Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 26, 2016
I am ending my Summer of Rohmer series with a film set in the spring. Yes, it is a shocking betrayal of the series’ seasonal brand, but I was eager to revisit The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), and extend my stay in Rohmer’s world. Over the last six weeks I have traveled to a variety of France’s hottest vacation spots for romantic anxiety, from a Saint-Tropez country house in La Collectionneuse (1967) to Dinard, the beachside town in A Summer’s Tale (1997). The Romance of Astrea and Celadon transported me to the valley of the Sioule in Auvergne, a bucolic green landscape for star-crossed lovers in 5th-century Gaul to suffer in. For his final feature (he passed away in 2010), Rohmer adapted Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astree (ca. 1607 – 1627), a 5,000 page hit at the royal courts. Rohmer focused on the spine of the digressive novel – the romance between the shepherd Celadon and the shepherdess Astrea, and the miscommunication, madness, and masquerades that delay their union. Though set millennia in the past, the film works over familiar Rohmerian ground, as it ponders the nature of love and fidelity, while trying to square the contradictory impulses of each.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 19, 2016
My summer of Rohmer enters its fifth week by docking at the rocky Breton seaside town of Dinard, the location of A Summer’s Tale (1996). Like all of Eric Rohmer’s summer vacation films, it is about hesitation and uncertainty, the holidays a transient borderland before the return to adulthood, when decisions have to be made. A Summer’s Tale involves a moody engineering student and hopeful musician named Gaspard who is romantically entangled with three women on the beach. He is entranced by the idea of love but is rather afraid of the physical reality, and masters the art of the indeterminate reply, a master of escape. One of Rohmer’s few male protagonists (the film often feels like a throwback to the masculine bull sessions of the Moral Tales), Gaspard is reported to be a highly autobiographical character who runs through a composite of events from the director’s life. Rohmer doesn’t look back with nostalgia, but with a lucid gimlet eye, his Gaspard one of high ideals and evasive, indecisive actions. A Summer’s Tale is streaming on Netflix, and is available on DVD from Big World Pictures.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 12, 2016
My Summer of Rohmer has been held over for its fourth smash week! For the uninitiated, I have been writing about the summer-set films of Eric Rohmer, allowing my vacation-less self to live vicariously through his characters. I have already traveled to Saint-Tropez for La Collectionneuse (1967), the French Alps for Claire’s Knee (1970), and Normandy for Pauline at the Beach (1983). Today I join one of Rohmer’s most peripatetic souls, Delphine (played by Marie Rivière), through Cherbourg, the Alps, and Biarritz in The Green Ray (1986). Delphine has recently separated from her long-distance boyfriend, leaving her alone and without direction for her summer vacation. A melancholy romantic, she is fiercely protective of her independence, and forever seeking the man who is worthy to end it. She spends her holiday bouncing from resort town to resort town, staying long enough until her loneliness overwhelms her and she is forced to move on. She begins to see portents all around, creating meaning by turning the world into a Tarot card to be read. Rohmer finds the beauty in her intense ascetic solitude, and grants her an ending of offhand sublimity.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 5, 2016
Welcome to the third week of my Summer of Rohmer, in which I fill the void of my own vacation-less summer by vicariously joining the beach holidays of Eric Rohmer’s neurotic, attractive, and hyper-articulate characters. I started the series by visiting a Saint-Tropez cottage in La Collectionneuse, followed with a scenic French Alps home in Claire’s Knee, while today I scurried off to a Normandy beach house in Pauline at the Beach. We have leapt from Rohmer’s cycle of “Moral Tales” to his “Comedies and Proverbs”, as well as his shift to female protagonists (which began with his previous film A Good Marriage (1982)). Pauline at the Beach (1983) is set during the waning weeks of summer, with Marion (Arielle Dombasle) bringing her 15-year-old niece Pauline (Amanda Langlet) to spend a few parent-less weeks before they both have to return to work and school. There is a pressure to find friends and have a fling before the holiday runs out. The waifish blonde Marion is immediately pursued by two men, the dewy-eyed romantic Pierre (Pascal Greggory) and the older, pragmatic womanizer Henri (Feodor Atkine). Rohmer frames the film around Pauline’s observations. She is a quiet, almost background presence throughout, silently weighing Marion’s actions as she falls for Henri and keeps Pierre on her string. Rohmer leads off his Comedies and Proverbs films with a quote, and here it is one from Chretien de Troyes: “He who speaks too much does himself harm.” Marion, Pierre, and Henri talk incessantly about the nature of love, but show no knowledge of how to embody it. Instead they remain irrevocably wrapped up inside themselves. I produced the DVD and Blu-ray of Pauline at the Beach for Kino Lorber (complete with an Eric Rohmer interview and a fine booklet essay by Michelle Orange), so consider that a full disclosure of my biases.
It’s a venerable cliché, the idea of “one last big score.” The hero, reluctantly recognizing his glory days are behind him, deciding to make one last play for glory.
And so we find “Le Stephanois,” an aging gangster released from prison to a world that has passed him by. He has scores to settle, and dreams of a legendary haul. What if he could assemble a crack team of experts, and deploy them on a meticulously planned heist to rob a jewelry store? What could possibly go wrong? (As it turns out, quite a lot)
And behind the cameras, we find an echo and an inversion. Here is Jules Dassin, an American expatriate director on the run from the Blacklist, increasingly desperate to get back into movies. It’s been years, and the long arm of the Blacklist has been stretching across the Atlantic to frustrate his every move. An offer is given, but it’s a poor one—only a fool would take this assignment. But beggars can’t be choosers, and the desperate man will do almost anything. Somehow, improbably, he turns straw into gold. His film is more than good, it is influential, and with it he changes the rules for everyone.
This is Rififi.
Posted by Susan Doll on May 23, 2016
Tomorrow night, May 24, at 9:45pm EST, TCM airs a charming romantic comedy with the unfortunate title of The Ghost Goes West. Unfortunate, because the title is misleading. The film is neither a horror tale, nor does it have anything to do with the Wild West. Released in 1936, The Ghost Goes West is a British film set in Scotland and Florida.
Robert Donat plays a dual role as the 20th century Scotsman Donald Glourie and his 18th century ancestor Murdoch Glourie. During a skrimish with British Red Coats, Murdoch is too busy chasing girls to fight for “the glory of Scotland,” a vague reference to the various tensions with Britain in that century. During battle, Murdoch is blown to bits, save for his Scottish tam o’ shanter, which flutters lightly to the ground. While in limbo between heaven and hell, the Scotsman is dubbed a coward by his deceased father for his shameful behavior in battle. Murdoch is returned to earth as a ghost and cursed to wander the halls of the Glourie castle.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on March 15, 2016
Jean Eustache’s My Little Loves (1974) is about a boy. Twelve-year-old Daniel climbs trees, flirts with girls, and punches classmates in the stomach. He is poised between youth and adolescence, and the film seeks to capture all the moments, and all the silences, of this befuddling transition. After Eustache’s coruscating The Mother and the Whore (1973), a logorrheic portrait of post-May ’68 despair, My Little Loves seems startlingly quiet and gentle. But each are after a kind of completism, of leaving nothing out. Discussing My Little Loves, Eustache told his fellow filmmaker, and Cahiers du Cinema habitue, Luc Moullet, that he wanted “to reconstruct [my] childhood: every wall section, every tree, every light pole.” With the help of cinematographer Nestor Almendros, All My Loves becomes a sensorial memory object. There isn’t much of a narrative – it drifts – but it builds up the fabric and texture of Eustache’s childhood in the small rural town of Pessac (outside of Bordeaux), and the industrial city of Narbonnes, on the Mediterranean coast. My Little Loves is screening on 35mm in the Metrograph’s Jean Eustache series, one of the inaugural programs for this ambitious new theater on NYC’s Lower East Side.
There’s an autographed photo of Charlie Chaplin, inscribed “To the one and only Max, “The Professor”. From his disciple, Charlie Chaplin. May 12th 1917.”
The “Max” in this scenario was Max Linder, the seminal French comedian. Chaplin was often stingy about acknowledging his debts to his various collaborators and peers, but he was never shy about praising Linder. When Max Linder, died, Chaplin shuttered his studio for a day out of respect.
Linder’s influence extended far beyond Chaplin, though. His screen comedy laid the groundwork for the entirety of the silent comedy era that followed: he made films full of absurd sight gags and slapstick, grounded in character and driven by farcical situations. There’s scarcely a comedian who came in his wake whose work does not bear an overt and demonstrable debt to Linder’s.
That being said, Linder’s films are not nearly as well known as you’d expect given that background. Some of his best works show up on TCM from time to time and are available on DVD; some of his pioneering early shorts are available on a Blu-Ray box set from France—true, true. But being available and being watched are two different things.
Linder’s legacy is clouded, you see, by the unsettling facts of his life. If I tell you “Max Linder is a genius of comedy, go see his films,” your next question is going to be, “Sounds great—tell me more about him.” At which point, this whole conversation takes a sudden dark turn, and that’s the problem.
It was a little over 100 years ago that the writing team of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre first began cranking out Fantômas mystery novels for a voracious European public. To keep apace with the relentless publication schedule, Souvestre and Allain traded writing duties. They would playfully build impossible cliffhangers before handing off to one another, daring the other to concoct a solution. It was perhaps the first commercial application of the Surrealists’ famous “exquisite corpse” game.
Over the years, the Fantômas character has appeared in a frenzied array of movie adaptations of differing degrees of quality. Arguably the most faithful adaptation to date is the 1979 TV miniseries–not necessarily the best, mind you, but the truest to the books. And as it happened, the authenticity extended behind the scenes: the producers decided to hire two visionary filmmakers to direct alternating episodes, in the spirit of Allain and Souvestre’s gonzo writing habits.
They called Claude Chabrol “the French Hitchcock,” but this was always more a marketing hook than a meaningful comparison. Alfred Hitchcock made crowd-pleasing suspense thrillers; Chabrol made vicious satires disguised as suspense thrillers. For decades, Chabrol had been crafting spiky, embittered dramas simmering with disgust for humanity in general and the French bourgeoisie in specific.
And in 1988, he took aim at Nazi-occupied France. That was impressive enough, but the bullet he fired was a tangled, M.C. Escher-like self-referential puzzle surfing waves he’d set in motion two decades earlier.
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