Archive for Rene Clement Week

The Sunday Supers

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on March 8, 2015 by dcairns

There are no intertitles in Clément films, so I have to finish Réne Clément Week with a bodge-up. Two superimposed titles from late Cléments, each a quote from Lewis Carroll ~

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“Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.”

From THE RIDER ON THE RAIN (1970).

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“We are but older children, dear/Who fret to find our bedtime near.”

From LA COURSE DU LIÈVRE A TRAVERS LE CHAMPS (1972).

Both quotes are eccentrically apposite to their respective films, and also establish the quirky tone. I resolve now to begin a film with a Lewis Carroll quote. I think my favourite lines from Through the Looking Glass are too long and clunky for the purpose, though the beauty of them is that they never ever make it into filmed adaptations so they’re relatively unfamiliar ~

‘Crawling at your feet,’ said the Gnat (Alice drew her feet back in some alarm), ‘you may observe a Bread-and-Butterfly. Its wings are thin slices of Bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.’

‘And what does IT live on?’

‘Weak tea with cream in it.’

A new difficulty came into Alice’s head. ‘Supposing it couldn’t find any?’ she suggested.

‘Then it would die, of course.’

‘But that must happen very often,’ Alice remarked thoughtfully.

‘It always happens,’ said the Gnat.

And here is an unrelated limerick.

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A Man Called MacGuffin

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2015 by dcairns

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A movie that starts on my birthday!

THE RIDER ON THE RAIN (in French, the equally alliterative LE PASSAGER DE LA PLUIE, 1970) began the last phase of René Clément’s career, the twisty thriller circle (though this is clearly anticipated in earlier movies like LES FELINS and PLEIN SOLEIL). The large-scale failure of IS PARIS BURNING? (which I like a lot — but you have to see it in subtitled, not dubbed, form) effectively closed the door on period movies for the director and he plunged whole-heartedly into the Now, with stylish seventies crime films, both this and LA COURSE DU LIEVRE A TRAVERS LES CHAMPS stemming from the pen of Sebastien Japrisot, that master of the insanely convoluted, switchback narrative.

Both films open with quotes from Lewis Carroll, which I think is more of a Japrisot trope than a Clément one, though the director’s fascination with childhood is a recurring motif, and he DID make a film called KNAVE OF HEARTS (more commonly known as MONSIEUR RIPOIS). The opening shot here seems to be a river, surface momentarily cratered with raindrops, until a bus drives through and we realize it’s a wet road — thus preparing us for whatever fantastical transformations M. Japrisot has in store.

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Our star is petite Marlene Jobert, with her adorable sprinkle of freckles and appealingly odd voice — surprisingly, she’s the real life mother of Eva Green. Jobert’s husband must have had massive tits. Jobert’s character rejoices in the name of Melancolie Mound, but get your sniggering over with because this is serious stuff — her character is horribly abused by all the men in the film, and her mother isn’t that sympathetic either. The intense bouts of psychological torture dissolve away in an oddly sweet ending, played out by Francis Lai’s hip, lachrymose soundtrack.

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The story proper begins when Jobert is raped by a terrifying, masked bald guy (disturbing male-pattern baldness that gives him an alien look — his name will turn out to be MacGuffin or MacGuffyn), and then kills him when he threatens her again. She disposes of the body, but then Charles Bronson shows up — yes, Charles frickin’ Bronson! — as a mysterious stranger whose hot on the trail of the loot her assailant had stolen (a paltry $60,000 — Bronson wouldn’t even get out of bed and spray himself with Mandom for that, surely?). Jobert’s struggle with her walnut-faced interrogator brings out her inner strength and the audience pleasure comes from seeing her fight back, growing up and standing up for herself. The sheer unpleasantness of every male character feels like a feminist point sometimes, but then the Stockholm Syndrome romance kicks in and we’re not so sure.

French trailer gives a pretty fair idea of the movie’s mood — more melancholic and mysterious than action-packed or horrific.

The US trailer is farcically dishonest, painting Bronson as a rescuer rather than what he really is for most of the film, a threat. It also commits the unpardonable sin of threatening its audience with sexual assault, which doesn’t strike me as a formula for success. The connection of Bronson with rape would be cemented by DEATH WISH in 1974 — I’m wondering if this trailer was made for a later release, capitalizing on the idea of Bronson as vigilante protector? The irony is that Mr. Buchinsky looks more like the kind of stereotypical car-park lurker than most of the “street trash” he summarily executed. But I think this worked in his favour: the rape-rescue fantasy is a kind of rape fantasy in disguise: the attraction is sexual threat safely neutralised/alibied.

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Anyway, Clément uses Bronson neither as sexual bully nor rescuer, but as a mysterious, tormenting authority figure — given scenarist Japrisot’s propensity for mad plot turns, I even wondered momentarily if either Bronson or the dead rapist might be a hallucination. The narrative is just elusive enough for that to be a possibility.

Clément, determined not to seem old-fashioned, directs the hell out of this, an object lesson in what David Bordwell calls “intensified continuity,” with Dutch tilts, handheld lurches, zooms and propulsive tracking shots, swoony focus pulls and every kind of fancy-schmancy Sid Furie composition, filming through foreground objects as if cameraman Andréas Winding (PLAYTIME) were hiding from the authorities while shooting the picture.

It’s twisted and peculiar — naturally I loved it. For whatever reason, despite the international stars in his later films, Clément’s career fizzled out during the seventies, and he spent the last twenty-fur years of his life not making any films.

My Paris pal Lenny Borger interviewed Francois Truffaut one time, and the former critic repeated his dislike of Clément’s work in general and FORBIDDEN GAMES in particular. But then he called up and asked Lenny not to print the bits where he badmouthed his fellow director: “He’s having trouble getting films made.” Lenny doesn’t know if that was sincere concern or just Truffaut trying to look like a nice guy, but it’s a decent gesture either way.

The odd thing about Truffaut is that his French Occupation drama, LE DERNIER METRO, which was showered with awards in France, is a rather stodgy, old-fashioned affair, the kind of thing Clément would have turned into a taut, dynamic, visually sensational thriller-melodrama, and I believe even if he’d made it when he was seventy-seven, it would have looked like a young man’s film.

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The Comedy of Terrorists

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2015 by dcairns

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JOY OF LIVING/CHE GIOIA VIVERE (1961) is an oddity in the René Clément canon — a comedy, a genre he rarely dabbled in, apart from his early short with Jacques Tati, SOIGNE TON GAUCHE and an early feature with Noel-Noel, LE PERE TRANQUILLE — an Italian film, though Clement was open to co-productions throughout his career, shooting THE WALLS OF MALAPAGA/BEYOND THE GATES in Italy in 1949 and THIS ANGRY AGE in Thailand (and Cinecitta) in 1957 — a period movie that’s NOT set during the French occupation, but just after WWI in Rome.

(Side-note: though Clément and Truffaut were vocal in their disgust for one another’s work, the rambunctious title sequence here feels like it may have influenced JULES ET JIM’s, though it’s not as chaotic — whereas Truffaut basically grabbed the trim-bin and emptied the off-cut footage into his movie — leading to what Scorsese called ” the most exhilerating thing I’d ever seen” — Clément can’t help but stick to some kind of narrative sequence. His approach is less bold but more skilled, which is the relationship between old and new waves in a nutshell.)

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Alain Delon, the director’s most frequent leading man, plays Ulysse, a glib and plausible young man who accepts a job from the fascists, searching for a printing press that’s been churning out anarchist leaflets. But when he finds the place, he falls in lust with the daughter of the lead anarchist, played by the extraordinary-looking German actress Barbara Lass, whose eyes are bigger than Barbara Steele’s, wider apart that Gene Tierney’s, and seem constantly on the verge of breaking loose from her head altogether to pursue independent destinies. She’s an actual flesh-and-blood Margaret Keane painting, and she somehow makes it work. Maybe because she projects a human sweetness, which tames the uncanny Na’avi qualities of her funhouse countenance. At any rate, when she and Delon are on the screen together, in Henri Decae’s exquisite framings (they needed a wide screen for those eyes), there’s almost too much beauty to take in.

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As in THE WALLS OF MALAPAGA, Clement is as obsessed with crumbling architecture as he is with plot or character, and the Piranisian tableaux of this film are to die for. And it’s pretty funny ~

Food fight! from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The period setting and frankly astonishing scale of the enterprise (Clement’s two Oscar wins obviously equipped him to command considerable resources — he blows up the Arch of Constantine!) connect this movie with romps like THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES and THE GREAT RACE, but it’s more controlled than those, even if it doesn’t have a linear chase plot to focus it. And, oddly, Clement proves better at organizing visual gags than his colleagues — a food-fight between anarchists and fascists is particularly impressive. And there’s just enough seriousness underlying the hi-jinks — Delon’s character is sufficiently deceitful that we worry he might go blackshirt at any moment if a pretty enough girl shows up on the other side — the dark days ahead for Italy hover low on the distant horizon — the film’s affection for the family of anarchists, partly justified by their being so irrelevant to the match of history, is somehow reconciled with a horror of bomb-throwing and acts of terror. The genuinely gripping climax has fascist stooges planting bombs around a huge public exposition (with balloon ascensions, roads paved with German helmets, and the first pre-fab house as part of the attractions) while Delon scoots around after them, gathering up the infernal devices in a perambulator. A man pushing a pram is slightly comic, a stunningly handsome man pushing a pram while in fear of being imminently smithereened is really very funny indeed.

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A piece of espionage worthy of Pynchon — illicit communication lines in prison, running through the plumbing system!

The film stops capering just long enough for a chilling exchange between Delon and his old school friend, now a committed fascist, who warns him, “You’ll be persecuted for the rest of your life.” Delon replies with the brilliant, and unanswerable “And you’ll be a persecutor for the rest of yours.”