François Truffaut’s The Last Metro (1980)

LAST METRO, THE (1980)

To view The Last Metro click here.

François Truffaut was a nostalgic sentimentalist, someone who enjoyed the idea of telling stories without too much cinematic edge or experimentation getting in the way. If you’ve ever read about his relationship with Jean-Luc Godard, or watched the documentary Two in the Wave (2010), you know that Truffaut and Godard veered off in different directions after their early successes breaking through the barriers of French cinema in the late 1950s. Godard experimented more and more, overturning cinematic norms while Truffaut increasingly embraced them. But just because one embraces norms and decides to work within them, while another attempts to revolutionize cinema with each new release, doesn’t mean one is better or worse than the other. In the end, Truffaut was far more successful with the public and commercial success is often equated with artistic compromise. But hiding within Truffaut’s movies are insights about art and politics that are perhaps more meaningful, and hit their mark more accurately, precisely because Truffaut worked within the system, so to speak. One such example, and his last critically and commercially successful film, is 1980′s The Last Metro, a film both rewarding in its story of love and art amidst horror, and utterly frustrating in its standard melodramatic banalities.

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Birdshead Revisited: Judex (1963)

judex-franju-01-g.jpg

To view Judex click here.

The first time we see the magician, he is standing alone, legs spread slightly apart, a lifelike bird mask covering his head. Next to him, on a stone block, lies a lifeless white dove. He picks it up in one hand and holds it gently as he walks through the hallways of the mansion on his way to the ballroom where the gala is being held. Once there, among the other masked revelers, the dove comes to life and flies away. He has brought it back from the dead, or so it seems, and produces one after another to the delight of the guests. The  man in the mask, we suspect, is Judex, an avenger who has set out to get a rich banker, Favraux (Michel Vitold), to pay back his victims or else. The actual magician portraying Judex is Channing Pollock and he didn’t speak a word of French. That didn’t matter to director Georges Franju, he just wanted a look. Besides, Judex wasn’t the lead anyway. [...MORE]

Sometimes a Movie is a Dance: In the Mood for Love (2000)

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

To view In the Mood for Love click here.

There is a clamor in the apartment house as people come and go, eat dinner, play mahjong and discuss the day. The shots are tight. We see faces, bodies moving past us, jammed hallways. Then, everything stops. The clamor is gone. The soundtrack now plays only music, a music both deliberate and beautiful, and a woman gracefully walks up and down a flight of stairs to get noodles for dinner. Her neighbor, a man with whom she has a passing acquaintance follows close behind and does the same. Then, the clamor returns. As their relationship becomes deeper, and more expressive, the rhythm changes, the beats occurs at different intervals and the bodies move cautiously at times, frantically at others. Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film, In the Mood for Love, may be the cinema’s best evocation yet of the cinema as dance.

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I Know I Am: Breaking the Waves (1996)

BREAKING THE WAVES (1996)

To view Breaking the Waves click here.

There are two moments near the beginning of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996) that capture a little bit of what I love so much about his style of filmmaking, moments that make the film seem unrehearsed, almost as if it weren’t a narrative piece at all. The first is after Bess (Emily Watson) walks outside after meeting with the council of her church elders seeking permission to get married. She breathes in the air and then looks directly at the camera, smiling. The second occurs during the wedding of Bess and Jan (Stellan Skarsgård) as we see Bess coming down the aisle. She smiles shyly at everyone then looks right into the camera and sticks her tongue out. Both are fourth wall breaks but are done without irony or sarcasm, done not to wink at the audience but to leave the impression that you’re there, with Bess, in the moment, sharing her story. Lars von Trier makes movies that infuriate people and I admit, it took me some time to appreciate his nuances, but once I did, I found myself rewatching his works and rediscovering an emotional intimacy few other filmmakers accomplish.

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“Isn’t that enough?” The American Friend (1977)

AMERICAN FRIEND, THE (1977)

To view The American Friend click here.

Tom Ripley only ever wore a cowboy hat once. In Hamburg. And Wim Wenders loved it. Playing Tom Ripley, Dennis Hopper dons the hat as he roams about, confused and paranoid, running an art forgery scheme to make money off of ignorant investors. At one of those art auctions he’s introduced to a framer, Jonathan Zimmerman, played by Bruno Ganz, and gets the cold shoulder. Anyone who knows Tom Ripley knows that’s a mistake. Ripley is many things, from con man to sociopath, but he is, above all else, unstable. Tom Ripley never forgets a slight. That initiates a series of events that sets in motion Wenders’ 1977 thriller, The American Friend, based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game.

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A Deafening Silence

SILENCE DE LA MER, LE (1949)

To view Le Silence de la Mer, click here.

Jean-Pierre Melville directed Bob le flambeur (1956), Le Samouraï  (1967), L’ Arme des ombres (1969) and Le Cercle rouge (1970), all acclaimed works by an acclaimed director but his first effort from 1949, Le Silence de la Mer (The Silence of the Sea), stands as one of the great directing debuts in movie history. It also stands as a controversial work, along with its source material, the novel of the same name written by Jean Brullers in occupied France under the pseudonym Vercors. The controversy has to do with the idea of the “good German,” or, more specifically, the “good Nazi officer,” an idea that rankled many at the time and still causes problems today, depending on how you look at it.

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You’re Invited to Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

MURIEL'S WEDDING (1994)

To view Muriel’s Wedding click here.

Last year, I took a look at the enduring (and sometimes unexpected) impact the music of ABBA, the wildly adored Swedish pop group, has had on the world of cinema. One of the key titles in that study was Muriel’s Wedding (1994), an Australian films from the Miramax-led art house wave that hit theaters during the grunge years. Now that you lucky dogs can watch it right here on Filmstruck as part of a “Starring Toni Collette” two-fer with another Miramax title, Cosi (1996), what better time could there be to take a closer look? [...MORE]

Treasures Left Behind

THE GLEANERS AND I, (aka LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE), director Agnes Varda, 2000. ©Zeitgeist Films/

As of late a lot of my friends are purging themselves of records, books, movies and more. I’ve been the happy recipient of these spoils and, as best I can, I have been trying to give these items a good home. Something in this act reminds me of The Gleaners and I (2000) – a documentary by Agnès Varda about people who make their living sifting through that which has been discarded by others. Varda, who made her first film at the age of 26 (La Pointe Courte, 1955) and whose work was essential to the French New Wave, was the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d’or two years ago. Her work is infused with a deep intellect that is kind, ruminative and open to experimentation.

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Creative Collaboration: Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988)

JaneBParAgnesV1988_6

When Jane Birkin (Blow-Up [1966], Wonderwall [1968], La Piscine [1968], Don Juan (or If Don Juan Were a Woman) [1973], Je t’aime moi non plus [1976], Death on the Nile [1978], Evil Under the Sun [1982], La Belle Noiseuse [1991]), Boxes [2006]) was getting ready to celebrate her 40th birthday in 1986 she confessed to filmmaker Agnès Varda that she had reservations about growing older. Varda, who was almost 60-years-old at the time, told Birkin that she was about to enter a wonderful phase in her life and asked if she could shoot a cinematic portrait of the actress, filmmaker, model and chanteuse that demonstrated her evolution. After some coaxing, Birkin agreed and together the two friends crafted the creative docudrama Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988) currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of The Masters: Agnès Varda collection.

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Workin’ Man’s Blues: Man is Not a Bird (1965)

MAN IS NOT A BIRD, A (1966)

Dušan Makavejev made his directorial debut with Man is Not a Bird (1965), a raucous portrait of a Yugoslav mining city currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of the Directed by Dušan Makavejev theme. Made with the full cooperation of the residents of Bor, an industrial town in eastern Serbia, the movie is filled with hypnotist acts, marriage breakdowns, circus routines and brief, bitter affairs. It is based on the real lives of people that Makavejev interviewed before shooting, while indulging the director’s love of the carnivalesque, injecting Makavejev’s absurdist humor into a film that, by subject matter anyway, inherits the tradition of the Communist social realist films of previous decades. But these worker-heroes, while awarded and celebrated by the local government, have made messes of their personal lives. Makavejev said that with this film he “was trying to explain that you can have global changes but people can still stay the same, unhappy or awkward or privately confused.”

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