Viaggio in Italia [1954)

We push ourselves so hard.

For what?

So that we may see beauty.

For me, it’s this.

Though I can barely hold my eyes open, I see it.

I see what Godard saw when he was just a lad.

A very mature film from Roberto Rossellini.

But by mature, we don’t mean sexual.

Actually, more nuanced than that.

A celebration of woman as human being.

A celebration of Ingrid Bergman as auteur.

Just as much as her husband, the director.

It’s there.

The collaboration.

And it’s unlike any other film I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps…

she fell in love with his genius.

The war trilogy.

We have talked about the great films.

Just after WWII.

Rome, Open City.

Germany, Year Zero.

And enfin…

Paisan.

[in not quite that order]

These are our English names.

But Journey to Italy is a weird feast of linguistic absurdity.

“…you shameless hussy”.

It’s like this, see…

George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman are British,

but they’re speaking Italian.

This was so the Italians didn’t have to read subtitles.

But then George says to a prosititute,

“I don’t speak Italian” (or something)

in English…WHEN HE’S BEEN SPEAKING ITALIAN FOR THE FIRST HOUR OF THE FILM!

And then there’s the Italian tradition of postproduction.

No live sound.

In this film, no ambient noises.

It’s like George and Ingrid are touring Italy in a fucking Tesla Model S!!

And a bit of dialogue.

And a clip-clop and a cloche.

Get out of the way, donkey cart!

Such that at a certain point, we wonder whether Roberto was exploding not only genre (to reference James Monaco), but the Italian version of “the tradition of quality” against which the French New Wave set themselves so polemically.

ūüôā

It’s possible.

“Do you think I’m insane,” asked Elon Musk.

No, of course not.

You’re South African like me.

But at the heart of this film (this is a film review, right?) are the same marital arts (!) which made Benatar sing love is a battlespace.  What?

Before Godard and Karina, it was Roberto and Ingrid.

And the tension rubs.

Gimme friction, said Tom Verlaine.

And Paul Verlaine said some stuff which was ignored.

And Rimbaud shot his hand.  Or ran guns.

Back when Abyssinia.

Main point is this is beautiful film.

Plain simple.

And it’s no accident Mr. and Ms. Joyce.

 

-PD

 

Playtime [1967)

This took a lot of watching.  Rewatching.

Last night…so tired.

Watched half.  Then rewind.  Dozed off.  Watch same half again.

First time I saw this (years ago) was on the big screen.

It really makes a difference.

That janitor at the beginning.  His strange pause and crouch.  His peering left and right.  His broom and dustpan.

Very little sweeping.  Just clanking.

Yes.  Sounds.  Sounds.  Sounds.  (Zounds!)

The vinyl chairs which return to their shape after you sit and dent.  The strange sound.  The strange quality.

“Quality”

Tradition of quality.

It might lead you to ask:  what was Jacques Tati trying to say with this film?

Answering that is no easy task.

Sure, this seems like a simple, lightweight film.  In some ways it is.

It’s enjoyable.¬† It’s lighthearted.¬† And yet…

There is more than a smidgen of Modern Times here.¬† And Tati, with his pipe…¬† More than a pipe-full of Sartre.¬† Sartre with his publication Les Temps modernes.¬† Even Sartre apparently thought highly enough of Chaplin to work under an homage headline.

And so, Tati…lost in the supermarket.¬† Lost in the buildings from 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle.¬† Same year.¬† 1967.¬† Paris.¬† In the banlieues.

And very few words.

As I said.

A movie of sounds.

Yes.

But images.

Reflections.

Illusions.

It appears.

Optical.

Illusion.

And its reflection.

Double.

Mirror image.

Flipped.

Paris.

It appears that the buttons have been switched.¬† Very nice, WordPress.¬† Now I am “publishing” every time I intend to merely “save” (and vice versa).

That is the theme of the film.

Thingamajigs.

No no no.¬† Take your time.¬† Uh uh uh…hold on.¬† [click click click click]¬† Ok, now rise.

We wait for the entire hallway to be traversed in an absurd observation of ritual.

And from above…the cubicles.

One needs must occupy higher ground to see the big picture.  All of these busy bees become lost in the fray.

Afraid.

True.

And so it is not farfetched to guess that Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards were influenced in their masterpiece The Party (1968) by Tati’s Playtime (1967).

But with Tati there is even more.  An industrial ballet.  The poise of the service industry (and its opposite).  [Both]

A constant counterpoint like a comic Górecki.

Perhaps I have been hitting the wrong button all along.

Have I been saying these things out loud?

Yes, we wonder.

Technology.

We grew up in a different time.

The chairs were different.

The doors were different.

And since we are quiet and meek we spend an eternity in the antechamber.  In the darkened hallway.

How do we get out?

Yes, Paris…even then, perhaps?¬† A drugstore?¬† Yes.¬† Too depressing for anyone to look each other in the eyes.

The hum.¬† The constant hum.¬† Like Alphaville.¬† Like Oskar Sala’s Trautonium.¬† The Birds.¬† Bernard Herrmann as musical consultant.¬† But those noises.¬† Mixtur.

And several waiters will salt the troutonium…and grind pepper…and spread the sauce…and the couple has moved.

The main course has stayed behind.

Heated.  Reheated.  Set on fire.  Jubilee.

Turbot.

And lobster boy just cares about his hair.

Nerval.  Hugo Ball.

But that humming…like Metal Machine Music way ahead of time.¬† But creepier.¬† Like Raymond Scott’s music for babies crossed with Erik Satie’s musique d’ameublement.

Waiting waiting.¬† That’s a theme.¬† And all the illustrious portraits of CEOs past.

Is it a job interview?

And that’s Orly?¬† It seems more like a hospital.¬† Little hummingbird nuns and swaddled kids.

But we shall always live in Barbara Dennek’s dimples.¬† It sounds weird to say.

But it is luck.  Bad luck.  And then good luck.

And random error.  Entropy.

Chaos.

Can anyone here play the piano?

Yes.  Yes I can!

And some half-rate Edith Piaf gets up to sing her long-forgotten hit.

Except no one has forgotten it.  Once a hit, always a hit.

More or less.

The new religion.

The hum of neon.

All the desserts look sickly.¬† Even to the “chef.”¬† Must hide his myst√®re.¬† An apple with some sputtery whip?¬† An upside-down coffee mug?

Mmmm…

William S. Burroughs would doubtless have approved.  The man in the gray flannel suit (book).  But taken to theatrical limits.  Choreography of male primping.  Like Cary Grant on hallucinogens.  A surreal ritual.

Ritual.

This is sociology.

Anthropology.

Paris.  The modern man.

See him in his natural habitat.

See her shop.  See her sell.

See him work.  See him drink.

If you travel, you will see the tourist side.

On a trip.

With a group.

Activities planned.

Like a cruise.

And God forbid you become separated from the group.

Yes.

That is our little romance.

And Tati is meek enough to barely suggest to suggest (x2).

That M. Hulot might find love.

It would be a random day.

He would get pulled this way and that.

And winding up in some crazy, unplanned situation he would become sweet on dimples.

See him in his fishbowl.

Before there was Mr. Bean, there was Monsieur Hulot.

Before there was Forrest Gump.

Tell me…where are the “fancy goods”?¬† Perhaps silk.¬† Herm√®s.

Always caught at the turnstiles of life…

-PD

A bout de souffle [1960)

To paraphrase Lester Bangs regarding The Velvet Underground, modern cinema begins with Jean-Luc Godard.¬† The strangest part is that Godard’s trajectory has been somewhat like that of the great French novelist Louis-Ferdinand C√©line.¬† Both would be primarily recognized in their lifetimes for their first creation.¬† For C√©line it was the groundbreaking spleen of Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932) and for Godard the film in question (his first full-length feature).¬† The most criminal aspect of this whole equation is that Godard IS STILL ALIVE AND MAKING GREAT, GREAT FILMS!

For awhile, my dissatisfaction with the public’s reception of Godard over his long career led me to undervalue his earlier works (to perhaps balance out the disproportionate attention these films get in relation to his oeuvre as a whole).¬† What cannot be denied, however, is that Breathless (literally “at the end of breath”) is as important to film as Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage…) is to literature.¬† There are more similarities.¬† Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is not so different from C√©line’s Bardamu.¬† The spirit of youth and anarchy run throughout these two works…all of it tied together with a dark humor which disarms as much as it offends.

The key to Godard’s film is that it is radical while also being somewhat subtle.¬† Perhaps this is only accurate in hindsight (considering what has followed Breathless in the cinematic canon), but the avant-garde nature of the film is really in all of the little rules it breaks.¬† The most oft mentioned are the jump cuts (and there are plenty of them).¬† A deeper reading into the history of the film might reveal that C√©cile Decugis and Lila Herman were responsible for this novel approach as much as Godard.¬† Agn√®s Guillemot did not become Godard’s regular editor until Une femme est une femme (or Le Petit soldat…take your pick).¬† There is reason to believe that the jump cuts were mainly in the service of keeping the action going.¬† Along with Martial Solal’s excellent noir jazz, the pace rarely slackens but for a few contrasting scenes.

What is less-discussed is the plethora of filmic references which play like an inside joke for the Cahiers crowd.¬† Breaking “the fourth wall” is just one of the many transgressions which Godard takes up joyfully in this affront.¬† One might venture to guess that what was truly “d√©gueulasse” to Godard was the state of the French film industry leading up to his first real foray into direction.¬† At every turn, the “tradition of quality” is left in the dust as Breathless speeds away wild and free.

-PD