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.

About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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