TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 1

This article is a partially fictitious account wherein I imagine myself in conversation with two of the greatest minds in cinema: Truffaut and Hitchcock. This work was inspired by the series of interviews the two conducted which was later turned into a book. The quotes from the two are real though the context isn’t always. If you are interested in the book it can be purchased here. If this alternate history premise insults your sensitivities please move on.

Film is: Eternal yet momentary, Enormous but has no space, Minuscule yet takes its place, Inflexible yet elastic, Sincere and sarcastic, Confined to a frame, which expands in your brain. When a showing ends, The Journey begins. You close your eyes and travel within. Never has it ever been so warm to be frozen in form.
-Bernardo Villela

Francois Truffaut on the set of Confidentially Yours (1983, Le Films du Carrosse)

I’m a lot older than I look. I was in Paris in 1968 trying to get Nino Rota to score my latest film and ultimately I failed and managed only to gain six pounds eating Crepes Suzette. While there, however, I did run into Francois Truffaut. After I asked him how L’enfant Sage was going he told me he was going to meet with Hitchcock and asked me if I’d like to come along. Of course, I agreed. On the way there I asked him:

Bernardo Villela.: What do you believe is the art of suspense?

Francois Truffaut: The art of creating suspense is [!] the art of involving the audience, so that the viewer is a participant in the film. (Truffaut, 16).

We arrived a few minutes later in a very plush room at the Georges V. Francois introduced me and afterward Hitchcock said he’d like my last film very much, to which I got very embarrassed as I felt I didn’t deserve such phrase. We sat down had some Sauternes as apparently Hitch had just finished a meal. It wasn’t the best lead in but I then asked.

B.V.: What did you think of The Wizard of Oz?

Alfred Hitchcock: It was a very bad movie (39)

I was reading a newspaper and saw that Julie Andrews had just signed to make Darling Lili and this prompted me to ask:

B.V.: Can you tell me what you thought of the Star System?

A.H.: These are the problems we face with the star system. Very often the storyline is jeopardized because a star cannot be a villain (43). Cary Grant could not be a murderer (44).

B.V.: Yet you always seemed inclined to work with stars, why?

A.H.: I’ve learned from experience that whenever the protagonist isn’t portrayed by a star, the whole picture suffers, you see, because the audience is a lot less concerned about the predicament of a character who’s played by someone they don’t know. (145)

B.V.: The comment you made about Cary Grant brings us to the trouble with Suspicion. The film is constructed and leading us to think Cary Grant is guilty and then in the last 5 minutes you jump the rails.

A.H. Well I’m not too pleased with the way Suspicion ends. I had something else in mind. The scene I wanted, but it was never shot was for Cary Grant to was to bring her a glass of milk that’s been poisoned and Joan Fontaine has just finished a letter to her mother – “Dear Mother, I’m desperately in love with him, but I don’t want to live because he’s a killer. Though I’d rather die, I think society should be protected from him.” Then, Cary Grant comes in with the fatal glass and she says Will you mail this letter to mother for me, dear?” She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mailbox and pops the letter in. (142)

I felt quite embarrassed by dominating the questioning but I think Francois gave me free reign owing to the fact that this was a unique experience for me.

B.V.: Many directors including Robert Altman make films only for themselves and don’t care what the people or the studios think of them, what is your reaction to this kind of thinking?

A.H.: I always take the audience into account. (48)

Citizen Kane (1941, RKO)

Our exhaustive discussion of Citizen Kane led me to ask:

B.V.: How do you define as a masterpiece?

A.H.: Theoretically, a masterpiece is something that has already found its perfection of form, its definitive form. (72)

B.V.: Many people find your films very implausible. I love The Lady Vanishes but even I find the third act a little hard to swallow, what’s your response to that?

A.H.: I’m not concerned with plausibility; that’s the easiest part, so why bother? (99) In a documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is god; he must create life. (102)

B.V.: Can you comment on why your films so often deal with the extraordinary?

A.H.: I don’t want to do a “slice of life film” because people can get that at home, in the street or even in front of the movie theatre [!] And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. [!] What is drama, after all, but life with the dull parts cut out.(103)

B.V.: My two favorite British Hitchcock films are The Lady Vanishes and Sabotage. While I feel the Lady Vanishes is more sophisticated in its structure , bravery is something I greatly admire in filmmaking and that’s part of why I like Sabotage so much.

A.H.: I made a serious mistake in having the little boy carry the bomb (109).

F.T.: Making a child die in a picture is a rather ticklish matter; it comes close to an abuse of cinematic power (109).

A.H.: I agree with that; it was a grave error on my part. (109)

B.V.: But I feel that’s part of what made it such a compelling film, the fact that a man has to pay for his sins through the loss of his son.

This is the first part of a series that will post on Thursdays. This is the first time this series has appeared on my new home.

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What is Box Set Summer?

This post is meant as a brief accompaniment/aside to my latest schedule update. It’s meant to just further explain what Box Set Summer is and why, like other themes usually have, it may not generate posts specifically branded with the title.

Essentially most of my theme ideas are linked either to a time of the year and/or a need to whittle down my unwatched DVD pile. Box Set Summer was designed to tackle the box sets in the pile which are some of the most cumbersome in terms of viewing commitment and take up quite a bit of space too. One area you have and will continue to see Box Set Summer’s agenda reflected is in my ongoing Tarzan series. I’ve now viewed all the Wiessmuller titles and have one other box to get to before I’ve seen everything currently in my possession.

I also, in conjunction with a TCM theme, may start preparing for future Truffaut-related posts by watching and reading more of him soon. And there are a few other examples. It may not become a category but my fulfilling this mission will influence myriad posts and hopefully bring more diversity to the content offered on The Movie Rat. Thank you!

Shyamalan Week: Things Worth Discussing

What I had wanted to do with this series of posts initially was dust off some old posts that had not yet seen their moment on this blog. That’s easy enough to do when your topic is immutable and not really on a current event. A fictitious conversation among myself, Hitchcock and Truffaut that I created after having read their series of interviews or my interpretation on the role Catholicism plays in Fellini’s 8 1/2 aren’t going to become less relevant in a few years time. A post I wrote, however, calling out a question M. Night Shyamalan was asked when doing press in Mexico for The Last Airbender kind of does.

If you want you can look for it, but my point in a nutshell is the phrasing of the question was leading, trying to get headlines and it received a much better response than it deserved. I wrote it mostly because the reporter seemed to be getting a pass and nothing said on that end was questioned. While perspective may have strengthened or weakened some of my points, it’s all past now.

The one line of the piece that really stuck out, in part because I had just read something similar, was a thought I didn’t think had occurred to me:

The bottom line is: We love movies. We write about them, we watch them and make them. If there weren’t M. Nights around making things at least worth discussing what would the there be? Nothing. So regardless of your opinion of his films as a whole, especially the more recent ones, let us not trash the man in all he does…

After Earth (2013, Sony)

I then finish speaking very specifically about the reporter incident so this is the only part of the conversation pertinent today. However, it is a significant one. The point I allude to is beyond a good/bad subjective interpretation. The fact of the matter is very rarely these days will you go to the multiplex and be shown something that causes any kind of discussion, much less debate. I kind of skirted around this when discussing post-movie conversations. However, what I didn’t address is that few of the movies we see even give you reason to talk at any length about them.

I also don’t think this is entirely the fault of the news cycle in film, which usually has little tolerance for the movie out this weekend but glorifies the teaser of the full trailer that’s going to drop next Tuesday. More often than not Shyamalan, whether you be a devotee, someone longing for him to do something amazing again or a skeptic; has left you with something to talk about. Even if he did break from his twisting ways there’s still a bit of “Wait, what?” to most of his films. Which is saying something because far too often we not only know too much going into a film but we also don’t get the unexpected nearly enough.

You can get milquetoast anywhere. You can get it in at least one major release 52 weeks a year. Whether it hits or misses, I’d much prefer a brash attempt to do something. Many people didn’t bother to see Cloud Atlas. It wasn’t in my Top 25 but one thing I could not get over was how much I loved the audacity of that movie. It was a hard sell but it seemed to be exactly what people always seem to say they want: something different. However, then different comes knocking and where are they all?

With so much cinema being use-once-and-destroy anyone who can consistently refuse to be ignored is worth taking note of. I haven’t seen much in the After Earth trailers and teasers that make it look as if it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. However, the fact that there were no advance screenings until the night before the soft open Thursday night shows, and as of this evening Rotten Tomatoes had no registered opinions on either side give me some hope that there’s something they’re sitting on that’s pretty good fodder at the very least, that stands out, even if it doesn’t quite hit as well as it wants to.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The International Scene (Part 6 of 17)

One can never really analyze all of international film during a given decade given the enormous scope and the amount of films released worldwide in any 10-year period. Certain decades have cinematic movements within given cultures; the 1960s are perhaps the most notable with the nouvelle vague influencing all of Europe. However, the 1980s is the time when foreign films started to have staying power. The art houses would soon be cropping back up and Americans started to be more willing to watch foreign films than ever before, even in the 60s watching Fellini and Truffaut was a sect of counterculturalism that was not universal.

The Academy Awards have always been a promotional event. The press has added a great deal of importance to them and the public have followed it making it consistently one of the highest viewed television programs every year. Thus, when the Academy, whoever they are, starts nominating foreign films in categories usually reserved for American films one needs to take notice.


In 1983 Fanny and Alexander, what was said at the time to be Ingmar Bergman’s last film, received six Oscar nominations and walked home with four of them. Ironically, the categories in which Bergman should’ve been given the awards (Director and Screenplay) were the ones they didn’t win.

Later on La Historia oficial an Argentine film was nominated for best screenplay in 1985. In 1988 Marcello Mastroianni was nominated for Best Actor in Dark Eyes and the screenplay for Au Revoir les enfants and the director of My Life as a Dog, Lasse Hallström, were nominated while Babette’s Feast won Best Foreign Language Film. Also, amongst the nominees was a great piece of Norwegian folklore that has been handed down over the generations called Ofelas.


Max von Sydow received an academy award nomination for his performance in Pelle the Conqueror which was in 1989, for a 1987 release. This was a film which won the Palm d’Or in Cannes, and it is truly one of the best films to come out of any country during the 1980s. It takes place at the turn of the century when Lasse (Von Sydow) and Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) arrive in Denmark from Sweden to try and find work for themselves. We follow their trials and tribulations that make us as the audience feel more and more sympathy for the characters as the film progresses. Part tragedy and part triumph, this is a beautiful film that rightly put Bille August on the map.


Of course, we also get Giuseppe Tornatore who’s one of the most talented directors in the world right now coming out with his first hit Cinema Paradiso. In France there was the cinema du look but the emerging nation of the 1980s was Brazil. 


Pixote, A Lei dos Mais Fraco (1982, HB Films)

While the film industry was beleaguered when the government cut off all funding for the arts during an economic crisis there were two big films that set the stage for the international success Brazil would enjoy in the 90s and 00s with films like O Quatrilho, Central Station and O Que e Isso Companheiro? (English title: Four Days in September), A Partilha and Bicho de Sete Cabeças. First, there was Pixote a powerful film about juvenile delinquents from the favelas of São Paulo, of which none were professional actors. It’s a gut-wrenching dramatic experience and an amazing piece of simulacrum; in a sense the Brazilian neo-realist film. The film is told in two parts: first, we see the minors and their struggles in the juvenile camp. Second, there’s a break and they escape and we see their life on the street. Hector Babenco, a naturalized Brazilian, struck home by portraying poverty and crime as well as bureaucratic corruption as it was never seen before in Brazil. It ever landed on many American top 10 lists.


Meanwhile, Arnaldo Jabor’s Eu Sei Que Eu Vou te Amar is a direct victim of the government’s cutting artistic funding and they had to work on practically no budget. This film demonstrates not only the power of editing but also of fine acting. There are only two actors in this film and they are great so much so that Fernanda Torres won Best Actress at Cannes in 1986. We meet the two main characters and they have a discussion and an argument about their relationship why they got divorced. There are flashbacks and a video monitor with the actors on them represents their inner-monologue. The dialogue in this film is fantastical. There’s a stream of poetry that come out through these inner-monologues that is just perfect and the arguments are intelligent and not just bickering. The film is absolutely riveting and is as the blurb describes “a psychological playground” that only suffers from the hallucinogenic end.


International cinema finally made its presence felt for good in the nation that influences the world. Whether negatively or positively most cinematic movements around the world are reactions to Hollywood, and the constant presence and acceptance of international cinema is a necessity to the vitality of American cinema.

Thankful for World Cinema: Before Tomorrow

Before Tomorrow is the conclusion of a trilogy of films about the Inuit people being shot in Canada. The first being Fast Runner, which I saw and loved, and The Diary of Knud Rasmussen, which somehow was missed. It is a thematic trilogy, and not a sequential trilogy, following more in the European tradition where it’s variations on a theme and not necessary a contiguous storyline.

The film is both sparse in dialogue and replete with visual wonders. It might seem like a simple task to go up north near the Arctic Circle and get wondrous images and let the vistas do the work but there are frames, compositions and exposures that truly make these shots what they are. The edit also plays into the visual beauty of this film. There are at least three dissolves which are executed with such grace and beauty on both ends it brought to mind a quote by Truffaut where he says “So few directors can gracefully dissolve one shot into another.” This most certainly is not the case here.

There are also two different kinds of shooting here. There are more narrative-based landscape shots as the story gets more and more focused on the Grandmother (Madeline Ivalu) and her grandson (Paul-Dylan Ivalu), yet at the beginning there is quite a bit of handheld documentary-style shooting which is very well-done.

What you get in this film and its predecessors is truly a modern interpretation of Neo-Realism. Non-professional but engaging actors playing parts they understand in minimalist storylines. To relate the entirety of the tale would be entirely too easy within this space and would leave you with no surprises. There are surprises to be had and there are many emotions to be experienced within.

What will be said can be true of all simplistic storytelling, it’s the execution that elevates it, and that’s definitely the case here, yet as stripped-down as the on-screen action is there manage to be stories within the story. The film examines the oral traditions of the tribe and there are frequently stories being asked for and told that either inform or contrast the action we have been witness to.

The film ends as a close to the trilogy because after the tale of this particular installment is told then there is a slow-motion montage of the tribe living. Barring seeing the middle installment this could very well be the most overlooked, under-appreciated and impressive trilogies of the decade.

This is a film that will not cut quickly, that will take its time to develop. Allow it to. There is more than one way to make a film and to make a hyper-kinetic film with a people who are concerned with months and seasons and not so much with minutes and hours would seem wrong.

What you find here is a tidy, simple tale which is well told and as the best cinema does it shows you a world you would otherwise have no access to. It’s a tender and tenderly told tale which has humor, humanity and surprises. It’s a film that truly transports and even only having seen the bookends this was the perfect capper to the trilogy.

10/10

Review- Moonrise Kingdom

I remember that long ago I was suggested by a friend of mine that I should watch Bottle Rocket. I was told that it would be something I would like. I valued the friend’s opinion who told me this so many years on I still recall the recommendation and I always thought that’s where I’d start watching Wes Anderson. Yet, I have yet to follow through on that recommendation. It’s hard to discern why specifically, but I can state equivocally that it was likely due in part to my still somewhat rebellious nature in film school. I’d overheard certain people and think “Oh, they like him too. Maybe not then.” Another reason that Moonrise Kingdom was my first film of his is Anderson seems to me a filmmaker you just have to watch. His tone, his voice, the worlds he crafts can’t easily be disseminated in 90 to 150 seconds. His sense of humor is a bit on the drier side and trailers are geared toward broadness. Mea culpas aside, which really wasn’t the point of this long intro, I didn’t come into Moonrise Kingdom with massive expectations that normally are placed upon one who has a fanbase or is the basis of auteur criticism. I was a relatively blank slate just there to see this film, not the new Wes Anderson, which is a different mindset.

The film is a pretty insular tale about Sam and Suzy, who are two outcasts in their own way who seem to be the only ones who understand one another, thus they conspire to run off together. The charm, heart and warm nature of the film are responsible for its soaring success through two acts. One of the few bits of information I went in knowing was that Anderson cited Truffaut’s Small Change as a major influence on this film and that shows in the tonality more than anything else but there is a bit of episodic narrative to it that does also, however, this is a bit more linear.

The story of both Sam and Suzy as they break free, find each other and how they first met and then became pen pals are the strength of the film. However, the chase and the externalization of their struggle to be together takes up much of the third act and is where the few stumbles the film does have occur. There are several chase sequences, the Hullaballoo escape, the field and all that occurs there. Some of it is just funny as it happens, some is minimally tonally necessary, but as a whole very little of it is vital. It’s a film that’s moving rather well with minimal encumbrances up to this point, and then it just gets a bit bogged down and the pace suffers a bit because of it. There’s a necessary resolution to all this waiting at the end of the rat race we know this, but all that intervenes just seems an inconvenience.

What the film does almost unerringly is create characters that are quirky and odd but they’re not reflexively so, and their obliviousness to the fact is what makes them ring true, not any one given action or tendency that they may have. The film, in good comedic tradition, does give many of the characters their own obsession that drives them to function as they do, and rounds out the supporting players like Scout Master Ward, Captain Sharp and Social Services. Similarly, the handling of the narrator, which for a time is a bit presentational, an aspect that removes danger and adds levity, also has a twist to it.

The comedy of the film is for the most part organic, which is very refreshing. All too often you find people delivering punch-lines and they know it, here it flows from the action and if it works it’s a bonus, if not no great loss.

Moonrise Kingdom, despite its somewhat slippery, treacherous conclusion, is a charming, delightful film, which will likely win over both Anderson devotees and new fans alike, speaking as someone who belongs to the former grouping.

7/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Green Room

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 Green Room

François Truffaut in The Green Room (Le Films du Carrosse)

Truffaut’s The Green Room may be his great over-looked gem. It is a film that I think still deserves the Criterion treatment even though it was saved from the Land of the Out of Print by the wonderful new On Demand services.

It is a film that sees Francois Truffaut make a rare trip in front of camera, not only as an actor but one playing a character unlike himself to a large extent. Unlike his turn in Day for Night in this film he is not a director but a journalist who after World War I starts to detach himself from the world lamenting all those he has lost.

The film is a fascinating examination of how to reconcile the fact that even as we live we are amidst death. It examines a character who is overly-preoccupied with those who have passed such that he forgets how to live. Perhaps what is most impressive is that it takes an noble and relatable premise, respecting and honoring the dead, and takes it to an extreme such that we se how detached from reality one can become.

It is also a refreshingly intimate piece. There aren’t many players concerned in the drama here. There is the home nucleus: Julien, Georges and Mme Rambaud. Then Julien also interacts with his boss on a few occasions and Cecilia most of all. This allows the drama to be very focused on the protagonist and his obsession.

This film is a sparkling example of Truffaut’s simplicity shining through. It’s an examination of character and theme where all is very apparent and he wants you to delve deeper and search for more within the film. It is often hypnotic, always fascinating and a must see no matter how you manage to obtain it.

9/10