Archive for Le Couperet

Closing In

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2019 by dcairns

I hope to finish off all of Costa-Gavras’ work shortly, apart from I guess LA PETITE APOCALYPSE (1993) which seems to be totally unavailable, and ADULTS IN THE ROOM, the new one, which I don’t have any way of seeing right now. I should try and find the distributor actually, I might be able to write a more sympathetic review than Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. No guarantees are possible, of course.

MISSING holds up remarkably well — Fiona was bored by it as a teenager and cried this time, was terrified, moved in all the right ways. I had flashbacks, there were moments, like the white horse running down the street at night, which I suddenly recalled from 1984 or whenever I last saw it. And the sense of Jack Lemmon’s character being politically awakened, opening his eyes at last, and being shocked and hurt by what he sees.

HANNA K. is my least favourite so far. C-G followed MISSING with a look at the Israel-Palestine question through one woman’s complicated love life, and the lens doesn’t seem adequate to the problem. MISSING is more cinematically inventive and unusual than I remembered, but C-G’s own story doesn’t seem to excite him in the follow-up. And then we get three more rather uninspiring US movies.

It seems to me that Mr. Gavras’ best movies are adaptations: THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS is Sebastien Japrisot, UN HOMME DE TROP is from a novel based fairly closely on fact (the role model for the Bruno Cremer didn’t like the movie), Z and L’AVEAU are based on factual books, I’ve still to catch up with STATE OF SIEGE but it’s factual, SECTION SPECIALE is distilled from a huge history, CLAIR DE FEMME is a novel, MISSING is from the last 65 pages of a fat true story, then we get four originals that aren’t as good as the rest, but in there is LA PETITE APOCALYPSE which sounds intriguing and is from a novel and is French. Since there’s (nearly) always a big topic, this one is about the fall of communism. But I’m not paying 40 Euros for an unsubtitled DVD from eBay.

AMEN. (the Vatican and the Nazis) is from a gigantic play and from history, LE COUPERET is from a Donald Westlake and is just brilliant (big topic: what the job market does to people), and I’ve still to watch EDEN IS WEST (on migration, an original) and LE CAPITAL (on global capitalism, from a novel).

The new one is from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s book. The title needs a THE in front of it. People underrate the importance of the definite article. But the lousy reviews don’t put me off at all, I am THERE for this. It’s got a dance number!

People talk about the issues in C-G’s work, and I get that, but they don’t talk about his genius with camera and editing, or about his use of humour, which to me is dazzling. Z is very, very funny, but the laughs are balanced on the edge of an abyss. LE COUPERET is hilarious about the decay of the moral sense. Costa-Gavras says his chief concern is human dignity which sounds very earnest, and it is, but his best stuff isn’t ploddingly worthy, it’s CUTTING.

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.