Donkey Skin (1970): Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

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To view Donkey Skin click here.

I always love seeing what happens when international directors make it big on the foreign-language film circuit and start getting pressured to shoot films in English. The results tend to fall into certain categories: divisive but with fan followings, as in the case of François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966) or Fellini’s Casanova (1976); interesting but almost immediately forgotten, as in Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch (1971) or Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights (2007); or, on rare occasions, a language-transcending masterpiece like Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), something he didn’t quite manage to replicate again with commercial audiences. (Exactly where John Woo falls on that spectrum is still being sorted out.) [...MORE]

Dogtooth (2009)

DOGTOOTH, (aka KYNODONTAS), 2009. ©Kino International/Courtesy Everett Collection

To view Dogtooth click here.

Dogtooth has the surrealism of Buñuel, the scalpel of Haneke, the underground horror of a thriller without the splatter.” It’s hard to improve on that summation, made October 22nd, 2009, by the Greek film critic Dimitris Danikas in Ta Nea (The News), a daily newspaper of Athens. Dogtooth won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and snagged a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. In 2015, the director, Yorgos Lanthimos, would once again make waves at the Cannes Film Festival, but this time netting the Jury Prize there with Lobster and another Academy Award nomination (this time for Best Original Screenplay). [...MORE]

Lost (and Found) in Translation: Anna Karina and A Woman is a Woman (1961)

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To view A Woman is a Woman click here.

Anna Karina was discovered in the classic sense, as in someone saw her at a café and offered her a modeling job. The kind of discovery people with dreams of stardom long for but rarely see. She became a successful model and due to her appearance in a series of ads for Palmolive, came to the attention of director Jean-Luc Godard. This led to her first released film with him (Le Petit Soldat [1963] was the first she made with him but it wasn’t released until three years later), Une femme est une femme (A Woman is a Woman), and it made her a star. She did a lot of work afterwards, with Godard and others, but that role was the one that instantly, and forever, won me over.

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Black Sheep: Mon Oncle (1958)

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To view Mon Oncle click here.

“That would be the ideal film. I would like people to see Hulot less and less and to see other people or characters more and more.” – Jacques Tati

With Mon Oncle (1958), Jacques Tati gets closer to making his ideal film. The character of Hulot gets pushed further and further into the background until he often disappears, letting nearly everyone else in town take center stage. Hulot’s role is to set a disastrous mechanism into motion, then stroll offscreen with charming obliviousness. He is inimical to the quickly modernizing world of the film, able to find the flaw in any advanced doohickey and reduce it to a smoking, blubbering mess in a matter of minutes. Hulot is forever putting the brakes on technological advancement, while the rest of his family is installing the latest and greatest in household tech, from a motion-sensor garage door to a fish water fountain. While his family tries to automate and smooth out their lives, Hulot prefers to live in the grit and grime, in an old rickety house covered in dust and layered with history. Tati uses set and sound design to separate Hulot from his contemporaries, going from the squeaky clean lines of his sister’s ultra-modern home to the clatteringly labyrinthine staircase of his apartment building. Hulot is a man of out of time, trying to impart his destabilizing spirit to his little nephew, the only relative susceptible to his charms.

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Summer Daze: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

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To view Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday click here.

The first screen appearance of Jacques Tati’s Hulot character is inside of a car: a clattering, jittering wreck making its way to a seaside hotel in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953). Tati cuts from the sound of a train horn to the pitter-putter of Hulot’s gasping car engine as it turns the corner of a country lane. The train is carrying the middle-class vacationers to their summer home, but Hulot always travels his own circuitous path. He yearns to be part of the group, but is forever getting sidetracked, by everything from funerals to fireworks. The character of Hulot, established here and elaborated on in three more films (Mon Oncle [1958], Playtime [1967] and Trafic [1970]), is baffled by modern technology and remains continually tangled up in it, reaching an apotheosis in the shimmering urban Hulot-trap of Playtime.  Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is a gentler affair, though it establishes the unsteadiness and peculiar launching qualities of his springlike body. Like his car, he is as unsteady as a reed in a wind, and the slightest stumble will launch him into the next zip code. But he will always circle back home, hoping to get a few moments’ peace before getting launched once again.

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The Postman: Jour de Fête (1949)

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To view Jour de fête click here.

After a decade-long career as a music-hall performer, Jacques Tati transitioned to feature filmmaking witha comedy about a remarkably gullible postman. Before Tati invented the iconic bumbling bourgeois Hulot (in M. Hulot’s Holiday, 1953), he experimented with a clumsy working class letter carrier, prone to insecure bouts of drinking and falling flat on his face. Jour de fête (1949) exhibits Tati’s elastic expertise at mime, including a tour-de-force drunk bike ride, as well as displaying his immediate talents as a director, constructing brilliantly funny gags through choreography and sound design. All of the gags generate from a small town’s resistance to and obsession with technological advancement, especially as trumpeted by the Americans. Tati eyes all this talk of modernization with a gimlet eye, preferring instead to linger on the absurdities of small town life before they disappear forever.

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The Politics of Singing: Une Chambre en Ville (1982)

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To view Une Chambre en Ville click here.

Jacques Demy’s reputation has long suffered from an inferiority complex among the French New Wave filmmakers. Fans and critics find movies like The 400 Blows (1959) and Breathless (1960) challenging and daring while movies like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) are beloved all time classics, certainly adored but not considered the kind of serious art that the others were doing. If you’ve read my pieces on Demy before, you already know I think this is rubbish. But as Demy’s career grew, it expanded outwards and allowed for far more risk-taking and innovation than his earlier work. By the time he got to Une Chambre en Ville, he was making movies that were as innovative and daring as anything coming out of the early days of the New Wave. Une Chambre en Ville, not nearly as famous as many of Demy’s earlier works, is riskier and more challenging than almost anything he ever did.

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The World’s a Stage: The Golden Coach (1953)

THE GOLDEN COACH, (aka LE CARROSSE D'OR), Anna Magnani, 1953.

To view The Golden Coach click here.

The Golden Coach (1953) begins with a red curtain raising on a stage, the camera pushing in until the edges of the theater disappear and the story proper begins. Jean Renoir’s feature about an Italian theatrical troupe setting up shop in Peru foregrounds its artificiality, a play within the film that is a performance for our benefit. Near the end the troupe’s star actress asks, “where does theater end and life begin?” a question Renoir had been asking since his beginnings in cinema. It is a question without an answer, but indicates the space in which Renoir prefers to operate, within that intersection where playfulness and improvisation meet the social structures that try to contain them. The Golden Coach focuses on Camilla (Anna Magnani), a dynamic stage presence who bewitches three of Peru’s most eligible bachelors, but cannot decide who she ultimately desires. She can only find clarity while on stage, and heartache off of it. So in an extraordinary conclusion, the film makes an argument for perpetual performance, instead of turning your life into art, make art of your life, regardless of the consequences.

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Explosive Terror in The Wages Of Fear (1953)

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To view The Wages of Fear click here.

In The Wages of Fear (1953), based on Georges Arnaud’s novel The Salary of Fear, director Henri-George Clouzot takes an incredibly simple premise and somehow creates over two and a half hours of psychological suspense in one of the greatest thrillers ever made. The Wages of Fear was a defining moment for Clouzot’s career, earning him critical praise and great financial success, which ultimately secured future projects such as his 1955 masterpiece Diabolique starring Simone Signoret and Woman in Chains in 1968. Not only did this film bolster Clouzot’s standing in the industry, it inspired many psychological thrillers to come, including William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977), which was a remake of sorts for The Wages of Fear. (Although Friedkin has previously asserted that Sorcerer is merely an adaptation of Arnaud’s novel, and not a remake of Clouzot’s film.)

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Another Day in the Country: Picnic on the Grass (1959)

PICNIC ON THE GRASS, (aka) DEJEUNER SUR L'HERBE,LE, (seated)Paul Meurisse, 1959

To view Picnic on the Grass, click here.

For Jean Renoir Picnic on the Grass was both a return and a departure. It was filmed in and around the country estate of Les Collettes, his late father’s land, where he had grown up as a child. It is the perfect setting for this back-to-nature comedy in which a scientist (and hopeful presidential candidate), is lured away from the world of the mind for that of the flesh. But instead of using this return to indulge in nostalgia or reiterate the naturalistic style of his still-famous triumphs – Renoir pushes further into farce and caricature. Picnic on the Grass is a broad and joyful comedy that was inevitably compared with Rules of the Game(1939) and Grand Illusion (1937), which had been restored and re-released around the same time, and so Renoir was compared to his previous self, and found wanting. Jonas Mekas, writing in The Village Voice in 1960, had a profound experience watching Picnic on the Grass and was baffled by its failure – he wrote: “I hear the critics did not like it. Who are the critics? Critics like to talk big – poor nearsighted things! They do not see beauty even when it is there.” FilmStruck presents us with another opportunity to see this beauty, so I attempted to find it there.

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Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.