Casque d’Or [1952)

This is one of my favorite films ever made.

Maybe Jacques Becker was just a minor auteur, but he holds a large place in my heart because of this film.

It’s what we can’t have in life.

Who.

Back that reification up.

The pretty blond.

The girl will pay us no mind.

Because we are just carpenters.

Workers.

No, even lower than that.

We are failed workers.

It makes you wonder whether Hitchcock felt most alienated from the objects of his desire while directing them?

There’s that reification again.  Thingification.

If we’re learned anything from Marxism, it’s that.

Humans are not “its”.

But our language is structured to make them so.

Blonde on blonde.

Perhaps a pickguard on a Telecaster.

Even in black and white we can tell that Simone Signoret is a blond.

Her beauty is flooring.

Serge Reggiani had to play the role of a traitor in Les Portes de la nuit, but here he is the hero.

The perfect friend.

Faithful.

Criminals stick together.

A code.

And it is touching.

Because the code can bite the big cheese in the ass.

Different systems of justice.

The criminals don’t call the police.

Justice is swift.

It’s all a bit savage.

But how else should we describe the heart in love?

Here we see Reggiani maddeningly in love.

Fatal beauty.

Simone Signoret.

With her hair helmet.

Completely lost in translation.

Everyone has a mustache here.

Maybe that’s why I can relate.

Reggiani plays a schmuck like me.

And it works.

Someone falls in love with him.

All he has to do is be himself.

But most of all this film shows the sadness of love.

All the many things that can go wrong.

The tunnel vision.

The heroic focus.

The jealousy of spectators.

Two in love.

Why can’t they be let alone?

To be happy.

Les Apaches.

“un dégueulasse”

Here it is again.

Just as À bout de soufflé passed on some fashion (garments) to C’est arrivé près de chez vous, so too Casque d’Or hurls that word at a key moment.

 dégueulasse…
Could have.  Should have.  Would have.
Métro, boulot, dodo.
As long as we try, we can rest our minds.
We have fought courageous battles of love.
Perhaps we have lived to fight another day.
The soldier must always retain optimism.
When faced with survival all alone.
In the middle of nowhere.
-PD

 

Smultronstället [1957)

At some point during the viewing of this film I turned 39 years old.  That is significant because there is a moment in this masterpiece by Ingmar Bergman at which a character is described precisely as 38 years old.

And so a mostly unimportant question arises:  was I 38 or 39 when I heard that line?

To be sure, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Wild Strawberries, but seeing it on the cusp of my birthday as the world spits me back into the cosmic cuspidor makes a poignant movie absolutely devastating.

You must understand, by “devastating”…I don’t necessarily mean bad.  In my film lexicon I reserve the word devastating for films which reduce me to a weeping mess.  This, now, is one such film.

My memory of it was as a sweet film…wild strawberries…youthful love…summertime.  And indeed, all of those things are there.  But this film is more than just naïveté.  This film is about aging.  Old age.

I would never have made the connection, but Smultronstället bridges the gap (somewhat) between its comrades in simpatico:  Umberto D. (1952) and The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (2005).  In the former, Carlo Battisti set the gold standard for this micro-genre.  He was 69 when he portrayed the titular Umberto Domenico Ferrari.  In the latter, Ioan Fiscuteanu brought a razor-sharp accuracy to the likewise titular character Dante Remus Lăzărescu while being, himself, 68 years old.

And that brings us to the famed silent-film director Victor Sjöström.  For Bergman’s Smultronstället, Sjöström was invited aboard as an actor (in the lead role of Isak Borg).  Sjöström was, almost exactly with the two previous actors mentioned, 68 years old when he assumed this immortal role.

But there is something which Ingmar Bergman did (thanks to the magic of Sjöström’s performance) which is unique in this film.  Beyond the surrealism befitting of de Chirico, beyond the hint of road movie panache which predated À Bout de souffle, Bergman keyed in on an absolutely defining characteristic of old age (for many):  loneliness.

I recognize it because it is an absolutely defining characteristic of my own life.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone out there is as lonely as me.  I send out my signal.  I comb through the tags.  “Lonely” is a young person’s emotion.  “Loneliness” is a lifelong complex.  An articulate, stark reality.

And how does it happen?

Well, you will just have to see this film.  Really, there are few movies I could more strongly recommend than Wild Strawberries.  Everyone will see it differently.  For me it brings back memories of Sweden (and even Denmark [though I should probably wait for Dreyer before admitting that]).  Girls named Kaaren and Anna and Saaarah (ok, maybe not that many As).

That is the route of this unlikely road movie.  What could have been…  What might have been~~

Sometimes a dream rights our ship.  But these bad dreams…we are one credit hour short, she doesn’t remember us, we’ve forgotten the first rule of being a doctor…

In our wisdom we will think of the good times.  For me, it is as hard as breathing.  I don’t breathe well.  I think too much.  About it.  Everything.

Wisdom lets us go back to our old neighborhood…our old play friends…some ball in the street.  We must have some good memories somewhere.  Psychology urges this.  A safe place.  A mental image.  A way to calm down.

In the fray of life this often isn’t practical.  Indeed, we forget everything.  Is there or isn’t there a God?  I would say yes, but I’m not going to arm-wrestle you over it.

That is a bit of wisdom.  You can go home again.

 

-PD

 

 

La Règle du jeu [1939)

I relate to Jean Renoir’s character.  Octave.  Fat, optimistic, and full of regrets.

Jean Renoir was, of course, the director of this film.

Likewise, he plays a very important dramatic role in the production.

I would argue that his role is the most essential of all.

In this film of rich, pithy characters, Octave sticks out like a polished stone.

Not a precious stone.

Simply a smooth, common rock.  A paperweight.  Our anchor.

And this is apparent on first viewing, yet La Règle du jeu necessitates multiple viewings to truly appreciate.

My language is not French.  Yes, perhaps it is my favorite language, but I am indebted to the subtitles.

And La Règle du jeu is replete with overlapping, symbolic dialogue.

But you don’t want to hear such boring play-by-play.

If you are reading, you want something special.

And I want something special when I watch a film.

Jean Renoir (son of the more well-known Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir) delivers a masterpiece here.

There is a Great Gatsby effect which may put off modern audiences of modest means (like myself).

To wit, who wants to hear about rich people problems?

All I can do is urge patience when watching this film.

It may not immediately come off as riveting, but it is well worth it if you stick it out till the end.

What should be pointed out is that Renoir was apparently making a statement about the upper classes which paints them in a not altogether flattering light.

More directly, this film takes aim at the elite and lets ’em have it (but in a very sneaky way).

And yet, it is not all about class warfare.

Far from it.

It embraces and repudiates.

Actions can be deplorable.  But those who commit deplorable actions are still humans.

We all have the capacity within us for unspeakable error.

Few among us truly stand out as regards vice.

But we are all touched by the world.

I estimate it quite unlikely than a truly monastic monk or nun is reading this post.

And if they are, I hope they are brewing up a nice batch of beer in Belgium.

The rules of the game.

The beaters.

Hired lackeys who whack the trunks of trees to drive the animal life out of the forest.

Moving like a line of riot police.

All for the rich to have their fun.

The hunt.

But Renoir is the true artist.

He makes it clear.

The rich aren’t all bad.

The poor aren’t all saints.

Both classes lean to the middle.

There are admirable actions from both sides.

Perhaps the class structure itself is suspect.

Perhaps it is a vestige whose time has come.

But reality is that rich and poor will wake up on the globe tomorrow.

Staggered in times.  Zones.

Rich at their leisure (we imagine).

Poor at the more brutal hours (no doubt).

The poor run around like rabbits chased out of the forest.

The rich sit in their hunting blinds and preach gun control.

The true hunt now is the techno hunt.  The bio hunt.

But a girl and a gun can still carry a movie.

And so, I have rambled enough about La Règle du jeu.  It is truly an indispensable film.

Something about it is almost impenetrable for an English speaker (monoglot) in the 21st century.

And so we hope the French haven’t forgotten their fondateurs like Jean Renoir.

Lessons.  Lessons.

It’s up to all of us to preserve these slices of history.

Yes, it is fiction.  Yet, real life was employed (implored) in the making of this fiction (which seeks to be lifelike).

An endless reflection.

In the hall of mirrors at Versailles.

-PD

Napoleon Dynamite [2004)

If this film makes you cry, then you have problems.  Welcome to my world.  Hopefully this will be the best thing I have ever written.

There are a couple of times.  Laugh out loud.  But those parts which pass by like strange quirks.  The space in between laughs.  That is the pathos of marginalia.

People.  Marginalized.  What the hell am I talking about?

There’s awkward and aw-kward.  It is the latter with which we are concerned.  A whole new level of pariah.

But also mundane.  And not to be forgotten…endearingly strange.

Preston, Idaho.  It’s real.  Really exists.

Napoleon and his brother Kip.  Lots of weird mustaches here.  But Napoleon is just the geeky gawky gangly guy growing up.

As Kip shows, some of us never grow up.  And Uncle Rico…whoa mama.  All regrets and what-ifs.

Grandmother was at the dunes and broke her coccyx.  Tailbone.

Riding the four-wheeler.

Grandma’s got a boyfriend.  Or a girlfriend.  Or something.

This is one time when some Wikipedia contributor has actually done a loving portrait of a film.

Perusing.

Rico is our campervan Beethoven.  A real jerk.  But not without his humorous (humerus?) moments.  Funny bone.

Fortunately LaFawnduh’s cousin is apparently Jamiroquai (they being a band and not a person).

Whoa…aw-kward.  Writing.

Jon Heder approaches the greatness of Peter Sellers in this film.  Heder is our lead…our anti-Bond (James).  Not cool.  Never was cool.  Painfully existing.

Tina Majorino brings an indispensable side ponytail grace to this story.  Such a beautiful girl.  A real person.  This film succeeds by employing a sort of Robert Bresson technique.  It also is the laughing equivalent of the Romanian New Wave.  To wit, Jared Hess made one of the most important American movies of recent decades.  Kudos to Fox Searchlight Pictures for giving this the distribution it deserved.  We know they later picked up Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Nice job Fox Searchlight!

And why do we cry?  Part of it is Efren Ramirez as Pedro.  Down here in San Antonio.  People living for their Spurs.  I know.  Me too.  Small victories seem so big.  El Presidente.  He builds her a cake.  The vacuous Summer.  No!!!  (little hearts beneath the exclamation points)

It’s hot.  Pedro doesn’t have air conditioning.  Napoleon’s top-loading VCR comes in handy after he scores a sweet Kid ‘n’ Play video at the thrift store.  Kip backs over the Tupperware in a failed Ginsu demonstration.  “Dang it!”

Pedro from Juarez.  In Idaho.  That’s like a Martian in Indiana or Iowa.  It’s real.  We all end up someplace.  For some reason.  And the cousins with the sweet low-rider.  The cousins with the hookups.  A short segment about banding together.  People with odds stacked against them helping other people with odds stacked against them.

A very humble project.

And someday Napoleon’s ligers will hang in the MoMA…and his portrait of Trisha (with the deftly-shaded upper lip) will fetch $100 million at Sotheby’s.

And LaFawnduh from Detroit.  Definitely AOL-era.  No cellphones in this movie.  Deb (Majorino) has to go to a payphone to tactfully reprimand Napoleon.  But it was all Rico’s fault.  Uncle Rico.  Hell, Napoleon even got a job moving chickens…for $1 an hour.  And they had big talons!  Just drink the raw eggs and mingle with the farmers.  The old people have good stories.  About Shoshone arrowheads in the creek bed.  White-bread sandwiches.  I don’t understand a word I just said.

It’s that I don’t have any skills.  Nunchuk skills.  Computer hacking skills.  Cage fighting skills.  Rex kwon do skills.

Oops.  Yeah, I dress like Peter Pan.  Forever the butt of a joke.

Napoleon runs like Forrest Gump…with Trisha’s corsage.  But it’s lonelier.  It’s stranger.  Like Peter Sellers doing Camus.  Chaplin and Sartre.  Les Temps modernes.

So when the antihero finally succeeds it elicits an honest firestorm of support.  Lots of people with nothing to live for. A little saint for the hallway.  A prayer has been answered.  They already tore down my high school.  Same name, different building.  I pass it everyday.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Some might say.  I know there’s a place for me somewhere.

It’s not all about tetherball.  It’s the determination.  A solitary game.  A clueless dork.  Thanks be to god.  THis movie.

-PD