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Archive for December, 2009

Vredens Dag-1943
Based on a novel by Hans Wiers-Jenssens, Carl Th.Dreyer’s Day of Wrath remains an intense, unforgettable experience. The credits against the score of Dies Irae, chanted by a solemn choir on the background set the tone. One might expect the film to be a moral play from a casual reading of the plot. Consider the plot: Anne, the young second wife of a well-respected but much older pastor, falls in love with her stepson who has come home. The film could easily have slid into the other extreme judging by the bare storyline. The film is not for those who approach a film to satisfy their prurient interests.  Carl Dreyer is in full command of his material never swerving to please either.  He leaves the film open ended and it makes it all the more compelling drama somewhat like Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel. Was Anne similarly guilty or not is left to the viewer and there are no easy answers.

Set in Denmark in the 1600s Dreyer’s austere narrative does not let off the aged, devout minister, Absalon (Thorkild Roose) for marrying a far younger wife, Anne (Lisbeth Movin). His moral authority places him head of the religious council and in power over life and death of members of his parish. But is he what he seems to profess? All his professed piety is negated by his foolish May- December marriage. As the film progresses we know his gravity and condescending concern for her is more a manifestation of the aridity of his soul.  He can well dispatch a helpless woman to her death who knows too well the circumstances by which he claimed the young bride.  With her death the minister has merely bought time. None of his fellow clergymen shall know he conspired to release Anne’s late mother, an accused witch, in return for Anne agreeing to marry him. This is the moral dilemma number one.

Abaslon’s unmarried son (and Anne’s stepson), Martin (Preben Lerdoff Rye) poses the second. In the final scene we feel with Anne in the manner her last remaining support is cut off. Martin is as much guilty of lust but having tasted stolen bread in secret, the gravel that he spits out is his lack of moral compass. He gives in too easily to ‘religion’ of  his departed sire and superstition. The shot where Anne stands by her husband’s coffin abandoned and accused by her peers is all the more keenly felt since it is a commentary of Martin’s betrayal. It breaks her will so much as to let her tormentors do what will. But was she really guilty of Absalon’s death?
Whether Anne is really guilty or not is left unanswered as the scene in the first half where Absalon reveals about her mother. She was a witch who could with her powers work with the dead and the living to bring anything to pass. He shares this piece of news concerned that she as her child possessed the same powers, and in the perilous times when witches were hunted and burned she should be very careful. Next shot we see her enunciating the name of Martin clearly and trembling with desire. The viewer knows the name is spoken with all her  being. Was it the desire of a woman awaiting for a physical union with one who is in his prime? Or is the cold power of a witch manifested here? In whichever case Martin responded because of his human fraility. Whether Martin answered her call on incantation or by his own physical desire makes him equally guilty. But he is not punished. Moral dilemma of man answering his natural urges is solely on his own human  condition: in other words witches or demonic possession are simply labels to paper over one’s moral lapses.

While largely Dreyer’s essay deals with a forbidden love triangle there are two characters whose formidable presence delineate the moral ambit of the three characters. Anne’s tragedy is what imposed by hereditary. Herlofs Marte (Anne Svierkier) at the beginning of the film comes to Anne in fright; her appeal for refuge is on the basis she is the daughter of a witch of her own coven. Anne in helping her has already placed herself on the wrong side of the powerful Council.
Marte who is accused of witchcraft knows society for what it is. She knows what beats behind the straitlaced minister and his ilk. She is unrepentant and is not taken in by the moralizing prig whose heart is all angles as sharp as the scythe of Death. She cries out  “I fear neither heaven or hell; I am only afraid to die,” and it is merely admission of her human fraility that is beyond pretensions or need for redemption. When she falls along with the burning stake it is as she falls on us. It is an unforgettable cinematic moment.
At the outset we witness an intimate domestic scene that is a commentary on the household. It is not Absalon or his wife but his mother who is in charge. She is a veritable Gorgon. Naturally Anne could not do anything right and when her mother-in-law accuses her of engineering her son’s death we are left with no doubt as to the motive. Mother of the minister and in her dress and conduct a matron of unassailable virtue she is unrepentant and unredeemed as much as Herlofs Marte occupying the other end of local community in Norway.

Filmed during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (Vredens dag) is a harrowing account of individual helplessness in the face of growing social repression and paranoia.  Exquisitely photographed and passionately acted, Day of Wrath remains an intense, unforgettable experience.
Cast
Lisbeth Movin
Albert Høeberg
Preben Lerdorff Rye
Sigrid Neiiendam

Credits
Director    Carl Th. Dreyer
Screenplay    Carl Th. Dreyer
From a novel by    Hans Wiers-Jenssens
Producer    Carl Th. Dreyer and Tage Nielsen
Cinematography    Karl Andersson
Editing    Anne Marie Petersen and Edith Schlüssel
Music     Poul Schierbeck
Memorable Quotes:
Rev. Absalon Pederssøn: There is nothing so quiet as a heart that has ceased to beat.
—-
Martin: Shall we ever find each other again?
Anne Pedersdotter: Who shall prevent it?
Martin: The dead.
—-
Anne Pedersdotter: I see through my tears, but no one comes to wipe them away.
Trivia

Though the film is outwardly a chronicle of a religious witch-hunt, it contained many subtler comparisons to the behavior of the Nazis (torture and questioning) and Carl Theodor Dreyer fled Denmark for Sweden where he remained until the war was over.

Dreyer
‘Much of Dreyer’s austerity in dissecting the frailities of human heart and psyche without sitting in judgment of moral compulsions he is more a coroner than a surgeon. Hysteria of witchcraft and heresy of 17th Century had given way to Eugenics and racial purity demanded by the Nazism. Looking at society conditioned by Luther or Calvin authority of the godly required scapegoats. The church leaders based their policy on the Holy Writ while the Nazis policy of lebensraum  drew their own conclusions from Spencer and Darwin. Dreyer’s concern was for those who made up society, Everyman on whom was the burden of making the policy of powers- that- be  work. In locating the areas of putrefaction he didn’t make them monstrous or innocent. Absalon,  Jeanne d’Arc, one mythical and the other historical, were victims of greater forces.
Dreyer’s upbringing was neither strict nor Lutheran. Born out of wedlock in 1889 to a Swedish servant (who died horribly a year and a half later trying to abort a second child), he was adopted by the Dreyers in Copenhagen, who gave him a nonreligious upbringing and whom he grew up despising religiosity. Absalon’s mother must have touched a familiar chord in him to make her as instrument of hatred masquerading as propriety. ‘The slow pacing is necessary for the intensity and the sexiness under the gloom to register. Freely adapted from a Norwegian play… Anne Pedersdotter that Dreyer had first seen in 1909, Day of Wrath looks today more cinematically advanced than any other movie released in 1943.

The film’s handling of period is unparalleled, achieving a narrative richness that may initially seem confusing. Set in 1623, when people still believed without question in witches, the film views that world from a contemporary perspective without for a moment dispelling our sense of what it felt like from the inside. Dreyer pulls off this difficult task through his singular style, involving a sensual form of camera movement he invented: the camera gliding on unseen tracks in one direction while uncannily panning in another direction. It’s difficult to imagine—a three-dimensional kind of transport that somehow combines coming and going in the same complex journey—but a hypnotic experience to follow. The film’s first real taste of it comes fairly early, when we follow Anne in her sinuous progress towards the torture chamber where Herlof’s Marte is being interrogated. The camera tracking with Anne around a pillar prompts our involvement while its simultaneous swiveling away from her establishes our detachment. And enhancing the strange sense of presence that results is Dreyer’s rare employment of direct sound rather than studio post-synching—giving scenes an almost carnal impact..’ ( Ack:Figuring Out Day of Wrath- Jonathan Rosenbaum/Criterion collections, 20 Aug 01)
benny

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In a film where the eponymous heroine holds with her ‘feel good’ doctor the following  dialogue :
Veronica Voss: You’ve given me a great deal of happiness.
Dr. Marianne Katz: I sold it to you.

one may be sure the film is going to be as dark as the soul of  the dopefiend or of her ‘fixer.’ ”Veronika Voss,”is the  second-to-last film of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It is a chilly, tough, wicked satire set in Munich some 10 years after the collapse of the Nazi Germany.  Fassbinder’s movies like ”The Marriage of Maria Braun” and ”Lola” deal with the economic miracle of Post-war Germany. The American ideal of ‘pursuit of happiness’ is imported as Hershey bar is, and practiced in the city in no holds barred struggle.  Veronika Voss is one victim. We see  beneath the façade of prosperity  wounded creatures like Veronika Voss and Lola.   Both are pawns. Lola the singer is the pawn of a corrupt contractor who has all the powers- that- be in his pocket except the idealistic  but wet- behind- the- ears- goodness of the new City planner.  Progress for the Slum Lord is in that he can spread his money around. The politicians and pillars of the society also see it that way. So Lola is there to corrupt the idealism that doesn’t bring money to him in the way he wants it. He well knows the honest city planner shall be on his way, so Lola must entrap him. Whereas  Veronika has the misfortune to fall in the clutches of  an evil doctor. She peddles pleasure as indicated in the dialogue quoted above. Veronicka Voss  (Rosel Zech), a once-popular German movie actress who is rumored to have been a close friend of Goebbels has not the staying power of a filmstar like Betty Davis or Joan Crawford. She is blond and something like a Harlowt (with t silent); and as far as her acting goes she is the type who cannot possibly survive, without some help like Goebbels. It was before the war.

In the Post War Germany an economic miracle is blowing across Germany and for her help comes in the form Dr. Marianne Katz.
When we first see Veronika Voss she is in a Munich theater watching her former self in an old movie, one in which she is surrendering to an evil woman doctor in return for drugs to support her habit. ‘As life sometimes imitates terrible movies, the story of Veronika Voss becomes much like the plot of one of her films’(quote: NY Times review-By VINCENT CANBY
Published: September 24, 1982
)
Synopsis
While walking through a park, a chance rain drives Veronika Voss to the friendly Robert Krohn (Hilmar Thate), a sports reporter. He gallantly offers her protection at least for now from getting wet. He is one of the few people in Munich who doesn’t remember her face or her name. Intrigued Veronika telephones Robert a couple of days later and asks him to meet her for tea.
At the restaurant, Veronika charms Robert as well as baffles him. As lighting in a restaurant  she gives a hint of her ambience derived from her ‘dark self.’ As if to prove the point she says ”I like to seduce helpless men,” and then borrows 300 marks from him to buy a brooch. She also proves her amoral side by whisking him off right in front of his live- in photographer who shall dearly pay for loving him unreservedly.
Veronika takes him to her country house where they make  love and she reaches a kind of orgasm, given the clue of Fassbinder’s sexual predilections an anticlimax, she reveals her dark self.  She is a morphine addict.
The rest soon falls apart from romance of an ageing coquette with a naïve sportswriter into the dark realms of mystery. There isn’t much of mysterywhen the has been actress doesn’t want to be rescued from’ her pursuit of happiness.’ The music and crisp black and white photography adds to the acidulous touch of Fassbinder. Since I had touched upon his Lola earlier I shall merely add ‘Lola’ is in color, and its psychadelic color palette still makes it black in its overall emotional intensity. I close this appreciation with a touch of regret that his genius was cut down in the middle of its full flowering.
Trivia: The film is loosely based on the career of actress Sybillie Schmitz. It is reportedly influenced by Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.
2.
Fassbinder has a bit part in the beginning of the film sitting behind Voss in a movie theatre and watching her old movie. Lilo Pempeit (also Liselotte Eder) who plays the manager of a jewelry store was Fassbinder’s mother. Günther Kaufmann for whom Fassbinder earlier had an unrequited infatuation, plays in all three films of the cycle. In this one he is an enigmatic African-American G.I. Juliane Lorenz, seen in the brief role of a secretary, was a close associate of Fassbinder and the editor of this film.(Ack: wikipedia, NY Times Review)
VERONIKA VOSS, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; screenplay (German with English subtitles) by Peter Marthesheimer and Pea Frohlich; director of photography, Xaver Schwarzenberger; edited by Juliane Lorenz; music by Peer Raben; produced by Thomas Schuhly; a production of Laura-Film/Tango Film in co-production with Rialto-Film/Trio- Film/Maran Film; Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated R. 

Veronika Voss . . . . . Rosel Zech 
Robert Krohn . . . . . Hilmar Thate 
Henriette . . . . . Cornelia Froboess 
Dr. Katz . . . . . Annemarie Duringer 
Josefa . . . . . Doris Schade 
Dr. Edel . . . . . Eric Schumann 
Film Producer-Fat Man . . . . . Peter Berling 
G.I.-Dealer . . . . . Gunther Kaufmann 
Saleswoman . . . . . Sonja Neudorfer 
Her Boss . . . . . Lilo Pempeit

benny

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well, my precious little go-between

think you will bring me good news?

If bad let it be a one quick dart of fire,

so I die in my own pyre, a sweet odor

for whoever your god be.

i’d rather read in every diaphanous fold

the good news my loins crave

you sweet little mercurial nymph!

so what shall it be this time-

good or bad?

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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