Archive for Luc Besson

The Look # 5: Tilda and Arno overdo it

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2016 by dcairns

Orlando (Tilda Swinton) and Shelmerdine (Billy Zane) in the film Orlando Scene 54 Photo by Liam Longman © Adventure Pictures Ltd

I like it when actors break the fourth wall, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this occasional series, but I do think it’s a device that should be used sparingly. It’s clever once, acceptable twice, and more than that can start to seem smug — like the filmmakers are so pleased at coming up with this clever idea, they can’t stop doing it, forgetting that true cleverness usually involves having more than one idea.

One use that irked me slightly was Sally Potter’s film ORLANDO. Tilda Swinton, who plays both male and female in the film, is perfectly cast and perfectly suited to fourth wall breakage, since her presence is often borderline uncanny, especially when she’s not wearing comedy teeth. She knows that we know that she knows… I saw a clip of ORLANDO before I saw the whole thing, and was amused by her look to camera as Billy Zane rescued her from an equestrian accident. The look seemed to say, How can I, an art film character, be caught up in such a corny situation? It perfectly took the curse off the moment, and made me want to see the film.

But Tilda does it all the bloody time. It loses its impact, its humour and its cleverness long before the Zane/horse moment. The fact that Tilda, I believe (it’s been years) also talks to the audience actually helps, since you’re allowed to do that all through a movie — that turns The Look from a spot gag into a full-fledged narrative device. But mostly it’s just the mute look, and it wears out its welcome, rather. If it doesn’t bother you, I say this: imagine how great it would be if s/he just did it three times, evenly spaced. It would pack a wallop each time.


Image from Eye Contact: Look at the Camera, a whole tumblr dedicated to camera-gazing!

FUNNY GAMES is a movie so repulsively self-satisfied and secure in its Important Message that it would be hard to know where to begin, but for the fact that I’m writing about looking at the camera, not about being an arrogant, not very bright prig who wants to give the audience a hard time. But I shouldn’t really be writing about it at all, since I walked out part way through. Michael “Happy”Haneke, the prig in charge, says that people who walk out don’t “need” the film, apparently believing that if you can’t bear FUNNY GAMES you are already cured of your thirst for celluloid violence. You understand that violence shouldn’t be used as entertainment.

I wouldn’t say that. I definitely felt I didn’t need the film, but I didn’t need it because I felt the idea was a stupid one, and not entertaining. Since I’m fully aware that violence in real life is not fun (for the victim), but I’m further aware that movies are not real life, my attitude to movie violence is neither simplistic condemnation (Haneke) nor simplistic enthusiasm (Tarantino). If it works for the film’s purpose and I approve of the film’s purpose, I’ll be OK with it.

Haneke’s failure to accomplish what he thinks he’s accomplishing (teaching us that violence is bad) extends to the people who like the movie as well as those who don’t. One friend praised it for being a dark thriller that tortures the audience along with the central characters, a tough movie you win points for surviving. Others praise the film’s “purity” since there’s supposedly no actual onscreen violence. Which I think is nonsense — in one moment we see a character blown away by a gunshot, though psycho-killer Arno then rewinds the movie so that didn’t happen. But it did happen, in the sense that we SAW it. And does it matter if a deadly blow happens just outside of frame, or offscreen? Do we class the forcible placing of a bag over a child’s head as a non-violent act simply because it doesn’t involve a blow or a gun-blast? This is a violent movie, about as pure as THE PUBLIC ENEMY, the only difference being we’re not allowed to enjoy it.

Arno Frisch’s looks to camera are designed both to alienate and implicate us, to make us more aware of the act of watching. OK: we get it. It’s perfectly clear, and moderately startling, the first time he winks at us. By the time he’s asking us if we think the good guys will survive, it’s old. And from the film’s wearisome, puritanical attitude, we ought to be able to answer the question confidently. To hell with all filmmakers who want the paying audience to have a lousy time.

Oh, I do think John Landis overdoes it a little in TRADING PLACES. He has too many characters do it too many times. I can allow the two leads their moments, but the guy in the gorilla suit? The real problem with this is not the individual moments, but the fact that evidently Luc Besson was taking notes. All Luc Besson knows about comedy is that if you have the characters look to camera in a very deliberate way, or at each other, you can fool the slower-witted or more indulgent audience members into thinking something amusing just happened. Luc Besson actually makes me angrier than “Happy” Haneke, which is inconsistent of me, since Besson I guess DOES want us to have a good time. My problem with him is he doesn’t want to put in the work or thought to make the fun happen, he just wants to create the hollow appearance of fun.

(Also, he’s a plagiarist.)

The Sunday Intertitle: Night at the Museum

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2012 by dcairns

Bloody hell, he is, too! He’s Rene Navarre, alias Fantomas, here cast as “Chantecoq, King of Detectives”.

“I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.”

(I’d love to see a movie with the King of Detectives vs the King of the Beatniks from THE HYPNOTIC EYE.)

Just as M. Vidocq turned from crime to detection, proving that it takes a thief to catch a thief, so Navarre has converted from being the terrorist master of disguise, to cop monarch Chantecoq.

BELPHEGOR, a four part serial from 1927, is a little slow-moving by the standard of these things, with much time spent on various characters’ domestic arrangements rather than running around the Louvre firing pistols at ghosts (in the inspirationally-named  Room of Barbarian Gods). But it has atmosphere, romance, and lovely art deco rooms. The hero’s wallpaper is thrilling, and if you run a bar code scanner over it you’ll find out what it cost.

Veteran director Henri Desfontaines’ four-part serial has a funereal pace for a thriller, but striking compositional sense and art direction. The effect is exactly as dreamlike as we Feuillade fans might wish it to be. There’s the masked phantom of the title, a sinister hunchback in Dickensian muttonchops, disguises, escapes, a historical flashback, and an unusual example of product placement. The story was originally serialized in Le Petit Parisian newspaper, and the hapless hero is himself a reporter for that organ. Instead of merely placing the product in the story, the publisher placed the story in the product too, creating a potentially infinite reality regression of the kind you get when you stand between two mirrors. Vertiginous.

Since there are four episodes, each nearly an hour, but only about half an hour’s worth of plot, interesting padding is devised. Random characters at various times see Belphegor, the Phantom of the Louvre, even when he isn’t there. In episode one he appears inside a loudspeaker broadcasting news of his criminous exploits, and also superimposed over a newspaper article. He’s clearly less a man than a media-spread terror meme, like Bin Laden.

BELPHEGOR later became a sixties TV show with Juliette Greco (acclaimed) a comic strip, an animated series, and a Sophie Marceau mess — it’s also a major influence on Luc Besson’s intermittently forgivable LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRE D’ADELE BLANC-SEC.

Arc Light

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by dcairns

For my thoughts on Dreyer’s PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, read this old piece. But for a review of the OTHER 1920s Joan film, the one contemporary audiences flocked to in preference, see this week’s edition of The Forgotten, the first in a short series celebrating the productions of Pathe-Natan, a short-lived incarnation of the French film company Pathe…

Can you treat a production company as an auteur? Certainly, if you give any credence to the genius of the system. (And, sure, the system can be idiotic at times, but so can the most respected geniuses.)

While on the subject of Joan of Arc and idiocy, I feel it’s not too late to say that Luc Besson’s JOAN OF ARC is an awful, awful piece of work, so putrid that it’s a source of wonder to me that people to this day do not point, and laugh, and hurl tiny stinging pellets of owl-shit at Besson when he appears in public. The reason for my distaste is not the director’s girlfriend, Milla Jojobabitch, who I think is perfectly adequate given the kind of Joan she’s been asked to play. My dislike is based on one scene — one of the foulest messes ever splashed upon a screen.

Besson invents for Joan a sister murdered by the English, in best BRAVEHEART manner (OK, it wasn’t William Wallace’s sister, but you get my drift — apparently a movie hero needs to be motivated by a thirst for personal revenge, not patriotism or religion). Said sister is not only murdered but raped, and in that order. And Besson sees fit to throw in a bit of comedy relief at the same time.

Said sister is actually skewered by a broadsword, nailed to a wall behind which Joan is hiding (so Besson can shoot the bloody blade emerging inches from Joan’s horrified face, of course). Then the murderer has his way with the corpse. Then he turns to two companions, resting at the kitchen table, and says something along the lines of “Who wants to go next?”

And the two guys turn to each other in a synchronized double-take, eyebrows raised. The comedy style is out of John Landis, and to say it sits somewhat awkwardly in the overall tone of the scene is a bit like saying a fart gag during the Auschwitz shower scene in SCHINDLER’S LIST might have seemed a bit out-of-keeping. I was really annoyed by the double-takes in THE EXTRAORDINARILY PROTRACTED TITLE OF ADELE BLANC-SEC, mainly because they always tried to force a laugh from the audience when nothing funny had actually happened, but possibly because the acrid tang of his JOAN was still in my mental nostrils.

So I dunno. If you live anywhere near Besson, or find yourself in Cannes when he’s got a film playing, maybe you need to make sure you have some owl pellets in your side pocket or purse. I’m just saying.

Fortunately, nothing as bad as the Besson atrocity happens in Marco de Gastyne’s LA VIE MERVEILLEUSE DE JEANNE D’ARC. Although, ouch:

“Non, je ne regrette rien…”