Archive for Eric Rohmer

Sister Akte

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 27, 2014 by dcairns

Beloved Sisters still 4

BELOVED SISTERS, at nearly three hours, is a proper arse-marathon, and the lower back was feeling hard-done-by after hours in Filmhouse 3 watching Domenik Graf films all week. Fortunately this was his new film and thus got an upgrade to Odeon 2, where the seats exert a differing, slightly less intense set of discomforts. When I suggested a three hour film about the love live of Schiller, Fiona said — well, I won’t say what she said but it was in the negative and had “fuck” in it. This despite the fact that she’d heard my glowing reports of other Graf works and was curious to try one.

Once more, she missed out, as the movie was lively, well-observed and entertaining. Graf had told me that the film represented the third strand of his work, the Eric Rohmer side, contrasting with the fast genre stuff (DIE KATZE) and equally fast and furious social realist side (Hotte in Paradise). A quite accurate summary, and the movie also shows his love of Truffaut’s period/literary films. And it goes like a train — it doesn’t have the out-of-control momentum of something like Eine Stadt Wird Erpresst (A City is Blackmailed) whose throat-grip and cannonball velocity leaves the viewer both shaken and elated — but it doesn’t hang about either.

(PLOT: Poet Schiller falls in love with two sisters; a menage a trois is attempted; meanwhile, the French Revolution and the development of the printing press.)

Beloved Sisters still 2

Graf spoke of his deliberately flat filming style, avoiding steadicam pursuits and all those tricks whereby directors try to show that the past was as lively as today, and avoid theatricality. By contrast, Graf feels like people saw the world in more flat ways then (the stage, and paintings were their references, rather than AVATAR) and he avoids stiffness via his rapid pace (no fear of crash zooms), imaginative and surprising framing, and the naturalism of the perfs. Nobody behaves like characters in a historical drama. The language is classical, but the reactions, body language and everything else reminds us of us.

The only thing I was baffled by was the typography — Graf introduces temporal jumps (the story covers fifteen years) with titles which drift and zoom about restlessly — one even swoops down and up and at us like the famous STAR WARS main title. And they’re all in a faux-stencil font, in unpleasant not-quite pastel colours. Defiantly un-period and ill-suited to everything around them, as if Graf wanted to scribble a moustache on his own Mona Lisa, or irritate slightly just those people who normally enjoy quality period drama. Perhaps his punk side reasserting itself? Perversity is the noblest impulse.

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Topic “I”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 29, 2012 by dcairns

Dan Sallitt is someone I know, so although it’s lovely to have him in Edinburgh with his new film, THE UNSPEAKABLE ACT, I was nervous about seeing his film in case I didn’t like it. But somebody had already told a friend, “You needn’t worry,” and so it proved. His movie is a tender, sensitive and surprisingly funny film about a seventeen-year-old girl in love with her big brother, and by “in love” I mean just what you would assume I meant if I weren’t talking about a sister and brother. Jackie wants to try “the I word” with her brother, who gently demurs. There’s no shocking or offensive content here, though, apart from that one idea. Maybe this film is really just about that moment that comes in nearly everyone’s life when they’re in love with someone they can’t have?

Dan’s movie is beautiful both in surface (a pared-down style with no camera movement, maybe two pans) and content. The whole thing is inhabited by a kind of filmic and emotional grace. With elegant, formal compositions and a measured pace, he keeps the emotional temperature under control, so that we feel the passions seething inside the characters rather than seeing them erupt all over the screen — but this is by no means a cold film, quite the reverse. Nor does it feel slow — “measured” is not a euphemism for the S word.

Credit must go also to the excellent cast, particularly Tallie Medel as Jackie, the heroine with the socially unacceptable urges towards her brother (Sky Hirschkron, also very fine). She has a fascinating face. You can just see the thoughts flickering behind it, as though she were translucent.

Several of the reviews have focused on the calm performance style, as if it were something uniquely stylised and strange. I didn’t find it so, and I asked Dan about it and he doesn’t really get what that’s about either. To me, it was clearly a version of recognizable human behaviour, the way people do in fact speak. In the same way Altman’s overlapping dialogue is both a noticeable directorial choice and an authentic depiction of how people talk. Dan obviously likes his performances fairly low-key, the tone conversational, the obvious left uninflected. To me it made the film all the more moving, and funny.

Eric Rohmer is obviously a stylistic watchword, but I was pleased to spot a shout-out to Preston Sturges in the use of the expression “Topic A” (which means sex, according to THE PALM BEACH STORY). Another master of dialogue who likes his characters articulate. Dan explained that he felt that the phrase “Topic A” should be in common use and he wanted to popularize it. “I don’t think this film will be the tipping point, though,” he added.

You never know…

The Sunday Intertitle: Grace Under Pressure

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2011 by dcairns

On Friday, for some reason, we felt like watching a film about BLOODY REVOLUTION. Ken Hughes’ CROMWELL was considered (in which Alec Guinness says of his impending trip to the executioner’s block, “The walk will do me good”), but Eric Rohmer’s THE LADY AND THE DUKE eventually found its way into the Panasonic — it has the advantage of an Edinburgh-born heroine and a stylised CGI environment, which makes it like stepping into a gallery of paintings from the eighteenth century.

What a weirdly compelling film it is! Against the fine perfs of Lucy Russell (Bruce Wayne’s dead mum) as Grace Elliott, a Scottish courtesan settled in France, and Jean-Claude Dreyfus (DELICATESSEN: “I’m a butcher but I don’t mince my words”) as the Duke of Orleans, an aristo turned revolutionary, and the exciting events of the story, you’d have to admit that much of Rohmer’s approach would seem to weigh against dramatic involvement.

The unreality of the settings — the exteriors are all paintings, and the interiors, while physically present, are carefully designed with a faint lack of detail and texture to blend with that sense of a constructed world — doesn’t get in the way at all, but we’re all familiar with stylised movies that nevertheless bypass the famed verfremdungseffekt and wind up involving us as thoroughly as any trad melo. More impactful should be Rohmer’s typically laid-back filming style, which never pushes for drama or uses the conventional devices associated with suspense-generation. Usually, when a story is powerfully tense without seeming to expend any effort on Hitchcockian tropes, the explanation seems to be that a combination of dramatic situations and a realistic milieu force us to imagine ourselves in the scene. Here, while the situations are indeed dramatic, almost everything is anti-realist, from the heavily expositional speeches of the characters, to the artificial scenery. But the very convincing performances seem to supply the needed believability, while the fake settings remove any concern from our minds about the authenticity of the film’s period detail.

“It’s the only Rohmer film with severed heads,” says Anne Billson via Facebook.

“He didn’t use ’em much because they can’t talk. And don’t have knees,” I reply.