Archive for Last Year at Marienbad

11) Udine – Pontecorvo

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on April 19, 2022 by dcairns

For Pontecorvo’s episode of 12 REGISTI PER 12 CITTA’, he has Ennio Morricone return to the fold, though Morricone was born in Rome and Pontecorvo in Pisa. The subject, however, is Udine.

The two men had a closer than usual collaboration, actually sharing the composition credit on BATTLE OF ALGIERS. When Pontecorvo visited Edinburgh International Film Festival I asked him, at the q&a, how this came to be, unknowingly triggering one of his favourite anecdotes. I will retell it in comments upon request, but you can hear the great man retell it on the extras of the Criterion disc.

Pontecorvo — who gets a bad rep over that tracking shot in KAPO, which isn’t, to me anyway, particularly offensive — but I can understand the principle — spends a surprising amount of time on the landscape OUTSIDE Udine, but this is worthwhile stuff.

The VO begins with Boccaccio’s Decameron, so that our journey to the city seems to cover time as well as space — from the timeless drives and mountains the author might have seen, past vineyards and villas, to the city itself, which we reach via a long pan across conjoined 19th-century illustrations.

The tracking shot in Udine, the first anyhow, occurs along a portico, looking out at Roman statuary, pulled along by the flow of traffic in the intervening street. It seems unlikely that it would offend either Rivette or Daney, who took such exception to GP’s earlier move.

Mostly, however. Pontecorvo prefers to pan sedately. Once bitten.

The VO is a touch touristic — though it does more than just dole out facts and dates, it doesn’t aspire to poetry. We learn that there’s “an unusual Tiepolo” which tries out new painting techniques, but not what those techniques are. No time? Then why bring it up? Sometimes you just need to FIND time.

Another tracking shot, a nice one, passing through the galleries of the Archbishop’s Palace — frescoes by Tiepolo. Like a number of his fellow directors, Pontecorvo is moved to MARIENBAD-like glides here — but we should note that such explorations of screen space are an Italian invention, dating back to CABIRIA (though we could also note that the first camera dolly was constructed for that film by a Frenchman Spaniard, Segundo de Chomon).

We learns that the Archbishop’s library contains a collection of heretical and sorcerous texts — I wish we had time to leaf through a few volumes, preferably illustrated. But we do get to gloat at some gargoyles.

“Udine, a city made for man,” concludes the VO, a touch weakly. It’s one of the results of a piece being uninspired: you can’t think of any solutions that would pep it up. But when you see a work like the Antonioni, Bertolucci or Zeffirelli shorts, the solutions seem obvious. It can’t just be because they had better cities. Udine looks pretty nice.

Double Double Cross

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2022 by dcairns

PIEGE POUR CENDRILLON — A TRAP FOR CINDERELLA — Sebastien Japrisot’s twisty thriller adapted by Jean Anouilh and directed by Andre Cayatte — is very interesting.

Dany Carrel excels in, effectively, a triple role. She plays cousins — one rich one poor — there’s been a fire — the poor one is dead, the rich one is recovering from surgery, and amnesiac. Now, we’ve seen some plot twists, between us, so we start suspecting early on. Could it be…? Japrisot is ahead of us, he has further twists stacked up, waiting to land. Distracted by our smugness, we fall into his trap.

Carrel was typically cast as a sexpot gamine, her trademark move, like ROCKY HORROR’s Little Nell, was to pop out of her top. But she was always good, and could be REALLY good, as she is here, distinguishing three roles, particularly the most sympathetic, the post-op burns victim, hands in white cotton gloves, fingers curled. A very good physical performance, but her eyes seal the deal.

Playing the two schemers, she resorts to her sexy bag of tricks. Playing the survivor, rendered innocent by memory loss, she’s liberated by no longer having to worry about being cute or sexy. She’s like a newly-landed alien or angel.

The b&w cinematography of Armand Thirard (like Carrel, a Clouzot favourite, though for different reasons) is lambent, sharp, clinical. And there’s quite an extraordinary score by Louiguy: murmurous, muffled, distant, like a memory you can’t quite recover.

Cayatte was old-school, but this is 1965 and he’s clearly been paying attention. Jumps into flashback are accomplished by straight cutting. Amusingly, the clinic where Carrel recuperates has design echoes of MARIENBAD — the perfect place to get your memory back, or maybe someone else’s.

Cayatte hands the splitscreen and other tricks with aplomb — the cousins’ first meeting is a shot/reverse-shot with a garage elevator — Carrel#1 filmed in a pan from the elevator, through the gridwork, Carrel#2 with a high-angle circular move. It’s so stylish it distracts from the illusion being sold. By the time the two girls do appear in the same frame, we more or less believe they’re both there, and the director has a bunch of alternatives to the usual 50/50 vertical split shot:

The success of LES DIABOLIQUES has obviously prompted this one, but it has more humanity. I do find humanity in Clouzot, but LD is too concerned with constructing a trap for its audience to really attain consistent empathy — or, at any rate, the final outcome is nasty and sly rather than emotional. Here, the tricks ultimately bring us to a response richer than just “ah-hah!”

1) Roma – Antonioni

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2022 by dcairns

12 REGISTA PER 12 CITTA’ is a 1989 compendium film in which twelve Italian film directors, per the title, tackle twelve Italian cities. Nobody much talks about this film and it isn’t available commercially as far as I can see, so let’s go through it in detail for the hell of it. In twelve parts.

Compendium-films are notoriously uneven but the Italians made a lot of them. Usually in any collection of loosely related shores, somebody’s not trying very hard, somebody else has a good idea and doesn’t need to, somebody’s there for no reason you can think of. What did Roger Vadim ever do to get placed alongside Fellini and Malle?

Michelangelo Antonioni opens the film with his profile of Rome — well, that’s a pretty big subject to handle in under nine minutes. One can argue he drew the short straw, his mission is impossible. For any normal man. Antonioni is not normal. On the other hand, in 1983, Antonioni had suffered a stroke, leaving him aphasic — he couldn’t speak. A considerable handicap. That might account for some of his directorial choices here — on the other hand, they’re smart choices, however they were motivated.

Working with regular cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, Antonioni films Rome without words, focussing only on structures of the Rennaissance. Only once do human beings appear, in extreme long shot, crossing the Tiber. I suspect he would have excluded them if he could.

A silent, depopulated city, frozen four centuries back, a city in amber. The people we see are all painted or sculpted. Only the camera moves, in a MARIENBAD glide, through arches and doorways, caressing painted ceilings, circling marble giants. Classical music (uncredited – don’t ask me who it is) plays.

The danger of this kind of thing — well, do you remember The Landscape Channel? But the little filmlet is awe-inspiring. I gasped. Antonioni has sculpted his film, chiselling away all the aspects of Rome he couldn’t fit in, concentrating on the Eternal City, a cliché of course but one that holds a truth that can be illuminated. Antonioni, whose films are associated with a chilly modernity, offers an equally cold but stunning antiquity.

David Lean, describing his approach to Venice, said that of course you had to include the tourist views, but you had to transform them and make them fresh. Antonioni gives us the ceiling of the Sistine and makes us SEE it. He groups his images: a sequence on fountains, rooftops, ceilings. Just tracking towards a doorway can take your breath away.

It seems to me that Antonioni, whose compendium entries weren’t always up to his usual standard — his bit I TRE VOLTI is utter tripe — had something to prove. And proved it.

Next up: Lina Wertmuller!