We move from one strange location to the next, starting off in a glass and steel office building/hospital/furniture-and-or-gadget-fair/airport/everything-else-in-the-world, and ending in a nightclub which is still under construction yet serving guest all the same.
Despite M. Hulot being the natural focal point, there’s not real main character, no real plot, and no real climax. Like its predecessors, Playtime is as much a collection of storylines and gags as it is a feature film, but this is not a criticism. The choreography is perfect, the gags funny and charming, and the innocent romance sweet. Everything is filmed in wide shots and sometimes there’s too much going on onscreen for you to catch it in one screening, so be prepared to go back to it again and again.
The sense of alienation and confusion experienced by the inhabitants of “Tativille” is something we can probably all relate to on some level. Yet they move through life somehow making it work. As do we all. All we can do is our best.
Starring: Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier, François Périer
Runtime: 1h 45min
So, happy new year, everyone. What a start. We’re not sure 2021 is going to be much better than 2020 judging by the first few weeks, but who knows? In Norway, we’ve gone right into a semi-lockdown so we’ve had our hands full dealing with the repercussions of that, while of course following the insanity that is the USA closely. However, we are the perpetual optimists and have high hopes for February! Things need to calm down at some point, right? And while we wait, why not watch some movies? Such as Jean-Pierre Melville’s amazing Le Samouraï.
Remember when we said Tokyo Drifter was cool? Well, prepare to meet Le Samouraï! Jef Costello (Delon) is a French hitman. After being observed at a murder scene, he needs to avoid both the police and the people who hired him who now see him as a liability.
Silently and cooly, in his trenchcoat and fedora, he goes around Paris figuring out who to trust, who to love (if such a thing is possible), and how to survive.
This movie is amazing. The story itself is not the most original, perhaps, but Alain Delon is fantastic as Costello. The world he inhabits is quiet, efficient, spartan and grey, but with the occasional song bird to brighten the mood. Or alert one of danger. Whatever rubs your Buddha.
We loved the little glimpses into the Parisian underworld, such as the mechanic Costello visits, the long, quiet scenes without dialogue, Costello’s M.O. in establishing his alibi and planning his evening of chilling and killing, the police’s strange practice of just rounding up a random 600 people to parade in front of eye witnesses in hopes of finding a match (we hope they put a bit more thought into it than it seemed..?), the two women in Costello’s life, and the quiet, suspenseful action of Le Samouraï.
It’s stylish and suspenseful, visually a sort of mix between some of the other French films and the older American noirs, and a welcome distraction in a world gone topsy-turvy. And with that, we hope you are all safe and healthy, and we urge you to get your Samouraï on!
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page, Pierre Clémenti
Runtime: 1h 40min
Séverine (Deneuve) is married to Pierre (Sorel) and on the surface their relationship is perfect. He is a respected and successful doctor and she is… pretty. That’s basically all you need to make a marriage work.
However, there is trouble in paradise. Séverine struggles with her sexuality after childhood molestation and is unable to have a normal sexlife with her husband. Her sexuality is further confused by her BDSM/rape fantasies – fantasies she cannot act on or even communicate to Pierre.
Since therapy was obviously not yet invented in France in the 1960s, Séverine decides to deal with her problems in her own way, by becoming a prostitute. Every day between two and five, she entertains at Madame Anais’ (Page) brothel as “Belle de jour” – Beauty of the day. Now, while this gives Séverine an opportunity to explore her sexuality in a “safe” way (i.e. with no emotional involvement or societal expectation of purity), this charade cannot last. Especially when one client becomes more than just a random John…
We love us some Buñuel, and Belle de jour delivers. The surrealism he’s known for may not be as pronounced as in many of his other works, but there are definite influences in the blurring of fantasy, dream and reality. It’s also an excellent example of how to make something sexy and alluring without actually showing much skin, and a very interesting exploration of “broken” female sexuality.
Oh, and did we mention Séverine’s outfits by Yves Saint-Laurent? That girl looks gooood in this movie (as opposed to her usual drab and dowdy look, you know).
The costumes were great, we loved the Asian client (what’s with the bells?? What’s in the box???), we loved to hate Mr Husson (a truly horrible man), and we really enjoyed not always knowing which part was real life, which part was fantasy… There was also a touch of À bout de souffle towards the ending. All in all, this was a winner!
Geneviève Emery (Deneuve) lives with her mother Mme Emery (Vernon) in Cherbourg, selling umbrellas. Not umbrellas, bags, shoes, and raincoats, or anything which might help them actually earn a living. Nope. Just umbrellas. We’ve never been to Cherbourg, but now our impression is that of a rainy town filled with forgetful and/or wasteful people.
Not surprisingly, the mother-daughter-team struggle to make ends meet and Maman wants her daughter to marry rich. Specifically Roland (Michel), a character we remember from Lola, who has taken a fancy to the young umbrella salesgirl. Geneviève on the other hand is in love with mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo) and plans to marry him, money be damned!
Then, Guy is drafted into the army and sent off to fight in the Algerian War. A few months later, Geneviève confesses to her mother than she is pregnant. She is also worried about Guy who only answers her letters sporadically.
Roland (who may or may not have grown up a bit since the last movie where he famously made his unrequited feelings for Lola her problem instead of dealing with it on his own) is still willing to marry Geneviève despite her being pregnant by someone else. He offers security and comfort. So what should she do?
Oh, and did we mention that all of this is conveyed to us through the medium of song? Because it is. Every single word in this movie is sung (not necessarily by the actors), and continuously accompanied by the wonderful score. Additionally, the photography and colours are so bright and vivid that you can’t help being sucked into the story.
We loved the colours, the music, the random interruptions by passers-by during Geneviève and Guy’s date, the wallpaper (we want ALL of it – we don’t care if it blinds us!), and drama queen Auntie Élise (Perrey).
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a sort of continuation of Lola (1961), and also connected to the upcoming The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). It’s an intriguing universe filled with men befriending the mothers of young girls, and storylines that don’t always go where you expect them to. It is a universe we recommend you visit at some point.
Odile (Karina) attends an English class where she meets would-be “American gangsters” Franz and Arthur (Frey and Brasseur, respectively). For some reason, she is charmed by these juvenile and annoying guys, and after being negged into submission she finds herself a key player in their “master plan” to rob her aunt’s employer.
Don’t get us wrong, there were things we liked about this movie. It’s very stylish, and there are fun and interesting bits such as the minute of (complete) silence. We really enjoyed the dance scene in the café (which you can watch here) and the record breaking tour of the Louvre as well.
We just could not deal with the characters. Odile is very simple, bland and easily manipulated, and Arthur is a negging dick, so they’re clearly meant to be. Franz is just boring, and both him and Arthur are playing at being American gangsters despite being far too old for that sort of behaviour (they both look about 40 but act like 15-year-olds). We’re at a loss to see how Odile would feel a need to impress these two and we fail to see her motivation.
We did love Mme Victoria (Colpeyn), the dog, the over-the-top death scene (won’t spoil it by saying whose), and the voice over – particularly at the end. It was just that the main characters irked us. A lot. And we found it difficult to see past that. Sorry, Godard (and Edgar)…
What we learned: Come on, Godard. Odile certainly was not thinking about her boobs all the time. Despite popular opinion, women spend very little time actually thinking about them. They’re just kind of there…
Introvert Austrian Jules (Werner) and extrovert Frenchy Jim (Serre) meet as young men in 1912 and a lifelong friendship is born. While rocking their bohemian lifestyle and moving through relationships with various women, they meet free spirited Catherine (Moreau) who they both fall for in their own way.
Catherine is impulsive and fun, but also intelligent and charming. Jules loves her but is a misogynistic bastard at heart despite his ideas of himself as progressive (as demonstrated by his speech after the Strindberg play they go to see). Still, he convinces her to marry him for some strange reason, although she seems a bit luke warm towards the whole thing. As WWI breaks out, the two men are drafted on opposite sides with Catherine stuck in Austria by herself.
After the war, the men rekindle their relationship, and Catherine is once again stuck in the middle with both men wanting to marry her. And they do. But while she has a daughter with Jules, she is unable to conceive with Jim which causes a rift. In addition, the fact that Jim has another girlfriend might also contribute to some tension.
Jules et Jim is a very interesting movie for many reasons. It’s pretty much the epitome of French New Wave and Jeanne Moreau’s great international break out role. It’s also filled with very interesting characters. We cannot quite decide if they are all complex and realistic or just inconsistent and difficult to read. Despite the title, the film is really all about Catherine, but without ever revealing her thoughts and feelings.
Because let’s face it: there’s a very strange relationship between Catherine and men. She is always surrounded by them, with no female friends. Nor does she have any friends who aren’t interested in sleeping with her. Yet none of the ones who consider themselves close to her are interested in listening to her. She is ignored whenever she tries to talk about something other than the men or her feelings towards them. Anything else is uninteresting to the men who claim to “love” her.
This is no way excuses her final actions, but perhaps it goes some way towards explaining them. She is a nonconformist forced to conform to wife and mother, and an intellectual forced to only talk about men and relationships. It’s enough to make anyone snap.
Jules et Jim is a technically interesting movie as well: we loved the voice-over; the “erratic” filming; the cuts and “fast-forward” feeling which felt like snapshots from their lives, and the distance this in many ways created; the costumes; and the complex and unusual characters. There’s a reason this is considered a classic. And we’re sure there are a thousand ways to interpret the relationship between the characters. This was just our two cents.
Roland Cassard (Michel) loses his job and randomly decides to give a young girl his dictionary due to her resemblance to his old friend Cécile (Aimée) – even sharing her name. By chance, he then runs into said friend, who now goes by the name Lola. And is a showgirl…
Lola, now a single mother, is very happy to see her old friend, and the two go out to dinner before her show one evening. Roland finds out that despite not having heard from him in seven years, Lola is still hung up on her baby daddy Michel (Harden). While waiting for him to return, the dancer passes the time with American sailor Frankie, who also develops a strange and unhealthy relationship with Lola’s young lookalike Cécile (Duperoux), seeming destined to repeat history.
Roland falls for Lola and decides to make his unrequited love her problem by telling her about his feelings and being childish and mean when she rebuffs him. Because naturally it is her fault that he fell for her and she should feel bad about it.
Lola is an interesting movie – the perspective switches between characters and goes off in all kinds of directions, while still telling the story quite efficiently. Lola is a bit simple, but sweet, and we loved how she was never apologetic about her work or her status as a single parent.
While we’re still unclear how their days worked (does Yvon go to night school? How on earth do they get so much done before school? And did Roland come to work late five times in three days???), Roland acted like a stereotypical “nice guy” with Lola, and we’re very worried about Frankie grooming the young Cécile, we absolutely enjoyed this movie and we can’t wait for what else Jacques Demy has in store for us. Also, we need Lola’s corset. And top hat.
Zazie’s only goal for the weekend is to go on the metro, so she is less than impressed when it is closed due to a strike. On her first morning at her uncle’s place, she sneaks off to explore the city on her own and try to find an open metro, but instead she finds a very creepy stranger (Caprioli) and lots of trouble.
The creepy stranger may or may not be a paedophile, may or may not be a cop, and may or may not also be attracted to Zazie’s aunt and a merry widow they encounter on their adventures. It’s all a bit fuzzy and bewildering.
While we didn’t quite understand what was happening half the time, Zazie dans le Métro was a wild ride from start to finish. The visual comedy of it reminded us a bit of Hulot, and we loved the silliness of it all, although we’re pretty sure we saw a poor lady stabbed at some point. And there’s an attempted rape. And there’s a fairly big chance Zazie is a victim of abuse or a psychopath, judging from her reactions to people and events. Now that we think about it, are we sure this is a comedy..?
Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan (Aznavour) is a piano player in a dive bar, but a former classical concert pianist. When his brother Chico (Rémy) seeks him out to shelter him from a couple of gangsters he’s pissed off, Charlie gets dragged back into the criminal family he’s avoided for years.
Simultaneously, the shy and slightly awkward musician strikes up a relationship with waitress Léna (Dubois), but the gangsters follow them one night and the couple are kidnapped. However, they get on surprisingly well with their kidnappers.
They get out of that fix unharmed, but as the gangsters become more and more determined to use Chico’s family members to track him down, Charlie realises he must flee and leave his girlfriend behind. Lest she ends up like his first wife…
Shoot the Piano Player is very different from our last encounter with Truffaut, The 400 Blows. It’s a bit Noiry, with the flashbacks, the past the main character cannot escape, the general bleakness and the occasional voiceover narration.
It’s often sad, dark and depressing, but there are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments which help alleviate the whole affair somewhat. We’ve been missing the noirs a bit lately (there were so many of them for a while there!), so we really enjoyed this one. Worth watching for fans of French New Wave, Film Noir, thrillers, dramas, and Truffaut in general.