Archive for Le Samourai

Running on Empty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2015 by dcairns

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Both of John Frankenheimer’s last cinema features, RONIN (1998) and REINDEER GAMES (2000), are set at yuletide, though the latter, with its heaps of bloodstained Santas lying dead in the snow, is certainly the more festive. Most of the best Christmas films are the work of Jewish filmmakers anyway.

RONIN, which I saw at the cinema when it was new, for DeNiro’s sake, and which I just showed to Fiona, seems the better film, which is interesting — RG has a twisty-turny plot with a killer set-up and an escalating menace and a truly ludicrous volte-face at the end which makes perfect narrative sense, in its demented way, but simply can’t be believed for an instant. RONIN is just about a bunch of guys (and Natasha McElhone) trying to get their hands on a shiny box (well, it IS Christmas). There are double-crosses and there are action sequences and there is, essentially, nothing else.

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David Mamet wrote pretty much all the dialogue and then they wouldn’t give him sole credit so he used a pseudonym. His terse, hardboiled stuff is quite effective here, sparser than usual because everybody is trying to make this movie be like a Jean-Pierre Melville heist flick — the title clearly references LE SAMOURAI. What ultimately elevates the tone into something approaching Melville’s oddly serious pastiche style, is the music of Elia Cmiral, which imposes a palpable melancholy over the quieter scenes.

Frankenheimer and DoP Robert Fraisse frame gorgeously. While the all-real car chases attract most of the attention, with the camera scudding just above the tarmac as we rocket through Paris and Nice (is that fapping sound a burst tire or Claude Lelouch furiously masturbating?), the scenes of plotting and confronting and staring down are so beautifully framed and cut, every frame seething with dynamic tension, with a chilly blue metallic tinge, that I could cheerfully watch a version of this movie without any of the searing mayhem.

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I recently contributed an essay on Frankenheimer to Masters of Cinema’s essential Blu-ray edition of SECONDS. This was subject to oversight by Paramount’s lawyers, who are strangely fussy creatures — they objected to my harsher words about some of Frankenheimer’s lesser works. To my surprise and wicked pleasure, though, the overall gist of the piece escaped their notice — in comparing Frankenheimer to the protagonist of SECONDS, I suggested that he had cut him off from his authentic self and become a hollow shell, making empty films whose most compelling subject matter is their own emptiness. In this regard, RONIN is a brilliant summation.

The whole plot revolves around this shiny box, a pure MacGuffin whose contents are never revealed (doubtless they glow when the box is opened, but it never is). By the end, it even transpires that the box is itself irrelevant, a decoy for an assassin, not what the plot was revolving around at all. And the title, meaning masterless samurai, patiently explained by Michael Lonsdale (yay! Michael Lonsdale!), turns out not to be an honest description of the protagonist. An empty film about emptiness, with Frankenheimer even reprising his shots of boxes and corpses montage from THE TRAIN, which he would re-reprise in his very next film.

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The jarring note is the end, where some idiot has decided the film SHOULD, after all, be about something, and has dubbed in a radio broadcast alleging that the plot had something to do with the Northern Ireland peace process. So all that carnage was in a good cause. This is completely unacceptable — I kind of respected the movie’s ruthlessness in staging shoot-outs and car chases on the streets in which innocents are casually mown down and blown up. I accepted that this was a dog-eat-dog, amoral world we were being shown. To now try to argue that all this collateral damage is somehow JUSTIFIED in a HIGHER CAUSE is the work of a moral imbecile. It feels like a studio afterthought. On this second viewing I’m able to disregard the nonsense, but it throws Fiona for a loop, as does Jean Reno’s sudden internal monologue, which ends the picture. “He never had a voiceover before! What happened?”

“Somebody panicked,” I suggest. To make a truly hollow movie takes guts, something Frankenheimer had.

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Sniff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by dcairns

amokperfume

I got nuthin’! Well, not quite nuthin’. I got a cold. Which tends to make me nostalgic for my sense of smell, so is that why I’m featuring a vintage perfume ad?

Not quite. I was googling the keywords “amok” and “1933”, just to see what the poster for Fedor Ozep’s Pathe-Natan release AMOK looked like, and I came across this ad for a fragrance by Bourjois. A movie tie-in, or just a cash-in? I suspect the former, the perfumier being a bit too high-class for unauthorized bandwagon-jumping. But the movie’s orientalist aesthetic, plus the coincidence or name, place and year, certainly convince me there’s a deliberate connection.

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BLACK NARCISSUS springs to mind, but that’s a movie based on a book named after a perfume. For the opposite route, one really needs to consider Alain Delon’s personal scent, Samourai

Or there’s always THIS —

“Smell like Streep… for cheap!”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2009 by dcairns

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Oh my sweet lord. Alain Delon brings you SAMOURAI, his own personal fragrance. Now you too can smell like schizophrenic hitman Steve Jeff Costello. Get your Delon smell on! One whiff and an exponential zoon will propel you out of the background and into a widescreen colour-coordinated world of masculine scent. Okay, so it’s not MANDOM, but then nothing is.

Nothing is MANDOM.

What further olfactory treats can we expect from the attractively rumpled superstar? I guess a perfume in honour of M. KLEIN is out of the question, since Calvin would probably object. A scent called PLEIN SOLEIL, or PURPLE NOON could be a winner though. LE TULIPE NOIR, DIABOLIQUEMENT VOTRE and L’ECLISSE all sound quite fragrant. But IS PARIS BURNING? is probably one to avoid — if people say that while inhaling next to you, it’s not a good sign.

So, who else should do a male scent? I think Ed Asner would be good. Ed Asner’s VAPOR would fly off the shelves. And I’d like the chance to smell like Michael J Pollard, even if just for a day. He could call it LITTLE FAUSS — for a man or a woman. Victor Argo’s surname already sounds like a damn fine manly pong, and I feel extra-sure that any odour endorsed by Joe Don Baker would conquer every other smell in the room — if he wears it, you just know it’s STRONG STUFF. And the words WALKING TALL written in elegant script on the side of a fancy bottle — who could walk away from such a temptation. Or he could just go all the way and call it BUFORD PUSSER, and watch the $$$ flood in. “The scent with the kick of a big wooden stick.”

Big thanks to Guy Budziak for the Delon smell tip-off. More perfumery suggestions welcome.