Archive for Porfirio Rubirosa

Forbidden Divas: 24

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2018 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove hits us with another of those Forbidden Divas. You know the ones I mean! This movie was previously covered by Scout Tafoya in our ’68 Comeback Special, here.

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

24

“It is not enough to be innocent.” – Danielle Darrieux, 24 Hours in a Woman’s Life

 Let me start with a terrible confession. Danielle Darrieux is one of those stars I admire but have seldom actually liked. Even in her greatest roles such as the frivolous socialite transformed by love in Madame de (1953) she exudes a chilliness that makes her hard not engage with. I admire her coolly, remotely, from a distance – like an exquisite artificial orchid that has been sculpted in ice and preserved at a sub-zero temperature in a display case of finest cut glass. She seems less an actress than an icon put there to be venerated, a luxurious but rather hollow objet de culte.

None of her remoteness was apparent in her off-screen life – which was considerably livelier and more dramatic than most of her films. A leading lady from the age of fifteen, Darrieux was married in her youth to the film director Henri Decoin and the notorious gigolo stud Porfirio Rubirosa. (Yes, the name Italian waiters give to their supersize pepper mill.) After a brief flirtation with Hollywood, she returned to Paris just in time for the Second World War and the Nazi Occupation. Her enthusiastic but unreliable collaboration won her a notoriety that persisted until her death. She was forced to go into hiding at the end of the war, having been marked for death by both the Gestapo and the Resistance. Darrieux weathered the scandal by scorning even to discuss it. She kept working into her nineties and died in 2017 at the age of 100. Yet she never lost her air of icy hauteur. When a concert she gave in Paris sold out in record time, she remarked: “Nobody really wants to hear me sing. They just want to see if I drop dead in the middle of it.”

As a woman whose life story reads like a potted biography of 20th century Europe, Danielle Darrieux was a natural choice to star in Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life(1968). The film is based on a story by the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, who prided himself throughout his life on being a European whose identity transcended national boundaries. Forced into exile by the Nazis, Zweig and his wife committed suicide in Brazil in 1942. Allegedly, they were unable to live with the loss of their ideal, which had always been that of a united, cultured and cosmopolitan Europe. One weeps to imagine what Zweig would make of Brexit – or of the populist thugs now governing Italy, Hungary, Poland and other European countries. His life and work bear witness to the futility and downright idiocy of borders and nation states. Are we heading for an era in which any educated person may soon start to feel like Stefan Zweig?

These are some of the issues that Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life, with its running time of less than 80 minutes, seeks to address. Its story takes place at the height of the First World War. Darrieux plays a French aristocrat, married to an English lord and on holiday in neutral Switzerland. Her husband is busy with his war duties so she is travelling with a group of with a group of upper-class Parisian ladies. Among them, oddly enough, is a teenage Romina Power, the pretty but utterly insipid daughter of Tyrone Power and Linda Christian. This girl would go on to appear in Jess Franco’s soft-core sleaze-fest Justine (1969) and achieve lasting notoriety as a pop star in Italy. Music plays an important part in Twenty-Four Hours as well, but rest assured it is of a far more elevated sort. As the film opens, the ladies are attending an outdoor concert by a lake, where a Hungarian pianist is playing music by the German composer Johannes Brahms. A few hardcore patriots are aghast at being forced to listen to “Hun music.” But for Darrieux, as for any cultivated Zweig protagonist, matters of art and culture take serene and automatic precedence over politics or national identity. It is symbolic, perhaps prophetic, that the concert is interrupted by a loud and torrential rainstorm.

Her friends catch the boat back to their hotel on the far side of the lake. But Darrieux, on a whim, decides to stay and hear the concert out, rain or no rain. Coming back alone late that night, she inadvertently gets on the wrong boat. It carries her – to her shock and surprise – across the border into Italy. At first she is mystified when a man in uniform asks for her passport. How, after all, can there be a border in the middle of a lake? When it transpires that she has no passport with her, the only option is to drop her on the Italian side and tell her to catch the first boat in the morning. Darrieux faces a night alone in a strange country, an undocumented and entirely illegal alien. She is, paradoxically, free for the first time in her life. The strait-jacket of identity has ceased, for a few hours anyway, to exist. She finds herself in the dubious position of doing (and being) whatever (and whoever) she wants.

She finds her way, through the rain, to an opulent casino. Its sumptuous Art Nouveau staircase is dominated by a giant stained-glass image of a peacock. Ladies parade up and down the stairs, resplendent in lilac wigs and glittering sequined gowns, fluttering their giant fans of ostrich plumes. Two stuffed peacocks spread their tail feathers on either side of the stairs. The writer-director Dominique Delouche (once an assistant to Fellini) served as his own designer for the costumes and sets. He creates an aura of boundless luxury on what was obviously a very small budget. Wandering into the main gambling hall, Darrieux spots a young blonde man (Robert Hoffmann) seated at a table playing roulette. His fingers drum nervously on the green baize, as he gambles away what is clearly that last money he has in the world. The wheel spins and he loses. Slowly, he gets up from the table and walks out alone into a thunderstorm. Darrieux – not even quite knowing why – follows him.

Although the man is easily young enough to be her son, the two become lovers for the night. The next day she learns he is a German. He has deserted from the army, as he can no longer stand the senseless act of killing for the sake of borders and nations. They go out rowing in a small boat on the lake. He points out a villa that reminds him of his family home. “It has an Italian terrace and a French garden,” he says. “But the house is in a Viennese style, the essence of Mozart and Schubert. That is my country!” Like the educated young Europeans of his day, he has grown up with no concern for national identities or boundaries. Suddenly, such things have become literally matters of life and death. The cosmopolitan Europe that was his home has become a hostile and alien world, one in which he no longer feels able to live. He carries a revolver with him in the pocket of his coat. He feels prepared, at any moment, to use it.

Hoffmann bears a passing resemblance to the young Helmut Berger, but is also a considerably worse actor. The plentiful nude shots – including just a few too many in a vaguely Crucifixion-like pose – suggest that Delouche did not really hire him for his acting. Delouche would make only two other features: L’Homme de Désir (1971) about a husband and wife who fall for the same young man and Divine (1975) about a young man’s obsession with a flamboyant theatrical diva, played once again by Darrieux. Having seen only the first of these movies, I cannot say which one is gayer. Twenty-Four Hours, which should have won Delouche an international reputation, was deprived of its world premiere when the 1968 Cannes Film Festival was called off due to the wave of strikes and student demonstrations across France. Delouche himself joined in the protests that prevented his own film from being shown. These days, in interview, he wonders why. Surely his costumes alone were worthy of a Palme d’Or?

Yet the revelation of 24 Hours must be Danielle Darrieux herself. As an older woman in love with a drifter half her age – and with all Europe going up in flames around her – she dares not just to make us cry, but to make us laugh. Her situation is poignant because it is ridiculous and she, a sophisticated and intelligent woman, knows precisely how ridiculous it is. She is passionate but not deluded, world-weary but never cynical. She makes us aware that irony and emotion do not merely coexist; they may, in fact, be two sides of a single overpowering and life-transforming experience. Darrieux gives a performance to rank with the very greatest. I may have to become a fan after all.

David Melville

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Thinking in the round

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by dcairns

Watching LA RONDE again with an audience of one student (at this time of year they tend to be busy on shoots — but Joachim wrapped one project and came along to the screening the same evening, bless him: “I can go to the pub anytime.”) — struck as always by new details I didn’t remember seeing before.

When Simone Signoret rotates into view she’s standing under a little lamppost — an unlikely accoutrement for a carousel, but an apt one for a carousal.

Of all the guys in the film, Serge Reggiani may be the luckiest, getting to score with both Simones, Signoret and Simon, and he’s certainly the least grateful lover.

Always loved the scene where Walbrook leads Simone Simon through time, by walking in between sets, but this time I started wondering about the avenue of movie lights they pass — where does it lead? To other scenes in this movie, or to other movies altogether?

There’s something of an irony in Fernand Gravey playing Danielle Darrieux’s husband, since he was moonlighting as a resistance fighter during the war, spreading terror by night and shooting LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE by day, whereas Danielle’s record was slightly more spotty — she went on a goodwill tour of Germany (with Clouzot’s girlfriend) and got condemned to death by the Resistance for her troubles (a sentence which was later commuted to “Oh alright then we’ll let you off this time”). Her story seems to have been that she was trying to secure the freedom of her boyfriend, Porfirio Rubiroso, from the Gestapo. She succeeded, and being an international playboy he subsequently dumped her.

(Porfirio Rubirosa… How to explain the romantic appeal of this dashing Dominican diplomat? You know those long pepper grinders you get in Italian restaurants? Those are, unofficially, known as rubirosas. Think about it.)

I’m struck once again by the final exchanges between Gerard Philippe and Simone Signoret — what’s going on here? There’s a suggestion that she reminds him of someone, and she may in fact BE the person he’s reminded of, although he probably doesn’t realize it. And perhaps he was the young soldier who set her out on her strange path, sleeping with soldiers for free? But it’s all quite mysterioso and allusive. I watch the scene again when I get home, using the extended cut of the film that abruptly surfaced on Australian TV, without warning. The scene is longer but seems, if anything, more mysterious than before.

Plus there’s this great Walter Sickert-NIGHT OF THE HUNTER composition.

Most of the added scenes in the extended version involves Walbrook, but Jean-Louis Barrault’s whole section is a fair bit longer too. This includes an amazing transition from Barrault’s scene with the “grisette” (Odette Joyeux) to his scene with the actress (Isa Miranda). In a post-coital scene in Barrault’s split-level bachelor pad (fin-de-siecle version) Joyeux asks Barrault to put out the candles. Then a voice echoes out, “Yes, put out the candles!” Barrault looks up, and discovers that his apartment has no ceiling, and that he has Anton Walbrook looking down at him from a lighting rig. He does as he’s told, and Walbrook swivels the spotlight off Barrault and onto an entirely new scene, the theatre, where Miranda is taking her curtain calls. Walbrook announces the new scene, “The poet and the actress,” (which sounds like the set-up to a smutty joke, and almost is).

It’s a dumbfoundingly wonderful transition. The rest of the extended sequences are very welcome, but not to the same level of awesomeness, although there’s another shot of the intersticial space-time-continuum between sets, with Walbrook sweeping off into it in his opera cape, and a scene between Walbrook and Barrault in the snow outside the love nest he’s rented with Miranda, where both actors’ exhalations are visible in the cold air — Ophuls must have filmed in an ice-house, if not on location (my money’s on the former).

The reason for this long cut is apparently as follows — it was Ophuls preferred edit, but a preview audience reacted badly, so he pared it down to the version familiar to us. Following a quirky logic of his own, he didn’t much trim the opening scenes, saving his most severe cuts for late in the picture, effectively moving the scene of Barrault and Miranda’s consummation back from the countryside to her dressing room in the process. While many of Walbrook’s appearances were shortened (there’s some more business with him as a head waiter), the more extreme verfremdungseffekt moments, such as Walbrook censoring one steamy love scene by editing the film, were preserved in essence if not in length. Now Marcel Ophuls has done his best to suppress this alternative director’s cut, which I guess is his version of protecting his father’s legacy, but I can’t say I understand his logic (he’s also barred the German version of LOLA MONTES).

Even with the additional material, the film doesn’t quite have an end shot, surprisingly. There’s a cluttered frame incorporating theatre, street and movie studio all in one image, which is a nice idea but doesn’t quite come off compositionally, and then a freeze-frame of the idle carousel, which looks like something from the end credits of a US TV show. But so what? As Sidney Lumet put it, “Nothing has to be perfect,” and in a film as downright SUBLIME as LA RONDE, perfection might actually be a vulgarity.