Archive for Sebastien Japrisot

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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Asteroids from Beyond Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2009 by dcairns

This is the sight that greeted British cinemagoers in the ’70s. My childhood big screen experiences were all prefigured by this, an ad for an ad company that was responsible for the ads we were about to see before seeing the film we had come to see. And yet, me and everyone else of my age regards this meta-ad with affection and nostalgia (it IS the most ’70s thing ever). Today we all hate the multitude of delays and irritations we’re subjected to before a film starts. Actually, I don’t think we admired this piece until after it was discontinued in the ’80s.

(THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remake is catching an unusual amount of flack for its product placement — I guess prominently featuring MacDonalds during a film with a supposed eco-friendly message is crossing some kind of line. What next, pop-up ads at the cinema?)

I only feature the P&D ad, not because the company is now based in Scotland (at SMG, home of Scottish Televsion, where the Ladies’ and Gents’ toilets are labelled Pearl and Dean, an appalling cutesy touch), but because I recently got ahold of Anatole Litvak’s last film.

Back up — explain — Litvak’s THE LADY IN THE  CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN is a late ’60s thriller with a hep cast — Samantha Eggar, Oliver Reed — from a novel by Sebastien Japrisot (GREAT name!) who also authored the source novel of A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT and lots of other books that have all been filmed.

I saw this film, or most of it, as a tiny child, possibly on a small b&w TV in a holiday cottage my parents had rented. Picture a dimly smouldering log fire and a crackly picture. There was nothing else to do in the country dark except watch this film on a fuzzy screen, and it was very boring to my young mind. The main thing that caught my interest was the credit sequence, which reminded me forcibly of the Pearl & Dean trailer:

Having recently come across the movie again, I’m pleased at how accurate my correlation of the two sequences was. I’m also warmed by the GRINDHOUSE-like poor quality of the print, which seems to start life as a miasma of BAD AIR passing through the projector at speed, “a foul and pestilential congregation of vapours,” gradually gaining substance as a stream of dust, which then assumes solid form as slivers of shredded celluloid, eventually acquiring the shape of a strip of film with sprocketholes and a magnetic soundtrack, at which point we start to see and hear something.

Something lovely!

Although — the fidgety special effects man keeps throwing new effects at us, some more abstract than others, some cheesier than others, and Michel Legrand keeps segueing from track to track as if his needle was skipping, or as if he was trying to dispense with all his soundtracking duties in one swell foop, which gives the whole thing rather a restless, disturbed quality, at odds with the easy-listening vibe otherwise in evidence. It’s like suffering intermittent blackouts while attending a fondue party. A psychegenic fugue in jazz form.

It’s all very apt, since that Pearl and Dean ad, with its pa-pa pa-pa theme tune which years later turned out be be called ASTEROIDS (!), continued to be run through the projectors of my adolescence long after the print had decayed and turned pink and been scratched to buggery and beyond, since in the ’80s nobody could be bothered updating anything about Britain’s smelly and vacant cinemas — so seeing Litvak’s film in such a decomposed form is like a kind of time travel, only legal.