Monthly Archives: August 1974

La main à couper

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 »

OUT 1: SPECTRE

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 »

Le Mouton Enragé

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 »

Violins at the Ball

From Oui (August 1974). — J.R.

Violins at the Ball. It appears that the two obsessive themes of French cinema right now are movies about movies and movies about the German Occupation. Michel Drach’s Violins at the Ball combines both of these, but on a very personal level, for the story he has to tell is Drach’s own. It is told in two tenses: a present in black and white showing Drach as he tries to interest a producer in his film and he travels around Paris and Oise with his cameraman; a past in color that he is filming, which describes his adventures as a Jewish child during the Occupation.Drach’s wife, actress Marie-José Nat, plays herself in the present and his mother in the past, while their son David portrays Michel at the age of eight. To complicate matters further, the producer declares that the film can’t be made without a star, and Drach immediately replaces himself with Jean-Louis Tringtignant – who also happens to be his best friend. Drach has wanted to make this film for 15 years, and it shows in the careful attention given to various details, the subtle transactions between memory and invention, fear and comfort, yesterday and today.… Read more »