A Woman of Paris [1923)

This is a very sad film from Charlie Chaplin.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Not tragi-comic.  Just plain old sad.

Well-made, but full of pathos throughout.

And why is it such an oddity?

Because Chaplin himself is not in it.  At all.

This was his first attempt at being a serious director.

It was almost his last such effort.

But, alas… (as they say)…Chaplin’s final film was also to not feature himself as an actor (but for a cameo).  That film, A Countess from Hong Kong, bears a striking resemblance from the standpoint of title to the film under consideration.

To wit:

A…Woman…of…Paris

A…Countess…from…Hong Kong

The only difference is that the latter film (from 1966) was a comedy.

But back to the heart-wrenching [sic] film at hand.

It doesn’t tear the heart…doesn’t rend.  No, rather, it indeed twists it (like a piece of laundry before being hung out to dry).

And so most of this film is overwrought.  But an auteur like Chaplin is really incapable of making a bad film.  And in the end we are glad we saw it.  Me.  The royal “we”.

Sure, this film is a massive downer, but there is a sweet message to it.  In other words, it is worth seeing.  It isn’t recommended as a pick-me-up after a long day at work, but under the right circumstances it might really speak to a viewer.

It did, indeed, speak to me.

Edna Purviance is a face worth crying for.  We have cried for her.  Yes.  She ran off without any explanation.  If she’d only stayed on the phone a moment longer…

And so Jean (Carl Miller) begins his sad story.  It takes a long time to become this sad.  It is like the impasto-knife mountains of van Gogh…those little timeless blobs of paint which he shaped into miniature Hokusai waves on the canvas.  That kind of sadness…  Layer upon layer.

And the real focal point is Jean’s mother (played by Lydia Knott).  She is the mother who would understand.  An elopement.  The mother who would play diplomat.  “Go say ‘goodbye’ to your father.”

But she is only human.  Having lost everything, she only has her son left.

Our judgment as humans is clouded.  We give bad advice.  Not purposefully.  There is just a limit to what we know.  We have failed to understand certain things.  These are our shortcomings.

And so Jean doesn’t see the pot of soup on the stove.  Jean doesn’t appreciate his mother who does the grocery shopping.  Jean is too young…and he’s lovesick.

We fixate in romance.  We fall…so deep.  In love.  And it seems like a whirlpool pulling us under.

What a blessing to live!  What a blessing to smile.  Yes, I am sad.  But I try to smile.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe tomorrow I won’t be tongue-tied and shy.  Maybe tomorrow the molecules with bounce a different way.  If I am a billiard ball, maybe tomorrow I will glance off the fray at a different angle.  A glance.  Maybe someone will notice me tomorrow.  Not notice me as a freak, but notice me as a kind human being.

It’s all Charlie was trying to say.  Serve others.  Find happiness.  It’s all I’m trying to say.  And do.  I hope the universe will find my efforts humbly acceptable.  In the end.

It’s worth it.  Stay till the end.

 

-PD

 

 

 

Le Salaire de la peur [1953)

Only appropriate that we would reapproach France during these tense times with this film which is, believe it or not, more full of tension than anything I can recall in Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

Yes, The Wages of Fear by director Henri-Georges Clouzot is unlike anything I have ever seen.  More or less.

A parallel can be made to the Humphrey Bogart film They Drive by Night, but Le Salaire de la peur is of a different caliber altogether.

Believe it or not, Yves Montand actually out-acts Bogart in this here film.

From the bizarre beginnings, we hardly have any clue where this flick is going.

Where are we?  Tegucigalpa?  No, not enough oil.  Venezuela?  Perhaps.

D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous???

Mexico.  A fictional (?) town called Las Piedras. The stones.

Not to be confused with pies (feet).

Indeed, stones play an important part in this film.  And so do feet.

But initially we are disoriented by the Eisenstein-like montage reminiscent of ¡Que viva México!  A small child with a sombrero and no pants playing with cockroaches.

And as the film gets going we notice the multitude of languages.  Spanish, French, German (?), Italian…maybe Dutch?

The Dutchman in question is played by German actor Peter van Eyck (born Götz von Eick).

In fact, I thought for much of the film that I was watching Oskar Werner (much to my chagrin upon consulting the credits).

And so we have a hodgepodge of refugees in this one-horse town of Las Piedras, but the oil industry beckons…on the frontier.  It is a dangerous industry (and becomes infinitesimally more dangerous through the course of this film).

I do believe I have heard Clouzot described as the French Hitchcock.  After seeing this, that makes perfect sense.

Le salaire de la peur is such a pithy, visceral film.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a very powerful film which takes aim at corporate callousness.  But the real theme is danger.  Fear.  Anxiety.  The sickness of worry.

It reminds us that we shouldn’t judge our fellow humans too harshly.  We can never know the exact feelings or the exact situation.

One final thought.  Nitroglycerine plays an integral part in this film.

I pray that the Russian soldiers who died yesterday will not have died in vain.  May the leaders of Turkey and the other NATO countries come to their senses in what has been sheer geopolitical insanity along Russia’s border.  What restraint Russia has shown compared to the egregious stunt pulled by Turkey!  As with all actions emanating from the West, I wouldn’t be surprised if the incident was ordered to occur (giving propitious conditions) by a power residing much further west than Ankara.

May courage and wisdom be with the militaries of all nations, the soldiers of which are thrust into the most unenviable positions imaginable.  War for profit has hit its maximum potential.  If there be one true diplomat left on the planet, let him or her please stand up at this crucial time.

Don’t count too much on your simulations.

 

-PD