Archive for Jean Renoir

The Sunday Intertitle: A Right Nana

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on June 2, 2019 by dcairns

Renoir’s wife irl, Catherine Hessling is introduced as the title character of NANA (1926). Titles are by “Mme Le Blond Zola,” apparently.

This is the most impressive NANA I’ve seen, more engaging than the Dorothy Arzner/Anna Sten, that’s for damn sure. (Hollywood and Goldwyn robbed Anna of the considerable appeal she exuded in, say, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, so totally that it’s quite hard to persuade classic Hollywood fans to even try her earlier work. Makes you appreciate the stubbornness with which Ingrid Bergman resisted being made over.)

CH indulges in some full-on booty shaking in her first scene, giving a huge laugh to the minor character who declares, moments later, “That woman is the epitome of elegance!”

This little vignette shows Renoir’s skill, I think: the still, silent humiliation of the neglected wife, contrasted with the fatuous enthusiasm of her male companion as they watch the show from a box. The wife will take the opera glasses from her idiot hubby, not to look herself, just to limit his oafish leering, and then she has to physically prevent him from throwing the flowers which he belatedly remembers are his gift to her.

What’s most typical of Renoir here is, I think, the co-existence of tragedy and comedy in the same frame, equally weighted, each given their due, resulting in a weird harmony that’s lifelike and not in the least jarring.

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The Sunday Subtitle: A Little Theatre

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2014 by dcairns

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Funny how many late films are Christmas films. THE DEAD is the king of them, probably, but there’s also LES PETROLEUSES (late Bardot, final Christian-Jacque, Christmas on the prairie with a decorated cactus), REINDEER GAMES (last cinematic outing of Frankenheimer, Santas slaughtered like sheep) and Michael Curtiz was lucky to survive the one-two punch of WHITE CHRISTMAS and WE’RE NO ANGELS but he only lasted another five years. Still counts.

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I plonked a digital copy of a VHS of THE LITTLE THEATRE OF JEAN RENOIR in the Maidstone Blu-ray player and was immediately delighted by the Christmas connection, which I hadn’t known about. Also, the conscious choice to end his career (eight years since his last job: he must have known) with a Hans Christian Andersen adaptation, harking way way back to his 1928 version of THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (a thing of beauty).

This is a TV movie (television, both cradle and graveyard of careers) and frankly looks it, but it’s strange how the vivacious spirit of a filmmaker like Renoir asserts itself through imagery that might seem cheap, flat or ordinary. Frame grabs are never going to do it justice because there’s something ineffable BETWEEN the frames.

The First Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by dcairns

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Over at the always exhilarating Observations on Film Art, David Bordwell, whom I finally met in Bologna along with his lovely partner Kristin Thompson, summarises the Cinema Ritrovato experience by writing up a single day’s viewing, thus giving us a sorta-kinda idea of what the overall buzz is like. I thought I’d steal the idea, as a way of reliving the glory and because there are plenty of enjoyable screenings that wouldn’t quite make a full blog post on their own.

I got into Bologna — or at any rate the outlying suburb-thing of Pianora, on the Saturday the fest began, late at night, so I missed such goodies as BEGGARS OF LIFE (recently enjoyed in Bo’ness) and Aleksandr Ford’s THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM, acclaimed as a masterpiece by those who saw it, and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE on the big, big screen in the Piazza Maggiore. And finding a bus on a Sunday to take me into town proved troublesome, so by the time I’d arrived and registered and had a cappuccino alongside new best pal Jonathan Rosenbaum and met longtime correspondent Neil McGlone and fellow Scotsman Mark Cosgrove, it was 12.15 and the only thing to see before the long, civilised lunch break, was the program of musical shorts previously discussed here.

Said program also featured YES WE HAVE NO… (the missing word is BANANAS), a silhouette-film seemingly directed by the ludic Adrian Brunel (it was found in his collection, anyway) and produced by Miles “He won’t be doing the crossword tonight” Malleson. A cartoonish treatment of the torment inflicted by catchy earworms, popular songs of the moronic variety that burrow into your consciousness and jam the controls on “REPEAT.”

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After lunch with the man I really must stop calling J-Ro, who gave me some useful pointers for stuff to see, I made perhaps a mistake and went to see a William Wellman double feature instead of THE TEMPTRESS, which looked extremely alluring, was only on once, and proved to be one of the hot tickets of the fest, the kind of thing for which the safety inspector averts an eye as the aisles fill up with perspiring bodies. But the Wellmans were good/interesting — YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN starred Clive Brook, Florence Vidor, El Brendel (ack!) and Lowell Sherman, whose villainous smoothy is excellent value. Wellman starts with a spectacular building site disaster. A labourer rescues the chic Vidor from cascading scaffolding. Sherman steps in and takes the swooning beauty from his muscular but filthy grasp. “I think I can do this sort of thing better than you,” he suggests, via intertitle, and proceeds to take credit for saving her life.

The story goes on to be a backstage melodrama with Clive Brook as jilted lover, Sherman as interloper, El Brendel as a colossal pain in the ass even without dialogue, the whole thing a warning as to the inconstancy of woman. But it’s not nasty about it or anything.

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THE MAN I LOVE was an early talkie, and showed Wellman struggling, sometimes inventively, with the new technology. Sometimes he has three cameras running on a scene but they’re all badly positioned for the action as blocked, so the editor’s attempts to maintain audience engagement by shuttling from one bad view to another come to naught. But sometimes he throws the microphone aside and shoots mute, as in the boxing scenes, which have some impressively RAGING BULL-esque movement and vigour. And sometimes he simply stays on a decent shot, and lets the actors, a mulish Richard Arlen and an uncertain Mary Brian, wreck things for him.

Just up the hill at the Cinema Jolly, I could see UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE and LA CHIENNE, so I did. I’d never seen the latter, so comparing it to Lang’s remake, SCARLET STREET, was extremely interesting. Obviously the original is not a noir, and has a weird serio-comic tone of its own which leaves some strange moments undigested in the Lang, particularly the big punchline of the dead husband’s return. And Renoir is able to end the film in an anti-moralistic way: with a change of emphasis Lang could have his hero cheat the law and get away with murder, but be nevertheless destroyed by his guilt, and by the fraud already perpetrated against him. But in Renoir, the protagonist may be down on his luck, but he no longer cares. To society, he would seem to have been punished most severely, but he’s a perfectly happy guy. That’s much more unsettling.

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UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE is a masterpiece, of course.

Jonathan R had recommended Paradjanov’s SAYAT NOVA, which I had always known under its Soviet-imposed name of THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES, so I clocked in for my last show of the day at 9.30 at the Sala Mastroianni. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen all of it before — it’s that kind of film. But the familiarity induced by the abrupt ending convinced me I must have, probably in Derek Malcolm’s Film Club on BBC2 or something. Probably a VHS recording of same, in fact.

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A film about a poet that is in itself poetic is a rare thing. In fact, it’s very hard to tell whether Mr. Nova was any good as a poet — much of his verse is presented solely as title cards in Cyrillic, so you can’t even tell what it would sound like. And the bits that are translated have an almost adolescent whining tone — “I’m a really unhappy guy. Life stinks. Everybody hates me.” The one line that stuck out was “The world is a window.” Which is, you know, GREAT. Especially with Paradjanov’s stunning images as accompaniment.

Worrying about the poetry turned out to be part of a pattern with me — the last film of the day was usually one I had trouble getting into, owing to tiredness (with two magnificent exceptions — THE MERRY WIDOW and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT.)

The film, now restored in its Ukrainian version, is so fantabulous that it’s quite wrong of me to want to use it simply as a stick with which to beat Peter Greenaway. The temptation still arises, though, because it would make such a terrific, all-annihilating stick.