Daily Archives: April 15, 1988

Alain Resnais and MÉLO

From the Chicago Reader (April 15, 1988). — J.R.

MÉLO
****
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Henry Bernstein
With André Dussollier, Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi,
and Fanny Ardant

The exquisite art of MÉLO, like the art of Alain Resnais in general, bears a certain resemblance to sculpture: it needs to be seen from several different vantage points if one is to fully appreciate its shapeliness and the powerful multiplicity of its meanings. The following selection of vantage points can’t pretend to be exhaustive; at best, it presents only a few starting points for sounding the bottomless depths of this deceptively simple movie. The first six points are provided by the film’s title and the names listed in the heading above. The last four — theater, mise en scène, symmetry, and mystery — offer more general and abstract perspectives.

1. MÉLO.
The title is an abbreviation for mélodrame or melodrama, which derive from the Greek word melos, music, and the French word drame, drama. What do we usually mean by melodrama? “Sensational dramatic piece with violent appeals to emotions” and “extravagantly theatrical play in which action and plot predominate over characterization” are two relevant dictionary definitions, among others. The earlier meaning is drama with music.… Read more »

Festival of Animation

This varied collection of shorts represents a certain improvement over the International Tournee of Animation in terms of overall quality. An organization based in La Jolla called Mellow Madness has put it together, and after many successful years on the west coast is taking the show on the road, in competition with the International Tournee. A greater interest in the hallucinatory describes part of the different emphasis, although the selection is no less international: films from Hungary, Canada, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, the USSR, and the U.S. are included, and the styles vary from the near-abstract (Sara Penny’s lovely Furies, about two undulating cats) to the political and notational (Jonathan Amitay’s Oh, Dad) to School of Chuck Jones minimalism (Andrew Stanton’s Somewhere in the Arctic) to jeering punk (Christopher Simon’s Hello Dad, I’m in Jail) to top-heavy narrative (Eunice McCauley’s Special Delivery and Andrew Stanton’s A Story, the latter a nightmarish version of TV kiddie-show muck). Some of the cartoons here suffer only because they’ve already had so much exposure. (Seriously, fellas, isn’t it about time to give Bambi Meets Godzilla an extended rest?) Otherwise, the overall level of quality is unusually high, and for sheer, unadulterated weirdness, Sing Beast Sing–by the auteur of Bambi Meets Godzilla, Marv Newland–is a standout.… Read more »

A Thousand Words

Made for the unthinkable sum of $7,000, Paul E. Garstki’s independent black-and-white Chicago-based feature both profits and suffers from its impoverished budget. On the plus side, a largely postdubbed sound track allows the filmmakers to tell parts of the story through the ingenious economical device of using answering-machine messages and imaginary phone conversations offscreen. A thoughtful use of local talent (stage actors John Ellerton, Warren Davis, and Diana Zimmer as the three leads and lots of local independent filmmakers in secondary parts) and locations also makes the best use of William Holst’s somewhat minimalist script, adapted from a story by Garstki. A reclusive art critic hires a young protege, who moonlights as a surveillance photographer, to go to work on a young woman (an odd plot with faint echoes of The Draughtsman’s Contract and Paul Bartel’s The Secret Cinema, without much of the humor connected to either). The main budgetary drawback is the nearly nonexistent social context; the stilted art-world talk generally fails to convince because there isn’t enough of a world in the film to establish it as either parody or the genuine article, and the characters themselves seem at times excessively limited by the exigencies of the plot. The result, then, is uneven but singular–a quirky, rather disturbing little film about voyeurism and loneliness.… Read more »