Class Trip (Miller, 1998), Irma Vep (Assayas, 1996), Buffalo Bill And The Indians, Or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (Altman, 1976)

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.

Irma Vep

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.

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Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (Tsui, 1980), All The Wrong Clues For The Right Solution (Tsui, 1981) and Time and Tide (Tsui, 2000)

Hark Tsui triple-feature! His third film, Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind, is an angry movie that feels young and right at home alongside other politically-fraught new waves. Three young pyromaniacs meet a nihilistic young woman, Pearl (Chen-Chi Lin), who takes their explosive exploration to new extremes.

Some SPOILERS below.

The best things about Dangerous Encounters are the energetic camera, fresh performances, and location work. I love this shot where Pearl talks to a local gang leader. The foreground and background have such texture and there’s a real young, carefree (or careless) atmosphere, which permeates the entire movie:

Here’s a look at that camera. We start in this low angle before the sun is eclipsed by a soccer ball, which motivates us over, camera left, revealing the space:

Cut underneath the gang leader. The camera tracks slickly below him, the sun flares the lens:

He looks up as we reach a horizontal. Cut to two wides, bringing us to Pearl. They’re well-composed and isolating:

I love thinking of how to get into spaces, and here Tsui prioritizes the heat and laziness of the day – there’s real mood there. Tsui plays strong verticals turning to horizontals: the telephone pole is interrupted by the horizontal movement of the ball; the bench tracks vertical to horizontal. Even the first wide plays as far more vertical than the second, which spreads the frame length-wise. It all gives this tilted, off-kilter feeling.

There’s also a clear youth emphasis. These guys, just hanging around on this court with nothing to do are dangerous? That turns into something much realer at the end, where violence escalates and Tsui turns to documentary images of the 1967 Hong Kong riots:

It’s all rather cynical and you can see why this film would’ve caused a stir. It’s like Cruel Story of Youth, inverted, but with a similarly pessimistic attitude.

All The Wrong Clues For The Right Solution

The English title of Tsui’s 1981 film is a mouthful. The film is a light play on the caper/spy genre. It’s maybe too light at times – much of the first act is too ludicrous and low-budget (these locations look like they were hastily built minutes before the camera rolled) for the jokes to land, but it finds its footing in a strong last act, especially with some memorable gags.

Does the plot of this film matter? I don’t think so. Capone (Karl Maka) is recently released from prison and he wreaks havoc as Inspector Chief Robin (Teddy Robin Kwan) hunts him down. Tsui has a lot of fun with Capone’s baldness – it envelopes the movie:

I like All The Wrong Clues for the sheer amount of experimentation. There is so much different technique in here. It’s pretty over-stuffed, but at the same time you can feel a young director bursting with ideas and finding a cheap and easy vehicle to put them in.

There’s a lot of cleverness, too. Like Capone’s attempted escape where he falls from his car in midair…right into a jail cell:

You really get the sense that Tsui wanted to avoid traditional transitions and figure out a way to make this as madcap as possible.

The best sequence in the film is the warehouse shootout, where Tsui takes a few different gags and runs them as long as he can, using some great staging, cutaways, and virtuoso camera:

Gag two begins at 0:53 and unfolds like reverse dominoes. In fact, some of the movement makes it seem like it is in reverse, though it’s just sped up to hit said madcapness. The joke hits part three at 1:27 and now it becomes something like a challenge: how long can Tsui keep this up? He gets this one pitch-perfect, ending on that drop of sweat down Capone’s bald head (playing the running gag from the entirety of the film in small-scale here) and using tricky off-screen audio.

Time and Tide

What is Time and Tide about? I guess I get I ostensibly get it, but how do these characters know one-another? Where does too-cool Jack (Wu Bai) come from? The plot is murky, though solvable – but Time and Tide is more about style than narrative. Seems like a theme for some of the Hark films, and that’s fair enough when you’ve got technique for days.

Like this sequence:

That’s shot-reverse vertigo shots at 0:15, with another at 0:29, crosscut with a skateboard POV. Or the frantic handheld at 1:21. Tsui is so good at going between really energetic (1:41 push into the outside of the locked door) and fairly calm (static bad guys in this clip). It makes for something like a tornado of action within, and the calm without.

There’s a lot of comedy in Time and Tide. I liked this pregnancy sequence.

Which is also an action sequence with hilarious dialogue:

It’s well set up and nicely staged. There are stylish ECUs-

-big set pieces with a pretty silly villain-

-and in the midst of it all, something like a quirky Chungking Express love story and yearning for domesticity:

Time and Tide never really slows down, and that’s its charm. It moves from quasi-romance to bodyguard comedy to buddy film to drug-ring action film, but in the blink of an eye, and with little regard for stopping to breathe. You kind of like the woeful, overmatched Tyler (Nicholas Tse) by the end, not really because he’s been so carefully built, but because he seems to have been thrown into every world possible.

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A Girl Missing (Fukada, 2019) and Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period of Time (Horvát, 2020)

I so loved Kôji Fukada’s Harmonium, so I was happy to see Criterion pick his 2019 film (really, a 2021 release for me) up. A Girl Missing is fragmented in a way that I like. It’s mysterious and elegant, and features some really stunning high-key photography from Ken’ichi Negishi.

I like a narrative that trusts its audience, and this film certainly does. How do we put time together? Plot-points notwithstanding, its by hair color, a mouth-relaxing technique, a crosscut at a zoo featuring two very different conversations about erections, and other small beats. The puzzle is a main part of the intrigue. Do films like this work if they’re entirely linear? The plot for A Girl Missing (which I’m intentionally leaving out here – watch the movie!) is good, but its structure elevates it. That falls right in line with my tastes, so I’m all in on Fukada’s film.

Very small SPOILERS here.

The only plot notes: Ichiko (Mariko Tsutsui) is a nurse who tutors sisters Saki (Miyu Ozawa) and Motoko (Mikako Ichikawa). A frightening incident sets an unstoppable spiraling chain of events into motion.

The performances are so great in this film, particularly between Ichiko and Motoko. They play off of one-another in such a range of ways, from casual and comic, to silent and tragic. They’re the heart of this film.

Fukada’s images are clean and precise. These beats reminded me a bit of Skolimowski’s Deep End in the huge pops of saturated color against an otherwise monochrome composition:

One of my favorite scenes of the film is with Ichiko and Motoko at a zoo. There’s the aforementioned parallel action, which is really nicely handled. You’d think a conversation about a rhino’s erection would be misplaced or absurdly comic. It somehow fits. But this whole sequence is full of wonder.

There’s this tracking shot where the characters are conspicuously out of focus and the background is sharp:

Is it to remind of the past? I don’t think it’s a mistake. The focus pulls us back there like a magnet. It asks us to look over their shoulders at something we can’t see – appropriate for a film that works so much on unseen events.

That is followed up by this frenzied, romantic sequence, which is just so great. The two women walk out of the zoo towards the street:

Motoko sees that the light is turning green and starts to run, leaving Ichiko behind. That second image above is so completely empty. Instinct would be to have the characters run into that shot for the cut, but that’s not Fukada’s point – he wants it to stay empty and lonely. It’s – like the focus mentioned above – as though there are two distinct worlds here. One populated by Ichiko and Motoko, and one concretely not. If they run into shot #2 above then suddenly it all becomes too linked and even. This is fragmented, awkward, isolated.

Cut out to this profile track in slow-motion. The only slow-motion in the film:

And then to Ichiko’s single as she runs. Her POV – or some approximation of it – of Motoko, who turns and looks back at her.

That last shot above. Talk about lonely. I love the evolution of this scene.

2-shot, head-on — Empty frame — 2-shot profile — Clean single — Clean single/POV — Lonely wide/POV

We move from togetherness (the first frames) to some kind of predictive separation (that empty frame…that’s what lies ahead, and it isn’t welcoming). The 2-shot in profile, that slo-mo shot is clearly the dividing line. Something’s happening that could be beautiful, could be dangerous, but most importantly…something is happening. Then Fukada separates them literally. Their two POVs aren’t comfortable. Ichiko’s POV of Motoko is of the back of her head; Motoko’s POV of Ichiko is far and disconnected.

This scene says so much. At this point in the film I didn’t know what was happening. But when this scene occurred I knew so much more about these two women, where they were in relation to one-another and how breathless they felt. This is a perfect scene.

There are many other great moments in A Girl Missing including three dream/nightmare scenes that involve dogs, childhood, and water, respectively, but all of which are so much more than those brief descriptions.

I also really liked this moment where Motoko waits for Ichiko at a distance. Ichiko is surrounded by children, which is appropriate to the theme and plot. It’s a patient shot, where the camera is exactly the correct height and position (kids’ heads always in, Motoko always at the top of frame). And there’s great color between the yellow and blue, separated by a field of green:

Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time

Lili Horvát’s film is romantic and mysterious. It reminds me a bit of La Moustache that way. I certainly also thought of The Headless Woman. Natasa Stork plays Vizy Márta, a brain surgeon who is convinced that her Hungarian colleague Drexler János (Viktor Bodó) is the same man that she met in a conference in the US, had something like a tryst, and planned to meet back in Budapest. He seems to think otherwise.

Small SPOILERS below.

Preparations has a great mood. There’s a lot of play with reality and the imagined, and what seems to me to be a very unexpected How They Get There (Spike Jonze’s short) reference.

I have two favorite parts of the film. One is a sudden and unexpected perspective switch from Márta to János. It seems like things are settling and that reality has superseded the dream (nightmare?), so it works well. It’s funny how much a change in perspective can give us a newfound sense of confidence or otherwise.

There’s also the ending, which is absurdist and enigmatic. János leaves Márta at her flat. Movers bring huge speakers out of the truck and hoist one up into the air in order to get it through the window. Márta finds herself alone (was János ever there?). She looks up at the precariously swinging piece of equipment. Things hang in the balance, quite literally. It’s an uneasy final image and that’s the point. It’s a great example of how something can work metaphorically – if you were to see that image on its own it would seem dangerous and as though it can come crashing down at any moment. That’s the same as Márta’s reality. It’s a hell of a final shot.

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Miss Lovely (Ahluwalia, 2012), and Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God (Ray, 1979)

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely is a fractured, beautifully raw drama. Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his older brother Vicky (Anil George) are low-level porn film producers. Sonu is the dreamer – he fancies himself more than the sleaze; Vicky is the hustler – he gets them into trouble. When Sonu meets Pinky (Niharika Singh) he falls head-over-heels and naively turns down a dark path.

One of my favorite parts of Ahluwalia’s film is the confident use of time. We frequently move from scene to scene with large temporal jumps. Or maybe better said: it’s the rare two consecutive scenes that are also immediately continuous time. It yields a ruptured style that I really liked. I often feel like this kind of an approach has something to do with the main character and I think that’s true here: Sonu’s not as invested in the film world like Vicky is. His head is elsewhere. His experience of the industry is a bit of a second or third-hand whirlwind.

I’m pretty sure there’s both 16 and 35mm in here, and the images are gorgeous. Ahluwalia and DoP K.U.Mohanan revel in some dingy colors and textures, and have a lot of fun with these B-films:

There are amazing locations and production design from Tabasheer Zutshi. I love these greenish tones, the foggy windows, the empty hallways, the pops of red:

There’s a reel eeriness to the film. In part because of all the ogling going on, but also the use of different formats gives it the feel of something seedy. That and the frames (see below) where’s there’s a kind of lonely madness happening:

Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God

Ray’s The Elephant God is his second Feluda (Soumitra Chatterjee) film and it’s quite a bit of fun. It features an amazing turn from Utpal Dutt as Maganlal, and uses the hypnotic location of Kaashi so well.

My favorite scene is one where Feluda follows a suspect. It’s so precise and uses the location perfectly. Feluda spots his guy who then walks up a staircase. Ray tracks Feluda right to left, landing at that same staircase in a wider frame:

To Feluda peeking around the corner. His POV (the third low angle of the stairs). Then a high angle as Feluda climbs, and a new wide as he loses his man:

Cut to our man in a courtyard. The camera pans off of him, finding Feluda. Feluda walks past the camera, bringing us back to our guy, who walks the way Feluda just came:

Feluda sees him and stops. He turns back. The suspect turns right, walks right to left and opens a door. Feluda tracks him in that wide OTS and then his reverse:

To Feluda’s POV. Then back to nearly the same frame where the suspect walked in. Feluda heads to the door. The fourth shot below is his POV, which he enters. Then to his tight single as he looks, and into a wide as he enters:

Feluda darts off frame right just behind that doorway (see the last image above) as he hears something and we get a cut out to this beautiful wide (first below) as he hides. Our man goes back. Feluda peeks in (a common rhythm). Then behind him. We dolly around the pillar, and cut in as he approaches a new door. When we he peeks out, we can imagine where he is given the layout of the space thus far.

He locks that one. The camera pans off of him and he enters, barring a second door. Back to a familiar wide. Feluda reenters and this time, he makes it through the doorway and he heads left. We haven’t been in this direction yet. That leads to a different courtyard. He looks up–

–and we see the next level. He walks off to his right (frame left, not depicted here), down a hallway and up a set of stairs, both towards camera. He reaches the landing and we dolly with him as he continues his walk:

So why is this so good? Well for one, Ray lays out the space so precisely and in a variety of ways. Some of it is good old fashioned screen direction. Some of it is POV. Some of it is just logical shot progression. And some of it is is mise-en-scène. Look at these last few beats. Feluda looks up and we see the top level and a blanket hanging. He walks to his right, so we understand that to get to where that blanket is he’ll have to take two lefts and go up a level walk up. That’s all accomplished in that POV. Ray takes care of both of those things easily: by having Feluda enter the second and third shots above from right to left (his two turns), and then up the stairs (to the second level). And perhaps most importantly, he then stages it so that Feluda walks past that same blanket (which wasn’t put there by accident). It’s such a correct way to give the viewer an exact idea of where Feluda is.

And why does that matter? Well, for one, we know the general direction where the suspect went. We know the path Feluda took to get where he is. So we have an idea of their proximity, and how they’d like have to cross paths, should Feluda try to leave as the suspect comes back. It ramps up suspense.

Secondly, this place is a maze. It could be confusing, but Ray gets the best of both worlds: the labyrinth, the corners, the dead ends and a clear map. Speaking of which: I bet you can draw a map of Feluda’s path from these stills. That’s a testament to the filmmaking.

But this scene is also great for its rhythm. Ray lets shots linger. It’s a slow stalk and, though the camera moves, it’s usually rather deliberate. The only time it moves quickly is that pan back and forth (third set of images) – and that’s where Feluda thinks he’s lost his man, so it makes sense (frantic emotion, frantic camera). Many shots have clean entrances and exits, and frequently we see a character walk the length of the frame. It’s calculated and thoughtful, matching the mind of Feluda, who only makes measured decisions. There’s also a rhythm in a few types of repeat shots: there’s the pan off the character to find something else (seen twice in here), the track right to left to a perpendicular (seen three times in here), and the classic POV three-shot sequence (seen three times in here). These repetitions form their own kind of dance and familiarity and each serve a different purpose: up the urgency, make a discovery, and observe with care, respectively.

Does Ray time-cut in here? I’m not sure. If he does, it’s subtle and slick. He actually gets away with not time-cutting (meaning: no temporal ellipses; meaning: keeping it real-time) by his clever staging. He manages to keep these guys close together believably. Look at how many of these images feature them in the same frame or shot. I count seven. It’s a close-proximity “chase,” but one that is staged so cleverly as to not have those bumps where we don’t buy that our suspect wouldn’t see Feluda. If Ray doesn’t do this, he’s probably got to cut ahead in time to keep our interest going or just to move the thing along. But instead he uses enough dead ends (there are several) and sudden turns to keep them near to one-another, thus allowing him to block the entire sequence in real-time.

There’s also such care with different framing. Look at those first three low angles of the stairs, copied again below. They’re all slightly different. The first is totally objective. The second is also, but we are carried there by Feluda. The third is subjective; it’s Feluda’s POV. There’s an evolution in these where the second one – the track that turns into the low angle – bridges the objective and the subjective, thereby thrusting us into the following sequence, which itself is made up of several POV shots.

Or look at the fifth block of shots with the door to the new location. Ray is careful to not have Feluda walk into his own point-of-view. Here they are again, below. The first is Feluda’s true POV – it’s preceded by a single of Feluda looking. The second is probably just a dolly in with the dolly cut out. But the important thing is that it’s a different shot:

That matters because Feluda’s POV is a solid thing. It’s only that. You can’t walk into your own POV, so why should Feluda be able to (as a side-note: this idea of POVs, walking into and reserving, are concepts that I’m really interested in!)?

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Moonrise (Borzage, 1948) and Cast A Dark Shadow (Gilbert, 1955)

Frank Borzage’s Moonrise is a really beautifully executed melodramatic noir. It’s got that small-town evil that so many films are after and not many nail. Sure, it feels a bit hokey and aged in 2021, but that’s only for fleeting beats.

Dane Clark plays Danny Hawkins. His dad was hanged as we learn right at the outset and the town bully Jerry Sykes (Lloyd Bridges) won’t let him forget it even as adults.

The beginning of Borzage’s film is so moody. We start on a reflective surface (is that a projection on a wall?) and pan over to find the father in question, guarded by men in trench coats:

They continue their walk, and we tilt and boom up to onlookers, and then beyond them to the shadow of the gallows:

The camera keeps pushing to the hangman. He pushes the lever and we match cut to what looks like a baby, hanging. The camera operates over to Danny – as a baby – and then pulls out to reveal the room and the freakiest child’s toy setup you’ll see:

It’s so atmospheric with the rain and shadows, and it really intentionally avoids Danny’s father’s face: he’s a memory, a ghost, not a character. That match cut is not only stylish, it’s also a way to keep the reminder of Danny’s father’s death as prominent through time. Death quite literally hovers over Danny at all times.

The opening continues as Jerry, now a teenager, taunts teenage-Danny. The first image below of course recalls the first image of the film, and the perspective is made to look more like father and son than like two young boys.

The overhead is graphically beautiful – the mud, puddles, and yawning shadow – but there’s also something deathlike about it. Either a heavenly perspective, or perhaps more likely, a view from a fictitious gallows above.

The opening sequence continues to haunt the frame, now through dissolves:

By the time we reach the present (the last image just above), we’re introduced to an adult Danny in the same way that we met his father. The dissolves elongate that march to the gallows, making it perpetual and endless, even though it in fact has a definite, impactful end.

Borzage uses graphic matches in other parts of the film, like here, where Danny is matched to a hunted raccoon:

The metaphor is plain – he’s prey and scared.

There’s some real bravado stuff in here. Man, this shot on a ferris wheel with Danny and Gilly (Gail Russell) feels like some Touch of Evil-level camerawork.

The ride starts. They move up and we crane up with them. Borzage cuts into the tighter 2-shot, and then allows the ride to take them up and out of frame-

-while the camera tracks back, anticipating their arrival:

It’s beautifully timed and choreographed, a bit showy, a smart way to shoot a ferris wheel, and also has something of the pace and mood of doom with their disappearance and reappearance.

Gail Russell is great in this. She steals the show. She has a performance beat outside with Danny in the first act that feels so natural. It’s one of those moments that’s so simple on the surface. Her line is just, “Goodnight,” said a second time. And it’s so spot-on and feels like someone performing long after the mannered 40s. (For anyone tracking at home, it’s around 20:30).

Cast A Dark Shadow

SPOILERS below.

I watched Cast A Dark Shadow mostly for Dirk Bogarde and he didn’t disappoint. He never does. He’s Edward “Teddy” Bare. He’s married to Monica Bare (Mona Washbourne), several decades his senior. Edward has something sinister boiling underneath, and we’re introduced to this from the beginning-

If that CU doesn’t tell you that Edward is trouble then I don’t know what will.

My favorite scene of the film is the inciting incident. It’s shot and played so well. Monica sleeps on her chair. We cut to a profile on a wide lens and Edward enters. Love that patterned light and her eyes opening in the foreground. The alcohol bottle, which figures prominently into the plot, also therefore figures prominently into the frame:

We cut into these moody images. Extreme low – again, the patterned light just adding that little extra texture, and his CU as he walks in and out of darkness:

To his POV, which nears Monica and then swings to the gas stove-

-and then to this 2-shot, which pushes in as he continues his crime:

I’ll skip a few beats here and just go to the end, largely because it reminded me of a great frame from Unbreakable:

There’s so much atmosphere in here – the production design, the soft breeze blowing the curtain, that same curtain that obscures him, that same curtain that casts patterns everywhere, the light cutting across his face, his confident POV that functions something like a montage-edit…it’s just well-designed. I often like efficiency in a scene, and it’s worth noting that Lewis Gilbert doesn’t make that his top priority. Case-in-point: the low angle of Edward. You could lose that and still have a scene, but the super-inflected angle is exactly at the right moment and it plays perfectly.

If I have any beef with this film it’s with Kay Walsh’s physical performance as Charlotte. She’s great at her introduction, and plays what she’s hiding well. But then there’s a climactic scene between she and Edward and her movements and posture are so histrionic that they’re laughable. They just feel too rehearsed and big.

There’s a great close to the movie. I won’t give the plot away, which is rather well-designed, but the ending image is worth noting here. As Freda (Margaret Lockwood) walks away, the camera pulls back, revealing Monica’s chair still rocking, and then further away through the curtains:

It’s lonely and empty, and the perspective through the window reminds of the murder. That the chair is still rocking makes it seem like Monica is still there, even when Edward very much isn’t. She’s won, in a way.

That chair is a gag. Edward constantly rocks it, and it’s always moving. It reminds me of the kind of gag that Alexander Mackendrick liked.

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The China Syndrome (Bridges, 1979), Mike’s Murder (Bridges, 1984), and a few others

Being way behind on films is the new normal! Here’s a double-feature from James Bridges and a few other movies that I’ve seen recently and are worth a mention.

The China Syndrome

Pleasant surprise. I mean, I love Jack Lemmon, but 70s-80s disaster films aren’t really my bag. Luckily, this isn’t one. Jane Fonda is Kimberly Wells, a local reporter stuck on dead-end beats who runs into a harrowing story at the nuclear power plant with her hot-headed cameraman, Richard (Michael Douglas, who also produced). Lemmon is Jack Godell, one of the few guys in the building with a conscience.

Bridges’ film is well-paced and clicks along. It’s also got a good turn from Wilford Brimley as Ted Spindler. Here he is with Godell in my favorite blocking moment of the movie.

Things are going awry. We start in a 2-shot of the two. An alarm sounds. Godell moves swiftly to Ted’s opposite shoulder, and then back:

I like this for a lot of reasons. There’s a dolly hidden in there and it’s smooth. Just gets us a hair tighter at the end frame. It’s also that kind of logical-illogical blocking. I mean, Godell doesn’t have to move. He doesn’t really get closer. It’s totally for the drama, the synchronicity, the kineticism. It really works. It’s one of those pre-designed blocking moments. I doubt anyone landed on this in an improvised rehearsal. It follows two of the principles that I teach and follow (loose principles): block on the beats, and things tend to happen at the same time. You can see it at 3:55 in the clip below.

Here’s the full clip, which is one of the better scenes in the film:

The boom down at 0:26 is a nice way to get into this “new world.” That’s the thing of this scene – there’s upstairs and down on the floor and they’re separated by glass, by movement, and by this shot. The subsequent dolly out with Godell is a great fluid master, moving him across the room and then back to the center to fully establish the space. It also gives us a strong idea of who he is – we meet him in his office, also separated by glass. It’s a nice and clean way to say “this guy’s in charge here,” without belaboring the point.

You can see the master return at 1:14, now pushing and panning to the corner, and then back to Ted for the profile 2-shot. 1:30 and the subsequent shot are so careful. They’re not quite second masters, but they serve nearly the same function – moving Godell around the space on pretty wide lenses, giving us the whole floor. 1:30 is actually an odd cut. It’s just on the line of acceptable for this kind of a film (that is: no jump cuts). When Godell comes back around in 1:53 it completes a loop and re-orients us in terms of top and bottom floor. No confusion in a Michael Douglas production!

When Godell lands at the phone at 1:56 he gets two axises: one is to his guy upstairs, where Godell looks right, and then the other is to Richard and Kimberly, where Godell looks left. Bridges even gives him two different wide OTS’s! One at 1:56 over his right shoulder and then another at 2:06 over his left. That’s some great pain taken to compartmentalize.

The aftershock at 1:03 feels like Jurassic Park. What film first did this shot?

There are good decisions here about when to be on the floor, when to be up on the booth, when to shoot through glass, and when not to. I bet those were long conversations.

The China Syndrome exists somewhere between Network and Fail Safe. Like the more recent Chernobyl, it focuses simultaneously in on the relationships of the leads, and the mechanism and greed behind it all.

Mike’s Murder

I’d like to know more about the production of Mike’s Murder. It somehow feels incomplete – like Bridges had a different vision for the film, or scenes are cut. It’s not all there, I think.

At its best, Mike’s Murder is oh so 80s. It’s super-soft mise-en-scène-

-is contrasted with a dark-underbelly that’s surprising in its sleaze and is a nice sort of real-world intrusion:

Man, these dissolves:

I love them for how on-the-nose they are. Did I already mention the softness of this film? This is what I’m thinking of.

This scene…Mike (Mark Keyloun) superimposed in his tennis outfit over top of Betty (Debra Winger) in bed is so funny:

I love that that’s the lasting image of him. And there’s so much hair in these shots!

Entranced Earth (Rocha, 1967)

Glauber Rocha’s Third Cinema anarchy deserves a longer post. This feels like something William Klein would have admired and reminded me a bit of Hugo Santiago’s Invasión. It’s so angry and disorienting. A semi-fictional revolution in a semi-fictional location. You can feel the life getting squeezed out of people in here. The end, where our hero (both The Conformist and the ending of Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature seem relevant) crawls up the steps amidst an ugly display of hedonism and death is brutal.

Dead Pigs (Yan, 2018)

Cathy Yan’s film got shelved or delayed for some reason, but it’s worth the wait. I was happy to catch it on Mubi. It’s a darkly satirical look at modern Shanghai – or a modernizing Shanghai. That’s in terms of everything from media to construction to foreign influence. She so expertly navigates multiple characters. The karaoke scene is hilarious and spot-on. I really like the quick way that Sean (David Rysdahl – perfectly cast) is recruited by Angie (Zazie Beetz)…and suddenly he’s cutting ribbons and donning costumes as the token white guy. It’s so swift and Yan doesn’t need to belabor the point: give us their mysterious meeting and get on with it. Of course Vivian Wu is amazing. Great character introduction in her salon. Her Candy Wang is layered in such a way that that confident, nearly dance-number sequence fits right in with her atop a roof in her robe.

Chilly Scenes of Winter (Silver, 1980)

My second Joan Micklin-Silver film, Chilly Scenes of Winter brings John Heard back. Here he’s Charles. He’s totally obsessed with Laura (Mary Beth Hurt), which is well-established in a quick dream sequence in his parked car at the beginning of the film.

The film has a great cast – Heard and Hurt, alongside Peter Riegert, Gloria Grahame (nearly unrecognizable!), and Kenneth McMillan. Griffin Dunne has a hilarious cameo.

Chilly Scenes gets pretty dark. Charles is a bit of a misanthrope (Laura notwithstanding) and he’s got some dialogue about rape, daughters, and physical violence that are on the edge of sociopathic. Heard plays it though, and somehow unearths some charm in spite of his obsessions and penchant for sinking into easy, reclusive despair. He’s like a late-70s, middle-class anti-hero.

I love the end of this film. It’s so appropriate and another movie would’ve sweetened it up.

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The Secret (Hui, 1979), Boat People (Hui, 1982), and A Simple Life (Hui, 2011)

Ann Hui triple-feature! I’ve been looking for Boat People for a long time, so when the Criterion Channel released it, the timing to explore her catalog felt right.

The Secret is Hui’s directorial debut and a key part of the Hong Kong New Wave. I imagine it slots in there for a lot of reasons – there’s realistic, graphic violence; the style is intentionally murky at times (including jarring flashbacks); the depiction of society isn’t the prettiest (brothels, a mentally disturbed young man living in poverty with his mother, questionable cops, jealous lovers); and it features female main characters and their plights.

This film must be a big influence on Bong Joon-ho. There’s hints of Mother

-and of Memories of Murder (leaving out the red jacket, which also feels relevant):

Hui’s technique is bold and emotive, including a big vertigo-shot-

-and a motif of direct overheads:

The latter is not only very beautiful, but also gives the film a graphic feeling, while emphasizing architecture and living conditions.

The Secret is a bit of a ghost story. It feels like Diabolique in moments. I love this beat when Lin (Sylvia Chang) spots a particularly recognizable foot sticking out from behind a wall. Hui zooms in, and as the foot pulls away – too slowly – there’s a perfect scraping sound. It’s chilling.

But Hui seems to use the horror to reflect the mood. It’s not an optimistic scenario – clandestine pregnancies and battered bodies in the woods – and the film has the feel that not only danger, but just plain pessimism is everywhere.

Boat People

Hui’s 1982 film can be a tough watch. What an ending!

DEFINITE SPOILERS below.

Akutagawa (George Lam), a Japanese photojournalist, returns to Vietnam after it’s Liberation, and finds that things aren’t what they seem.

Hui again plays on some horror tropes here, but less explicitly than in The Secret. There’s a “that which lies beneath” feel to the film, and its raw plotting, including a brutal death in each of the acts pulls no punches.

The script revolves around various NEZ’s – New Economic Zones – some of which have been sanitized for public view. Akutagawa discovers that what he’s seeing has been staged for his camera. That feeling of impending doom in a political narrative reminds me a bit of Costa-Gavras.

But despite the harsh narrative, much of the film feels quite tender. I don’t know Hui’s backstory with Vietnam, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t have one. Scenes like this one, between Akutagawa and Nguyen (Mengshi Qi), are so gently shot, with a deep nostalgia. It’s also just the scene itself – these two men are something like outsiders: Akutagawa literally, and Nguyen is just a step outside of the party.

That push on Nguyen really gives him some power. It comes back around later for his exit. It’s a great cinematographic way to show some form of allegiance.

Hui’s love for reflections and mirror shots is on display here. I like this one, where Akutagawa and Cam Nuong (Season Ma) chat and she mistakes his intentions:

I like that Hui doesn’t hide that it’s a mirror. It isn’t fancy that way, which suits the pretty direct narrative of the film. It’s stylistic, but also links to the relationship here, which moves from cold to warm to nearly sexual to parental. The blocking of characters and camera keeps things as distant as you can get in a small space – they’re physically far apart and we don’t even look at them directly. The pan and Nuong’s movement ostensibly bring them closer together, but the chair in the foreground still divides them.

There’s a memorably difficult scene where Cam Nuong and her brother ransack dead bodies:

The performances here are swift and casual. It’s a great bit of directing – they’ve done this before, they’ve seen this before, survival comes before grief.

I like that third shot above which looks like a posed photograph (with a young Andy Lau!). It should. Akutagawa is shooting, and Hui’s coverage keeps us occasionally in his lens. I like thinking of perspective in films, and I try to remember that perspective and strict POV are not the same. Only one of the six images above is a POV. It’s Akutagawa’s, as noted. That makes sense. This is his film. The first two shots are bold and tight. Their purpose: blood and speed. So if we divide these 6 shots into groups of 2 we see a good evolution:

First two shots: “looting” and movement; the dynamic camera placement isn’t a strict POV, but is for ugly shock. We’re in the action.

Second two shots: a break for character and relocating us with Akutagawa. We’re with the protagonist.

Third two shots: “world view” and third party. We witness.

The ending of Boat People. Man oh man. It ain’t happy. But it’s real and there’s a sense of the future. Cam Nuong’s boat departs. Hui shoots it like the thriller moment it is: pulling focus along the rope ripping free in the foreground; the hull pulling away in shadow:

Cut to Nuong (she’s the future) and dissolve to Akutagawa, aflame – literally – collapsing on the dock. It’s a startling, brutal image:

They’ve switched places. She was the one “in line” to die and he was set to return.

A Simple Life

Fast-forward to 2011 and Hui’s film A Simple Life. Andy Lau is Roger, a film producer (or is he in the art department? I was a bit confused there). His former housekeeper, Ah Tao (Deannie Ip) suffers a stroke and moves into a nursing home.

The title of the film is appropriate. There’s plenty of humor and drama in here, but it plays methodically and the weight of the movie really rests on the shoulders of the two leads and how much we feel their relationship. We feel it a lot.

The style is patient. Characters often settle into a position and Hui’s handheld camera finds them in unique ways. Those reflections:

I was really taken by some ways that Hui transitions from scene to scene and elides time.

Like here, towards the third act. Roger leaves the nursing home. He looks to Ah Tao. We get a weird, post-slow-motion moment in that second shot below. It’s the one beat in the entire film that jumps out as completely off. I wonder if they just needed to extend the shot for rhythmic purposes and it was all they had. I hope that’s the explanation because otherwise it feels so ham-handed.

Anyway, back to Roger, he exits, and Hui holds on the empty door:

Cut to a low angle of the city and sky, to empty benches, to an empty frame…which pans and pulls focus to find them walking towards camera:

We’ve moved ahead in time here, and Hui, cinematographer Nelson Lik-wai Yu, and editors Chi-Leung Kwong and Manda Wai find the frames and pace to help us there. The obvious transition is emptiness to emptiness. The empty door to skyline shot are also something like a graphic match – a vertical center-frame surrounded by blue. That’s pretty and it guides us – this shouldn’t be a harsh cut. I think that finding that sense of stillness and ease was probably a challenge. The next cut is the true shift. It’s more horizontal (the benches), but there are still relevant elements (blue building in the center background, vertical elements at the top of the frame), which leads us to the horizontal shot that brings us truly into the scene. It’s all so beautifully designed.

They achieve it again at the end of this scene. Roger walks away and we push towards Ah Tao. Cut to her POV of Roger. He walks back and out of frame. We hold on emptiness for a beat:

The soft focus of the previous shot has a loose similarity to the soft blanket that we’re introduced to next-

But this transition, should feel harsher otherwise. Time is moving rapidly. Ah Tao is deteriorating. So the same pains aren’t taken to lighten the transition. In the first transition we go static to static. Here we go static to movement. There’s a new energy. The change is larger and more pressing.

The camera continues its pan and becomes something pretty different. It finds the ambulance, uses a hospice worker to move away, and then slowly retreats, panning back and forth-

-finding onlookers (Ah Tao’s friends), and ending with, yet again, emptiness:

It’s a gentle camera, and one that doesn’t gawk. If we went to the ambulance, as would be most director’s instinct, we’d be too melodramatic for this film. This movement, while daring, is also respectful. We step away and watch with the others as a friend leaves.

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Good Manners (Dutra, Rojas, 2017) and Saint Maud, (Glass, 2019)

I’m films and films behind on these posts, but these two recent watches both stuck out to me. How did I miss Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas’ Good Manners? It’s a great film, and such a good example of genre filmmaking doing work allegorically, fantastically, and dramatically.

Clara (Isabél Zuaa) lands a nanny job with the enigmatic, but well-to-do Ana (Marjorie Estiano). At first it seems pretty straightforward. Ana is a “popular girl” with money to burn and very pregnant. Clara is from a lower socio-economic class. But soon things get hairy…

SPOILERS below.

How much do Rojas and Dutra intend via their skin-color-casting? Clara is darker, Ana is fairer. It seems difficult to not read into.

Good Manners is a bit of a musical, with the directors structuring it around three numbers. The first is sung casually by Dona Amélia (Cida Moreira) and could just be in-character. The second number, delivered around the midpoint, is trans-diegetic, very narrative, and sung by a side character who’s kind of like a siren in the moment. And the third one is a duet between Clara and Dona Amélia, and it’s not only narrative, but addressing a current, pressing issue of the script. That’s a nice evolution of how the musical numbers function – and worth nothing that they increase in spontaneity as the screenplay becomes more fantastical.

I love this intro to Clara. It’s the first shot of the film. She walks from that MS into a tight CU. One shot as she moves through glass door after glass door:

It’s a nice setup. She lies her way in (which we learn later), and the building functions as a sort of prison – the glass panes seem like she’s getting set for a visit.

Dutra and Rojas, with DoP Rui Poças (what a filmography – Tabu! Zama! The Ornithologist!) shoot the São Paulo skyline like a fairy tale. It clearly took a strong VFX assist to get it so bold and storybook:

I’m always curious about small coverage decisions. Like this one, an early interaction between Clara and Ana, where Ana’s coverage is a MS over-

-and Clara’s is a semi-profile CU:

It makes sense. We might not know it at this point (we should), but it’s Clara’s film through-and-through. She owns the scene and yet stays rather closed to us.

Here’s a nicely blocked scene. We start in something like a POV, which Clara walks into, turning it into a master:

We cut into this 50-50. It’s an American/Cowboy shot-size, which you don’t see as much anymore:

I wonder why that shot size. It’s comfortable; it reaches the bottom of Ana’s dress, which works compositionally; it functions to get progressively closer, which the entire scene will do…

Then into this OTS, which turns into a tighter (emphasis on the “er”) 2-shot. To an insert hitting the animal motif, and then back to that same 2-shot where Ana departs in MCU:

To Clara’s CU, which will now organize the rest of the scene as she sits, head on:

Clara will sit from here, Ana will pace in front of her. It works in terms of content. Ana is confessing, Clara is something like her anchor. Clara is also opening up as a character. Here she’s framed so much more plainly than my previous example. Ana is impetuous, and her back-and-forth-

-says as much. She hits the window in a CU (tighter and tighter) at a critical point, returns the way she came-

-and ends up drunkenly, over-enthusiastically on Clara’s lap:

Of course the subtext of this scene is the true beginning to a romance and it’s organized that way. Dancing to hugging to conversating openly to snuggling. Spying to arm’s length interacting to comfort to nearly sexual. Distant to close. Closed to profile to open. All the evolutions are there.

I won’t spoil anything about where Good Manners goes. I like the script quite a bit and it’s worth going in blind.

Saint Maud

I had hoped to catch Rose Glass’ Saint Maud last year, so I was happy it finally became available. Morfydd Clark gives a great central turn as Maud/Katie, a nurse dealing with a form of PTSD and a too-abrupt, born-againness simultaneously. I thought of The Duke of Burgundy, Take Shelter, Mother Joan of the Angels, and A Dark Song while watching.

This is a really patient film that somehow manages to both go exactly where you expect it, and somewhere entirely different than anticipated. Like with Good Manners I won’t spoil it, particularly that final 20 minutes. It’s full of memorable beats. The ending shot-sound combination is perfect. Just before (like, frames) it happened I questioned the filmmaker’s intentions, and then Glass outsmarted me and went to the exact right place before the credits.

Some of the small moments in here work so well – a bug (god?) that brings us to Maud’s shrine, which wavers magically before we hear a pitched-down Welsh omniscience speaking; tornadoes in beer glasses; and a really uncomfortable conversation with a random caregiver stick out.

Glass lets us into Maud’s trauma from the beginning. The way she shoots it is uneasy – sickly tones, a moment of disgusting grace (the theme of the film?), ambiguity. It’s a nice intro. What happened and how sympathetic we should be for the eponymous character are all unclear and that mystery, which clears up as we go, is useful: if we have too full an image of her we’d judge one way or another too soon.

A crosscut during a sex scene is harsh, but is such a cleverly staged way to deliver that exposition. That’s such a challenge, right? Give some potentially on-the-nose info, but do so at a structurally advantageous and visually compelling (here: visceral) way. It’s great in Saint Maud.

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The Pink Panther (Edwards, 1963), Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, 1953), and Pather Panchali (Ray, 1955)

These are the first films I showed to my daughter. She slept through them, but I think Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday was her favorite.

I saw Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther countless times when I was a kid, so it seemed only appropriate. Some things I didn’t remember: how David Niven has more screen time than Peter Sellers; how long and elaborate the climax is; how Edwards constantly frames Clouseau’s (Sellers) and Simone’s (Capucine) bed just at the foot in the wide, which seems both American-Code-dated, and also hilarious in that there’s no point in framing it for something that won’t ever be consummated.

That climax is so well-done. From setting up the costume party, to Clouseau’s poorly chosen wardrobe-

-to the Marx brothers’ mirror gag homage-

-to the fireworks display and the car chase. That chase is shot so well, including a lot of camera that just pans with one car, waits a beat and pans back with the other, finding our old gentleman in the middle of the street.

I love the staging of this scene:

The camera slowly pushes in to the landing 3-shot. I feel like Edwards is great at that – a pretty “cinematic” camera whose speed is countered by the rather rapid character blocking in the frame. Here we get push, pull back, push, small pull.

The movement feels pretty Spielberg-ian – how they counter move, and keep interrupting and reorganizing the line of three. It’s calmly bumbling, and that’s what makes it so funny. If these guys were tripping and lampooning it would fall flat. Look at Sellers – hands behind his back. Ultimate suaveness, despite being anything but. I love at 0:46 how he eyes his guy up. His small decisions are what makes him always so watchable. The same for the lamp. He looks at it and later the other character has to take a peek – “what was Clouseau seeing in there?”

What are the gags in this scene? The opening rug, the near nose-pick (0:18), and the knocked over ash tray (0:58). Three that are all played the same way – Clouseu does it, ignores that he’s done it, someone else “covers” for him. He’s the great inspector, after all.

0:31 is such an expert, master moment. Both guys in the foreground turn their backs to us, so background character just perks his head to the side, opening a little bit – this is an “open” comedy. We shouldn’t be looking at backs.

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

I probably hadn’t seen this film since roughly 2007, and I’d forgotten how bold and daring it is. Like the other other Hulot films it’s nearly silent and operates on the principle of the long extended gag. I feel like Hulot (Tati) isn’t yet the modernism-fearing/fascinated man that he will become in Mon Oncle, but is rather a gentler sort of outsider. The people he attracts – any child, a young woman who is bored with stiff-upper-lip society, an elderly woman who revels in his tennis-anarchy, and an elderly man who pines quietly for some novelty – are those who either will be (the first two) part of that society eventually, or those who have probably once been (the last two) a part of it. Hulot is sort of their bridge in terms of age and characteristics: he’s a child forced into adulthood.

I like how often Tati uses the edges of the frame: Hulot inadvertently loses a man’s place in his book and we only see the conclusion of the gag if we look in the background far frame left and see him paging hopelessly to find his spot.

Tati is a true anarchist in that the Hulot films reject anything that isn’t pure – business calls, too much order, body obsession, pretentiousness – they’re all targets embodied by one character. I wonder if that’s how Tati would write the huge range of people that fill his films: find a part of society to satirize first, then build a character around that.

Two favorite parts of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday: Hulot being sprung into the water by the tow line from a tow truck. It’s so athletic and deft and, as always, perfectly set up. And the beautifully fluid way that the loud music tracks throughout the film – Hulot plays it by himself and it’s rejected; later his young acolyte does the same; even later that record player comes back again adding to the climactic confusion; it’s even added as the most direct snub Hulot gives to anyone in the film when he turns the music up at a poorly attended dance to drown out the rote political droning in the background.

Pather Panchali

I saw Satyajit Ray’s “Apu Trilogy” on 35mm in my college theater (Doc Films!), and I think this is the first time I’ve watched Pather Panchali since. Is it the best programming for a newborn…well, probably not. But despite its many tragedies, this is also a buoyant film, filled with so much simple beauty and one of the best sibling relationships ever put to screen.

The scene I remembered so well is the brewing storm. The people scatter, the fields blow, the water ripples. Durga (Uma Das Gupta) revels in the downpour while Apu (Subir Banerjee) watches her, astonished and lovingly from the cover of a tree. She runs to him and wraps him close to her as the rain falls gleefully around them. It’s such a moment, so well-defined by his point-of-view of her: she is the boldness of the world.

How is this Ray’s debut film? It’s so damn assured! Ray makes us really care for four different characters – through time spent, through fantastic performances, and through a real understanding of each one’s uniqueness. That’s not easy to do, even if the script says that’s what to do!

I also remembered and love the beat where Apu walks alone on the path after the climax. He’s wearing a shawl and recedes from us along a winding path. It feels like a departure. It’s not literally, but it really is figuratively. I always wonder if moments like this are in the script (“Apu walks alone on the path.” I can hear any screenwriter asking – sure, but where? Why?), or if the filmmaker just found it and knew that from a pacing and dramatic standpoint it would totally sing. These are some of the hardest beats in films to find.

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Indiscreet (Donen, 1958) and Peppermint Soda (Kurys, 1977)

Indiscreet lives up to the Cary Grant-Ingrid Bergman-Stanley Donen-collaboration expectations. While I prefer it as the swooning romance that it is in the first half, it remains truly great even when it changes to something like a screwball romantic comedy.

From the opening credits that announce its beautiful palette-

-to the great supporting cast (David Kossof’s Carl: “How was I?”), this film is just so enjoyable front to back. There’s a mention of climate change (in 1958!), and it’s full of great dialogue: “How dare he make love to me and not be a married man!”

The set design is so gorgeous, as is the cinematography (by Donald M. Ashton and Freddie Young, respectively). Anna’s (Bergman) apartment turns from vivacious to lonesome in the flick of a switch:

There’s also a pretty daring split screen in here. Daring because it’s set up to show them in bed together. I wonder how the shooting of this was impacted by the Production Code. Or if the Code somehow led to this decision:

It’s fresh, and Donen clearly directed Grant and Bergman to act as though they are in bed together, despite the fact that they’re talking from different bedrooms.

And the two leads. This is chemistry. Indiscreet is immediately one of my favorite films with either of them. They just hold the frame so well and their scenes are full of glances and secret smiles. They’re perfect.

When Philip (Grant) comes to her apartment before their first date Donen blocks it rather well. They enter in a 2-shot and land at the liquor table. She makes him a drink:

He picks them up in a new wide. She perches on the couch, he keeps his distance before soon approaching. The camera pushes in:

They’re flirting and there are unsaid things in the air, so it doesn’t make sense for them to get comfortable right away. She goes to the fireplace, taking charge (it’s her apartment, after all). He follows and they land again, she open, he mostly closed:

I like how he’s alternating in this way: first landing we’re in a 50/50; second landing she’s closed and he’s open; third landing she’s open and he’s closed. Patterns can help blocking!

So based on that thought, you should be able to assume where we land next. That’s right – in another 50/50. The blocking is very battle-of-the-sexes here.

From there to coverage as their conversation takes a turn:

It’s that patterning in the blocking, and the well-built master that I mostly like. There’s a nervous energy in their little dance from couch to fireplace and back, but it takes that much time for them to both sit totally comfortably, just before all cards go on the table.

But without a doubt, the best sequence in the film is their walk home from dinner, through the elevator, and to the door. Ugh. This sequence is flawless. It’s one of those that you watch and can just feel it deep in your stomach, and it rises and crescendos expertly.

That score, and the opening dissolve (preceded by many others) as they walk silently. The perfectly played “Shall I see you to your elevator?” It’s all such a setup. I love Cary Grant’s eyes as he walks up the steps at 0:40. He’s scanning the place, but there’s something of “what’s my next move” in it.

At 0:47 they enter the elevator. That profile is the kicker. The first one, I mean. Where they make the silent decision. The wordless ride up, staring at each other, slight changes, the shadow of the gates moving, the elevator operator not even there…So simply and beautifully designed.

And then it continues! I love the camera following them out at 1:30. It’s fluid and romantic movement, saying as much as what their body language says. Her smile at 1:41!

The next cut, to the medium 2-shot at the door is so emotive and evocative. The camera pushing in at 1:50 for three more pitch-perfect lines, and then pulling away at 2:00. It’s a sly retreat, maybe a shy retreat. It’s also very Code-era.

God I love this part of the movie.

Peppermint Soda

This is part of an unofficial Peppermint-trilogy. Peppermint Frappé-Peppermint Soda-Peppermint Candy. All great.

This is the second Diane Kurys film I’ve seen after the fabulous Entre Nous. Comparisons to The 400 Blows are obvious and apt, down to the final freeze frame on a beach.

I like how easily Kurys moves through time and place in here. It’s a nostalgic film and its short scenes, beats that will come back (Perrine’s father), and others that are lost in time (Anne’s (Eléonore Klarwein) suitor at the dance) are handled so delicately.

Klarwein and Odile Michel are expertly cast as sisters. Casting is (close to) everything, and it’s not only their look, but their difference in age, and how well they play off of one-another. I love a meeting between them in a cafe where Frédérique flexes her superiority; when Anne feels no shame – or even second thought – about changing in a clothing shop while a lascivious owner looks on and Frédérique sees right through; and one of many united moments where they plan a surprise birthday celebration for their exhausted mother – the girls’ giddy reactions to her shock are priceless.

This is coming-of-age and boundary testing. Kurys and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot – whose done some pretty big films – shoot a lot of POV. I’ll associate this film with looking down on a courtyard from a window.

It’s also full of memorable, distinct characters. Each teacher in the school is a specific type, whether it be the math teacher who can’t keep control, the inflexible (literally) and stylish gym teacher, or the abusive art teacher. They’re – again – so well cast. They’re archetypal enough to be cross-culturally familiar, but they also have enough individual moments where we get to know them as more than just that (the gym teacher chasing off a few pervy lechers, the math teacher’s solo despair).

Like Entre Nous, this film is under the shadow of a parental relationship, and Kurys’ script (with Alain le Henry) is wise to bookend it that way.

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