Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Summer's Tale (1996) ✭✭✭✭✭

Eric Rohmer's A Summer's Tale is finally getting a U.S. theatrical run and is now showing in select theaters. Here's our review from March 2010.

Eric Rohmer closed out the 20th Century on a high note, creating two of his best films back-to-back. Autumn Tale, produced in 1998, was a frank and poignant look at the cold realties of searching for love at middle-age, and A Summer’s Tale from 1996, which marked the last time Rohmer would ever deal with his signature subject: modern youth overcome by ennui.

Young Gaspard (Melvil Poupard) disembarks at the town of Dinard on the Britannic coast, for a few weeks of fun in the sun before he begins a new engineering job. Gaspard has tentative plans to link up with Lena (Aurelia Nolan), his nominal girlfriend; a high maintenance beauty summering in Spain. Rohmer dispenses the exposition with an elegant economy, and in a few short, virtually wordless scenes, presents Gaspard slowly adjusting to the relaxing pace of life at the shore.

At breakfast one morning, Gaspard gains the attentions of a brainy waitress named Margot (Amanda Langlet), who also happens to have a PhD in Ethnology. It is a credit to both Rohmer and Langlet that this character layer doesn’t play nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.

Margot also has a lover who’s far away, and she and Gaspard strike up a low-key friendship, consisting mainly of long oceanside walks during which the pair expound on their favorite topic: themselves. Langlet is a bit of a tease here, as she pushes the friendship to its platonic limits. Rohmer is guilty of teasing as well, as he makes us want Gaspard and Margot to forget their absent lovers and double-down on their instincts.

But there are many fetching young gals roaming the beaches of Dinard, and soon Gaspard finds his head turned by a leggy brunette named Solene (Gwenaelle Simon) whose claims of high moral fiber are belied by her seductive actions. One lazy afternoon - in Rohmer films, all afternoons are lazy - she performs a song Gaspard has written and before long, he imagines them making all sorts of joyful noises together.

However, Gaspard’s dreams of whoopee are short-lived, for there is another shoe to drop, or in this case another beach sandal, and soon Gaspard is juggling women the way a circus performer juggles chainsaws…and with the same high degree of peril.

A Summer’s Tale may well be Rohmer’s best-paced film. It moves with an engaging and spirited jauntiness and never gets bogged down with the incessant yakking that marred many of his films of the 70s and 80s. He didn’t really do anything different here; the film has the same loose-leaf scrapbook feeling of his earlier work, the same long take vignettes, the same lack of editorial time-compression. Yet the film is so well conceived that it organically and hypnotically flows, like the relentless ocean waves that serve as the backdrop to the film’s most important scenes.

The film ends with Langlet standing on a dock, waving goodbye to a departing ship. Once again she’s channeling the director, for he was waving goodbye to a genre; a genre he arguably created. Eric Rohmer would live another 14 years, and during that time he would make 4 more films - not bad for a man in his 80s - but he would never again revisit the romantic foibles of the young, privileged and bored. Eric Rohmer, having perfected The Eric Rohmer Film, proudly turned and walked away.

More on "A Summer's Tale"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Days of Future Passed Part 7: Once Upon a Timeshare

Somewhere in the annals of real estate marketing exists a set of gold tablets bearing the names and phone numbers of People Who Will Sit Through a Timeshare Sales Pitch, and apparently my name is engraved close to the top. Over the years, Mrs. Undies and I have been seduced by this profession’s siren songs, promising free weekend lodging in Paradise provided we are willing to attend a presentation of approximately 90 minutes. Truth be told, we’ve always gotten the better of the deal, enjoying the splendors of Myrtle Beach, Scottsdale, Sedona and Santa Barbara, to name a few, completely gratis. And sometimes a sumptuous breakfast is included.

Yes, we do have to endure a tour of the facilities and the inevitable high pressure “sit”, but this family has always resisted temptation and pushed ourselves away from the table without ever taking pen to paper. Our “sales consultant”, denied yet another plum contract, eventually gives up and, with a handshake and a forced smile, decides to cut his losses and move on to the next sucker.

The fact of the matter is that I will never buy a timeshare, plain and simple. For one thing, the idea of taking a vacation at the exact same place at the exact same time every year is kind of depressing, and seems like a terribly uncreative way to spend one’s leisure. And yes, supposedly you can trade for weeks at other properties, but the exact methodology of doing this is never explained, and the whole thing seems so exhausting you might be better off just spending a quiet week at home.

I also doubt the worth and reliability of a product with such a wildly varying price. Most time shares cost about $30,000 at the beginning of the sit but, by the constant shaking of one’s head, it will eventually drop to $4,000. The desperate New-Age commune in Sedona even got down to $2,400 before finally throwing in the towel and branding us irredeemable cheapskates.

Now, before you think ill of me for wasting the valuable time of commissioned agents, I make my intentions quite clear in the early going, and state unequivocally that we are only here for the free digs and greasy bacon. Some reps understand this, and go about their pro-forma pitch with a breezy, devil-may-care casualness. Others are convinced they can change our minds, and commence to aggressively proselytize for their resort, pointing out perks and benefits only an idiot would refuse.

Unfortunately we had one of the latter during a recent junket to Las Vegas. I received a call one afternoon from Amalgamated Acme Zenith Resorts International, or some such claptrap, promising a free stay at one of their magnificent condos overlooking the Strip. We would be given access to all amenities provided we let a salesman beat on us – well she didn’t use those exact words – for 90 minutes  And, if I agreed right now, good ol’ Amalgamated would throw in two tickets to a popular show.

Well, as regular readers of this space know, the past year has been a rather crappy one so the idea of a free weekend in Sin City took on a certain luster. After a brief consultation with my much better half, I consented and a few days later we were wheeling up US 93, our sights set on a weekend of depraved debauchery which, at our age, consists of penny-slots and overeating.

The location, as promised, was indeed right on the Strip, in a gleaming new high rise. Upon our arrival though it was clear something was missing; namely, no casino and no restaurants. It was a typically generic apartment building foyer - a wall of mailboxes, a few potted palms and quiet as a crypt – perfectly fine for Chicago or Cincinnati, but certainly none of the decadent glitz that lures millions of visitors to Las Vegas each year.

A moderately surly concierge oversaw our check-in – after assuring me that this was, indeed, the right place – and after a brief elevator flight we found ourselves in our lovely 600 sq. ft. home away from home. Again, as promised, there was a view of Las   Vegas Boulevard, at least of The Stratosphere, our neighboring property to the north, and its gigantic electronic billboard where a scantily clad lass pretended to be Brittany Speers in a video segment so flashily edited I was afraid it would induce some type of seizure.

The Stratosphere has never been one of my favorite Vegas haunts. I’m sure it’s a perfectly fine casino, but to me the adjacent tower has always looked too flimsy to support the giant gold ball that adorns its apex. Still, it’s been operating for decades with presumably minimal fatalities so what do I know. To the northeast were the remains of the recently closed Sahara, a classic Vegas joint from the Rat Pack days, which unsuccessfully tried to reinvent itself as a NASCAR themed pleasure dome. When the economic bubble burst a few years ago, the Sahara circled the drain resiliently for awhile, but ultimately it was sucked down into the sewer of the over-leveraged.

Since I wanted to get our personal bloodletting over with early, we returned to the lobby where I had arranged for our dutiful sales consultant to meet us straight away. The moderately surly concierge informed us that we would be meeting with Brice, and in short order, a younger, hip-hopper, barely legal version of Mitt Romney greeted us with beaming, enthusiastic hellos and tendon-ripping handshakes. Brice escorted us through some sliding doors that he activated with a top-secret buzzing device, and we soon took our place at a set of utilitarian plastic chairs around a slick Formica table; just the right height for signing reams of contract papers. After an overly lengthy exchange of pleasantries, Brice finally applied his gelled head to the task at hand.

“So, how’s your apartment?”

I conceded it was very nice and spacious. I then informed Brice that I never had the slightest intent to purchase anything on this trip, and we were only here to take advantage of the freebies. And I would certainly never buy a Vegas condo that offered none of the things people actually come to Vegas for. So, he could relax during this pitch and if he could see fit to cut it a bit short, all parties would benefit.

“What do you mean none of the things people come to Vegas for?”

“Brice, there’s no casino”

“But there are casinos all around! We’ve got the Stratosphere right next door!”

“My husband is afraid of the Stratosphere,” my wife said helpfully.

“I’m not afraid of it…”

“Well, if that’s too scary” Brice interrupted, “There’s Circus Circus just down the street!”

“Brice, have you ever been to Circus Circus? I have. It smells like pee. I have a theory. Years ago, some patron with superb kidney function relived himself smack dab in the middle of the casino. By the time a maintenance crew arrived, the acidic urine had eaten through both carpet and pad all the way to the structure’s cement slab, where it was permanently absorbed like a concrete etching stain.”

“Wow, when was this?”

“He’s making a joke, Brice” Mrs. Undies clarified, having heard my Circus Circus theory many times.

I pressed on. “And what about restaurants, Brice? There’s nowhere here to eat…”

Brice chuckled, “This is Las Vegas, guys! There’s a great restaurant on every corner. And if you get hungry, we sell snacks at the front desk!”

“Yes, a fine selection of Cokes and cheese doodles” I harrumphed, while Brice nodded approvingly. It was at this point that I realized we were dealing with a moronic corporate jingoist, and argumentative to boot!

“Well, let me show you the rest of the property. We’re in the middle of a multi-million dollar renovation, which means these units are currently offered at an outstanding discount. But you’ve got to hurry, because once the work is done the price will go waaaaaayyyyy up!”

With a quick brandish of his magical buzzer, another set of doors opened, and soon we were walking the grounds with Brice in full throated pitch mode. He escorted us past an empty swimming pool where a plastering crew had recently held forth, their machinery and implements scattered hither and yon but, currently, there were no workmen to be found. Brice assured us that the pool would be ready soon, refitted with solar heating, a waterfall and open until 10 pm.

He then led us past an exercise room complete with the best fitness equipment one could buy 20 years ago. Brice informed us that the workout room would be remodeled as well, and outfitted with modern, state-of-the-art gizmos that would allow patrons to check emails while tread-milling. I conceded that an exercise room was a good idea, especially since there was no gambling, eating or partying and we’d need something to do all day.

We were then shown a phalanx of empty assembly rooms, perfect for those corporate meetings we all know and dread. Everything was as expected; but there was no excitement or pizzazz, none of that thrilling sense of possibility that makes Las Vegas a popular destination. We might as well have been touring a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma   City.

Meanwhile, enthusiastic young Brice continued his prattle and eventually we were led to the “Party Room”, a cavernous renovated space that he clearly considered the resort’s Killer App.

“As you can see guys, this room is awesome. We’ve got 14 TVs, with NFL Season Ticket. There’s a bar over there with a commercial refrigerator and icemaker. We’ve got café seating for 150, a pool table and a wall of dart boards. And best of all, as owners you can rent the space whenever you want. Just think! So many possibilities! Birthday parties, family reunions or just hangin’ with your homeys…”

The thought of flying ancient Aunt Elizabeth across America to watch television and eat cheese doodles caused a brief intestinal distress, and an apparent brain freeze, because the only response I could think of was “Homey don’t play dat.”

This prompted gales of laughter in Brice. “Homey don’t play dat! Wow I haven’t heard that in forever! It’s like from the Eighties! Man, that’s old school!”

Brice’s ninety minutes were up.

“Of course it’s old school, you nitwit. I’m fifty-five freaking years old. Everything that passes through my addled brain is old school. Now, if you don’t mind, we elders would like to spend the little time we have left on this Earth not listening to an empty haircut bullshit us into buying a timeshare at the one building in Nevada where fun is forbidden! I know gambling is not allowed here, but I’ll make you a bet. Your beloved Amalgamated International HooHa will go bankrupt before the first drop of water goes in the pool. Mark my words!”

After a few moments of stunned silence, Brice apologized for offending us in any way, and assured us it was not intentional. He also apologized for the resort not fulfilling our needs and offered his total understanding of our desire to “go in another direction.” He would end the presentation now, and he hoped we would enjoy the rest of our free weekend.

As we turned to leave, a slight glimmer of guilt rising in my gullet, Brice said, “Oh guys…wait a minute.”

He then reached into his shirt pocket and produced a small envelope. “Here’s the show tickets we promised you. Have a great time.”

On the quiet elevator ride back to our perfectly nice free apartment, I felt quite awful. I’d been way too hard on ol’ Brice. He was just doing a job, and a thankless one at that. I then opened the envelope  where I found two tickets to the NASCAR Experience at the Sahara. The late, lamented Sahara.

Immediately, I began to feel better….

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Going Places (1974) ✭✭✭

The selection of Bertrand Blier films for North American viewers is a paltry lot, with only about a quarter of his filmography available in some form of home video. And the bulk of that select few appears to have more to do with the presence of big name European stars than any abiding love for the Bertrand Blier Experience. Frankly, it’s an experience that’s hard to love. The few Blier films this reviewer has seen generally drip with a gooey misogyny, a fact his defenders passionately ignore. He may attempt to tart up his strategy with faint allusions to class struggle or, on occasion, have his female protagonists briefly gain a tactical advantage, but it’s clear his heart isn’t in it. To Blier, females are the superior gender because they have boobs and vaginas and occasionally whip up a fabulous Salade Niçoise.

Going Places, Blier’s chauvinistic opus from 1974, is now available in a new hi-def burn from Kino Classics, and this guiltily entertaining tale of wretched scumbaggery has never looked better. Young Gerard Depardieu, lean and mean and cutting a fine figure in denim bell bottoms, stars as Jean-Claude who, along with buddy Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere) comprise a duo of thuggish, hedonistic drifters. The film details their impulsive misadventures throughout France, including purse snatching, kidnapping, attempted rape and innumerable car thefts. One could describe the film as an amalgam of Godard’s Weekend with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Except Blier has none of Godard’s wit and his characters have none of the charm of George Roy Hill’s good-natured desperados.

That’s not to say that Jean-Claude and Pierrot lack any redeeming qualities, although in the early going viewers will wish someone would, to quote Withnail, take the bastard-axe to them. Blier is quick and merciless in his establishment of the guys as thorough faiseurs diaboliques. In the opening scene, he shows them groping a terrified and defenseless middle aged woman before stealing her purse. This infuriating business is followed by another round of near rape when the boys assault a young mother on a train; her babe-in-arms a mere impediment as they unbutton her blouse. In each of these encounters, Blier inserts a close-up of the victim with her face registering a momentary glimmer of arousal. His messaging is as foul as it is unsubtle: ya see, no really means yes, and women just love to be fondled by grimy punks.

The scales begin to even when Depardieu and Dewaere kidnap the lovely Marie-Ange (Miou-Miou) during yet another car theft. Marie-Ange (the character’s name is more of that wonderful Blier subtlety) proves to be a match for our hormonal miscreants, as she offers only token resistance to Jean-Claude and Pierrot’s forceful advances. Moreover, she’s darn near insatiable, leaving both men exhausted and gasping for air while she stares into the distance, bored and unimpressed. The undefilable, at least by these guys, Marie-Ange becomes a combination earth-mother and gun moll to our anti-heroes, and they often return to her tiny flat when the going gets tough in the thuggery business.

In this triangulated relationship, Blier successfully plays with differences of perception and sexual dynamics. When the trio is reunited at Marie-Ange’s, she gleefully announces, “I had my period!” to which the befuddled Depardieu responds with a quick slap across her face. One morning Marie-Ange leaves for work without the benefit of panties, prompting a strangely jealous reaction from Dewaere. Famously self-deprecating, Miou-Miou does an impressive job here, generating Going Places’ fleeting human interest while serving as a powerful narrative counterbalance. Depardieu’s deep reserve of raw energy propels the film, but Miou-Miou’s dreamy sexual introspection provides the rudder.

The fun and games officially end when Depardieu and Dewaere, trolling at the front gate of a women’s prison – yes, they are truly shameless – become involved with the newly released Jeanne (Jeanne Moreau), a faded beauty who uses the young men for what will turn out to be a tragic last roll in the hay. The trauma continues when her nebbish son Jacques (Jacques Chailleux) gives the boys much more than they bargained for: delivering Marie-Ange’s long awaited first orgasm while getting Jean-Claude and Pierrot into some deadly serious trouble.

But the siren call of a lone Citroën, begging to be swiped, leads the boys into one last bit of light hearted criminality. Watch for an impossibly young, freckle faced Isabelle Huppert as a teenage virgin willingly sacrificed to, apparently, the patron saint of car thieves. Blier’s festive crime spree ultimately fades to black down a twisty mountain road, lacking catharsis and having completed its mission of offending just about every possible sensibility.


As a piece of history, Going Places can be appreciated as one of the more entertaining last gasps of La Nouvelle Vague. The film is technically well executed, with plenty of delightful scenery and ultimately serves as a testament to the unpolished, but undeniable, on-screen charisma of young Gerard Depardieu. But be advised he and Patrick Dewaere engage in some thoroughly reprehensible behaviors, and getting past that will be impossible for some viewers; the turn-off will simply be too great. Going Places earns a recommendation, but that endorsement is heavily weighted toward fellow French cinema enthusiasts and history buffs. Frankly, for casual viewers, there are just too many wonderful examples of French cinema from the 60s and 70s to justify spending time with this relatively minor nihilist farce.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Recently Viewed: August 2014

On My Way (2013) ✭✭✭ 1/2

On My Way is a Deneuve vehicle that overcomes a formulaic story to deliver an amusing and pleasing vibe. Catherine stars as a harried and lonely small town restaurateur who sneaks out one afternoon for a pack of smokes, and ends up embarking on an adventure that will change her life. Beautiful vistas of the French countryside enliven this middle age fantasy road picture, and Deneuve is so engaging you’ll likely overlook a few improbable plot twists. On My Way ends up being quite the feel-good movie, and these days we could all use a bit more of that. 3.5 stars.

Mozart's Sister (2010) ✭✭✭ 1/2

According to this film, Nanneri Mozart (Marie Féret) was as gifted a musician and composer as her famous younger brother Wolfie (David Moreau). That may or may not be true, and that’s part of the tragic story of Mozart’s Sister. Here, we see plenty of evidence of Nanneri’s talents given short shrift due to the misogynist attitudes of the era. The film gets good marks for production values, performances and, of course, music, but ultimately feels as though writer/director René Féret’s script left some of the story on the table. 

Bastards (2013) ✭✭

Bastards is a hokey, over-plotted and over-worked thriller from Claire Denis, who can do so much better than this. The great Vincent Lindon tries hard, but he can’t save it.

Leonie (2010) ✭✭

This a strange, rambling bio-pic about a strange, rambling woman who was related to an architect or something. I don't get Emily Mortimer; I must have some deep moral failing. Christina Hendricks has a small part so there's that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mysteries of Lisbon (2010) ✭✭✭✭

Mysteries of Lisbon is a beguiling four and a half hour odyssey - and there is no other word for it - into the life and times of young João (João Arrais), a fifteen year old orphan. Set in the early 1800s, the film has a distinctly Dickensian feel with its multi-generational storyline and sprawling slate of characters, all of whom eventually bear some relation to João’s unknown origins. Directed by the prolific and always interesting Raúl Ruiz, Mysteries of Lisbon is a period piece produced to the hilt, with lavish sets and sumptuous costumes that make the film a feast for the eyes.

Elements of class struggle and Portugal’s unique place in European history add depth to the story, which unfurls at a stately and contemplative pace. As the jumbled mosiac João’s murky past is slowly sorted, the film takes us from his humble digs at the orphanage and into the lives of Lisbon’s nobles, in particular the bullying, abusive Count of Santa Barbara (Albano Jerónimo) and his long suffering wife (Maria João Bastos). Providing a counter-balance is the Count’s sworn enemy, a dashing rogue named Alberto de Magalhães (Ricardo Pereira), a former poverty stricken thug who has become respectable due to a windfall that figures prominently in the story’s calculus. Pereira, long a fixture on Portuguese TV, delivers an interesting performance here, striking a delicate, believable balance in a role that’s written larger than life.

This production of Mysteries of Lisbon began life as a TV mini-series, and the feature is culled from the original 6 hour program. The narrative endures some rather abrupt changes in POV, and can be a bit confusing in the early going; no doubt a result of the significant pruning required for this abridged version. One constant is the charismatic presence of the great Adriano Luz as Father Dinis, João’s mentor and protector. Luz takes full advantage of a complex role that offers him a very wide range, and his scenes sparkle. Luz is another of those talents who have built an impressive career in Europe but are virtually unknown in North America. Hopefully a visionary Hollywood producer will rectify that situation one day.

At the completion of the long voyage is an ending that at first seems like a bit of cheat, but in fairness Ruiz does telegraph his intentions throughout the proceedings. It’s only disappointing if you’ve ignored certain clues, or completely lost touch with the magical possibilities of childhood. I’m loathe to recommend a film of this length with such a potentially unsatisfying conclusion, but I can only say I was transfixed throughout, and frankly wish the film had been longer.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Stalker (1979) ✭✭✭✭1/2

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker is a wondrous vision of a road movie, complete with stupefying doses of alienation and allegory. Typically classified as science fiction, Stalker merely utilizes gray dystopian aspects of the genre to provide a point of reference for its commentaries on the wretched world man has created for himself. The film grafts mental and physical landscapes with such cohesion it becomes impossible to cleve character from setting; to delineate the guilt-ridden mists of the soul from the dank recesses of the physical world.

Tarkovsky was a master of atmospherics and Stalker blatantly drips with the stuff. The film exists in a nightmarish vapor of dullness and decay, as a crumbling, wretched society goes about its humorless labors in a sludgy brown world. Their only hope is The Zone: a weedy wilderness where it is rumored that wishes come true. With access to the Zone forbidden by the authorities, shadowy men known as Stalkers act as guides for those with the determination - and the money - to risk an expedition into this secret Shangri-La. With a writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and a professor (Nikolay Grinko) in tow, one such grim faced Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy) heads out on a drizzly dawn to lead a furtive walk into the unknown.

As the men trudge to paradise through bushes and mud, Stalker’s anodyne pacing and shifting definitions of reality create a viewer experience beyond typical notions of cinema. Tarkovsky skewers several manifestations of authority - both real and imagined - with cleverly disguised scenarios that serve as symbols of man’s most egregious self delusions. The outer reaches of the Zone, replete with deserted ruins and the carcasses of burned out tanks, signal that these desolate acres may ultimately contain more heartbreak than heavenly bliss. In a profound bit of theater, the Stalker blazes a trail by tossing rocks wrapped in bandages into the dense foliage, insuring safe passage by “testing for proper gravity.”

Eventually the men reach their objective, and each one departs vastly changed, but in deeply different ways. Tarkovsky then ups the mystical ante with a closing act that’s more revelation than resolution, and comes with its own shocking and intriguing possibilities. Stalker is not light entertainment for a lazy summer night. It is a film that will likely make you feel as drained and exhausted as its characters. You will fall asleep at least once - hopefully someone will be there to wake you - and there will be times when you swear that the damn thing is never going to end. But Stalker will also remain in your mind and your gut for a long time. Perhaps for an eternity.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mammuth (2010) ✭✭✭ 1/2

Mammuth is a French comedy that - sacré bleu - is actually funny. But that should be no surprise considering it’s a product of the writing/directing team of Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine who created the delightfully grim black comedy Aaltra from 2004. Mammuth features Gerard Depardieu as a retiring dim-witted meat packer who finds the French government has no record his employment, and therefore he will receive no pension. Depardieu’s only hope is track down his former bosses and have them sign affidavits attesting to his work history. Thus begins a trek through Depardieu’s past as, astride a rusty old motorcycle, he revisits 40 years worth of old friends and foes.

What's often forgotten amid the recent turmoil of Depardieu's personal life is that lurking underneath his massive frame is a phenomenally gifted actor. Depardieu has adapted to his burgeoning avoirdupois, and uses those lumbering proportions to great advantage in the crafting of characters. In My Afternoons with Margueritte (2010) Depardieu waddled gracefully through his turn as an innocent overgrown farm boy, and brought a sweet richness to a very simple story. Mammuth similarly exploits his physical effects and makes a perfect match for de Kervern and Delépine's wobbly world view. Early scenes of the bearish Depardieu attempting to navigate the delicate world of pensioners are chock full of belly laughs and pitch perfect sight gags.

The script makes a number of pointed and hilarious observations on how the world has changed while Depardieu was quietly busy making a living. In a memorable scene, Depardieu visits the slaughter house where he apprenticed decades ago to find the crumbling building now houses a firm that specializes in 3D storyboards. Along the way, Depardieu is visited by the shade of an old girlfriend (Isabelle Adjani) and encounters an assortment of oddball characters who illustrate how severely the notion of an honest day’s work has changed in today’s economy. Throughout, Delépine and de Kervern display an acerbic wit with a comedic sensibility quite reminiscent of bleak Scandinavian humor. The film loses a little steam in the final minutes, but overall it’s a worthy and entertaining diversion.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Love Hurts: A Man and a Woman (1966) ✭✭✭✭ 1/2

 Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman from 1966 was one of those rare films that pleased audiences and critics alike. The film nabbed the Palme d’Or and two Oscars while playing to crowded theaters worldwide. And over the years it has remained a popular property, generating over 6 million dollars in home video rentals. These days, film scholars  consider Lelouch something of a lightweight, never awarding him the gravitas of Truffaut or Godard, his nouvelle vague brethren. But A Man and a Woman was a highly influential movie, especially to Hollywood filmmakers who admired its near perfect balance of entertainment and innovation.

While generically described as a romantic drama, A Man and a Woman reduces the genre to a study of specific moments in the formation of a love affair. The film deals more with the mental and emotional processes of falling in love than actually being in love. The couple in question, champion race car driver Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and script supervisor Anne (Anouk Aimèe) spend relatively little time together onscreen - just a few Sunday afternoons - yet memories of these brief reveries fill their weekdays like a ghostly presence. The couple is only separate on the physical plane, as new passions fill the voids in their damaged souls.

 Lelouch’s stylish direction, complete with memory sequences, color shifting and music- cued montages, speaks a language that has become standard, some could say trite, filmmaker vocabulary. But here Lelouch wields the tools with skill and assurance, supporting and deepening the film’s existential air. Whenever the film threatens to become a bit too precious, Lelouch cleverly ups the ante with exciting scenes from the race track, including a harrowing nighttime sequence depicting the Monte Carlo Rally. But these are not mere empty thrills, for Jean-Louis and Anne will find the twisting course of love an even more perilous navigation.


In a rarity for a 1966 production, today finds all the principles alive, well and still productive. Lelouch has created an extensive filmography, although he has yet to match A Man and a Woman’s commercial success. Composer Francis Lai, whose portfolio contains a number of hit themes - Love Story among them - is scoring Lelouch’s new film Les chemins de l'orgueil currently in production. Anouk Aimèe’s career has found new traction as a character actress, lending her elegant air to several recent French comedies. And Jean-Louis Tringinant, having won accolades at Cannes for his work in Haneke’s Amor is poised for a new round of international success

 Its influence extending to such iconic films as Midnight Cowboy,  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and countless music videos of the 1980’s and 90’s, A Man and a Woman continues to be relevant and rewarding. Neither nihilist nor fluffy, the film ultimately resolves with an honest appraisal of love’s dangers, and the courage required by lovers to venture on. Jean-Louis and Anne may not be a match made in heaven, but within the realm of flawed humanity they could do a lot worse.