Archive for Le Jour Se Leve

Chimp Tango in Paris

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2019 by dcairns

After his let’s-give-Yves-Montant-a-hard-time trilogy of Z, L’AVEAU and ETAT DE SIEGE, and SECTION SPECIALE which, unbelievably to me, was criticised for being “caricatured” in its portrayal of collaboration (a certain level of cartooning seems permissable in a film with dozens of characters and a complex set of circumstances to convey), Costa-Gavras took a short break from political issues in 1979 and made the strange and haunting CLAIR DE FEMME (which translates as WOMAN LIGHT which is a terrible title, but the French version seems fine so let’s sue that), in which… Yves Montand has a hard time.

C-G insists that the personal is political but you would be struggling to find even passing references to the events of the seventies, and the film doesn’t seek to deeply investigate or question gender relations, which is the topic at hand I guess. Or maybe it does? But it’s still a very interesting piece, and part of its allure is the mystery of what drew the filmmaker to it.

I would characterise the film as a screwball tragedy — maybe PETULIA would be a good reference, but that film IS overtly political and has a bitterness that’s absent here. Montand keeps trying to fly out of Paris to Caracas or anywhere at all, as soon as possible, but then he keeps wandering out of the airport, missing his flight, and traipsing around Paris. The narrative is all meet-cutes and everybody’s a philosopher, which is why I see it as screwball. Plus the dialogue is epigramatic and the situations faintly absurd. A bereaved father speaks only gibberish, like he’s from Belugistan, Plus our leads evidently don’t worry about money: Romy Schneider pays Montand’s cab fare and doesn’t want paid back. Ever taken a cab from Charles de Gaulle?

The source is a novel by Romain Gary, who wrote WHITE DOG, and indeed one character (the spendid Romolo Valli) is a dog-trainer. He has a night-club act, described by Montand as “unspeakably horrible,” in which a chimpanzee tangos with a poodle, but he’s a nice, distracted, lonely man, dying of heart disease and worried about what will become of his animals. He’s not like Jules Berry in LE JOUR SE LEVE, my only other reference for Parisian dog-handlers. That movie may in fact be a reference, with its open-all-night narrative, elaborate, poetic dialogue… plus Montand himself is a link to Marcel Carne. With the face of a disappointed horse, God love him.

This damn film is weird, melancholic, funny-ish (Roberto Benigni plays a bar-man, but someone has sat on his head and got him to act proper) and disturbingly prophetic. When Gary wrote his book about a man whose wife is suiciding, his own ex-wife, Jean Seberg, was still alive. When Costa-Gavras made the film, Montand was not a widower yet, and Romy Schneider, whose character has lost a child in a tragic accident, had not yet lost a child in a tragic accident. Everything about the story and everything in the acting is so heartbreaking I assumed all those things had already happened and everyone was drawing on them and it was all a bit near the knuckle. Now it’s just distressing that they could do the emotions and yet they were still to have the emotions.

It’s about being bereaved and in love in Paris while wearing a raincoat, so it’s LAST TANGO without the misogyny.

This film deserves to be seen — I couldn’t look away and I couldn’t decide if it WORKED — the appeal of screwball has a strong flavour of “if only life were like this” so overlaying it on tragic events always creates a strange disconnect, a frustrating sense or irreality that never obtrudes when the subject is comic. But with some films, NOT WORKING is part of the charm, maybe even part of what makes them work.

“You’ve only gorn an’ done it.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2008 by dcairns

KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS is the finest title ever conceived by human typewriter, I insist.

If you don’t believe me, try coming up with another variant on the VERB / BODILY FLUID / PORTION OF ANATOMY schema that isn’t utterly gross or ludicrous. The least offensive one I can manage is BLOW THE SICK OFF MY SHOULDER.

So director Norman Foster and the film’s gaggle of writers (one for nearly each word of the title) are clearly onto something. Although I think they miss a trick by not having any of the characters in the film actually SAY THE TITLE. Whenever anybody SAYS THE TITLE in a film, either Fiona or I, if we’re watching at home, generally cry, “He SAID THE TITLE!”

(I think it dates back to an anecdote about FACE / OFF. Nick Cassavetes was improvising in a scene with Nicholas Cage, and Cage said “I wanna take his face… off.” Cassavetes freaked. “He said the title!” he thought to himself. “I can’t let him get away with that! I’m gonna say the title too!” So he comes back with, “You wanna take his face…off?” and then they go on like that for like an hour until John Woo gets tired and has them start shooting at stuff. Or something.)

Anyhow, there’s a bit where Burt Lancaster, playing a war-troubled yank adrift in Hollywood’s version of London, punches an artificial fertiliser salesman by the name of Widgery and then, fleeing the scene with Joan Fontaine, punches a copper. Well, what could be simpler than to have big Burt, when hauled before the judge, plead, “But your honour, I didn’t mean to hit him, I was just trying to get him to KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS.” It could work.

But Burt, being less imaginative perhaps than myself, an award-winning filmmaker, doesn’t come up with any convincing excuses of this kind, and is sentenced to a flogging. At this point we wondered about the film’s jurisprudential accuracy. Did they practice flogging in post-war Britain? I mean, as a legal sentence? I Googled the words “History of English flogging” but the stuff that came up wasn’t really very educational, so I’ll forget the research and go with my gut instinct: no they bloody didn’t. Somebody just wanted to shoot a gothic s&m scene with Burt. Which is fine.

For all its fogbound atmos, the film struck me as quite French in a way, rather than being American or British — it has the doomed romantic feeling of the pre-war poetic realists, very close to film noir already. It can’t quite end as perfectly as it might because it’s trapped between the commercial dislike of unhappy endings (nearly ALL great noirs have unhappy endings, and it was a very popular genre, so why does anybody worry?) and the Production Code’s insistence that crime must not pay. So it has to contrive a vaguely unsatisfactory hopeful ending, in other words it hedges its bets all over the place.

But it’s a pleasure to watch Norman Foster’s stuff, with its Wellesian dutch tilts (Foster directed JOURNEY INTO FEAR with Welles at R.K.O.) and chiaroscuro flourishes. Foster is a considerable noirist in his own right — his MR. MOTO films are glossy, shadowy and hugely fun, and he would carry his canted angles with him right onto the ’60s Batman show. The film is as lopsided as those angles, with an odd structure and shaky character motivation at times, but it’s affecting because Big Burt is such a lovable lunk, Joan Fontaine always does nervous and troubled extremely well, and despite what nearly everybody has said about this film, I think actually make a great onscreen couple. My theory — IMDb reviewers notice that something isn’t working in this film — it’s the script! — and ascribe the fault to the unusual screen pairing. But that pairing is one of the film’s strengths. This is exactly why asking your audience for advice can be dangerous. They’re pretty brilliant at feeling when something’s wrong, but they’re not trained at identifying what it is. I, of course, being an award-winning film-maker, get it every time. That’s probably why I’m unemployed.

Anyway, the French poetic realist thing — Robert Newton, playing a black marketeer called Harry, is not a bit like Harry Lime, but as he insinuates himself into the protags’ lives and practically insists they murder him, just by being so damn evil all the time, he is very much like classic murderee Jules Berry in LE JOUR SE LEVE, I think. “You were born to be murdered,” Trevor Howard tells Joseph Cotton in THE THIRD MAN, and it’s true of Newton in a different way. He pushes his luck, see. You can’t leer like that while Joan Fontaine’s around and not expect Burt Lancaster to completely kill you.

Wait a minute, here’s one:


Yes. I’d definitely watch that.