Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain [2001)

Today is my 40th birthday.

And it gives me pause to reflect.

On the many wonderful things I have done and seen.

And on the mistakes I have made.

This film, in particular, brings to my heart a specific apology.

And yet, I know not how to find the wonderful young woman who first showed me this film.

I doubt she is reading.

But I pray that my thoughts will bounce off the moon…and find her happy in Paris…or Aix-en-Provence.

But Amélie, as we call it in America…is full of beaming positivity.

And so we shall push on.

As much as we wouldst remain in this quicksand, we push on.

Perhaps it’s loneliness.

And certainly an overactive imagination.

But some of it is the absurdity we found in that Québécois masterpiece Léolo (1992) by director Jean-Claude Lauzon.

We can stay at home.

Far from the maddening crowd.

The crowd.

Vidor.

Irving Thalberg.

Thomas Hardy.

But we yearn for excitement.

We yearn to feel the blood pulse in our veins.

To “lose the fear” as The Boo Radleys sang.

Best,

how many waitresses we have fallen in love with.

Hard-boiled eggs in the highlands.

Robert Burns.

Don’t close your heart.

Leave open.

Rube Goldberg might dislodge a wall tile.  And a world beyond…

Éclairs sur l’au-delà…

Do good things.

As if you were an angel.

A spy for God.

Making miracles.

Ellen Andrée…the girl drinking the water…in Renoir’s painting.

Pierre-Auguste.

Must clarify, not Jean…extolling Bazin.

Everything secretly.

One hand not knowing what the other is doing.

QWERTY.

X.

You have a mission to bring happiness to those around you.

Hippie bumper stickers call it “random acts of kindness”.

And I wholeheartedly approve.

Send the gnome to Nome.

Ponder jurassic orgasms from far afield or near (15+1).

And let out some steam for modesty’s sake.

Stratagems befitting Technical Services in thrall to love…forgery for romance.

Time machine.

Nothing some Twinings tea can’t age.

And the gaslighting which is currently being employed straight from Alinsky’s Rules against pizzagate researchers…turn the beat around.

Knowing John Podesta founded the Center for American Progress…under the aegis of which Mind Wars was written by Jonathan D. Moreno.

We have on good faith that US spec-ops use this very book.

So that Mr. Podesta should not be at all surprised by a little blowback.

Neuroscience neuroscience neuroscience.

And the funding and methodology of trolls suddenly makes sense.

Yes, Amélie is an expert in psychological warfare.

But only as a last resort.

AND, most importantly, she is sticking up for the undefended.

Jamel Debbouze.

It’s impressionist binoculars vs. covert telescope.

Good-natured.

But only she holds the key.

To Ellen Andrée.

And to the ghost.

Who seeks to repair the collective memory.

“Don’t forget my face”, she posits.

But love is the ultimate job.

The ultimate reward.

To find another like yourself.

To be accepted.

To find the lock for your key.

And vice versa.

It is cat and mouse.

And Zorro.

And Audrey Tautou is magnificent.

She is a jewel in a world created by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

So tender.

So halting.

We feel “the time-image” of which Deleuze wrote.

Love is too strong.

Like staring into the sun.

Too forceful.

Like a full moon.

But luckily Mathieu Kassovitz knows his proverbs.

And that “made all the difference”.

Early on one frosty morn’.

Simply put, Amélie is an undeniable masterpiece.

That only the hard-hearted could look down upon.

 

-PD

Perličky na dně [1966)

I’ve never been much a fan of the omnibus film (or anthology film) genre.

Several directors.

One product.

But this one serves a very interesting purpose.

So far, we have only considered the work of Jiří Menzel (among Czech directors).

So now we will get to branch out a bit.

A sampler of sorts.

Funny enough, Menzel leads this whole thing off.

Start with your best speaker, they say.

Menzel’s contribution is fairly good.

It is closer in spirit to Capricious Summer than it is to the masterpiece Closely Watched Trains

Which is to say, it is largely “meh”.

But a true auteur is still engaging even when he or she is meh, and Menzel is interesting…even when he’s boring (as in Rozmarné léto).

If we want to know where the Belgian juggernaut Aaltra comes from, then we should look no further than Menzel’s short contribution on motorcycle racing.

As with all the stories in this omnibus, the author (in the literary sense) is Bohumil Hrabal.

We get our first bit of the “aging” theme in this installment.

The old man with his stories of Smetana and Dvořák.

The weird harpsichord music courtesy of Jan Klusák (or perhaps Jiří Šust).

It’s baroque, but just slightly off.  Anachronistic.  Neobaroque.  Like Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (and just as rococonutty).

But the “aging” theme really comes to the fore in the next section which is directed by Jan Němec.  Němec sadly passed away but four months ago.

In this scene we meet two old men in a hospital.  It is a very touching piece of cinema.

They try to keep each other’s spirits up.

We also start to sense another theme in Hrabal’s writing:  lies.

Lies notwithstanding, Němec’s segment is perhaps the most poignant thing about this film.

In the middle we get a splash of color (the rest of the film being in black and white) courtesy of the radical Evald Schorm.

What makes Schorm’s segment so beautifully jarring is the music (extremely reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen):  organ dissonance ostensibly courtesy of the aforementioned Klusák and/or Šust.

We are presented with outsider art in its purest form.  A painter who paints every wall in his house.  It is certainly reminiscent of the one-of-a-kind Henry Darger.

Incidentally, the scene is deliciously dark humor directed at not only the bureaucracy of the Czechoslovak state but also at the legitimacy of the insurance industry.

Věra Chytilová contributes a dark-yet-dreamy vignette suffused with desperation throughout.  Her use of slow-motion photography captures some very special emotions and is reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s use of the same in Zéro de conduite.

Finally, we encounter gypsies for the first time thanks to the loving depiction of Jaromil Jireš.

A Czech boy does his best Jean-Paul Belmondo before the cracked mirror near the lobby cards.

Dana Valtová might be the most convincing actress in this entire feature.  Her role of the dark-skinned gypsy (who remains nameless) is quite astonishing.

And so we learn a bit more about the Czech people thanks to this defining mosaic from the Czech New Wave:  Pearls of the Deep.

And little by little we learn a new culture.

 

-PD

Francesco, giullare di Dio [1950)

As a humble servant I come to you.

Speaking of a film.

About the dear St. Francis of Asisi.  San Francesco.  François.

I remember you because of the dear composer Olivier Messiaen.

And his only opera.

As a humble servant I thank God for life.

Two people playing catch with a football.

Traffic jams.

Moments of reflection.

I thank you God for Hélène Grimaud’s new album.

It is raining and soaking us to the bone.

As I walk with Harry Partch.

Bitter music.

I am but a poor sinner.

This film which is impenetrable.

Drab drab.

We thank God for the birds which laugh.

And I thank God for Pope Francis.

Yes, it is only fitting.

That he has seen the striving of all world religions.

That he has seen their imperfections.

That he has voiced the message of peace.

That we are all praying to the same God.

Whether Trinity or plethora.

Allah.

Shiva and Vishnu.

And Mr. Buddha, who are you?

Is it a koan I present?

Perhaps.

We thank God for Aldo Fabrizi.

The humor of the birds.

Chirp a little softer so that I may finish the Lord’s Prayer.

And let us not neglect Christianity.

As we are embracing our brothers around the world.

Our sisters around the world.

Thank God for holy fools.

I

am only able to relate to the dirt.

The ground.  The soil.

As we make our way without sandals.

But no.

We might need a peg and awl to fix them.

It was The Carolina Tar Heels back in 19 and 28.

1928.

There is a leper with a cowbell.

It means stay back.

Look away.  I’m hideous.

We come humble to the table of the Lord.

Face down in a field of flowers.

Grappling with the beauty of it all.

And the Saints also have sadness.

Because it is a hard road.

To leave and be uprooted.

To see friends wade across to the other shore.

To Arezzo, perhaps.  Spoleto.  Pisa.

Disarming with his smile the ridiculous tyrant in his Picasso armor.

We do not understand.

Flat round.

We are but poor country people.  Poor city folk.  Provincial yahoos.

I will sit and enjoy the day…chewing on this leek.

All the actors forgotten.

Nonprofessionals.

Except Aldo Fabrizi.

And we have not thanked the auteur Roberto Rossellini.

Such a strange, simple piety which would so affect Truffaut and Godard.

To put oneself in the 12th…13th centuries.

And to lovingly portray the Franciscans.

Yes, it is good.

Joy now is good.  Thank you God from your humble servant.

Not worthy to carry your flowers.

Pick the flowers but don’t harm the branches.

 

-PD

L’Avventura [1960)

Was Monica Vitti the most beautiful woman ever?

Probably.

Is Monica Vitti the most beautiful woman ever?

Yes.

That sounds better.

This.

This is the most disorienting film I have ever seen.

Mulholland Dr. is child’s play in this regard.

A sort of sweet, pleasant nausea.

A feeling I didn’t know existed.

Maybe.

Maybe John Hughes was right in this regard.

[Vingt regards]

uno

hair, always hair…blowing in the wind…like tall grass

good lord…

due

the birds are men…flocking on the jungle gym bars…as she silently tries to sneak from the schoolhouse

Noto…UNESCO World Heritage Site…Samba de Uma Nota Só

tre

a purring in my headphones…a Foley artist diabolico-subliminal…and yes she curls up like a cat…

Quattro

she seems to be bathing in money…but it’s just the floor pattern…sometimes…the floor looks best in red…

and there is always a woman…or a man…and you hate to admit it

cinque

dreadful…dreary…making love above the cemetery…a gazelle with blond hair…thank you Google…5’7″…an essential function for the, functioning of humanity

sei

Uh!  They’re all nudes.  No nudity here.  A goddess is clothed.  Not an alabaster ornament by the fountain.

sette

I wanted to like it.  Or I wanted to not like it.  Camus.  I said that.

otto

no man is an island…and no island a man…and no man a nomad…

nove

it all hinges (henges) on a funny face in the mirror…the genius…we create together…Vitti…Antonioni…Ferzetti

a bad habit I never caught…

dieci

andiamo…lots of andiamo…remarkable for a film with so little movement in such a big slab of its meat…

like formidable in French…Anna Karina…everything formidable…but that’s because she was Danish…speaking French…and her cute little accent…but before there was Godard Breathless there was Antonioni Adventure…like the second Television album…but moreover on Karina…before Vivre sa vie (I know…) there was L’Avventura…a little scene with a wig…and before that Louise Brooks…

undici

you think they will turn around nude

dodici

Nono, Luigi…it is the most intoxicating kiss…out of nowhere…WTF in excelsis…mamma mia!

tredici

David, del…frolicking…who says summer is over?!?  bangs…Fiat…leaping off the pavement (!)

quattordici

they told me to learn…sotto voce…or sotto nightgown…les cloches…loaves…and fishes…twenty, or vingt-et-un…Van Johnson…I really blew it…the architecture…and a dog with lunar metabolism…

quindici

you fuck…and then get fucked…that is, the circle of life…like a lion…and an impala…gazelle…przygoda…

sedici

he collects dolls…a man…faints [Truffaut]

diciassette

the first girl…is not Vitti…wait a while…count the seconds

diciotto

oops…now comes the swimming in money…my house in Rome…and the other in Milan

diciannove

Michelangelo…Sandro…I threw it all away…and no one is listening

venti

another day, another dollar…pardon me ma’am, but do you have natural nails?  I use a lighter.  Better still, until they go wrong.

it’s too packed full of dolphins

too many Bibles and Catholic eeriness

spring breakers…island hoppers

if it had ended

no

just give me macaroons and sports cars

il mio amore

-PD

Je vous salue, Marie [1985)

Jean-Luc Godard has, in my opinion, made five perfect films.  Chronologically, this is the second of those five.

The first was 23 years earlier.  In 1962, Vivre sa vie let a 22-year-old Anna Karina shine as never before.  After a proverbial 40 days in the deserts of Varèse-like experimentation, Godard emerged to string together a series of films which paved the way for the style in which he continues to direct till this day.  Nevertheless, Je vous salue, Marie towers above the “middle quartets” which precede it.  Truly, this is one of the finest films ever to be made.

It is also a particularly difficult film to review as its history is laden with controversy.  Godard, ever the rebel, chose to retell the story of the Virgin Mary in a modern setting.  No doubt the sincerity of Godard was misinterpreted by many Catholics as blasphemy.

The key to understanding this film is watching the whole thing.  If you are offended, try to make it to the end.  Perhaps the method of storytelling will then make more sense.

It must, however, be admitted that Godard’s take on the Annunciation and birth of Jesus is highly mystical.  It is like the music of Olivier Messiaen.  Dissonance is a gift from God.  To hear the works of Messiaen is to hear devotion expressed in a highly unique way.  My guess is that the great French Catholic composer might have appreciated Godard’s timeless creation under review.  Perhaps even the current Pope Francis might sympathize with the heartfelt offering of Godard.

In 1985, this film was positively scandalous.  What a shame…

Continuing with our musical history lesson, one must only consider the great Handel (composer of Messiah).  Handel was reputedly able to curse proficiently in German, Italian, and English.  Handel was not a saint, yet he composed a tremendous amount of sublime religious music (including the aforementioned oratorio).

It makes me wonder about the great artists like Michelangelo (whose Creation of Adam graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).  Was Michelangelo a particularly pious man?  I have no clue.  But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was colorful in ways other than with his palette.

But Godard committed the greatest sin.  He let life enter his art.  God forbid that life and praise for the divine coexist in a single creation!

But let us return.  This was Myriem Roussel’s film.  It is the finest performance by an actress not named Anamaria Marinca or Dorotheea Petre ever committed to film.  Saoirse Ronan is still waiting for the right vehicle.  Hanna was frighteningly close.  Going back further I would nominate Lauren Bacall, but her range was curtailed somewhat by typecasting.

And so Myriem Roussel.  Godard.  The sublime.  Every shot in this film is perfect.  Every element is precisely placed.  It is intelligent design embodied.

I cannot begin to scratch the surface of this gem.  My lead is no match for this diamond.  No matter how much I scribble, it will not be enough.

This film will endure long after everything is gone.  Je vous salue, Jean-Luc.

-PD

Secret Agent [1936)

If this is propaganda, it is among the most artful of all time.  For it seems to emanate from the mind of an individualist and patriot.  Alfred Hitchcock.

We get our subject material from Somerset Maugham.  Ashenden.

“The wrong man!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”  Thus laughs “the General” Peter Lorre…a sort of lovable psychopath (if such a thing is possible).  Yes, the wrong man.  It is to Hitchcock’s oeuvre what prostitution is to Jean-Luc Godard’s.  But it is a grotesque moment.  The wrong man.  In this case, it went all the way:  they killed the wrong man.  Just an innocent old man with a wife and a dog.  All in a day’s work for a covert operative…Lorre’s laughter seems to tell us.

No.  Lorre is no typical agent.  He’s a hitman.  He doesn’t mind killing.  In fact, he kind-of enjoys it.  Takes pride in his craft (as it were).  Very clean, he says…strangling, a knife…no guns…too noisy.

But let’s back up to John Gielgud.  To make a spy, you kill the man.  It is quasi-Christian.  The old is gone.  Behold, the new has come.

The perfect spy has no past.  This sort of agent wakes up to read his own obituary.  Before long, he has a new identity.

Though this film predates WWII, its subject matter of WWI is certainly infused with the building tension of a second continent-wide conflagration.

And again we witness James Bond far before Ian Fleming birthed him.  The milieu is the same.  Gielgud reports to “R”…like the “M” we would all come to know and love.  And of course Lorre…himself an M of another type (see Fritz Lang).

Trouble in the Middle East.  Why can’t it be Tahiti?  Where’s Leonard Bernstein when you need him???

“The Hairless Mexican” a.k.a. “The General” Peter Lorre…kinda like the Federal Reserve:  not Federal and no reserves.  Yes, Lorre is quite hirsute.  As for his rank, it is as dubious as his other winning personality traits.

Gielgud’s not very careful…right from the start.  I suppose they should have trained the chap in the dark arts before sending him out into the field.  At least the field is Switzerland (Allen Dulles’ future stomping grounds).

Back to our Bond parallels…the gorgeous Madeleine Carroll, like Eva Green in Casino Royale, stipulates a separate-bed rule as part of her cover (Gielgud’s “wife”).  We wonder whether her character, like Hitchcock and Green’s Vesper Lynd, is of Catholic upbringing.

But for the main course…we get some rather convincing ethics from Hitchcock–a morality which we would scarcely see again in the future of film through to the 21st century.  To wit, espionage is the dirtiest of jobs.  Never mind the old trick of digging though a rubbish bin:  the whole operation is filthy and loused up with sickening concessions.  Hitchcock gets right to the point quite forthright:  murder.  Many of the darkest jobs are just that!  One can spin it anyway one wants, but it is still cold-blooded.

It’s not all fun and games, Gielgud tries to convey to Madeleine.  If you’re here for a thrill, you’d best recalibrate your perspective:  things are about to get real ugly!

It is some scary shit.  Imagine Olivier Messiaen and Giacinto Scelsi collaborating with Morton Feldman for a 45 second piece.  It’s called Sonata for Corpse and Organ.  Their contact has been murdered.  The assassin pulled out all the stops.  Just after the prelude, a fugue of struggle ensued which left a button from the killer’s garments clutched in the dead organist’s hand.  We get a rich, chromatic chord until Gielgud and Lorre realize there’s far too little harmonic rhythm to this chorale.  The bloke’s been whacked (slumped upon the keys).

This button, a single-use MacGuffin, leads them to offing the wrong man.  Poor old Percy Marmont…

At this, Gielgud is ready to quit…sickened by the thought of having innocent blood on his hands.  Credit Madeleine Carroll with a nice performance…especially when she plays the straight (horrified) woman to Lorre’s laughter.

And so, again like Casino Royale, Gielgud and Carroll (madly in love) decide to dispense with the whole mission and pack it in (complete with a resignation letter to “R” from Gielgud).

I won’t give away too much.  Lorre is fantastic:  both ridiculously awkward in his humor and deft in his acting.

Unfortunately, the artfulness of the film which Hitchcock had lovingly built up is marred by a somewhat daft, abrupt ending.

Like this.

-PD

Vertigo [1958)

Lovesick.  To know love is to know vertigo.  The great French composer Olivier Messiaen described love as a dizzy feeling (I paraphrase).   To quote the great Bob Dylan from his best album (1997’s Time Out of Mind), “I’m sick of love.”

When I first saw Vertigo I didn’t particularly like it.  I was a neophyte cineaste and I suppose it went over my head.  Indeed, the film did not really click for me until I saw a 70mm restored print as part of the Paramount Theater’s summer film series in Austin, Texas some years back.  I finally began to appreciate the cinematography of Robert Burks…the way the city of San Francisco comes to life in front of the lens he shared with Hitchcock.  As a rather naïve film lover I had once seen Life Is Beautiful several times in the theater upon its release and there was something in the mise-en-scène which gave me a wonderful, cozy, rich feeling…an ambiance which I drank in with each successive viewing.  It is this aspect of film (mood) which really makes Vertigo go.

Bernard Herrmann’s music was never more important to a Hitchcock film than to the one at hand.  The whole production almost becomes a music video during Scottie’s initial trailing of Madeleine.  There is not a word of dialogue from the flower shop to the cemetery to the art museum.  I will not regale you with scholarly milliseconds, but I’m willing to guess that approximately five whole minutes go by completely buoyed by the photography of Burks and the music of Herrmann (all, of course, framed by the voyeuristic passage in our story…and all, likewise, under the watchful eye-of-eyes:  Hitch).

Suffice it to say that I now recognize this to be one of Hitchcock’s best films (if not the best) and therefore one of the best films ever made by any director.  Alfred Hitchcock seems to me as the Beethoven of cinema, but he might just as well be the Bach.  Of other analogies he might be considered our Rembrandt…and almost certainly our Shakespeare.

And so it is that the main protagonist in Vertigo is mood.  What mood?  Which?  Not just any, is it?  It is the mood of Tristan und Isolde…Wagner…that painful longing for love.  Bernard Herrmann borrowed nicely from old Richard in the rich, autumnal, self-consuming harmonies.  Other times, by the sea for instance, we are brought into the sphere of La mer by Debussy.  Whether at Fort Point or floating down endless San Francisco automobile inclines, the weightlessness is also reminiscent of the same composer’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  Herrmann even seems to reference Ravel in the pensive motif which seems like Carlotta’s Iberian clock (ticking to bolero snaps of the second hand).

Yes, Vertigo is a film which will send critics into an orgiastic dither from now till the end of time (I suppose).  My contribution is simple.  Watch it.  Then watch it again.  And then watch it yet again.  There are secrets in this tapestry.  It is pure mystery.

-PD