Un Chien Andalou is a short, silent surrealist film from 1929. It was the debut film of Luis Buñuel and was written by Buñuel and fellow surrealist Salvador Dalí. The film features no discernable narrative in the traditional sense but rather dream logic, seemingly popping from one scene to another, often with tenuous links. Lasting only around sixteen minutes, it nonetheless crams in many eye catching (and eye slitting) images, some of which have passed into the collective consciousness. Describing the plot is near impossible as it weaves in and out of normality and plausibility with no regard for sense or building upon what comes before. Perhaps best described as a series of vignettes or windows into the minds of the men behind the film, it’s sometimes a frustrating watch but is notable for its striking imagery and skilled production.
Sunday, 5 January 2014
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Sometimes it only takes a few frames to realise that you’re in for a treat. This was the case for me with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. It is however a film that I’d put off watching for a long time. Despite my interest in silent cinema and all the great things I’d read and heard, there was something about what little I knew of the film that put me off. Perhaps it was the subject matter (more on that later) or the idea that it would be a depressing and/or dull watch but either way it took a good five years from my first whiff of the film to actually sitting down to watch it. What a silly boy I was for those five years. Like many other renowned films that I’d put off viewing it is of course a superb movie that features some of the best acting, editing and camera placement I’ve ever seen.
The film tells of the imprisonment, trial and (spoiler) execution of Joan of Arc (Noah’s wife) who claimed divine guidance and lead France to several important military victories during the Hundred Year’s War before being captured by the English and tried for heresy, all by the age of nineteen. The film draws on the five hundred year old transcripts of the trial and indeed original documents form the basis of the script.
Tuesday, 6 August 2013
Belleville Rendez-vous, known as The Triplets of Belleville outside of my native United Kingdom, is a 2003 Oscar nominated animated feature, written and directed by the mastermind behind the similarly styled 2010 Oscar nominated The Illusionist. The film tells the surrealist story of a doting grandma who trains her grandson to compete in the Tour de France before he is kidnapped by the mob. Determined to return him to his native France, she tracks him to Belleville (modelled on New York City) where she and her obese dog befriend the Belleville Triplets, a formerly popular music hall act.
As well as reminding me of director Sylvain Chomet’s quite and masterful feature, The Illusionist, the animation is also reminiscent of classic Disney. The still backdrops and wildly grotesque characters remain faithful to the animation found in the likes of Dumbo or Pinocchio but are darker and drawn with the animator’s tongue firmly in cheek. The animation also displays modern touches but these are counteracted by the wonderfully realised mid twentieth century setting. There are even flairs of psychedelia present and side characters such as an overly foppish waiter and henchmen who seem conjoined at their ridiculously overgrown shoulders wouldn’t look out of place in a dehydrated Yellow Submarine. The surrealist nature of the animation also extends beyond the character and occasionally creeps into inanimate objects too where it is befitting of the plot.
Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Having dipped my toe into the murky waters of the French New Wave with Breathless last week, I’m now ankle deep but the water is no clearer. I enjoy exploring new cinematic avenues, whether it be silent comedy, Italian horror or Korean thrillers but I’ve never had so much difficulty in expressing myself with the written word as I’m having while trying to compose my thoughts about the films of Jean-Luc Godard. My Life to Live or Vivre sa vie in its original French is a film in twelve chapters about a young Parisian woman who dreams of becoming an actress but is drawn into prostitution when money becomes ever more illusive. Anna Karina, Godard’s then wife, stars in the central role and puts in a mesmerising performance in a film which I struggled to enjoy but couldn’t take my eyes off.
From what little I’ve seen of Godard’s canon, I think it’s fair to say that he’s a director with an eye for beauty. The images he crates are sumptuous and filled with splendour despite the slightly crinkled, low budget style of film making in which he partakes. Breathless was amongst the best looking films I’ve seen while My Life to Live exerts its beauty in a steadier, more measured manner, lingering on beauty rather than allowing it to rush by. At the centre of all this is Anna Karina herself, a woman whose eyes flash at the screen in such a way as to make her audience melt.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
I started to really get into cinema when I was at university after first watching a couple of Martin Scorsese’s early movies. I was dumbstruck by the guerrilla style of Mean Streets and easy flow and strange editing of Taxi Driver as well as the way that both movies captured a time and place which although I’d never personally experienced, felt familiar. In the near decade since then I’ve expanded my cinematic experiences and ventured down many genre avenues, finding much that to like. It’s taken me to my late twenties though to venture towards The French New Wave, a period and collection of film makers who inspired those early Scorsese pictures perhaps more than anything else.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless or À bout de souffle in its native France is one of the most famous examples of the New Wave films which steamed across the Atlantic in the late 1950s and into the 60s, influencing the next generation of American directors. The influence follows a similar pattern to British rock music of the period as Godard and his compatriots François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer and others were themselves being influenced by what they saw in American cinema. It’s almost as though the French put their own spin on what they saw in Hollywood and then this was subsequently appropriated and re-Americanised by ‘movie brats’ of the 70s.
Saturday, 22 June 2013
While recently discussing beautiful actresses for last week’s Six of the Best feature, a friend asked if Monica Bellucci was in consideration for inclusion on the list. I had to be honest and say that although I knew the name, I didn’t know what the actress looked like and couldn’t name any of her films. I was told that she was in the film Irreversible, that it was horrible and that I should watch it. Again, like the actress, the film and its notoriety wasn’t unknown to me but I hadn’t seen it. The following discussion was filled with reasons as to why I should and shouldn’t watch it and I agreed with my friend bringing the film to work later in the week. I was warned however that under no circumstances should I watch it with my girlfriend. I was to wait until she was out or away or something, but just not in the house. Now I’ve seen the movie, I’m glad I heeded his advice.
Irreversible is a movie which wants to make you uncomfortable from the very get go. Its interesting title sequence features back to front wording which seems to slide off the screen as the ‘camera’ rotates like the hand of a clock while pulsating, barely audible noise plays over it. This infrasound has been clinically proven to create anxiety, revulsion and sorrow when played to humans and it successfully created all three in me. The plot uses a non linear narrative to tell of two men who attempt to enact revenge after a rape. Beginning at the end and finishing at the beginning, the film isn’t difficult to understand and it’s much simpler than the likes of Memento. The structure is fascinating and works really well to create at times, tension, panic, worry, and towards the end, a welcome sense of calm coupled with impending dread.
Saturday, 1 June 2013
May contain mild spoilers
Populaire is a French romantic drama set in the late 1950s. It’s a simple, predictable but sweet film about a provincial girl setting out to conquer the world. Small town girl Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) has dreams of being a typist and one day travels by bus to her nearest town to apply for a job with a local Insurance Man, Louis Échard (Romain Duris). Her lack of style and understanding of metropolitan life as well as general clumsiness make her stand out from the other applicants, but not in the way she hoped. Demonstrations of her speed typing though, peak the interest of her would be boss and he hires her before deciding to train her for speed typing competitions. With a frisson of sexual excitement and the possibility of proving her father wrong, Rose begins to excel in the unusual sport in which she partakes.
It’s obvious to see from the get go, who the target audience for this film is. Shortly before it began, from our usual seats At the Back, my girlfriend whispered in my ear, “Look at all the shiny heads”. It was true that we were the youngest people in the screening by about thirty years. The film has a simplistic charm and the sort of slow, blossoming romance that will appeal more to the older generation than to those of us with our own teeth and you can tell from the very first scenes exactly where it’s going and what will happen but sometimes it’s nice to get that from a film. Occasionally I don’t mind the odd ‘awww’ moment from a movie but I don’t think Populaire will be popular with all.
Friday, 26 April 2013
Early this year I saw a great little Franco-American comedy called Two Days in New York. That film, a sequel to this, worked well as a stand alone film but we enjoyed it so much that my girlfriend sought out the first movie as well. Julie Delpy writes, directs, edits, composes and stars in what is essentially a study of love. French born but New York residing photographer Marion (Delpy) is on her way back to the States following an unromantic trip to Venice with her neurotic, Woody Allen with tattoos and a beard-esque boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg) when they stop off in Paris for a couple of days to pick up a cat and drop in on Marion’s parents. The previously disaster filled Venice trip fades into obscurity when put up against the events of the two days as former lover after former lover reappears in Marion’s home city and Jack becomes ever more jealous and agitated.
I’m a big fan of talkie comedy-dramas featuring socially liberal, middle class people. I love Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Guillaume Canet, all three, directors who can create snappy, funny, insightful films about relationships in often claustrophobic settings. Delpy has the same talent and despite the spacious city streets of the French capital, the film feels hemmed in and claustrophobic which adds to the sense of sweaty tension. The dialogue is politically smart and socially astute and is snappy in both English and French. It’s incredibly droll and witty and manages to play on stereotypes without succumbing to them. There is also a great understanding of the ebb and flow of a relationship and the hang ups which both sides naturally have.
Monday, 1 April 2013
In the House, known as Dans la masion in its original French title is an off kilter French drama with more than a hint of thriller thrust into its unorthodox and highly inventive story. Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is a High School teacher beginning a new school year. While marking his first assignments, a bland and unimaginative pile each entitled ‘What I did Last Weekend’ he comes across a longer piece written by Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer). The essay is well written and details a voyeuristic experience outside a classmate’s house. Slightly worried by the details in the story which make special reference to the smell of his classmate’s middle class mother, the teacher takes Claude to one side to discuss the content but impressed by the standard of prose he encourages the boy to continue with another chapter of his troubling story.
Before seeing this movie I knew absolutely nothing about it. My girlfriend suggested we see it after she read a brief synopsis and noted that Kristen Scott Thomas was featured in the cast. I’m really happy that she spotted it because it’s a terrific little movie which features a highly engaging story which turns the camera on the writing process as well as takes an unflinching look at Freudian sexuality in a modern French setting.
Sunday, 30 December 2012
La Vie en Rose is a 2007 French biopic about the singer Edith Piaf who rose from a street urchin early in the twentieth century to become one of France’s most renowned singers by the mid point of the century. The film charts her battles against stage fright, mafia control, arthritis, morphine addiction and snobbery as she slowly rises to prominence.
I have to admit that I didn’t like the film. I thought it was muddled, over-long and confusing but in amongst the mess was one of the best acting performances I’ve seen in a long time. Marion Cotillard delivers a spell binding performance as the troubled singer and deserves a much better vehicle for her talents. She transforms effortlessly from the young waif to her height in the fifties and on to the broken woman of 1960. Without her stunning performance the film wouldn’t be worth watching, because of it, it is a must see.
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
You may notice the tag line at the top of this page reads ‘Reviewing 100 Years of Film’; well I’m going back even further here with Georges Melies fantastic Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon). The most famous of Melies many hundreds of short films, A Trip to the Moon is loosely based on two popular turn of the century novels, From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells. At a meeting of astronomers, one man proposes a trip to the Moon. Despite some discord among the members, five people agree to travel with the man and launch from a giant gun inside a bullet shaped rocket. When they get to the Moon they witness incredible celestial sights from its surface before encountering aliens who ‘take them to their leader’.
Despite looking fairly primitive now one hundred and ten years after its release, A Trip to the Moon was, for its time, incredibly advanced both in story and execution and is considered as the first Science Fiction film ever to be produced. The film features some incredible animation which is mixed with physical props, effects and editing to create a surreal vision of the Moon over sixty-five years before man ever set foot upon its surface.
Thursday, 22 November 2012
Winner of the 2012 Palme d’Or at Cannes and with plenty more awards to come in the coming months, Austrian Director Michael Haneke’s film Amour is a story about enduring love. Georges (Jean-Loius Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are retired music teachers, living alone in their eighties in their spacious Parisian apartment. Cultured and very much in love, their relationship comes under the ultimate test when Anne suffers a stroke. Georges does his best to care for Anne who begins spiralling further and further into ill health. Against the advice of nurses and the couple’s daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), Georges refuses to hospitalise his ailing wife and chooses to carry the burden of her care on his aging hips.
Although Amour lacks the malevolence and hard edged cruelty of some of the Director’s best known work, it is still a film which has the ability to shock. Uncharacteristically for Haneke it is also an extremely beautiful tale but also happens to be the most depressing film I’ve ever seen. I have rarely left a cinema feeling so low or despondent and it wasn’t until I was on my way home that the film’s greatness managed to shine through the dismal but ultimately beautiful plot.
Sunday, 11 November 2012
Rust and Bone or De rouille et d'os in its original French title is a 2012 melodrama staring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. An unemployed man moves from Belgium to the south of France with his five year old son in search of a better life. Finding nothing but poverty and overly macho, short term jobs he meets a Killer Whale trainer who has become involved in a fight outside a nightclub he is working at. Months later she calls him while depressed while she is recovering from a severe injury sustained while working with the whales. The two strike up a complex friendship with each helping the other out of the rut they find their lives in.
Rust and Bone features a couple of extremely proficient performances, some wonderful cinematography, a tough story and excellent soundtrack but is not an easy watch. There are moments of extreme violence and heartache which will make the audience recoil in their seat and don’t go in expecting a traditional French love story because you won’t find it here.
Tuesday, 16 October 2012
A writer and University Professor (Ethan Hawke) arrives in Paris with hopes of relocating to the French capital and reconnecting with his estranged daughter. After tracking down his ex wife and child he is shunned by the former and warned to stay away. His ex tries to convince the daughter that her father has been in prison but he claims he was just ill. The writer soon finds himself robbed of all his possessions and manages to secure a small room in a hotel run by a gangster in exchange for acting as a night guard, an ask no questions role. One evening he meets a mysterious widow (Kristen Scott Thomas) and the two begin a strange affair, ruled by her odd request of meeting at 5pm sharp in her 5th arrondissement apartment.
This is a film with a lot of build up and minimal payoff. I spent seventy five minutes waiting for the reveal in an ever increasingly bizarre film but it never came. It’s very difficult to discuss the film without spoilers so I’ll write what I thought and then present my opinions at the bottom of the page in case anyone doesn’t want any spoilers.
Tuesday, 2 October 2012
Last year’s French award baiting, box office smash hit, The Intouchables known in the UK as Untouchable finally gets a release in the UK, a full year later than in its home country and my was it worth the wait. The film broke box office records in France, becoming the 2nd highest grossing French film of all time after just nine weeks at the box office and has gone on to gross €277 million worldwide from a budget of just €9.5 million. I’d heard very good things from the countries that had been lucky enough to get the film within a year of its release but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the film quite as much as I did. It’s been a very good month for film with the likes of Anna Karenina, Looper and then Holy Motors all edging into my current 2012 Top 10 list but I think at the moment Untouchable is beating them all with it’s surprisingly frank and extremely funny portrayal of a young French-Senegalese man’s (Omar Sy) struggle in taking on the role of full time carer for a paralysed millionaire (François Cluzet).
Sunday, 30 September 2012
Holy Motors must be the strangest, maddest and most bizarre film I’ve seen since at least Love Exposure and possibly ever. In a statement about the nature of both acting and the digitalisation of the world, Leos Carax’s film stars Denis Lavant as a man who travels through Paris in a white limousine that is driven by Edith Scob. Along the way he stops for various ‘appointments’ for which he adopts an entirely different character complete with makeup, mannerisms and speech. Throughout the course of the day he becomes a beggar woman, motion capture artist, assassin, disappointed father plus many more.
The film’s message or statement is open for interpretation and after telling my girlfriend what I though I asked her the same, to which she replied “I thought it was about weird stuff”. The film is enjoyable however you view it and whether or not you read into any hidden messages or not. The themes that I personally believe the film is tackling may be totally different to the person next to me but it doesn’t matter. Holy Motors is a thrilling, darkly comic and bonkers film that is worth tracking down.
Wednesday, 12 September 2012
An ageing shoeshine, Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) takes in a young African boy, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) after he escapes from a ship’s cargo container in the French
Marcel’s lack of money and sadness that his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) is
gravely ill in hospital, he does all he can to reunite the young migrant with
his mother who has settled in port
of Le Havre .
Monday, 27 August 2012
A troubled young boy Cyril (Thomas Doret) lives in a Children’s Home after his father decided he was no longer able to cope with caring for him. Unable to accept this, the boy escapes the Home and goes back to the apartment that he and his father shared. Finding him gone, the boy continues to run from the Home’s staff before clattering into a woman in a Doctor’s waiting room while yelling about his missing bike. Later, the same woman is able to track down the bike and brings it to the Home and the boy asks if he can stay with her at weekends. The woman, a hairdresser called Samantha (Cecile de France) accepts and the boy spends time with her while she attempts to free him from the anger and rage that keeps getting him into trouble.
I first heard about this film last May when it won the Jury Prize at
I’d wanted to see it at the cinema but being a Belgian film about an angry boy
and a bicycle I was unable to find it in the city of 3 million people in which
I live. Although I was disappointed not to get to see it at the cinema, now I
have seen it I don’t feel like I was missing out. While it’s an interesting
story about two very different relationships, I didn’t personally enjoy it as
much as the reviews I’d read suggested I would. Cannes
Wednesday, 22 August 2012
OSS 117: Lost in
Rio is the sequel to one of the funniest films I’ve
ever seen, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
and is bought to us by the team behind that film and The Artist, Oscar Winners Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin. A
James Bond pastiche, Dujardin stars as OSS 177, ’s top secret agent. It’s
1967 and he is on a mission to capture a microfilm containing the names of
French Nazi collaborators from an ex-Nazi now residing in France . He is
joined by a beautiful Israeli Army Officer, Delores Koulechov (Louise Monot) who is tasked with
bringing the Nazi back to Brazil
to face a war crimes tribunal. 117 bumbles his way through Israel with the help of his Israeli
colleague, attracting the interest of various women and the CIA along the way. Brazil
I was really excited to see this sequel as Cairo, Nest of Spies is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in the last year. I’d previously read that the sequel wasn’t as well received in France as the original and I’d have to agree with that assessment. It is in no way as good as Cairo, Nest of Spies but is still an enjoyable hour and a half.
Friday, 27 July 2012
"I don't want to love someone else. Understand? I just want to be sad"
Known in some countries by the titles Full Treatment or De vrais mensonges, Beautiful Lies is a French romantic comedy starring Audrey Tautou. Emilie (Tautou) is the co-owner of a new Salon in the beautiful seaside town of
. She receives an anonymous love letter
which is actually from the Salon maintenance man Jean (Sami Bouajila). Jean is
head over heels in love with Emilie but besides the anonymous letter hasn’t let
his feelings be known to anyone. Emilie briefly reads the letter but throws it
away then meets her mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye). Maddy has lost her spark and
is depressed about her failed marriage. Emilie decides that to cheer her mother
up she will take the love letter from the bin, type it up and post it to her
mother’s address. This brings Maddy back to life and she begins her quest to
discover its sender. What follows is a series of confused misunderstandings as
the man ends up caught in a love triangle with mother and daughter. Sète
Beautiful Lies is a frothy and often very funny romantic comedy which features some great performances from the principle cast.