Posts Tagged ‘Pingyao’

Suleiman Mountain (2017) *** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir: Elizaveta Stishova | Cast:Daniel Daiybekov, Turgunai Erkinbekova, Perizat Ermanbaeva | Drama | Kyrgyzstan | 101′

Enlivened by offbeat humour and vibrant widescreen images reflecting the rugged beauty of this wild Central Asian nation, SULEIMAN MOUNTAIN is the debut feature of Russian filmmaker Elizaveta Stishova. Largely funded by European finance this appealing arthouse drama explores an unconventional journey of discovery – both literal and metaphorical – for its passionate central characters: a woman, her long-lost son and husband, and his other younger wife. In a drama fraught with tense uncertainty and often brutal rituals involving folklore and shamanism – a scene involving an unconscious woman is particularly alarming – Kyrgyzstan emerges as a region caught between the modern world and one of ancient traditions where women (predictably) get a rough deal as they compete vehemently for the attention of self-seeking macho men. Their hope is that somehow, by smothering them with love and attention, they can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sadly, twas ever thus.

Kazakhstani actor Asset Imangaliev plays the maverick male at the centre of the story, who cleverly plays his two wives off against one another. Karabas is an opportunistic adventurer who cons his way through life veering from violent outbursts to twinkling smiles as he tries to charm the pants off everyone he meets. Recently reunited with the couple’s thoughtfully endearing son Uluk, his older wife is a healing soul, desperately trying to hold the family together, while her coltish younger rival is also pregnant with Karabas’ child.

Although Kyrgyzstan initially feels exotic and remote, the human story at its core is as old and evergreen as the hills. Stishova has certainly made a watchable and lively debut. MT

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK London  2018 | WINNER OF BEST FILM | PRESENTED BY THE ROSSELLINI JURY | PINGYAO YEAR ZERO 2017

Youth (2017) | Bluray release

Dir: Feng Xiaogang | China | Historical Drama | 148′

Feng Xiaogang (I Am Madame Bovary) is widely considered as China’s answer to Stephen Spielberg, and he certainly proves himself in this crowd-pleasing if over-ambitious drama that straddles an entire generation of young Chinese, caught in the vortex of political and social change.

Setting off in the 1970s this magnificently-mounted saga tries – and initially – succeeds in being all things to all people: a musical laced with political commentary; a tragedy of war and of first love all narrated by Xiao Suizi (Chuxi Zhong) a dancer in a military troupe where another young woman He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) has just arrived determined to escape her troubled background by making a name for herself. The professional dancing standards are exacting even by Chinese considerations but He does her best for the national cause despite bullying from the other girls. Feng (Xuan Huang) takes her under the wing and the two grow close.

While the dizzy backdrop of political events unfolds – Chairman Mao’s death is a highlight – the troupe (the the drama) powers on at a relentless pace amid rivalries, and romantic crushes all masterfully recorded by Pan Luo whose energetic camerawork darts around taking it all in.

With Chairman Mao gone, a new sense of confidence invigorates the troupe and, slowly, materialism rears up in the face of the previous hardships as the film segues into a bloody depiction of the Vietnam War and its salient Chinese protagonists. Meanwhile, our own heroes don’t get away lightly during the decades – and we feel for them, especially Liu Feng whose dedication and sacrifice shines through, while He seems also to be misunderstood. As time marches relentlessly on, the film loses momentum as the focus becomes more scattered, its previous authenticity turning soapy in contrast to the convincing earlier scenes.

Overall this is an entertaining romp through the Chinese history books, its schmaltzy score milking the memorable moments with a rousing gusto that Chinese audiences will relish and take to their hearts. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY/DVD | Reviewed at PINGYAO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | YEAR ZERO | 28 OCT – 4 NOV 2017

Ash is Purest White (2018) ****

Dir: Zhangke Jia | Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Xiaogang Feng | Drama | China | 140’

ASH IS PUREST WHITE portrays the eventful relationship between a Chinese petty criminal and the woman whose loyalty to him never dies. This rolling contemplative saga occasionally veers off the beaten track with its indulgent running time of 141 minutes but will still appeal to the director’s ardent followers, featuring the same rough-edged characters who we first meet in 2001 and follow until the bittersweet denouement on New year’s Eve 2018.

Star of Shanxi’s creative community Jia Zhang-ke trained as an architect near his native mining town of Fenyang, just South of Beijing, and brings his aesthetic flair and some magnificent landscapes to this lasting love story set in a dying era. The director’s forte is his graceful way of portraying China’s traditional way of life with its penchant for ceremonial drumming and white-gloved officials, with the chaotic new era vibrantly captured in Eric Gautier’s resplendent camerawork.

Opening in 2001 in his Shanxi homeland, his wife and regular collaborator Zhao Tao plays the confident delicate local beauty Qiao, who frequents the nightclub of her boyfriend Guo Bin (Liao Fan/Black Coal, Thin Ice). And she is no arm candy, establishing herself as a keen advocate of the traditional jianghu codes of loyalty while embracing the modern world, spryly dancing to Village People’s YMCA.

Respectful of her ageing father she is more playfully assertive with Bin, and when he is assaulted by thugs on motorbikes, she manages to save him by firing shots into the air in a brutal scene that really takes our breath away, but also secures her a spell in prison where she is unwilling to grass on her boyfriend about the ownership of the firearm.

The second act is an upbeat affair that follows Qiao’s release in 2006, and treats us to a sumptuous journey down the Yangtze River in another nod to the sinking glory of the old China versus the brash new world. Qin has proved a feckless boyfriend and is no longer on the scene, but Qiao is keen not to let him slip away so easily, after her sustained loyalty. And when she is robbed of her cash and passport, she bounces back cleverly in some amusing scenes where she gate-crashes a wedding to enjoy the banquet, desperate for food. Qiao finally confronts Bin in a soulful and moving episode that is visually captivating for its exquisitely calm contemplation of the end of their romance.

As we leave Qiao she is running a gambling hall, and Bin is back in her life, attracted to her strength of character and tenacity. The two actors are mesmerising to watch in their commandingly restrained yet natural performances, exuding a fascinating chemistry that will remain in the memory for a long time after the credits have rolled. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 26th APRIL 2019

 

Three films by Jia Zhangke | Arrow

Jia Zhangke has become widely regarded as one of world cinema’s most accomplished filmmakers and a leading figure of the Sixth Generation movement of contemporary Chinese cinema.

24 CITY (2008) here Jia successfully combines documentary and fiction film as he charts the transformation of a military hardware factory into a complex of luxury flats, and the social impact this has on the community. 112′

A TOUCH OF SIN (2013) this Cannes prize-winner follows the lives of four people across China who are driven to acts of violence. An angry miner enraged by corruption in his village; a migrant who discovers the infinite possibilities of owning a firearm; a receptionist at a sauna who is pushed to the limit by a client; and a young factory worker drifting through the foreign-owned factories and nightclubs of the south. 125′

 

Jia Zhangke’s restaurant in Shanxi province, China

 

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (2015) is an intimate and moving drama spanning several decades, which charts the impact of China’s capitalist experiment on the lives of one family. 126′

NOW ON ARROW PLAYER 

New Chinese Cinema | Pingyao International Film Festival | Year Zero 2017

PYIFF2017-founderJiaZhangke-SittingInPlatformArenaEastern Promise was lavishly delivered this year at the inaugural PINGYAO CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (PYIFF) offering audiences from all over the world a chance to enjoy the latest in Chinese independent cinema for 10 days (28 October-4 November). The indie film festival is the brainchild of filmmaker and producer Jia Zhangke who grew up in Fenyang, near the festival’s setting in the UNESCO World Heritage walled town of Pingyao (in the province of Shanxi) – a four-hour bullet train journey south west of Beijing.- was determined that one day he would raise the region’s profile from one of coal-mining to a cradle of Chinese creativity.

PYIFF also offered local Chinese cinephiles their first opportunity to sample a prodigious Jean Pierre Melville retrospective in their own homeland. The competition also paid homage, with its awards, named after Roberto Rossellini, and the Chinese director Fei Mu, and showed a selection of the latest releases including Vivian Qu’s Venice Biennale 2017 standout ANGELS WEAR WHITE and Xiaogang Feng’s rousing epic YOUTH that recently played at Toronto Film Festival 2017.

PingyaoIFF-founderJiaZhangke&directorMarcoMuellerVenice Film Festival’s long-time artistic director Marco Mueller masterminded an eclectic programme where two strands in particular showcased the talents of emerging Chinese filmmakers – the soi-disant ‘tiger’s and ‘dragons’ (also honouring Ang Lee). The CROUCHING TIGERS section offered the opportunity to see debut or second films from new directors. The HIDDEN DRAGONS gave a platform to genre fare and a NEW GENERATION series showcased mostly Chinese indie fare. Chinese cinema has had a rough ride in its homeland in the past due to the deemed unsuitability for general release of some of its titles – perhaps Xi Jingping will see fit to loosen the silk strings that restrict the autonomy of independent cinema, while standing by the communist tenet to promote  China’s cultural creativity: an uneasy paradox. The original dates of the festival were delayed by the 19th Communist Party Conference. While there is a desire to promote culture, the programmers were also forced to ban several South Korean titles due to a contretemps between Beijing and Seoul. Festival opener YOUTH had initially caused problems due to its ‘controversial’ depiction of the 1979 Sino-Vietnemese war. While press attempting to take photos during the opening gala were threatened by a fierce-looking security guards bearing truncheons (most Chinese continued to film the proceeding oblivious – in the spirit of Tiananmen Square), Chinese law also states that accredited journalists are entitled to complimentary lodging and subsistence – so none of us went hungry at lunchtime as we tucked into delicious bento boxes prepared by the chefs of Jia Jhangke’s ‘Mountains May Depart’ Restaurant which is located in a new arts centre which is gradually being developed on the site of a former industrial zone.

PYIFF2017-OpeningCeremony-actressZhaoTaoThe good news is that mainstream Chinese film production is thriving abundantly with around 700 films being made each year so PYIFF is a healthy move in the right direction, thanks to Jia Zhangke and Marco Muller, a ‘foreigner’ who enjoys a close and charismatic relationship with the Chinese. And their efforts to encourage young filmmakers have certainly paid off. But Zhangke is not resting on his laurels: filming for his title ASH IS PUREST WHITE (Jiang hu er nv) a violent noughties-set love story is already underway, his talented wife Tao Zhao (right, at the PYIFF opening ceremony) takes the leading role. MT

REVIEW LINKS to the latest CHINESE INDIE FILMS at PYIFF | YEAR ZERO | 28 OCT – 4 NOV 2017

THE TASTE FOR RICE FLOWER

A FISH OUT OF WATER 

ONE NIGHT ON THE WHARF

YOUTH 

ASH 

 

Love and Bullets (2017) | Pingyao Film Festival | Year Zero 2017

Dirs: The Manetti Bros | Cast: Claudia Gerini, Carlo Buccirosso, Serena Rossi, Giampaolo Morelli, Luciana De Falco, Mario Rivelli | Musical Romance | 133′ | Italy

Naples meets Brooklyn in this Versace-themed Mafia-musical melodrama. LOVE AND BULLETS is as subtle as a oyster poisoning but considerably more fun. What you get is high octane entertainment that never takes itself too seriously in delivering a raucous laugh out loud tale of deception that frequently breaks into warbling vibrato including a few bum notes – and not just on the music front. The jamboree outstays its welcome with camerawork that is often questionable, but there is much to enjoy — despite a few detours and dialectical complexities – that are not easy to follow, even for Italian audiences. Due to the raucous sound effects, this is one film where you can munch popcorn to your heart’s content and not disturb a fly.

We kick of in a Baroque cathedral where Donna Maria (Claudia Gerini) is mourning the death of her fish-farm magnate husband and crime boss, Don Vincenzo (Carlo Buccirosso), who suddenly comes alive in the privacy of his ornate coffin, giving forth in fruity bass tones and casting doubt over his identity to one and all.

Flipping back a few days it emerges that Maria and Vincenzo have faked his death. His two sidekicks, Rosario (actor-singer Raiz) and the more charismatic Ciro (Giampaolo Morelli), are advised to take over the reins by Donna Maria and ensure that no one finds out that Vincenzo didn’t die in a mussel tank shot by his rivals – cue the first joke: “Americans don’t know mussels from missiles”. This the tenor of the comedy.

But hospital nurse Fatima (Ciro’s first love) sees Vincenzo in hospital on the operating table, and matters are complicated when Ciro’s finds he still holds a candle for her – and she for him – making bumping her off a big problem, especially when they smooch to ‘their song’ Flashdance – (remastered by Giorgio Moroder who contributed to the foot-stamping score along with Pivio and De Scalzi); so feelings flood back but give Ciro a difficult choice: should he go for money or love?

Some of the jokes have a distinctly racist undertone, and swearing is the order of the day in the less light-hearted second half making us less forgiving of the bouts of narrative torpor. That said, this is a gutsy and well-performed musical with Gerini pulling all the stops out in a terrific turn. Morelli is the star turn on the male front and let’s hope we get to see more of his stylish chops in future. Buccirosso makes a good job of the difficult role of Vincenzo who has to be vulnerable and macho at the same time, and the film looks gorgeously lurid in its retro aesthetic thanks to DoP Francesca Amitrano, production designer Noemi Marchica and costume designer Daniela Salernitano.MT

PINGYAO FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 4 NOVEMBER 2017

A Fish out of Water (2017) | Pingyao Film Festival | Year Zero 2017

Dir: Lai Kuo-An | Cast: Runyin Bfi, Jen Shuo Cheng, Peggy, Tseng, | China | 90′

A young family on a beach in the midst of a crisis discover a beached fish. The young son Yi-An (Run-yin Bai) is morbidly fascinated but dad Haoteng (Jen Shuo Cheng) picks it up and jokingly threatens his wife Yaji (Peggy Tseng) with it. This moment of uncanny surrendering to warmth and humour is typical of Lai Kuo-An’s superbly enigmatic and engaging debut. The cheeky literalism of the scene is also deceptively simple. Nothing else that follows will be quite so straightforward. The main problem is the boy. Yi-an keeps telling everyone that he wants to go and visit his former mother and father who lived by the sea. He acts up at kindergarten and even tries to get his ailing grandfather (Akio Chen) to help him. His parents are understandably concerned but are also distracted by their own problems. They both work hard: Haoteng has a stall where he bakes and sells rolls; and Yaji works for a real estate agency that deals in the kind of high end apartments that contrast painfully with their own pokey home. As Haoteng’s father becomes increasingly debilitated after a stroke, Yaji decides she has had enough and moves out to her sister’s, taking Yi-an with her.

The domestic drama is permeated by the central mystery of Yi-an’s former life. Lai Kuo-an offers very little in the way of explanation and the little boy with his glare and pudding basin cut seems at times like Damian from The Omen. The acting by the two adult leads is brilliant. Jen Shuo Cheng is particularly good as the slightly loutish man wholly unequipped to deal with the blows life is dealing him. His birthday party attended only by his catatonic father and his possessed son is a tragi-comic masterpiece. Hsu Chih-chun’s unfussily rich cinematography grounds the magic in the confined homes and breathes a little easier on an excursion to find Yi-An’s former family. Ultimately, we are treated to a celebration of the family which – despite the difficulties involved – proves so resilient it can even move between lives. John Bleasdale.

SCREENING DURING PINGYAO FILM FESTIVAL | YEAR ZERO | UNTIL 4 NOVEMBER 2017

Ash (2017) | Pingyao International Film Festival | Year Zero

Director: Li Xiaofeng | Cast: Luo Jin, Xin Peng, Nie Yuan, Jiang Peiyao, Huang Jue, Yang Yiwei, Sun Hao,

Director and co-writer Li Xiaofeng improves on his thoughtful but flawed debut Nezha with this sinuous and sumptuously cinematic modern morality thriller the explores through a fractured narrative the simple premise: a choice of redemption or recidivism for two young killers.

Elegant and intriguing, ASH has echoes of Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin in its reflection on good and evil in contemporary China where a young detective Chen Weikun (Nie Yuan), is tasked with investigating the brutal murder of an ordinary  man Ma Xudong (Yang Yiwei), in a local cinema. He draws a blank with the victim’s family but pursues a shady suspect who is seen loitering in the shadows. Flipping toward a decade, we then meet surgeon Wang Dong (Luo Jin),who is celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife, Xuan Hui (Jiang Peiyao) and it soon emerges that the two men are strangely linked. The tension mounts as the mist gradually clears on the fulll story involving a long-standing pact forged between Xu and Wang after their crimes which continue to haunt them, as Chen doggedly probes the past.

With its universal theme, cast of subtly instinctual newcomers whose personalities contrast to great effect, and pristine technical craftmanship from Dutch DoP Joewi Verhoeven, ASH makes for an absorbing and provocative watch. Simon John Fisher Turner’s atmospheric score creates just the right mood for this first class, if overlong Chinese thriller. MT

PINGYAO INTERNARIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | YEAR ZERO | 28 Ocotber – 4 November 2017

 

 

Pingyao Impressions Theatre | Pingyao Film Festival 2017

IMG_6398 Imagine London’s Tate Modern museum. Then imagine it three times larger and you have Pingyao’s brand new theatre building designed by an architect schoolfriend of the Chinese independent filmmaker Jia Zhangke.

IMG_6399The two grew up in the walled Ming village and were determined to make a name for their world heritage birthplace – and they have certainly done it in style. This brand new theatre combines stylish design with state of the art technical wizardry to tell the tale of the ancient UNESCO walled city built over a thousand years ago in the province of Shanxi, four hours by bullet train south of Beijing.

IMG_6427 Zhang Yimou’s Impressions series is already well known for its world-class quality and inventive staging. While  other shows are happening outdoors in other parts of China, the indoor Pingyao version comes across as being a far more intimate and involving experience where we actively become a part of each scene with the actors appearing to speak directly with you, especially in the ‘street market’ set.

IMG_6420

This makes Impressions Pingyao unique and exciting as attendees are free to walk around the set and follow the action as it unfolds in various stagings in the vast space, as different spotlights track the sumptuously dressed characters in their delicately rendered vignettes that each have a individual stage setting.

IMG_6424It emerges that Pingyao history is rooted in its legendary banking system – banks have existed here for a millennium. The bittersweet human story unfurls against the backdrop of these traditions. Unique and utterly beguiling PINGYAO IMPRESSIONS is one of the exciting new creative aspects of contempo China uniting the past with the present day. MT

SCREENING IN PINGYAO DURING THE YEAR ZERO PINGYAO FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 4 NOVEMBER 2017

Petit Paysan | Bloody Milk (2017) | Pingyao Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Hubert Charuel

When one of his cows falls ill, the farmer does his best to save the rest of his herd in the heartfelt agrarian drama Bloody Milk (Petit Paysan), the genre-bending feature debut of writer director Hubert Charuel.

Social realism wanders in the muddly territory of thriller in this taut but flawed French farming drama, offering up a promising premise that never quite brings home the bacon despite a good script and a stunning central turn from A Woman’s Life star Swann Arlaud) as a dedicated devotee of dairy farming and country living despite its meagre financial rewards.

Pierre (Arlaud), is a gentleman farmer in every sense of the word. He runs a small milk farm concern that comes under threat when one of his herd comes down with a strain of Mad Cows disease a debilitating and highly contagious wasting disease. As we all remember from the sad episode in Britain recently, this is a tragedy that forces the slaughter of the entire herd, under Government guidelines, so Pierre tries to mitigate the damage by killing the cow and burying in his own fields. Problem is, his sister (Sara Giraudeau) is a vet who turns a blind eye at first but once his mother (Candelier) finds out things go from bad to worse, especially when the health inspectors turn up and snoop around.

Written by Charuel and Claude le Pape, this is a heart-rending and doomladen story about a really decent man who tries to do his best by everyone – including his cows – one gives birth in a touching scene – and we all feel for his pain and that of the livestock he so tenderly cares for, but it lacks the dramatic moments to really lift it into the same territory as the Icelandic UCR winner Rams despite some similar humour. Furthermore Petit Paysan has a pejorative ring to it as a title, as many audiences will consider it rather recherché as well a a labour of love to run a small dairy concern in a world where hand made produce is all the rage, and certainly raw milk quite sought after for its health-giving properties. The English gentry during the 18th century often turned their hands to dairy farming – one such example is at Kenwood House in Hampstead, England.

SCREENING DURING PINGYAO FILM FESTIVAL 2017

One Night on the Wharf (2017) Pingyao International Film Festival | Year Zero

Dir: Han Dong | Writers: Han Dong, Jia Zhangke | Cast: Chai Chenggang, Liang Jingdong, Han Sanming, Gao Bo, Chen Ji, Si Haozhao

Poet turned director Han Dong collaborates with festival head Jia Zhangke in this darkly satirical literary curio that mulls over themes of crime and bureacracy during one night in a rural Chinese hostelry.

One Night on the Wharf’ serves as poetry in motion when q group of intellectuals hole up in a waterside bar to spend a long night debating and shooting the breeze. They are poet Dingzi (Chai Chenggang) Wang Shu (Liang Jingdong) and Ouyang (Han Sanming). Dingzi is the first to get his coat, and leave for the ferry which he promptly misses having flirted with a young woman in a kiosk, but it’s not clear how he ends up at odds with local thug Baipi (Gao Bo), over something in his luggage, who calls in security in the shape of Xiao Li (Chen Ji), a sort of back-up officer for the local police. Things go from bad to worse as the jobsworth Xiao Li gets involved and the piece breaks out of its chamber mold and into the following morning’s ferry where Dingzi and his mates come face to face with bumbling Baipo for a showcase showdown.

The film offers up a sometimes flawed but always entertaining and poetic slice of Chinese life involving the dynamic at play between the powers that be, the intelligentsia and the wayfarers. Its mixed cast of professionals and newscomers give the piece a naturalistic kick and Zhou Yunpeng’s perky score punctuates proceedings to great effect amd the whole ensemble looks slick amd professsional. MT

PINGYAO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | YEAR ZERO | 28 October – 4 November 2017

 

The Taste for Rice Flower | Mi Hua Zhi Wei (2017) | Pingyao Year Zero 2017

Director: Pengfei | writers: Pengfei, Ying Ze | Cast: Ying Ze, Ye Bule, Ye Men | China | Drama | 89′

Chinese filmmaker Pengfei’s Underground Fragrance was a delicately rendered story of love amongst the ruins of Beijing’s property boom, and won him the Fedeora award at Venice Film Festival 2015. His second feature explores love of a different kind: that of a Dai woman for her only daughter and her strongly felt ethnic heritage, in the Yunnan province of China, where the drama unfurls in magnificent pastoral landscapes and vibrant interiors of her small village.

Taste of Rice Flower brims with positive energy unlike its visually alluring but oppressed predecessor and takes a more pragmatic approach to its marginalised characters who are also caught in the cultural maelstrom of 21st century change. Pengfei gently ruminates on the lives of these ethnic minorities, and the result is enchanting. Many Eastern cultures have travelled to the West and the large cities in search of work, and although it’s normal for their young to be left at home with older members of the family, the naturally presents a challenge for both children and parents, and this is the focus of the narrative. Ying Ze – who co-wrote with Penfei – plays the mother (Ye Nan) whose city experience has left its sophisticated mark on her appearance and tastes, but she is now glad to be home. But village life is far from idyllic as the local women complain about dressing in costume for an cultural event and the children have all the latest gadgets and modern labels, not to mention a newfound sense of entitlement, as they try to bargain for favours with their elders.

Sadly Ye Nan’s daughter (Ye Bule) has gone the same way, although insecurity and latest resentment could be the reason for her bad behaviour and lack of parental guidance. When he school friend Xianglu (Ye Men), falls ill the elders try to cure the girl with their shamanistic rituals — eventually leads to tragedy.

Taste of Rice Flower is a simple parable but never drifts into melodrama or cliche. If offers Pengfei a chance to raise the profile of changing values emerging out of a clash in tradition and modern life. The humour is often subtle but effective, and Liao Pen-jung’s ravishing visuals find beauty in everyday life in a thoughtful and subtle insight into contemporary China. MT

SCREENING DURING PINGYAO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 28 October – 4 November 2017 

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.

SCREENING AS PART OF A JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE RETROSPECTIVE | PINGYAO FILM FESTIVAL | GROUND ZERO 28 OCTOBER – 4 NOVEMBER 2017

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