Archive for the ‘French cinema’ Category
A naïve cashier who is far above his social class and cultivated falls in love with a tramp who milks the old fool for what is worth. Her only concern is to keep her pimp and the arrangement leads to a course that has disastrous consequences for all concerned.
Renoir took the story and created a poignant film that established his reputation as a film maker. It was his first sound film and what with prevailing Hayes code,1930 (‘No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it’) La Chienne was never shown in the United States until 1975, 44 years after its original French release.
Black and white,
Director: Jean Renoir
A meek and unassuming office clerk, Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon), teased at his workplace and terrorized by a virago of a wife at home, declines an invitation from his co-workers to turn the evening’s dinner banquet festivities into a night of carousing. His excuse is that he was to be home before his wife’s midnight curfew. On the way home, he encounters a young man abusing a young woman and quickly interferes to stop it. Gallantly he hires a taxi to take them home. After leaving Dédé (Georges Flamant) he walks through the seedy section to her dump. Before he takes leave he lets her know his intention.
The scene quickly lays down the premise of the film. Social morality and individual morality are two sides of the same coin. Legrand who will refuse to let down his public image however ridiculous, to be called a whore monger is not averse himself to set up a tramp in a quiet apartment.
Lucienne Pelletier, nicknamed Lulu (Janie Marese) lets the aging cashier keep her in such circumstances so she has Dédé on hand. Maurice keeps giving money and artwork to Lulu, forgiving her even after he finds out that she’s been selling paintings by “Clara Wood” that are earning high prices. There is a subtext in the private life of Legrand who discovers Adèle’s “dead” husband Godard (Roger Gaillard) is not dead. Renoir with tongue in cheek humor delineates the character who is an out and out scoundrel. His game is blackmail. He has come back demanding Legrand buy him off. While he was sacrificing his life for the country Legrand had stolen his wife, something that will never go down well for his public image. To his shock the unhappily married Legrand is all too eager to simply step aside. Renoir seems to comment: in the eye of the society the sergeant is a hero, a martyr. It would rather keep a lie in circulation than condone the man who replaced him in his bed.
Coming back to the story this episode shuts up Adèle (Magdeleine Bérubet) who had carped eternally about hero of her husband. Legrand is at last free.Maurice Legrand quickly moves to the apartment he had set up for his mistress. It comes as a shock for him to discover the sad truth: she loved him only for what she could get out of him.
In one unforgettable cinematic moment Legrand turns up unnoticed at the apartment while a crowd in front of the building is raptly watching street singer perform. He kills the tramp and walks away unnoticed. Soon the lover-boy arrives driving up in such ostentatious manner breaking up the crowd.
‘The film’s conclusion suggests that Legrand, a respectable member of bourgeois society and a white collar worker, doesn’t have to pay for his actions,… when there’s a far less respectable scapegoat at hand’. The film ends with a weirdly tragicomic epilogue, in which Legrand and Godard meet up as hobos, years later, both of them gruff old men cackling about their shared fate. When Legrand confesses that he has become a murderer since they last met, Godard simply stares at him for a moment and then shrugs, “it takes all kinds.” ‘La Chienne ends with Legrand telling Godard, “life is beautiful.” They walk away together. (ack: only the cinema/April, 2,2012/seul-le-cinema.blogspot.)
Michael Simon again would take the role of a tramp. He appears in Boudu Saved From Drowning.
To quote Peter Bogdanovich ‘Of all the great filmmakers, Renoir is most the humanist poet, the one director who only made pictures about people—not stereotypes, not archetypes, not myths, but real people’. People are not suspended in vacuum but in a milieu that is contrived. In cinematic medium social consciousness of the director dictates visual clues to give it specific gravity:using deep focus photography Renoir gives life of the people going on around the main personages and using repeated imagery of mirrors and reflections we also see them as though under a microscope. Adèle’s keeping her monthly dividends inside a mirrored wardrobe; the shot of a shaving Legrand that pans to the image of the opened wardrobe as he pilfers money, surprising Lulu and her pimp in bed we see him in reflection as the intrusive third party, each object acquires a power of its own.
The film opens and ends as though we are taken through the proscenium of make believe. I shall end with Bogdanovich: ‘The seeming simplicity of Renoir—he never calls attention to himself, yet it is so clearly his eye through which we are seeing the world—belies an amazing complexity in his understanding of people, of the human comedy.’
Trivia:;”In the film Michel Simon falls in love with Janie Marèse, and he did off-screen as well, while Marèze fell for Georges Flamant, who plays the pimp. Renoir and producer Pierre Braunberger had encouraged the relationship between Flamant and Marèze in order to get the fullest conviction into their performances – (Flamant was a professional criminal but an amateur actor). After the film had been completed Flamant, who could barely drive, took Marèse for a drive, crashed the car and she was killed. At the funeral Michel Simon fainted and had to be supported as he walked past the grave. He threatened Renoir with a gun, saying that the death of Marèze was all his fault. “Kill me if you like”, responded Renoir, “but I have made the film”wikipedia)
Posted in French cinema, tagged Andrzej Wajda, georges DantonPublic Safety Committee, Guillotine, L'affaire Danton, polish film maker, reign of terror, Stanisława Przybyszewska on July 29, 2010| Leave a Comment »
Among the great Polish filmmakers—Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland, Roman Polanski—Andrzej Wajda remains unique in the way he has explored in his films the tortuous path his nation had to take. The question of her national identity: what sort of Poland do the people want in the post war produced the Ashes and Diamonds a classic. Between his fifties war trilogy and his most recent film, Katyn (2007) we have Danton a minor classic where the themes do find echo in what was taking place in Poland.
‘The film was based on the play The Danton Affair, by Stanisława Przybyszewska, first performed in 1931. Przybyszewska was a Communist whose sympathies lay with the radical Robespierre. Wajda revived the play in 1975, but he turned it on its head, making a hero out of the more moderate Danton. By 1980, the high point of the Solidarity liberation movement, he had arranged to make his version of the play into a film, a Polish-French co-production with Gaumont. Studio scenes were to be done in Poland, while location scenes were to be shot in France. Martial law was imposed on December 13, 1981, however, in a coup directed by the Soviet Union: General Jaruzelski was installed, Solidarity outlawed, communications cut, a curfew introduced, and production in Poland became impossible. The whole project was then transferred to Paris, with Wajda taking some of his Polish actors, including Wojciech Pszoniak, who plays Robespierre, and a small group of co-workers. As a result, Wajda, this most Polish of directors, was forced to become an émigré, only returning from exile in 1989, when the Jaruzelski government fell. (He went on to receive his adopted country’s highest film honor, the César, for best director in 1983.)’(Quoted from Leonard Quart/Criterion Collection news)
Wajda’s tale of the struggle between two factions spearheading the French Revolution is not an isolated event. Political fall out of an ideal produces factions and we see it in the solidarity movement and in the soviet backed government of General Jaruzelski. This we saw in the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky for the mantle of Lenin. Beyond this parallel what was happening in Poland in the early 80s was altogether different. Danton and Robespierre represent two factions, one moderate and the other all out radical just as their personalities are opposites to one another. Danton is larger than life, venal and easy while Robespierre the lawyer from Arras is austere and chaste. Danton (Gérard Depardieu) and Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) were close friends and fought together in the French Revolution, but by 1793 Robespierre had become the ruler and in order to wipe out opposition he ordered for a series of mass executions that became known as the Reign of Terror. Danton, well known as a spokesman of the people, had been living in relative solitude in the French countryside, but he returned to Paris to challenge Robespierre’s violent rule and call for the people to demand their rights. Robespierre, however, could not accept such a challenge and tries to win him over to his side.
There is much more than a tacit understanding to the reign of terror at stake. While Danton realizes the path he had set out has gone off the rails the other is all the more for bloodletting. Danton knows from events played out around him Revolution has become like Saturn devouring it own children. Robespierre takes advantage of Danton’s vacillation to outmaneuver him and arrest him. Thus five years after the fall of Bastille it is the will of Robespierre, Saint- Just et al that overrides the voice of restraint.
There is a telling scene that takes place in the studio of Jacques Louis David where the dictator in waiting the incorruptible Robespierre is sitting for the painter. When he is handed a palm he refuses it since it reminds one of martyr’s palm. He also insists erasing his enemies from the group painting and it echoes Stalin’s purge of history of Bolshevik revolution. (In that famous photo Lenin on return from exile harangues people where Trotsky the organizer of the Red Army stands next to the podium. Stalin on taking control had him airbrushed from history albeit pictorially. )
Both factions hold however one component common to their cause. Both are maneuvering in the name of the people. Robespierre who, as Danton would point out at a crucial one to one meeting shrinks from all contact, – and in all probability had never laid, speaks of man on the street as matter of his right. Yet Robespierre who holds the trump cards says: ‘We want Danton’s death.’
Judge Fouquier: ‘I am not your private executioner.’
Robespierre the ‘incorruptible’ of course wants him to effect the order of the Committee just the same as ‘people’s executioner.’
It is an irony of all blood baths that the dictators unleash are in the name of the people.
The earthy ‘larger than life’ Danton and the puritanical Robespierre fight like whores for their favor.
Danton: ‘A political trial is a duel. If the government accuses we can accuse them.’ The idea is to create doubts in the minds of people. The same ploy the government also uses in making Danton and other ‘conspirators’ sit along with the criminal like common thieves and pimps. .
Themes, which figure in Danton, are both political and ethical and are timeless.
The irrefutable fact that Danton set up the Tribunal does not mean he was above that. The hero of August 10 was evidently consumed by his own creation and also took Robespierre within three months.
The trouble with revolutions is that you don’t control insurrection with words once the blood is drawn whether in the streets or in the bedchamber.
Danton whose voice was like thunder shaking the very dome but as essayed by Gerard Deperdiue could not raise it beyond a whimper. The same could be said of the film Danton.
‘In addition to Mr. Depardieu and Mr. Pszoniak, the excellent cast includes Patrice Chereau as Danton’s journalist-friend, Camille Desmoulins; Angela Winkler as Lucille Desmoulins, Camille’s wife who followed him to the scaffold; Boguslaw Linda, as Saint Just, and Roger Planchon, who is partciuarly good as Fourquier Tinville, who prosecuted Danton and his associates in a rigged trial’ (quoted from NY Times review. Wajda’s ‘DANTON,’ Inside the French Revolution by Vincent Canby; Sept 28, 1983)
Myth of the Immortal Singer
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice, whether told by Apollonius of Rhodes, Virgil or Ovid does not age. It is not because of the story- teller but the story, and what it represents. Myths that associated with gods residing on the snowy tops of Mt. Olympus we may in these times dispense with. Yet remains within the pale shadowy regions of our psyche another kind of gods that slip mysteries through symbols and in suprareal clarity, which we call dreams. A sense of awe it elicits from us so much so we treat dreams as nightmares or as fulfilling deepest wishes vicariously. We haven’t yet plumbed the depths of ‘the mystery of being’. Thankfully myths are part of our learning process and if we could crack the code- this mystery, we all would be poets and life would be poetry in motion. Oh no! We are dealing with our imperfect state and as long as we remain thus the story of Orpheus and Eurydice would hold relevance to us. If we teleport ourselves to another intergalactic station we can relate to it as Orpheus descending to the other world. That is in future. So we shall as Jack Webb says, ‘stick to facts,’
In ancient times what Ovid and Virgil strove at we may deal the mysteries after our fashion. Thus Cocteau placing the story of Orpheus in his time is apt. ‘ A legend is entitled to be set anywhere… interpret it as you will.’ The poet admonishes before the film gets underway.
Cocteau interprets it by using many elements from the culture of his time and these visual clues give the immortal myth its time and place. For example, the messengers of the Princess of Death are grim, leather-clad motorcyclists. Buildings in France, which remained in ruins after World War II, represent the underworld and Orpheus’s trial in the underworld is presented in the manner of an inquest held by officials of the German occupation attempting to discover members of the French resistance. At the very end of the film, the Princess and Heurtebise are prisoners, brought forward to face the tribunal, ominously elevated on a pedestal above them.
At the Café des Poètes, two cliques are engaged in a brawl. It follows immediately after the Princess (Casares) and the young poet Cègeste (Edouard Dermithe) arrive. The princess has unlimited means to further the career of her protégé, but he is killed by the outriders of the Princess. Apparently an accident. The Princess orders Orpheus (Marais) along as a witness. Cègeste’s body is taken to the villa in the outskirts than to the hospital.
The sleek Rolls serves as a metaphor for the insulated world of a poet. As Orpheus says elsewhere, ‘Poet sings of death and dreams of death’,’… and life is a long death’. His experience with the Princess and the dead poet leaves him irritable and his preoccupation with the car radio transmitting coded messages elicits following comment ‘You can’t spend your life in a talking car’. Eurydice would like him to be concerned about the baby she is carrying. The poet engrossed in decoding messages tells the chauffeur, ‘I am on the threshold of a discovery of a world and she is on to bills and baby’s clothes.’
Orpheus finds the company of the chauffeur Heurtebise (Périer) more congenial. He has the wonderful ability despite his position of taking orders from the Princess and her handlers, to come and go as he pleases. Is it because the poet committed to art found such freedom an ideal state or is it physical attraction? He is as mysterious as Death since he can pass through mirrors as Death. ‘Mirrors are the doors through which death comes and goes’.
Heurtebise is evidently attracted to Eurydice a fact he admits before his peers. He warns her in her condition not to take the bicycle and she refuses to listen. The death of Eurydice brings to surface the motive of Death. She visited often to watch Orpheus asleep and her fascination is an aspect that brings Orpheus to assess his fascination with death. A poet’s imagination is not purely an abstraction or a pose but holds a tangible basis. Thus Orpheus songs or dreams of Death have the Princess as the starting point. (‘Death has a face’ and in this case the Princess.) It becomes now clear why Cègeste who was his rival had to die.
Cocteau shows Death (the Princess) is as much a transgressor as the Poet (Orpheus) who in pursuit of his art has transgressed in his relationship with Eurydice.
Cocteau explored the myth of Orpheus on no fewer than three occasions: Le Sang d’Un Poete (Blood of a Poet, 1930), Orphee (Orpheus, 1949) and Le Testament d’Orphee (1960).
Cocteau said of Mirrors: “We watch ourselves grow old in mirrors. They bring us closer to death.” If one could step through the reality to the other side it would be repeating Orpheus’ descent into the Hades and back.
(ack: wikipedia,Criterion collection , Cocteau: The Art of Cinema (1992). Reprinted by permission of Marion Boyars Publishers, New York, London.)
Orpheus coming out of the crowd tells:’Is my case hopeless?’
Owner of the Café des Poètes to Orpheus: Astonish us!
Orpheus checks the review and finds every page blank. ‘Is less absurd than it were written every page full of absurdities.’
The Princess to Orpheus:’Don’t stand there like a lamp post.’
The Princess:’ Are you sleepwalking? Follow me!’
Orpheus:’Yes I am asleep. The dreamer must accept his dreams.‘
Orpheus:’Who can say what is poetry and what is not?’
Orpheus: ‘Aglonice (a member of the League of Women- Bachantes)cannot tell you anything new.’
message:’ a single glass of water lights the world.’
* Director: Jean Cocteau
* Produced By: Discina International Films
* Run Time: 95 minutes
* Jean Marais – Orphée
* François Périer – Heurtebise
* María Casares – The Princess – Death
* Marie Déa – Eurydice
* Henri Crémieux – L’éditeur
* Juliette Gréco – Aglaonice
* Roger Blin – The Poet
* Edouard Dermithe – Jacques Cégeste
* René Worms – Judge
* Nicholas D’Agosto- The Guy
Posted in French cinema, tagged Christian Matras, Daniel Gélin, Danielle Darrieux, Fernand Gravey, Gerard Philippe, Jean-Louis Barrault, Miranda, Odette Joyeux, Serge Reggiani, Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, Walbrook on July 21, 2010| Leave a Comment »
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)