Archive for Forbidden Games

Wooden Double Crosses

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2015 by dcairns

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An addendum to René Clemént Week.

So, finally I see Clemént’s FORBIDDEN GAMES, and on the big screen — part of Mark Cousins’ excellent Cinema of Childhood season. Unfortunately, the heating in Filmhouse 2 had broken down, so it was baltic, but th cinema compensated by offering free hot drinks and choccy biccies. With the spirit of the blitz in our minds, the substantial audience hunkered down in mufflers to absorb the audio-visual culture being fired at them in sub-zero conditions, like Eskimos listening to a tribal tale, And, since a previous ticket purchase (to INHERENT VICE) had gotten me a half-price deal for the Cinema of Childhood showings, and since I discovered an ancient, crumbling Filmhouse gift voucher at the back of my wallet, the whole experience was effectively free.

Seeing ones breath haloed in the projector beam (I exaggerate a bit for, I think you’ll agree, splendid poetic effect) reminded me of the legends of Jim Poole, Cameo manager or yore, who would turn the heating up or down to enhance tropical or arctic features. Here. the frigidity had no particular connection to the film, but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment. Sharing a little discomfort may in fact have silently bonded us, as this was one of those rare, even endangered, occasions where the presence of an audience really does enhance an experience. In particular the guy behind me who was utterly flabbergasted by each new plot development and would splutter “What the fuck?” every time the children did something shocking, was a genuinely lovely part of the experience. It’s fun to hear someone else being so into something that they spontaneously voice your own emotions.

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Because the thing I hadn’t expected about the film — which deals with two children in WWII France, at the time of the nation’s fall to the Nazis — it looks at death through the eyes of a small child — is how funny it was. Funniest damn film I’ve seen in ages, actually. It’s emotional TOO — devastatingly so, but I expected that (but expecting any kind of pain is never actually a preparation for experiencing it). I didn’t know going in that I would bust a gut.

And here we learn why Truffaut hated the film, because much of the humour is anti-clerical, as with Autant-Lara’s L’AUBERGE ROUGE and others, there’s a gleefully vicious iconoclasm going on. Truffaut’s famed essay A Certain Tendency of French Cinema makes it quite clear that anti-clericalism was something the somewhat right-wing Truffaut wouldn’t tolerate, though he blurs this by claiming that what he’s objecting to is scenarists Aurenche & Bost claiming to respect the spirit of the books they adapted, while hypocritally distorting them to reflect their own depraved atheistic tendencies. It’s an objection that shouldn’t really bother any sensible adult — whether they’re evasive about it or not, the adaptors are perfectly entitled to change anything they like, and the critic can assess whether the meaning has been changed but should only condemn the film if the alteration is ineffective.

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That dot on her nose is a housefly making a walk-on appearance.

Notes — this is one of the most flyblown films I’ve ever seen, with many many shots of insects alighting on the cast and set decor, more even than A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, my previous reigning champion in this category. All part of the film’s bracing attitude to national nest-fouling, in which rural life in France is persistently portrayed as squalid, brutal and filthy. Amid this muck, the bucolic characters are all still somewhat sympathetic — as in Clouzot, I found that the more vices they were shown to have, the more I regarded them as believable human representatives. We should try to love awful people, especially when they’re just in films and can’t hurt us.

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Movie also guest-stars a 100-year-old owl called “the Mayor,” so what’s not to like?

Five-year-old Brigitte Fossey is terrific, but as she says in the DVD interview (I went home and watched my Criterion extras), little Georges Poujuly is also amazing. Unlike NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (which successfully bundles together a whole panoply of violently clashing thespian styles), there’s no real collision between Fossey’s actual childhood innocence and the twelve-year-old Georges’ presumably more studied performance. Their director was so committed to psychological reality he was able to bring them together in the same space.

Inevitably, unless we’re dealing with Bresson, the adults do have a slightly different performance style, and their characters are a shade closer to caricature, although it’s quite nuanced caricature. This is in keeping with the film’s decision to see the world through the children’s eyes. (I noted with approval that the kids got top billing — I was always outraged that Peter Coyote got first mention in ET. Contractual, I suppose, but mildly obscene, and quite out of keeping with the film’s stated approach.)

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The irreligious comedy kicks in when the children start assembling their own graveyard, built around little Brigitte’s dead puppy (slain in a shockingly realistic bombing raid that has some viewers yelling “animal abuse!” online — it seems to be the case that the pup was merely anesthetized). Firstly, the kids are inventing their own faith, based on clues from the outer world, in much the same way as cro-magnon man may have done, and it functions as a kind of parody of “grown-up” religion. This leads to the stealing of crosses from the cemetery, which ignites the conflict between two feuding families, who now suspect each other of sacrilege. One of the funniest lines, to me, was one patriarch yelling “Vampire!” at another. Stuck for a response, he comes back with the sublimely irrelevant “Landru!”

My eyebrows shot up when I discovered the deleted opening and closing sequences on the DVD. I’ve wondered if Clemént, brilliant though he was, was a bit of a fumbler when it came to endings, and here I suspect he proves me correct. He seems to have chopped the framing structure at the last moment — possibly even after the prize-winning screening at Venice (the titles have been adjusted to accommodate mention of the award). I think they’re beautiful and make the ending even more unbearable (and it’s already super-powerful. It will fuck you up). The abruptness of the conclusion as it stands is quite effective, and when the lights come up you haven’t had a chance to compose yourself. But I don’t believe the coda planned would lessen that effect, and it makes a much more elegant outro.

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I’m reminded of the story Mitchell Leisen told about his wartime weepie TO EACH HIS OWN, one of the most gloriously manipulative four-hankie jobs ever perpetrated. Leisen was actually approached by exhibitors requesting him to tack some more footage onto the end of the movie to give the audience a chance to get their shit together before the house lights went up, because people were staggering up the aisles, blinding by tears, and gashing their foreheads on columns.

Leisen refused to adjust his concussion-inducing emotional climax. Quite right.

A Man Called MacGuffin

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2015 by dcairns

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A movie that starts on my birthday!

THE RIDER ON THE RAIN (in French, the equally alliterative LE PASSAGER DE LA PLUIE, 1970) began the last phase of René Clément’s career, the twisty thriller circle (though this is clearly anticipated in earlier movies like LES FELINS and PLEIN SOLEIL). The large-scale failure of IS PARIS BURNING? (which I like a lot — but you have to see it in subtitled, not dubbed, form) effectively closed the door on period movies for the director and he plunged whole-heartedly into the Now, with stylish seventies crime films, both this and LA COURSE DU LIEVRE A TRAVERS LES CHAMPS stemming from the pen of Sebastien Japrisot, that master of the insanely convoluted, switchback narrative.

Both films open with quotes from Lewis Carroll, which I think is more of a Japrisot trope than a Clément one, though the director’s fascination with childhood is a recurring motif, and he DID make a film called KNAVE OF HEARTS (more commonly known as MONSIEUR RIPOIS). The opening shot here seems to be a river, surface momentarily cratered with raindrops, until a bus drives through and we realize it’s a wet road — thus preparing us for whatever fantastical transformations M. Japrisot has in store.

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Our star is petite Marlene Jobert, with her adorable sprinkle of freckles and appealingly odd voice — surprisingly, she’s the real life mother of Eva Green. Jobert’s husband must have had massive tits. Jobert’s character rejoices in the name of Melancolie Mound, but get your sniggering over with because this is serious stuff — her character is horribly abused by all the men in the film, and her mother isn’t that sympathetic either. The intense bouts of psychological torture dissolve away in an oddly sweet ending, played out by Francis Lai’s hip, lachrymose soundtrack.

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The story proper begins when Jobert is raped by a terrifying, masked bald guy (disturbing male-pattern baldness that gives him an alien look — his name will turn out to be MacGuffin or MacGuffyn), and then kills him when he threatens her again. She disposes of the body, but then Charles Bronson shows up — yes, Charles frickin’ Bronson! — as a mysterious stranger whose hot on the trail of the loot her assailant had stolen (a paltry $60,000 — Bronson wouldn’t even get out of bed and spray himself with Mandom for that, surely?). Jobert’s struggle with her walnut-faced interrogator brings out her inner strength and the audience pleasure comes from seeing her fight back, growing up and standing up for herself. The sheer unpleasantness of every male character feels like a feminist point sometimes, but then the Stockholm Syndrome romance kicks in and we’re not so sure.

French trailer gives a pretty fair idea of the movie’s mood — more melancholic and mysterious than action-packed or horrific.

The US trailer is farcically dishonest, painting Bronson as a rescuer rather than what he really is for most of the film, a threat. It also commits the unpardonable sin of threatening its audience with sexual assault, which doesn’t strike me as a formula for success. The connection of Bronson with rape would be cemented by DEATH WISH in 1974 — I’m wondering if this trailer was made for a later release, capitalizing on the idea of Bronson as vigilante protector? The irony is that Mr. Buchinsky looks more like the kind of stereotypical car-park lurker than most of the “street trash” he summarily executed. But I think this worked in his favour: the rape-rescue fantasy is a kind of rape fantasy in disguise: the attraction is sexual threat safely neutralised/alibied.

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Anyway, Clément uses Bronson neither as sexual bully nor rescuer, but as a mysterious, tormenting authority figure — given scenarist Japrisot’s propensity for mad plot turns, I even wondered momentarily if either Bronson or the dead rapist might be a hallucination. The narrative is just elusive enough for that to be a possibility.

Clément, determined not to seem old-fashioned, directs the hell out of this, an object lesson in what David Bordwell calls “intensified continuity,” with Dutch tilts, handheld lurches, zooms and propulsive tracking shots, swoony focus pulls and every kind of fancy-schmancy Sid Furie composition, filming through foreground objects as if cameraman Andréas Winding (PLAYTIME) were hiding from the authorities while shooting the picture.

It’s twisted and peculiar — naturally I loved it. For whatever reason, despite the international stars in his later films, Clément’s career fizzled out during the seventies, and he spent the last twenty-fur years of his life not making any films.

My Paris pal Lenny Borger interviewed Francois Truffaut one time, and the former critic repeated his dislike of Clément’s work in general and FORBIDDEN GAMES in particular. But then he called up and asked Lenny not to print the bits where he badmouthed his fellow director: “He’s having trouble getting films made.” Lenny doesn’t know if that was sincere concern or just Truffaut trying to look like a nice guy, but it’s a decent gesture either way.

The odd thing about Truffaut is that his French Occupation drama, LE DERNIER METRO, which was showered with awards in France, is a rather stodgy, old-fashioned affair, the kind of thing Clément would have turned into a taut, dynamic, visually sensational thriller-melodrama, and I believe even if he’d made it when he was seventy-seven, it would have looked like a young man’s film.

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