Le Bonheur (1965): Find Your Happy Place

BONHEUR, LE (1966)

Do you have a film you love even though you can’t point to a specific reason why? A title that just seems to envelop you from the opening frames and keeps you enthralled without doing anything showy? One example I like to point to is Le Bonheur (1965), a superb pastoral drama that puts the story of domestic instability against a backdrop of some of the most eye-popping colors you’ve ever seen. [...MORE]

The Eyes Have It

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

As we head into February, the month most closely associated with love in all its guises, it’s always good to remind yourself that too much emotional attachment can be a dangerous thing. If you really want to throw a curve ball into your pre-Valentine’s viewing schedule, allow me to direct your attention to one of the most twisted father-daughter relationships ever put on film: Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage) (1960), now the most famous film from the great Georges Franju and the gold standard by which other French horror films are measured.

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On Film Noir, Poetic Realism and “The Myth of Gabin”

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If you are a fan of film noir, and who isn’t, I suggest checking out the French film movement from the 1930s known as Poetic Realism. Noir fanatics are attracted to the genre’s dark romanticism with its haunting fatalism, melancholy mood and doomed characters—conventions shared with Poetic Realism. Until the end of February, FilmStruck is streaming seven films under the theme French Poetic Realism, including three featuring Jean Gabin. Gabin has been compared to Humphrey Bogart, not because they resemble each other, or employ similar acting styles, but because both became icons of the silver screen. In France, Gabin in his working-class cloth cap is an icon representing Poetic Realism, while Bogart in his fedora and trench coat is the face of film noir.

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Culture Shock: La Cérémonie (1995)

LA CEREMONIE, Sandrine Bonnaire, 1995, © New Yorker/courtesy Everett Collection

If you’ve never seen a Claude Chabrol movie, you’re missing out. If you’ve heard he’s the French Hitchcock, you’re not getting even half the picture. And if you didn’t realize his 1995 movie, La Cérémonie, is one of the most profound statements on class warfare, mental illness and violence, go see it now. It’s not only the best movie I saw in 1995, it contains the best performance of the year by anyone I saw, male or female, in Isabelle Huppert as a cold, angry and morally stilted sociopath who unwittingly creates the means of her own demise.

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Ooh La La Land

YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, THE (1967)

With the unabashed love letter to director Jacques Demy La La Land now hitting theaters, there couldn’t be a better time to hone in on a singing and dancing delight from the French filmmaker himself: The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les demoiselles de Rochefort) (1967). If you can’t afford to take a tour of France, Demy’s films are probably the next best thing as he had a knack for highlighting its cities over the course of his career, from his hometown of Nantes to the one film that overshadows them all, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).  The Young Girls of Rochefort is usually regarded as a kind of also-ran to that legendary, Oscar-nominated milestone, but it’s really best if you just set aside any comparisons and watch it on its own terms as a buoyant, Gallic take on classic MGM musicals, made obvious with the importing of Gene Kelly and West Side Story’s George Chakiris as two of its stars. [...MORE]

Polly Maggoo Is Back in Fashion

QUI ETES-VOUS, POLLY MAGGOO?, (aka WHO ARE YOU, POLLY MAGGOO?), 1966

We all find different passages into movies we love. Sometimes a film grabs you in the opening moments and you know right away it’s something you’ll love and watch over and over for years. Then there are others that take some time and effort, growing on you gradually after you’ve watched them and only becoming favorites with repeated visits and reflection.

One film that fell into the first category for me is Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966), the debut feature film for American photographer and filmmaker William Klein. A controversial and oft-censored purveyor of fashion fantasies at Vogue, he had little but contempt for the fashion industry and particularly the magazine’s tastemaking editor-in-chief, Diana Vreeland (fictionalized here as Ms. Maxwell). You’d think this film about an American ingénue entering the European fashion world would be filled with venom and vitriol, but no, it’s actually more of a quirky, witty takedown, so deliciously stylish and enjoyable that you can easily watch it without any knowledge of Klein’s behind-the-scenes axe to grind. It also has one of my favorite opening scenes in movie history. [...MORE]

Truffaut’s Waltz into Darkness

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Though he still doesn’t quite enjoy household name status, Cornell Woolrich might be the most influential American mystery writer of the past century. The adaptations are an obvious place to start with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) leading the pack, but his real legacy is the way he permanently embedded modern thrillers with recurring themes of the unreliability of memory, the pitfalls of falling in love with someone you think you know and the inescapable darkness that can claim even the most virtuous of souls. If you want to find out where films like Memento (2000) and The Usual Suspects (1995) came from, look no further than this master storyteller.

Hollywood really jumped on the Woolrich bandwagon in the ‘40s with a slew of radio adaptations as well as fascinating films like The Leopard Man (1943), Phantom Lady (1944), The Chase (1946), and Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948). The big screen took less of an interest in him the following decades as television honed in on him instead, churning out numerous versions of his novels and short stories for home viewers on such programs as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller. The 1960s would prove to be Woolrich’s last decade on earth with his passing in 1968, but he had another resurgence from a most unlikely source: acclaimed French filmmaker François Truffaut.

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The Devil Made Me Do It: La main du diable (1943)

CARNIVAL OF SINNERS (1947)

Cinephiles and film aficionados come in all stripes. Some of us are drawn to the star quality of performers while others may obsess over scriptwriting, set designs or a director’s unique skill set. We’re often fond of particular genres and may gravitate to specific eras that we find especially rewarding. One of the many things that compel me is the thrill of discovery and the sheer delight I get from encountering an extraordinary older film that is new to me. This can be challenging but FilmStruck’s impressive library is introducing me to some marvelous movies that have managed to elude me in the past. My latest FilmStruck find is La main du diable (1943), also known as Carnival of Sinners or The Devil’s Hand, a fascinating and incredibly stylish French horror film involving an ambitious artist who makes an ill-fated deal with the devil.

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‘Til Death Do They Part: La Poison (1951)

POISON, LA (1951)

When inspiration failed Francois Truffaut, he would look at a 1957 photo of Sacha Guitry sitting on his deathbed, working on a moviola. Truffaut said looking at the image made him “recover my good mood, bravery, and every courage in the world.” An indefatigable playwright, performer, and filmmaker, Guitry was a model of a complete director for Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who advocated for Guitry’s work in the early years of Cahiers du Cinema. Godard included Guitry in a “gang of four” French filmmakers (along with Pagnol, Cocteau and Duras) who demonstrated a “grandeur and power” which enabled him and the other New Wave filmmakers to believe in cinema as an art form (Guitry appears multiple times in Godard’s Histoire du Cinema). Like Orson Welles (another Guitry fan), Guitry was raised in the theater, and used his command of theatrical effects to experimental uses on film, especially in his teasing, self-reflexive use of voice-over. Though there was a flurry of appreciations when Criterion released their essential box set in 2010, he has never gained the same level of recognition in the States as his peers. One of his late masterpieces, La Poison (1951), is available for streaming on FilmStruck – it was previously unavailable in any format in the U.S. A gleefully black comedy about dueling spouses who both dream of killing the other, it features a savagely funny performance by Michel Simon as a self-justifying murderer.

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Roger Vadim: The Devil Is a Frenchman

Spirits of the Dead
I come here to praise Roger Vadim, not to bury him. Perhaps the most notorious bad boy director of French cinema, Vadim has been the subject of a few reputation rehab attempts over the years on home video, but it never seems to stick. Instead he’s still remembered (if at all) as the lothario who romanced Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda, and Brigitte Bardot, with the latter two becoming his wives. Granted, that’s a reputation Vadim himself did more than a bit to encourage by writing autobiographies with titles like Memoirs of the Devil and Bardot, Deneuve & Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World. On the other hand, if people can wake up and enshrine Russ Meyer in the auteur firmament, there’s no reason his closest French counterpart shouldn’t have the same chance. One of his most outrageous films (and first Hollywood effort), 1971’s Pretty Maids All in a Row, will be shimmying back onto TCM in the wee hours this Thursday, August 18th, but that’s just the opening salvo in a full-on Vadim assault on your senses in August. On Tuesday, August 23rd, you can also savor his contribution to the three-film Edgar Allan Poe anthology Spirits of the Dead (1968) and, as part of the day’s Summer under the Stars salute to Brigitte Bardot, see some of their collaborations with The Night Heaven Fell (1958), And God Created Woman (1956), and Love on a Pillow (1962). Be sure to check out the other Bardot films, too, as they ramp up to the final sublime entry, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (1963).
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