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Posts tagged “french

RIP Raoul Coutard (1924 – 2016)

A sad, but necessary tribute – this was one of the 20th century cinematographer greats whose influence remains intacto – just ask Wes Anderson, PT Anderson, Fincher, etc. – crisp and cool, with a bathing use of colour. I think we all know what this artisan would have celebrated and had been mustering for this evening, his achievement on Le Mépris alone is immortal;

Project 1–Raoul Coutard cinematography from Jane Huff on Vimeo.

London Film Festival 2016 – Voyage à Travers Le Cinéma Français (2016)

france1One of the myriad joys of a well curated film festival is not simply the non-fiction, documentary strands of programming, but also the chance to see some new, detailed and affectionate documentary on a potent aspect of cinema itself, usually focusing upon a specific section of its long and illustrious history. Such material can set the tone for the overall feast of the form, where some hungry participants gorge on two, maybe three or more screenings a day, staggering out of the various West End screening venues into the Autumn sunlight, bloated with a visual cacophony of different worlds, characters, incidents and adventures. If you think that’s a vaguely pretentious fashion to continue our coverage of this years London Film Festival then I would remind the honorable gentlemen and ladies that we are talking about French cinema, arguably the most important nation to have  ever contributed to the Seventh Art, beginning with its embryonic inception with the Lumiere’s and Melies in the late 19th century. Arguably no other nation has moved through so many artistic movements and forms, from the Poetic Realism of the 1930’s personified in the cinematic titan Jean Renoir, through to the colorful, self-aware explosion of the radical New Wave of the 1950’s and 1960’s, generating the early pangs of formalist post-modernism which still casts its long tricolor shaded shadow over European and American independent cinema to this day. This is the path, with a variety of detours, that our host Bernard Tavernier follows in Voyage à Travers Le Cinéma Français, a lavish love letter & viscous valentine to the cinema of his birthland, through this affectionate and exhaustive three hour documentary.

belleThe LFF always seem to pick the cream of the crop when it comes to select on film, last year’s Hitchcock/Truffaut was another vaguely academic but accessible piece on one of the key print media treatises on cinema. This piece occupies the same intellectual space, concentrating from a historical perspective on a structured appreciation of French cinema, interspersed with long, detailed extracts from the texts themselves which are illuminated with Tavernier’s academic analysis – editing strategies, camera compositions, content versus style – and how these all fit into the contemporaneous political and cultural temperatures of their period. An immediate touchstone is Scorsese’s 1990’s Personal Journey series where he explored both American and Italian cinema, functioning as teacher, lecturer and interpreter, a feat which Tavernier equals with his similarly affectionate and passionate overview across French figures and incidents both obscure and established. As well as grazing such seminal moments as the 1969 Sorbonne riots or the Second World War occupation for all you anti-auterists out there Tavenrier doesn’t just restrict his attention to the monocle sporting riding crop tyrants, he also lavishes time and attention on certain performers on either side of the camera, including the musical composers of the early sound days, and figures such as Jean Gabin, and his tragic rise to the crest of the form with La Grande Ilusion and subsequent, post-war slip into B-Movie obscurity.

france3As well as simply relaxing back into a long, luxurious celebration of the art form which is always a beguiling concept the main joy of the journey is discovering new names like Claude Sautet for example, whilst the name Jacques Becker has crossed my path I can’t say I could mention a single film of his, yet Tavernier makes a passionate case for his elevation to the great pantheon, primarily how he quietly blazed a tail for his comrades to come. At the other end of the scale the titans receive their supplicant offerings, perhaps most generously in the case of archetypical humanist Jean Renoir. He is arguably France’s most cherished film-maker who receives a detailed examination but no mere simple hagiography, with our narrator not shying away from his alleged acquiescence to the Vichy regime during the occupation. In other sections Tavernier favours those colleagues whose path he crossed earlier in his career, from publicity advisor to Godard around the release of Le Mepris, or early flirtations with production assistance with one of his great mentors Jean-Pierre Melville during the latter phases of his life. The personal enters the picture when Tavernier recants a youth beset by illness and periods of physical inactivity, leavened by visits to the cinema where his imagination could soar into the silver screen. Knowledgeable scholars may recall that similar reflections have been offered by Francis Coppola who suffered from a serious bout of polio as a child, or Scorsese and his breath-raking asthma, and as someone who was also something of a sickly child, suffering from similar ailments you can’t help but wonder on the psychological coincidence…..

regieAlthough the run-time is a generous three and a pinch hours with such a broad church to cover they couldn’t possibly have time to appreciate everything. Personally I could have weathered much material on both Bresson and Truffaut whom are name checked but hardly examined, as I’d argue their influence as being as instructive and influential as it ever was, from Boyhood to the entire career of Wes Anderson, and the whole sparse efficiency of recent world cinema’s decade long deference to austere, slow-cinema. Still, it was also fantastic to learn of the career of Eddie Constantine, perhaps his most famous role as the trench-coated in Godard’s SF hybrid Alphaville, as he has appeared in an entire, long run of French noir-influenced policier which look fantastic, and serve as an ideal companion piece to jean Pierre-Melville’s oeuvre which receives its rightful and respectful liberation in the final hour of the project. A postscript reveals this is the first of two pieces which should have the aggravated cinephiles whose French fancies haven’t received adoration, it closes roughly around the late 1960’s before the advent of Deneuve or Depardieu, Huppert, Adjani or the rising young starlets of the cinema du look, although given Tavernier’s penchant for more classical, immediate pre-and-post war instincts I very much doubt they will get anything more than some immediately short thrift – he’s clearly more connected to Carne than Carax, more Bresson than Besson. For the next segment we can expect more emphasis on Jacques Tati, Cocteau, Louis Malle and Henri-George Clouzot among I’m sure other figures I’m currently ignorant of, something for any  cinephile to salivate for in Cannes, Venice or London ahead in 2018;

Gabrielle (2005) & Isabelle Huppert Q&A

gabe1On the surface it can seem flippant and reductive sometimes to turn my attention to this place, given the state of the wider world and the absolutely numbing events of even just the past 7 days. Political poison on both sides of the Atlantic seems to be swilling through the culture, contributing to indiscriminate and horrific violence, marinating in incalculable ignorance, hatred and stupidity – as it stands these may be the historical footnotes of what is evolving into a truly wretched year. But we have to find some solace and comfort in seemingly trivial asides, to focus our attention on our hobbies and the things we love in life, which brings me rather hesitantly to my last cinema visit where I took a welcome break from the hysterical humdrum of Hollywood’s summer season. The visit was inspired by the presence of Isabelle Huppert, widely regarded as one of the finest European actresses currently drawing breath, who was in London town to deliver the lead performance in Phaedra which was by the Barbican. Not wanting to miss a ripe chance of movie exploitation the film curators asked Huppert to nominate one of her favourite films that she starred in and support a screening with a post-coital Q&A, so given the paucity of similar events at the BFI over the past few months I ambled along for a screening of 2005’s Gabrielle. I first became of her due to her international role in the unfairly maligned Heaven’s Gate, the isosceles in the love triangle between herself, Kris Kristofferson and Chris Walken, playing the Western trope of the whore with a heart of gold that she managed to animate with a denser sense of melancholic purpose. In the intervening decades she has become one of the finest actresses of her generation, forging long collaborative careers with the likes of Claude Chabrol and more recently Michael Haneke, a elusive and mysterious screen presence who seems to draw upon inner reservoirs of strength to overcome burdens in films also helmed by the likes of Godard, Preminger, Andrzej Wajda and even MIA 1990’s auteur Hal Hartley.


In this 19th century period tale, directed by Patrice Chéreau, Huppert features in what she regards as one of her favourite performances. It’s the early 1900s and from the perspective of the chattering classes Gabrielle Hervey has it all: well preserved, admired in the social community and not short of a few francs in the form of her a wealthy and temperately devoted husband, Jean (Pascal Greggory). As always however a public face obscures a private façade, as Gabrielle feels like a trophy possession, trapped in affection starved arranged marriage, driving her to make a potentially catastrophic break to follow a secret lover out of Paris and the confines of polite society. This decision comes to light when Jean returns home to discover one of those infamous ‘Dear Jean’ letters, a further complication arising when having dismissed the servants in his abstract rage Gabrielle returns to their lavish apartment to confront him and her dangerous decision to abandon her exile. What follows is an intimate conversation on their union and lives, culled from the Joseph Conrad short story which forms the spine of this intimate interrogation.


Truth be told the film didn’t connect with me, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of what could broadly be termed ‘costume dramas’ but I will always appreciate a well-crafted and performed film, regardless of its germinating genre. My first impression was of a film which seems bizarrely over-directed, with an opening salvo at a upper class society function which has been cut and timed to the tensions of a horror film, including whip-pan hysterics and tense reaction shot close-ups. No doubt Chéreau is attempting to emulate the shark-pool minefield of the elite class protocols and social decorum of the era, a period where an incorrect selection of dessert spoon or inappropriate quip can result in a brutal and unforgiving social excommunication. From here the film advances into a very theatrical piece as the remainder is essentially a powerful two-hander, as Jean and Gabrielle lock horns in the gender battlefield of the late 19th century, she reaching toward the Elysium of genuine love and affection, he obsessed with maintaining decorum and propriety, while nursing the wounds of his freshly gouged masculine identity. The production design and costumes are exquisite as you’d expect of a high class period drama, and Huppert in particular anchors the film with her unexpected flourishes and reactions, and gets the films killer line as the curtain drops before the third-act epilogue.


The rather swift Q&A was reasonably illuminating and Huppert seemed relatively at ease, even cracking the odd joke or two in a sharp digression from her usual aloof and implacable screen persona. She explained how she is of the creative breed that bring a firmly formed character to the director, then with small tweaks and ameliorations they both decide on a final portrait to present to an audience. Quite specifically she remarked that the likes of Verhoeven and Chabrol never gave her one single word of direction, leaving the path open for her to grip the character on set and while shooting, an approach she adores in comparison to certain other unnamed directors who get in the way and can wreck damage through distrust and micromanaging methodologies. Other than that there wasn’t much more to say, its been a week and I don’t recall much else from the event to be honest, other than remarking with a glint in her eye that the imminent Elle should be shortly raising eyebrows across Europe. It’s already been controversially monikored as a ‘rape-comedy’ by the continental equivalents of the odious Daily Heil after its storming Cannes unveiling, I think with Verhoeven at the helm there might just be some Swiftian satirical purpose underneath such facile and shrieking pearl clutching. So very quickly in terms of recommendations you simply must see Haneke’s harrowing The Piano Teacher and Chabrol’s psychological thriller La Cérémonie to see Huppert at her very best, with Gabrielle yielding a fine performance at its binary core;

Jean-Pierre Melville Season – Army Of Shadows (1969)

shad1Right until the end of post-production Melville wrestled with the placement of the striking tableau of the Arc du triumph, isolated in long shot, with a long snaking line of Wehrmacht officers proudly goosesteeping their way to Hitler’s drumbeat of genocidal European conquest. It’s a striking image that opens Army Of Shadows, Melville’s third and final entry to his occupation trilogy of films, begun with Le Silence de la mer in 1949 and buttressed with Léon Morin, Prêtre in 1962. Shot in perpetual, gloomy rain this adaption of Joseph’s Kessell’s 1943 book is presented without mercy, without glamour or exciting derring-do, a somber recreation of the suicidal operations, furtive failures and cold victories of the resistance movement in occupied France, so let’s just say that Allo, Allo this is most definitely not. Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) is spirited away to a remote, decrepit prison camp, incarcerating a mosaic of insurgents in 1942 occupied France, forcing Franco loyalists, Trade Union agitators, communists and loyal French terrorists to rub shoulders as common criminals by the omnipotent, occupying Reich. Like Melville’s stern criminal constellation the setting is different but the game is essentially same, a sense of moral stricture in a cold netherworld, a nest of violence and nihilism which can quickly be silenced by a final bark of a luger or thrust of a bayonet, of trenchcoated men with their collars turned up against the elements traversing sparse, dispassionate environments, like wraiths hunted through some Sisyphean maze. Informers and infiltrators are even more deadly here as the stakes are more lethal than a simple spell in the joint, as the slightest digression from full and complete devotion to your cause will have you facing a squalid firing squad and a shallow ditch out in the wilderness, a relatively comfortable fate in comparison to the prolonged torture and mutilation of not only you but also your family, should you dare to resist your oppressor. All you need to do to sense just how serious and committed Melville was to telling this story as realistically and respectfully to his own experiences and those of his comrades is to compare and contrast with the contemporaries, the Second World War films of the late 1960’s. These were the preserve of boys-own adventure yarns like Hannibal Brooks, Where Eagles Dare, The Bridge At Remagen or The Guns Of Navarone, fun rainy bank holiday viewing to be sure but not exactly accurate musings on the cold mechanics of a ruthless life and death struggle for liberation under a remorseless and brutal occupying force, with Clint singlehandedly mowing down faceless swarms of gormless Wehrmacht redshirts while Oliver Reed made friends with an elephant.

shad2The tempo and temperature of the film soon becomes clear, as Melville’s posture is set a diametric dimension away from the active mission statements of the war movie. Army of Shadows is grim, as cold and precarious as the knife edge lives lived by the warriors resisting the Gestapo ghouls, with torture and death lurking as a near certainty behind every mission, every dead letter drop, and every friendly and non-friendly interaction. As we have seen Melville is a keen minimalist and his craft is honed to perfection here, there is virtually no soundtrack so the soundscape is primarily a diagetic dirge, a tense echo chamber which informs the keen fly on the wall vérité of clandestine meetings and risky laden reconnaissance. Mostly studio bound the locations are sparse and simple in appearance, kept under Melville vice like grip in his private shooting boudoir, erecting a somewhat artificial framework to the drama but not distractingly so. The various theatres of operations does shift across nations and cities however to provoke the sense of a countrywide network, even if the attention remains on one cell of insurgents and their individual intertwined fates. What do two of the resistance members do when they find themselves with some precious R&R time? This is a brief respite between operations after their secret submarine sojourn to London to lobby for more weapons and logistics, so how do they set their mind against the existential terror of the nightly black-out of the pulverizing blitz? Well, they go to the cinema of course, and joke that when they’ve won the war they’ll be able to see all the films restricted by Goebbels wretched censorship control of the occupied territories. The structure of the film is a linked series of vignettes, task after task mapped to incident and incident, a slow chain of drama and threat which slowly builds a picture of resistance as a psychic entity, as a state of mind, the French body politic bent to liberation rather than a mere collection of sparsely effective agents, assassins and provocateurs. The minimalism extends to the terms of emotion, dialogue and performance, with the cells struggle amberfied in a diluted cold teal color palette, as bleak and unforgiving as the canvass of his more expressionistic crime films.

shad3A spare, near dispassionate voiceover briefs us on the mechanics of the missions, a linking thread which The fidelity to the genuine activities and risks of the insurrection are fascinating, the film feels extremely realistic and insightful into how it really must have been, unvarnished with any false heroics and draped in the constant threat of discovery and betrayal, never knowing when the Gestapo could have got to colleagues or family members them and flipped them to save their own skins. The commentary of the French authorities colluding with the enemy was extremely controversial of course, but Melville presents as is facts which have since been accepted as documentary fact, gendarmes manning roadblocks and apprehension of so-called enemies of the state, the continuation of day-to day enforcement of legislation and criminal suppression which now speaks to Berlin instead of the Palais Bourbon. Army Of Shadows most memorable and disturbing scene concerns the killing of a former comrade who has been forced into collaboration, a Judas who circumstance dictates he must be made an example of in order to deter other offensive breaches of the resistance’s protective omertà. Melville stages this in a carefully controlled procession of shots, moving from tableau to close-up to make it clear that the perpetrators are not trained killers, maybe civil servants, or accountants, or businessmen before the war now plunged into literal life and death struggle, forcing them to shed blood in a rather clumsy and confused operation. It a rather pathetic and dingy execution that is quite difficult to watch, with zero in the way of moral judgement or dramatic posturing, just another moral pitfall which is the price of their brave and sustained struggle. In fact the violence throughout the film is staged for realism and uncomfortable consequence, an arbitrary, swift and remorseless fact of life, presented with an absolute minimum of detail to make the point, not expanded or celebrated for dramatic heft or excitement. This sword of Damocles shadows all the members of the resistance, as they seem to operate as an isolated solitary cell rather than a node in some countrywide network, adrift and fragile to interception and infiltration which saturates the film with a smothering sense of paranoia.

shad4From the single thread the narrative flowers to encompass the experiences of an individual cell of fighters and their furtive day to day struggle, including a small but significant role for Simone Signoret of Le Diabolique fame. The episodic narrative pushes into some strange roads such as a tense caper when the team infiltrate a Gestapo facility in order to prevent a captured colleague betraying his connections under brutal and sustained torture. In another scene the quiet support and appreciation of the general populace is expressed when a fleeing warrior is given refuge and succour from the prowling eyes of the occupying ogres. These vignettes and asides slowly drain to an anguishing moral nexus, when one of the key members of the group is forced to collaborate in order to defend their family from a mortal threat of sustained torture, despite their child’s individual innocence – the sins of the mothers being laid to the daughter in this case. This is the final mortal quandary of the film, where comrades whom have risked their lives to save each other are trapped into making the most lethal of recriminations without hesitation, knowing that their former comrade would expect and deserves no less. At two hours and twenty minutes Army Of Shadows is a long, sustained experience which earns the attention, supported with a solid tranche of extras including a making-of documentary, a five minute behind the scenes featurette, a BFI newsreel of the Paris liberation with some graphic battle footage and a superior commentary from Professor Ginette Vincendeau, one of the world’s leading Melville scholars. It’s interesting that like Kubrick (and both only made 13 features during their long careers) Melville was something of a telephone addict, he would keep colleagues and potential collaborators on the line for hours and hours, bleeding them dry of information and ideas to feed his voracious intellectual appetite – I always ponder how those great minds would utilize todays communication media in order to sate those insatiable instincts. This is crucial Melville, one of the key films of his long and distinguished career, and this leaves us with just one final entry to close down this season before shifting our caméra-stylo to the land of the rising sun during the feudal sengoku period. But until then and our final foray into Melville’s muted universe Army Of Shadows is as cold and unforgiving a treatment on the moral and mortal cost of war as the cinema has had to offer, with resistance as much a state of mind as a physical, fragile reality;

BFI Jean-Luc Godard Season – Le Mépris (1963)

mepris1You might think I need my head examined, committing to a BFI season in the midst of probably the most intense month of new release essentials I can recall since I started this blog, but what can I say other than here we are. Despite two or three essential new films hitting multiplexes every January weekend (next weekend alone has the choice of The Assassin, The Big Short or Room) I was also drawn to the BFI’s exhaustive Jean Luc Godard season, mostly to challenge myself and my previously conceived cinematic palette. Like a lot of boisterous cinephiles I spent my late teens and early twenties seeing as much of the officially recognized ‘canon’ as I possibly could, mercilessly devouring as much Dreyer and Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa as I possibly could, a crash course in self-taught film studies which didn’t necessarily operate within a competent or robust framework of film history and its technical and formal evolution. Like any starry eyed celluloid wetback I wasn’t mature enough to fully digest the vast majority of what I was seeing, and many of my early formed opinions and peccadilloes have remained imperviously intact – Lang, Lynch, Leone, Bresson, and Malick will never be unseated from the Menagerie hall of champions, plus the immediately embedded likes of Carpenter and Kubrick who remain the all time unimpeachable omnipotent titans. I used to think for example that Francis Coppola, Ridley Scott and Oliver Stone were among the greatest directors to have lived, now I recognize their fantastic individual contributions are not remotely in the same league as the overwhelming achievements of Tarkovsky or Powell, Wilder or Hitchcock. It’s only as you get older, as you mature and are exposed to a wider menu of material and crucially revisit key texts with the benefit of life experience that previously underwhelming figures begin to make sense, as initial antipathy starts to thaw and previously impenetrable styles or statements slowly unveil their treasures. Now that’s not to say that I don’t reserve some critical faculty, I don’t find every director quoted on the Sight & Sound list as above reproach, and despite ‘getting’ Eisenstein and Fellini to name but two I can admire their essential contributions yet don’t particularly care for their work on any emotional or personal level, although with the former I’d be surprised if anyone found his formalist breakthroughs even remotely ‘moving’ like, say, a Frank Capra or a Truffaut picture. They are different beasts with different prey, with fur and talons that hunt through different ecosystems, their repeated themes and styles preferable to some and not others due to our own individual movie musing constitutions – I loathe musicals even when Scorsese makes one, and no doubt some equally passionate cineastes dislike horror pictures like Psycho or  just because the subject matter doesn’t map to their personalities. This is all my extremely roundabout and exhausting way of saying that I’ve never particularly cared for Jean-Luc Godard but was aware of his importance, but in the spirit of a new year I thought that revisiting some of his better known works on the big screen might be an illuminating experience – and it was.

mepris3In that light I’ve decided to restrict myself to a light touch when it comes to this season, and I’ve only selected two films, both of which I vaguely enjoyed when I first saw them on TV, for this hesitant return to everyone’s favorite nouvelle vague crypto Marxist provocateur. Godard adapted Contempt from the 1954 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, in what is widely considered as one of his most personal films, which despite its lukewarm response was come to be regarded as a masterpiece of 1960’s European cinema. The story, as much as there is a conventional story rests on a disintegrating marriage between Parisian screenwriter, Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) and his beautiful wife Camille, played by Brigitte Bardot at the apex of her international fame and sexpot popularity. At the time Godard’s marriage to actress Anna Karina was also in a tabloid covered turbulent difficulty, with Godard accepting this directing commission from producer Carlo Ponti without final cut or complete control of script or casting. In the film Paul is summoned to Rome, to the glorious Cinecitta studios in order to spruce up a screenplay for a prestigious adaption of Homer’s The Odyssey that’s floundering in production, directed by the great Fritz Lang who plays himself in an early and beloved instance of intertextual tinkering. The puppet master of the drama is Tinseltown producer Jerry Prokosch (Jack Palance), a blustering personification of Hollywood’s baser commercial instincts, who becomes quite excited at the prospect of more scantily clad maidens, battlefield mayhem and murder and its box office potential instead of Lang’s high minded classical fidelity to the ancient text. Suspicions arise that Paul is engineering a dalliance between Jerry and Camille in order to secure his employers fiscal affections, dismissing her reluctance to be pimped out despite the couples poor financial position. So the modern meets the ancient as artistic ideals clash against commercial realities, set against a declining studio system which Lang personified that by the 1960’s was inevitably fading into history.

mepris2My return to one of Godard more famous films from his fifty year (and counting) career was a thoroughly satisfying experience, with a glistening, freshly struck new digital print that is touring the country. The immediate items to discuss is Godard’s playful disregard for convention, constantly reminding you that you’re watching an artificial construct, a movie, through humorous and good-natured asides and affectations – strange shatterings of mise-en-scene, dialogue exchanges which emanate from a fictional movie world rather than any non-fictional fulcrum. This was still new in 1963, this was way before the self-referential spasms of Scream or Tarantino as the obvious antecedents, but rather than ape well established postmodern forms Godard struck out in his own unique direction, before such a cultural concept had even been widely identified or accepted. Contempt, to give it its English translation is an intimate film with a long middle stretch which is just Bardot and Picoli prowling their Mediterranean apartment, arguing and debating their relationship in a heightened and slightly artificial manner, but still managing a sense of universal appeal as their suspicions and vulnerabilities come under the cameras close scrutiny. In the wider plot the immaculately groomed, monocle mounted artist Lang is a representative of cinema’s conscience, asserting the fidelity to the source material and marshalling his intellect to take the text through the simulacra of the screen his noble almost saintly purpose, with Palance’s boorish producer a mirror to the venal aspects of the industry and its lust for the lowest common denominator, signifying the disgust of the title. The fictional bleeds into the real with the history Godard being forced to cast Bardot against his wishes and being instructed to include a nude scene to placate the investors, but he somehow turns the salacious into the sublime, through his formal command of the improvisation grasp of film form. He digs the rabbit hole digs further with a startling use of colour through Raoul Coutard’s ravishing sun-kissed photography, the blues, the whites and reds standing in stark contrast to the palette costume and props signified of their importance with foreshadowing of their narrative purpose and individual character temperatures. The visual accedes to the aural with a similarly spritely use of sound and music, this is the common refrain that runs throughout the film in a jargon of scene selections. In other places the score cuts dead as if the composer was shot dead off-screen, it’s quite humorous and jarring, constantly reminding us that we’re watching a movie, jostling a cosmopolitan shape to the entire film which churns at every appreciative conscious and subliminal level.

mepris4I’d be failing in my journalistic duties if I didn’t advise that the newly struck digital print is just sublime, those colours pop out of the screen and it looks as fresh as a Marvel franchise picture. Yes, naturally you see a very slight change in grain and degradation of quality in some scene transfers which presumably is struck from a deteriorated master, but overall the new format injects fresh vitality into this vibrant art-house masterpiece. Bardot was the contemporary equivalent of some Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift or Rhianna hybrid back in 1963, the ‘it’ girl  who dominated the discourse in the tabloids and media landscape, and indeed Godard was accused of selling out by the intelligentsia by accepting this high-profile assignment. In her brief introduction to the screening Anna Karina made some rather strange remarks, that Godard assaulted Ponti after production which resulted in a broken leg, although the court case at the time found him innocent of any grievous intention due to the witnesses closing rank with Godard – I hope the statute of limitations has expired on that one as Godard is still knocking around. I can’t help but place  Le Mépris within that fine prestige of films where insiders offer a scathing insight into the industry, from Truffaut’s Day For Night, Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, Minnelli’s The Bad & The Beautiful, Altman’s The Player and more recently Cronenberg’s Map To The Stars, the rather on the nose title of this film makes his objective opinion brutally clear. He’ll never be in my top pantheon of directors but being older and wiser I can perhaps more fully appreciate Godard’s achievements in this early phase of his career, that mischevious breaking of the fourth wall, the strange flashes of surrealism and glitches in narrative logic are less irritating and more charming than I recalled,  and I’m actively looking forward to the next BFI visit for another of his 1960’s pictures. Also, talk about prolific, Le Mépris was his sixth film since his feature debut in 1960, and in the first seven years of his career alone he directed fifteen texts – two more than Stanley managed throughout his entire career fifty year career. In the opening of the film Godard quotes the eminent cultural theorist Andre Bazin, stating that ‘cinema is better than real life, that it is the real world as we imagine it‘, now that’s an assertion that the Menagerie can fully endorse;

Jean-Pierre Melville Season – Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

lec1A new year begins, new resolutions are quietly internalised, so let’s christen a new beginning with an end – the final film of Jean Pierre-Melville. I had planned to get another article in my current season under my belt before Christmas but that was simply not to be, despite my intentional leap from Melville’s earlier material to the penultimate film to see what perspectives might materialise. Opening with a title card quote solemnly stating that ‘the Buddha drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: “When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle’ deception and suspect motives are the order of the day, as much like the Coen’s vertite claims for Fargo the quote was entirely fabricated by Melville. Le Cercle Rouge opens with a handcuffed duo rushing to grab the last train out of Paris on a quiet, chilly Sunday evening. One of the men is dangerous career criminal Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè), the other his authoriatrian chaperone Commissaire Mattei (André Bourvil) whose unfortunate mistakes enable Vogel to slip his shackles and flee to the suburban urban wilderness, initiating a major high-profile manhunt. Initially unconnected we are also introduced to the jailbird Corey (a moustachioed Alain Delon), the stoic, unemotionally deadly Melville archetype, patiently biding his time until his parole is corruptly provided and he can take his vengeance on those how betrayed him to the cochon’s. Rather than shooting on location Melville had established his own production studio by this point so apart from some of the early rural exteriors Le Cercle Rouge is internalised, it’s centrepiece a long and expertly choreographed heist scene which is an ideal companion to either Rififi or The Killing’s celebrated scores. At this late stage of Melville’s career almost every dramatic function seems to have whittled away to extinction – performance, soundtrack, dramatic framing and pacing – his vision instead plyed as a cold and formalist examination of the criminal class and their predators, the authorities who stalk them in a never ending cycle of futility.

lec2Like Hitchcock and his symbolic stirrings in 1972’s Frenzy Melville also embraces a more permissive approach toward violence and nudity, especially when compared to the more chaste, classification board restrictions that shackled both their work in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It’s a man’s world in this milieu which has almost no female speaking parts, merely one naked gangsters moll figure whom it is suggested has switched allegiances from one antihero to the next, a vivacious limpet who has moved on from Corey to his mob boss once he was banged up in the big house. Alongside Le Samurai this film is considered the apex of Melville’s mournful masculinity, of men defining themselves through their underworld activities and archaic moral codes, exchanging their trophy women as casually as they trade their getaway cars or fedoras. The cool aesthetics are as edifying and implacable as always, there isn’t a dialogue exchange for the first seven minutes of the film, just a tense story told through images and glances that leave the viewer to insinuate the backstory of these mannequins as they are carefully animated through their mysterious missions. Once Corey is released by some crooked gendarmes he methodically revisits some old decrepit haunts, a sparse pool hall here, a faintly squalid drinking den there, liaising with some old companions and accomplices who wither under his intense stare. Silently he weathers their empty platitudes and apologies for how they had to turn away from him when he was pinched to keep themselves safe, before events turn ugly and he takes purloins some resources from his old crime-boss and flees the city. Before long the two narratives are intertwined in heartbeat alignment, Vogel evading the authorities barking attempts to apprehended him, until his path crosses with Corey who acquires a similarly desperate itinerant stowaway…..

lec3On a first watch I assumed this was one of Melville’s less regarded works, one of his second tier efforts when perhaps his mojo wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but the jury still seems to be out as some reviews have likened it to the glorious achievements of Le Samurai or Army of Shadows – my mistake.  Whereas the former seemed as taut as tightly controlled as a sniper’s crosshairs Le Cercle Rogue felt a little indulgent and exhausted to me, but if you enjoy walking the mean streets of the gallic underworld then there is much to enjoy from Corey’s implacable team-up with Vogel, and the whole ‘putting the crew together for one big score’ narrative that the film shifts into gets a fantastic pay-off with the expertly executed, centrepiece heist.  It’s another procedural built around long, wordless sequences which embroider a tapestry of implacable drives and unswerving intensity, with only the musical score percussion heavy algorithms to signal the dramatic heartbeats that the crooks and cops are wading within. Another obvious influence is Mann’s Heat as the film oscillates emphasis across both sides of the law, showing how their shared moral strictures and devotion to their professionalism are essentially the inverse sides of the same coin. As the lead detective on the case of the missing prisoner Commissaire Mattei’s sparse bachelor home life visually expresses his exacting dedication to the job, as his superiors dolefully inform him that ‘all men are guilty’ of something, a sour ideology which harkens back to Melville’s wartime occupation experiences. The film trades in the ‘show, don’t tell’ mandate of the best cinema, the criminals never discuss their tactics and there is no audience pandering reconnaissance to impart information on the location and structure of the obstacle, instead we are presented with a cold reportage of a quasi-military operation which is fascinating in its illicitly illustrated efficiency.

lex4For all austere ambitions Melville took his time with this picture, as at a laborious two-hours fifteen minutes Le Cercle Rouge doesn’t feel brisk, some of the repeated loops of characters planning their next criminal escapade has dated fairly badly, and the picture meanders quite ponderously until the crew comes together to take down the jewelry boutique, which is when the methodology and machinations of the trade start to gain traction and get cinematically interesting. The robbery encompasses the last forty-five minutes of the film, with a forensic working through of the various booby traps and obstacles, as each of the crew members fulfil their specific specialisations involving suction cups, glass cutters, silencers and gags – or a regular Friday night at chez Minty if we’re in a party mood. The fictionalisation of the musical score drops away as the narrative shifts to a dedicated realism in time, space and sound, climaxing on a dramatic ‘magic shot’ to hit the alarm button and deftly spring the safe. Once completed there is just enough time for genre mandated comeuppance in the dramatic coda, with a final showdown between Corey and his nemesis in the grounds on a frigid chateau, all concluded with Melville’s trademark, unmoralising nihilism. If you’re a fan of Melville then this is essential as his last great work, as even his fondest acolytes grudgingly admit that his final piece Un Flic which followed two years later is one of his weakest pictures. In any case this is a perfect alibi to escort us at gunpoint into a weekend dominated by a Q.Tarantino esq, as we indulge in one of the rarest cinephile treats imaginable – an Ultra Panavision 70mm anamorphic widescreen 2.76 presentation of his new film although this road-show has not escaped a ‘storm in a teacup’ controversy. I have to say that as a somewhat lukewarm Tarantino fan (really enjoyed Inglorious Bastards, was less fond of the nevertheless provocative Django) I am looking forward to this immensely, in part just for the whole ‘event’ aura it has engendered, unless the Odeon staff get ambushed by some murderous crossfire with the Picturehouse crew just round the corner on Piccadilly circus. To complement this activity I shall also be revisiting  one of Quentin’s earlier crime films on Sunday which is screening at the BFI in original 35mm of course – any other approach would be simply…….criminal;

Love (2015) 3D

noe1Cinematically speaking, I don’t think I can imagine a more perfect response to the recent horrific events in Paris that Love, one of the most controversial and explicit films of recent memory. In many ways it represents the absolute antithesis to the wretched, medieval ideology that powered those cowardly attacks, being primarily concerned with the free and liberated lives of young people that was so specifically targeted to induce impacts among a media-savy audience, a generation whom in the film embark on a hedonistic spree of fucking and sexual experimentation, excessive drug use and just about shatter every conservative covenant you can imagine. Of course with notorious Gasper Noé, at the frenzied wheel and the fact that it’s a French production set in Paris also lends it some contemporary charm, even if the phrase self-indulgent seems woefully inadequate to express just how narcissistic and deeply pretentious this project can be. Coincidently I finally tracked down a copy of Noé’s notorious first film Seul Contre Tous which quite honestly I haven’t had the courage to endure, in fact since the 13th just the urban firearm carnage and explosive pyrotechnics of the terrible Fast & The Furious 7 left a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth, so I guess I am getting old. Despite the rather lacklustre reportage from Cannes on this film I was slightly swayed by a few podcast commentators whose opinions I respect, they advised that as always one thing you are guaranteed with a Noé’ film is a cinematic experience of some sort, even if the performances, characterisations and the frenzied chest beating provocateur posturing can be somewhat exasperating. So, having felt the withdrawal pangs of the cinema – it’s been over a fortnight since Spectre – I flirted with the only 3D big screen projection of this oscillating film which veers from the brilliant and visionary in one sequence to the bone-thudding banal in the next.

noe2Love arises with a contextual tableau which gives us the tone and flavour of the rest of the movie, to the lyrical tones of Bach’s Goldberg variations we open upon Murphy (newcomer Karl Glusman) and his girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock) naked as the day they were born and vigorously interfering with each other’s genitals for one long, exceptional explicit & sustained sex scene. This prologue is reminiscent of the opening of Betty Blue which similarly introduced us to our key characters and the dimensions of their intensely physical relationship, with the distant hum of psychosis and infidelities that threaten any relationship ambiently perched on the horizon. Love’s structure is less conventional however, as we immediately see Murphy with another woman Omi  (Klara Kristen), the mother of his young child whom we learn through a first person voiceover that he has begun to loathe for trapping him in an unwelcome relationship. This attitude of self-centred megalomania is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this utterly repellent young idiot, and this is where the film immediately stands or falls as his company is utterly nauseating from first frame to last. As Noe’s blatant screen surrogate Murphy opines that movies should be made ‘with blood, with passion, with cum’ because of course he’s a budding filmmaker, his Paris apartment littered with the posters of controversial classics such as Freaks, Taxi Driver, Salo and The Birth Of A Nation, a choice of inspiration that tells us everything about this pretentious pretender – shallow, vain, and nowhere near as sophisticated as he thinks he is with such a bourgeoisie selection of sensitivities. I thought that cinema would have to go pretty far to conjure up a bigger rage-inducing jerk than the child star Benjie in last year’s Maps To The Stars but Noé has eclipsed it, as Murphy’s juvenile posturing, series of double standard infidelities and ridiculous racism, sexism and misogyny made we want to reach into the 3D frame and give him repeated violent slaps to his stupid, scrunched face. Dismissing his partner and their child Murphy embarks on an opium trip which forms the jagged flashback structure of the rest of the film, as somehow this intoxication is mooted as some method to divine the location of his ex-girlfriend whom has turned to some dark drug-fuelled places since their poisonous break-up, and has not been seen or heard of by her family of friends for weeks after darkly muttering of suicide. The film evolves from a love triangle three-hander to centre on the initially passionate relationship between Electra and Murphy as it swoons through the journey of his narcotic reverie, including when they invited Claudia into their bedroom, and her subsequent unintended pregnancy which detonated the existing amour which was sent spinning into the darkness.

noe3The word frustrating immediately springs to mind as I reflect on another burst of Noe’s preening and posturing, as like his previous efforts this film veers from breath-taking bravado, from pure mainlined, exhilarating cinematic spectacle to numb inducing groans and disbelief, as one scene narcotically  lurches into another. The dialogue is frequently terrible and with the best will in the world none of the three principals can act, as the Venn diagram of those individuals whom are willing to engage in unstimulated, full-on fucking and those whom are willing to commit to such activities who can actually perform is evidently a rapidly diminishing gene-pool. There is something to be said for exploding the cinematic cliché of sex and sexual relationships which is still largely relegated those soft filter, jazz scored montages of heaving perfect bodies, with all sense of genuinely physical intensity and bodily functions cleansed from the sticky and sweaty realities of intercourse, of blow-jobs, hand-jobs, cunnilingus and on and on and on. The overall effect however of the frequent fucking – and when I say frequent I mean pretty much every other scene has some sort of carnal congress – the sex actually gets quite tedious, verging on the borders of this sort of humdrum shriek for attention. Framed within the hallucinatory lens of the brilliant Benoît Debie however the sensation aspects of the film reaches plateaus rarely achieved in conventional cinema, as it looks like nothing else on-screen this year, with the unusual framing and phantasmagoric colour patterns frequently penetrate the territory of the erotically sublime. There is also a recitation of that unusual ‘blink’ editing pattern that Noe used in Enter The Void which subliminally replicates the action of a black drape falling across the screen for a millisecond before arising again, providing an unusual pattern to break into the viewers subconscious and infiltrate scenes in a curiously intimate fashion. He also frequently frames Electra and Murphy from behind, their faces and reactions to each other’s conversation coquettely hidden as his Steadicam prowls with them through the nightlife of Paris and the early morning tranquillity of the arrondissements. In that sense, as an ecstatic experience Love can occasionally peak and rush, it is quite an experience on a dense, Dolby-atmos equipped screen, if he just had the temerity to make his characters even remotely accessible then the pint-sized imp might really be dangerous.

noe4 And so, inevitably, we come to one of the most arresting and hilarious sequences of recent memory – the club scene, or rather more specifically the swingers sex club scene. Now, I’ve seen some things in my time, being a bit of a connoisseur of outré cinema you get a taste for the truly transgressive and challenging, and like some of the earlier sequences in  Noé’s work he can through some sorcerous combination of pulsating sound, image and content achieve the staggeringly audacious and delirious. This sequence (which I had been pre-warned about) had me doubled up in laughter for its sheer exploitative chutzpah, not to mention the small matter of it being choreographed to the soundtrack of Menagerie favourite Assault On Precinct 13. This section made the entire cinema visit worthwhile, not because of the sexual content (obviously) but for the sheer filmmaking ambition and affect – if you’ve seen Enter The Void then you know what to expect from some neon-drenched, throbbing inferno of lust and wanton screwing. It’s immediately one of the most remarkable top dozen cinema sequences of the year, as some sort of bastard offspring of the ritual scene in Eyes Wide Shut, the Copacabana scene of Goodfellas, and the climactic coda of Titty Clitty Gang Bang IV. I suppose I should say a little about the 3D which seems like an unrequited afterthought, I think I heard somewhere it was part of a funding grant to make the film that it had to be employing new digital technology, so its deployment and depth of field rarely feels intimate with the narrative and the distance or closeness between the lovers. Frankly it doesn’t add a direct amount of tactility to the movie, it doesn’t appear to have enhanced the transmission of information, in fact it only really operates as an opportunity to stage one inevitable eruption – and when you combine the phrasing Gasper  Noé / sex film / 3D I’m guessing you’re wise enough to conclude where that little caper could be going in the most gratuitous fashion. Love is for hardcore lovers only in both senses of the word, something of a detour after the soaring transcendence of Enter The Void, as Noe admirably tries and fails to forge his own, unafraid neologism for 21st century cinema;

Breaking The Rules (2015)

Here is a tres bien little primer on that second French revolution of the 1950’s, and how we are still benefiting from the formalist fractures to this day;

Menagerie’s Cannes 2015 Programme

cannes2015Movies? Oh they’re dead, nothing but American franchise fodder strangling the multiplexes ain’t they? Well no, not if you look beyond the latest spandex and chrome clad spectacle they’re not, as the international film community gets into its 2015 swing with the worlds oldest and most prestigious festival – Cannes. I did toy with the notion of attending this year but I couldn’t commit before the application deadline, I’ve committed to make more of an effort next year although I do have plans for a watery foreign film jaunt this year – watch this space. With my finger on the pulse as always a mere three weeks after the final programme announcement here is my personal pick of the pack, I eagerly await the further word on Fury Road although rest assured early rumors are incandescently positive, but like I said I’m boycotting that last trailer for fear of decelerating my  delirium. So while I focus my attention on a few fairly ambitious weekends of UK movie watching which alongside my pre-booked events must also include a visit to this which opens tomorrow after 35 years of neglect, come hither and let’s take an amble through the croisette’s coming attractions now that I’ve had the chance to fully review the programme;

Yakuza Apocalypse, Takaski Miike 2015 – We’ll start with the obvious, with our old friend the timid Japanese slow-coach Miike Takashi who churns out yet another Yakuzi drenched bloodbath which gets a ‘special’ screening – whatever that means.  Have I mentioned this thought before? Have I transmitted my contention that I probably have Japanese cinephile kindred who are as exasperated of the frequent emphasis of their indigenous cinema on the brothels and pachkino organized crime dens of Shinjuku and Shibya and loath those ‘cool’ post Reservoir Dogs medium shots of the criminal marching toward the camera as that continual weeping sore of mockney East End crime films that my country suffers with birds and shooters and fackin’ kants made by slumming upper middle-class hacks like Guy Ritchie and Matthew ‘Yes I have directed party political broadcasts for the Tory party’ Vaughan? That sentence could probably use a full stop somewhere, but the Coalition sold them all. A-ha. Satire. Vote on Thursday kids.

Macbeth, Justin Kurzel, 2015 – After Snowtown turned stomachs back in 2010 I wondered what happened to Kurzel, it seems like he’s following in the non-intimidating footsteps of Polanski and Welles with his take on the Scottish play. I’m not the worlds biggest fan of Shaky but I do like this play, its pretty nasty with lashings of  sword scrapping, histrionic harpies and mystical crones which is a little more up the Menagerie alley than privileged royals exchanging witty fripperies. Plus I got a B+ on a GCSE essay on this book {beams proudly} so I’m looking forward to this. A dense cast with Fassbinder and Cotillard making a menacing pair of power mad murderers, no trailer yet so Polanski’s gory take on the tale is linked above. They showed 15 year olds this movie at my school which explains a lot doesn’t it?

Son Of Saul, Laslo Nemes, 2015 – Well now here’s a guaranteed laugh-riot, Eastern European miserablist Bela Tarr’s protégé with his debut film about – wait for it – two days seen through the eyes of an Auschwitz inmate in 1944. Apparently this fictitious character works in one of the crematorium. I can’t think of much else to say so I think I’ll just go for a little cry.

Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015 – If you’ve seen the darkly hilarious Dogtooth then you know what to expect, and if you haven’ then you must rectify the situation immediately. Any twisted mind which can produce such blackly satirical comedy that would make Bunuel proud is always worth watching. I’ve heard it’s about ‘forced breeding and animal human hybrids warped through the genre eyes of a rom-com’ – huh. Again no bloody trailer which is getting quite exasperating, thus above is a reminder of his break through film.

Carol, Todd Haynes, 2015 – He’s been absent from the screen for a long eight years, although I can strongly recommend his acclaimed HBO series Mildred Pierce from a few years back. Haynes seems to be heading back to Sirk and Fassbinder territory with this adaption of a Patricia Highsmith novel, this should be more of a glitzier period piece affair with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchet in tow.

Journey To The Shore, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2015 – Although he has moved away from his J-Horror roots Kurosawa (no relation) continues to produce the odd piece here and there despite some setbacks and funding failures. What is quite irritating is that I’m fairly sure that his last two films (the last one trailed above) have received no distribution outside Japan, so a festival is the only shot of seeing his movies on the big screen. I have no idea what this new film is about but his name is enough to garner my interest.

Louder Than Bombs, Joachim Trier, 2015 – Y’see this is what film festivals are all about. I’d never heard of Trier when I saw his film Oslo August 31st at the LFF a few years ago, and I immediately seized on his evident, slightly melancholic talent as someone to watch. This is his first English language film starring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert –  this could be a breakthrough.

Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier, 2015 – Ah, excellent, Saulnier hasn’t wasted any time following up his critical darling Blue Ruin and with the Coens as jury presidents he might be in with some fellow support given the darkly comic flavor of his debut. Crikey, I forgot how much work these lists posts can be, this must the first I’ve constructed in ages. The new films from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust & Bone),  Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Like Father Like Son) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (Millenium Mambo, Café Lumière) are also essential.

Love, Gaspar Noe, 2015 – Another enfant terrible whom has been quiet, knocking one out in the world cinema corner. Well, after the brain bruising excess of Enter The Void maybe you wondered where the pint-sized terrorist would go next? Well why not make a three-hour, 3D hardcore porn film by the sounds of things? I’m calling this now and mark my words, this will be cited ad-nauseum as his take on Terry Southern’s sexual satire Blue Movie which Southern was inspired to write after discussions with Kubrick on the Dr. Strangelove set, to the point where he actually dedicated the novel to ‘the great Stanley K’. No trailer yet, so a quick look back to the excess of his previous phantasm of excessive style and severity.

Mood Indigo (2014), Michel Gondry, Romain Duris & Audrey Tautou Q&A

mood1Sacré bleu!! It’s been a while since I’ve trod the boards of my beloved BFI, their programming over the past couple of months hasn’t really connected to my personal cinematic peccadillos, so it was a pleasure to kick off the bank holiday weekend with a mildly anticipated preview screening of Michel Gondry’s new film Mood Indigo. This stuttering romantic ballad is based on the 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian, an author I’m rather ashamed I’ve never heard of, and from what I gleaned from the post screening Q&A it seems that this is a novel which is something of a rite of passage for Parisian youth, as all movie medium attendees claimed to have read the book along with their friends back in their impressionable teenage years. In fact the 1947 book has previously been adapted twice, first in 1968 in France with the English title Spray of the Days, and again more recently in 2001 as a Japanese film with the title Chloe it should be interesting to track these down in a compare and constrast mode, as although I quite liked the film I was faintly shocked to witness where this surreal romance finally decanted, cleaving to the books merciless dark denouncement. Romain Duris stars as Colin, a fairly wealthy and happy young man in modern Paris whose best friend Nicholas (Omar Sy) also happens to be his lawyer, chef and advisor, yet when all his friends begin to hook up with long-term partners he begins to feel that something is lacking in his comfortable life. Enter the spritely, twinkle eyed Chloe (Audrey Tautou) and the inevitable love at first sight swiftly blossoms into an abiding affection, but jeopardy lurks around the corner in the form of health scare for one of the two passionate paramours…..

mood2So far so conventional, right? Star-crossed lovers facing an existential threat together, a challenge which should embolden and deepen their love for each other? How very original. Cheap sarcasm aside I’m happy to report that this is not the case for Mood Indigo as the film film leaps from the contraption charged mind of Michel Gondry, thus we are firmly embedded into the realm of his clockwork magical realist musings, with surreal flashes of character and drama, a playful sense of humour as the laws of physics and reality are shattered and reassembled in impressionist illusion, the very fabric universe shimmering with the emotions driven between Chloe and Colin. It’s a whirwind mechanical tour de force which is charming and exhausting in equal measure, many I think will find its whimsical rejection of reality a immediate turn-off, but if you’re in the mood as I was then then there is much to enjoy here, even if it does start to malfunction in its final desperate moments. It’s reminiscent of Gondry’s earlier The Science Of Sleep  and the widely beloved Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind,  in fact it’s quite easy to group them as a romantic trilogy ameliorated through Gondry’s in-camera  techniques, with just a dash more of Jan Svankmajer in the inventive ingredients.

mood3If you’re hybrid minded then I think with reverence you could dissemble Gondry’s film style as a madcap contraption of Jacques Tati, Terry Gilliam and Jean Vigo, and its not so much that he’s thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this project as he’s spotted a kitchen sink shaped space and  anthropomorphised said sink and set it stuttering around his gloriously chaotic set. It’s taken a few days to sink in so plunging deeper than the shallow waters of innovative techniques and the briskly frosted romance cooked by Tautou and Duris I think you could read as a meta-level treatise on evolving film form, from animation and stop frame shreds, from under and reverse cranked manipulation of time and cinematic space, frenzied production flourishes and delicatessen design. It’s quite a dizzying ride when detailing the first blooms of a blossom burdened romance, with Tautou and Duris sparking off each others galloping charm, but I must admit that my attention did start to wonder after an hour of the same whimsy before  the very colour of the film slowly dilutes out of the picture, before a rather abrupt and gloomy zenith. I’m told this maps to the novels finale so you can’t fault Gondry for retaining sympathy to the source text (this was also an insistence of Vian’s estate when granting the film rights), but the tonal shift is jarring which closes the picture on a whimper rather than a bricolage bang.

mood4A rather jocular Q&A followed the screening with Gondry, Duris and Tautou all in attendance, first impressions were of a scruffy trio decked out in jeans, shirts and as you Americans like to call them ‘sneakers’ – so much for French chic. I’m kidding of course as this was a very relaxed and spritely affair, Duris was quiet but Tautou is a tiny elfin firecracker (and she is tiny), swearing like a docker and repeatedly berating Gondry for his filming practices – sticking her 200 feet up in the air on a crane for the cloud car sequence, enduring the slow-motion marathon of the laborious stop-motion sequences. There is a beautiful moment in the film when Gondry cuts from the newly wedded couple to them submerged in water, still in their wedding dress and bridegroom outfits , suspended in the liquid as they still walk through the vestibule out to the shower of confetti and a new, rich life together (it’s in the trailer below at 1:45).  Gondry explained his thought process which was when we are newly born we open our eyes and see the world for the first time with a sense of apprehension and wonder, and he yearned for a reproduction of that in a interesting visual way as the couple exited the church to their new life together  – and that ladies and gentlemen is why he’s a true artist and genuinely visionary director who has managed to excuse the failures of his recent American Green Hornet  shambles.

mood5The Q&A also revealed that there are two cuts of the film, we saw the shorter 95 minute version which I assume has been prepared for foreign markets as a more palatable portion of Parisian whimsy, I’ll give it a year or so and track down the longer indigenous cut (125 minutes apparently) as it’s certainly a movie which provokes a little introspection, and some of the DIY filming techniques would be charming to revisit and query ‘how the heck did he do that’? Gondry also got the expected ‘what do you think of CGI?’ question which he must suffer repeatedly given his particular preference for in-camera tricky, but he shouldered the query well and explained that he has nothing against it, he has used in some pictures and some of the striking music videos he’s shot over the years, but he doesn’t feel that standing in front of a green screen is an environment that fully inspires his actors, nor does it yet fully convince an audience and risks throwing them out of his carefully conceived fantastical worlds – I couldn’t agree with him more. Overall then a solid recommendation for Gondry, Tautou or Duris aficionados which whilst not bringing anything particularly new to his palette Mood Indigo  is ingenious and charming enough to pop down to the flicks to see, although I doubt it’ll get much distribution outside the major urban art-house aligned network;