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Archive for the ‘French cinema’ Category

It is said ‘Love makes the world go round,’ and it is a merry go round in this case. We get to see some who are riding the painted horses of their libido and we know it is a cavalcade, a passing show of women at the lower end of the social class and men of stolidity, class and debauchee all well settled on their places. Naturally while it lasts it is impossible to set apart them by their social differences or polish. You see the fast and furious spin can only give us vignettes and it is set in Vienna in the early 1900s. From the world- weary narrator excellently essayed by Anton Walbrook we follow certain characters in particular in their natural habitat. The prostitute and the maid for example dare to ply their trade and accept the risks that their position entails.
The film demands that the audience pay attention to the structure, to the interplay among the characters, and to the opulent visual elements; and the effect is a delight, as typical with films of Ophuls overtly sexual themes are treated both visually and intellectually to take out what is heady and rank. By no means it is insipid but Ophuls’ keen insight into what keeps the male and female, urbane and demimondaine sparkle makes the difference. Passion for any individual is ephemeral but does it not drive him or her to pursue with all the more ardor though the deed is done and the person has gone? It may be first love that one seeks to recapture but no matter the individual is not likely to quit if time is right and occasion comes along. The face and name of the loved may all be different but what drives it is invariably from same source. Metaphor of a merry-go-round for this motivating force in human behavior is apt. Love is fleeting long live love that makes the world go round.

La Ronde is based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931), it was an adaptation of perhaps the most famous and most scandalous play of fin de siècle and not staged in Vienna until 1921—was ideal material for the filmmaker’s return to his roots. It’s an ingenious piece of dramatic construction. In the first of its ten scenes, a prostitute picks up a soldier, who in the second scene romances a chambermaid, who in the next scene is ravished by her young employer, and so on until the end, when a count spends the night with the streetwalker from the opening scene and the play comes full circle.
‘Ophuls shot the picture entirely in the studio, and he and his co-scenarist, Jacques Natanson, added one more character to the ten in Schnitzler’s play: an unnamed, godlike figure, played by Walbrook, who, assuming several different guises, guides all the heedless lovers through their various intrigues, philosophizes between scenes, and, not incidentally, operates a festive-looking but occasionally balky merry-go-round. (When one of the male characters finds himself unable to perform in bed, Walbrook has to make a few repairs so the love carousel can keep turning.)’
Max Ophuls (1902–57)
Ophuls, who was born in Germany, worked in the theater there and in Austria during the twenties, made films in Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands in the thirties, and spent the forties in the United States. La ronde was made in France, where the filmmaker had been a citizen since 1938 but had not lived for a decade; its cast consisted mostly of French actors but also included the Italian Isa Miranda, who had starred in his marvelous La signora di tutti (1934). Last but not the least Anton Walbrook (The Red Shoes) plays the cicerone.
Max Ophuls’ career in the German film industry had to be abruptly stopped when Adolf Hitler came into power. He fitted well all the traits that the Nazi’s loved to hold up to ridicule as decadent: a Jew, – a sophisticated and artistic Jew at that. His last film before he left his native land was a tragic tale of adultery and foolish honor called Liebelei (1932) set in Vienna and based on a play by Schnitzler. (The wry romantic fatalism of Schnitzler perhaps fitted Ophuls’ worldview.) Liebelei was for him a threnody of the vanished grace of Vienna that he had known. La Ronde that came after the Nazi Regime was swept off into the rubbish heap of history was much lighter in tone.
Like many European directors his stint in Hollywood was not a very happy one. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), which was adapted from a story by another Viennese, Stefan Zweig. Its subtlety was lost on American audiences of the day, and it flopped. His last two Hollywood movies Caught and The Reckless Moment fared no better.

Trivia: Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is based on a novel by Arthur Schnitzler. (ack: Terence Rafferty-The Criterion Collection 15 Sep’08 In the too-brief life and art of Max Ophuls)
Benny

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The film (Sous les toits de Paris in French) begins with a long crane shot panning along the rooftops and then descends along the street to linger on a group of people gathered around a singer, whose song (the title-song) gradually swells up on the soundtrack. The end of this film has this reversed. Sandwiched between these is a relaxed melodrama where a Parisian street singer (Albert Prejean) and his friend (Edmond Greville) pursue the love of the same woman (Pola Illery). In 1927, even before The Jazz Singer had been shown in Paris, René Clair wrote: “It is not without a shudder that one learns that some American manufacturers, among the most dangerous, see in the talking picture the entertainment of the future, and that they are already working to bring about this dreadful prophecy.” In 1929 the German film company Tobis established a studio at Épinay near Paris which was equipped for sound production and it inaugurated a policy of making French-speaking films in France rather than importing French performers to make French versions of films in Germany. The company concentrated on prestigious productions, and they recruited René Clair to undertake one of their first French projects with Sous les toits de Paris.
René Clair chose to use sound only when needed and his reluctance is far from a weakness but a strength in the manner he could retain the style and techniques of silent cinema: the viewer catches a conversation though cut off by the closing of a glass door without missing the nuances of what is said; the hour of midnight is indicated by the sound of a mere three chimes – and the superimposition of a clockface; and a knife-fight is shown but not heard because of a passing train, and continued in darkness (conveyed only by its sounds) until the headlights of a car illuminate the scene. “All Talking! All Singing!” label slapped across the posters for Under the Roofs of Paris in 1930 may have been false propaganda but the film nevertheless demonstrated an all talking and all singing film could not have come up anywhere half as good when the film was made by a genius. René Clair, then best known for Entr’acte (1924) thought sound could only undermine the complex visual language constructed by the silent cinema over three decades. Without fracturing its meaning(visual language) he reinforced his film with sound as those sound effects in a Marvel comics.
Clair avoided synchronization. You almost never see and hear something simultaneously, with the exception of the songs and the dialogue—and there is precious little dialogue. You hear music coming from a room, then the door closes in front of you and shuts the sound off. A train goes by, but you only know it from the soundtrack and a puff of smoke. In order to compare this let me refer to Pabst’s Pandora’s Box in which when Lulu and struggles with Dr. Schön and the gun goes off we see only a puff of smoke and not the report. Similarly at the end we do not see Jack the ripper actually using the knife. Instead the way her hold on Jack the ripper slackens tells forcibly what happened.
The film was shot at the time the effect of the financial crash of 29 was beginning to be felt around the world. Clair did not go for a surefire formula of escapism by setting the story in a mythical kingdom or take the worries of the public by subjecting them to zany mindless tomfoolery. Instead he chose the gritty Parisian squalor to give a touch of brightness on the denizens and he succeeded. Clair’s Paris,-every street and square, every tenement, garret, dancehall, and café was designed by Lazare Meerson who built it in the studio. But its characters, who live on the border between ill-paid labor and petty crime, were both instantly recognizable the world around and imbued with romance by the magic of Paris. In the decade that followed, that setting and those kinds of characters were to constitute the kernel of the French cinematic style called “poetic realism,” a principal architect of which was Marcel Carné, an assistant director on Under the Roofs of Paris. Even this day there is something nostalgic,- as well as simplicity, and it warms our hearts.
The camera work of Georges Périnal was of exceptional quality.
Plot
Albert meets a beautiful Romanian immigrant (Pola Illery), who is also desired by a criminal (Gaston Modot). Albert is arrested and locked up for a crime actually committed by the villain, and while he languishes in jail Pola meets Albert’s best friend (Edmond Gréville). When Albert is released he must confront both villainy and friendship.
‘What made it the toast of Berlin—and London, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Moscow, and Buenos Aires, before finally clicking in its hometown—was its iconic vision of lower-class Paris, whose impact on the world was compared by the film historian Georges Sadoul to that of the first Westerns on European audiences…’
Run time: 92 min
Black and White
Trivia:
This marked the sixth and last of Clair’s films which featured the actor Albert Préjean. When it was shown in Paris, the cinema gave Préjean star billing in its advertisements and consequently the two men fell out.
*The future film director Edmond T. Gréville appeared as an actor in the role of Albert’s friend Louis.
* During the last weeks of filming, the art director Lazare Meerson hired a 23-year old Hungarian as a replacement in his team, Alexandre Trauner, who went on to work as designer on many major French films of the following decades. (Les Enfants du Paradis)
*Success of the film’s creation of a colorful working-class neighborhood gave rise to such films as La Rue sans nom (1934), La Belle Équipe (1936) and Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)
* The film was discovered in Berlin (Aug 1930) and its triumph was repeated when the film appeared in New York and in London and other places. After its international acclaim, Sous les toits de Paris was released again in France and this time it enjoyed a real success on its home ground.
René Clair later recalled that the profits were such that the cost of the film, which was considerable, was covered by the returns from a single cinema.
(ack: Under the Roofs of Paris By Luc Sante /Criterion collection-23Sep02; wikipedia)

benny

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The Thirties saw two films with hotel as a metaphor for a
world, where tangled destinies of disparate characters were  unraveled as events,- hyperinflation in Germany or the Munich crisis, were deciding the fate of Europe. Destinies of minorities, gypsies, Jews were affected from many chains of events as we look back, but the world goes on as though none  the wiser. In a way as Lewis Stone rightly observed in Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel(1932),‘People come and go. Nothing ever happens”. … Vicky Baum’s book dealt with a world coming to grips with post World War-I, economic chaos and its corrosive toll on moral values. The characters of Preysing (Wallace Beery), the textile magnate, and Flaemmchen(Joan Crawford), the stenographer were drawn from real life. The Grand Hotel is where for the magnate money brought pleasure whereas for Flaemmachen had no choice since she had no money or prospects. The second film was made close to another world war and was set in a hotel that had none of the pretensions of the Berlin Hotel.
Marcel Carnés film Hôtel du Nord derives its power partly from the events that broiled from across the border. The story is simple enough.  A pair of lovers Renée (Annabella) and Pierre (Jean-Pierre Aumont ), checks in a seedy hotel and their destinies are tangled literally with the lives of a pimp  Monsieur Edmond (Louis Jouvet) and his protégé Raymonde (Arletty) . Edmond has cheated some on a previous deal and he is there under an assumed name. Unknown to him two of his former accomplices are waiting to come in. Considering the timing of this film these two are allegorical of the Nazis who were to burst into the French national life. They also had some perceived grudge for the loss of the previous war.
Carné films, his style
‘The film of Hôtel du Nord was inspired by a book written in 1928 by Eugène Dabit, a gifted young writer who died in 1936 in tragic and mysterious circumstances. Dabit’s L’Hôtel du Nord is a collection of anecdotes about a hotel’s motley collection of working-class residents and its neighbourhood, and a tribute to Dabit’s parents who owned the real Hôtel du Nord. Awarded the Prix populiste in 1929, it records and celebrates the ‘little people’ of this north-eastern Parisian area. Carné kept both the location and the characters (using some of their names)’ (Ginette Vincendeau /bfi sight &sound) .
This is second in the trilogy of Carne’s films of which the last Le Jour Se Lève (1939) embodied his characteristic style to perfection. The other film is Le Quai des Brumes (1938).
His themes invariably set in a situation where ‘characters can only escape through death – their entrapment is emphasised by the narrow rooms they occupy, the walls and the frames that hold them isolated from the flow of life that goes on in their humdrum ways. As in Le Jour Se Lève for Gabin the window that looks out is only a slice of sky from which sunset and sunrise are only mournful chimes of time with a reminder of approaching death.  In such a doomladen set, music adds to the feeling of isolation. As a counterpoint dialogue must serve the viewer to catch on the cadences and poetry of spoken lines lest he cave under the incubus of  hopelessness. It was on this aspect we feel the absence of  Jacques Prévert whose script always made the film get under your skin (Le Jour Se Lève, Les Enfants du Paradis).
‘All of his great virtues are here: the cramped interiors broken up by gliding, complex, delicious camera movements; a melancholy deployment of light and shade; remarkable, wistful sets by Alexander Trauner, which are so evocative that they, as the title suggests, take on a shaping personality of their own; the quietly mournful music of Maurice Jaubert; a seemingly casual plot about romance, tragedy and fatalism that casts a noose over its characters; extraordinary performances by some of the greatest players of all time, in this case Louis Jouvet and Arletty’(Darragh O’ Donoghue –imdb user comment)

The film was studio bound since the traffic on the St Martin canal could not be stopped for several weeks.  A visual motif makes the film’s fixed in the mind by use of water – the credits float and dissolve, the hotel stands by a waterway. St. Martin Canal is thus connected to the film, which must explain why Hotel Du Nord has been declared as a national monument.
The set is plainly artificial, yet still a microcosm of Paris which we enter with the young couple, the camera following them down the side of the bridge. A reverse of this movement takes us out at the end of the film. The film begins as it ends, and the setting never changes, except for one brief interlude where Edmond and Pierre are out, one is sent to gaol and another wants to make a new beginning.

Synopsis
‘Quai de Jemmapes, on the banks of Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, 1938. As the residents of the family-run Hôtel du Nord celebrate a first-communion lunch, a young couple named Renée and Pierre arrive, planning a double suicide. Pierre wounds Renée. Unable to kill himself, he escapes into the night and gives himself up.

Local pimp Edmond finds and keeps Pierre’s gun. To Edmond’s delight, the benevolent hotel managers the Lecouvreurs take Renée in as a maid although his partner, the prostitute Raymonde, is not pleased. Other residents include Prosper, whose wife Ginette is having an affair with Kenel. Renée visits Pierre in prison, but he rejects her.

Two crooks come looking for Edmond, who betrayed them when he was their accomplice. Raymonde covers up for him. Renée and Edmond elope to Marseilles en route to Port-Saïd, but Renée runs back to the hotel. Raymonde is now with Prosper. When the crooks return, she betrays Edmond. During the celebrations on Bastille Day, Edmond reappears…’ (Ginette Vincendeau /bfi sight &sound).
‘The film’s sardonic ending is probably the best of any of Carné’s films.  Maurice Jaubert’s music for the open-air ball heightens the tension to an almost unbearable pitch as fate takes its cruel, unavoidable course.  Unlike in many of Carné’s subsequent films, the tragic conclusion of the Hôtel du Nord does not feel contrived or laboured – if anything, it is understated.  Yet its impact is immediate and shocking, like a bullet straight through the heart’ (filmsdefrance,James Travers-2001).

Memorable quote: Raymonde: Atmosphere, atmosphere, est-ce que j’ai une gueule d’atmosphere?(loosely translated,’Nobody is perfect.’
Credits

* Director: Marcel Carné
* Script: Jacques Prévert, Jean Aurenche, Henri Jeanson, based on the novel by Eugène Dabit
* Photo: Armand Thirard
* Music: Maurice Jaubert
* Cast: Annabella (Renée), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Pierre), Louis Jouvet (Monsieur Edmond), Arletty (Raymonde), Paulette Dubost (Ginette), Andrex (Kenel), André Brunot (Émile Lecouvreur), Henri Bosc (Nazarède), Marcel André (Le chirurgien), Bernard Blier (Prosper), François Périer
* Country: France
* Language: French
* Runtime: 92 min, B&W

(This is a reprint of post I had posted in A Night at the Movies. cinebuff.wordpress.com,

benny

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(This is a reprint of a film appreciation posted in cinebuff.wordpress.com.b)

In one of the three Guy de Maupassant–derived stories of Ophuls’s Le plaisir (1952), the rejected model jumps out of a window and winds up in a wheelchair. The artist, now forcibly married to her, and with plenty of time to work, voices the bitter aphorism, “There’s no joy in happiness.” In the present film Danielle Darrieux invites unhappiness since it is the only way she can feel the pulse of her innermost universe where the heart rules. In Ophulsian universe, men and women occupy separate but equal spheres, and if the men have more power and agency in the world, the women are the conquistadors in the more important realm of the heart. They are the ‘militarists of love’ as Stendhal would call them. For the general’s wife in the Earrings of Madame de… a piece of jewelry serves as nicely as one marries above one’s rank to be reckoned as a woman of importance.  Louise is married and she has a lover. ‘Loss’ of  her earrings presented to her by her husband  could set in motion, events of such import as a kingdom lost at the throw of a dice. Such a personal article ( a trifle in itself) could as the kerchief of Desdemona lead to death in some cases or social disgrace.  Louisa belongs to the rank and file of the militarists of love who gamble with trouble, knowing tragedy is around the corner. Why do they still do it? I recall a passage where Stendhal (Red and the Black) quotes  the case of Margaret du Valois, the wife of Henri IV. She needed such dangers in order to feel her existence. Not having anxiety was as being in a limbo, out of the pale of social respectability her station and rank commanded.

The Earrings of Madame de . . . is based on a 1951 novel by Louise de Vilmorin simply called Madame de, who, in pawning the earrings given her by her husband, sets off a chain of circumstances that, when she falls desperately in love, tightens around her and destroys her. It’s like a brooch, small in scope but filigreed and chiseled masterly as the works of Ophuls often are. The film has a special sheen brought out by incisive wit, irony and understanding. His films are all a treat to watch. It is all on the surface like light caught and the many facets of the stone keep you attentive to what goes on beneath. ”Madame de…” is one and  his  ”La Ronde” (1950) and ”Lola Montes” (1955) are similarly masterly. Take for instance the scene where he makes Baron Fabrizio Donati  writing his lover  day after day, with no letter back. Of course Louise frail in health and unable to stay in Paris tears up his letters and throw them out of her train carriage all the more despondent. She must play her part as demanded of her. In her thoughts,-her  tears and unhappiness on reading them were as good as replies to them. ‘ I’ve answered all your letters my love,”says she. She lacked the courage to reply in any other manner. Louise is married to a general. Their marriage has style but no substance. In fact as the general observes it is superficially superficial. In the same context he sententiously adds, – it is his way of serious conversation, ‘our conjugal bliss is a reflection of ourselves’.

The way she views her earrings is a clear indication of her feelings with regards to marriage. The diamonds, a gift of her husband she doesn’t mind selling since her debts that necessited it, are part of household expenses. She has run up debts in keeping her station in the society while the gift coming from Baron Donati is  from desire. She makes it clear in her tryst in his carriage that she will always keeps them by her bedside. That is what love means to her. In the end when she presents the gift to the Church its significance cannot be lost on the viewer.

The diamond earrings like RL Stevenson’s Bottle Imp turns up often to expose their shallowness as a couple and it echoes Renoir’s La Regle du Jeu: marriage as an institution in the pre WWI France meant for the privileged precious little no more than parading their good breeding and privileges. In this film also disaster follows the woman who makes a false step. Louise will lie to cover the absence of her earrings that makes her lover take offense first and then lead to a duel between two persons who mean most to her. All this will make the viewer agree with the general who quotes Napoleon,”The only victory in love is to flee”.

‘The Earrings of Madame de…,’ directed in 1953 by Max Ophuls, is one of the most mannered and contrived love movies ever filmed. It glitters and dazzles, and beneath the artifice it creates a heart, and breaks it. The film is famous for its elaborate camera movements, its graceful style, its sets, its costumes and of course its jewelry. It stars Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica, who effortlessly embody elegance. It could have been a mannered trifle. We sit in admiration of Ophuls’ visual display, so fluid and intricate. Then to our surprise we find ourselves caring’.( Roger Ebert-2001)
ack: Press Notes: Ophuls, A Pleasure Indeed, Criterion-Sep. 19, 2008

Cast
Comtesse Louise de    Danielle Darrieux
Générale André de    Charles Boyer
Baron Fabrizio Donati    Vittorio De Sica
Monsieur Rémy    Jean Debucourt
Monsieur de Bernac    Jean Galland
Lola    Lia Di Leo

Credits
Director    Max Ophuls
Based on the novel by    Louise de Vilmorin
Adaptation by    Marcel Achard, Max Ophuls and Annette Wademant
Cinematography:    Christian Matras
Music    : Oscar Straus and Georges van Parys
Costumes:    Georges Annenkov and Rosine Delamare
Sound    : Antoine Petitjean

Editing:    Borys Lewin
* Run Time: 105 minutes
* Filmed In: B&W
benny

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