Archive for Michel Piccoli

Jamais

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2016 by dcairns

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I think I’d seen MAUVAIS SANG (ridiculously translated as THE NIGHT IS YOUNG) in around ’88, but maybe I only saw bits, on TV. At that time I thought Beineix was cool and I found Carax annoying. Now, though Carax is perhaps a bit precious at times, I regard my late-teenage affection for BETTY BLUE and DIVA as mostly youthful folly, and Carax seems like the true filmmaker.

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What’s black and white and red all over? This film, though it also has grey, and blue (so it can do Godardian tricolor shots) and the hero’s jacket is a sort of leather harlequin thing with a lot of yellow, a colour that appears otherwise only on the ubiquitous yellow cigarettes the cast smoke. Those yellow cigarettes, and the film’s fictional STD and sinister big pharma company (“Darley-Wilkinson” — always say the name twice, ominously — and those initials recall Griffith, from whose vaults Carax is stealing a disease called cinema) show Carax’s interest in world-building — a few little clues tell us that we’re at a slight remove from our usual reality. I suspect Carax of being inspired by REPO MAN.

The only movie flat-out quoted with a clip is the Pathe-Natan production LA PETITE LISE, seen on a TV set, and referenced in dialogue whenever the young Denis Lavant speaks of Julie Delpy’s character (“Ma petite Lise”). LA PETITE LISE, by the way, is the most important earl sound film that few of you will have seen. Like that film’s hulking hero, Lavant is newly released from prison but his freedom is to be short-lived…

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Lavant is so young! Bizarre and compelling and strangely beautiful, except when he smiles, terrifyingly, a lipless lesion crammed with crockery abruptly splitting his porous deadpan. He looks like if Lee Marvin had a monkey.

Fiona had been utterly charmed by Michel Piccoli in DIABOLIK. “Inspector Ginko is so NICE! He’s the nicest man in this whole film festival.” I don’t know if he’s that nice, but Piccoli plays him that way. He’s back here, older and heavier (Carax cruelly makes his aging crooks play lots of scenes shirtless. Crime seems very very homosocial, to say the least, despite the presence of Juliette Binoche.

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Binoche is already slightly annoying. But also sweet and gamine and surprising and stunningly photographed.

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The film is so fey — and it’s probably forty minutes too long — its B-movie antecedents moved their crime stories forward along with their romances, whereas this one drops the heist for huge stretches. I wish Carax was just 1% more into plot, or brought a friend along who was. But the charming bits are charming indeed, and the visuals beautiful, and Carax’s use of music, which somehow frustrated me as a kid (he cuts it off dead sometimes, like JLG) now seems generous and ecstatic.

EIFF is showing a season of Cinema du Look classics — LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF tomorrow!

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Shakes on a Train

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 4, 2015 by dcairns

Nalder Express from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The truest, awfulest form of claustrophobia is not the feeling of the walls closing in, but of people closing in. Claustrophobia of the flesh — other people’s and our own. So the most impressive sequence in Rene Clement’s rather little-known wartime resistance romance, LE JOUR ET L’HEURE, is a desperate passage through a crowded train, where Henri Decae’s camera jostles about realistically, creating an entirely new form of camera movement, nosing left and right as it nudges its way through the resisting mass of travellers. Movie crowds usually part obligingly for the crew — sometimes, when the lens is wide, you can even see them doing it at the edge of frame. But this bunch of surly French passengers AIN’T BUDGING. So we squeeze along in little surges, like blood from a wound.

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Suddenly — there’s Reggie Nalder, and we know things just got worse. (I would love to see a movie where an appearance by the scar-faced Austro-Hungarian thesp signalled an upturn in somebody’s fortunes, but I fear his career, from JERICHO in 1946 to JERICO in 1991 (his filmography has more symmetry than his face!) passed without a single white knight role.

Stuart Whitman was never an actor I embraced as warmly as I do Nalder — TV’s Kurt Barlow gets a free pass, like Michael Berryman for being fabulously freakish — Whitman seemed to always herald tedium in BBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies screenings of the 70s. But then I saw him playing a persecuted paedophile in THE MARK, and I thought, I have to give him points for bravery. He’s actually a good, sympathetic presence when not called upon to embody the Glenn Ford ideal of masculinity, which is a pretty messed-up ideal. Here he plays an American airman shot down over France and enlisting the aid of Simone Signoret to escape into Spain — he hopes.

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The suspense set-up is so strong that the movie can coast from one tense situation to another, never having to rely on its slightly underwritten love story, and knowing that an actor like Signoret can fill in the blanks. The strong supporting cast, with Michel Piccolo, Billy Kearns and Genevieve Page, helps, as does the photography, despite a great deal of anamorphic mumps and rubberwalling, the combination of widescreen and wide lenses making us feel like we’re being wrapped around the actors or else buckling lengthwise into boss-eyed cylinders as we’re pressed through the doorways.

Holy ****!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2013 by dcairns

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We loved HOLY MOTORS, now that we finally caught up with it. I have very little history with M. Carax and will now need to catch up with those I’ve missed. Thankfully, we HAD seen TOKYO! so we’d met M. Merde, which may not help understand anything about his appearance in this film but does allow one to greet him as an old friend. A terrifying old friend who eats flowers and has a dog’s erection.

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Basically, in this film Carax’ main man Denis Lavant drives around in a stretch limo (a Fever Dream Double Feature with Mr. Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS is a must!) and assumes various disguises/characterisations. He has a dressing room mirror and a shitload of wigs and noses and stuff in the back. Oh, and Edith Scob from EYES WITHOUT A FACE is his driver. When Lavant dons these costumes he enters storylines which have the appearance of complete reality — he can even die, authentically, in these mini-films (HM is kind of a compendium film but without actual “stories” as such) but always returns to life and his strange “job”.

Some flickering half-light is shed on this by a tense meeting with Michel Piccoli, seemingly an employer, who worries if Lavant’s character fully believes in his work anymore. Lavant admits that things have gotten harder since the cameras became miniaturized to the point of invisibility. So these are films he’s appearing in, and thus the whole thing can be seen as a metaphor for cinema, and for Carax and Lavant’s parallel careers — the explicit references to past Carax movies fit neatly into this context.

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This may also shed some light on the funny and beautiful coda when the limo is retired to a parking garage with dozens of similarly Tex-Avery-elongated counterparts. And the cars have a conversation, their headlamps flickering as they speak. It’s the kind of conversation that occurs in dormitories when a few annoying people aren’t quite ready to sleep. Carax himself is one of the automobile voices.

How this ties in to the main film isn’t exactly clear (nor are Lavant’s domestic arrangements, revealed in his last scene, but they made Fiona howl with astonished laughter) but it helps to realize that Lavant seems to be riffing on the deleted first scene of SUNSET BLVD. Billy Wilder deleted this because audiences laughed as William Holden’s corpse was fitted with a toe-tag, little realizing they were chortling at their own fate, some of them. Deleted along with that moment was a conversation between corpses in the morgue, their sheeted forms lighting up as they speak, echoed the flashing lights of Carax’s serried limos (those blinking lights also remind me of Daleks).

SUNSET BLVD, of course, is also a movie about movies, with an elegiac tone comparable, in a way, to Carax’s.

Paul Duane suggests that Lavant is channeling Lon Chaney in this movie, which I guess is what prompted us to finally watch it. It’s true — the actor creating his own make-ups… Merde’s milky eye echoes a specific effect (achieved with egg skin) produced by Chaney in THE ROAD TO MANDALAY… there’s even a random ape scene, which could be seen as a Tod Browning homage.