From Oui (December 1974). – J.R.
Le Trio lnfernal. It’s the Christmas season and Michel Piccoli shoots
a man in the eye — straight through a newspaper he’s reading — while
downstairs, Romy Schneider is finishing off Andrea Ferreol with
similar dispatch. The bodies are stripped clean and plunked into
adjacent bathtubs, which Piccoli promptly fills with sulfuric acid.
Mascha Gomska, Schneider’s sister — who completes the infernal
trio of murderers who slaughter people for their life insurance –
barfs on the living-room carpet, while offscreen, excited by all
these gay and yummy events, Schneider is giving Piccoli an
impromptu blowjob in the bathroom. Later on, after the bodies have
decomposed, Piccoli dons a gas mask, ladles the slop into pails,
then empties the heady stew outdoors while one of the girls is
shown eating spaghetti. Excessive? This Grand Guignol comedy is
nothing but, as it chronicles the exploits of three glamorous
monsters butchering their way to wealth, with lots of kinky sex
on the way. Francis Girod, a producer-turned-director, exhibits an
unusual amount of expertise in his first film. But most of the show
belongs to Piccoli, who dances through all of the Thirties décor
performing a veritable concerto of comic invention.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 490). — J.R.
Director: Eddie Saeta
Before dying from an accident, Laura Saunders’ last words to her husband Fred are, “I’ll come back”. Unable to accept her death, Fred visits a number of fake spiritualists and death cultists until a classified ad (“Control your own reincarnation”) leads him to Tana, a friend and former lover of Dr. Death who brings Fred to one of Death’s ‘demonstrations’: a girl scarred by an accident is willingly sawed in half so that her soul can pass into the undamaged body of another women. Death dubs the reawakened corpse Venus and promptly becomes her lover, incurring the jealousy of Tana, who subsequently throws acid in Venus’ face. At a later meeting with Fred, Death explains that he discovered his power — based on a formula kept in an amulet around his neck — 1000 years ago, and his soul has survived ever since by passing into a succession of bodies of various races and both sexes belonging to his murder victims, He offers to revive Laura’s corpse with another woman’s soul for $50,000 and Fred agrees; but when Tana is garishly murdered for this purpose, Fred is appalled, and after Death fails to animate Laura’s body, asks him to keep the money and abandon the project. … Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
La Gueule Ouverte. A 5O-year-old Frenchwoman named Monique (Monique Melinand) is dying of a painful disease. She gradually loses the ability to communicate with any ease, and finally the power to speak at all. Eventually she’s moved from the hospital to the family’s house in Auvergne, where her husband Roger (Hubert Deschamps), along with her son Philippe (Philippe Leotard) and his wife Nathalie (Nathalie Baye), take care of her and wait for her to die. It’s a painful and less-than-inviting subject for a film, but somehow Maurice Pialat works wonders with it. Too recognizable and embarrassing to be strictly sentimental and too inventive and observant to be predictable. his story moves like a string of terse epiphanies, beautifully recorded by Nestor Almendros’s camera. The characters are neither bigger nor smaller than life: Roger is a drunken grouch whose idea of kicks is to cop a feel from a pretty girl while she changes sweaters in his clothing shop, yet he is the one most affected by Monique’s death. Philippe screws Nathalie and then goes hunting up prostitutes in his desperate flight from the fact of death. Father and son don’t like each other much, and when Philippe and Nathalie drive away at dusk– an extraordinary extended shot that encapsulates a lifetime into a few miles — we can be confident that they won’t be coming back again.… Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
Stavisky. Arriving on the crest of the nostalgia boom, Alain Resnais’s new movie — his first in six years — is already destined to make a voluptuous splash. With a script by Jorge Semprun (who collaborated with Resnais on La Guerre est Finie) , a bittersweet score by Stephen Sondheim, and Jean-Paul Belmondo in the title role, Stavisky serves up the glitter of Thirties glamor in a style both graceful and elegiac. Its subject is Alexandre Stavisky, the celebrated high-finance swindler whose exposure led to the collapse of two French ministries. Before the law caught up with him, Stavisky held Paris in the palm of his hand, living in a kind of extravagant luxury from which legends are born. And it’s mainly the legend that fascinates Resnais in his ironic tribute to a certain vanished elegance: a roomful of white flowers, recruited at six A.M. to greet the awakening of Alexandre’s wife Arlette (Anny Duperey) in Biarritz; a continuous flow of champagne and jewels to spark the afternoons. Fans of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel may regret the absence of narrative innovation here. But Resnais still knows a lot about beauty, Belmondo has bushels of charm to spare, and together they paint a memorable portrait of bygone days — a historical fantasy tinged with sweet dreams and sad awakenings.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1974 (vol. 41, no. 489). –- J.R.
Drummer of Vengeance
Great Britain, 1974
Director: Robert Paget
The American West, shortly after the Civil War. A rebel soldier who goes over to the Union army returns home to find his Indian wife and his son murdered — the former after having been raped — and their house burned to the ground by vengeful Confederates. Coming upon a wind-up toy drummer in the ruins, he vows to track down and kill all the men responsible. His usual method of revenge is to wind up the toy, place it on the ground, and ask his victim to make his play — whether armed or unarmed – before shooting him. He pays a carpenter to make the necessary coffins in advance and quickly dispatches six of the men he is after. The angry townsfolk, eager to be rid of the avenger (known only as the Stranger) and anxious for Sheriff Mason to apprehend him, are spurred on by the fanatical Bible-spouting of the town’s gravedigger — actually the Stranger in disguise. The Stranger also impersonates an Indian in a lance-throwing act in O’Conner’s Travelling Show in order to kill his next victim.… Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
Sweet Movie. Get this: Miss World of 1984 (Carol Laure), a virgin, gets married to the richest man in the world, a vulgar Texan named Capital who’s hung up on hygiene, has a golden phallus, and celebrates his honeymoon by pissing on the bride, leaving her wet but intact. She’s whisked away to the inside of a giant milk bottle, where she confronts Jeremiah Muscle, a black specimen with bulging biceps in the service of Capital, who zips her into a suitcase, which he sends to Paris — still with me? – where she turns up on the Eiffel Tower. There she falls for a campy Mexican named El Macho (Sami Frey), who takes her cherry — only their bodies get stuck together in mid-fuck, and they have to be towed away by a crowd. While all this is going on, Captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal), who is sailing down a canal in Amsterdam on a boat called Survival, picks up a sailor (Pierre Clementi) from another ship called Potemkin. Anna gives him a bath, screws him in an enormous vat of sugar, and then cuts him up with a knife, which he seems to enjoy.… Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
Lancelot du Lac. Robert Bresson has wanted to make this film for 20 years, and now we know that the wait was worth it. The unique vision of the director of A Man Escaped, Balthazar, and Four Nights of a Dreamer has been slow in reaching American audiences, but his treatment of the legend of Sir Lancelot may be the widest door yet into the hermetic beauty of his special world. As usual, Bresson’s actors are all non-professionals: Lancelot is Luc Simon, an abstract painter; Queen Guinevere is Laura Duke Condominas, daughter of sculptress Niki de St. Phalle; Gawain is l9-year-old Humbert Balsan, a former economics student. At the center of the story is Lancelot’s adulterous affair with Guinevere, set in the twilight years of King Arthur’s rule. Around the edges are scenes of violent action — nightmare battles of clanking arrnor in a dark forest, a climactic jousting tournament. Bresson makes us watch the tournament as though it were visible only out of the corner of one eye — an elliptical rush of horses’ feet and lances striking shields. The crowd is heard much more than seen. In his striking medieval tapestry, love in a hayloft and death in the afternoon become interlocking parts of the same spiritual drama.… Read more »
From the Autumn 1974 Sight and Sound. I’m reposting this here both to celebrate the New York revival of Celine and Julie Go Boating, which starts tomorrow, and to illustrate Armond White’s allusion to my “[sucking] up to French snobbery,” apparently by ascribing to this comedy “the charm and esprit usually associated with cinematic pleasure,” as he so patriotically and unsnobbishly puts it. — J.R.
In the spring of 1970, Jacques Rivette shot about thirty hours of improvisation with over three dozen actors. Out of this massive and extremely open-ended material have emerged two films, both of which contrive to subvert the traditional movie going experience at its roots. Out 1, lasting twelve hours and forty minutes, has been screened publicly only once (at Le Havre, 9-10 September 1971) and remains for all practical purposes an invisible, legendary work. (Its subtitle, significantly, is Noli Me Tangere.) Spectre, which Rivette spent the better part of a year editing out of the first film — running 255 minutes, or roughly a third as long — was released in Paris earlier this year. And during the interval between the editing of Spectre and its release, Rivette shot and edited a third film, Céline et Julie vont en Bateau, 195 minutes in length, which surfaced in Cannes last May.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 489). -– J.R.
Great Britain, 1973
Director: Saul Bass
Ernest Hubbs, a research scientist, sets up an experimental dome in the Arizona of the resident ant population: the various species have united and are collectively destroying all their natural enemies. With the help of James Lesko, a colleague versed in computer analysis, Hubbs orders the Eldridge family to evacuate the area, and blasts the enormous anthills with grenades. When the Eldriges’ belateddeparture is precipitated by an ant attack, they are further incapacitated by the poison gas being used against the insects. Kendra, the granddaughter, is the only survivor, and is brought into the dome in a state of shock. The ants develop an immunity to the poison gas, and a subsequent experiment with mantises is foiled when Kundra hysterically smashes the lab equipment, causing Hubbs to be bitten on the hand by several ants. The ants ‘attack’ the dome with heat-focusing mirror surfaces, putting the computers out of commission; Lesko fights back with ‘white sound’, but the ants next succeed in destroying the dome’s air-conditioning unit. Lesko transmits a rectangular drawing to the ants in an effort to communicate, and receives in reply an identical drawing with a small circle containing a dot inside.… Read more »
From Time Out (London), Sept. 27—Oct. 3, 1974. –- J.R.
‘Amarcord’ (Curzon, Warner West End) is Fellini at this ripest and loudest, which is not to say always at his best. Recreating a fantasy vision of his home town during the fascist period, with generous helpings of soap opera and burlesque, he generally gets his better effects by orchestrating his colorful cast of characters around the town square, on a boat outing, or at a festive local wedding. When he narrows his focus to individual groups, he usually limits himself to corny bathroom and bedroom jokes which produce the desired titters but little else. But despite the ups and downs, it’s still Fellini, which has become an identifiable substance like salami or pepperoni that can be sliced into at any point, yielding pretty much the same general consistency and flavor. There are the expected set pieces (family dinner, fascist rally), the customary cartoon cut-outs (a blind accordionist, a tobacconist with breasts the size of watermelons), and the tearful tones of Nino Rota, as evocative as ever. Fellini’s home town would have liked it. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
… Read more »
From Time Out (London), September 13-19, 1974. –- J.R.
For Godard, French neo-realism was born with Jacques Tati’s ‘Jour de Fete’ in 1947. An even likelier candidate might be Jean Renoir’s ‘Toni’ (Everyman to Saturday), shot in southern France in 1934 with a cast of unknowns, and dealing with a community of immigrants who work in a stone quarry. Actually, it’s a melodrama about love and sex, jealousy and murder -– the sort of staples that have kept the cinema going for seventy years or so -– but Renoir invests it with a sense of character and place that gives it an unusually blunt and sensual impact. Neither romanticizing his workers nor turning them into rallying points, he accepts them as they are and follows them where they go. The plot is based on a real crime that occurred in Martigues (where the film was shot) in the early Twenties, Jacques Morier, an old friend of Renoir’s who was the local police chief, assembled the facts, and Renoir wrote the script with another friend, art critic Carl Einstein. The results are both stark and gentle, as well as sexy: Toni sucking wasp poison from Josefa’s lissome neck is a particularly fine moment.… Read more »
From Oui (September 1974). –- J.R.
Piaf. In her life and in her music’ Edith Piaf is probably the closest thing France has had to a Billie Holiday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that a feature-length fiction film based on her life gives her the same kind of treatment that Lady Sings the Blues gave to Billie. We begin with Edith’s birth in 1915 in a red-light district of Paris. Abandoned by her mother, she grows up in a provincial whorehouse, Edith starts singing for centimes in street acts with her acrobat father. Then she goes independent and sings on the street while her half-sister, Momone, accompanies her on harmonica.Piaf is menaced by a Montmartre pimp who sells her “protection”. After she gives birth to a bastard daughter who dies in infancy, she gradually makes her way up the ladder from a dive in Pigalle to a Champs-Elysées niqht club. The plot is taken from a “fictionalized” biography by Simone Berteaut, the real-life Momone. Newcomer Brigitte Ariel plays Piaf, although the singing voice belongs to Betty Mars in both the French and English versions of the film. Guy Casaril, the director, serves it all up in something akin to the American bio-pic Style: Edith sings her heart out as the camera sails up into the sky.… Read more »
From Oui (August 1974). — J.R.
La main à couper. It’s been suggested that one reason why movies are so popular in Paris is that French TV is so bad. In point of fact,a conventional Gallic thriller such as the current La main à couper is not very different from what an American spectator is likely to see in a weekly series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The central intrigue, of course, is classically Continental: bourgeois adultery, the same subject that Claude Chabrol staked out years ago, although it is as perpetually common to French melodrama as raincoats are to spy thrillers. A married woman (Lea Massari) is having an affair with a young sculptor who is roughly the same age as her son. One day she goes to meet him at his studio and finds him dead, murdered with a blunt instrument. From this point on, practically all of the suspense and tensions develop out of the hypocrisy that her position requires, She can’t go to the police or tell her husband (Michel Bouquet), her daughter, or her son. The task of behaving normally becomes even more of an ordeal when an odd little fellow with a Hitler mustache (Michel Serrault) turns up and starts blackmailing her.This, bien sûr,is only the beginning: director Etienne Périer has at least a couple of O.… Read more »
From Oui (August 1974). As unlikely as this may sound to some, Out 1: Spectre enjoyed a week-long run in Paris at a Left Bank cinema (Studio Gît-le-Coeur) in my own neighborhood around the same time I wrote this capsule, so I had many opportunities to make return visits. –- J.R.
Out 1: Spectre. “Who are the 13?” jean-Pierre Léaud, when he isn’t impersonating a deaf mute on Champs-Elysées, is traveling around the rest of Paris, asking a variety of people this embarrassing question. He’s trying to solve the riddle of a secret society alluded to in a coded message – hidden relationships of power and influence lurking behind the normal surfaces of the everyday. Some of the reputed members of this sect include the owner of a hippie boutique (Bulle Ogier), a theater director (Michel Lonsdale), a lawyer (Françoise Fabian), and a novelist (Bernadette Lafont). Meanwhile, a small-time hustler (Juliet Berto) comes across additional evidence in a b atch of letters that she steals for blackmailing purposes. Although Berto and Léaud never meet, just about everybody else in Out 1: Spectre cross paths at one point or another. The movie’s geared to work that way, with each actor furnishing his own scenario and improvising dialogue while Jacques Rivette, the director, stages confrontations between them within his master plan.… Read more »
From Oui (August 1974). — J.R.
Le Mouton Enragé. Before the credits of Le Mouton Enragé come on, we see Jean-Louis Trintignant as Nicolas, an unassuming bank clerk who is so sheepish that he accepts a sandwich he hasn’t ordered in a café and winds up paying for a seat in a park where he doesn’t want to sit. Then he sees a pretty girl (Jane Birkin) standing alone by the Seine. A flush of courage overtakes him, he places a hand on her arm and says, “The person you’re waiting for doesn’t exist.” “Probably not,” she agrees, and voilà! The lamb is already on his way to becoming a lion. Carefully advised and tutured by his best friend (Jean-Pierre Cassel), Nicolas proceeds to make his way in the world; before the final reel, he has already become the editor of a jazzy tabloid and has bedded practically every attractive woman in the cast, including Birkin, Romy Schneider, Florinda Bolkan, and Estella Blain. The director of this graceful, inconsequential lark is Michel Deville, something of a specialist in neoclassy, softcore wish fulfillment — particularly harem fantasies where the ladies keep begging for more. (His Benjamin, a fleshy 18th century romp of a few years back, is a prime example.) Elegantly dressing and undressing his actresses, getting a confident performance out of Trintignant — who seems to figure in half the movies made in France nowadays – and accompanying the action with generous selections from the 19th century composer Saint-Saëns, he keeps things moving along at a brisk and bubbly pace.… Read more »