Back after a hiatus with a lot of films to blog about. These are three of the best I’ve seen for the first time recently.
Some SPOILERS BELOW.
Claude Miller’s Class Trip was on a friend’s recommendation. It immediately ranks as one of the great films from a child’s perspective. Nicolas (Clément van den Bergh) goes on a weekend trip despite the stress and oppressiveness of an over-protective father (François Roy). The movie reminds me of The Reflecting Skin in a lot of ways.
I love beginning and ending shots, and here they are in this one: we begin on a highway, plowing forward. There’s energy and inevitability in the movement. We end on a landscape, craning and moving. At the outset we have a destination in mind. At the close we’re left to drift, alone:
The rest of this opening also really puts us with Nicolas. We’re fully in his eyes, looking at the mountains through the windshield (with his father out of focus in the mirror), and then pulling the back of his dad’s neck.
There’s something so uncomfortable about staring at a person closely from behind. The forced perspective (it’s a little too close on the neck) emphasizes that. But there’s also an opposition set up. This isn’t a dialogue, it’s a closed street. The photos on the dash are thematic, help with pacing, and are also somehow overly convenient, as though they’re a reminder for his dad (oh right, that’s who I love).
Dream sequences abound. Father as child-
Father as abuser-
Father as conflicted character (shot like in a Jeunet film)-
And then there are Nicolas-centric dreams. As hero in an action film, as prisoner, as lover:
It’s all a wonderful way to highlight the child’s wary view of the world – the anxieties of adolescence mixing dream, nightmare, and reality.
The end of Class Trip is so haunting, visually (I love how we get this image below of Nicolas’ father breaking the fourth wall, but only doing so in the medium-within-the-medium)-
-and it’s a wonder I didn’t see it coming. That’s a testament to a film where I was completely caught up with Nicolas’ coming-of-age.
My first foray into Irma Vep. I’m a big Assayas fan, so it’s no surprise that I love this one. It’s just so damn cool. A large part of that is Maggie Cheung and Assayas and DoP Eric Gautier’s images:
They’re so future-hip, lithe and pop. The sequence pictured above, which I won’t spoil, is such a great turn in the film where life imitates art and, perhaps more importantly, where a great actor gets into the skin of her character.
From the beautifully designed opening title-
-to the brain-explosion ending-
–Irma Vep keeps you constantly on your toes. It’s about experimentation, the intrusion of art into reality, passion projects, collaboration, love… It’s also one of the great films about a film set.
Here’s a look at Assayas’ blocking – I think he’s one of the absolute masters in that regard. This is the very beginning of the film. We start on the UPM (Alex Descas). A prop guy comes in with a gun and we follow that over to another character in the office, landing on her MS:
She raises that gun, which motivates us up to the action happening in the background (it’s also the movement of those background characters that raises the camera). We’ve got something like an audition going on back there and we push into it as our prop guy reenters from frame left:
He keeps moving left to right (not well-pictured in the first image below) and we track with him, losing him, and finding Maggie Cheung’s entrance. She lands in a close-up and the rest of the shot becomes a whirlwind of energy around her:
I like this blocking because it’s a kinetic way to bring us into an office. It speaks to the chaos – form matches content. Then, when Maggie Cheung enters the camera settles only on her. No one else takes us away. The back and forth of out of focus characters around her MCU puts her at the center of a tornado. And that’s exactly what she’s about to get into.
Buffalo Bill And The Indians, Or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson
This is immediately up there with McCabe and Mrs. Miller and a few others as a favorite Altman. Paul Newman is perfect in this movie as Buffalo Bill. He has such an uncomfortable smile, and his swagger is constantly faltering. He’s a character teetering on the edge – of alcoholism, of fame/infamy, of myth, of womanizer (operatic women, at that) – and Newman embodies that beautifully. I really love the second-to-last shot of Bill. His face is so manic and plastic. It’s a truly great performance.
Think of this 1970 – 1977 run for Altman: MASH, Brewster McCloud, McCabe, Images, The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us, California Split, Nashville, Buffalo Bill, Three Women. Even the lesser films in there are masterful.
This is revisionist-revisionist history. Or maybe corrective history? Altman is obsessed with legends and cutting bigger-than-life characters down to size and he does it here.
I always think of Altman and zooms in the same breath, but here there aren’t really many (any?) until an ending dream sequence, which is both eerie and wonderful. The change is spot-on. We really feel it.