Sleeping Car Murders (Costa-Gavras, 1965) and Dante 01 (Caro, 2008)

I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen The Sleeping Car Murders before. Maybe at the Dryden years ago. Regardless, it’s a really fun thriller that predates Costa-Gavras’ superior, political films. It has a bit of the Elevator to the Gallows feel in that it’s noirish, jazzy, and modern, but it’s more procedural and less existential than the Malle film.

There are some SPOILERS below.

Costa-Gavras really assembles a hell of a cast for his feature: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Simone Signoret, Michel Piccoli, Yves Montand… I wonder if this is because of his AD work with Jacques Demy, René Clément, and René Clair, among others.

The two things I remembered from the film are the last shot and an elevator sequence. Apologies for the low quality, but here’s that last shot. A police investigation ends with a long dolly away under a bridge alone the Seine (I think; I know nothing about French geography):

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But it’s the elevator sequence that’s more memorable. It feels like the gallios that the film is concurrent with.

Simone Signoret, great as Eliane Darrès, gets in an elevator to descend. Costa-Gavras’ cuts are rapid fire. We start in this medium establishing the approaching killer and Darrès’ position. He then cuts to a direct overhead that zooms dramatically down. It’s not quite a POV – it’s too overhead. Instead it’s sort of a combination of an accelerated elevator descent and Darrès’ doom reaching her:

Then to these three cuts, nearly on-axis, cutting to the barrel of the gun until it’s pointing at us:

Back to Darrès for her reaction:

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And then to these ECUs:

I love those eyes back and forth. They sort of make no sense. The killer is above her. Why is she looking left and right? It’s one of the longer shots (probably less than 2 seconds) in this montage and it seems, if anything, to again talk to us. It’s like a pink panther moment, mocking a stereotypical image of investigation films.

We cut tighter on her eye (this sequence is also, probably obviously because Bava was, too, indebted to Hitchcock). Then to two quick shots of the gun, this time cutting a little further away sequentially, rather than the reverse, above:

Back to a tight reaction, and then wider, on action, as she reacts and falls:

There’s so much coverage for one moment. It’s the only sequence in the film really like it. It feels like a young filmmaker (successfully) experimenting, and also like a moment for Signoret. But it’s also dramatic and a nice use of Psycho’s implied montage (an elevator instead of a shadow, a gun instead of a knife).

Dante 01

I know the Jeunet-Caro collaborations, but I had never seen Marc Caro’s solo sci-fi effort from 2008.

On its surface it looks a lot like those films…well, at least its color scheme looks a lot like Jeunet’s second solo feature, Amelie. It’s rather green and yellow, there are a lot of inflected animals, and the characters are peculiar.

The mood in the film is nice, and there’s some somewhat interesting philosophizing but the film ultimately feels like it was cut short or altered drastically in post (I wonder if it was). Things feel rushed; the voiceover doesn’t really help things; so much is reliant on Christ-figure symbolism.

For some reason all of the characters are bald:

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There are some interesting connections to be made. Like the nanotechnology that is shot into the spaceship-prisoner’s blood-

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-looks a lot like the actual spaceship which the entire crew is traveling on:

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It’s as though within is the same as without. That’s fun and all, but it doesn’t really advance beyond this visual similarity. There’s an overlong VFX-heavy ending that feels dated and eventually brings us here:

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Where we seem to now be at earth. I wonder if there are theories about this ending. I’m sure there are. I didn’t really feel the urge to investigate. Something transcendent happened and we’re transported to a more human, survivable environment. It’s not that it doesn’t track, it’s that it feels a little exhausting to track it.

 

 

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Good Time (Sadie, 2017) and Dunkirk (Nolan, 2017)

Good Time is up there for my favorite film of the year. I love how much the Safdie’s shoot in close-up. The first scene – one of the best in the film – is so tight that you can feel the compression. There are so many moments in here where the concern is far away from establishing spatially and much more so with the frenetic tension of their tight frames. It’s pretty consistent throughout the film, though it opens up a bit in a great sequence at an amusement park.

Good Time was shot by Sean Price Williams and it looks amazing. So much neon! And I was really into how the filmmakers were pretty comfortable letting the image go to near underexposure at times. You can feel the film grain in those moments. This is a film that I think needed to be shot on 35.

Robert Pattinson is turning into a hell of an actor. He’s so good in this, as he has been in much of what I’ve seen him in recently (Maps to the Stars, The Childhood of a Leader, The Rover). Benny Safdie’s performance as Nick, Pattinson’s Connie’s brother, is also pretty brilliant. There’s an awesome moment when, at the beginning of the film, the two are robbing a bank. Nick wants to take his mask off and Connie won’t let him. It feels so kind. The same is true of the immediate aftermath when they’re in a back alley beginning their getaway. Connie’s lines – “I couldn’t have done this without you!” – are so obviously untrue and true at once. Another of my favorite parts of the film.

Is this film all handheld? I only started looking for it about 20 minutes in. Sometimes it’s so obviously so. But there are other times (the hospital sequence) where I couldn’t always tell if we were in really controlled handheld, or on a steadicam. Either way, that motion, and that motion that sometimes rides a line between fluid and unsteady, really works in here. It’s a frenetic film narratively, but there are long moments of calm in the midst of all the energy (I’m thinking in particular of a sequence at Crystal’s (Taliah Webster) house, where things just settle a bit) – I think that the camera does a nice job of not always just being one or the other.

Another thing that really struck me in here: in most films Connie would be really dumb. Like he would literally be written as an unintelligent character. But he’s pretty smart in this film. He makes quick, informed decisions, all for the sake of his brother. It makes me like him a lot. I see his brain work as he manipulates people and, while he’s not always pleasant, I like how hard he’s working for Nick. I wonder how much writers Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie struggled with the character, or at least how much he evolved. It’s a tightrope – there’s a moment at the end that pushes an extra amount of guilt onto his shoulders that’s a real gut punch.

Then there’s the score. I’m not the biggest fan of Oneohtrix Point Never, and it’s a hell of a risk in here (it’s so present) but it really pushes the film into something beyond just heist/road film. That’s sort of what it is, but this is a great example of form (including performance) transcending what is an already good script.

Dunkirk

This is one of my favorite Christopher Nolan films. I’d imagine I have some of the same issues with it that other people have. For me, it’s mainly two: the score is too much, and there’s too much on-the-nose sentimentality at the end. But otherwise, this is a really good film. The IMAX is breathtaking. The first time the image comes up in that format is really wonderful.

The first scene in Dunkirk is the best. It’s mostly silent storytelling, it drops us right into a beautifully dangerous situation, and the blocking (as the characters are first running down the street, in particular) is so good. It’s my favorite part of the film; I’ve sometimes wished that Nolan would rely less on dialogue, and when he does here, which is most of the film, it really soars.

What’s the difference between the score in Good Time and here in Dunkirk? I mean, both are really present, pretty loud, and unmistakable. I like the music in Dunkirk but it seems to lead the emotion too much, or Mickey Mouse too much. An example of the latter: just at the beginning of the stretcher sequence the music changes. It’s pluckiness feels like mimicry and it totally pulled me out of the beginning of the scene. Luckily I got past it, because this scene is also pretty awesome.

That’s another thing that I like about Dunkirk. I bet these are some of Nolan’s longest scenes. He stays with his characters for extended periods. He still cross-cuts, as he always does, but this time it’s across time, which is fun. Regardless, there are long scenes where we don’t change temporally or spatially and we just stay with one person. It works so well, particularly for me, on the land.

Another issue I’ve had with some past Nolan films is the performance of side characters. Here they’re great. There’s no weak link in Dunkirk. I really liked Mark Rylance, perhaps the most. His face is so expressive. He switches so easily from full-steam-ahead confidence, to crestfallen terror.

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Invasion (Santiago, 1969)

Hugo Santiago’s Invasion from 1969 reminds me of so many things, but it’s all its own. I watched this mostly because it was written by Borges. As I was watching I started thinking how much it reminded me of The Spider Strategem (the title of which is listed in the possessive on IMDb, but I always heard and read it the other way). I looked that film up, which I probably haven’t seen since about 2004, and lo and behold, that was also written by Borges!

Then I thought how much Raul Ruiz reminded me of Hugo Santiago. Well, after some quick internet research, lo and behold, Santiago and Ruiz worked together. These frames are some of the reasons why I see that resemblance:

Like Ruiz, Santiago isn’t afraid of a looming foreground (shot 3), anonymous shots (shot 2), and wides that feel frozen and almost stagey (shot 1).

Much of the same is true here. I love how dramatic the framing is, but also how intentional it is. Great cinematography from Ricardo Aronovich, too:

Is there a Santiago/Godard connection? Because this film also reminds me of Alphaville. Maybe that’s just because Herrera (Lautaro Murúa) looks a little like Eddie Constantine.

Is there a Santiago/Suzuki connection? Because this film also reminds me of Branded to Kill. Maybe that’s because of the production design (i.e. checkered floors) and the men in white versus the men in black, all dressed in suits.

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I wonder if Thomas Pynchon is influenced by Invasion. Because there seems to be a lot of that swirling conspiracy that Pynchon likes (or maybe, and more likely, Pynchon is just influenced by Borges).

Anyway, this film is amazing. If Miller’s Crossing is about men with hats, this is about footsteps. Footsteps just echo everywhere, on every surface, and coming from every type of footwear. They clatter around and add to this beautiful feeling of confusion.

There’s much great camerawork in Invasion. I particularly like this short sequence:

As Irene (Olga Zubarry) enters we pull back with her. The first man that crosses frame brings the camera with him, which continues its dolly back and now also pans left. He brings us to another man (at 0:17), whose crisp movement continues the frame. It’s so well-timed. Then we come back to Irene’s over-the-shoulder at 0:20. Like the footsteps we’re surrounded here. There’s confusion everywhere. Anyone and everyone is a suspect. The motivated blocking emphasizes this. Those characters are minor but we don’t know that.

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Melvin and Howard and Something Wild (Demme, 1980 and 1986)

The National Film Archive in Prague showed these two Jonathan Demme films on pretty scratched 35mm prints. Regardless of the quality, it was great to see Demme and Tak Fujimoto’s work on the big screen. My first time seeing both films! Some SPOILERS here.

It’s a good idea to go into Melvin and Howard knowing nothing about the film. I suppose I think that’s the case for nearly all films, but this one is particularly good with no background. So when Jason Robards shows up in the first scene and then has a long car ride with Paul Le Mat I was pretty sure, given the title and all, that he’d be in this thing front to back. I think that’s one of the great things about both of these Demme films (and I bet it’s one of the reasons why he wanted to make both of them): the structure is pretty unpredictable. It’s not just like flashback-unpredictable, or big-reveal-unpredictable, it’s more classically unpredictable: the scene-by-scene plotting doesn’t go the way that maybe the first few scenes predict they might.

I was really struck in Melvin and Howard by how long we spend in the car with the two title characters. Sure, in hindsight it’s obvious why, but in the moment it just feels like good chemistry and dialogue. I love Fujimoto’s photography in this film. The dusk shots feel so dusty and cool. There’s a real relaxedness to that opening atmosphere in the car.

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The opening of the film actually reminds me of Scarecrow. A wide expanse, a character coming out of nowhere. Of course it also feels, appropriately, like a scene from The Master.

I was also pretty floored with Mary Steenburgen’s performance. I’ve seen her in Time After Time from the year prior, but she didn’t make a huge impression on me. I wonder if her character (the gameshow, of course, makes me think of this; but it’s also the fact that she’s smarter than we might stereotype her as upon first introduction) was an influence on Rosie Perez’s in White Men Can’t Jump.

Demme just feels like such a natural behind the camera. A scene between Steenburgen’s Lynda Dummar and her daughter Darcy (Elizabeth Cheshire) at a bus depot is such good comic blocking. He just seems to have such a feel for pace, both of character and dialogue.

Something Wild

That last line definitely holds true in Something Wild, which is ridiculously fun, showcases a lot of great performances, and feels like a screwball comedy of the 1980s. I could see Howard Hawks loving this script.

Great cameos from John Sayles and John Waters, and who can resist Ray Liotta’s tough guy, especially the wide open mouth laugh that feels like he’s holding something really evil in. He’s great in this.

The movie is also a good example of a film that’s musical, like, really musical, but never feels overpowered by score or soundtrack. I’m usually pretty aware of where music is placed and how it comes in and out of a scene, but in Something Wild I’d find myself surprised that music was or wasn’t playing frequently. I think that’s a testament to how well controlled the narrative is otherwise. I’m with Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith the whole way; every time it seems like the film is just going to go one way, it goes another: it’s going to be melancholy at Audrey’s (Griffith) mother’s house? Cut to a neon, hilarious school reunion. It’s going to be a sorrowful look at drinking ala The Lost Weekend or Barfly? Cut to a road movie. It’s going to be a light-hearted comedy? Cut to Ray Liotta.

I read an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson where he points out this film as the origin of Demme’s straight-to-camera close-ups. I can’t think of any in Melvin and Howard or Last Embrace, and I haven’t seen his others prior to this film. But the time it’s used here is so effective. That scene – Daniels’ Charles Driggs chained to a sink, Liotta’s Ray Sinclair dragging Audrey away – has such atmospheric camerawork.

Two that stick out: the camera pushing, low, after Ray and Audrey’s feet as she moves desperately away from his down the hallway, and the overhead track, from right to left, as Charles struggles under the sink. Both feel different than other moments in the film, and have an eerie sensibility.

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Krakatit (Vávra, 1948), Joseph Kilian (Jurácek, 1963), Case for a Rookie Hangman (Jurácek, 1970)

Krakatit is one of a few Otakar Vávra films I’ve seen of late. It immediately reminds of a far less hard-boiled Kiss Me Deadly. It’s 7 years prior to Aldrich’s film, and it doesn’t have the mean streak that makes Kiss Me Deadly so amazing, but Krakatit mixes film noir with “fear of the bomb” into something really atmospheric.

Karel Höger plays Prokop, a man who may or may not be hallucinating about some world’s end event. One of the great things about Krakatit is for how long it’s unclear whether Prokop is totally insane or not. He’s treated with kid gloves by a lot of people: the raving madman. When the full extent of the shady cabal behind him is revealed he seems like the only sane one on the planet.

But what’s probably best about the film is Prokop’s guilt. Very much unlike Kiss Me DeadlyKrakatit plays things less as a thriller and more as internal struggle. Prokop’s repressed memories stem from a dark place and for much of the film he tries to shut them out.

Here’s a clip from the film. It’s one of the best scenes and has slight SPOILERS. Very Metropolis. Sorry about the lack of subtitles.

That’s Florence Marly opposite Höger. It’s a great example of Prokop’s remorse that turns nearly violent (something played on throughout the film: is this man dangerous?). But I also love the contrast in their movements. She glides. He walks. The moment where they face off at 0:42 – she appears to have wings, he has antlers growing out of his head – just makes her so much more superior.

And the ending to that clip. It’s chilling. Not only in what actually happens, but the camera move is so sweeping. It feels like the ending to a film how it pulls away. The final image, just before the fade is totally black, is like his final image of her, burned onto his memory.

Joseph Kilian

As much as I loved KrakatitJoseph Kilian is far and away the best Czech film I’ve seen since moving to Prague. Like so many of the great New Wave entries it’s hilarious, scary, and absurdist at once. There’s some of the The Trial in here – even Welles’ version, perhaps – but this feels like a landmark film.

The plot revolves around a man searching for someone named Joseph Kilian, his “comrade,” who he wants to notify about a vague death. In the process the protagonist rents a cat and, upon attempting to return it, finds the cat shop is gone and no one knows what he’s talking about.

The film is so moody, and its opening frames – a shot that any filmmaker should study and aspire to – sets a standard. We peer down a long street and basically watch the cycles of life parade by in the distance, children, adults, eventually a funeral:

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Finally, Harold emerges and walks towards us.

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What a tone-setter. Harold leaves the oppressive march that moves only in wide shot and left to right or right to left and walks right towards the lens, meaningfully. Here’s a man who’s different from the rest of society. But in the end he gets caught up in it like everyone else.

The film is filled with set pieces both bureaucratic and eerie-

-and it goes a long way to play, like, I think films such as Report on the Party and the Guests will later, on the man vs. “mannered society” (i.e. Communist regime) theme.

Case For a Rookie Hangman

Pavel Jurácek made Case For a Rookie Hangman (the title of which reminds me, of course, of Death by Hanging, though the films are really different) 7 years after Joseph Kilian. The themes are largely the same, but the film feels so much more bloated. Based on “Gulliver’s Travels,” it uses much of the same tactic, but to lesser ultimate effect than his 1963 short.

The problem with Rookie Hangman is part of the strategy: Lemuel Gulliver (Lubomír Kostelka) is caught in between three strange worlds and doesn’t know how to escape. His entrance into the first world – by car – is probably the best part of the film. The rest of it begins to feel a bit redundant. I realize that redundancy is part of the tactic, but it loses steam in its 100 minute runtime.

Still, like Joseph Kilian, the film is so imaginative. The frames are often absurd (first and third below), but all are beautifully composed:

 

 

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A Few Sentences on a Lot of Films

As usual, playing catch up. I’ve recently moved to Prague, so I have some great Czech films to write about. In the meantime, here are some brief thoughts on a lot of others I’ve seen over the 8-10 months but haven’t had the chance to write about.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Ficarra, Riqua, 2016)

A friend asked me recently if I think most “big” directors, regardless of whether I like them or not, are good directors. I think in some way they are. My main reason: if you can bring a large group of people together towards the same vision – whether I personally like that vision or not – then you’re doing something impressive. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is, I think, an example of a film where not everyone comes together. It feels like so many different films at once. Those aren’t the only problems with it. Information is telegraphed: every time we cut away from Tina Fey something bad happens; and the ridiculous accents from Christopher Abbot and Alfred Molina – both amazing actors – which feel like they should be satire, but end up kind of offensive. Also: rough love interest subplot.

23 Paces to Baker Street (Hathaway, 1956)

A very obviously post-Rear Window film that suffers from how close it ends up to that Hitchcock movie. It was fun watching it on a plane and guessing what year it was made (clues included color, CinemaScope, a few natural-looking exteriors, Vera Miles, a violent knife scene): I guessed 1957.

Paterson (Jarmusch, 2016)

A solid entry for Jarmusch, though not my favorite. Things I love: an odd use of fades to black that feel both monotonous and pleasant at once; the weird twins thing that doesn’t particularly add to the plot but adds to the tone; a general feeling of unease, particularly at night; a lover’s quarrel at a bar that’s both realistic and hyperbolic at once. Things I didn’t love: a female lead who feels kind of tacked in and a bit flimsy. Sure, she’s the muse, but she’s a flighty, boring one.

It Comes at Night (Shults, 2017)

Man, I really wanted to love this film. It’s got great camera work (a second straight time for Shults), awesome central performances, a totally chilling dog scene, and a solid mood. But in the end it just didn’t land for me all the way. It felt rehashed, overly reliant on dream sequences, and not quite as suffused with dread as it (maybe) could have been. Still, this guy is a director.

Okja (Bong, 2017)

Another that I really wanted to love, from a director whose work I truly love. The good about Okja: wacky performances that somehow work (man I love Jake Gyllenhaal in this); a really crushing scene towards the end; a meaningful message played as absurdist satire that still hits its point; amazingly staged action scenes. The not so good about Okja: the satire gets tiresome; the plot gets predictable (though, admittedly, still affecting); the style gets too cartoonish. I wonder if this was influenced by Brazil.

Dear White People (Simien, 2014)

Staying on the satire train: a pretty funny and frighteningly accurate portrayal of modern college life. This is when satire really works. The style fluidly oscillates between over the top and realistic, and the ending has legs enough to warrant (justifiably so) a TV series.

Colossal (Vigalondo , 2017)

Another one that I wanted to love. Some small SPOILERS here. I really, really love Vigalondo’s first two films. But this one just completely missed for me. The clever nastiness of those first two is gone. Where to begin? Really boring or unbelievable characters. Terrible acting from one and another that I completely don’t buy. Even Oscar’s (Jason Sudeikis) psychotic-ness doesn’t totally jibe. Why does Anne Hathaway’s character have two realizations in a row?. And the end is illogical. I’m forgiving of logic in some sci-fi; or at least of no explanation. But she can’t hear him at the end, yet she still throws him. I get that she might not need to hear him, but the beat indicates that his line calling her a bitch is what ultimately incites her throw…doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know. Maybe I missed something with that ending, but I was too pulled out of it long before that beat.

The Nice Guys (Black, 2016)

Feels like someone did a poor parody of a Shane Black film.

The Overnight (Brice, 2015)

Pretty fun, sometimes ridiculous, but ultimately oddly touching film about parenting and relationships. Laugh out loud moments are rare in film and count for a lot. This one has a few.

Train to Busan (Yeon, 2016)

Unbelievably fun zombie film that somehow keeps the stakes rising and the tension going. It’s shot so cleanly – not a knock, more awe.

Lions Love (…and Lies) (Varda, 1969)

Just post-French New Wave from the great Agnès Varda. This one is a dizzying collection of film-within-a-film. It’s a commentary on the state of film, of Hollywood, and of the end of the free love ’60s. I liked it quite a bit, but in spite of all that, it drags a bit towards the middle and feels long for its 110 minutes.

The Nobodies (Mesa, 2016)

Really well shot film that seems to be after some kind of punk realism, but sort of falls between the two and never hits as hard as it wants to. The film feels a bit limited in character and scope. Maybe that’s the budget. There’s a great scene between mother and adopted daughter that’s the highlight of the film.

Museum (Ohtomo, 2016)

A thriller that starts pretty standard and Se7en-like, and reaches beyond that in its second act and becomes something more. Fun and violent, apparently based on a Manga; its ending feels rushed.

The White World According to Daliborek (Klusák, 2017)

An interesting premise that ends up feeling totally unfilled and a bit self-righteous. If a white supremacist is your main character then don’t use silly shock cuts (hard cut to chopping wood with your hand!); don’t stage things obviously (a shot of the main character’s feet in the tub really bothered me for this reason); and don’t make the only comeuppance too little, too late, and from the mouth of the director.

Logan (Mangold, 2017)

A pretty gentle, yet still violent Wolverine film. Really well made. Well acted. Great first act. Strong second act. Pretty boring – but I understand, totally necessary – third act. Worth the watch.

Eyewitness (Yates, 1981)

Peter Yates, what have you done!? I wanted to make this its own blog post. This movie is so absurd and for so many reasons. Some unbelievably 80s/bad lines: “I’ll tell you right now it’s gonna be wonderful.” The whole “subtext” thing about buffing floors is so awkward and ridiculous. And played the way William Hurt plays it it’s even more ludicrous: a soft, nice guy…kind of. Maybe creepy. Also, some great lines: “I think when he was a kid Aldo must’ve wanted to be a suspect when he grew up.” A bad script, well blocked. A pretty unbelievable romance. The ending with her hand on his cheek is almost as bad as him cleaning off her knee. Unnecessarily convoluted plot, too

Theeb (Nowar, 2014)

A really nice road/adventure/reverse western film. There’s a great musical moment just pre-shoot out. The staging of how Theeb falls in the well is really well executed.

Cabaret Balkan (Paskaljevic, 1998)

A lot going on here. The lawlessness of wartime. Chaos and anarchy of ordinary citizens. The police barely have a role here. Kind of like a more violent, dystopic Night on Earth. I love the radio broadcasts of the war. One is of the US condemning the Bosnians!

 

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Maigret vot rouge (Grangier, 1963) and Les Cousins (Chabrol, 1959)

Gilles Grangier’s 1963 film from Georges Simenon’s novel features a pretty late-period Jean Gabin as Commissioner Maigret, on the trail of a few (fairly badly acting) Americans in France in the midst of a convoluted plot. I wonder if Truffaut liked Grangier when he wrote his “A Certain Trend of French Cinema.” This kind of feels like the Don Siegel of French filmmaking (though, for the record, Siegel is better): an unshowy, well-crafted thriller with a charismatic lead, shot in a more traditional way than its new wave peers.

While Grangier’s film is indeed overly complicated and leads to a pretty disappointing denouement it does have a great performance from Gabin, who feels worn, old, and plenty confident. Marcel Bozzuffi also gets an early appearance here; though he’s a side character his Torrence is calm and in charge, and Bozzuffi shows some of the screen presence that will come to the forefront later.

There’s a really amazing fight sequence where one of the Americans, Cicero (Michel Constantin, the only good one of the group), fights off a large group of French detectives.

It’s a really physical scene and Grangier uses Cicero’s imposing figure to his advantage. It’s well cut, fast, a little funny (the sand and the flip), but also feels real and violent.

Towards the end of the film there’s a sequence where Maigret sits with his detective Lognon (Guy Decomble) to his left, and opposite the American agent Harry McDonald (Paul Carpenter) and the flipped criminal Curtis (Harry-Max).

Grangier starts with a dolly to the wide, establishing where everyone sits:

He then cuts in to a simple shot-reverse between Maigret and McDonald:

We then jump to the other side of the line – sort of like a second master shot – and now Maigret’s eyeline also changes (he looks left, and not right, as above):

Grangier uses Curtis’ eyeline to move us from Maigret to McDonald, and then cuts to McDonald, who is also now looking right to accommodate the second master shot:

We now go back to the initial side of the line, and McDonald’s eyeline changes again – he looks frame-left. The new 2-shot, showing Maigret and Lognon in the same frame, again changes Maigret’s eyeline back to frame-right:

We get another new bit of coverage, and over-the-shoulder, where Maigret’s eyeline is tighter to the lens:

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And we end the scene with a new shot-reverse, between Maigret and Lognon:

I like this sequence. It’s more difficult then it looks, I think. Grangier uses two sides of the line, and always follows with coverage that subsequently changes both main characters’ (Maigret and McDonald) eyelines accordingly, so they’re always “looking” at one-another.

He shifts the line at changes of power (the first shift: McDonald takes control; the third shift back: some semblance of normalcy is restored), uses two-shots to show allegiances, and differentiates between control and lack thereof using clean-frames vs. over-the-shoulders.

It’s just good, solid directing that isn’t flashy, but makes a sitting conversation between four stationary people much more interesting.

Les Cousins

Not necessarily my favorite Claude Chabrol film, though Les Cousins, the great director’s second film, has beautiful moments.

There’s some really amazing, elegant blocking, and the country-vs-city narrative is compelling, but the film does get a bit boring. I wonder if Neil LaBute loves this film. It feels up his alley.

Some of that blocking makes the film though. Charles (Gérard Blain) studies in his room. Chabrol frames it as a stark overhead. He exits to his desk and we see only his hand hugging the corner of the frame. There’s a transition to day and then the camera moves to reveal him asleep in his chair:

It’s a nice visual approach to the scene, and it keeps us at a slight distance from Charles, who is himself a distant character.

In my last Chabrol post for Wedding in Blood I talked a lot about long-take blocking, and it’s evident even here in 1959. Chabrol begins this scene in a single on Florence (Juliette Mayniel), the object of Charles’ affection. He whip pans 180 degrees, finding people spilling out of the bar in front of her:

The camera pulls back as the group leaves, and then starts to pan back towards Florence. That’s her standing at the pole in the second image below. She then goes with Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy) towards the car:

As they enter the car, the view obscured by the pole the camera moves slightly back and pans left, revealing Charles.

I think this is the strongest moment. It’s such a great comparison with our initial view of Florence. She’s alone and separate from everyone and then joins the group, whereas Charles is with the group and then becomes alone and separate from everyone.

Chabrol’s blocking is so confident for such a young director. He was 29 when the film came out! And it’s not just movement for movement’s sake. The lens captures the whirlwind of excitement for the bar just left and the night to come, and then the bookended loneliness of two characters who may or may not love one-another.

 

 

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