Derelict Dancers: Gerard Depardieu vs. Roman Polanski

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I’m fond of mysteries that evolve through conversation and unravel in small spaces such as Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948) and Robert Hosseins DOUBLE AGENTS (1959). The claustrophobia they evoke seems directly linked to our primal fears and primitive suspicions. One of the most interesting films in this vein is Giuseppe Tornatore’s A PURE FORMALITY aka Una Pura Formalita (1994). I recently revisited this opaque thriller after almost 20 years and was surprised by how effective it still was. Even though I was well aware of the surprise twist ending I was mesmerized from start to finish thanks to Tornatore’s deft directing choices, Pascal Quignard’s brilliant dialogue and the masterful performances etched out by two powerhouses of European cinema; Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski.

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Fantomas Strikes Back

Having brought up Dr. Mabuse recently, naturally my thoughts also flit to Fantômas.  I had promised a while back that I would eventually address Andre Hunebelle’s 1960s Fantômas revival in this blog, and now seems the best time to live up to my word.  Along with last week’s visit to Dr. Mabusiana, I’m going to spend the next several weeks exploring the world of pulp mysteries on film—specifically how different filmmakers have approached the task of rendering in cinematic terms a corpus of literature that flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Hunebelle Fantômas films are not readily available for viewing.  It is the case that anyone with an Amazon account can obtain a DVD box set of the entire trilogy—but this import set will come without English subtitles and will only be playable in a region-free player, so it’ll alienate most casual American viewers.  With that in mind, I’m going to be fairly heavy on clips this week, so give you a good sense of what these three films are really like.  I’ve added subtitles to these clips from an online source of fan-created subtitles.  Given the awkward wording, I’m guessing by “fan-subbed” they really mean “ran the French script through Google Translate and performed no proof-reading at all.”

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Snapshots of the Fall: Part II

In my last post I provided a look behind the curtain for the first five weeks of film programming for my fall film calendar. This week we look at the remaining 24 titles that round out the schedule. It features everything from classics such as Vertigo to the state premiere of the latest uncompromising and visually arresting film by Bruno Dumont, Outside Satan (a scene of which is pictured above). [...MORE]

Snapshots of the Fall

The art house film calendar that I program goes to press in two days and, although I’m still waiting for some confirmations, I’m sharing the rough-draft with TCM readers, along with some brief thoughts regarding the choices made.

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This Year at Marienbad

When I first encountered Alain Resnais’ famously impenetrable Last Year at Marienbad, roughly fifteen years ago, I watched it out of a sense of obligation.  I knew it to be an acknowledged “classic” by an important filmmaker from a pivotal moment in film culture.  I sort of had to watch it to maintain my cred.  But I went in prejudiced by its reputation as a prickly, off-putting exercise in beautiful but alienating imagery, unconcerned with entertainment or emotion.  Boy was I surprised when I found it to be completely engrossing.

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Spy Games: Double Agents (1959)

In this month’s installment of Spy Games I decided to focus my attention on Robert Hossein’s French thriller DOUBLE AGENTS (aka La nuit des espions; 1959). Countless espionage films have scrutinized the dangerous world of the illusive double agent. These masters of disguise who successfully manipulate government organizations are one of the spy genre’s most effective plot devices. But Hossein’s film explores the dilemma of the double agent in a truly unique fashion.

This unusual low-budget film tells the taut and involving story of two WW2 spies who are ordered to meet at a secluded cabin in the French countryside and exchange some important documents. One of the spies is a beautiful blond (played by Marina Vlady) with a bad case of nerves. She trembles when she hears unfamiliar sounds like distant thunder and creaking floorboards. She also speaks fluent German and sings German songs. The other is a tall dark and handsome man (played by Robert Hossein) wearing a Nazi uniform. His sad eyes and sensitive disposition seem at odds with his wartime activities. When the two first meet they mutually assume they’re both German spies but soon afterward the man claims to be a British double agent in disguise. The woman follows his lead and admits to being a British double agent as well but neither of them has any real proof of where their allegiances lie. Only they know if they’re loyal to Britain or Germany. DOUBLE AGENTS spends almost all of its 80-minute running time focused on these two desperate and solitary individuals as they attempt to confirm one another’s identity in the claustrophobic confines of the isolated cabin. The two spies will wine and dine each other, dance, make passionate love, viciously fight and finally discover their true identities. But all is fair in love and war and exposing the truth comes with a high price.

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65 Years of the Cannes Film Festival: An Early Photographic History Part I.

The 65th Cannes Film Festival is currently underway and I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and share some early photos of the classic film stars and directors who have attended this prestigious event. Cannes is one of the oldest film festivals in existence and undoubtedly the most glamorous. Photographers from around the world converge on the French Riviera every year to snap photos of well-heeled celebrities who are eager to sell themselves and their latest movies to their adoring public.

Just like today, the Cannes Film Festival of yesteryear was attended by high-profile Hollywood couples often more in love with the cameras than one another as well as sexy starlets willing to bare all in order to get noticed and directors engaged in ridiculous publicity stunts for profit. The only things that have really changed in the last 65 years are the hairstyles and the fashions but while browsing though these old photographs it’s easy to become mesmerized by the charismatic faces that stare back at you. As Norma Desmond famously said in SUNSET BLVD. (1950), “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” Norma may have been talking about silent film stars then but those infamous lines haunted me while I was compiling these images. Of course there’s an element of nostalgia in my opining because these are some of the faces that made me fall in love with the movies and they’re faces that I never get tired of looking at.

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The Spring Lineup

Before delving into some highlights for my upcoming calendar film program, which has everything from singing cannibals and Robby the Robot to sex addicts and Pam Grier (in-person!)… I’d like to back-track a little. In my last post I wrote that the venues where I screen films were akin to a leaky rowboat. While this statement remains essentially true, especially when we are compared to any state-of-the-art dedicated film theater, I would like to amend the metaphor a bit. In retrospect, I feel it would be more accurate to say that the film series I program is more like the Orca boat commandeered by Robert Shaw in Jaws. It’s big enough to chase large game, but you still can’t help wishing you had a bigger boat – especially when you get a clear glimpse of the challenge ahead. When I previously said that we do a lot with very little, the “we” in that statement referred to the small crew that has kept this particular boat from becoming an artificial coral reef on the ocean floor, and this despite staying afloat long past its expiration date.  [...MORE]

The Top Twelve Genre Films of 2011

 

As the carcasses of prestige pics get picked over by awards committees and prognosticators, I like to distract myself from this pointless posturing by watching movies featuring actual corpses. After last year’s rundown of genre flicks received a good response, I return to the bloody well again, this time with twelve of my favorite action/horror/exploitation items released in the past year. Sure to be ignored by your local film critics circle, they are works of grim resourcefulness and ingenuity, deserving of more attention. I look forward to your criticisms, insults and recommendations in the comments. My picks are presented in alphabetical order, and if you’re interested in my overall top ten list, it’s posted here.

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The Name of the Rose: Françoise

Françoise Pascal as the mesmerized "Girl" in Jean Rollin's THE IRON ROSE.

Friday night’s installment of Underground marks the TCM debut of French filmmaker Jean Rollin, known among horror movie cultists as a master of the lyrical, erotic, supernatural film.  Yet he remains a director with whom the general American moviegoing public is not well acquainted.           [...MORE]

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