Archive for Bunuel

Liberty’s Ghosts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 12, 2019 by dcairns

Bingeing on Costa-Gavras! Something I resolved to do a few years ago (I’m sluggish) when I caught up with LE COUPERET, a riveting film which was a big hit in France but not hugely seen elsewhere. Maybe the best Donald Westlake adaptation, in a sense? It’s more faithful that POINT BLANK, which is maybe a bit greater as a film, and even invents material that feels incredibly Westlakean (Westlakish? Westlakoid?), even while hewing to a sensibility, Boorman’s, that’s pretty far removed from the author’s. Costa-Gavras’ film is pure Westlake, and at the same time pure Costa-Gavras.

SECTION SPECIALE deals with the special courts set up by the Vichy regime with the seeming intention of placating the Nazis by executing “subversives.” The beginning of the film is a thriller — some young communists decide to kill members of the occupying German forces. Even here, the film pays surprising attention to the arguments these kids engage in to determine whether murder is permissable under these circumstances. The fine logic arrives at the conclusion that a German soldier might be part of the proletariat of his homeland and therefore personally a poetential ally to the cause, but as a presence in France in his official capacity he’s an enemy and can be shot in the back. Seems reasonable.

More logic: the Vichy cabinet is terrified of reprisals — not entirely foolishly, given the Nazis’ response to the killing of Heidrich in Czechoslovakia. But they hype the threat up hysterically, persuading the courts to go along with their plans by muttering darkly of hundreds of executions of celebrities and prominent citizens including judges, by guillotine in the Place de la Concorde, something the Germans (embodied by the great Heinz Bennent) explicitly ruled out.

Basically the plan is to set up a retroactive law under which suspects or previously convicted persons can be charged and executed. Six executions are promised to the Germans, so regardless of the facts, six convictions must be obtained — under a law that hadn’t been written at the time the “offences” were (maybe) committed.

By now, action scenes of assassination are far behind, but the sense of this being a thriller is continued by other means, through a series of dialogues where, yes, human lives are in the balance, but so are the concept of justice and the consciences of the judges — a third-rate bunch of careerists, mostly.

Costa-Gavras had already gotten into Kafkaesque territory in L’AVEAU and to some extent Z (where, after all, a letter of the alphabet is outlawed). Here, the fact that several of the starry French cast had just appeared in Bunuel’s THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY seems apt, or prophetic — these two movies would make a terrific double-bill, each illuminating the other. Michael Lonsdale’s chilly presence inhabits both films like a lump of ice in the stomach, and Julien Bertheau’s querulous police chief in the Bunuel is promoted to querulous judge here (never trust a man who dyes his hair and wears face powder — and no, I wouldn’t like Gustav Von Aschenback as a judge either).

Costa-Gavras’ black comedy is at times startling, as when a meeting between cabinet ministers and judges takes place with the chasing of a chicken as background action. History is tragedy and farce AT THE SAME TIME.

SECTION SPECIALE stars Monsieur Klein’s dad; Hugo Drax; Ragueneau; Jim; Hans Vergerus; Cagliostro; Napoleon; Victor Manzon / ‘Serrano’; and Prince Charming.

Thinking like a screenwriter

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 16, 2019 by dcairns

I found the following text in a file on my work computer. I must have written it for a class but I don’t remember.

Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere says, “My job is to help the director figure out why he wanted to make the film.”

In fact, we could say that the preparation of a script – and the making of a film – is a process of finding out what attracted us to the idea in the first place. The theme is revealed (we hope) as the film slowly becomes the best possible version of itself (we hope). This will only happen if we’re curious.

We have to be alert to possibilities. In a good film or story, every element is working very hard. If you have a scene in a pool hall, you have to use the tables, the cues, the balls, the lights, otherwise the setting isn’t working hard for you. You probably have to use ideas of competition, of games, of skill, of cause and effect. These elements are automatically present and cannot be ignored. Some of them are objects but some of them are more abstract and thematic. They are all offering you clues about the ideal form of the scene, and the film.

We have to ask, “Why is this story happening here, and why now?”

We have to ask, “What is the universal significance of this story?”

Nothing is purely about one thing. The pool hall isn’t just a pool hall.

Mail Anxiety

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2018 by dcairns

There’s this really interesting dream sequence in THE MARRYING KIND. Your basic anxiety dream, easy to interpret. Disgruntled postal worker Aldo Ray swept some loose ball bearings out of sight at work rather than clearing them up properly, and he’s worried they’ll cause an accident. Under the influence of too many cocktails, he feels his bed turn into a post office conveyor belt bearing him from his bedroom to the post office, which turns out to be an adjoining space —

   

That’s the best bit. The many ball-bearings that come scooting out to meet him are cute, but Cukor’s use of a single shot to travel from reality into dream, and the evocation of that weird spacial dislocation unique to the dream state (see also, Welles’ THE TRIAL, where the back entrance of the artist’s garret opens onto the law court offices; “That seems to surprise you,” lisps the artist, staring glassily).

It’s almost as good as the bed that becomes a car in Pierre Etaix’s LE GRAND AMOUR. Though our dreams typically see us leaving our bedrooms far behind with no hint of how way found ourselves elsewhere, movie dreams seem to benefit from keeping the idea of the bedroom in play — hence all those movies where the hero is in his pajamas to create surrealistic contrast with whatever scenario he finds himself wrestling with, and hence also Polanski’s use of bedroom sounds — breathing, the alarm clock’s tinny tick — to accompany his own uncanny dream sequences.

“If I ever had to do hell in a film,” Cukor told Gavin Lambert, “– no, not quite hell, let’s say purgatory — the New York post office would be the perfect setting.”

Cukor didn’t get to do many dreams, alas. He wasn’t likely to get many films noir, being a prestigious as he was, and the other genre associated with dreams, the musical, just didn’t lead him that way, unless you count his brief involvement with THE WIZARD OF OZ. A DOUBLE LIFE is his other hallucinatory one.

I really like that THE MARRYING KIND is a realistic comedy with a dream sequence. People in realist movies so seldom dream, and yet in ACTUAL reality, we all dream a lot. That’s why I like LOS OLVIDADOS better than anything by Ken Loach, even though it’s more depressing. Bunuel’s poor people still dream, though their dreams, as shown, are even more upsetting that Aldo Ray’s ball bearings.

Oh, maybe worth making a comparison to another Columbia picture —