Posts Tagged ‘Nouvelle Vague’

Jean-Pierre Léaud | Tribute | Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

Jean-Pierre Léaud (*1944) is widely known as the face of the French Nouvelle Vague. During his impressive career he made seven film with François Truffaut and eight with Jean-Luc Godard. But the indie directors of the 1990s have continued to fascinate him and more recently he has appeared in Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre (2011) and Ming-liang Tsai’s Face (2009) and the upcoming comedy from Walter Veltroni C’e Tempo (2019).

Leaud’s transition from juvenile hero to mature character actor is quite amazing: his performance as the dying Louis XIV in Albert Serra’s La Morte du Louis XIV (2016) is stunning, and the antithesis to his very beginnings. Whilst avoided the glitz of international stardom, he has enchanted six centuries of European filmmaking.

After his debut as Pierrot in Georges Lampin’s King on horseback (1958), he was to meet François Truffaut: an encounter which would change both their lives. The sly rebel, as Truffaut called himself, had met the revolutionary of the frontal attack. After filming wrapped on Les Quatre cents Coups (400 Blows) in 1959, Truffaut took charge of Léaud who was fast becoming a social outcast. The young man had been expelled from school, his parental home and a foster family. And this trauma feeds into the narrative of 400 Blows, a black-and-white hymn to adolescence. Léaud’s Antoine steals and lies his way through a drama which  ends on the run-away Antoine facing the sea. It’s one of the most impressive finales in film history. The pairing of Truffaut and Léaud would manifest itself best in the Antoine Doinel trilogy – Baisers Volés (1968), Domicile Conjugal (1970) and L’Amour en fuite (1979), both men growing up together in a strange sort of way.

In 1966 Léaud would star in Godard’s Masculin, feminin: 15 Faits Précis, winning a Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlinale for his role as Paul, who is in a ménage-a-quatre with three women in a contemporary Paris. Loosely based on Maupassant’s short stories, this feature was the beginning of the break Godard would make with narrative cinema. Also called The Children of Marx and Coca Cola (an inter-title of the feature), sex and politics are at the core. Léaud is fragile, and the lighting shows him as beautiful and vulnerable as the three women, Madeleine (Chantal Goya), Catherine (Isabelle Duport) and Elisabeth (Marlene Jobert). All four main protagonists have very different plans for the future, when their agendas collide. There is immense elegance and beauty here  (DoP Willy Kurant), and Godard treats his actors (perhaps for the last time) with more care than in the verbal politics of later films. Pauline Kael called it “that rare achievement: a work of grace in a contemporary setting” and for Andrew Sarris it was “the film of the season”.

A year later Godard would cast Léaud as part of a group in La Chinoise (1967), this time surrounded by two women and two men, but with a very much harsher political focus. Based on Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed, this was Godard’s first adventure into Maoism. Léaud is Guillaume, in love with Veronique (Anne Wiazemsky), who has a much stronger personality than him, and will finally leave him. Kirilov (Lex de Bruijin), is the weakest of the trio and he will kill himself, as in the novel. Léaud’s Guillaume is in love with Veronique, but he is very much a man of clever words, but little action. Veronique on the other hand, is much braver, and decides in the end to assassinate the Russian Cultural minister on a visit to Paris. But he mixes up the numbers of his hotel room, and kills the wrong man. Wiazemsky, the grand daughter of novelist Andrew Malraux, then the Gaullist minister for Culture, fell in love with Godard, and the couple married after the shooting. As an in-joke, Godard casts Francis Jeanson in the film (Wiazemsky’s philosophy lecturer at the Paris 10 (Nanterre) University) having a debate with Veronique while on her way to assassinate the minister.

Pier Paolo Pasolino’s Porcile (1969) tells two parallel stories. The first is about a young cannibal who has killed his father. The second features Léaud as Julian Klotz, the son of German entrepreneur (Alberto Lionello), who is part of the German economic miracle after WWII. Julian’s fiancée Ida (Wiazemsky) is very much an early version of the Baader Meinhof Group, and tries in vain to agitate him. But Julian can’t stand people in general. He prefers the company of pigs, who will be his downfall. Léaud is again the angelic outsider, treating society with avoidance. He is so much more feminine than Ida, that the role reversal is quite breathtaking and Léaud carries his limited part with great sensitivity.

Truffaut’s 1973 outing La Nuit Americaine (Day for Night), is essentially about filmmaking, showing Léaud as the weak and self-obsessed actor Alphonse. During the filming of Je vous présente Pamela , a conventional weepie, he fancies leading lady Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset), who has recently had a breakdown. Out of pity she sleeps with him but Alphonse then ‘phones her analyst, Dr Nelson (David Markham), who has left his own family to live with her, and spills the beans on their fling. Léaud plays the histrionic weakling with great skill. And Truffaut, playing himself as the director, assumes the role of his protector – much as in real life. Godard, who by now had broken with his ex-friend Truffaut, called Day for Night “a big lie” – later the two founding fathers of the Nouvelle Vague fought over  Léaud who somehow survived the acrimony and went on to work with another enfant terrible, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.

I hired a Contract Killer (1990) was one of Kaurismaki’s first English language films and he made a beeline for Léaud in the lead role. The gamine actor of Day for Night had since changed dramatically. His slight, almost feminine appearance was gone, and he’d put on a substantial amount of weight – his acting too was from another dimension. He plays Henri Boulanger, an English Civil Servant, who is sacked after fifteen years of service due to privatisation. With no life outside his work, he tries – in vain – to commit suicide. Then asks a contract killer (Kenneth Colley) to step in. But Margaret (Margi Clarke) gives his life a new meaning. With time running out, Henri tries to contact the killer, to reverse the order. Léaud is totally morbid and emotionally reduced, the environment is straight out of the 1950s, the colours pale, bleached out by wear and tear. Léaud’s agile friskiness has been replaced by gentle placidness, making him look much older than forty-six. But his acting had matured too, and he slips easily into character roles nobody would have expected from him in his New Wave days. AS




Agnès Varda – Gleaning Truths | 3 – 5 August 2018

GLEANING TRUTHS: AGNÈS VARDA is a UK wide touring programme from Friday 3 August in Curzon Soho. Comprising eight films and spanning six decades, the season celebrates Agnès Varda’s work in the build-up to the release of Oscar nominated Faces Places on the 21 September. The tour follows on from the extensive BFI Southbank season in June and takes the work of this pioneering filmmaker to audiences across the UK. 

The touring programme is launching on Thursday 2nd August with a 35mm screening of Cléo from 5 to 7pm at the Curzon Soho, plus panel discussion on Film, Fashion, and the Female Gaze. The panel will be hosted by The Bechdel Test Fest, an on-going celebration of films that pass the Bechdel Test.

La Pointe Courte 

France 1955. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Noiret, Silvia Monfort. 80min. Digital. EST. PG 

Agnès Varda’s first feature, a precursor to the French New Wave, signals her future stylistic and thematic interests. Set in a working-class fishing village, the story moves between the daily struggles of the villagers and a young married couple from the city contemplating their failing marriage. With stunning cinematography, this striking debut demonstrates Varda’s exquisite sensibility as a photographer. 

Cléo from 5 to 7 Cléo de 5 à 7

France-Italy 1962. Dir Agnès Varda. With Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray. 90min. Digital. EST. PG
In pop singer Cléo, Varda created an iconic female protagonist. Wandering the streets of Paris, Cléo goes on a journey of self-discovery as she awaits the results of an important medical test. Moving and lyrical, Cléo from 5 to 7 is Varda’s breakthrough feature and a French New Wave classic, best enjoyed on the big screen.

Le Bonheur 

France 1964. Dir Agnès Varda. With Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-France Boyer. 80min. Digital. EST. 15 Thérèse and François lead a seemingly pleasant married life, until he begins an affair with another woman, supposedly to enhance their mutual enjoyment. In her first colour feature, Varda becomes not only an observer of human behaviour and a commentator on the sexual revolution of the 1960s, but also a painter, utilising her palette on screen to enhance the story to great effect.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t 

France-Venzuela-Belgium 1977. Dir Agnès Varda. With Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse, Robert Dadiès. 120min. Digital. EST. 12A
Set against the backdrop of the women’s liberation movement, the film charts the friendship between two women over the course of 15 years. Suzanne and Pauline lead very different lives, but what unifies them is their commitment to women’s rights. A deeply personal film for Varda, it combines elements of a musical (with lyrics written by the director herself) with Varda’s usual blend of fiction and documentary.


France 1985. Dir Agnès Varda. With Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau. 106min. Digital. EST. 15. A Curzon Artificial Eye release
A powerful and heartbreaking account of a defiant and free-spirited woman. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Vagabond is a cinematic landmark that introduced one of the most intriguing, complex and uncompromising female protagonists in modern cinema. Sandrine Bonnaire, who debuted in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours, gives a remarkable performance as the independent and rebellious Mona, who drifts through the South of France. The first scene shows Mona’s death, and so Agnès Varda tells her story through Mona’s interactions with the cross-section of French society she met in the last few weeks of her life. These encounters reveal people’s preconceptions around women’s place in society, personal freedoms within social structures, and the value of work – issues that still resonate more than 30 years after the film’s release.

Jacquot de Nantes 

France 1991. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier. 120min. Digital. EST. PG 

This is Varda’s first film celebrating her late husband, French filmmaker Jacques Demy. With her signature style of mixing fiction with documentary, Varda beautifully reconstructs Demy’s adolescence and his love of theatre and cinema, using his memoirs as reference. Initiated during Demy’s last year of life and released after his death, Jacquot de Nantes is a touching portrait of a talented filmmaker-in-the-making. 

The Gleaners & I 

France 2000. Dir Agnès Varda. 82min. Digital. EST. U
Armed with a digital camera, Varda travels through the French countryside and Parisian streets to celebrate those who find use in discarded objects. Throughout, she finds affinity as a gleaner of images, emotions and stories, and expands a poetic exploration of gleaning into an innovative self-portrait. This seminal work, referred to by Varda as a ‘wandering- road ocumentary,’ explores her creative process and approach to making film and art.

The Beaches of Agnès 

France 2008. Dir Agnès Varda. 110min. Digital. EST. 18
A cinematic memoir of Varda’s personal and artistic life, told by the director herself on the eve of her 80th birthday. In a witty and original way, Varda weaves archive footage, reconstructions and film excerpts with present-day scenes to chart her life, including childhood, the French New Wave period, and her marriage to Jacques Demy. Inventive, emotional and reflective, this autobiographical essay celebrates Varda’s artistic creativity and curiosity about life.


Krzysztof Zanussi | Retrospective | MUBI January -March 2018

Krzysztof Zanussi

Born in 1939 in Warsaw, Poland, Krzysztof Zanussi is s documentary and feature film director. He studied Physics and Philosophy at University and graduated from Lodz Film Academy in 1966. Member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1981. Member of the jury at the Sundance Film Festival in 1986.

We recently talked to Krzysztof whose latest film FOREIGN BODY was released in 2015. A retrospective of his films is currently showing on MUBI.

F  Let me first say how much I enjoyed ILLUMINATION (1973) I take it you didn’t have any issues with the censors on this film?

KZ Oh, but yes I did. There was a whole scene cut from it. In the original film, there was a scene of university demonstrations, from 1968, where the students demonstrated in support of their tutors.  I wrote it in and got it past the script censor, because it is easy to disguise things in a script, but then the film is screened in the Ministry of Culture too and then they make cuts. There still remains a still (photograph) of Retman demonstrating in the final film, which I argued to keep and anyone who knew those times would understand the context when they view the film.

F I understand ILLUMINATION isn’t autobiographical(?) but you were filming about things you knew about.. studying Physics as you did..

Illumination_6 copyKZ Yes, my life is very different, the film does not reflect what was happening to me at all, but of course I knew Physics.. you meet a partner…

F Why did you study Physics?

KZ I studied Physics, as in fact the lead character Retman states in the film ILLUMINATION, because I felt I wanted something that was certain in life. Then I moved over to Biology, as many of us did then.. I did get interested in Genetics, right back then, at the start of things and could already see the great good it might potentially do, but also of course, the great bad too. My father used to say to me ‘don’t believe anything any tutor tells you, except the Maths and the Physics teacher’. I like Biology …and many other subjects, but they are all supposition and opinion.

F You have a very interesting look to ILLUMINATION your DoP was very good…

KZ: Yes, yes (Edward Klosinski); he was wonderful. He also shot The Promised Land. He passed away recently (2008).

F Wonderful film. Starts out like a Chekov play and then just opens out to something massive. You met at film school?

KZ Yes, we studied together.

F And the style.. it appears to me that you were juxtaposing a cinéma verité with a highly stylized form: something quite revolutionary then

KZ Yes, I had been very influenced by the French New Wave… I wanted a documentary feel for some of it; to make it feel real.

F And what did you shoot on?

KZ: 16mm blown up to 35mm. We always shot 16mm as it was much cheaper. We had access to Kodak Eastman stock, which we loved. We felt very lucky. With only a very limited ratio. We only had enough (film) for 1 or 2 takes, so if nothing went drastically wrong, you moved on.

F This must have been good for the actors.. focussing them too when there was a take..?

KZ: Well, of course the actors knew this was always the case, so… (they were used to it). One time I was working with a famous French actress and we did a couple of takes and we were moving on and she said ‘was that ok’? And I said ‘yes, of course’, because she wasn’t convinced… she had stumbled over a line, but she soon learnt how it was to film in Poland! 

Camouflage_12F: Also in the “Martin Scorsese Selects” strand, tell us about CAMOUFLAGE. How do you see this film in hindsight?

K.Z.: Well, CAMOUFLAGE is one of the about forty films I have directed, and they are all my dear children. And I can say, that I have not any favourites. But CAMOUFLAGE had a very strong resonance from the audience when it was shown, almost forty years ago. And today, I am told by the audience, that it has not lost any of its actuality. And I did hoped so much, that this would not be the case. But when I was young, I was more optimistic, I thought that opportunism and corruption were just part of this particular system we lived in, but now I know better.

F: Yes, one tends to blame the system for what is, unfortunately, human nature. What about THE CONSTANT FACTOR, from about in the same period, the two films only three years apart.

Constant_Factor_3 copyK.Z.: It is somehow the same topic, about an idealistic man, in a corrupt society, who tries to preserve his ideals. Which is very difficult, if you are not a hypocrite. Later on in life, I revised my ideas about this topic, and made a sort of sequel to the old film, five years ago, Revisited, even with some of the old actors. And I thought, I was much too hard in my judgement in CONSTANT FACTOR, not about the main character, but the people caught in the system. Because now, I can, see that the main character in the old film, which whom I identified at the time, is quite inhuman. He loves ideals, but not humans. Today I would be more tolerant towards human weaknesses. If I could speak for this main character in THE CONSTANT FACTOR, I would say now ‘sorry’ to my colleagues, I was too tough on you.

F So, going back, you studied Physics and then you went to Film School…

KZ I went to film school for three years and then they threw me out..

F How long is the course?

KZ Five years. But you see I was studying the Nouvelle Vague, I was on set with Claude Chabrol, Jacques Truffaut… seeing, learning from them how they made films… very fluid, without camera set ups and improvising with actors. Completely different from how we were taught at school. So I came back to film school and made my end of year film using these Nouvelle Vague methods before anyone.. my tutors.. knew what Nouvelle Vague was! So of course they failed me.

F Because you hadn’t used ‘correct’ camera set-ups and lighting and stuff?

KZ Exactly..

F So what did you do?

KZ Oh, well I had to take the year again effectively. And I understood I just had to make a film in the style my tutor wanted and I passed.

F I’m interested in what influenced you.. You were born at the start of the war.. do  you remember much about it? Did it have an impact on you?

KZ Well, I of course made a few films about the war but not many..

F Yes, but I mean personally, did it affect you?

KZ Yes. Very much. I think. I remember walking down the street and the person walking next to me being shot dead and just carrying on walking, knowing that person was dead and would be buried in a few hours. You always remember these things. But the death of animals had a bigger impact than the death of humans.

F What do you mean?

KZ I saw a horse hit by napalm. On fire and you couldn’t tell what was… And a dog.. we were passing by this tall building and there was a fire on the first floor, but up on the fifth floor, on the balcony was a dog and I knew the dog was going to die. That no one was going to put the fire out.

F So, even though you didn’t actually see it happen, see it die, the knowledge that this dog would die in an hour or so..

KZ Yes, exactly. It made a big impact on me.

F What inspires you to make films? You must have been asked this question many times over the years.

KZ Many times.. yes and I have stock answer… but.. Fear. Fear is a great motivator.

F Fear of what?

KZ Fear of many things. Of being lonely… of not connecting with people. I mean, you wouldn’t be sitting here, we wouldn’t be talking, if it wasn’t for the fact that I have made films.

F True..

KZ Fear of not achieving anything. It stopped me being stuck in myself; Got me out there and allowed me to test my version of humanity and ask others whether they saw or felt the same things. How others receive a film is always different.

F Because people bring with them their own filter, their own baggage through which they view the film. When you make a film, it becomes something else, something separate to you, that somehow belongs to others too. You have to let it go.

KZ Exactly. And it is notable sometimes with different countries how they perceive a film. I had a retrospective in Thailand and there the metaphysical aspects of the characters problems didn’t interest the audience at all, but his situation was everything. They related to that, but not at all to the other. But you can’t tell them what your film is about.

F Where else have you been with your films?

Illumination_8KZ Not much to the US or China or Russia, but I went to Cuba. I met Fidel Castro with ILLUMINATION.

F Oh wow. How did that come about?

KZ; Well, they wanted to show the film out there, but it needed to be passed by Castro first, before it could be shown and he didn’t have a screen up at his house, so he came down to see it and I was banned- everybody was banned from being in there, except a few close people, but I spoke a little Spanish, so when I knew there was going to be this screening, I just went along and told them I was invited as the filmmaker and no one could say anything, so they of course let me in, so I sat down and then the worst nightmare of any director happened; Just a few minutes in and the projector broke down, the film broke..

F It just snapped…?

KZ Yes, so the lights come up and Fidel sees me and he is very angry and wants to know what I’m doing there… So I ask him what he thinks of the film and he says he doesn’t like it much, but we talk and he agrees to see some more, so they fix it and he watches some more and then he sees it all the way through to the end.

F And..?

KZ Well, he still doesn’t like it and he cannot understand how the Politburo in Poland has allowed me to make it, but he likes that it is about science… about Physics. So, he decides to let them screen the film, in the hope that it might persuade people to study science.

F  That’s amazing. So.. he’s quite open-minded then, to allow it, even though he didn’t like it…

KZ Well, I think he is more just a pragmatist.

F Do you have a favourite film?

KZ Ah. No. it isn’t fair. All films are like your children and you love them all.

F: In 1982 you won the “Golden Lion” in Venice for A YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN. This film seems somehow forgotten today.

K.Z.: I don’t know. It had a very good run in the United States, but it might not have been so extensively shown in Great Britain. But A Year of the Quiet Sun is one of my dearest films.

F.: You stated in an interview, that when you were a producer at “Tor” Studios in the 1980s, you had, despite the censors, a partial autonomy. How come?

K.Z.: Yes, from 1956 onwards, this is true. Before that, we had the Marxist system really implemented one hundred percentage. But that system was falling apart, it was really brutal. But afterwards it became more tolerant, lenient and flexible.

F.: So, as an artist, where did you think you had the greater freedom, under the communist system or the capitalist one?

K.Z.: (laughs) You should never compare one disease with another. First of all, the free market economy produces more chances for everybody. But, we have to find another way of life, because we cannot go on growing like we do. The planet will not stand for this. We will have to concentrate more on spiritual growth, than on material.

F: In 1996 you made your most autobiographical film, AT FULL GALLOP. How did it feel, revisiting your childhood?

K.Z.: I wanted to make this film much earlier, but after I wrote the first 30 pages of he script, it became clear, that this would never pass the censors. But it was very exciting, as it must be for every artist, to re-visit his youth. I had another script, about a different time of my life, which the BBC was interested in, but it came never to fruition. But coming back to At Full Gallop, it was ridiculous was happened in those early years after the war in Poland. Even horse riding was forbidden, because it was deemed to be bourgeois. You could breed horses, but riding was forbidden, because it was supposed to be repressive: the human was on top of the horse.

Foreign Body_1

F: Your newest film, FOREIGN BODY, which was premiered in 2014, caused quite a commotion. Why?

K.Z.: Well, I never thought I could be so angry again, I thought, in old age, I would get more tolerant. But there it is: in the old days, we were really fighting for freedom, and today the young people are selling their freedom to the corporation. What for? They are selling their souls, not their work. So, this film is the voice of anger. Because human relationships are suffering because of this attitude, people become inhuman. But there were great protests against the film, because people like to work for the corporations, and for the material freedom they gain this way. And I also made references to Judeo-Christian ethics, which are not as dried up, as some think. So, that’s the bone of contention.

F.; So you were disappointed in global capitalism?

K.Z.: No, I never had any illusions, about the perfect system. I believe that every person has a space, and he has to be as human as possible. And the fabulous rich ones do not need to be so rich, to have a human space they can live in satisfactory.

Citizen3F.: Finally, a question about the ‘ordinary’ anti-Semitism in Poland. I have watched Jerzy Stuhr’s CITIZEN which I very much liked. I believe that this was the first Polish film to confront ‘ordinary’ anti-Semitism, for a very long time.

K.Z.: That is a very complex question. There are explanations, not excuses. Poland had a huge minority, nearly three million Jews, ten percentage of its population. This is incomparable with any other nation in Europe. The ugly part of anti-Semitism in Poland is that many peasants got richer because of the victims of the holocaust. This sense of guilt makes people aggressive again. You hate somebody you profited from.

F.: And the role of the Catholic Church in this question?

K.Z.: Until ten years ago, when Pope John-Paul II died, there was no anti-Semitism, but now, there are some parts of the Catholic Church, who regrettably, are indulging again in anti-Semitism.


The L-Shaped Room (1962) | Bluray release

Dir.: Bryan Forbes | Cast: Leslie Caron, Tom Bell, Brock Peters, Cicely Courtneidge, Bernhard Lee, Patricia Phoenix, Avis Bunnage | UK 1962, 126′.

Bryan Forbes started his career in film as a scriptwriter: The Angry Silence (1960), directed by Guy Green, featured Richard Attenborough as a worker caught between management and union. A year later came Forbes’ debut as director with Whistle Down the Wind, a near classic, telling the story of three Lancashire children who believe that a hiding criminal is Jesus.

The L-Shaped Room, based on the novel by Lynn Reid Banks, most famous for her children books, was Forbes quintessentially English answer to the French nouvelle vague movement; Phil Wickam wrote “it feels like half a New Wave film”, which did Forbes not enough credit. Soon after he went to Hollywood and in spite of eventually returning to England, he will be remembered mostly for mainstream works like International Velvet and The Stepford Wives, hardly trashy, but safe and lacking the originality of his early work.

The L-Shaped Room is set in a Notting Hill boarding house which back in the day was a grim part of London (the novel was set in even more downtrodden Fulham), where Jane Fosset (Caron), a French girl pregnant from a one-night-stand, moves into the squalid L-shaped attic room. She falls in love with Toby (Bell), who is suffers from low self-esteem and is writing his first novel, which gives the film its title. The house is owned and run by fierce landlady Doris (Bunnage). Like most of her tenants, she is not sympathetically portrayed: “I never close my door to the nigs”, she is obviously a racist – as many were in those days – but too shrewd not to take the money from her black lodger Johnny (Peters, who had just starred in To Kill a Mockingbird).

The ageing lesbian Cicely Courtneidge offers a poignant portrait of lonely later life. When Jane visits a Harley Street doctor, she is told to “marry or have an abortion”; the good doctor is angling for the profitable latter solution, since abortion was still illegal and single parenthood deeply frowned upon at the time. His mercenary character helps Fosset to decide to keep the child. When Toby finds out that Jane is pregnant he leaves her, not able to father a child who is not his own.

Caron’s Jane comes across as the only emancipated character in this community of sceptics and traditionalists. The actress had originally rejected the downtrodden female characters penned by Forbes and together they worked at making Jane more of a feminist. It’s a demanding role but Caron pulls it off with tremendous flair. Her rapport with Toby is convincing and Bell is superb as a man in smitten by love but fraught with his own demons. The poignant ending shows Jane walking up the steps with the new lodger (Nanette Newman, Forbes’ wife), saying an effecting goodbye to the room that saw her through such an emotional period of her life. The English girl cannot understand Jane’s affection for the crummy place.

DoP Douglas Slocombe’s grainy black-and-white images show a London lost in time, closer to the Victorian era than the 20th century. The streets seem shabby, drab and provincial. Claustrophobic rooms make the place more like an open prison trapping the tenants in an impoverished, curtain-tweaking neighbourhood, where nowadays they would be part of the edgy London scene. The prudishness is over-bearing; when Jane and Toby try to embrace each other in Hyde Park, a warden intervenes. London is not swinging at all in this dingy Notting Hill setting that was simply a poor man’s version of Kensington and would remain so until the 90s.

The L-Shaped Room is a celebration of Jane’s emotional awakening in a place of repression and middle-class values. John Barry’s sublime score echoes the heart-rending sadness and emotional desperation in this over-looked masterpiece of British New Wave cinema.



Le Samourai (1967) | Pingyao Film Festival – Year Zero | Jean-Pierre Melville Retrospective

Dir.: Jean-Pierre Melville; Cast: Alain Delon, Francois Perrier, Natalie Delon, Cathy Rosier; France/Italy 1967, 101’.

Le Samourai is a crime thriller all about loneliness. Dialogue is minimal, and even Francois de Robaix’s melancholic score is seldom used. Cinematographer Henri Decae – who had helped Truffaut (Les Quatre Cents Coups) and Chabrol (Les Cousins) on their way – photographs Alain Delon’s hapless contract killer Jeff Costello in his little claustrophobic flat, and he is only free  in his criminal underground where he is chased by the cops through the Paris metro.

When Costello assassinates a night-club owner, he makes a fatal mistake in not also killing the only witness who clearly saw him: La pianiste (Cathy Rosier). This ‘error’ will be his Achilles heel. Costello then sets up a game of chess, in which he is sure to lose, in spite of his brilliant moves. Le commisaire (Perrier) knows Costello’s guilt, but cannot break his well-constructed alibi: Janet Legrange (N. Delon), an upper class call girl is in love with Costello, but he is too sad to feel anything. She lies to the police, in spite rough-handling. The hunt in the metro is the centre peace of Le Samurai: Costello’s footwork and his knowledge of the smallest details, outwits the technology and manpower of the police. The endgame – in the nightclub of the original kill – is a cat and mouse game, which Costello has set up to save the innocent.

Based on the un-credited novel by Joan McLeod and co-written by Melville, Costello’s only friend is a canary, like his master in a cage. His counterpart, Le commisaire, is only marginally more full of joy de vivre: he has spent too many hours behind his desk, sending his men off on goose chases like a load of toys soldiers. He is a saner version of Ahab, but instead of madness there is too much resignation to make him a proper bloodhound. His bluster is a front, he looks forward to retirement, as much as Jeff looks forward to death. Janet is not much better off: she wants Costello for herself, but even sharing him doesn’t bring her happiness. Rosier’s pianist is a walking enigma: she is perhaps engaged in the sordid killing of her boss, tries to stay neutral, but her big eyes only reflect the hurt and self-hurt, she also sees in Costello. A rather gloomy Paris of the sixties is the proper background to this noirish tale, where all is lost before it begins, and all participants are like caged animals prowling around to end it.

Melville would never again reach this silent intensity: Le Samourai could be subtitled La course du Lievre a Travers les Champs, a late Rene Clement feature, dealing with the same morbidity and forlorn self-loathing.


Walkover (1965) Walkower | Bergamo Film Meeting 2021

Dir|Wri: Jerzy Skolimowski | Cast: Aleksandra Zawieruszanka, Andrzej Leszczyc, Krzysztof Chamiec | 77min   Drama    Polish with subtitles

During the 1960s writer and director Jerzy Skolimowski focused on films exploring the ironic aspects and moral dilemmas affecting everyday life in post-Stalinist Poland. His films were the ‘Impressionists’ of an era dominated by the sweeping epics of the Polish Film School.

A debut feature, Rysopsis (Identification Marks: None) 1965 was closely followed by WALKOVER another drama set in his home town of Lodz (and also starring his off-screen partner Elzbieta Czyzewska in the opening scenes).

As Andrzej Leszczy, he represents a ‘New Wave’ hero, a raffish outsider with a certain appeal to the opposite sex. Drifting around the locale, having left the army and about to embark on engineering studies, he is taking part in a local boxing match when he meets Teresa (Aleksandra Zawieruszanka), a government engineer who has arrived in the city to work on a new factory scheme. Under Teresa’s spell (Zawieruszanka looks like a Polish equivalent of Angie Dickinson) goes to the wrong ring for the tournament. And as he sits on the train with Teresa, we see his boxing opponent following on a motorbike, viewed in a superb continuous shot from the rear of the carriage. Turning up later, Andrzej wins the contest in a “walkover” as his rival fails to turn up.

As a metaphor for individuality WALKOVER was a very personal second feature for Skolimowski, who aside from his filmmaking activities enjoyed boxing and poetry, some of which is recited in voiceover in several scenes. The film opens with the face of a woman who will later jump under Andrzej and Teresa’s train, but rather than develop this plotline, Skolimowski’s film segues unconventionally into Andrzej’s story using the furore from the accident as an enticing background introduction to the central story about the couple’s brief romance.

The tragedy of the girl under the train adds additional texture, but remains an undeveloped strand. Perhaps his intention was to use her suicide as a cry for help from the thousands of Poles who felt washed up, directionless and cynical after years of fighting a cause; rather like the troubled characters in Tadeusz Konwicki’s Last Day of Summer. It was certainly his intention to explore unconventional ways of telling a story.

Skolimowski’s drama also seems to suggest the importance of standing up against the tide of change and power.  Both Andrzej and Teresa go on to fight their individual battles in WALKOVER. Andrzej perseveres with his boxing and Teresa argues with the factory chief but they both rebel against the tide of industrial Lodz. Although the couple enjoy a night together they remain detached in the scheme of things, alienated further by the stark industrial landscape of Sixties Lodz.

The occasional modernist building sparks interest, such as in the pure lines of the outdoor restaurant scene (title photo), emphasising the pristine black and white cinematography of Antoni Nurzynski. The film also features a meandering, improvised jazzy score by Andrzej Trzaskowski (Night Train). MT




Life of Riley (2014) Aimer, Boire et Chanter


Cast: Sabine Azéma, Hippolyte Giradot, Caroline Sihol, Michel Vuillermoz, Sandrine Kiberlain, André Dussollier

108min |  Comedy |  French

For his 50th film, which also turned out to be his swan song, French Wave maverick and King of the fractured narrative, Alain Resnais offers up another Alan Ayckbourn adaptation with this reasonably straightforward, stylised comedy LIFE OF RILEY.

Some will find this utterly charming and idiosyncratic, others an irritating and rather twee affair with its garish theatrical sets and cutesy cardboard cut-out collages introducing the locales intercut with occasional glimpses of leafy countryside in the Yorkshire Dales. Starring the habitual Resnais collaborators: wife, Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Hyppolyte Girardot and Sandrine Kiberlain, it’s just the sort of thing that French audiences of a certain age will lap up but it does beg the question: ‘do we really need another stage adaptation (his third) of YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET?’

You know the story by now: George Riley, close friend of middle-aged, middle-class couple, Colin and Kathryn, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Or is he? What follows is a lively farce with highly mannered performances all round from a French cast at the height of their game playing English characters with a script translated from English into French and then conveyed (presumably by Americans) into English subtitles. All somewhat of a feat and one that required three script-writers to perfect with some degree of aplomb – somehow it works. It will certainly appeal to diehard devotees of the iconic French filmmaker whose endeavours started over 50 years ago with the sublime HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) and end here with an Englishman’s work. A shame, then, that his sign-off film could not have been something as completely wonderful and unique as LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD but then, at 91, achieving anything is wonderful. MT


City Visions – Cult classics in the Metropolis

For the upcoming CITY VISIONS STRAND at the Barbican – Andre Simonoveisz looks at how the social impact of the metropolis is reflected in the cult classics from the roaring twenties to the year 2000. 


In the beginning there was the city as a growing, permanently moving, uncontrollable juggernaut: Walter Ruttmann’s BERLIN – SINFONIE EINER GROSSSADT (1927) looks at Berlin for twenty-four hours and finds nothing but badly regulated chaos: everything is in motion, but somehow the humans are not the masters of the action but victims of the industrialisation, which enslaves them. After we see workers in the morning, on their way to the factories – shown like demons with their smoking chimneys – Ruttmann cuts abruptly to a herd of cows. But the film lacks any social commentary: rich people in posh restaurants and hungry children in the poorer districts, signify nothing, and are shown in the same superficial way as the delicate legs of a little girl, and the muscular legs of a cyclist. In the end the film is a victim if its own dogma of showing speed at any cost: the viewer is forced to watch, and has no time for any reflections of his own.

l-amour-l-apres-midi-1Paris, the city were the seventh Art was born, is naturally the setting for the most emotionally charged movies. Whilst many American productions are set in the city of light, we will concentrate on three Parisian filmmakers, and their view of the city they love –or hate. Eric Rohmer, who lived for decades above the offices of his production company “Films du Losange” (which he founded 50 years ago with Barbet Schroeder) in the fashionable 16th arrondissement, set many of his films in Paris, a very gentle Paris as shown in his debut film Signe du Lion (1962). He continued his view through to his Six Moral Tales, and the last of this series L’amour l’apres-midi: a celebration not only of Paris, but of large cities that allow covert liaisons to be conducted in clandestine corners. When Frederic (Bernhard Verley), a lawyer, meets his girl friend Cloe (Zouzou), his wife Helene (Francoise Verley) is meanwhile expecting their second child in a western suburb of the metropolis. Frederic sings Paris’s praises: “I m part of the great throng of people, leaving the Saint-Lazare Station, getting lost in the many little side streets nearby. I love the metropolis. The provinces and suburbs depress me. And in spite of the chaos and the noise I love being part of the masses. I love these masses like I love the sea, not to go under, loosing myself, but to be lone rider on the waves, seemingly following the rhythm of masses, but only to the point that I can follow my own way if the force of the waves dwindle. Like he sea, the masses thrill me and help me to dream. I have nearly all my ideas of the streets of the city, even the ones connected with my work.”

Two or Three Things

From his office in the Rue de la Pepiniere (8th arr.), near the Boulevard Haussmann, he often goes shopping, flirting with the beautiful shop assistants; endlessly discussing the colours of a shirt – and making love to Cloe, whilst his wife gives birth to their son. Frederic lives a gentle life and work seems to be only a vehicle for meeting people and having coffee with them in a café round the corner. Rohmer’s Paris does not exist any more, we suspect, that it was mainly part of Rohmer’s imagination – but it was wonderful, nevertheless.

Now we go five years back in time to Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (2 or 3 Choses Que Je Sais D’Elle). His anti-consumerist portrait of Paris makes one wonder: did Rohmer and Godard really go to see the same films, never mind writing together for “Cahiers du Cinema”? TWO OR THREE is the antidote to Rohmer’s romantic diary of a man with too much time on his hands – and on top, Godard produced it five years EARLIER. The mind boggles. Paris, by the way, doesn’t get very good grades neither. But one has to know that the “elle” of the title is Paris, undergoing a change for the worse. Rising prices and crass materialism mean that many housewives turn to part-time prostitution, whilst their husbands work in their offices. Needless to say; the husbands hate their jobs and their wives hate being prostitutes and it is all the fault of the giant advertisement boards we can see at length. The narrative follows the housewife Juliette (Marina Vlady), whose child is at nursery, whilst Juliette turns her flat into a part-time brothel. Then she shops for clothing, is accosted by a pimp, who offers her protection for ten percent of her earnings, and in the evening we see her playing happy family. Next we encounter her in a room with another woman, wandering around naked with air flight bags over their heads, to fulfill the sick phantasy of an American called John Bogus. There are off- narration containing agitation and poetry, whilst high-rise buildings rise into the sky, and people are hurrying through the streets. And DOP Raoul Cotard gives the film a Kodachrome-like image, further depicting the alienation of the Parisians, running aimlessly around in the raising tide of consumerism.


Twenty-eight years later, the children of the adult Godard protagonists were most likely languishing with their parents in the cynically called HLM (Habitation à Loyer Modéré) blocks in the newly formed ‘banlieu’ of Paris, were Mathieu Kassovitz’ LA HAINE is set. These bleak high-rise blocks are even worse than the worst of the UK’s so called ‘estates’. Criminality is the norm, particularly among the teenage boys. The film tells the story of three of them: Vinz, a Jew, Hubert, a black boxer and Said, an Arab. They hang out together, terrible bored. They are not ring leaders, but move along the peripherie of the occasional small riots, staying mostly at the Youth centre, waiting for something to happen: their way of life. After an Arab youth is shot, something is going to happen: a major riot. After the school of Vinz’ sister has been burned down, his grandmother warns him “to stay out of it.” On a short trip to Paris, the trio run into trouble with the police. Hubert, being the least violent of the them, draws the attention of the police because of his skin colour. In Mathieu Kossovitz’s 1995 version, Paris has become the citadel of consumerism, Godard warned about. The only difference is that the prostitutes are now real professionals, because the housewives who stay at home can afford to have a good life on one salary – the rest of the undesirables has been “deported” to the banlieu. (London lagging some twenty years behind these developments). The young guys feel rightly that they are now in a different country: banks are the new cathedrals of the city. Shopping malls, full of goods, whose functions they can only guess. The huge advertisement boards have vanished, no need for incitements to buy are needed: shopping is the only game in town. Away from their concrete jungles, the guys react with bewilderment, then, when the police turn on them with hatred. The ending might be predictable, but the film is not: it is about a generation alienated from the society, but it is society itself who has made this choice.

David Lynch had shown in TWIN PEAKS how nightmarish the suburbs can be – but Los Angeles in MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001) is a ‘city of angels of death’, in a cinematographic, absurd way, of course. To ponder the plot would be to miss the point of the film, it is the ultimate “McGuffin” movie, where all clues end in a cul-de-sac. Still, some sort of narrative develops: Betty (Naomi Watts), is a Hitchcock blond, who is staying as a guest in her aunt Ruth’s apartment in, whilst auditioning for a film role. Rita (Laura Elena Harring) is a brunette, type Rosalind Russell, who is about to be murdered in her limousine, but crawls out the wreck at Mulholland Drive and lands up with Betty. The girls now audition together, meet sinister detectives, a rotten corpse and have lots of lesbian sex. All this explains nothing, but that’s not the point. But LA is the real star of this movie, together with the music, and the permanent quotes of Hollywood’s history. LA has become the studio backdrop for all living in this city, were all genres, but particularly thrillers, are permanently played out – for the living, who are cops, detectives –are so simply victims. The lack of narrative in MULHOLLAND DRIVE coincides with the lack of any rationale in this city – when the whole cplace has become a mega studio, so many stories will collide, and nobody will ask for any logic. Lynch’s film is therefore full of dreams, and they are, more often than not, much more realistic than what’s going on with Betty and Rita. And since every landmark in LA has dozens of movie connections, and many more are in the making, the border lines between life, dream and cinema have vanished. You can have a nightmare like Betty and Rita, but you will wake up, telling your friends, that you have had this awful dream/saw this nightmarish film, and life will go on. Most of the time. AS




Il Cinema Ritrovato – Bologna 28 June-5 July 2014

IL CINEMA RITROVATO or literally, Cinema Rediscovered, is now in it’s 28th year and, judging by the increased attendance this year, continues to grow in popularity. The Bologna festival takes place each year at the end of June for 8 days with screenings showing across four main screens in the city, all within easy walking distance, and the famous late night free open-air screenings in the Piazza Maggiore.

Ureshii goro_01Each year film scholars, academics and everyday cinemagoers descend upon medieval town in Emilia Romagna for specialised film screenings ranging this year from a William Wellman mini-retrospective, James Dean, The Golden 50’s – India’s Endangered Classics, Riccardo Freda, Werner Hochbaum, Italian episode films, Polish New Wave in cinemascope and Hitler war films to name but just a few of the strands. The regular strands that continued this year included new restorations of cinema classics, cinema from 100 years ago along with this year’s Japanese section which focused on early talkies from the Shochiku studio.

At any given time you could bump into on the streets, or at a screening, the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, Scott Foundas, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson or even US director, Alexander Payne who is back for his second successive year.

renoir_la_chienne_03Director Costa Gavras was in attendance this year. Since 2007 he has also been president of the Cinémathèque Française. He was interviewed by the festival’s creative director, Peter von Bagh, and spoke about his early life in Greece and then working as an assistant director with the likes of René Clair (TOUT L’OR DU MONDE 1961), Jacques Demy (LA BAIE DES ANGES 1963) and René Clément (LE JOUR ET L’HEURE 1963 & LES FELINS 1964) before embarking on his own first film COMPARTIMENT TUERS (1965). He also discussed the political outcry around the release of his most celebrated movie Z (1969).

There was an opportunity to see some more recent restorations that had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. These included DRAGON INN (1967). LES CROIX DE BOIS (1931), LA PAURA (1954), COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES (1968) and LA CHIENNE (1931).

Il colore melograno _01

There were two real highlights from these films and the first was Renoir’s film LA CHIENNE aka THE BITCH. Michel Simon plays the hapless Maurice Legrand, unhappy in his marriage to the nagging Adele and one night meets the beautiful Lulu who has just been beaten by her pimp boyfriend, Dédé. He walks her home to take care of her. Legrand falls in love with Lulu only to be the victim of her and her boyfriend’s plot to extract as much cash as possible from him. Simon is in superb form, as is Janie Marèse as the bitch of the story, Lulu. The film was later remade in 1945 by Fritz Lang as SCARLET STREET. The print screened at the festival was restored by the Cinémathèque française.


The other film highlight from this strand was the L’Immagine Ritrovata Bologna restoration of Raymond Bernard’s 1931 film LES CROIX DE BOIS aka WOODEN CROSSES. Bernard’s remarkable and inventive use of both handheld and tracking shots to film recreated battle sequences in the trenches and on the battlefields of World War 1 are simply astonishing. There’s one particular battle scene that takes place in a cemetery that shall stay long in the memory as an incredible achievement of choreography in cinema.

The Polish New Wave in CinemaScope strand at this year’s festival was particularly impressive, following on from last year’s Czech New Wave strand entitled L’emulsione conta: Orwo e Nová vlna (1963-1968). Delights such as THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM (1964), SAMSON (1961), THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1964), FARAON (1965) and PASSENGER (1963) were on show. It would be hard to pick a favourite from this impressive selection as seeing  and Wajda’s SAMSON turned out to be a real discovery.


Munk died tragically in a car accident on his way home from the Auschwitz concentration camp where he had been shooting PASSENGER, so the film was left incomplete and was finished posthumously by the use of stills and narration, two years later.  Seeing it projected on the big screen was a gruelling yet rewarding experience.

One of the more interesting strands, and an ingenious programming idea, were the Italian episode films. The strand was entitled L’Italia in corto. Prima parte (1952-1968) and featured two single episodes from different compendium films made during this period. Several of these were a lot of fun and worked surprisingly well when put together as a double bill. The best two were an episode entitled Il Professore by Marco Ferreri from the 1964 film CONTROSESSO paired with Renzo e Luciana by Mario Monicelli from the 1962 film BOCCACCIO ’70. The restoration of the latter film looked beautiful with its strong rich, vibrant colours literally glowing on the screen.


William A Wellman was being celebrated at this year’s festival whereas in previous years we have seen the likes of Allan Dwan, Raoul Walsh and John Ford. I saw just three of Wellman’s films at the festival; NIGHT NURSE (1931) with a very early performance from Clark Gable as a suited and booted psycho-chauffeur, YELLOW SKY (1948) and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), a dark, disturbing western about a posse who end up lynching three innocent people. Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews starred.

BA remaining highlight of the festival, was Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film THE MAN I KILLED aka BROKEN LULLABY. Whilst the acting would never win any awards, the film itself was very affecting indeed. It tells the story of a French soldier who kills a German solider in the trenches of World War 1. After the war he becomes wracked with guilt and sets off to Germany to beg forgiveness from the dead German’s parents and fiancé. The screening I attended was packed, with people standing around the sides and seated on the floor of the cinema. When the film was over it received a very deserved rousing applause from the audience. There’s something comforting when a fairly obscure 1932 film can still cause this sort of a reaction and this is really what IL CINEMA RITROVATO is all about; re-discovering those forgotten gems of cinema. NEIL MCGLONE


brownlow_It_Happened_ Here_ 02Neil McGlone is agent/representative for Il Cinema Ritrovato’s creative director, Peter von Bagh and has been involved with both this festival and Midnight Sun Film Festival for the past five years.  He is also programme advisor for London’s Nordic Film Festival.  Neil recently worked as film advisor and researcher for Mark Cousins’ A STORY OF CHILDREN AND FILM (2013) and Peter von Bagh’s SOCIALISM (2014). He is currently in pre-production with Alexander Payne on a documentary about British film historian, Kevin Brownlow (IT HAPPENED HERE).



Les Cousins (1959) **** Out on DVD

Director: Claude Chabrol

Script: Paul Gégauff, Claude Chabrol

Cast: Jean-Claude Brialy, Gérard Blain, Juliette Mayniel, Stéphane Audran

112min     French drama with subtitles

Claude Chabrol was one of the main protagonists of the French New Wave and this was his second and claimed the Golden Bear at the Berlinale 1959.

The Cousins are chalk and cheese: Charles (Gérard Blain) embodies bourgeois values of fidelity and straightforwardness while Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy) is suave, urbane and an inveterate womaniser with feet of clay. The film also marked Stéphane Audran’s stage debut and she went on to marry Chabrol five years later (after a brief marriage to Jean-Louis Trintignant) and to star in most of his films.

Chabrol passes no moral judgement on his characters allowing their subtly-nuanced performances to lead us to our own conclusions in this parable which is as entertaining as it’s delightful to look at thanks to Henri Decaë’s sublime visuals and Paul Gégauff’s stylish script which he co-wrote with Chabrol.

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Le Beau Serge (1958)*** Out on DVD

Director:Claude Chabrol

Cast: Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Brialy, Bernadette Lafont.

99min    French with subtitles

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Generally considered to be one of the first films in the French New Wave movement, Le Beau Serge was Claude Chabrol’s self-financed debut and he launches himself, full throttle, into this bleak piece of social realism that focuses on the homecoming of François (Jean-Claude Brialy) who is back from a few years in Paris. Full of sophisticated confidence, he finds that his old friends aren’t necessarily as happy to see him as he would have hoped, and particularly Serge, a leather-jacketed, rebellious roué who has turned to drink and settled for a loveless marriage

France was still getting back on its feet after the War years and there was considerable poverty in provincial life.  With its nods to the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ and improvised and grainy indie feel, it’s an interesting starting point for those keen on Chabrol or Nouvelle Vague but not gripping or well made enough to warrant much excitement compared to what was to come in the Chabrol canon. Some of the editing is poor with some shaky camera-work, although the performances are surprisingly accomplished particularly for Jean-Claude Brialy and Bernadette Lafont. MT







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