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Showing posts with label Michel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michel. Show all posts

Saturday, 1 March 2014

L'Étranger ou L'Inconnu ?

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

1 March

This is a review of Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du Lac) (2013)

For some who might wish to know, this film contains no female roles and probably as much graphic sex as Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

Amongst other things, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin showed that nothing quite evokes the quotidian as showing that, day by day, people choose to do the same thing (in this case, parking in a sandy spot with a few trees), and a shot of that place and a car drawing up can also be used to denote the passing of time – and to disrupt that easy sense of denotation*. That rate at which time passes can, in itself, be used to play counter to the audience’s expectation of how quickly events should happen, what should happen, what we should see :

This film leaves us in no doubt that we see what director Alain Guiraudie wants us to see, but that may not feel a positive experience for us, even if reflection suggests that confronting us with a slow pace, much fairly promiscuous sex, and the absence, otherwise, of much other than sometimes tense conversations might be calculated to unsettle. Hitchcock, it seems, would have done it that way, although perhaps his script would have had filmic goals, in particular an ending, that this one does not.

If our sex-life is not of a nature (the film calls it ‘cruising’) where people could be talking with someone new and then head inland to caress each other within minutes and have penetrative sex, such uninhibited actions present a challenge – not in terms of whether one wants to watch gay sex, as in what anything more significant might mean**. Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), who says that he has done all this before on holiday and does not seem much interested, values Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) as a person to talk to, maybe over dinner or a few drinks, a feeling that may be shared equally, although Franck’s deepest desire is to find someone whom he fancies who is not already involved (and, for no apparent reason, dashes off after someone when the two first talk).

Someone gay who also watched this screening said that even knowing about a man what Franck knows about Michel (Christophe Paou) would not have stopped him being attractive and a desirable partner (whether or not the actual Michel is, who seems like a more serious type of Tom Selleck). Given what Franck does know, that seems surprising, in the way that Peter Gabriel (on his album Up) characterizes the audience of his fictitious Barry Williams Show, I love my daughter’s rapist, etc.

What matters, though, is that – of brief origin though it is – Franck feels love for Michel, albeit after the event. We will never know why Michel did what Franck knows about, we will never know what happens at the end of the film, we just see Franck relating to him, knowing that he did it. The film does build tension (though not without a running joke at the expense of the man with his shorts half down and, hand on his penis, likes to watch), and a script and a film-maker can withhold things from us*** – as said, it is made abundantly clear that we are shown what Guiraudie chooses, and that this is not a film that, unlike life, ends tidily.

However, does the end justify the means, just gradually – and effectively – stirring us up about something and leaving us hanging… ? OK, so life is not neat, we do not always know what happened and / or why, and Ingrid Bergman may not always escape the clutches of James Mason into the arms of Cary Grant, but can the point of resisting that resolving temptation just be to involve one in something (unreal) that one could not know anything about otherwise, and then suddenly say that whatever happened next is just unstated. If so, Haneke does that better, many, many times, not least with L'Amour (2012).

Haneke, however, does just not refrain from telling us definitely what is happening only at the end, but throughout – we may come to a conclusion, say, about the character or behaviour of Georges, but it deliberately may be one of several. This is where Stranger by the Lake (and it might be worth considering who we consider ‘the stranger’ of the title to be) leads us on, and then slams the brakes on at the end**** – yes, we know that several things may occur on the given facts, but why is it apt just to leave us with them ? Not that it matters much, but the film feels a little as though it may have broken faith with its audience :

I will show you this, which leads to this, which leads to this, and, when matters have become really critical, down come some pseudo-philosophic shutters, closing off what we might not know definitely in life. Yet one can be sure of two things. One, that, because of what has happened, someone will have to decide, beyond the scope of the film, what then took place and why. Two, that, as this is not life, we were allowed to see and hear things (such as Henri and Franck’s conversations), and have a perspective, which is just denied by this ending, which is therefore arbitrary.

Not so much Reader, I married him, as Reader, I’m not telling you any more after all.


Or maybe it does make for a genuinely suspenseful ending after all - in the sense Nous sommes suspendus...


* As when there are no cars when Franck arrives, or when we see him walking down the path to the lake without arriving.

** In Nymphomaniac Volume I (2013), for example, two friends between them have sex with a score of men on a train just in a contest over a bag of Smarties.

*** We know nothing outside this place, and even the representative of authority keeps making visits here, at all sorts of hours, rather than taking a fairly ad hoc and low-key approach.

**** The Woman in the Fifth (2011) does so, but for a different reason that relates to the novel that it adapts.

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

Friday, 25 January 2013

Jean-Luc and François meet Ben, Alice and Steve

This is a review of Sightseers (2012)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

24 January

* Contains serious amounts of spoilers – watch the film first ! *

This is a review of Sightseers (2012)

What did I expect from Sightseers (2012) ? Well, the Twitter name Mr Wheatley kept appearing, along with Catherine Bray reporting that she had seen the film five or more times, and I had tantalizingly seen the poster, so I was aware that a caravan was involved, and knew the faces of the principals (well, maybe not one of them as what wasn’t covered by a hat bore a frown and a beard). I knew nothing else, which is the way that I like it – except that (I forget how) I was prepared for a few deaths…

Those principals (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram), I now know, had written the screenplay (with additional material from Amy Jump, whose name was all over the credits), which need not be unusual, but seems to be, and which appeared to have led to a very full conception of who Chris and Tina (together, Christina ?) are, and how they will behave towards each other and react with others.

I was very much reminded - and still am - of À Bout de Souffle (1960), not because Tina and Chris are as stylish as Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel) and Jean Seberg (Patricia), but because of the common enterprise (though I did, also, think of Thelma and Louise (1991)) – someone with whom I shared this comparison called Tina and Chris ‘plonkers’, but saw what I meant.

The more that I think about it, the more binds me to the notion:

* Both men kick off the chaos, and the women fall in with it

* In Godard’s film, the shooting of the policeman is imprecisely shown (Michel spread-eagled, his hand on the gun, the shot, and the policeman falling into a ditch), so that we cannot be sure how it happened – Tina, though, is present when Chris reverses over his first victim, and maybe is almost initially convinced by his sobs that it is an accident that has ruined the visit to the tramway museum

* In both cases, there is something ludicrous about what happens – Michel running across the fields like a long-legged hare, and the pathetic details of the man under the caravan and his shaking hand

* The women fall in with it for very similar reasons, and Patricia just as much knows that Michel is wanted for murder as Tina does that Chris has killed, but both women are doing it to please the man and as part of finding out whether they love him

* In one case with a caravan, both films feature dangerous overtaking, though Michel’s is more than anything part of his general frustration with others’ driving, rather than to beat a rival to a pitch

* The separate development of the stories apart, with no sense that Chris is exhausted by what is happening (only irritated that Tina has herself taken to killing, and in ways of which he does not approve), the films converge again with the choices, depending on their feelings for the man, that Tina and Patricia make

* Patricia uses the number that she has been given to report Michel, and is not expecting his response that he will not run any more – nonetheless, just before he dies, he is still calling her a louse for what she did (and so remains, to the last, an unreformed child, loving or hating things and people depending just on how they please him)

* Chris is with Tina on the edge of the viaduct, waiting to jump, and he does, but she looses his hand, and he makes no attempt to grab hers and pull him with him

Are these the choices that we make in life ? To run with a man and help him steal cars as long as one loves him, whatever else he has done, and to embrace casual slaughter of others, but maybe hope to pass all the blame onto the person who is dead and cannot contradict what is said ?

Yes, in the Godard, there is a death, but as I have hinted at, what happens in uncertain, although the consequences are not, with detectives somehow knowing who Michel is, reports in the papers, and then the more and more crazy banners and announcements that proclaim that the police are closing in. All of this, and the brisk and casual manner of the film (with the very long bedroom scene at the heart of it), makes for a jumpy but light-hearted quality, because Michel, despite keeping an eye on his pursuers, seems focused on getting his money and escaping to Italy with Patricia.

The feeling about the deaths, largely, in Sightseers is that they are passed off casually in a way reminiscent of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), although there is no attempt to disguise the bloodiness of the bludgeoning of victims 2 and 3. As with the Godard, we have the reports on the radio that alert Tina and Chris to what is happening, and likewise form part of the texture of the narrative (Michel’s photo is in the paper and so he can be recognized, and a description of Chris and Tina is also given).

So much for the comparison, although I think that there is a compelling case that the similarities cannot be there just by chance. Sightseers begins with Tina’s mother playing on her alleged weakness like someone out of Little Britain, and acting as a sort of Cassandra-like oracle by declaring to Chris I don’t like you ! and calling him a murderer. Later, whether sprawled for attention at the foot of the stairs, or surrounded by the remains of a Chinese take-away and by tonic and gin bottles, she punctuates the supposedly romantic trip.

Tina, with her nutty knitted bra and split-crotch panties, gets a disappointment when Chris feigns sleep on her, and it is only a couple of times what she might hope for (to judge from the rocking of the caravan, drawing fascination from the bystanders, when they first dive into bed). She is a confusingly entertaining mixture of innocence and its opposite, and, because of the matter-of-factness of the killing, it can be the backdrop to not so much the furtherance as disintegration of their relationship, as, another night, Chris gets drunk, rather than being with her.

We never really know who Chris is, or Tina, but that is not the point – whether he is ever telling the truth, e.g. about his job, injection-moulding, or Tina being his muse, the string that we saw being wrapped around pins at the beginning and mapping out their course is what we see unfold. And, with Tina, did the dog really die that way, and, if so, was it an accident, or a petty act of revenge ? Chris + Tina = Christina = two sides of the same coin… ?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Making out in Marseille

This is a Festival review of The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 September

This is a Festival review of The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011) is a sort of fable for our time*, with strikingly strong performances, both from (as Michel) Jean-Pierre Darroussin (whom I knew from Conversations with my Gardener (2007)), and Ariane Ascaride as Marie-Claire, a couple whose integrity and good hearts are at its centre.

Subject to an event that leaves all shaken, but especially Marie-Claire's sister Denise (Marilyne Canto is very sympathetic), the course of things unfolds in a manner consistent with not only justice, but also responsibility and reconciliation, almost a modern Dostoyevsky, I often enough felt (which maybe Victor Hugo, a poem of whose is the film's starting-point, and he had in common).

Certainly, although The Angels' Share (2012) is equally good natured and hopeful, this film makes a challenge to our thoughts and prejudices far beyond it: this film treats of its themes seriously, whereas Loach launches into a romp from whose end the dark and threatening scenes from earlier seem far removed - director Robert Guédiguian has sketched a world that acknowledges deep-seated human emotions of envy, resentment and greed, but wants to offer those who feel them a way back.

The centre is the family, whether a party for Michel and Marie-Claire (to which he has invited the other nineteen whose posts were made redundant at the same time as his), them playing cards with Denise and her husband Raoul (a good part for Gérard Meylan), or at the home of their son Gilles and his partner / wife, and the tensions, more or less freely articulated, between them because of their differing viewpoints: in Leigh's Glasgow, the family has little or nothing to offer any more.

Guédiguian answered questions after the screening, and some (as well as some observations from the audience) were of a rather political or judgemental nature, as if depicting certain truths, rather than presenting a story, were the film's purpose. As he sought to stress, cinema is not reality, and the Internet was not there because a screen is not that inetersting, and the focus was elsewhere.

I asked about the use of Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défuncte, which is a beautiful theme, both thoughtful and with a hint of real, not over-blown, sadness to it: he did not comment on that theme in particular, but that, classical or otherwise, the music is fitted early in the editing and has to be what belongs. Later, I aked about the Hemingway novel with the same titles as this film, assuming that there was no connection, as the origins appeared in a song sung at the anniversary party. This was apparently a very popular song in the 60s, and Guédiguian did not comment on whether the Hemingway associations carried any regrettable or deliberate overtones.


* To quote a title of Tames Thurber's.