Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby [2006)

This is a pretty damned perfect film.

Depending on where you’re coming from.

I set out for San Antone and I never felt so good.

“”

It might seem like a light watch (and in many ways it is), but Talladega Nights… captures something essential.

Will Ferrell distinguishes himself here as something of an auteur.

Sure, it’s really just an extended George W. Bush impersonation transposed onto the milieu of NASCAR, but there is quite a remarkable naïveté here from Ferrell.

It is kayfabe all the way to Alabama.

Ferrell never gives away the game.

Did Will Ferrell despise George W. Bush?

Did Will Ferrell secretly love George W. Bush?

Was Will Ferrell completely apolitical at this time?

It doesn’t matter.

What we see in his role as Ricky Bobby is pure.

There is something of Andy Kaufman in his performance.

Ferrell plays this role as if in a trance.

And this makes this film truly remarkable.

Sure, there are a ton of one-liners throughout.

The one-liners hook you in.

You see a bit on TV.  You hear a quote by the water cooler.

But when you finally sit down to view the whole film, you are greeted by a very complete work of art.

And, it must be said:  the brilliance of this film hinges as much on Sacha Baron Cohen as it does on Ferrell.

The two play off one-another.

Don’t be fooled:  Cohen’s turn as the Perrier-sponsored NASCAR driver Jean Girard is not a gratuitous cameo.

There is real drama here.

Real tension.

But most of all, it is one of those rare times when two comedic geniuses face off and create a sum greater than the parts.

Indeed, this may be Cohen’s best film role aside from the timeless Borat…

Cohen’s Girard comes off as a rather insipid, tongue-in-cheek Bond villain.

Think Hugo Drax.

Moonraker.

All caricature.

But it works.

Because Cohen mixes in an equal part Serge Gainsbourg.

For my money, there are few things funnier than seeing a NASCAR driver reading Camus’ L’Étranger WHILE DRIVING!!! 🙂

And there are so many of these moments.

Many of them are lowbrow.

Redneck.

But this film is classic.

This is truly a slice of Americana.

And, at the same time, it is a good story about overcoming anxiety.

Amy Adams plays a very important, mostly-understated role as Ricky Bobby’s assistant.

Her impassioned monologue in The Unfriendly Possum (before she climbs up on the table and makes out with Ferrell) is truly a bit of acting brilliance.

She channels something.

Can you buy that?

Can you just pay an actress to be that good??

No.

Not necessarily.

Adams adds a depth which this film dearly needed.

Cohen added a bizarre twist which perfectly seasoned the whole concoction.

But Ferrell is the big enchilada here.

Adam McKay did a nice job reeling this one in.

But he had a juggernaut in Ferrell.

Truly a special film.

It is a niche film.

But I live in that niche 🙂

 

-PD

Le Petit soldat [1963)

“La photographie, c’est la vérité, et le cinéma, c’est vingt-quatre fois la vérité par seconde.”  It is one of the most famous quotes in the history of cinema and likewise among the most often quoted in relation to Godard, yet it is a line in a film…this film…and it is delivered by the character Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor).  And so, there is some distance from the auteur…perhaps very little , but yet it exists.  This is just one of the odd disconnects about this brilliant film.

The synopsis on Wikipedia presents another right off the bat.  Bruno is a deserter from the French military, yet he is working for French intelligence in Geneva.  On the surface this seems irreconcilable, yet a bit of thought opens up several possibilities.  First, the “French intelligence” under consideration might be an organization not wholly sanctioned by the French government.  We hear of these dark organizations often.  Rogue branches.  Rogue networks.  Informal connections.  Perhaps even an entire parallel government (or, at the very least, intelligence apparatus).  Second, we must take the film’s context to ascertain the indisputable fact that Bruno Forestier isn’t entirely a free agent.  In other words, his record is being used against him to greater or lesser extent to blackmail him into performing dirty deeds (assassinations) for this intel branch (asset by coercion).  Again, this certainly isn’t without precedent in real world situations.

But perhaps the greatest dissonance, though nuanced, is presented in something Jean-Luc Godard himself wrote in 1960.  As this film was banned in France for three years, this written explanation would predate the film’s release by the same number of years.  It can be found in the Simon and Schuster Modern Film Scripts version of the action (1967, English translation by Nicholas Garnham).  In this short piece, Godard explains his take on the film.  The focus is on realism.  Cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who had been a war photographer in Indochina, was integral in conveying Godard’s vision by way of a handheld camera (as opposed to the large Mitchell camera which he used on his next film Une Femme est une femme).  The auteur likewise makes reference to “whip-pans, over- and under-exposed shots, one or two blurred ones,” etc. in dissecting his own mise-en-scène.  The beginning of this introduction apparently comes from issue no.109 of Cahiers du cinema.  More importantly, what follows in this introduction delineates his focus on stubborn freedom.  It is in this concept which Godard manages to declare that Le Petit soldat “is not politically orientated in a particular direction.”

This was not something I had previously noted in prior viewings, but I can see how Godard might claim such.  Indeed, Bruno Forestier is a very conflicted character.  In some ways he is the noble version of Michel Poiccard from Breathless.  Both have a strange, tenuous grasp on ethics.  Nihilism abounds in both, yet Forestier’s brand almost comes off as a noir Buddhism.  It is little wonder that Godard would later dedicate one of Histoire(s) du cinema‘s chapters to Clint Eastwood.

Bruno Forestier is far from perfect, but in that condition he is still charming and likable…even heroic to a certain extent.  There is no doubt that Rossellini’s Roma città aperta loomed large as an influence for the torture sequences of our film.  It might even be said that this Godard film is more poignant now (with respect to torture) than it has ever been.  Bruno is subjected to a method not unlike waterboarding.

But there are other pithy quotes such as, “…killing a man from a distance, I think it’s dishonest.”  This almost begs to be compared to the drone strikes which have become sadly ubiquitous in our upside-down world.

Yet, amidst all of this painful reality, Godard manages to outdo himself in artistic name-dropping.  Paul Klee is referenced multiple times (Swiss artist, movie set in Geneva).  We sympathize with Bruno Forestier partly because he is artistic (a photographer).  “And Veronica, are her eyes Velasquez grey or Renoir grey?”  So muses Bruno about Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina).  This was, in fact, her first film for Godard.  Dreyer is no doubt an homage to Carl Theodor Dreyer (Danish actress, Danish legend/director).  The artistic references are almost comical at times…such as when Jean Cocteau’s novel Thomas l’imposteur is improbably brought into play.

One final thought.  Maurice Le Roux’s music plays a vital role in setting this film apart from anything Godard had done in his first four films.  The dense, clustered piano textures play like Henry Cowell improvising on Brahms. After the tides of Manaunaun, that Irish god of motion, wash Veronica’s fate ashore Lake Geneva, we get the biggest shock of all: Bruno behaving like Meursault from L’Étranger.  The final disconnect comes from recalling that Bruno told Veronica he detests Camus.

-PD