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Showing posts with label It's a Wonderful Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label It's a Wonderful Life. Show all posts

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Some Tweets about London Korean Film Festival Teaser Bluebeard (2017)

Some Tweets about London Korean Film Festival Teaser Bluebeard (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

Some Tweets about London Korean Film Festival Teaser Bluebeard (2017)

Photo credits : Dae-myung Kim (and Jin-woong Jo) (upper image) ;
Actor not credited (by IMDb), and Jin-woong Jo (lower image)

Photo credits : Jin-woong Jo (upper image) ;
Goo Shin and Dae-myung Kim (centre image)
Jin-woong Jo and Yoon Se-ah (lower image)

Film-references :

* A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya) (2014)

* Delicatessen (1991)

* El virus de la por (The Virus of Fear) (2015)

* It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

* The Handmaiden (2016)

* The Trial (1962)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 27 January 2014

How lost is this Academy-Award-winning film ?

This is a review of The Lost Weekend (1945)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

27 January (watched on DVD)

This is a review of The Lost Weekend (1945)

Probably, more of us will be familiar with the humane portrait of drinking, gluttonous and bawdy Sir John Falstaff than with the soberly (pun intended) unremitting world of Don Birnam in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945). Yet it won Academy Awards for Ray Milland (as Birnam, who is almost never off the screen), Wilder as director and co-writer (with Charles Brackett), and as best picture (as well as nominations for Miklós Rózsa's towering score (Rózsa only lost the award because of winning it himself for that of Spellbound (1945)), and for editing and cinematography).

Sir John is a comic character (although Orson Welles introduces or emphasizes light and shade in his Chimes at Midnight (1965)), Birnam is more complex, and we see his complexity in detail first when the duet with chorus Libiamo ne' lieti calici in a performance of La Traviata starts to get to him, but he is driven to the humorous situation of having to wait for the owner of a leopard-skin coat (Jane Wyman as Helen St. James), because their cloakroom tickets have become confused. As Sir John might, to get some sack from Mistress Quickly, he knows how to turn on the charm, having gracelessly thrown her umbrella at her feet when asked for it, but is torn between the bottle of rye whiskey in his pocket and her kind invitation to a cocktail party, until the former gets smashed (and it remains unclear whether she buys his alibi of having wanted to take it to a sick friend).

Helen's faith in Don, and why it lasts as long as it does (as does that of his curiously named brother Wick), almost certainly has to be a given, for it is not fleshed out, nor is some of the recent past. For some, there may be clues as to whether the New York setting is contemporary, but, if it is, one wonders how Wick and Don avoided the draft. In all honesty, though, Wick's job, how he manages to support Don and him, and where they are supposed to be headed for a long weekend are peripheral (as long as one realizes that 'the cider' talked of there is just apple juice, because US usage calls our cider 'hard cider'). The title, too, can remain ambiguous, whether meaning the weekend that Don does not participate in, his being lost, or how he 'loses' it - perhaps, even, that it is lost as seen from the future that the ending promises.

Don has tried to outsmart Wick at the outset, and, at the end, he tries to conceal his intentions from Helen, but both times his desire is thwarted by chance, that of, respectively, where Wick's tossed cigarette ends up, and the view afforded Helen in the mirror. In the middle part of the film (when he is on his own, with only Nat's professional company (brought to us by Howard Da Silva) to serve him), a reciprocal arrangement between pawnbrokers to close for Yom Kippur has him walking exhaustedly for blocks, checked off by the lamp-post road-markers, before finding out that there is a pattern.

In a way, It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is a mini re-run of the sort of degradation, despair and delinquency that Don is led into at the bottom until he meets a man calling himself Bim (Frank Faylen), and hears a few truths that, whatever has happened to Don before, he has been hiding from himself : Bim has seen it all before, is matter of fact, and dismisses Don's future, and that strikes home as clearly as if he had suddenly pictured himself in the downward path of Hogarth's 'Gin Lane'.

According to Wikipedia, Wilder had worked with Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity (1944), which had sent Chandler back to drink, and Wilder had chosen to make the film to hold the mirror up to Chandler. In the film, at any rate, Bim holds a mirror up to Don, a message that eventually leads him to the film's two possible endings.

Wilder and Milland pull no punches in showing a man who will beg, demand and even steal for drink, with only the touches of charm to lighten him that seem to have kept his brother and girlfriend loyal to him. But the magic that they work, ably assisted by Rózsa's soundtrack, is to keep us loyal to him, because we have heard about how early success with writing, then over-confidence, then setbacks and the lure of a drink to steady the nerves have reeled him in : he knows all this, because he tells it to Nat as a story in the bar, but that does not help him know it in a way that offers a way out of it.

Then, and since, countless experts and other writers have given accounts of how to beat an addiction such as to alcohol (or gambling or smoking), and maybe they would have different views about what would work for Don to do it, but there is no denying that the image that we have of a man in thrall to whiskey is compelling, frightening and vividly alive, and the film merits its place in the US National Film Registry as an uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism, and to be described by The Library of Congress as culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Shortly after, and in the film adaptation with Albert Finney in 1984, we have Malcolm Lowry's uncompromising story of a man with a deeper debt to alcohol than Don, but, for this film, it ends as it does, with a share of ambivalence (seemingly more evident in Charles R. Jackson's original novel), and much relief. It must be open to put other meanings on the cravings that drive Don, and where they have come from, but one can also just take the film as it comes.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Supporting the garlic-eaters - or declining a Faustian pact

This is a Christmas review of It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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21 December (updated 22 December ; Tweets added, Christmas Day 2015)

This is a Christmas review of It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

When George Bailey (James Stewart) kisses his wife Mary (Donna Reed) on their wedding night, he murmurs (more to himself than to her) ‘Wonderful, wonderful’. He has something then that he loses – or, rather, loses sight of.

Their location at that moment is bizarre in its real sense, and almost, also in its real sense, surreal¹, for they had planned a honeymoon without much thought for the future. But it symbolizes some things, such as courage in adversity and less love in a garret maybe than riches in heaven.

As has been said, George loses sight of the self who found all this, which initially seemed so ramshackle, made whole and complete by Mary’s love and care for him. He faces what seems an impossible position, and his enemy Potter (who started as if to remedy George’s uncle’s mistake, before seeing the capital for him in it (the palpable miserly wickedness embodied by Lionel Barrymore)) threatens him with penalties from a position of power : George ends up abusing the forgetful / easily distracted Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell), and, not believing that anyone can help, gets frustrated with Mary and the children, showing only tenderness for Zuzu [one is reminded of Louis Malle’s Zazie], in bed with a temperature

He has lost hope. What happens, when he seeks to drown his sorrows makes matters worse, and causes him despairingly to recall Potter’s words of derisory rejection, thinking that his value is in being dead, not alive. In one version of the Gospel story, distraught at what he has done, Judas throws the thirty pieces of silver down when they will not be accepted back from him and they are used to buy The Potter’s Field (which is the name of where George builds his homes, but which is where the graveyard is in what Clarence shows him, a Bedford Falls without George, where the place is then called Pottersville ?); in another, Judas hangs himself, so suicide, choosing death over continued life (which some try to harmonize as his doing one and then the other).

Clarence Ardbody (that seems to be his name, and he is charmingly brought to us by Henry Travers) is George’s guardian angel, and he leaves George, after what he has shown him – but only when George chooses to embrace life again, after seeing a world where he is the nobody that he has allowed himself to believe that he is. There he is someone whom no one, not even Mary, knows and is even frightened of, and who is the witness of how differently things could have been.

The conception of this film, starting with prayers for George, Clarence’s appointment, and seeing how George became who and where he is, avoids the easy solution that Clarence should simply tell George how Potter kept back the crucial money that he decided not to return. The film has George choose life, after Clarence’s ruse (used again by Luc Besson in Angel-A (2005)) diverts him from his own plight to – where his heart is as a man – someone else’s, but only after he comes to value himself and the life that he has.

Meanwhile, aside from those prayers, Mary has been addressing the problem that gave rise to his disaffection and, although she did not know it, led him to the brink. He was going to choose water : water had been where, saving his brother from drowning, he lost hearing in his left ear, and into which, in a sort of sacramental baptism, envious hands contrive for Mary and George to fall. Water was falling from the sky and into the new home that Mary had contrived for George and her, and, of course, in the snow of Christmas Eve, it is there in frozen form. That is just an observation, but, those who believe that the other three classical elements will be there when water is found can, of course, excavate…

A criticism that could be levelled at the pacing of the film, which is why do we spend so much time with George in the world where he does not exist before he understands. Actually, because it builds up to him being rejected by the woman whom he still thinks of as his wife (and whose status Clarence has been a little unwilling to give), it takes that for the message that his mother only runs Ma Bailey’s Boarding-House because he is not around to sink in – George has both drunk a lot, before meeting Clarence, and had a double after, and the film symbolically represents how difficult, with a person in deep depression, it is for the truth of his or her worth to permeate and unfreeze that numbness of being dislocated from the world.

As the lyrics of Talking Heads’ song² Once in a Lifetime go, seeming to see a dislocation, from the opposite pole of psychosis :

You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife

In the world that he sought to leave, George had lost contact with the things and people who mattered to him, burdened by not knowing what to do; in the world that Clarence shows him, he is able to seek out what should be familiar, and keeps trying, ending with Mary. It is only when, under danger of gunfire, that he has gone back to where he started that he can value what he had before and ask for it to be restored – before, it might as well have been in a vault as behind a veil, for he could break through neither to it.

As a portrayal of depression, it demonstrates the truth that one cannot ‘snap out of it, ‘count one’s blessings’ or ‘pull oneself together’, and also, with Clarence’s inscription in Tom Sawyer (some significance in that choice of book, one would warrant), of the value of true friends. But the film works without entering into those considerations, just better if one sees what is slow to change in George.

And perhaps one has to consider the force, in Potter, that George has been fighting, whose Pottersville is debauched and gaudy when (in Clarence’s other world) there had been no one to stop him making it that way : on his desk, seen most clearly when the offer is being made that is too good to be true, is a skull, a bell in a triangular arch, but also an apparatus for heating something over a flame in a spoon that would not be out of place in the drug-laden realm of shooting-up in Trainspotting (1996)³.

In different ways, Potter, desiring domination in a no more rational way than Iago wishes Othello’s destruction, is stood up to by George’s courage and self-sacrifice : by riding the effects of the run on the bank, opposing Potter (and getting the vote) when he moves that the Building & Loan be wound up, and by rejecting a cushy offer for himself. Probably far-fetched that they are parallels to the temptations in the wilderness, but George does give up, respectively, (along with Mary) their honeymoon, his cherished plans of travel⁴, and a life of benefit for himself by going over to Potter…

James Stewart has humour (some of it at the inquisitiveness of Annie, the servant), warmth, and frustration at what he has to give up for what he believes in, even if he does put his foot in it by calling it ‘a crummy little office’ (or some such) to his father : that characteristic quality to Stewart’s voice fits hand in glove with the sort of astonished pleading with people to know who he is. Barrymore, even when he is slow to see his final winning hand against George, brings a smouldering, disgusted malevolence to the role of Potter.

And, when soaked from the swimming-pool trick played on them, George has walked Mary back home in borrowed clothes, Donna Reed and Stewart have a delightful awkwardness to them, so that he does not quite dare kiss her properly when she dares to offer her hand, and then both are spooked by him being urged to kiss her (one almost feels that, by not doing what is suggested, he is trying to avoid his own destiny, and cheat history...). And he has to be snatched away, without that kiss (or, acting against form, trying to exploit her being robeless in the hydrangea bush) on this very night, because of his father’s health. Pain prolonged, and hope deferred, but bringing a life together that they want to lead – though threatened by the opportunistic Potter and George’s despair.

Happy Christmas !


One can also find, given that the film was made in 1946, a Hitler figure in Potter : George's father appeased him by putting him on the Board of the Building & Loan; George fought his offer to Building & Loan customers with Mary's and his honeymoon fund; Potter offered an alliance to George; and rejected Potter takes the opportunity to turn the weapons of law and order on him.


¹ The ruins where Edward Scissorhands is found spring to mind.

² By David Byrne, Christopher Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, and Brian Eno.

³ Seen more obviously, though fleetingly, is a bronze bust of Napoleon Bonaparte near the window in Potter's office.

⁴ He is a sort of Marius (in Daniel Auteuil's film this year of the same name), with a sense of Wanderlust.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

An ambiguous angel or Talking Heads sing Heaven is a skating-rink

This is a review of The Bishop's Wife (1947)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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17 December

This is a review of The Bishop's Wife (1947)

One could endlessly compare The Bishop's Wife (1947) not just, of course, with It's a Wonderful Life (1946), but with, amongst others, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), City of Angels (1998) and Angel-A (2005), and it is only in the relationship in the latter two between Ryan and Cage, Rasmussen and Debbouze, that there is any way that they parallel this film.

Moving straight on, Cary Grant (as Dudley) does things with a glance or a smile that are pure charm, and the match with David Niven (playing Bishop Henry Brougham) seems dissatisfyingly unequal for much of the film, so much that one starts pondering whether maybe Jack Lemmon would be better, except that Niven is deliberately being this character whom some might describe as passive aggressive, seeming confused, unfocused, and probably quite afraid (and alone) : in the last twenty minutes or so, all comes clear, and it is not Niven delivering a duff performance at all.

And, in terms of the effect that Dudley works (although he, too, has gone somewhat off the rails by now), it has to happen that way around to fit in with what went before, with his interaction with and enlivenment of the wife of the title, Julia Brougham (Loretta Young). We start with crossings of the street near Henry's old parish of St Timothy's, and have the first hints in score and event who Dudley might be - we see Dudley just observing, a kindly, amused, interested observer, but ready to take action when a pram runs away, and Grant shows his real class in how he brings off these looks and smiles, as if of a traveller from another land wanting to understand.

When the Professor (Monty Woolley) is introduced, haggling over his tiny Christmas tree with shop-keeper Maggenti and then Julia joyfully joins him, Dudley is outside, watching, though - as in Luc Besson's or Franz Capra's films - he knows people's names, and much more besides, already. We get to see Julia change as she, and Henry's and her household, comes to know Dudley, and Henry, always suspicious and doubting (not to mention a past master at double-booking himself), does not know what to make of things.

It is Niven's closing moments of transformation that make one dismiss the idea that he was no good being a stooge to Grant's artistry, and that his consummate command has had to be suppressed to be the Henry that he was. A relatively easy ride for Young to exude joy, and the Professor to move from feeling bamboozled to being impressed, and, because Niven has to hide so much, one derives benefits from letting The Bishop's Wife run its course, and not think that Grant was outclassing everyone, though (when not being doubled for) he did appear to do a nifty bit of ice-skating - though I cannot imagine, any more than he could gesture with a finger to refill a sherry-glass, that he was really playing the harp.

A good film for Christmas, and many thanks to the Picturehouse chain (@picturehouses) for bringing it to my attention !

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

This person, with chaos in her wake

This is a review of Mary Poppins (1964)

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15 December

This is a review of Mary Poppins (1964)

It's a truism about Mary Poppins (1964) that Dick Van Dyke is meant to be a Cockney as Bert (in the extended, animated country-scene sequence, he is shown with Pearly Kings and Queens after the horse-race ?), and that his accent is dire - even if that were true, he is a great asset to the film as a performer, purveyor of home-spun truths, and jack of all trades, and would the children (as some would say, 'the demographic') for whom it was intended have cared less ? Humanity and warmth (and giving a rendition of a patter-song) count for much more !

And that is what the main message of the film is all about, or, as the Hanks / Thompson film has it, Saving Mr. Banks (though there are other, less obvious themes, which will be explored below). It probably makes as little sense to ask, outside that new Disney film, who Mary Poppins (really) is, because, if one swallows a retired admiral considering his roof-top to be H. M. S. Boom, one should not baulk at an explanation of someone who says I never explain (she may actually have said, I never give explanations) : wherever P. L. Travers and / or the film got him from, one need not look further than Wemmick's Castle in Great Expectations (or, in Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy's uncle)...

There is no one in this film who fails to please, with David Tomlinson as the father to Jane and Michael, who has to be so restrained in holding back his feelings (as Bert shows the children) until the close of the film, a man who wants to run when he has a sherry and smokes his pipe by the clock, and will not heed the admiral's helpful enquiries and advice; Glynis Johns as his wife, Mrs. Banks, who has found a cause rather than relate to her children (and whose difficulty in being a mother Disney has Travers defend as something that happens), and who delightfully and cheerfully dashes off to sing songs to imprisoned suffragette sisters, leaving her son and daughter in the care of an unknown chimney-sweep; the children, played by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber with a suitable mixture of innocence and a desire to get into scrapes; and, of course, the delightful Julie Andrews in the title-role, her diction perfect, her voice sweet and pure, and her own sense of fun (saying to wide-mouthed Michael We are not a cod-fish ! - a little different from Van Dyke's more-broad comedic one.

And, as Van Dyke can, she can dance, of course, and always moves with such grace - just a shame that, in common with less well-lit scenes such as on the ceiling at Mary Poppins' uncle's and the bird woman with her food for tuppence (both of which also suffered from indistinctness), the roof-top activity was a little dark, although I assume some technical reason relation to filming and / or restoration. Otherwise, there is delight to be had from this film's look at nearly 50, and the animated sequence that Travers objected to was enchanting (I was with her with the penguin routine, but it may have not dragged for younger viewers), entering into life from life, which Mr. Banks seems to lack. Even in Bert, when his pavement-paintings get spoilt by rain, we see him take pleasure in literally spreading the colour around.

The main people to whom songs are given are Andrews, Van Dyke, and Tomlinson, and all bring out the quality of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman's strong words and music, making for unforced and unabashed bursting into song. As a film about what life is and is about, Mary Poppins shares territory with It's a Wonderful Life in several ways, with a run on the bank, a man alienated from whatever disturbs his sense of order (Banks) / restoring financial propriety (George Bailey), even if it is actually the lives of his family, and the intervention of a force from without with magical powers (Poppins / Clarence) and the mixing of what we take for granted with how things might be.

The principal message is that living by consumerism* blinds one to what matters in life. There is no suggestion that Mr. Banks resorts significantly to alcohol (a theme in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)), but the admiral's calls from the roof, and the idea that he cannot see what is front of his nose (with the woman selling bird-food), suggest that he has found other ways to adjust to working for the bank (shown, at the end, to have a human face), and Mary Poppins briefly staying helps him see things anew. His liberation, his rediscovering his children's love and their interests, will no doubt say much even to modern youngsters.

As to the covert themes, there is this curious business of Mary Poppins' uncle on the ceiling, and what a crisis this is treated as - a tentative interpretation might relate this to the experience of bi-polar disorder, with, when they have tea in the air, literally being high, for what 'brings them down' is thinking of something sad, and Bert says that he will stay and look over Mary Poppins' uncle when she and the girls leave, and he tries to raise spirits with his 'down in the mouth' joke about eating a feather pillow. (Against that, when Van Dyke, as Mr. Dawes Senior, is told the joke about 'a man with a wooden leg called Smith', he, too, levitates, and his death is said to have been a happy one.)

Still with the bank, being summoned to return at 9.00 has a distinctly masonic air about it - The City is dark as Mr. Banks crosses to it, is let in, and is accompanied to the door by top-hatted men, who almost frog-march him there. The debunking, although comic, suggests a sort of serious ritual, deflated by Banks, when asked if he has anything to say (before he has retorted that he always knows what to say, a self-assurance with which he maybe only fools himself and Mrs. Banks), finds himself saying Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and even, to his surprise, feeling better for it.

Finally, the care for spending (as Michael wishes to do) tuppence on feeding the birds could translate to not hoarding, but using, the wealth given to us (The Parable of The Talents ?), or even to the invocation to Peter, Feed my sheep...


* Often enough wrongly thought of as 'materialism', or 'capitalism', although making money and owning the means of production are best not confused.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Before the Fall

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17 November

Myth, legend, symbol or allegory, we will generally be familiar with The Garden of Eden and what happens there.

Interesting enough, and, for some, the origins of a theology of original sin, but that begs a bigger question:

What was the nature of Adam and Eve before any of it happened?

My starting-point for asking (although there is almost certainly, as part of the theology of sin, a whole doctrine of our unfallen state) is that few, Pallas Athene and maybe Benjamin Button apart, come into existence as fully formed adults - their nakedness adverts to a state before clothes or fig-leaves, but also to the fact that (whether or not they have had sex) they did not come into being as a result of sex.

There are those who like to ask how incest was unavoidable, if their offspring were to procreate, but a better question is who they were, what they knew, and how they viewed their world. Was who they were - as well as what they knew - changed in the instant of eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Snow White (the pole to The Wicked Queen) only needs one bite of the Queen's poisoned apple; Neo just takes the red pill to see the mirror ripple and his arm silver; Alice follows the instructions (in the same Wonderland that Neo's pill keeps him in) and grows and shrinks. But a few examples of how a moment's ingestion makes a world of difference...

What would it be like not to know good and evil? We think of children (some of us think of the overturned legal principle of Doli incapax), we think of angels, and, though we were once children (and some feel closer to that than others do), and cannot imagine much more than the appearance of angels (except when Frank Capra and Luc Besson do it for us), none of this seems like the possibly timeless state that our pair was in.

Maybe Milton helps us 'flesh out' that notion of a state of being before culpability, or maybe our guiltiness, our sense of responsibility, failure and despair shuts out that possibility of actively identifying or imagining anything other than this - at best, maybe, the anthropologists of old, talking about tribes in a state of nature, wanted to read into them some sort of innocence or unknowingness that was never there...

I do not know, but I think, reminded as I am of Paradise Lost yet again, I shall go back to John Milton, and try to read a book on each day of Christmas.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Luc Besson looks prolific

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30 August
* Contains some spoilers *

That is the impression created by Besson's page on

I have caught up with Angel-A (2005), and found it an engrossing adventure for Jamel Debbouze as André and Rie Rasmussen playing Angela as Capra met City of Angels (1998), not in Los Angeles, but Paris. Rasmussen I feel sure that I should have known (although I turn out not to know
her other work, but she was a good emotional and physical foil to Debbouze (who played a strong role in Let's Talk About the Rain (2008)), and they worked well as a team, stalking around an often deserted city, although there is many a twilight shot just of him, walking across a deserted bridge.

Bridges give a sort of loose connection of theme with Leconte's The Girl on the Bridge (1999), but the real tie is with a take on It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (whose Donna Reed so impressed me at a screening, appropriately on Christmas Eve, when last seen): Angela is bold and self-assured in life and in her sexiness in a way that André is not, and she is a pre-echo of the title role in Besson's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010), as is the humour.

With Jimmy Stewart, it is easy to see that he does not deserve his lot, though he cannot see all that he has done to improve people's lives, whereas with André, not that it matters, it is the beauty of what Angela can see in him that turns out to count, both for him and for her, in this well-imagined and gloriously photographed embrace with Paris, and with these two people who dance around it.