Henri-Georges Clouzot – Manon (1949)

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Henri-Georges Clouzot (“The Raven”/”The Wages of Fear”/”“Diabolique”) directs one of his lesser efforts and co-writes with Jean Ferry an adaptation of Abbe Prevost’s 18th century lusty classic French novel ‘Manon Lescaut.’ It’s updated to immediately after World War II France. It was shoddily made, the characters were sketchily drawn, the lead couple is unlikable, the screenplay was ridiculously inept and the novel’s bawdiness was compromised to make it more Hollywood safe, nevertheless Clouzot’s craftsmanship and style made an impression at the Venice Festival and it won Best Film in 1949. It did a good job capturing the sleazy atmosphere of the low-life underground scene in a post-war Paris. Continue reading

Jean Cocteau & René Clément – La belle et la bête AKA Beauty and the Beast (1946)

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While some other mid-20th-century directors were pursuing the chimera of “total cinema,” Jean Cocteau was chasing down the dream of a “total art.” But if “total cinema” meant capturing on screen the actual world as it really was, Cocteau’s “total art” meant giving form, instead, to the otherwise impalpable worlds of desire and dream. Both quests were fundamentally unrealistic, but Cocteau embraced this truth in ways both joyously inventive and technically rigorous. The most ambitious and talented fabulist since E.T.A. Hoffmann, Cocteau not only produced a vast and diverse corpus of poems, drawings, plays, sculptures, novels, and libretti, he also wrote and directed a small but astonishing group of films. Beauty and the Beast is the best of his five feature films and the greatest fable of his entire oeuvre—a vulnerable-beast-in-love tale to end all others, from King Kong to Edward Scissorhands. Continue reading

Claire Denis – Les salauds AKA Bastards (2013)

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The world of Claire Denis’s Bastards is one of nightmarish inversion, where compassion has no place and connection only breeds despair. Structured around the fracturing of two family units, one irreparably shattered, one holding firm despite intense pressure, it imagines life as a steady succession of denials, duty waging a futile struggle against desire. In this reckoning every image grows twisted, the seductive mirage of a naked woman in high heels soon tarnished by the blood trickling down her legs. Conditioning the audience to find dread in every seemingly innocent gesture, the film turns even the simplest touch between family members into something tinged with menace. Continue reading

Bertrand Tavernier – Des enfants gâtés AKA Spoiled Children (1977)

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Some films cry out to be made. Others whisper, and some just offer the tiniest, weariest shrug. ”Spoiled Children,” which opened yesterday at the Public Theater, is one of the latter. Its main character is a film director who rents an apartment in which he plans to create his latest screenplay. While living in the apartment, he joins the tenants’ committee, has a desultory affair with a woman much younger than he, pays visits to his wife that are even more desultory, and otherwise whiles away time.

This director, Bernard (Michel Piccoli), appears to be assembling material for his film with an arty randomness, selecting occasional snippets of his own experience and shaping his screenplay around them. He even has a collaborator, who chimes in ”It’s strange how the cemeteries in Berlin are colder than elsewhere.” The collaborator then proclaims the remark ”Great!” and wonders how he can wedge it into the film. Bertrand Tavernier, the film’s director, may have worked in much the same way. Continue reading

Marcel Moussy – Saint-Tropez Blues (1961)

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Synopsis:
‘Anne-Marie goes south with her childhood friend Jean-Paul instead of hitting the books at home. The friends join up with artist-types in Saint Tropez, and though the ambiance is carefree and casual, Anne-Marie manages to survive the hijinks and the ardor of would-be admirers. In the end, she starts to fall for one man in particular.’
– Eleanor Mannikka Continue reading

Costa-Gavras – L’aveu AKA The Confession (1970)

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Costa-Gavras might be the European filmmaker most influential on American directors of the 1970s. Although this honor often goes to Jean-Luc Godard and other compatriots of the Nouvelle Vague, films like The French Connection, The Parallax View, or Blow Out are most clearly engaged with a clamorous mode of political cinema that’s as fundamentally enraged as it is delicately assembled. Typically, Costa-Gavras’s Z is credited as the key film in this regard, not simply for its humanistic, injustice-as-thriller construction, but also for the way it “opened up critical perceptions,” as Armond White states it, for filmmaking’s lasting cultural effects. Such an assessment is backed by historical fact, but one would be remiss to overstate the terrain for Costa-Gavras, since none of the director’s subsequent films received a similar degree of accolades, either from filmmakers or critics. The neglect is easier to ascertain once it’s understood just how different The Confession is from its predecessor, a nearly two-and-a-half-hour film that shirks the frantic chase sequences of Z by dialing back its proceedings to a nearly singular setting, literally within the confines of Czechoslovakian torture camp, but more figuratively within the mind and body of Anton Ludvik (Yves Montand), a high-ranking communist official held prisoner by Stalinist extremists. Continue reading