Les Visiteurs du Soir

gXjX9w9i4P2fqelgCTqUtljVHQd

During the Nazi Occupation of France, the best way to conceal your Resistance tendencies in the filmmaking world was to make a period drama. Distancing yourself from the present circumstances going on around you offers you a more subtle and covert way to comment on current events. Many French directors used this technique in order to keep working under Vichy and its Nazi patrons and not be persecuted while also rebelling against the system. One of the best examples of this tenuous time in French history is Marcel Carne’s Les Visiteurs du Soir.

Les Visiteurs du Soir takes place at the end of the fifteenth century. Two minstrels ride up to an alabaster castle in order to entertain the royalty inside. The royalty is in a period of transition, having just engaged two of the most promising royal figures in the area. Anne and Renaud do not love each other, but they seem to tolerate each other enough. During their engagement banquet, the two minstrels we saw outside are called on to entertain Anne. One of the minstrels, Gilles, croons to Anne, making love to her with his words. She has become enraptured by the music. After a couple of songs, Renaud comprehends what is happening to Anne and forces the minstrels to end their little concert. During the dance after the meal, the other minstrel, Dominique, pauses the action and transforms into a beautiful woman. (She is played by Arletty, who was magnificent in Children of Paradise) Dominique takes Renaud from Anne in order to make love to him. Gilles does the same to Anne. We soon realize these two minstrels are not all that they seem. They are in fact agents of the devil sent to trick these two people into loving them only to break their hearts. But something goes wrong. Gilles falls for Anne. Gilles refuses to trick Anne and the devil comes up to the surface in order to exact his revenge on both Gilles and Anne. Meanwhile Dominique is faithful to the devil and turns two former allies against each other. Bloodshed, lovemaking, and tons of magical tricks follow.

On the surface this film may seem slight. Just another costume drama set in the time of Medieval romance. But once you understand that this film was made during the Occupation, everything lends itself to French Resistance rhetoric easily. I can talk here about how the devil can be seen as Hitler and the ending can be seen as a complete encapsulation of the Resistance fight, but that would mean spoilers and I know how much blog readers hate those. So I will content myself with an event that happens very early on in the film. Before the minstrels meet their “victims” at the engagement banquet, someone else tries to entertain them. These guests and the royalty have been banqueting for several days and their thirst for entertainment has entered into the grotesque realm. An older man comes forth with three small dwarves with hoods over their heads. The older man makes a speech and takes off their hoods to reveal severely disfigured faces. Everyone at the banquet erupts in laughter except for Anne. Anne shield her eyes from the monstrosity and begs for the act to be done. She cannot cope with the awful joy that people get off such misfortune. Throughout the whole film, Anne can be seen as a human form of France itself. (This is made clearer by the ending) Just like France is upset with the wicked and privileged ways of the Nazis and Vichy, so is Anne upset with everyone’s reactions to disfigurement. This is just one scene in many that can be interpreted this way, but also could be read for just its surface implications. This is what makes this film so fascinating. If you were a Nazi censor, you would see nothing in this scene, but if you were an under cover Resistance fighter looking for a couple of hours escape, you could easily be hopeful that you are not a part of the laughing majority. This film gave hope to many beleaguered French people, showing them that they have a rich and interesting history that they must keep alive at all costs. This is why this film is so important.

Advertisements

56 Up

56_UP_NEIL_49YRS_01.JPG

This is the eighth installment of Michael Apted’s Up series.

This is the most current installment of the Up series. It came out in 2012 and we won’t get another installment until 2019, so we must cherish this installment until we are able to get another one. The biggest news about this installment is the return of a subject that hadn’t participated since 28 up. The reasons behind it him choosing not to participate hang mainly on the reaction to his last appearance. He was the other teacher that was working in a general education school. He was clearly unhappy with his situation and expressed it bluntly. Apparently he said a couple of things about Margaret Thatcher and the government at the time that angered a couple of tabloids who decided to attack him. He decided to return because he is a happier person that was able to completely get over the backlash and he wanted to promote his band. He brings a hint of creativity to the movie that feels refreshing. He talks about criticism and his evolving career. He seems more peaceful with his life than what he was in 28 Up.

The financial crunch that happened a couple of years after the last installment is felt throughout this whole film. Jackie’s disability is revoked, several children are stuck at home with their parents, Tony had to abandon his dream of opening a pub in his Spanish community, and lives seemed to be downgraded a little bit more. Although I feel terrible for these people, it is still nice to see that I and America are not the only ones suffering from the financial crisis. I hope that there is a way to completely recover from this worldwide depression but I highly doubt it. I hope that everyone could succeed, but it is just not like that anymore. These people will hopefully be able to get through this just like I am trying to, but the government is doing nobody any favors. Nobody cares about the poor and disenfranchised. They force older people out of their jobs, cut after school programs, and take unemployment away from anyone that is struggling to find another job. But of course they have enough money to fully fund military programs and pad the pockets of the wealthy…. 56 Up is an astute sketch of how the collapsing economy affects the everyman.

The Leopard

Gattopardo_-Il_1145_001

It has seemed lately that I have decided longer is better. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, Children of Paradise, Scenes from a Marriage, and this film all top out at around three to four hours. Added to the fact that I marathoned the rest of the Up series for this month and you have got me in front of the television screen a lot this month. For most of these films, I did not feel the time pass by me. I became absorbed in the universe each very different director was creating. This can not be said by the Leopard. I did everything in my power to stay invested in this three-hour snore fest all to no avail.

I think the main problem with the film is the plot or lack thereof. The Leopard is about a dying aristocratic society in Sicily. The Prince and his family are sinking very quickly into a democratic society filled with peasants as important figures instead of the royal family. I have just described the whole plot or at least the important parts of the plot in two sentences. So why did it take Visconti over three hours to show us this? Because he was more interested in just following around the Prince and contrasting him with his nephew, a leader of the new democracy. However the point of the Prince’s character is that he does nothing to stop his quickly fading power. This translates to him literally doing nothing about anything happening around him. Burt Lancaster plays this Prince. He tries his hardest to imbue some emotion in his speeches and actions, but the result is long stretches of him walking from one room to the next in a dream like state only to be awakened by some minute detail of the plot. Alain Delon isn’t much better. He is the foil to the Prince and represents the future of the country. He chooses to court a peasant with money as opposed to a royal family member. This is the most interesting thing about his character and even that he gets wrong. There is a long sequence in a closed off portion of the palace where he plays with his new fiancé. Their attraction and love for each other is supposed to be palpable, but it never reaches that point. This sequence just lies there while we wait for something more interesting to watch.

It seems Visconti was more interested in showing the opulence of the time than in the plot. Every scene, even the outside shots, are stuffed to the brim. The intricate costumes, gilded rooms and dusty roads result in a fussy picture. In fact too much attention was paid attention to the look of the film that they forgot to tell us non-Sicilians the history we are supposed to be watching. I didn’t know until about an hour into the film that Sicily at this time wasn’t apart of Italy. I also didn’t know going into this movie that Sicily had a monarchy at any point. There is no mention of exactly what time this takes place, what has happened to the king, what sides Tancredi (Alain Delon) is on at a given moment or what those sides really and truly want. This confusion led to me relying more on the plot which gave way the moment anything happened. In Children of Paradise, I didn’t know the history of the French theater or much about pantomime, but it didn’t matter because the story was so great. If the story sucks than I at least want to learn something about the time and the people involved. This movie didn’t even give me the satisfaction of that.

Children of Paradise

children-of-paradise-(1945)-large-picture

If you know anything about Children of Paradise, you know that it was made during the Nazi Occupation of France. Marcel Carne, the director, employed both Resistance fighters and Nazi collaborators, mistresses of Gestapo officers and symbols of the resilient French people. He hid people from the Nazi wrath and chose to employ people who were actively in hiding. It is clearly a miracle that this film with the budget it had and the people involved on it got made at all. It is an even bigger miracle that it is one of the best French movies ever made.

The film is set in 1820s Paris on the Boulevard du Crime. This is where the important and not so important entertainment of the masses takes place. Every character in the film is an actor or an admirer of actors. Garance is a beautiful woman, cursed with bad friends and bad luck. She watches a preview on the streets of the Boulevard du Crime for a pantomime show with a thief friend of hers. As the preview goes on, the thief (Lacenaire) steals a watch from the man standing in between them. Lacenaire leaves and Garance is accused of the crime. One of the mimes on the stage rises to her defense and pantomimes a witness interview. She is relieved of the accusation and tosses this mime her flower. The mime (Baptiste) is instantly smitten with this beautiful creature. That night Baptiste has a chance encounter with Lacenaire and Garance at a bar. Baptiste declares his love for Garance and gets into a fight with Lacenaire’s henchmen. Baptiste rescues Garance from the clutches of Lacenaire and gives her a room to board in. He shies away from her sexual advances. This is Baptiste’s fatal mistake. Left alone in her room, she invites another actor just hired at the same theater Baptiste works at, Fredrick Lemaitre, to keep it warm. Fredrick and Garance become lovers but they do not seem to have the same passion for each other that Baptiste has for her. We see Baptiste rise to become a great and influential mime as his passion for Garance explodes. But Garance will have neither Baptiste, nor Fredrick or Lacenaire. Instead she will have a fourth man, a count, who whisks her away and dotes on her. After some years, Garance returns to Paris and brings to the surface the feelings that all three rejected men have for her.

Garance is the ultimate symbol of a beautiful creature morphing in the eyes of the lover to suit their sensibilities. To Lacenaire, she is a bright and intelligent woman who is the only one that can appreciate his work. To Baptiste, she is a soft and delicate flower that needs to be loved in order to be happy. To Fredrick, she is another gorgeous conquest. To the count, she is pretty arm candy. The the credit of this film, she is able to resist these labels and become her own person. She loves everyone and no one at the same time. Her presence is enough to make every man doubt their preconceived notions of her. Over time, she reveals herself as more complicated and interesting than what is known to them. Garance is not just inspiration for these men to continue with their respective crafts, but a living and breathing person. Garance is played by the lovely Arletty, who was the lover of a Gestapo officer that I was talk about in the first paragraph. This knowledge about her history informs this performance. She is caught in between the lives of these four people and she chooses to do the least moral thing possible, which is to walk away. She does so with regret and resilience, but she still leaves and disappears into the Carnival crowd.

Baptiste gives Garance a run for her money as being the most interesting character in the film. There is something about clowns, especially mimes, that just oozes sadness. They make large audiences laugh and cry and love every night, but they themselves are incomplete in some ways. For Baptiste he is pursued by the theater owner’s daughter but he loves Garance violently. He cannot seem to ever let go of that love even after he gives into the theater owner’s daughter. At one point he even says that he cheated on her every night as he was falling asleep, because he was emotionally with Garance. He is played by a famous mime (at least in France), Jean-Louis Barrault. He is able to portray this bitter-sweet love that he has with an alarming beauty. Just looking at him in several scenes was enough for me  to feel the emotional weight of the plot.

I wanted to see this movie because of its history. I stayed and watched the whole three-hour film because of the story. Due to the limitations of this medium and the restrictions I put on myself, I cannot accurately show how just how magnificent and transporting this film is. I can only praise the things I have tools to praise and let you find the rest.

The Candidate

tumblr_md2upx8ANQ1qa4quyo1_500

How does an idealistic lawyer become a hardened politician? Why do educated community leaders want to become presidents? Robert Redford explores these issues all the way back in the seventies with the Candidate.

Robert Redford plays a young son of a politician. His father was governor of California for many years. He resists political office, choosing instead to work in a small non-profit in one of California’s towns. One night he is approached by Marvin Lucas (played by Peter Boyle in all of his beautiful bald headedness) and asked if he would like to challenge a seat for senate. Marvin assures Bill McKay (Redford) that they will lose. He would just like to put up a good fight. The current seat holder of the Senate is Crocker Jarmon. Jarmon is a weathered politician that stands for tradition and Republican ideals (looking back on this time, it seems that Republican ideals haven’t changed much). McKay forces Jarmon to reflect on his stances on various issues as McKay inches closer to putting up a fair fight. However McKay is becoming hardened by the constant media coverage, political spins on issues, and his own fame. Problems in his marriage show up. He is caught cheating on his wife. He is forced to confront his governor father and pull him into the campaign. He shows signs that one day he will become Jarmon with his double speak, traditional values and horrible allusions to patriotism.

Political movies are always interesting to see forty years after they were made. Attack advertisements, feathered hair and mandatory suits all date this film but not as much as you would think. In fact this movie sheds more light on our current political atmosphere than it did in the seventies. People must morph and soften their edges in order to gain votes. No one can lead a successful campaign, especially now, without changing themselves. I am sure Barack Obama was much more liberal before his first campaign started. But through his vigorous campaigns his actions and ideas changed into things that my mother would be for. I guess this must be necessary, but it isn’t always the best to see. Robert Redford plays Bill McKay with a surprising amount of subtlety. His gradual morphing into a political machine is masterful. He appears at the beginning of the film as a suited hippie. His sideburns are massive, his blazer with jeans combination is egregious and his ideals are years before his time. Slowly but surely the campaign advisors, lead by Marvin Lucas, whittle away at his appearance and eventually his ideals. He still believes in them, but he is finding it harder to express those ideals. This produces in Redford subtle reactions against what Lucas has to say. He laughs inappropriately in front of television segments. He goes off script at the end of a debate to highlight how little they touched on core issues. But the campaign still changes him. He posture is straighter, he wears full suits everywhere he goes and he has insincere interactions in order to get press coverage. These subtle aspects of the character are picked up over a period of time.

Although the film has a lot to say about the lack of real debate in the political arena about real events that take place in a normal person’s life-like unemployment, racial and gender discrimination, and pollution, it sort of throws it in your face and force you to go along with his ideals. This is made apparent in Crocker Jarmon. Jarmon says some horrific things about cutting out welfare, not caring about the environment and reproductive rights. These speeches are made to demonstrate why Jarmon is the ultimate evil in Congress. We are forced to by the script to only ever side with McKay. This makes for a laggy film that doesn’t have a real threat to energize it. Jarmon never stood a chance.

Scenes from a Marriage (Theatrical Version)

Scenes_from_a_Marriage_DVD_cover

In Ingmar Bergman’s later career, he transitioned over to television. This allowed him space to breath and results in long narratives, meant to see in installments. Of course these mini-series were not marketable (at least at this time) outside of the Nordic countries. So he was forced to make a theatrical version of every mini-series he created. When Scenes from a Marriage was cut down from its six-hour original and viewed in the United States, Woody Allen praised it as one of the best Bergman movies ever made. It helped to resurrect a career that was struggling. So I figured if the theatrical cut was good enough for Woody Allen, then it would be good enough for me. After all I didn’t want to waste six hours on something that I could have gotten the gist of in three.

Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson play a married couple in upper-middle class Stockholm. Johan (Josephson) is a professor who is not living up to his potential. Marianne (Ullman) plays a divorce lawyer who is afraid of intimate moments. They had been married for ten years at the start of the film. Their marriage looks contented and easy. They banter back and forth, take care of each other in small intimate ways and ultimately seems to support each other. But there is something that is brooding underneath the surface. We first see it when they are at a dinner party with a couple that are well on their way towards divorce. The other couple bickers and attacks each other viciously. The woman at one point even flirts with Johan in front of her husband and Marianne. Watching them go through such a public display of distaste for each other, puts Marianne and Johan on edge. They confront each other after the others are gone. This tension carries over to the next scene where Johan arrives at their summer home to tell Marianne he has fallen in love with another woman and he is leaving her. He is harsh in his resoluteness and this leaves Marianne feeling abandoned and immensely hurt. Despite his commitment to leave, he returns several times back to Marianne’s arms. Through a reconciliation, a divorce, and finally an anniversary trip, they realize that they have been in love with each other the whole time.

Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson are a perfectly matched couple. Although they argue and become violent at a certain point, their love and affection for each other is obvious. Liv Ullman’s understated acting allows her to effortlessly transform from a frigid and comprising wife into a radiant and progressive divorcee. She cries and yells and espouses her philosophy not just with her mouth, but also with her sky blue eyes. Erland Josephson is able to play off Liv’s muted performance by becoming the dominant pessimistic one. He wades carefully into offending Liv at every turn. But at a certain point he realizes that he cannot live with her naggy and pretentious ways. They play off each other, taking turns at pushing the other and reacting to the things said. These actors make this dull yet intriguing relationship watchable and relatable.

Bergman has been able to touch on something here that isn’t usually explored in film. Long term relationships are full of self-doubt, reversion, and even sometimes regretful transgressions. It is easy to doubt your love for the other when you get stuck in a routine and a way of living. It is easy to drift away from each other. Being able to drift away and somehow come back together is the ultimate test of a long-term relationship. Johan and Marianne’s love was clogged and buried. It took several years, self-exploration and other people for them to know that the love was still there. This film has one of the most simple yet romantic endings I have seen. Marianne had just woken up after having a terrible dream. Johan comforts her by wrapping her up in blankets and holding on to her tight. She expresses her self-doubt about her situation and wonder if she had ever loved someone and been loved by them back. Johan says that it is ridiculous of her to think that. Of course he has always loved her and she him but in a human and partial way. After all love cannot always be the passionate kind we see in movies and in books. At a certain point it must settle and be a way of life.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I regret choosing to just watch the theatrical version. The film feels like snapshots out of this relationship instead of long explorations of it. Being able to watch this couple breathe and interact with others would make this film go from good to great. If you are interested in watching this understated movie from Bergman, I would suggest committing yourself to those six hours. It will probably be worth it.

49 Up

zweig_56up_post

This is the seventh installment of Michael Apted’s Up Series.

In this installment, every subject seems to have settled into their lives. There are very few changes, and mostly good ones. They seem to be contented. This film was made in 2005. At this time Britain was riding a good financial wave that seems to have benefited everyone. Even Jackie, who is living on disability, seems to have enough money to live within a reasonable amount of comfort. Because I have watched the next installment already and I knew what ended up happening with the financial system, there seems to be an eerie calm in this installment. Even the subjects felt it. Tony, the cabbie who now owns a condo in Spain, estimates that the economy is going to collapse in five years. If he only knew that it would be a lot sooner…

At this point in my film watching, it feels like I am catching up with old friends. We drop in for fifteen minutes and learn about their children, their jobs, and their spouses. Each time they seem to be quietly optimistic about the future. I think this is probably my favorite part of watching this series. Each installment reveals a little bit more of their character as they are discovering it themselves.

 

The Testament of Dr Mabuse

the-testament-of-dr-mabuse-movie-poster-1

Right before Fritz Lang fled Germany for France and eventually Hollywood’s wide open arms, he made a movie that was essentially the straw that broke camel’s back in his own life. Banned in 1933 by the newly instated Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Joseph Goebbels), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse would mark the last German film in Lang’s filmography. There are many theories as to why it was banned and why Lang fled Germany this early on in the Third Reich’s reign, but the truth is elusive.This elusive truth is fitting for both the genius behind the camera and the movie that plays on madness with a psychological and expressionist slant.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a sequel, but it seems to be only on the surface. While both films keep the title character, in Testament, Dr. Mabuse is relegated to a side character. Instead the film is more about the doctor who treats Dr. Mabuse in the insane asylum. He becomes obsessed by him and assumes the moniker in order to pull off masterful schemes and crimes. Like Fantomas or Sherlock Holmes stories, the criminal must also have the police inspector nipping at its heels. In Testament, this role is fulfilled by Commissioner Lohman. Commissioner Lohman gets wind of the Dr. Mabuse conspiracy after he receives a phone call from an ex-cop. This disgraced man pleads almost manically for the Commissioner to help him, cut off as he is discovered by the criminals sent to hunt him. Lohman gets to the apartment where this ex-cop made that fateful phone call and launches a long and convoluted search that expands beyond his first beliefs. Lohman gets help from a man he once arrested. Through desperation from long unemployment bouts, Kent joins the criminal ring led by Dr. Mabuse. But he quickly learns that he is in over his head and refuses to take part in the murderous tendencies for a way to gain control over the city. Kent crosses over from the criminal world and into the world of cops and justice with the help of the woman he loves. As Lohman and Kent piece together the investigation, the doctor spirals further down into madness and his master schemes dictated to him by the real and dead Dr. Mabuse. Every event and plot point crescendo to the film’s inevitable ending.

There is something about Lang’s German features that keep them above his later catalogue in America. The obvious answer would be the Expressionist tendencies he indulges in their raw form in these films. But by the time of the making of Testament of Dr. Mabuse, he barely ever indulges in the psychological bent and distorted imagery that are indicative of the Expressionist movement. He only ever employs these tricks to show the descent into madness that several characters indulge in. But these scenes are not the focus of the film. Instead Lang uses stark realism and seemingly in scene sound to show the mad chase towards solving a mass conspiracy. Another obvious answer would be the overt social commentary that is layered on in the subtext of a traditional crime story. Years after he made the movie, Lang claimed that much of Dr. Mabuse’s ideas were based on Nazi propaganda that was just taking hold on his country of origin. This is most obviously seen in the crime manifesto the real Dr. Mabuse wrote and the psychologist follows with almost a maniacal precision and without any doubt. But the Nazi correlations were attached later on. Instead these ideas that dominate Dr. Mabuse’s manifestos are more universal. In the commentary on the Criterion Collection release, David Kalat, makes allusions to Osama Bin Laden’s propaganda and other tyrannical regimes. These allusions are just as fitting as it being attached to the Nazi regime.

I can’t point to just one reason why this movie, M, Metropolis, and several other German Lang movies were so great and interesting. It is rather the sum of their parts that make them masterpieces. A combination of actors willing to do anything Lang wants them to, the freedom to film as many scenes as he wants, and the willingness to comment on the social world around him give Lang’s German movies an effectiveness his American films do not have.

Dr Mabuse The Gambler

U169302INP

A couple of months ago, I decided to put myself through the torture of watching all of the Fantomas serials on Netflix. Although I found them enjoyable enough, they didn’t deepen my appreciation for silent movies in the least. When I saw that The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was coming up in my Netflix queue, I figured I probably should give the first installment of the Dr. Mabuse story line a try. Expecting nothing more than a change of country and name of Fantomas, I was pleasantly surprised.

Dr Mabuse is a psychoanalyst. He is also a gangster and a card shark. He combines these three interests and begins to terrorize the underground gambling parlors that were so popular among the elite in the mid twenties. Prosecutor van Wenk gets wind of this master criminal and pursues many leads. But Dr. Mabuse is a wily bastard. He is able to disguise himself and live under false names in order for his criminal conspiracies to thrive. Several people get caught up in this web of intrigue: Countess and Count Told, Edgar Hull, and Cara Carozza. All of these people end up confronting this evil genius and their fates are doled out accordingly. Throughout the four and half hour run time, van Wenk pursues Dr. Mabuse obsessively.

Fritz Lang used this surface criminal story to comment on the state of Germany at the time. Hitler assumed power of the nation only ten years after this film was made and there was a reason why he was so well received. We see throughout this film the frivolous nature of the German elite. They gamble thousands of dollars and expensive jewelry without batting an eye. They collect an insane amount of art (all of which were pieces from Lang and his wife’s collection), and they let almost anyone with enough charm to enter their group. They feel invincible. In one scene, Carozza has lured Hull and van Wenk to an illegal gambling room (I assume all gambling was illegal given the secretive nature of all the characters who participate in it). There is not one hint that this room is secretive. There are luxurious chairs, throngs of overdressed men and women lounging, and sparkly jewels just waiting to be taken. When they finally enter the gambling room, it is nothing we had seen prior in the film. The gambling table is a circle with a hole cut out in the middle for the banker to reside. Everyone sits in theater box like seating and their cards are trucked over to them via a small railroad like system. Their cover up is even more opulent. If the police decide to raid, There is a lever that is pulled and a woman drops down slowly from the ceiling and puts on a stark avant-garde dance that involves drapped clothing and lots of boobies. This scene is an example of many throughout the film that glimpse at the absurd amount of money the elite are wasting on trivial pursuits.This is at odds with the larger population of Germany. While the elite are wasting their money, the normal people are realizing that the value of their money is going down. Thanks in no small part to Dr. Mabuse who has a massive counterfeiting ring going on. Although we barely get to know any of them, it is obvious that Dr. Mabuse’s goons are not working for him out of pure loyalty, but more out of the need for a job. This is the only reason that explains the massive amount of blind men collecting and collating the counterfeit money.

Whether or not Lang liked the title, I would firmly put this movie in the German Expressionist movement. Stark contrasts, obtuse angles, psychological imagery abound in this beautifully made film. One of the more interesting techniques he is uses is the characters seeing physical manifestations of words that Dr. Mabuse says to them. At one point van Wenk is hypnotized into getting in a car and drive off to commit suicide off of the cliff. The name of the cliff haunts him as he drives faster and faster to his fate. He can’t seem to lose the name, it appears everywhere. The last scene in particular echoes visual tricks that he would prefect in Metropolis a couple of years later. Dr. Mabuse has descended into his own madness and he is trapped inside the room where all of the counterfeiting money is kept. He sees the counterfeiting machines as robots and scary creatures out to get him. This is a great scene that made for a satisfying ending.

Lang is a genius. There is no denying this fact. All you have to do is look at one sequence in this film and you will understand how he was able to have such a fruitful career. His ability to tell the story through his camera and not necessarily through the stage plotting or the characters is years ahead of his time. Tomorrow I will examine his sequel that he made to Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler exactly ten years later when the situation in Germany had gotten much worse. Until then, my sweet.

Bon Voyage

bon-voyage-jpr

Even actresses had to escape the Nazi oppression as they moved into the heart of Paris. In Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s period movie from the mid-2000s, he imagines what it would be like to be this fastidious and self-obsessed actress as she tries to survive the Nazis and her lovers. In the same vein as Black Book, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, Rappeneau tries to take a dour subject and inflect some humor and airiness into it. The results are a mixed bag.

Isabelle Adjani plays Viviane Denvers. She is a French starlet who invites an old flame and friend, Frederic Auger, to help cover up a murder she had just committed. She talks him into putting the body into the back of a car and drive it away from her. As he drives, the rain on the windshields is too much and he ends up crashing into a police stand with the trunk popping open to reveal the dead man. The man is stuck in prison two years later when he finds his opportunity to escape. He leaves the prison as the rest of the population of Paris is leaving as well. He and a friend travel to Bordeaux and happen upon Viviane, wrapped in the arms of a minister, played by Gerard Depardieu. The triangle is complicated by the comely assistant to a professor who is trying to escape France with his heavy water, a substance used in manufacturing atomic bombs. As the assistant negotiates her professor’s exit, Frederic falls into the trap that is Viviane too many times to count. He cannot let go of this childhood crush. She seems to get pleasure out of manipulating him, her minister and the evil reporter/Nazi informer. Everyone is desperate to leave this overcrowded town, but saying that they want to leave and actually doing it is two very different things. Each character struggles to untwist their ties to Bordeaux and escape without anyone finding out what their true intentions are. This is the impetus to many incidents in the twisty turny plot.

I compared this movie to Black Book in the first paragraph for a reason. While Black Book took one woman’s struggle to stay alive in occupied Belgium and injected it with cartoonish violence, Bon Voyage  takes this plot and plays it for laughs. But it also tries its hardest to impart the import of the events happening around the characters. This combination produces odd moments and a schizophrenic attitude in me. Am I supposed to be laughing or crying? Or both? The opening scenes give a great distillation of the movie overall. We see Viviane attending a premiere of her own movie. While watching the film, she does this over the top reaction to a man twisting in his seat to look at her on the balcony. Moments later, an important politician, Beaufort (Depardieu) trips over the stairs in order to talk to her. She is at one point in fear for her life and the next tittering and flattered that such a man would pay attention to her. Now imagine the threat of the man turning in his chair and the awkward humor manifested in Beaufort tripping, stretched out to over two hours. It becomes exhausting to say the least.

The plot twists come at the screen in an almost whip-lash like speediness. Nothing rests, nothing stays the same for very long. I don’t really get to know the characters as full, fleshed out characters, just how they relate to the plot. When Beaufort disappears for the last third of the film, I do not miss him although he was so integral to the plot in the first two-thirds. It seems as if he had vanished from the screen all together. The same happens to the professor and the friend. They only step in when the plot needs them too and not a moment before.

Comedy comes out of the even the most dour drama. I think that Rappeneau should have remembered that saying a little more throughout the shooting of this film.