an insight to what people really are.
- All Maurice's women have been suicidal.
- Maurice's nightmare 30 years later.

The visual focus is on the three main characters, and the authentic and magnificent Nice locations are impressively used to give the film a fully-formed sense of place and atmosphere. There have been many casino and gambling stories in the history of the cinema, and L'Homme qu'on aimait trop copies none of them.

The restrictions and limitations of digital have been avoided in the cinematography. Only in some nature footage those limitations are fleetingly evident.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adieu au langage / Goodbye to Language (3D)

adieu au langage. FR 2014. Année de production: 2012.
Un film de Jean-Luc Godard

Production et distribution
Production déléguée : Wild Bunch
Exportation/Ventes internationales : Wild Bunch
Distribution France : Wild Bunch Distribution

Générique détaillée
Scénariste : Jean-Luc Godard
Directeur de la photo : Fabrice Aragno
Attachée de presse (film) : Matilde Incerti
Monteur : Jean-Luc Godard

Héloïse Godet
Kamel Abdelli
Richard Chevallier
Zoé Bruneau

Mentions techniques
Genre(s) : Fiction
Sous-genres : Drame
Langue de tournage : Français
EOF : Oui
Nationalité : 100% français (France)
Année de production : 2012
Sortie en France : 21/05/2014
Durée : 1 h 10 min
Numéro de visa : 133.501
Agrément : Oui
Formats de production : HD
Type de couleur(s) : Couleur
    2K DCP in 3D viewed at Panthéon (Quartier Latin, Paris) with English subtitles, 16 July 2014

The trailer and the pressbook by Godard:


le propos est simple
une femme mariée et un homme libre se rencontrent
ils s'aiment, se disputent, les coups pleuvent
un chien erre entre ville et campagne
les saisons passent
l'homme et la femme se retrouvent
le chien se trouve entre eux
l'autre est dans l'un
l'un est dans l'autre
et ce sont les trois personnes
l'ancien mari fait tout exploser
un deuxième film commence
le même que le premier
et pourtant pas
de l'espèce humaine on passe à la métaphore
ça finira par des aboiements
et des cris de bébé
- Jean-Luc Godard


renoncer à la liberté
et tout vous sera rendu

que se passe-t'il, fin de
ce monde, avènement d'un


évite, et vite, les souvenirs brisés

le philosophe, est celui qui

la tribu des Chikawahs,
ils appellent le monde la forêt

c'est une guerre, de
la société contre l'État


la mariée mise à nu par
ses célibataires, même
- Marcel Duchamp

ne pas peindre ce qu'on voit,
puisqu'on ne voit rien, mais
peindre qu'on ne voit pas
- Claude Monet

personne ne pourrait penser
librement si ses yeux ne

le seul livre
à raconter
du cinéma
(Text written upon a collage image of extracts taken from Passage du cinéma, 4992, by Annick Bouleau)*
[* Passage du cinéma, 4992. Composition, choix des fragments et montage d'Annick Bouleau | Ed. Ansedonia, 2013 | 992 p.]

- Jean-Luc Godard (Adieu au langage pressbook)

AA: A 3D digital film which is also a work of modern poetry and belongs to the context of contemporary gallery art.

Jean-Luc Godard has been making films for 60 years, and if he had done nothing since his first stormy nouvelle vague period, he would still belong to a handful of the greatest artists of last century.

But he still keeps reinventing the cinema in our current century. Adieu au langage is a crazy explosion of poetry. The rhythm of the montage is exhilarating. The collage of quotes and associations is breathtaking. The commentary and the dialogue is based on quotes to such an extent that I don't know which parts are original.

Wordplay has been a constant feature in Godard's films. Puns, bons mots, aphorisms, mottoes, paradoxa abound. But there is more than that. The wordplay is the surface. Evoked are books that have changed the world or interpreted historical violence decisively: The Gulag Archipelago (Solzhenitsyn), The Possessed (Dostoevsky), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley). Auschwitz is never far from Godard's thoughts ("hier ist kein Warum"). Tiananmen is evoked, as well as the 200th anniversary of the French revolution celebrating during that same year ("it is too soon to know" was Zhou Enlai's comment about the significance of the French revolution, and the same remark now reverberates about Tiananmen). There are references to philosophy (Plato), sociology (Ellul), and mathematics (Riemann).

Adieu au langage belongs to the Walter-Benjaminian Passagenwerk tradition like Godard's magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinéma. I'm intrigued by Godard's highlighting in his pressbook Annick Bouleau's Passage du cinéma, 4992 (2013), which seems to be another work of the Passagenwerk inspiration.

3D adds a new layer of density to the art of the collage, but essentially 3D is but another surface phenomenon of playfulness. "3D malheur historique" states the pressbook. The 3D palimpsest is a new device in the Godardian syntax. Dissolves and superimpositions are disorienting in 3D.

Beyond all those references there is authentic Godardian imagery of: - Washing bloody hands. - The four seasons. - Autumn leaves. - Reflections in the water on the asphalt. - The freeway at night. - Views through the rainswept windshield. - The forest and the lake. - The dog. - The wintry shore. 3D adds new occasions to visual poetry in images of multi-layered reflections.

This work has been reportedly shot on HD (high definition), but in the cinema it looks like it has been shot knowingly in low definition, turning the limitations and restrictions of the format to means of expression of colours - electric - and psychedelic - with overexposures - and high contrast - denatured colours - exaggerated oranges and blues - and yellows and reds - playing with television static (as well as sound disturbances).

The account turns into writing itself (with the fountain pen, with the quill), as well as to painting itself (with watercolour).

Increasingly, the focus shifts to a dog. We may think that there might be a pre-lingual dimension in a philosophical evocation of the nature of perception as we eye a dog with its superior senses. In the conclusion we hear the sounds of a baby (sounds before the emergence of the symbol function = the insight that a word can represent a phenomenon). Goodbye to language? Or welcome to the birth of language?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Au fil d'Ariane / Ariane's Thread

Ariane Ascaride
Au fil d'Ariane. Une fantaisie de Robert Guédiguian. FR 2014.
Une fantaisie de Robert GUÉDIGUIAN
Scénario: Robert GUÉDIGUIAN et Serge VALLETTI
Directeur de la photographie: Pierre MILON (AFC)
Ingénieur du son: Laurent LAFRAN
Chef décorateur: Michel VANDESTIEN
Chef monteur: Bernard SASIA
Directeur de production: Malek HAMZAOUI
1er assistant réalisateur: Ferdinand VERHAEGHE
Régisseur: Général Bruno GHARIANI
Créatrice de costumes: Juliette CHANAUD
Chef costumière: Anne-Marie GIACALONE
Chef maquilleuse: Mayté ALONSO-PEDRON
Mixeuse: Armelle MAHE
Producteurs: Robert GUÉDIGUIAN et Marc BORDURE
un film produit par AGAT Films & Cie
en coproduction avec CHAOCORP
avec la participation de Canal+, Ciné+
en association avec Indéfilms 2, Cinémage 8, La Banque Postale Image 7
avec le soutien de La Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
en partenariat avec Le Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée
avec la participation de Marseille – Provence 2013 Capitale européenne de la culture
Ventes Internationales: Film Distribution.
Jacques BOUDET
Youssouf DJAORO
Judith MAGRE a prêté sa voix à la tortue
    1h 32 – format 1.85 – son 5.1 – DCP
    On the soundtrack: - Jean Ferrat chansons. - "Comme on fait son lit on se couche" ("Das Lied der Jenny" / "Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man") (Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht: Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, 1930), perf. Ariane Ascaride. - Classical favourites from Rossini, Verdi, etc.
    Sony 4K Digital projection at Studio 28 (Paris), 15 July 2014

SYNOPSIS: "C’est le jour de son anniversaire et Ariane est plus seule que jamais dans sa jolie maison."
    "Les bougies sont allumées sur le gâteau. Mais les invités se sont excusés... Ils ne viendront pas."
    "Alors elle prend sa jolie voiture et quitte sa jolie banlieue pour se perdre dans la grande ville..."
(Au fil d'Ariane pressbook)

AA: A playful interlude in Robert Guédiguian's usually serious body of work, "une fantaisie", a tribute to Ariane Ascaride with whom Guédiguian has made 16 films.

Set in the native Marseille of the film-makers, events and aspects of Au fil d'Ariane include - a lonely birthday party like in the films of Chaplin and Moodysson - leaving on a ferry - car hauled away - purse stolen by a passing motorcyclist - a colourful bunch of characters around the Café d'Olympique - staying at a motorboat - the music of Jean Ferrat - a talking turtle - fishing trips - rescuing embryos and other exhibits from the museum of natural history and "liberating" them to the ocean - presenting a number from Mahagonny at the ruin of an ancient amphitheatre - waking up to meet all the dramatis personae in their normal habitat as birthday guests.

There is a sense of airing in this film, with experimentation with all kinds of approaches, also paying hommages to other films including L'Atalante. The film is often song-driven: the communal singing episode is moving; the Brechtian "Comme on fait son lit on se couche" sequence is a musical production number. There are various openings to sensuality, including an extended celebration of the nude beauty of Anaïs Demoustier. The talking turtle and the split screen of the production number undermine any sense of credibility. At times there is a mannered quality in the fantasy.

But like in Guédiguian's previous film, the memorable Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro, there is gravity underneath, a concern about the young: "our generation has no future".

Traditionally there has been a gritty photochemical sense of reality in Guédiguian's films. It fits the experimental quality of Au fil d'Ariane that Guédiguian starts by flaunting its digital artificiality with opening images that resemble computer animation. Hyperrealistic brightness here is an expression of the dream mode. The fine soft texture of reality is missing.

Cinéma Studio 28

Cinéma Studio 28, 10 Rue Tholozé, 75018 Paris. Click to enlarge.

Friday, July 11, 2014

On a failli être amies / [We Were Almost Friends]

Karin Viard (Marithé the blonde), Emmanuelle Devos (Carole the brunette), and Roschdy Zem (Sam). Click to enlarge!
FR 2014. 
Directed by Anne Le Ny

Production company : Move Movie
Film export/Foreign Sales : SND Groupe M6
French distribution : Mars Distribution

Executive Producer : Bruno Lévy
Assistant Director : Anne Felotti
Screenwriter : Anne Le Ny
Director of Photography : Jérôme Alméras
Sound Recordists : Frédéric de Ravignan, Benoît Hillebrant, Cyril Holtz
Production Manager : Sylvie Peyre
Press Attaché (film) : André-Paul Ricci
Editor : Guerric Catala
Continuity supervisor : Sylvie Koechlin
Production Designer : Yves Brover
Music Composer : Éric Neveux
Casting : Tatiana Vialle
Costume Designer : Isabelle Pannetier
Location Manager : Marie-Hélène Labret

Feature film
Genres : Fiction
Sub-genre : Drama
Production language : French
EOF : Oui
Nationality : 100% French (France)
Production year : 2013
French release : 25/06/2014
Runtime : 1 h 31 min
Visa number : 134.757
Screening format : DCP
Color type : Color
Aspect ratio : CinemaScope
Sound format : Dolby SRD

Karin Viard : Marithé
Emmanuelle Devos : Carole Drissi
Roschdy Zem : Sam Drissi
Anne Le Ny : Nathalie
Philippe Rebbot : Pierre
Annie Mercier : Jackie
Marion Lécrivain : Dorothée
Yan Tassin : Théo
Marion Malenfant : Cynthia
Xavier de Guillebon : Vincent
Philippe Fretun : Michel
Xavier Béja : Pascal
Pierre Diot : le jogger
Diane Stolojan : une ouvrière
Adeline Moreau : la serveuse
Jonathan Cohen : le chef de salle

Tournage : du 28 mai au 20 juillet 2013 à Orléans, dans le Vexin, entre les communes d'Épiais-Rhus et de Livilliers, dans les Yvelines, aux Essarts-le-Roi.

2K DCP viewed at Pathé Wepler (Paris 18), 11 July 2014

Pressbook synopsis: "Marithé works in a training center for adults. Her mission: to help other people to change direction in their work and to find their vocation. Carole, who lives and works in the shadow cast by her husband, Sam, an energetic and talented Michelin-starred chef, arrives in the center one day. It's not so much a change in job that Carole seems to need, as a change in husband. Marithé does everything she can to help Carole set out down a new path. But what are the real motives behind this devotion? After all, Marithé doesn't seem to be impervious to Sam's charms, or to his cooking." (pressbook synopsis)

AA: The story of two grown-up women at the crossroads of their lives. Marithé is the single mother of a son who is now grown up and moving to America to study at the university. Carole is the patronne at a top restaurant run by the charismatic chef Sam. Carole finds she has untapped potential for something quite different, independently from her husband, and Marithé instinctively realizes that.

Secretly from Sam Carole visits the adult reorientation center where Marithé works, and Marithé starts to provide alibis for Carole not only in her reorientation but also in her private affairs. Marithé goes too far helping Carole, which finally results in Marithé having to give up her job. The women now take distance from each other, and they both find themselves in parallel situations of reorientation in both their professions and their private lives.

The strength of the film is in the performances of the two female leads, Karin Viard and Emmanuelle Devos. They create three-dimensional, nuanced, inspired characters of Marithé and Carole. There is a feeling of authenticity, of real life in their relationship. This is a story of an encounter that transforms the lives of both parties. The plot is based on the conviction that we can change our lives, that we can have completely different stages in our active, grown-up lives. The approach is humoristic and life-affirming.

Fundamentally, it is about our finding our true capacities, especially so for women, because Marithé has observed that in employment interviews women systematically draw attention to their flaws, men to their qualities.

On a failli être amies is also a restaurant film, and I don't think it's going too far to say it takes the original meaning of "se restaurer" - "to restore oneself" - literally. In The International New York Times (24 July 2014) Mark Bittman writes how French food is going down, Frenchmen relying increasingly, as everyone else, on fast and pre-prepared food. You really need to have good advice now to discover truly good restaurants even in France.

The restaurants of Sam Drissi (Roschdy Zem) would be good enough for Mark Bittman. Sam has his own garden, grows his own fines herbes, bakes his own bread, and makes his own peanut butter. Marithé lands into the spell of Sam via his cooking, and is also charmed by him as a man, but Sam does not mix erotic pleasure with business, and does not stray anyway as long as he's married.

On two occasions, before they have any kind of an affair, Sam gets to touch Marithé to clean her: when some plaster has fallen on her on the building site of the new restaurant, and when a new and inexperienced waiter has spilt some food on her. On the first occasion Sam instantly forms a scent concept of her: no parfum, instead a sense of fresh bread, pears, and champignons. On the second occasion the wet-shirt revelation of Marithé's bosom makes Sam turn bashful.

In a late sequence with a private wedding party (not of the protagonists') being celebrated in Sam's restaurant the running joke is that after each course there is an opportunity to state in a chorus: "like the young bride said". ("Tous les amuse-bouches sont finis! On peut rentrer dans le sujet, chef." - "Comme dirait la jeune mariée!"). At night, after the party, Sam picks for Marithé mint leaves and lemon balm. Sam: "You chew well, but you do not swallow." Marithé: "The bridegroom would never say such a thing... "

There is an interesting coincidence with On a failli être amies and the Indian hit film of the year, The Lunchbox / Dabba. Good cooking brings people together and the rapture and ecstasy of taste can ignite a love affair.

Beyond the jump break: Anne Le Ny's interview from the pressbook of the film.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014 afterthoughts

A screening at Piazza Maggiore. Photo: Cinefilia Ritrovata, 14 July 2014. Click to enlarge.
The centennial of the First World War was a central theme in this year's Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. Hundreds of hours of authentic WWI footage have been preserved and made available online. However, as the great French historian Marc Ferro has stated, no non-fiction film footage manages to convey the horror of the war as the best fiction films have done ("Les images d'archives ne créent pas l'horreur comme la fiction", Marc Ferro interviewed in Le Monde Télévision, 3 Jan 2014).

Screened in Bologna was the prophetic Ned med Vaabnene / Lay Down Your Arms! (DK 1914) directed by Holger-Madsen, written by Carl Th. Dreyer and based on the novel by Bertha von Suttner, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Remarkably, the film was released just before WWI and displays an opening vignette of Bertha von Suttner months before her death. The film has been beautifully preserved by the Danish Film Institute.

As we have seen in stunning images during the last years in Il Cinema Ritrovato's A Hundred Years Ago project, the peace movement was powerful preceding the great war. Alas, the movement did not prevent the war, but the foundation of pacifism was getting stronger. Precedents and models were set.

The strongest film of the festival for me was Les Croix de bois / Wooden Crosses (FR 1931), produced by Bernard Natan, directed by Raymond Bernard and based on the novel by Roland Dorgelès. More than a movie, it became a WWI memorial, accepted as truthful by the veterans themselves. Pabst and Milestone had just released their WWI masterpieces, and, having seen them, Bernard went even further in his attempt to convey the horror that transcends the limits of ordinary understanding. - Bernard and Antonin Artaud were not veterans (they were not passed to the military because of medical reasons) but Natan and most of the cast were.

Two of the directors of the main retrospectives were coincidentally veterans of WWI. William A. Wellman fought first in the French and then in the U.S. Air Force and was invalidized for life with back injury. Merciless back pains finally interrupted his film career in the early 1960s. Of Wellman's 11 flying movies none were screened in Bologna. (Instead, we saw three of his train films.) We saw Wellman's breakthrough film, the Murnau-influenced triangle drama of Russian circus acrobats You Never Know Women (1926), a Florence Vidor vehicle for Paramount. Producers such as David O. Selznick, Darryl F. Zanuck and John Wayne could cope with "Wild Bill". Wild Boys of the Road (1933) belongs to the key Depression era films in the Warner Bros. mode of social consciousness. The unglamorous Westward the Women (1952) from MGM, the studio of glamour, impresses with harsh truths about the 1850s gold rush. Good-bye, My Lady (1956), Wellman's final film for John Wayne and Robert Fellows, displays tact in a growing-up story about an orphan boy and the dog he has to give away.

Werner Hochbaum was a WWI veteran, too. We saw highlights of the short career of the master who became one of the best German-language film directors remaining in Germany and Austria after Hitler's ascent to power. Hochbaum kept the great art of the Weimar cinema alive as long as he could. Brüder / Brothers (DE 1929), a milestone of militant cinema, is a sober account of Hamburg's epochal dockers' strike of 1896-1897. Razzia in St. Pauli (DE 1932) is an atmospheric, perhaps Sternberg-influenced, tale of the Hamburg underworld. Morgen beginnt das Leben / Life Begins Tomorrow (DE 1933), characterized by Alexander Horwath as the final great example of German interwar cinema, takes us to Berlin, to the stream of consciousness of a musician who is released from prison. He has committed manslaughter in the heat of the moment, the victim being a restaurant owner who had tried to take advantage of his wife. In its visual inspiration the film can be compared with the best Weimar achievements and can also be seen as an hommage to them. After the ascent of Hitler Hochbaum moved to Vienna, and we saw Vorstadtvarieté / Suburban Cabaret (AT 1933), a love story across class boundaries, Ophulsian in its sense of the life force vs. the death drive - the world of the music hall versus the world of the military. Hochbaum was back in Germany before the Anschluss, and with Ein Mädchen geht an Land / A Girl Goes Ashore (DE 1938) Hochbaum returned to Hamburg (albeit mostly shooting at Ufa Studios) creating an unromantic drama of a woman of inner dignity who changes the lives of those who meet her. A film of conformism or about transcending prevailing conditions.

The third retrospective I focused on was The Golden 1950s: India's Endangered Classics curated by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, a case of film programming of the highest order, bringing fresh sense and depth to our understanding of the magnificent cultural legacy of the world's biggest film-producing country. "It was difficult for me to choose just eight films from the three major film industries of the time – Bombay, Madras and Calcutta", stated Shivendra Singh. Chandralekha (S. S. Vasan, 1948) is a singing and dancing fairy-tale blockbuster crucial to the development of the film culture of the newly independent India. Awara / The Vagabond (Raj Kapoor, 1951) brings Chaplinian inspiration to a delirious Oedipal melodrama of extreme injustice, set in the palace of a noble judge and the slums of Bombay. Do bigha zamin / Two Acres of Land (Bimal Roy, 1953), inspired by Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves), charts the adventures of a farmer father and son in Calcutta to earn the money needed to redeem their land from a greedy landlord. In Ajantrik / Pathetic Fallacy (Ritwik Ghatak, 1957) the saga of a taxi driver's perseverance with his 35 year old jalopy expands into epic insights into Indian reality. Bharat mata / Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957) is the mother of Indian cinema: a bigger-than-life melodrama of exploitation, survival, reconstruction, and struggle against overwhelming circumstances of nature and society. Pyaasa / The Thirsty One (Guru Dutt, 1957) is a grand story of a poète maudit, his fight against injustice, incomprehension, and madness. Madhumati (Bimal Roy, 1958, based on a story by Ritwik Ghatak), a haunting supernatural love story set in sublime landscapes, is also an exposé of corruption in a massive scale. Kaagaz ke phool / Paper Flowers (Guru Dutt, 1959) is a formidable meta-film letting us see many aspects of a big studio production behind the screen; and like Pyaasa, it is another tragic study of a suffering, misunderstood artist, interpreted by the director himself.

The directors displayed in the Indian retrospective (Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Ritwik Ghatak, Mehboob Khan, Guru Dutt) are famous, and although many of them died young, they have never been forgotten. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's programming highlighted the generation experience: these were young men full of hope who came from villages to cities, and generated a new vision, a new myth, a new kind of cinema full of excitement and poetry during the first decade of independent India. Their cinema was an important factor in the spiritual regeneration and reconstruction of India.

70.000 Indian films [correct me if I got this number wrong] have been made in 32 languages, most have been lost, and even the preservation status of the most famous masterpieces is precarious. This preservation mission is urgent.

William A. Wellman: A Short Time for Insanity (a book)

Wings. Click to enlarge.
William A. Wellman: A Short Time for Insanity. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974.

My travel reading in Bologna was William A. Wellman's memoir book A Short Time for Insanity. It is a psychedelic autobiography originally written in the early 1960s while Wellman, a war invalid of WWI, was heavily drugged to alleviate an unendurable pain in the back. "Green Hornets" held the pain in check, but it was one excruciating battle more to wean the drug habit. Wellman was ahead of his time in his book which has affinities with Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing" cycle of writing.

The Kirkus Review summary: "An autobiography -- or rather ""a dogfight of reflections"" -- without any semblance of temporal continuity. Assembled ""in a codeinic haze,"" it's the ""hodgepodge of things you think of"" when you're stuck in the hospital with acute fibrositis* and have nothing better to do. Wellman's career was nearly as zesty as some of the fine films he directed -- notably Wings, Public Enemy, A Star Is Born (1937 Oscar winner), The Ox-Bow Incident and G.I. Joe -- but it's lamentable that there was no one in the director's chair to ford the b(r)ook's stream of consciousness. ""The present had swallowed up the past"" -- and regurgitated it all back. He should have left us a few of those narcotic Green Hornets." (Kirkus Review, writer uncredited)

Like Samuel Fuller, Wellman was marked for life by the war experience. And like in Fuller's autobiography A Third Face, there is a frankly psychotic dimension in Wellman's book.

A central theme in this year's Il Cinema Ritrovato was the centenary of the First World War. Coincidentally, two of the subjects of further main retrospectives were WWI veterans: Werner Hochbaum and William A. Wellman.

My highlight of Il Cinema Ritrovato this year was Les Croix de bois / Wooden Crosses. Wellman directed its American counterpart, Story of G.I. Joe, whose concluding sentence is devoted "for those beneath the wooden crosses" and in which James Agee recognized a tragic and timeless masterpiece. Some of the most colourful and memorable pages in A Short Time for Insanity are devoted to Story of G.I. Joe, covering Wellman's encounters with producer Lester Cowan (whom he disliked) and legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle (whom he respected).

In Finland Matti Salo has seen in Story of G.I. Joe a counterpart and even a possible influence to Väinö Linna's novel The Unknown Soldier. Robert Mitchum in his breakthrough role is a democratic leader such as Koskela in Linna's book. Wally Cassell is to Matti Salo like Rahikainen, incorporating the animal persistence of the life force.

Väinö Linna stated that the purpose of his book was to strip war of all its glory and bestow it all on the fighting soldier. The same motto could fit Les Croix de bois and Story of G.I. Joe.

After the Bologna retrospective my favourite Wellmans include

Siivet (Wings, 1927)
Beggars of Life (1928)
Kovan onnen poikia (Wild Boys of the Road, 1933)
Tähti on syntynyt (A Star Is Born, 1937)
Ei mikään pyhää... (Nothing Sacred, 1937)
Sotakirjeenvaihtaja (Story of G.I. Joe, 1945)
Polttava aurinko (Yellow Sky, 1948)
Naiskaravaani (Westward the Women, 1952)
Valkoinen helvetti (Island in the Sky, 1953)
Puuman jäljillä (Track of the Cat, 1954)
Hyvästi, ystäväni (Good-bye, My Lady, 1956)

* Inflammation of fibrous connective tissue, typically affecting the back and causing stiffness and pain. "Previously, the condition was known by other names such as fibrositis, chronic muscle pain syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism and tension myalgias." (Google Translator)

Bloggers on Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014

Last updated: 23 July 2014

Il Cinema Ritrovato: official homepage

Cinefilia Ritrovata: another official site with dozens of posts - still getting updated 14 July 2014 with new links, videos, and photographs

Cineteca Bologna: official facebook page with a lot of images

Neil McGlone 

David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson: three blog articles
- David Bordwell on one sample day, Monday, 30 June
- Kristin Thompson on Polish scope films and India's endangered classics
- Final remarks by David and Kristin, David covering early Shochiku talkies

David Hudson

Tom Paulus, two entries on William A. Wellman

Anke Brouwers

Bart Versteirt

Lukas Foerster

David Acacia, International Cinephile Society, on Yasujiro Ozu: The Only Son
--- and on Bimal Roy: Two Acres of Land

Marc van de Klashorst, International Cinephile Society, 7 July 2014, on Wellman

Clarence Tsui on Sperduti nel buio and Sosialismi

David Cairns: Shadowplay

David Cairns: MUBI Notebook

Ivo Blom

Scott Foundas in Variety

Jonathan Rosenbaum on the 2014 dvd awards

Stephen Ujlaki in Huffington Post, also in LMU/LA School of Film and Television Loglines

David Filipi in Film Comment

Maggie Hennefeld in Slant Magazine / The House Next Door

Harvard Film Archive on Oidhche sheanchais

Lynn Barlow: "Cinema, Italian Style" at Watershed / BFI Film Audience Network / Film Hub South West & West Midlands

Moving Image Archive News: "Robert Flaherty's Irish Talkie Restored" + general comments

The Hindu: "Indian cinema in Italy", 26 June 2014

For many of these links thanks to David Hudson!

Alexander Horwath: The 50th Anniversary of Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Il Cinema Ritrovato introduction)

Erich von Stroheim directs The Merry Widow starring Mae Murray

"In a country whose commercial film production had reached its lowest point ever, with no ‘New Wave’ in sight and the handmade creations of three or four Viennese avant-gardists as the only praiseworthy achievement in cinema, the founding of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum in February 1964 must have appeared like an extra-terrestrial intervention. Actually, of course, the cultural-political battle that the two young founders Peter Konlechner and Peter Kubelka had to fight was of a very earthly nature – and it was uphill all the way, as far as the paternalistic world of back slapping ‘film appreciation’ in Austria was concerned. But as their little U.F.O. enjoyed almost immediate and enormous success with a newly cinephile generation of Austrian baby-boomers and with foreign and local commentators alike. Today, the institution is often named as a beacon of cultural life in Austria, and it enjoys the respect of the international community of film museums and archives. The convictions and concrete practices by which the Film Museum, in the 1960s and 70s, gained its reputation in the German-language region and beyond, may seem relatively obvious on paper or even ‘logical’ today – but like most logical approaches they were perceived as ‘somewhat radical’ by the cultural mainstream, and in part they are still, or have once again become, minority positions in our contemporary cultural cine-patrimoine landscape.""

"1. For a film museum, the exhibition space is the screen."

"2. Film is the most important art form of the 20th century; its results need to be preserved and exhibited with the same amount of physical care, intellectual consideration and perceptual intensity as other works of art."

"3. Films are also historical documents and need to be preserved and exhibited as such."

"4. In a museum, films need to be shown in a manner that approaches their original shape and integrity: in uncorrupted and undubbed versions, respecting their original screen ratio and speed, and not transferred to other media."

"5. The flightiness of mainstream taste and the selective focus on ‘classics’ need to be avoided if your aim is a serious education in cinema: films need to be exhibited systematically, in extended retrospectives, and they must often be re-seen, in cyclical fashion."

"6. As the industrial uses and concepts of film represent only a segment of what the medium is capable of, a film museum must also focus on its non-industrial uses and concepts – and on the human knowledge and aesthetic intensities achieved in these fields."

"7. The past and the present of cinema cannot be separated; ‘film history’ always already includes the most current production and discourse.This festival’s tribute to the Österreichisches Filmmuseum is a great joy for me and all my colleagues. The five-part program can give just a few random glimpses of our current work; it should be seen in context with the various other elements that the Film Museum has contributed to Cinema Ritrovato.""

Programme curated by Alexander Horwath

Madhumati (1958)

Dilip Kumar, Vyjantimala
मधुमती. IN 1958. D: Bimal Roy. Story: Ritwik Ghatak. DP: Dilip Gupta. SC: Sudhendu Roy. ED: Hrishikesh Mukherjee. M: Salil Choudhury. Songs: Shailendra. D:  Dilip Kumar (Anand/Devendra), Vyjantimala (Madhumati/Madhavi/ Radha), Johnny Walker (Charandas), Pran (Raja Ugra Narayan), Jayant (padre di Madhumati), Tiwari (Bir Singh), Mishra, Baij Sharma, Bhudo Advani. P: Bimal Roy per Bimal Roy Productions. 35 mm. 149'. B&w. Hindi version. From: National Archive of India
INDIAN NEWS REVIEW N° 172. IN 1952. 9'. V. inglese. - Featuring Frank Capra, whose name had appeared as a screenwriter in a film we had seen previously this afternoon (Westward the Women) - and celebrating the memory of D. G. Phalke.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian and English by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 5 July 2014

Rajesh Devraj (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Madhumati was Bimal Roy's biggest commercial success, a rare genre film from a director known for his realism and his socialist approach to cinema. Its romantic tale of reincarnation, ornamented with haunting songs and atmospheric visuals, was influential in establishing a sub-genre of Hindi cinema. The film tells the story of an engineer who takes shelter in an ancient mansion one night, only to realize he has been there in a previous life. He recalls that life when he worked for the lord of the mansion, and fell in love with the beautiful tribal maiden Madhumati."

A  Creature  of  the  Mist

"Madhumati's striking achievement lies in transcending the conventions of the Gothic horror/suspense film to bring in a wholly Indian belief in reincarnation and rebirth, as well as elements drawn from folk and tribal lore. Kamal Amrohi's Mahal (1948) was perhaps the first significant film to explore this territory, but Madhumati goes further in placing the genre - call it Indian Gothic - within the hybrid tradition of Hindi cinema, complete with melodrama, leering villainy, folksy humour and intermittent song-and-dance sequences. The film's narrative provides several satisfying twists and turns, besides taking some intriguing risks - there is a positive infestation of doppelgangers, for instance, from Madhumati the tribal maiden to her ghostly apparition, her look-alike Madhavi, and her reincarnation, Radha."

"It is Bimal Roy's skill as a filmmaker that keeps all these juggling balls in the air. An acclaimed master of social realism, he also succeeds in delineating the hierarchies of Madhumati's world quite precisely. We observe the representatives of an oppressive feudal system, the hill people it has dispossessed in its greed, and the urban educated class, represented by Anand, which sympathizes with one side, but must serve the other. The tragic fate of the film's heroine is indeed 'an allegory for India's indigent tribal population' (as Jyotika Virdi describes it). Her revenge - the revenge of the land against its exploiters - is necessarily outside the realm of the real."

"Madhumati's story was written by the Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak, whose own contemporaneous work reveals an almost ethnographic fascination for the world of the Indian tribal: one speculates how he would have presented the heroine, had he directed the film. As for Bimal Roy's Madhumati, she is something of a familiar archetype: an innocent who personifies nature itself, like Kalidasa's Shakuntala, like numerous other nymphs from Indian literature and cinema. This worn-out abstraction can become something startlingly immediate in Roy's hands. Throughout the film, one senses a search for the truth of Madhumati's elusive, protean nature, evoked most sublimely in the sequence where Anand follows her fugitive figure into the mist, drawn on by the music of her anklets. At this level, the film suggests that we are witnessing an eternal game of desire and yearning, stretching across centuries and lives. As always in Hindi cinema, it is the lyric writer who grasps its mystical essence: Main nadiya phir bhi main pyaasi / Bhed ye gehra, baat zara si. I am a river, yet I am thirsty / Simple words, but a deep mystery." Rajesh Devraj (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: There is a magnificent sense of the landscape, with snowcapped mountains in the horizon, in this Indian Gothic film, reportedly the major inspiration for the theme of reincarnation since then popular in Indian cinema.

I was also thinking of other films with female ghosts, apparitions, and doubles, such as Gryozy / Daydreams, Portrait of Jennie, Ugetsu monogatari, and Vertigo.

Devendra is urging the driver to step on it on a dark and rainy mountain road when huge boulders from a landslide make it impossible to continue the journey, and the two travellers have to stay at a nearby abandoned bungalow. Soon Devendra realizes he has been there before in his previous life as the manager Anand of the Shyamnagar Timber Estate. "The entire nature sang as if greeting me". During his first walk on the hills Anand enters forbidden territory and meets the phantom-like beauty Madhumati who is like Lorelei, a mythical feminine creature of the mists of the waterfall. Perhaps one could make a double-bill of Madhumati and Niagara. Madhumati is elusive, sings luring songs ("Please come, my stranger"), and Anand keeps seeing her also in the fair where she or her lookalike is singing and dancing.

The scenes of the lumbercamp are interesting for a Finnish viewer.

Johnny Walker is clowning again in this movie, a paragon of dishonesty among those working for the King.

Madhumati is also a tale of corruption rampant in the kingdom.

Festival fatigue hit me after 45 minutes. Evening had come, and I became aware of my early flight back home tomorrow. I could not digest any more of this fascinating film which I would like to revisit.

The print is duped and stuffy with no black in it. I kept imagining how beautiful the film must have looked.

Good-bye, My Lady

In the middle: Brandon de Wilde and the Basenji dog.
Hyvästi, ystäväni / Addio, Lady. US 1956. D: William Wellman. Based on the novel (1954) by James H. Street. SC: Sid Fleischman. DP: William H. Clothier. ED: Fred MacDowell. AD: Donald A. Peters. M: Laurindo Almeida, George Field. C: Walter Brennan (zio Jesse), Phil Harris ('Cash' Evans), Brandon de Wilde (Skeeter), Sidney Poitier (Gates), William Hopper (Walden Grover), Louise Beavers (Bonnie Dew), George Chandler (reporter). P: John Wayne, Robert Fellows per Batjac Productions, Inc. 35 mm. 95'. From: La Cinémathèque française per concessione di Park Circus
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 5 July 2014

Lady is the name given by Skeeter to his Basenji dog.

Peter von Bagh (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Goodbye, My Lady is a good name for a film that has almost no women in it. This Lady is a Basenji dog (sometimes said to be able to "laugh and cry, but not bark"), one of the most memorable canine performers in the history of film. The title relates to the touching and real relationship between the young orphan boy and the dog, as well described by a contemporary reviewer in 1956 in the "Monthly Film Bulletin": "The opening scene, when the boy stands outside the shack waiting for the one important cry among all the night sounds in the woods, effectively establishes the mood; and the mutual affection that develops between the boy and his dog is made very real". This is the point. It's the kind of relationship that most films miss or fake; here everything is concrete, emotions as well as the vision of nature, the swamp, the forest. The film, one of the finest in Wellman's oeuvre and the kind of pastoral masterpiece that every great American director was due to sign at some time or other, is about an old man and a boy, both excellent as played by Walter Brennan (one of the greatest roles of that actor so dear to all of us) and Brandon deWilde, in a relationship where both change as human beings. That is the film's beautifully-conveyed leit motif. It's Americana at the root level, as basic as the purest Hemingway short stories or moments that Flaherty captured on film. Like the more famous The Yearling (Clarence Brown) but with all the Hollywood characteristics wiped away, running underneath it all is a sense of sad tenderness, the knowledge that every age, and becoming an adult and being accepted as a true member of a community, requires something and sometimes almost too much. This time it's the loss of Lady in a conflict between the boy and the owner of the valuable dog, or in other words, between pure human values and money." Peter von Bagh (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA:  One of the great dog films, and there have been many fine ones - Rescued by Rover - Rin-Tin-Tin - The Most Dangerous Game - Lassie - Lady and the Tramp - 101 Dalmatians - White Dog - Myrsky - White Bim Black Ear - A Dog's Life - during this festival we have seen The Exploits of Elaine Part 6: Vampyre (in which Elaine is rescued by her dog)... "A man's best friend", we can keep learning from a dog in real life, and a dog is never boring in a film.

During the 1950s, his last decade as a film director, William A. Wellman directed four films for Batjac, the company of John Wayne and Robert Fellows (plus worked in one further film for them without credit). His most famous Batjac film is The High and the Mighty, a pioneer film in the airplane blockbuster subgenre. The most generally acclaimed by critics is Track of the Cat. When I asked Dave Kehr at the start of this year's Il Cinema Ritrovato which William Wellman title I should not miss his answer was Good-bye, My Lady. Another special Batjac production I like is Island in the Sky. The two last-mentioned are "little" films. Wellman excelled both in epic genres and intimate subjects.

There are only two main human characters, the old man Jesse (Walter Brennen), and the orphan boy Skeeter (Brandon De Wilde). A strange sound alerts Skeeter: it is a little dog which does not bark but instead "laughs and cries", has an ultra accurate smell, and is constantly on the move. It turns out that the dog belongs to the rare African Basenji race - one of the most ancient, and perhaps the most ancient dog race. Nobody knows about the dog which Skeeter then adopts. People travel long distances to see the wonder dog. But in a magazine a Canadian hunter reports his dog missing, and gives unmistakable identification marks.

After a painful stage of hesitation Skeeter does the right thing.

Good-bye, My Lady is a story of loneliness, marginalization, and what it means to be an orphan. "The dog was the only thing that boy ever had". "I never saw anybody aching so much".

It is also a growing-up story. Skeeter learns how to train a dog, and how to lose a dog.

Wellman shows psychological insight in the delicate turning-points of the story.

He displays tact in a story of an immense loss.

The account of the black characters (Sidney Poitier, Louise Beavers) is dignified. Also in Wild Boys of the Road there was no racism in the way the black characters were depicted.

A fine print. The first 12 minutes were screened out of focus.

Westward the Women

Naiskaravaani / Donne verso l'ignoto. US 1951. D: William Wellman. Story: Frank Capra. SC: Charles Schnee. DP: William Mellor. ED: James E. Newcom. AD: Daniel B. Cathcart, Cedric Gibbons. M: Jeff Alexander. C: Robert Taylor (Buck Wyatt), Denise Darcel (Fifi Danon), Hope Emerson (Patience), John McIntire (Roy Whitlock), Renata Vanni (Mrs. Maron), Julie Bishop (Laurie [Smith]). P: Dore Schary per Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. 35 mm. 116'. From: Filmoteca Española per concessione di Park Circus
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 5 July 2014

Peter von Bagh (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Thinking about how women made their way into the center of westerns in the Fifties (Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar, Barbara Stanwyck in Forty Guns), it's strange how seldom Wellman's remarkable portrayal of a female group is mentioned in lists of the finest 1950s westerns, the greatest decade for that form. Both The Ox-Bow Incident and Yellow Sky might have bigger reputations and yet, poignantly, Westward the Women is a strong candidate for Wellman's finest western. A female trek, even though it is led by Robert Taylor, more or less re-enacts the story of Red River. The narrative is less deep than Hawks' masterpiece, and in some sense it is harsher, more realistic about the difficulties and facts of loss. Another great contemporary film, Ford's Wagonmaster, is somehow romantic by comparison. Wellman was a tough guy who could create an amazing combination of tenderness and cruelty. In Wild Boys on the Road, a boy loses his leg in an accident, and in Westward the Women an Italian lady is practicing with guns and kills her ten year old son, accidentally. This is a central element of Wellman's charm: total unpredictability. As we know, and this film verifies it fully, Wellman's true basic element was rain, here complemented with dust, storm, thunder, images of horses stuck in the sand, or more generally everything breathing the fight to survive. But there are contrary forces at work as well. The harsh circumstances - a vision of blood, sweat, tears - could easily make the perspective of the promised land look like a hallucinatory dream, bound to vanish - but it does not. That is why he gives us a scene of a baby being born, with the art to create the feeling of a collective birth event. Maybe this is why the film is less well-known than it should be: with no female stars pushed to the foreground, it is authentically about a collective. It's about those who "died nameless but achieved immortality"." Peter von Bagh (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: A great western from the second golden age of the genre.

Wild Boys of the Road took us from California to the East Coast during the Depression in the 1930s. Westward the Women takes us from Chicago to California during the Gold Rush in the 1850s (one of the men is a veteran of the Donner Party).

There is only one big star in the movie, Robert Taylor, as Buck Wyatt, in charge of the wagon train of 200 women out to get married with California pioneers. It is a perilous journey over mountains and deserts and through Indian lands. Among the biggest perils are the men themselves. When a rape takes place, Buck kills the rapist instantly. When another man tries to shoot Buck, he is killed by a woman sharpshooter.

MGM, the studio of glamour, excelled every now and then with a film of anti-glamour such as Freaks in the 1930s. In Westward the Women the women wear plain clothes, have to throw all their fine things away, and appear seemingly without makeup. They look beautiful.

It is a story of a grim journey, directed with conviction by Wellman. The Indians retreat as they have no guns. When most of the men quit after Buck's violent act of discipline Buck declares he'll "make men of the women". In a shooting exercise the Italian mother accidentally kills her beloved son. This is a story about facing supreme loss. The French Fifi, a lady with a past, keeps teasing Buck, and wants to escape but he does not let her get lost in the wilderness. The owner of the promised valley, Roy Whitlock (John McIntire), dies during the voyage. The running joke about "the grave of Jim Quackenbush", actually a stash of rum, reminds me of Veikko Huovinen's short story "Viinankätkijä". A baby is born during the voyage, conceived before the journey started. Of the ethnic composition, the Italian one is highlighted. Buck's right hand man is Japanese. Finally they reach the orange groves of California, and a big dance is arranged. "This is no time to be bashful". The concluding sequence is a serial wedding.

Excellent, harsh cinematography by William Mellor, shot impressively on location, catching the physical feeling of the journey, with the dust, the fog, and the smoke.

A print with the fine texture intact but the blackest levels missing. The first 15 minutes were screened out of focus.

Ein Mädchen geht an Land / [A Girl Goes Ashore]

[Not released in Finland] / Una ragazza sbarca. DE 1938. D: Werner Hochbaum. Based on the novel (1935) by Eva Leidmann. SC: Werner Hochbaum, Eva Leidmann. DP: Werner Krien. ED: Else Baum. AD: Willy Schiller, Carl Haacker. M: Theo Mackeben. C: Elisabeth Flickenschildt (Erna Quandt), Alfred Maack (Schiffer Quandt), Günter Lüders (Krischan), Carl Kuhlmann (Jonny Hasenbein), Walter Petersen (Otto), Hans Mahler (Hein Groterjahn), Heidi Kabel (Inge), Friedrich Schmidt (capitano Lüders), Claire Reigbert (zia Mariechen), Herbert A. E. Böhme (Friedrich Semmler). P: Universum-Film AG (Ufa). 35 mm. 2470 m. 91'. From: Deutsche Kinemathek per concessione di Murnau Stiftung
Joachim Schätz presenta il suo libro scritto con Elisabeth Büttner, Werner Hochbaum: An der Randern der Geschichte filmen (Filmarchiv Austria, 2011)
    Screened with earphone commentary in Italian and English at Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 5 July 2014

Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Werner Hochbaum was born the son of a naval officer in Kiel, one of Germany's maritime centers. Yet, his predilection for stories located near or on water is less a matter of birthright than of poetic conviction: in the port, the laws of the land reach their limit and the ebb and flow of the sea touch on settled lives. With Ein Mädchen geht an Land, Hochbaum returns once more to Hamburg, where he had shot Brüder and Razzia in St. Pauli, and planned his unrealized debut feature in 1928: a city symphony about the port metropolis. The ideological turning of the tide since those days can be witnessed in the melodrama's basic construction. This time around, the ocean is not a space of desire, but of discipline and devotion. When, after seven years at sea, the upright Erna Quandt goes ashore, the troubles in her life start. As a housemaid, she sets an estranged bourgeois couple back on the right course, but falls for marriage impostor Jonny Hasenbein. In the end, of course, she doesn't end up in the seedy quayside bar where Jonny dwells but in the sunny home of a widowed shipbuilder and father of three."

"Despite some ostentatious folksiness (there's a credit for calendar mottos), Hochbaum fashions Eva Leidmann's source novel into something nuanced and occasionally complicated. The imposing Elisabeth Flickenschildt as Erna and pudgy Carl Kuhlmann as the rueful crook Jonny make a deeply touching screen pair, and by re-inventing the unhappy rich housewife as an ostracized Viennese, Hochbaum moves the film's proud Hamburg traditionalism into twilight. While the plot draws lines between land and sea, the camera work, art direction and sound design stress fluid transitions and gray areas. A signature Hochbaum moment: when Erna walks onto a swaying gangplank, looking into the river Elbe and contemplating suicide, the placid emotional surface of the narration is stirred up into an evocative play of light, fog and shadows." Joachim Schätz  (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

In his introduction Joachim Schätz talked about the combination of robust folksiness and delicate feeling in Werner Hochbaum's cinema. Although Hochbaum was soon to be blacklisted by Goebbels, a new Hochbaum film was an event eagerly awaited by journalists. Ein Mädchen geht an Land was a homecoming for the Kiel-born Hochbaum to his adopted hometown Hamburg which he had last visited in Razzia in St. Pauli. The meaning of the sea has turned around: no longer the site of unlimited desire, it is now one of order. Erna Quandt is thrown from the safety of the family ship to the precarious land of Hamburg. Within a decade Hochbaum's cinema had proceeded to the quaint folksiness of Ein Mädchen geht an Land, yet consistently and stubbornly he held to the late 1920s tenets of Béla Balázs and Walther Ruttmann. In his concise introduction Schätz also managed to cover five thematic segments in the Werner Hochbaum story discussing his complicated biography, his concept of social environments, his talent in transitions, the persistence of the avantgarde, and the dynamics of work and play. (I apologize for eventual misunderstandings in these notes.)

AA: An unromantic drama of a woman of inner dignity and discipline who finds fulfillment in serving the cause of the ship, always loyal to the captain, also in a wider and more general sense, obeying her code of ethics also after she decides to leave her family ship and settle ashore.

Erna's honesty is so deeply engrained that she is constitutionally incapable of recognizing Jonny Hasenbein as an impostor. Yet Erna's sincerity also throws Jonny so much off balance that he is unable to cheat Erna. In the most unusual scene of the film Jonny, urged by his accomplices, tries to force himself to continue his swindling, but he has lost all conviction. As Joachim Schätz states above there is something very moving about the unlikely pair of Jonny and Erna. Jonny is arrested and Erna walks to the harbour alone at night... but the children bring her back to her senses.

The shipowners' life which Erna learns to know as a maid is seen as a world of alienation, arrogance, lovelessness and a work ethics without a joy of life ("your life is all about business"). "Die Hanseatische Manieren" have been immortalized in world literature by Thomas Mann in Buddenbrooks. The clash here is between the Hanseatic sense of duty and sacrifice and the Viennese joy of life. Amalie, Mrs. Sthümer, comes from Vienna, and she and Walter have fallen in love in Florence, in an atmosphere of a mutual passion for art. Now Amalie keeps playing her piano alone. There is a happy turn thanks to Erna, and the family motto "Zu einem ganzen Menschen gehören zwei" ("It takes two to make a complete human being") comes true thanks to her. Perhaps this happy turn is a bit movie-convenient, but this story interestingly reflects two sides of Hochbaum, himself, the progressive film poet of Hamburg who had become an exiled avantgardist in Vienna. But in March 1938 der Anschluss had taken place - Hitler had annexed Austria. The premiere of Ein Mädchen geht an land took place in September 1938.

Hochbaum has a strong sense of the imagery: the sea, the river, the wind, the rain, the waves, the storm. They spell life, they spell change, they spell death. Also the soundscape is assured: the sound of the wind, the foghorns, the songs (accordeon, Erna's lullabies, "Muss i denn" = "Wooden Heart"), the Hamburger speech rhythm. The milieux range from the ships to the Blankenese bourgeois district to harbour pubs and cabarets.

Hochbaum's avantgardistic impulse is at its most evident in Erna's nightmare sequence.

Hochbaum has a talent in directing his actors as an ensemble. 

Ein Mädchen geht an Land can be seen as a film of reconciliation or conformism. Yet it is also more.

I enjoyed the strong black levels in this print of good basic visual health. The contrast might be slightly high, but the print is not unpleasant to watch and perhaps a daring approach to darkness has been the original concept.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Chandralekha (1948, Tamil version)

சந்திரலேகா. IN 1948. D: S. S. Vasan. Story+SC: Gemini Story Department (K.J. Mahadevan, Subbu, Sangu, Kittoo, Naina). DP: Kamal Ghosh. ED: Chandru. AD: A. K. Sekar. M: S. Rajeshwara Rao, M. D. Parthasarthy, R. Vaidyanathan, B. Das Gupta. Canzoni: Papanasam Sivan, Kothamangalam Subbu. C: T. R. Rajakumari (Chandralekha), M. K. Radha (Veer Singh), Ranjan (Shashank), Sundaribai, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram. P: S. S. Vasan per Gemini Studios. 35 mm. 193'. B&w. Tamil version. From: National Archive of India
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian and English by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 4 July 2014

Uma Vangal (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Filmed originally in Tamil and later in Hindi, Chandralekha was in its time the most expensive film made in India. Directed by showman S.S. Vasan, the owner of Chennai's Gemini Studios, the film brought the scale and vision of the Hollywood spectacular to indigenous themes, creating a nationwide hit that still features in every list of landmark Indian films. It was hugely influential, setting production and publicity standards for the Bombay blockbuster. A robust Ruritanian swashbuckler at heart, the film tells the story of the princes Veerasimhan and Sasankan, rivals for the throne and the affections of the beautiful Chandralekha."

India's First Spectacular

"Reading Chandralekha's success in retrospect, one realizes that several factors would have contributed to its positive reception. In 1948, the first year of India's independence from colonial rule, the film's primary conflict - the struggle between the usurper and the rightful heir - would have resonated strongly with the Indian audience, leading them to register all the nuanced allusions and metaphors embodied in the film. They would have seen the demonized villain as a personification of the cruel colonial power which had usurped the land, with Veerasimhan's struggle and imprisonment evoking the freedom struggle and the harsh treatment meted out to the leaders of the nationalist movement. The joyous celebrations at his release and ascension to power would have surely reflected the mood of the newly independent nation. On the surface, Chandralekha is an incredible extravaganza with a great story and setting. In the darkened cinema hall, however, it goes beyond mere entertainment to create an intense engagement with its audience, through its references to popular notions of valour and courage, and characters who try to live up to an heroic and moral ideal. In this context, it is interesting to note the central female character and her pivotal role in restoring the status quo. Chandralekha, named after its heroine, portrays a world where men and women work together to establish a rightful rule. Perhaps this reflects the filmmaker's vision of a truly democratic nation, based on equal rights for men and women."

"Chandralekha marks a transition for the Tamil audience, which was moving on from its staple fare, the 'mythological' film, dealing with stories from Indian myth and legend. It also represents a change for filmmakers who were attempting to use their democratic medium to bring contemporary themes to the audience. Costume dramas like Chandralekha, dealing with struggles for power, eventually led the audience to accept 'socials' (films about contemporary issues in modern-day settings). The film also established many of the conventions that are associated today with Indian cinema - the spectacular song-and-dance sequences, colourful costumes, and elaborate sets which are considered typical of Bollywood, but in actuality emerged from the South Indian film industry. This was the true achievement of Chandralekha - the creation of a template for mainstream Indian cinema, a model for future filmmakers to emulate and reap benefits from at home and abroad." Uma Vangal (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA:  I had just seen Les Croix de bois which overlapped with Chandralekha, the essential Indian fairy-tale musical blockbuster. One hour had already passed since the beginning of the show, and I was still stunned by the stark Raymond Bernard masterpiece. I tried to adjust to Chandralekha but in vain. After 30 minutes I gave up. I observed scenes from the circus world: a man clowning in a bear suit, female gymnasts, acrobats and trapeze daredevils. I caught a glimpse of the naive fairy-tale world.

Two years ago they showed in Il Cinema Ritrovato Uday Shankar's Kalpana (also from Gemini Studios, also from 1948) which has reportedly directly inspired Chandralekha. Judging by the portions I have seen of both, the extraordinary masterpiece Kalpana is artistically superior and in a different league altogether.

There was a duped visual quality in the print, and the image was violently shaking during the 30 minutes I was watching.

Les Croix de bois / Wooden Crosses (2014 Pathé 4K restoration)

Puuristit. FR 1931. D: Raymond Bernard. Based on the novel (1919) by Roland Dorgelès. SC: Raymond Bernard, André Lang. DP: Jules Krüger. ED: Lucienne Grumberg. AD: Jean Perrier. C: Raymond Aimos (Fouillard), Antonin Artaud (Vieublé), Charles Vanel (caporale Breval), Gabriel Gabrio (Sulphart), Paul Azaïs (Broucke), Pierre Blanchar (Gilbert Demachy). P: Pathé-Natan. [4K?] DCP. 115'. B&w. English subtitles. From: Pathé International Restaurato da Pathé e Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé. Il film è stato scansionato e restaurato in 4K presso il laboratorio L'Immagine Ritrovata / Restored by Pathé and Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé. The film was scanned and restored in 4K at L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory.
    Fox Film Corporation bought the U.S. rights to Les Croix de bois but instead of releasing it used it for stock footage in The World Moves On (John Ford, 1933), Cavalcade (Frank Lloyd, 1933), The Road to Glory (Howard Hawks, 1936), and Seventh Heaven (Henry King, 1936). Also in France footage from Les Croix de bois was reused: in Les Nuits Moscovites (Alexis Granowsky, 1934), and L'Équipage (Anatole Litvak, 1935).
    English subtitles on the DCP by Lenny Borger.
    Introduce Sophie Seydoux (Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé).
    Screened with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 4 July 2014

Lenny Borger, 1983 (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Les Croix de bois is one of the most underrated films in French cinema from the Thirties which should nevertheless be included in the history of cinema among the most terrifying portrayals of the World War I. The structure and direction are surprisingly rigorous, almost documentary-like, in describing the relentless disintegration and the death of a squadron of French soldiers. Whilst Milestone and Pabst highlight their pacifism, Bernard avoids rhetoric, entrusting himself completely to the impact of Jules Krüger's cinematography. Its simplicity was criticised by some at the time but now shows its modernity, together with the rejection of pathos and military melodrama. The film was an immediate success, and yet international recognition was thwarted, first of all, by the Nazis (who banned it immediately) and then Hollywood, where it had a strange fate: it was bought by Fox as early as 1932, it would never be distributed but parts of it would be used for stock-shots by Darryl F. Zanuck's production. Yes, it really is Pierre Blanchar that you can see hurling grenades between two studio frames of Fredric March and Werner Baxter in The Road to Glory (1936) by Howard Hawks!" Lenny Borger, Les Croix de bois, "Cinématographe", no. 91, July 1983 (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Presented by Gian Luca Farinelli, Sophia Seydoux introduced the film in English. She explained the significance of the novel by Roland Dorgelès, its meaning in the anti-war movement, the general feeling of "never again". She told about the commitment to authenticity, the research for actual locations and accessories. All actors and extras were veterans re-living an awful experience. Roland Dorgelès himself was the advisor on authenticity. In this early sound film a lot of things were invented to record the authentic combat sounds with three sound trucks, even building a huge generator at a distance of 2 km in order to avoid its distracting noise. (My notes of the introduction by Sophia Seydoux).

AA: I saw Raymond Bernard's masterpiece for the first time, and it was for me the highlight of this year's Il Cinema Ritrovato, so powerful that I could not take seriously the film I was planning to see next, Chandralekha. Les Croix de bois belongs to a handful of the best war films ever.

The most popular film of Finland is The Unknown Soldier (1955) which, like the novel on which it is based, became a major vehicle of coming to terms with the overwhelming devastation of war.

Les Croix de bois was such a film in France for the generation which had experienced the First World War. For decades veterans went to watch and cry in Les Croix de bois which was in continuous release after the premiere. It was recognized as authentic by those who had been through it themselves. It belongs to the great popular films of all time, films whose true audience figures can be impossible to estimate.

Les Croix de bois is not entertainment. It is bigger than a film. It is a memorial and a monument. A phenomenon, a site of remembering, an invitation to come to terms with a shock, the greatest in history so far.

Like Edvin Laine in our The Unknown Soldier, Raymond Bernard employed war veterans in his cast although they were now too old for the parts. There was the bigger truth there that they had lived through something that was beyond imagination. They conveyed the true approach, the atmosphere, the attitude, the reactions, the expressions, the gestures, the words, the sense of the ensemble. And that is why Les Croix de bois feels completely different than most war films.

The Finnish word for a dissolve or a superimposition is "ristikuva" (a cross shot, a crossing shot). I was struck here by the early superimposition from marching men to a cemetery full of wooden crosses. The image during the opening credits is that of eternal fire. Such shots belonged already to the established imagery of anti-war films, as are the superimpositions of ghost soldiers marching to heaven. Abel Gance had employed such images powerfully in J'accuse!

Mostly Les Croix de bois is about the brutal disillusion of a young recruit who enters a squadron of already hardened veterans. We witness jubilant parades, the general mobilization, the presentation of all aspects of military life, the equipment, the sleeping conditions, the esprit de corps, the marches in the darkness, the trenches, the stench, the patrols, the incessant ominous sound of the enemy about to mine our foxhole from below, war panic and hysteria, the canteen, the military drill, lice removal, war mail, and the war hospital with legless and armless invalids.

We are taken to the front, to the barrage of fire and explosions, the grim, cruel and brutal massacre going on there, the smoke and the darkness, the incessant thundering noise. The main combat takes place at a graveyard. The exhausted soldiers have to parade in front of a general. The fight goes on, and there is another parade - the steady parade of the wounded all day. Vacations are cancelled. There is a wailing voice of one of our own in no-man's-land. It is impossible to retrieve him.

Everybody dies, and finally Gilbert, too, is hit. He cries in vain for help, and in his hallucinations sees memories pass by as the flame of his life gets extinguished.

A film about the end of the myth of heroism in war. The battlefield has become a slaughterhouse.

The performances are strong. There is no music score, but diegetic music is important: military marches, "En revenant de Montmartre", "Ave Maria", and the bitter theme song by the soldiers, "Les Croix de bois" written by Dorgèles for the movie ("Oui tu l'auras, ta croix, ta croix / Si c'est pas la croix de guerre / C'est que ça sera la croix de bois"). The realistic soundtrack is terrifying.

The cinematography by Jules Krüger is stark. Much of the film has been shot in the darkness.

The visual quality of the screening was puzzling. Is the condition of the source elements this bad? There was no full black, fine texture was missing, and at times the image looked like video.