Archive for Belle de Jour

It’s Complicated

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2022 by dcairns

I haven’t read any Alberto Moravia but I love Bertolucci’s film of THE CONFORMIST — I notice I placed it in my top ten. Damiano Damiani was obviously a fan too, basing two of his films on works by the writer. First was LA NOIA/THE EMPTY CANVAS (1963). A VERY COMPLICATED GIRL (1969), “freely adapted” from Moravia’s The March Back, stars Catherine Spaak, Jean Sorel and Florinda Bolkan and is… very interesting.

Sorel’s character, also called Alberto, falls for Spaak’s, a pop art painter — the film is very mod in style, obviously updating its source in a way LA NOIA didn’t feel any need for. It has aspects of a giallo, mingling mod and murder, but isn’t really a mystery and doesn’t have a big enough body count to quite fit.

It must have been quite amazing to have been following the cinema from 67 to 70, the way censorship in the west was swept back so rapidly. Catherine Spaak was someone who rode that wave courageously — when she made her Hollywood debut in HOTEL (1967), nudity in commercial cinema was barely a thing. Here she’s full-frontal, and THE LIBERTINE (1968) she tries out a panoply of kinks. According to your viewpoint, this transition must have seemed like either a glorious liberation or the end of civilisation as we know it.

The most surprising scene comes when Spaak’s character tells Sorel’s that she was sexually abused by a relative. This is played not as a tragedy or crime or confession, but as an attempted seduction. Sorel accepts it that way with apparent enthusiasm. What was most striking to me is that the exact same thing happens in THE CONFORMIST. Stefania Sandrelli tells the late Jean-Louis Trintignant about being raped by her uncle as they travel by train (through the miracle of rear projection) on their honeymoon, and he role-plays the part of the uncle as she describes it. In AVCG Spaak’s story is about her stepmother, Bolkan, and it comes to assume a greater importance in the plot as Sorel seemingly loses his mind, but it’s otherwise very close — makes me think Moravia must have experienced something of the kind. It had not occurred to me (call me naive) that this was a thing — lovers sharing abuse stories as part of their fantasy life.

Balkan begins her transgressive, psychotronic career just as she means to go on, playing not only a bisexual child abuser but one who models the glue-on bikini. Sorel is… interesting. He’s the husband in BELLE DE JOUR, a strangely passive doll-man, here with the addition of designer stubble/very short beard that gives him an Action Man quality. Rather than suggesting depths of neurosis like Trintignant, he suggests undiscovered shallows. He’s more like Stephen Forsyth’s protag “I am a psychopath” of HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON. With a clever, intense actor like Trintignant even a terrible character becomes somehow compelling, even sympathetic. Sorel’s just causes increasing dismay as his actions and life spiral out of control. We had thought Spaak’s character, and certainly Bolkan’s were the problematic ones. But Sorel is the one leading us off a cliff.

The relationship starts kida dark but soon is almost in Moors murders territory. Had it continued along this dark path, the movie would be a unique giallo and better known. Instead it choses multiple strange pathways, and is generically undefinable, entirely its own thing. With a delirious pop score by Fabio Fabor, and production design by Damiani himself along with regular collaborator Umberto Turco.

Pretty compelling, weird stuff.

Joyeux Bunuel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 21, 2013 by dcairns

BUNUELNOEL1

Time for our traditional Shadowplay Xmas cards. I thought Luis “Thank God I’m an atheist” Bunuel would make an inspirational subject.

I call this next one “The Holly and the Ivy and the Agony and the Ecstasy,” or “I Saw Santa Whipping Mommy Raw.”

belledejour2X

“What’s in the box, Don Luis?” Do not open until Christmas!

bdj (1)

Things I read off the screen in Suddenly, Last Summer

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h17m38s176

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h24m16s60

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h23m07s134

What can you see in the shadows?

There are spoilers in this…

Though Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s use of horror movie tropes to depict homosexuality in his adaptation (with Gore Vidal) of Tennessee Williams’ SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER has drawn comment, I suspect in time we may come to be more alarmed by the film’s depiction of Mexican street boys as cannibals, and lunatic asylum inmates as zombies.

Of course, there is a certain amount of weaseling around the cannibalism thing — “It looked as if” Sebastian had been eaten alive, we are told. But the sequence as staged by Mankiewicz evokes Romero horror movies which had not yet been made, plus THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and the climax of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (two other movies with very queer gentlemen who play God), and it’s supposed to prove that Liz Taylor is NOT insane, so even if we don’t take it 100% literally, we have to take it as to some extent true.

(John Gielgud dubbed the play, “Please Don’t Eat the Pansies.”)

Williams’ evocation of the monstrous-feminine, ably embodied by Katherine Hepburn in Mrs Bates embalmed mode, might also raise eyebrows. Perhaps we need to just admit that the Gothic imagination is not inclined to be politically correct.

Poor Monty Clift is very good in a role (sympathetic lobotomist!) that basically involves looking quietly freaked at how goddamn WEIRD everybody is in this picture — a vital role to make the audience acclimatize.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h37m59s98

LOOK: Even when Hepburn casually picks up a magazine in the hospital sun room, it features swimsuit sexiness on the back cover and a devouring tropical beast on the front.

Occurred to me that Hepburn’s first scene, with the primeval garden (containing its own Audrey II flesheater in miniature greenhouse) is like the briefing of Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP, and the movie is a Freudian detective story like SPELLBOUND or MARNIE, but even more investigative and Marlowesque than those. And did Bunuel clock Hepburn’s buzzing box and steal it for BELLE DE JOUR, perhaps thinking that, although the specially-imported Venus flytrap food was a good gag, it was a pity to introduce a mysterious buzzing box and ever explain what was up with that?

Jack Hildyard’s photography is incredible, well served by the DVD.  His career seems to have gone to shit after MODESTY BLAISE, but before that he shot BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI — he also did uncredited work for Mankiewicz on CLEOPATRA and much as I love Leon Shamroy (The King of Technicolor), I have a suspicion that the nocturnal throne-room stuff in that movie which is FAR handsomer than anything else in it, may conceivably be Hidlyard’s contribution. I’d love to know.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h25m25s235

What a weird film. Though Clift and Taylor have mucho chemistry in A PLACE IN THE SUN, here their love story is pretty flimsy, and the movie brushes aside any qualms about Clift falling for a patient (whom he also hypnotizes). The grotesque circus hangs together remarkably well, with all its brazenly unsubtle symbolism and incantatory, Salome-esque monologues, but the romance may be a beat too many. Whatever — just getting a freakshow like this made at MGM deserves some kind of chutzpah award.

Embarrassing note: I’d never seen it.

Fiona: “You have so seen it. I’ve seen it!”

Me: “But we have not seen all the same films, because we are two people.”

Though this at times seems decreasingly true.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h30m58s214