Tuesday, May 26, 2015

La Vérité sur Bébé Donge

1952, France, directed by Henri Decoin

Another fine film from Henri Decoin, an emotionally brutal tale drawn from a Simenon novel, which begins with a man on his deathbed, in full knowledge that his wife has put him there by means of a poisoned cup of coffee. I haven't read the source novel and while other commentators suggest the book was gutted I don't think you have to look very far to find the author's underlying cynicism about human relations, particularly within relationships, in full flower (Maigret's tender relationship with his wife is the obvious exception in the oeuvre). Although Decoin is no Clouzot, he finds some of the same bone-dry spirit here at times and does an especially fine job in suggesting the depths underneath the facades of both Gabin and Darrieux; Gabin's usual charm is smartly upended through the repeated suggestion that he uses his magnetism entirely thoughtlessly for his own gratification. This film marked Darrieux's "turn" toward less admirable characters -- her 1930s films are pretty lightweight, and these days it's her 1950s films that people turn to most often, especially the Ophuls films.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


2014, France/Mauritania, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

Sissako continues his remarkable career at the very forefront of African filmmaking: he's sensitive, honest, unsentimental and possessed of an intense humanity. It takes something quite special to show, however discreetly, the stoning of an alleged adulterous couple but also to leave you with the sense that these were people with complex lives rather than an excuse for a shock effect -- and the same is true of the central death scene in a river, a heartbreaking, Lang-ian moment in which a man makes one ill-advised if quite understandable decision to engage in a confrontation. His action sets in motion an implacable fate, or at least implacable in the particular time and place depicted. The subsequent wide shot of the man's escape from the river, a corpse lying to the right of the screen, is quite breathtaking. Will those who could most engage with and react to the film have a chance to see it, though?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Buud Yam

1997, Burkina Faso/France, directed by Gaston Kaboré

A sequel of sorts to Wênd Kûuni, the 1982 film that put Gaston Kaboré on the map. He returns to both the characters and the actors from that film and while there are deliberate resonances between the two pictures, including brief flashbacks that are actually footage from Wend Kuuni, this stands on its own as an exploration of pre-colonial Sahel life. It's not entirely historically accurate in terms of the depiction of a rather abundant and largely conflict-free swath of territory and yet it also succeeds in giving a strong sense of the existence of numerous loosely associated societies that often have trouble understanding one another even on the linguistic level (a phenomenon that continues today, and which contributes to the real challenges posed by borders that cut through pre-existing societies). While the storyline is straightforward, narrating the search by Wênd Kûuni for a legendary healer intercut with sequences featuring the young man's ailing sister, it's rich in its generosity of spirit, and very open about suspicions within village life but also the ways in which those suspicions can be healed. Visually some of the landscapes of southern Burkina Faso are lovely, and I also liked the way that Kaboré shot most of the film in medium/long shot so you can really see the interactions between the characters, while there are a few moments of wonderful humour, particularly a sequence in which a group of riverbank kids enjoy observing some clueless newcomers. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Raw Deal

1948, US, directed by Anthony Mann

Although not quite as compressed as 99 River Street this is another against-the-clock plotline, with a convict escaping and trying to make his way south for a payoff and a boat to the tropics. As you might expect from Anthony Mann and John Alton, it looks terrific -- moody and exceptionally atmospheric, with some wonderful compositions (a scene in the prison early on is especially good, as is the later sequence in a kind of crim-friendly guesthouse). Dennis O'Keefe is on roughly the John Payne level in the lead role -- less bland, perhaps, but certainly not a strong actor and the supporting players provide the real interest. Claire Trevor was deep in her glorious late-1940s run of bad girls and she does a terrific voice-over here, suggesting that this story is at least as much hers, certainly true in terms of the not-unexpected downbeat ending. John Ireland is also good as the hands-dirty tough, while Raymond Burr looms (quite literally since he's often shot from below) in the background, dispensing casual sadism.

Monday, May 11, 2015

99 River Street

1953, US, directed by Phil Karlson

A generally punchy film from the generally punchy Phil Karlson, a very solid noir that takes place over the course of a single rather fraught evening in which a former boxer/current cabbie sees his marriage disintegrate and his life disappear down the same plughole. There's one hell of a subplot that stretches credibility a great deal,while nonetheless providing the film with a terrific set piece (the camera angles and use of light/shadow are brilliant). John Payne is a pretty bland leading man but as ever in such films there's plenty of diverting support -- Brad Dexter has one of his earliest roles of substance and he's rather good as the heavy, while Jay Adler is very memorable as the fence despite the obvious stereotyping of the character. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go

1970, UK/Canada (?), directed by Burgess Meredith

Without a doubt, one of the oddest films I've ever seen, I'm not sure that I have the appropriate vocabulary to capture this viewing experience. A Bad Film on the obvious level of construction, pacing, coherence, acting but absolutely fascinating in terms of its rather prestigious cast and for the unanswerable "what were they thinking?" and "what were they trying to do?" questions. On one level, you could posit the film as an example of the results when you plunk down a bunch of actors and a lot of money in an exotic location, but I do think that Meredith was going for a certain absurdist effect even if he didn't quite pull it off -- the plot is certainly the least of his concerns, though it was hard to decide to what extent some of the humour was intended or not. It sounds as though the producers took things into their own hands when they saw what they had paid for, hence the inexplicable framing appearance of Broderick Crawford, who clearly wasn't filming in the same locations. The very young Jeff Bridges' monologue outlining the various oddball plot points serves as a fitting summation of the film, complete with vaguely stoned look. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

We Are the Best!

2013, Sweden/Denmark, directed by Lukas Moodysson (aka Vi är bäst!)

Another fine entry in the long, proud Scandinavian tradition of remarkable child/youth performances (no less than Moodysson's debut feature Fucking Åmål/Show Me Love, though the two actresses there had a some prior screen experience), and a really lovely sense of naturalism that re-creates 1982 Stockholm with economy and a great deal of rueful affection. The film participates in some of the conventions of the music-film genre without ever giving into them, which helps to rein in the sentimentality a good deal, and also ensures that the focus remains on the self-discovery of the central trio, capturing the feel of being around 13, in all its glory and excess.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.

1931, Germany, directed by Alexis Granowsky

A delight from start to finish, funny but also biting in its satire of frenzied speculation, something that must have had quite a resonance for the audience of 1931, after more than a decade of economic turmoil of one kind or another. As a critique of capitalism, it would pair well with Capra's American Madness; the films are quite different in tone but both are very good on the essential craziness of the system as it prevailed then (and now), and the German film makes especially good use of a few fantasy sequences. Lorre is such a distinctive performer, entirely apt for the double-speak of the role of small-town newspaper editor/booster. I was initially distracted by the regular appearance of the word "Verboten" on the print, from German TV, especially because it seemed to crop up at irregular intervals and stay for unpredictable lengths of time. Eventually, though, with the assistance of some reading research, I figured out that this represented the location of the many and varied cuts made by the Nazi regime a year later, so the print in circulation for the rest of the 1930s was radically cut to remove unapproved personnel, songs, and incidents.


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States