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  • Written by lezard on 18.05.2022

    Everybody knows Stanley Donen and his famous «Singing in the Rain", or "On the Town », even « Charade » maybe. But, comparatively, only a few have seen « Two for the Road » ;
    The movie tells about 15 years, or so, of the life of a couple, played by Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn. A classic, even trivial pitch indeed !
    Nevertheless, from the start the question of style is at stake.
    Should one choose a linear chronology with classic stratagems to evoke the passing of time (clocks, calendars, titles, dates on newspapers...), or prefer resorting to good old flasbacks ?
    Stanley Donen opts for surprise, dynamism and collision, because time here is a path, a route. As the title suggests it, life is a journey, a road to travel. Therefore, cars and roads are one of the guidelines of the movie.
    With a dynamics of its own, the film constantly juggles back and forth in time, and we discover the different phases of this couple's life without being confused on the way.
    It's brillant, virtuosic, inventive.
    Roads and ways cross, literally and figuratively. It's a simple but fruitful idea. Very quickly, we manage to spot the type or the color of a car and thus the period of time in their life, since they do almost the same route four times.
    The second guideline is fashion. After all, you can't cast Audrey Hepburn and neglect elegance ! We witness a fashion show of different periods, from Mary Quant to Paco Rabanne, which is a visual landmark in time as well as a delight for the eye.
    All this radiates with liveliness, contagious energy. But where Donen hits the bull's eye is when he manages, with such a clever lightness and apparent casualness, to depict the wear point of a couple, its depressive phases, its tensions on the verge of the breaking point. All this without the Hollywoodian pathos, the compulsory tears and tons of bombastic violins.
    It is rather a pointillist painting, with subtle touches of balanced feelings, back and forth in time. Nothing is sickly sentimental or outworn.
    Donen reinvents romance and drama.
    Audrey Hepburn is a sunbeam whose smile can conceal storms.
    Albert Finney is seducing.
    Henry Mancini's music is simply obvious.
    Let's hit the road !

  • Written by lezard on 09.05.2022

    1970. Vittorio de Sica directed what is unanimously regarded as his last great movie. The script was written, let's not forget it, by Valerio Zurlini, whose work MUST be rediscovered, among which « Violente estate » and «La ragazza con la valigia ».
    The scene is set in Ferrare, not long befor the war.
    The film starts in the fertile splendor of summer : flowers, fruits, plentiness. The script list unfolds in a sweet and beautiful hazy light, which is the very 70's visual mark of the movie.
    Beautiful young people dressed in white are cycling near a big property enclosed in high walls. They come to play a tennis tournament at the Finzi-Contini's, a wealthy Jewish family. The gate opens, we get in the park. Splendid trees, wide alleyways, everything is shining !
    On the one hand, budding love stories, on the other hand, the war that everyone knows is close. Are they totally unaware or just carefree, these young people who long and crave for each other, who talk exams and poetry, and seem to forget the world around them ?

    They are Micol, Giorgio, Bruno, Alberto.

    Since he was a child Giorgio has been in love with Micol. She knows and cares for him but prefers giving herself to Bruno, before he leaves for the eastern front. Alberto, for his part, might love Bruno but does he even know it ? He suffers from a mysterious disease and has fits of suffocation. Difficult to breathe in the Italy of those years.

    The plot is settled. History is on the march. It's at the movie house that we discover it, through news reels. It litterally tells us that cinema is not a place of innocence but of revelation. We see military parades, war reports, heralding what is to come. We see walls crumbling down.

    Paradise/the garden, is by essence a place of exclusion. And each garden has a « fall », each fruit has a worm. Each nice weather is followed by a storm, which in the story eventually breaks out, scattering people in all directions, rendering a shelter urgent, just like a liquid war.
    In the movie, the disappearance of characters is remarkable because it is sudden and brutal. However familiar they have become, they cease to be here. They are friends, parents, schoolmates. They die at home, at the war, they flee, and simply they are off. Period.

    As I said, there are many walls in the movie, real or imaginary ones. The walls you erect between you and the world, the walls of hatred and money, the walls of the law that little by little exclude the Jews from libraries, tennis clubs, jobs, mixed marriages... the wall of silence that nobody breaks anymore. It's on a wall that Girogio sees Micol for the first time, the walls of the garden, inside which they enjoy the last moments of innocence, they play, discuss poetry. Micol casts an often absent look on all this. She is writing a memoir on Emily Dickinson, and thus knows what is loneliness, absence, unshared love.

    Eventually, nothing saves you from men's madness which comes to drag you away from your walls to better imprison you in theirs. But there are certain walls that you never set yourself free from.
    The beauty of youth, of their bodies and minds, the softness of the persisting light, the quiet and melancholic beauty of Ferrare, all this adds to the vastness of the horror to come.
    «  For us... » says Micol to Giorgio « what matters is not possessing things but their remembrance, their memory. » Though she is young, she already has the premonition of the importance of memory, in the times to come.

    After the heat of summer, comes winter. We cast a last glance at Ferrare under the snow, which leaves the page blank and the memory in mourning.

  • Written by lezard on 05.05.2022

    An America torn between two eras, a world replaced by another one, causing a fear of the unknown and of the future, an insularity. All this sounds very modern and reminds us of the recent elections in the US. Among other things, this is what « Wild River » is about.

    1933. Great Depression and New Deal. Engineer Chuck Glover (Montgommery Cliff)has to convince small landowners to sell their land to the government that intends to build a dam in order to control the murderous and devastating watercourse of the Tennessee river. Among the last people to resist, Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet), a surly grandmother, steadfastly refuses and clings to her piece of land. The movie tells the story of this confrontation.

    In the 50's Kazan has directed quite a few films, among which some masterpieces. He introduced Marlon Brando in «  A Streetcar Named Desir » in 1951, then again in "On the Waterfront" in 1954, discovered James Dean in 1955 with "East of Eden" and shot "BabyDoll" in 1956. Who could ask for more ?

    With « Wild River » he undertook a fantastic and feverish trilogy, to be followed by "Splendor in the Grass" and "America America".

    The film starts with archive footage showing the disastrous floods of the Tennessee river and its terrible aftermath. A man weeps about the loss of his whole family. At once, we are in a drama, which causes we know.
    Chuck then thinks he is a bearer of good news for the area. Nevertheless, he is seen as the stranger, the Yankee, the white collar from the city who doesn't know the first thing about people and their costums. Kazan deals here with his favorite themes : a man rejected by the others , America and its values, capitalism, all this causing tensions and oppositions.
    But, apart from a racist leader and the usual stupidity of the mob (He has just shot «  A Man in the Crowd »), all the characters are interesting because they are not manichean. They have good reasons to act as they do.

    Ella garth, for instance, is the last one to resist. She lives on a tiny island, a piece of land out of time, where she has always ruled and made her own laws. Of course she exploits her black workers but she likes them and mothers them as well. Yes she looks backward and refuses any change. Yes, she embodies private and individual interest against public good. But she is also admirable in her love of the land, her determination and her assertion of freedom. After all, for her, leaving is dying, whereas staying is being faithful. What a dilemma !

    Chuck is totally, sincerely bewildered by this attitude. He knows his mission to be fair, he believes in progress and didn't expect any obstacle. But he is also a technocrat unaware of the hardship of southern rural life, of people's harshness. In other words he has completely disregarded the human factor.

    His crossing of the river on a float-boat is a reocurring and symbolic scene. Beauty of the river, beauty of sunrise or sunset, a dense mist which permeates this country and gives it a nearly « southern gothic » charm.

    Then, there is Carol (great Lee Remick), Ella's little daughter, overlooked single mother. As soon as Chuck arrives, she recognizes desire and as a determined young woman she isn't ready to compromise with desire. Chuck is the weak man who is overwhelmed by the sensuality of this woman and this country and its telluric force. He lets himself drift with the current.
    Eventually, all the characters in the movie are islands of their own.

    In the background, ordinary racism is shown in all its stupidity and violence.

    Rivers have inspired excellent films from « River of No-return », to « Red River », and the unforgettable « Deliverance ».
    This one is no exception.

  • Written by lezard on 03.05.2022

    First of all, I must say that this novel is one of my favorite books ever.
    But when it comes to adapting a novel for the screen, the fact of it being accurate or faifhtful is irrelevant. Indeed any movie is "adapted from" not "a filmed copy of"!
    Would anyone blame "Apocalypse Now" for not being faithful to "The Heart of Darkness" by Conrad? Or Peter Jackson for daring to introduce comedy scenes in his very long remake of King Kong? Or any band for the cover of an old song?
    What is interesting when you adapt a work of any kind is not how accurate or faifhtful you are but how different and personal your vision is! If not, why make a remake?
    When it comes to this movie, yes Heathcliff is black, yes it is windy, rainy, snowy, sometimes deafening (have you ever been to Yorshire in winter or fall?), yes dialogues are scarse, but it works.
    There is a undeniably, a vision here. We can believe in the characters, among which the landscape, the very earth . Indeed when Heathcliff comes back, Catherine points at the scenery and asks him "How could you forget that?". It is an unusual love-triangle: man-woman-landscape.

    This adaptation focuses on what can't be expressed, because you can't admit it (Catherine), you don't have the words (Heathcliff), people/society won't admit it and won't entitle you to.
    Feelings are like a maëlstrom "Never with you. Never without you." Catherine wants mud and respectability and Heathcliff curses what he loves most.

    There is passion, violence.
    The violence of a society, a time and a place.
    The violence of a desire as strong as a winter wind, and for which you have no name, a desire that scares you. And the other that you desire and can't stand is also YOU ("He is more myself than I am!").
    The violence of The English society and its hierarchy: aristocrats, rich landowners, peasants, workers, slaves, men and women, blacks and whites,

    As to the filming itself, yes it is unsettling. The camera keeps moving, vibrating. Could you expect anything else? Can you film a maëlstrom of passion with a fixed frame, beautiful photoshopped landscapes and be credible?
    Let yourself be unsettled. You may not like it but if you love the book, you have to give it a try. If you consider passion should be more "middle of the road", just watch "Twilight"!

  • Written by lezard on 02.05.2022

    Do you know Ernst Lubitsch and the Lubitsch touch ? If you don't, great pleasures and delights of cinema await you. Elegance and subtlety !
    Let's start with a masterpiece : « To Be or not to Be ». But first, a bit of history.
    Ernst Lubitsch, a Jewish actor in Berlin, in theatre first, became in cinema as famous as Max Linder as early as 1913 and the greatest German comic.
    He started directing, mostly after the 1st world war. Mary Pickford invited him to The USA where he shot successful movies. The Lubitsch touch was beginning. He mocked the American bourgeois manners in a sophisticated way.
    He became a favorite target for the nazis, both as a Jew and as a traitor working for the enemy.
    « To Be or not to Be » was his answer to this hateful campaign. But, not only did he want a comedy (Chaplin had already released « The Great Dictator »), but he intended theatre to be his lethal weapon. His friends all told him it was a foolish idea, doomed to fail.
    Mission impossible ? Mission accomplished !!
    The scene is set in Varsaw, in a theatre. The play which is rehearsed stages Hitler and is cancelled after the entry of the German army in Poland and Varsaw. It is replaced by Hamlet. The main actress, every night, cheats on her husband (the leading rôle) with a young Polish officer, during Hamlet's monologue. The officer seeks refuge in London but is sent back to Varsaw on a special mission. He must uncover a traitor who endangers Polish resistance. He is helped by the whole theatre company.

    Timing in this comedy is just a wonder, a very high precision mechanism. The film plays on a brilliant principle : what does the spectator know ?
    Lubitsch, just like Hitchcock resorts to two devices : suspense and surprise, and sometimes both in the same time. We are constantly ahead or late on the plot. It is subtle, virtuosic, hilarious and powerful. He manages to hold the nazis' stupidity, cruelty, vanity and ignorance up to ridicule in a rejoicing manner.
    In the very heart of the plot lies a theatrical stratagem where the characters resort to make up, costumes, dialogues, rehearsal. And they litterally have to deal with theatrical questions : do the actors know their lines, are the staging, the setting and the casting credible ?
    But the stratagem plays on two, then three levels. It is prodigiously clever and funny. Lubitsch even succeeds in making Shakespeare and Hitler converse.
    To watch or not to watch ? That is not the question.
    Don't go, run and see « To Be or not to Be », enjoy, and then you'll want to see the other movies.

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