Thankful for World Cinema- Last Year at Marienbad

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Last Year at Marienbad

Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi in Last Year at Marienbad (Concinor)

If there is a film that can be said to define the French New Wave it may well be Last Year at Marienbad. A film directed by Alain Resnais (Night and Fog) which deals heavily with memory, or more precisely the accuracy of memory and what is reality. It is a film that moves along dreamlike with many incremental repetitions of phrases, with fractured snatches of conversations creating whole thoughts and at times surrealistically staged scenes.

It is a film that engages the viewer that dares him to follow this Byzantine structure and try to get out the other end, and if he does get out the other end will he have his head on straight when he gets there? It is a fact that film is not a disposable medium and many, if not all films, welcome a second viewing. This film insists on several. It is very likely that every time you’ll walk away from the film with a new piece of information you never considered before. This film is a complex abstract masterpiece that makes Inception look like finger-painting by comparison.

Consider that you examine two characters, their relationship and how much they really know one another and they are never given proper names, in fact, no one is: the three main players are referred to as A, X and M. Most of the rest are referred to as “Une personnage de l’hôtel.”

Which brings to mind another point: The camera pans around this hotel and its surroundings a great deal. Sometimes in conjunction with voice-over sometimes running contrary to the scene. The Baroque architecture of the edifice is quite startling and the hotel becomes a character in the tale in and of itself. As the discussions in which M is trying to convince A they did meet often begin with him stating where in the hotel they were.

It is a fascinating and mind-bending film which has no equal or parallel, an infinitely rewarding experience you’ll want to revisit over and over again.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- A Man and a Woman

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

A Man and a Woman

Anouk Aimée and Jean Louis Trintignant in A Man and a Woman (Les Films 13)

A Man and a Woman is about the simplest and least pretentious romantic story you are bound to find. This statement is important because most often the problem with the romantic comedy or the straight romance is that the story is often too contrived, far-fetched, and/or lacking in true human emotion. In this film we see how two people fall in love and better yet we don’t even get a happily ever after type of ending but rather we see that these two people are willing to love again after having lost their first spouses.

This film is also interesting in the way director Claude Lelouch structures his narrative. Not only do we never over-deal with the fact that they both lost their first loves we also find this information out at different times in the story and the information in the film is also communicated very visually which is interesting as opposed to hearing dialogue which if poorly-delivered would come across as ham-handed.

The psychological focus of the tale is definitely Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimée). She is more the focus because we see both her falling in love with her first husband, Pierre, while “Samba da Bênção” by Toquinho and Vinicius is played. On a side note, the addition of Samba to a French film shows how much broader their cultural horizons are than ours are. It matters not that they might not understand Portuguese for they recognize the Samba as probably the most wonderful sound ever created. We see Anne meeting her first husband and also how he dies.

Then as she consummates her relationship with Jean-Luc we see her thought process as she flashes back to her time with Pierre and how difficult loving another man is for her. One of the best parts of the film on Lelouch’s part is when Valérie (Valérie Lagrange), Jean-Luc’s first wife, is in the hospital after his accident. We see not only her strife but the passage of time through a series of jump cuts. I found this technique much more effective than a series of dissolves or on very long take.  In this sequence we also see how sometimes telling can be more effective than showing as we do not see her commit suicide but rather hear Jean-Luc say it with sadness in his voice.

Another interesting technique in this film is alternating between color and black and white. In the very beginning of the film it is used solely to differentiate between a flashback and the present tense but rather in a reversed way. The flashbacks are in color. This presents the present as more gritty and not as joyful whereas the flashbacks may not have been happier they certainly were more colorful as they are with most people.

What’s impressive about A Man and a Woman, as is often the case with a lot of French films, is its simplicity. We deal with real people in a real type of story, plot devices and formulas are completely thrown out the window. And in this film what we get is a much more enjoyable experience than any Hollywood formula could possibly provide.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Sea

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Sea

The Sea (Palm Pictures)

It’s great to go into a film knowing nothing about it before hand. This was the case when I saw The Sea. While you can easily see it was adapted from a play the themes are consistent and handled cinematically for the most part.

The first thing that is apparent is that the casting in this film is ridiculously perfect. No actor feels out of place. Speaking of which neither are any of the scenes. It is rare to watch such a multi-character film and never be left confused about who’s who. All the characters are sharply defined and they all illustrate the struggle amongst family, between the generations and the joining or avoidance of a globalized world.

The scenes in the pool and the scenes with the black sheep are accessible symbolism that serve comedic or story functions such that the audience is never lost. Another amazing thing is that even though all the characters have undesirable traits they’re all funny and identifiable. The only place the film falters in anyway is that the father has a speech that’s a little too long at the end. With the way the film cuts the framing of the story is very surprising.

The acting all around is great but those who stand out are Gunnar Eyjólfsson, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Hélène de Fougerolles, Guðrún Gísladóttir and Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir.

Whenever watching a foreign film, especially one from a culture I’m not that familiar with, I always look for two things: One, does it seem indigenous and not overly influenced by Hollywood?  Two, While being indigenous does it communicate a universal message and/or theme. The Sea succeeds in both cases.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- Night & Fog

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Night & Fog

Night & Fog (Argos Films)

It is virtually impossible to ever come close to fully grasping the totality of the horror of the holocaust. If anything were to ever come close it’s Night & Fog. Never has the greatest calamity of the 20th Century been handled so precisely.

Many people are down on voice over narration but it’s part of the nature of the beast in a documentary and here, in this film, you have some of the greatest narration ever written by Jean Cayrol, a man who was himself a concentration camp survivor.

Not only does this film uniquely, at the time, mix color and black and white images but also uses the abandoned structures of the camps to haunt the film.

There is no question that this film is the apex of documentary filmmaking. It tried to take a massive subject and condense into something easy to understand. It allows you to reflect on things you see and learn but tries to bring as much of what transpired out as it can.

It also in turn becomes an important historical document. It is a masterpiece in as much as it achieves perfection in its form. If it was a feature length documentary it may not have this kind of impact.
 
It is an eye-opening and jarring account of the atrocities of the second World War that should be required viewing for all.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- Le Petit Nicolas

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Le Petit Nicolas

Maxime Godart, Vincent Claude, Victor Carles, Germain Petit Damico, Charles Vaillant and Benjamin Averty in Le Petit Nicolas (Wild Bunch)

Firstly, I must say that the availability of this film in the US is virtually non-existant. I managed to acquire a Canadian DVD (Also a Region 1) on Amazon. The film didn’t really see distribution here because it is based on a book series by René Goscinny that doesn’t have tremendous cultural impact in the US.

His other major contribution is as one of the architects of the Asterix series of books, which some here do know so the terrible first cinematic adaptation did come here. All this is brought to the fore because its non-distribution in the US really is confounding. The adaptation angle needn’t be used to sell the film. The humor and themes of the film really are universal.

While being familiar with the book, I’m sure, helped some appreciate it. It is a delightfully simple and accessible story that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. There are little treats for those in the know like, for example, the boys get inspiration for a scheme from an Asterix strip but it isn’t necessary to enjoy it.

This film is also very funny and while it does test your suspension of disbelief it should pass. Much of the film hinges on misconceptions that Nicolas has about his home life, which could be clarified if he talks to his parents but a child’s fears aren’t always relayed to his parents especially these.

This was a wonderful discovery and hopefully there are others in the offing as the series of books is quite lengthy.

10/10