Two lesser films by two great masters. Max Mon Amour is probably my least favorite Oshima. It’s saying a lot that a film about a woman who falls in love with a chimpanzee is perhaps the director’s most accessible film (maybe alongside Cruel Story of Youth, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and Taboo).
The film was co-written by the great Jean-Claude Carriere. It really showed me what an influence Carriere was on Bunuel, his frequent collaborator (he co-wrote, among others, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Belle de Jour, and Diary of a Chambermaid). Max Mon Amour looks and feels like a Bunuel film. None of Oshima’s harsh or progressive technique is easily visible and the cinematography by Raoul Coutard – frequent collaborator with the French New Wave – is natural and light.
Still, thought Max Mon Amour is not Oshima’s strongest film, it’s still pretty good (quick: favorite film featuring a monkey? I guess I’d go Bye, Bye Monkey). Part of the success is due to Carriere and Oshima’s unwillingness to sink to the level of straight comedy, which this could quite easily be. This goes beyond just the performance (all the actors play it straight). I finally put my finger on what it was in the third act.
Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) goes to see his wife Margaret (the steely-eyed Charlotte Rampling…what a great actress) at the hospital as she visits her mother. Max – the chimp in question – has refused to eat in Margaret’s absence, so Peter brings him along:
Were this a modern film this would be the punchline – man holding a monkey asking a normal question as if nothing’s amiss. Were this a modern film this would be the end of the scene. The director and editor would cut away to make this the hook, and there by the subject of laughter.
Oshima’s clearly got other goals though. He extends the scene just a bit…just long enough to make the conversation reach its logical end, and not an end dictated by a cheap joke:
By doing so, he puts the emphasis less on the comedy, and more on the absurdity. Max isn’t a joke. Yes, he’s a spectacle, but he’s worth talking about.
Also called Dirty Money and A Cop, Un Flic is a 1972 effort by the great Jean-Pierre Melville. Like many of Melville’s films it’s a moody, ultra-cool cops and robbers film that opens with a great heist sequence.
Melville’s aura of cool is generally derived from extended sequences of silent action where the audience has to find out what’s going on as the characters perform their tasks. It’s also derived from a collision of noir and modern style – worn fedoras, trenchcoats and faces; a generally muted color scheme; and slow pacing that emphasizes process:
Un Flic is fun stuff and it features another great performance by Alain Delon, but it’s also a pretty flawed Melville. There’s a big plot hole (why not just arrest everyone at the train station?) and both Delon as the cop (Edouard Coleman) and Richard Crenna as Simon, his enemy who’s closer than he thinks, are underdeveloped. Coleman is supposed to have a certain fatalistic attitude, typical of a Melville lead, but it only comes through in his blank face at a corpse and his treatment of a transvestite mole. Otherwise it’s nearly non-existent until the ending. The same can be said of the tension between Coleman and Simon – they’re just not in it together enough and the drama that could be had between them is thin.
A few SPOILERS below.
Still, there are other great scenes. Towards the end, in true Melville fashion, the cop comes around putting the finger on all involved in the opening heist. Here’s Coleman rushing in to get one of the co-conspirators. The four stills below all represent one continuous shot.
What makes this interesting is the movement from shot 2 to 3. Coleman enters the room in shot 2, sees the criminal with a gun to his head and then, instead of arresting him, backs out of the room (shot 3) and closes the door! Melville’s camera dollies into the close-up that we see, and then Coleman opens the door again just as the gun goes off.
Were the aforementioned fatalism fully developed to this point this would be even more effective. Here it comes off as a combination of cynical and merciful, and certainly paints a complex portrait of the upholder of the law.
Probably the most egregious – and also really funny – part of Un Flic is a train robbery sequence that features a lot of miniatures. The miniatures really mar what would otherwise be a great scene.
It’s unintentionally hilarious when Melville then cuts inside the train from what looks like a set in my grandfather’s basement.