Archive for 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman

Forbidden Divas: 24

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2018 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove hits us with another of those Forbidden Divas. You know the ones I mean! This movie was previously covered by Scout Tafoya in our ’68 Comeback Special, here.

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

24

“It is not enough to be innocent.” – Danielle Darrieux, 24 Hours in a Woman’s Life

 Let me start with a terrible confession. Danielle Darrieux is one of those stars I admire but have seldom actually liked. Even in her greatest roles such as the frivolous socialite transformed by love in Madame de (1953) she exudes a chilliness that makes her hard not engage with. I admire her coolly, remotely, from a distance – like an exquisite artificial orchid that has been sculpted in ice and preserved at a sub-zero temperature in a display case of finest cut glass. She seems less an actress than an icon put there to be venerated, a luxurious but rather hollow objet de culte.

None of her remoteness was apparent in her off-screen life – which was considerably livelier and more dramatic than most of her films. A leading lady from the age of fifteen, Darrieux was married in her youth to the film director Henri Decoin and the notorious gigolo stud Porfirio Rubirosa. (Yes, the name Italian waiters give to their supersize pepper mill.) After a brief flirtation with Hollywood, she returned to Paris just in time for the Second World War and the Nazi Occupation. Her enthusiastic but unreliable collaboration won her a notoriety that persisted until her death. She was forced to go into hiding at the end of the war, having been marked for death by both the Gestapo and the Resistance. Darrieux weathered the scandal by scorning even to discuss it. She kept working into her nineties and died in 2017 at the age of 100. Yet she never lost her air of icy hauteur. When a concert she gave in Paris sold out in record time, she remarked: “Nobody really wants to hear me sing. They just want to see if I drop dead in the middle of it.”

As a woman whose life story reads like a potted biography of 20th century Europe, Danielle Darrieux was a natural choice to star in Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life(1968). The film is based on a story by the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, who prided himself throughout his life on being a European whose identity transcended national boundaries. Forced into exile by the Nazis, Zweig and his wife committed suicide in Brazil in 1942. Allegedly, they were unable to live with the loss of their ideal, which had always been that of a united, cultured and cosmopolitan Europe. One weeps to imagine what Zweig would make of Brexit – or of the populist thugs now governing Italy, Hungary, Poland and other European countries. His life and work bear witness to the futility and downright idiocy of borders and nation states. Are we heading for an era in which any educated person may soon start to feel like Stefan Zweig?

These are some of the issues that Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life, with its running time of less than 80 minutes, seeks to address. Its story takes place at the height of the First World War. Darrieux plays a French aristocrat, married to an English lord and on holiday in neutral Switzerland. Her husband is busy with his war duties so she is travelling with a group of with a group of upper-class Parisian ladies. Among them, oddly enough, is a teenage Romina Power, the pretty but utterly insipid daughter of Tyrone Power and Linda Christian. This girl would go on to appear in Jess Franco’s soft-core sleaze-fest Justine (1969) and achieve lasting notoriety as a pop star in Italy. Music plays an important part in Twenty-Four Hours as well, but rest assured it is of a far more elevated sort. As the film opens, the ladies are attending an outdoor concert by a lake, where a Hungarian pianist is playing music by the German composer Johannes Brahms. A few hardcore patriots are aghast at being forced to listen to “Hun music.” But for Darrieux, as for any cultivated Zweig protagonist, matters of art and culture take serene and automatic precedence over politics or national identity. It is symbolic, perhaps prophetic, that the concert is interrupted by a loud and torrential rainstorm.

Her friends catch the boat back to their hotel on the far side of the lake. But Darrieux, on a whim, decides to stay and hear the concert out, rain or no rain. Coming back alone late that night, she inadvertently gets on the wrong boat. It carries her – to her shock and surprise – across the border into Italy. At first she is mystified when a man in uniform asks for her passport. How, after all, can there be a border in the middle of a lake? When it transpires that she has no passport with her, the only option is to drop her on the Italian side and tell her to catch the first boat in the morning. Darrieux faces a night alone in a strange country, an undocumented and entirely illegal alien. She is, paradoxically, free for the first time in her life. The strait-jacket of identity has ceased, for a few hours anyway, to exist. She finds herself in the dubious position of doing (and being) whatever (and whoever) she wants.

She finds her way, through the rain, to an opulent casino. Its sumptuous Art Nouveau staircase is dominated by a giant stained-glass image of a peacock. Ladies parade up and down the stairs, resplendent in lilac wigs and glittering sequined gowns, fluttering their giant fans of ostrich plumes. Two stuffed peacocks spread their tail feathers on either side of the stairs. The writer-director Dominique Delouche (once an assistant to Fellini) served as his own designer for the costumes and sets. He creates an aura of boundless luxury on what was obviously a very small budget. Wandering into the main gambling hall, Darrieux spots a young blonde man (Robert Hoffmann) seated at a table playing roulette. His fingers drum nervously on the green baize, as he gambles away what is clearly that last money he has in the world. The wheel spins and he loses. Slowly, he gets up from the table and walks out alone into a thunderstorm. Darrieux – not even quite knowing why – follows him.

Although the man is easily young enough to be her son, the two become lovers for the night. The next day she learns he is a German. He has deserted from the army, as he can no longer stand the senseless act of killing for the sake of borders and nations. They go out rowing in a small boat on the lake. He points out a villa that reminds him of his family home. “It has an Italian terrace and a French garden,” he says. “But the house is in a Viennese style, the essence of Mozart and Schubert. That is my country!” Like the educated young Europeans of his day, he has grown up with no concern for national identities or boundaries. Suddenly, such things have become literally matters of life and death. The cosmopolitan Europe that was his home has become a hostile and alien world, one in which he no longer feels able to live. He carries a revolver with him in the pocket of his coat. He feels prepared, at any moment, to use it.

Hoffmann bears a passing resemblance to the young Helmut Berger, but is also a considerably worse actor. The plentiful nude shots – including just a few too many in a vaguely Crucifixion-like pose – suggest that Delouche did not really hire him for his acting. Delouche would make only two other features: L’Homme de Désir (1971) about a husband and wife who fall for the same young man and Divine (1975) about a young man’s obsession with a flamboyant theatrical diva, played once again by Darrieux. Having seen only the first of these movies, I cannot say which one is gayer. Twenty-Four Hours, which should have won Delouche an international reputation, was deprived of its world premiere when the 1968 Cannes Film Festival was called off due to the wave of strikes and student demonstrations across France. Delouche himself joined in the protests that prevented his own film from being shown. These days, in interview, he wonders why. Surely his costumes alone were worthy of a Palme d’Or?

Yet the revelation of 24 Hours must be Danielle Darrieux herself. As an older woman in love with a drifter half her age – and with all Europe going up in flames around her – she dares not just to make us cry, but to make us laugh. Her situation is poignant because it is ridiculous and she, a sophisticated and intelligent woman, knows precisely how ridiculous it is. She is passionate but not deluded, world-weary but never cynical. She makes us aware that irony and emotion do not merely coexist; they may, in fact, be two sides of a single overpowering and life-transforming experience. Darrieux gives a performance to rank with the very greatest. I may have to become a fan after all.

David Melville

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Sim City

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2014 by dcairns

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By some strange quirk, the great Edinburgh-born actor Alastair Sim seems to have spent most of his later career in the sauna. In the subject of this fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten he appears in two scenes, steaming himself in both. In ROYAL FLASH he also appears in two scenes, one of which is a magnificent Victorian Turkish bathhouse designed by Terry Marsh complete with a foot-pedal-powered brass shower for Malcolm McDowell to enjoy. Sim’s character, fully dressed in gentlemanly finery, does not look like he’s enjoying himself quite so much.

One the DVD commentary, McDowell reports meeting Sim again when he went to loop a few lines. Sim looked exhausted. “I wish I could just say a line,” he moaned. The actor had, by this time, become such a master of the stutter, the hesitation and the silent working of the jaw, that replacing a line became torture, because the words never came out in a straight line. His talent was also his torment.

I should think the hardest actor to loop would be Leonard Rossiter, though, who developed a level of wordless chuntering even more extreme than Sim’s — particularly on the sitcom Rising Damp, Rossiter would flap his gums soundlessly, or else accompanied by a high, hesitant drone like a distant mountaineer plummeting, waiting for the words to actually form, for a long time before actual speech emerged, and part of the comedy was that you never knew at what point the facial calisthenics and faraway yodel would resolve into language. Lucky, then, that he worked with Kubrick, who tried to avoid dubbing whenever possible, and a little unfortunate that Sim was paired with Lester that one time, since Lester virtually rewrote his films in the dub.

But still, it’s delightful to see Sim in a Lester comedy.

None of this has anything much to do with today’s column, the Peter O’Toole tribute edition, which is available here.

Royal Flash [Blu-ray]
Royal Flash [Blu-ray]

And meanwhile, at Apocalypse Now, The ’68 Comeback Special returns with Scout Tafoya’s take on 24 HOURS IN THE LIFE OF A WOMAN starring the great Danielle Darrieux.