50 French Films

1 La haine

I wondered at first about how important it was to look at film through national boundaries. But it is one of the ways many people approach film. French film makers excel at subtle depictions of relationships and social interactions. They have a strong sense of history, and do historical subjects with expertise. They are of course pioneers in cinema, and have mostly led the way that other countries have followed. And they are able to aptly mix metaphysical and philosophical enquiries into what is largely an action medium, with considerable skill. I may have seen up to 20% of significant French cinema, excluding the trashy and specialist ends of the spectrum, so my list is by no means comprehensive. Of course personal taste, and opportunity to view, are behind any selection of films, which is why selections vary. All the films I mention, including the ones I disparage, are worth a viewing. Most of these films appear on many best French films lists. An alternative list of films to mine is at  http://www.topfrenchfilms.info/. This is what I thought after viewing my own French Film Festival.

CLASSICS
There are a limited number of films that cross national borders and temporal restrictions, and have considerable meaning for audiences in other times and places than their original ones. These are the ‘great’ films we recommend, to others and to posterity. The same films crop up time and time again. But there are always others on any list, there for other reasons: popularity, influence, prestige, personal taste.

L’appartement 1996. Rarely has lost love been so exciting. My review of Gilles Mimouni’s The Apartment is on BestQuest at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/the-mystery-of-lappartement/. 5/5.

La haine 1995. Mathieu Kassovitz wrote, directed and edited this acclaimed film starring Vincent Cassel. It was Kassovitz’ second and Cassel’s first film. The film works both as documentary and as drama, a bit like the films of Peter Watkins (The War Game). Hatred is about the world’s biggest social problem today, the astronomical growth in the numbers of dispossessed people. Not teenage gangs, not skinheads, not drug addicts, not immigrants, not organised crime members, as the newspapers misrepresent it. Dispossessed men, women and children. And it pulls no punches. For those familiar with or herded on one of the big housing estates that disfigure just about every big city in the first world, where the dispossessed are kept in what seems a little like a concentration camp, away from the eyes of the economically privileged, this film will seem real. Kassovitz has used authentic dialogue, shown typical behaviours, resisted melodrama. The film succeeds so well by being so disciplined, so restrained. This day in the life of three friends on a Paris ‘estate’ who bear the brunt of police harassment and try to fight back is sublime human drama, and 20 years after first release is as stunning as ever. Dealing with the problem of the dispossessed still consists of manipulating them into violence and countering violence with more violence, as if that was a solution. The problem has not gone away, it’s got worse. Hate is still the only answer. Vinz (Cassel) tells the story of a man falling from a skyscraper: how you fall doesn’t matter; it’s how you land. (And the billboards say “the world is yours”!). The film also shows how deprivation created the hip hop culture, and what it once meant. The soundtrack is outstanding. 5/5.

Un coeur en hiver 1992. Sautet excels at showing nuances of feeling other film makers can’t see. My review of Heart in Winter is on BestQuest at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/a-heart-in-winter/.  5/5. Sautet’s last film, Nelly et M Arnaud 1995, should not be missed, also 5/5.

La Crise 1992. Coline Serreau’s film is a wise fable in the tradition of Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) and even more, Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), in which we learn how hard it is to stay committed in politics, what the limits are to racism, and that the world is in a mess because everyone in it has only got time for themselves. Crises? Victor (Vincent Lindon) finds out after he loses both his job and his wife that everyone has them: nobody wants to listen to his story – they want to tell him about their troubles. When he adopts a loser who at least listens, things start to get worse. This film is a marvel of great acting, as all the cast give frenzied, almost slapstick performances, hilariously funny, yet also reveal the hidden depths of their character at the same time. There are no caricatures in the film. Vincent Lindon in the role of Victor is superb. When Victor hears a secret from a dying Arab woman, Djamila, and then is moved to tears by the violin playing of a friend, he gets another chance. Moral: if you don’t care, who will? 5/5. Romuald et Juliette 1989 has Auteuil and Firmine Richard as lovers despite all the conventions, and shows the same tendency to make you laugh while teaching a lesson. And Chaos 2001 deals with exploitation and racism in a more serious way. Both 5/5. Serreau made her name with Trois Hommes et un Couffin (Three Men and a Baby/Cradle) which is considerably more obvious.

Jésus de Montréal 1989. Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal is based on a beautifully constructed script which could have equally served as the basis for a novel or a play. It looks at the life of Jesus as a real event, not the institutionalised ritual of a faith. The film is also about itself, the film we are watching, and all the ways we react to its subject. To establish a ‘real’ context, Arcand sets his film in the present, Montreal 1989. A local Catholic church asks an actor, Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) to update the annual Passion Play, and make it more spiritually uplifting. Daniel gathers actors, and as he proceeds manages to parallel almost every event in the Gospels’ story of Jesus. A comparison of film and gospel story is here: http://www.haverford.edu/relg/courses/221a/Jesus%20of%20Montreal%20Outline-2012.htm. When the Passion Play has become popular, and even gains converts for the Church, the parish priest believes things have gone too far, and stops the proceedings. Police come to arrest Daniel when he will not obey the priest’s command, there is an accident, he is taken to hospital. It is too late to save him. The remaining actors form an acting group in his memory. Bluteau is magnetic as the actor who in the end cannot distinguish between his role and his own person, stopping passers by to tell them “resist not evil”, from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and “love your enemies, do good to them who hate you” and  “judge not others, that you are not judged”. The film has an outstanding soundtrack, and the rendition of Pritouritze Planinata from Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares is electrifying. 5/5. Arcand had excelled his great achievement of 1986, Le déclin de l’empire américain, which was also based on a beautifully written script for eight parts, full of insight and wit, and which explored the gap between commitment and love in four relationships. 4/5.

37°2 le matin 1986. Jean-Jacques Beineix’s film Betty Blue is an adaptation of a popular novel by Philippe Djian. It tells the story of a writer, and his relationship with a young woman, Betty, which turns to tragedy as she becomes mentally unstable, and, eventually, self destructive. Along the way she helps him to get his first novel published, becoming a passionate advocate of his talent. She at one stage thinks she has become pregnant, and the couple settle down to what should have been a happy and secure life together. But a checkup reveals that Betty is not pregnant after all, and the letdown seems to break her hold on reality. The film’s and book’s title refers to a pregnant woman’s body temperature; there are two types of gestation going on: biological and creative. Betty is shown as Zorg’s creative midwife, and the book he finally writes is of course about her, the book we read and the film we are seeing. Beatrice Dalle is captivating, intense and passionate in the role of Betty, and Jean-Hugues Anglade is equally so as Zorg the writer. The film is graced with stunning cinematography, brilliant direction, and has an unforgettable soundtrack by Gabriel Yared. It has one of the most complete depictions of being in love ever seen in film, and Anglade’s voiceover and role as Zorg vividly expresses the coming of age of a writer. Two versions of the film exist, theatrical release of two hours and a director’s cut of three hours. The latter has more detail on Betty and Zorg’s relationship, some of which explain the final scenes of the film, but I found it far less dramatically satisfying than the theatrical release. Once seen, not easily forgotten. 5/5.

La maman et la putain 1973. Eustache’s film The Mother and the Whore is one of the world’s, and certainly France’s, greatest. Sublime acting makes this look at love and illusion mesmerising. My review on BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/the-mother-and-the-whore/. 5/5.

Ma nuit chez Maude 1969.  Eric Rohmer was an almost faultless film maker. Insightful writing, great direction, wit and charm and outstanding execution informed almost everything he did, despite it’s lack of pretension. My Night at Maud’s was my introduction to the cinema of the world and is still setting off depth charges for me. My review on BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/eric-rohmers-moral-tales/.  5/5. Other films in the Moral Tales series are L’Armour l’après-midi 1972, and Le Genou de Claire 1970. Another series contains La Femme de l’aviateur 1981, Le Beau Mariage 1982, L’ami de mon amie 1987, Le Rayon vert 1983, and Pauline à la plage 1983. A third series has Conte d’été 1996, and Conte d’hiver 1992. 5/5.

Calcutta/L’Inde fantôme 1969. A beautiful, mesmerising and disturbing journey through southern India, a celebration of humanity in all its diversity. My review at BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/phantom-india/. 5/5.  Other notable films by Malle are Place de la république 1974, Milou en mai 1990, Au revoir les enfants 1987,  Atlantic City 1980, My Dinner with Andre 1981, Vanya on 42nd St 1994, all 5/5.

Hiroshima mon amour 1959. Alain Resnais set out originally to make a documentary about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He ended up with one of the most unusual films ever made, an intensely poetic account of war, written by Marguerite Duras, one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. This film script may be her greatest work. The atom bomb killed a quarter of a million human beings in eight seconds at Hiroshima, caused genetic damage to millions in each subsequent generation up to the present, and caused suffering to many millions more by genetic damage to the environment. Most of the killed and wounded were women and children: the dropping of the bomb is still the most inhumane act in world history (but competition is fierce). In Hiroshima a French actress is making a film about the bombing, and meets a Japanese man whose family were in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. The couple have a one night stand. Each relives the other’s trauma. He, her persecution in her town of Nevers for loving a German soldier. The Resistance killed the soldier, and she was shorn and imprisoned in a cellar, then sent out of town to Paris. She was 18 years old. She, through her acting job, learns what he must have experienced when his family was lost, killed or wounded in the blast. Nevers, and Hiroshima, are mediated through another person’s memory. People have died, but it is love that has suffered. These people have clung one to the other to preserve a lost love. Will they separate that love from the suffering that seemed to destroy it? This indirection has enormous impact on the viewer, and is much more intense than any retelling of a tale of suffering. It has the emotional impact of a poem or a piece of poignant music. 5/5.

Les Vacances de M. Hulot 1953. Priceless collection of poignantly funny observations and frantic slapstick by the greatest mime of all time, Jacques Tati. People on holiday haven’t changed in 60 years, from arriving at the wrong train platform to saying well meaning but ineffective goodbyes. Notable for absolutely hilarious sound effects never bettered in any film. A bit too long in my view, but it would work if you just watched an episode or two at a time. Chaplin without the sentimentality. 4/5. Other Tati films: Mon Oncle 1958, Playtime 1967. Trafic 1971. These are more elaborate, set based satires and have social themes.

Le Salaire de la peur 1953. Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear has some timely criticism of American destructive exploitation of natural resources, a vivid, if stagey, portrayal of life in a South American backwater, and two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine crossing jungle dirt tracks to use in imploding an oil mine and stopping a conflagration. It has the great Yves Montand in a career making role. Dated a bit, and the tension of waiting for the trucks to explode is stretched a bit thin, but gripping human drama because of the acting of Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck and Folco Lulli as the drivers. You really feel these men’s lives are at risk. 4/5.

Jeux interdits 1952. René Clément’s film about children who suffer from the conflicts of their elders is only partly a film about war, but one of the most potent protests against war ever made. The image of five year old Paulette (Brigitte Fossey) standing on the Paris road holding her dead puppy Jock, while a squadron of Messerschmitts strafe refugees on the road with machine guns, says more than words can express. The film comes from a novel, then a screenplay by François Boyer called Secret Games. Clèment’s title, Forbidden Games, applies as much to war that the adults wage as it does to the curious ritual that two children devise to cope with their first experience of death. Paulette’s mother and father, and her puppy, all die as the family flee the Germans invading Paris. She is found by Michel (Georges Poujouly), a 10 year old herding the family cow, and he takes her to the farm where his parents look after her. When she asks what happens to dead people, Michel tells her they go in a hole in the ground, and Paulette determines that so will her puppy. Michel steals a cross from a recent funeral to mark the spot. And so the children cope with the sudden incursion of death and loss into their lives. The film charts the bond that this ritual forges between the two children, and the growth of maturity that coping with these grim facts forces upon children far too young to have to do so. Then at the end of the film Paulette suffers a further loss, and her attempts to cope come to nothing. Clèment shows that war, as well as all the other harm it does, destroys children’s lives. He has a major triumph as a director in the way he joins in the play of the story with the children and coaxes a brilliant performance from them both. 5/5.

Les Enfants du paradis 1945. A film often called France’s greatest, Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise or Children of the Gods (theatre galleries – think Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage…”) is a story about a woman, Garance, and her relationships with three men and three worlds. Hilarious and heart breaking, beautifully acted by a perfect cast, scripted by a great poet, Jacques Prévert, and flawlessly directed, a film for all time. 5/5.

Partie de campagne 1936. Jean Renoir’s The Picnic is an adaptation of the Maupassant short story. It was made with a group of friends and family members (the crew included Luchino Visconti, Jacques Becker, Yves Allegret and Henri Cartier-Bresson) at Montigny, where his father Auguste had painted. The film contrasts the rigid class distinctions and expectations of bourgeois life with the potent forces of nature and Spring. The daughter of the family, condemned to an arranged marriage with a nitwit for business reasons, meets a dashing, empty-hearted rake who attempts to seduce her. Largely improvised, and left unfinished, this is poignantly perfect in its message. If any film has ever achieved greatness, it is this one. The paintings of Renoir are very close, such as By the Water of 1880 or La Grenouillère of 1868. It’s a large palette: love, life, fate, death. Renoir leaves out of consideration lesser tales where one sex is the victim of the other and shows male and female at the command of mysterious forces – nature, god, –  which sweep all living things on their course. And a marvellous job of editing the scraps of film Renoir completed into a 40 minute masterpiece. This tubby little man achieved grandeur. 5/5.

2 Jeux interdits

ENTERTAINMENT
Another reason for selecting films is their entertainment value. Expertise in creation and execution; power of acting; pacing and editing; music; insight into the action depicted and to human nature. All these count, though ‘entertainment’ points to some limitation in the film: narrative weakness; stylistic posturing; reliance on effects; and other ways such a complex undertaking as film making can be sold short. But those that survive such shortcomings are of considerable value.

La clef 2007. Guillaume Nicloux’s The Key is a well constructed thriller built around flashbacks and is confusing to follow, with a plot based on absurd coincidences, but if you let it, it will draw you in. I really loved it despite the plot holes. My review on BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/la-clef-the-key/. 4/5.

Apres vous 2003. After You…, Pierre Salvadori’s beautifully acted, slightly contrived and a little obvious comedy romance about politeness and consideration, has a lot of heart. It has Daniel Auteuil and Sandrine Kiberlain as the would be couple who don’t know it, and a spiky rendition of Mort Shuman’s Papa Tango Charlie by Camille Bazbaz who does the rest of the soundtrack too. And a lot of delicious food. 3.5/5.

Sur mes lèvres 2001. Read My Lips is scripted and directed by Jacques Audiard. It has a plot full of holes, stereotyped characters (Vincent Cassel as a conniving ex-con and Emmanuelle Devos as a handicapped but calculating spinster), but a mastery of tension and suspense. 2.5/5.

La fidélité 2000. This adaptation of a 17th century novel is a love story and an action movie as well, and is both frantic in pace and operatic in style. It stars Sophie Marceau and Guillaume Canet as the lovers, and is set in the world of modern publishing. Andrzej Żuławski wrote and directed. If the viewer can accept the histrionic acting style, the film will keep them absorbed by its sheer beauty, and by its wonderful soundtrack. Think Leos Carax’ 1991 film Les amants du Pont-Neu for the style. My review on BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/la-fidelite/. 4.5/5.

Trois couleurs: Rouge 1994. There’s an air of melancholy, even sadness, about Kieslowski’s last film. In beautifully composed autumn sets a group of people find eerie parallels in their lives (as shown in The Double Life of Veronique 1991 also) while fate or chance sweeps them in and out of reach of others who could be significant in their lives. I don’t think the Swiss/French films have the power of Kieslowski’s Polish work: films like Blind Chance 1987 and especially the series Decalog 1990 are near the summit of cinematic art; but there is much to ponder here, and in the other two films of the series,  Blue 1993 and White 1994. Just how closely the films demonstrate the values of the French Revolution, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, is debatable, though the contact a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) makes with the model Valentine (Irène Jacob) does offer him some redemption (Trintignant gives his best performance, and that’s saying a lot. What a face!). And the ending: 1255 people drown in a shipping accident in the English Channel, the only survivors being the protagonists of Kieslowski’s three Colours films. A comment on his own work by the director? Or, reach out, and be saved? 4/5.

La séparation 1994. Christian Vincent’s film of Dan Franck’s novel tells the harrowing story of a couple’s loss of love, expertly depicted by Daniel Auteuil and Isabelle Huppert My review on BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/la-separation/.  4.5/5.

L’Amant 1992. Jean-Jacques Annand’s The Lover is scripted from a story of Marguerite Duras. It is the older Duras (Jeanne Moreau in an off screen role) who reflects on her younger self and the lover of the title. The past really is another country. My review on BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/lamant/. 4/5.

Cyrano de Bergerac 1990. Jean-Paul Rappeneau adapts the Rostand play with enormously energy and fascinating historical detail, with Gérard Depardieu filling the role by a nose and a half. With verse and duelling both equally convincingly done it would be a sad person indeed who wasn’t entertained by this tale told with élan and verve. 4/5.

Monsieur Hire 1989. Somehow disappointing direction from Patrice Leconte from a Simenon novel but superior acting from Michel Blanc, who is fascinating as the victim who finds a crime to be responsible for despite his innocence. Somehow it lost all tension for me, especially in the second half. Worth seeing though just for the first half. 2/5.

Jean de Florette /Manon des Sources 1986. This film by Claude Berri is in two parts but it is best seen as one film running over 230m. It tells of the tragedy overtaking two families over three generations in Provence during and after the first world war. It’s a story of love turning to bitterness and spite, which leads in the end to self destruction. Both films benefit from great performances from Daniel Auteuil, Gérard Depardieu and Yves Montand. Regarded as a separate film Jean de Florette seems exploitative melodrama but as part of a longer film the slowness and even the excesses add to the cumulative force of the denouement, as the story of what happened all those years ago is gradually revealed. The direction in the second part of the film (Manon des Sources) is much surer, as Berri, freed from the need to establish character, brings the tragedy to a devastating climax. 4/5.

Diva 1981. Jean-Jacques Beineix made quite a splash with this film, somewhat faded now but still influential. This ‘cool’ thriller has Richard Bohringer as Gorodish, who fixes things, and Wilhelmenia Fernandez, whose beautiful voice renders the aria Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from La Wally and makes it unforgettable. You don’t need to look too closely at the rest. 3/5.

La Nuit américaine 1973. Day for Night is Truffaut’s best film by far in my opinion. Its extraordinary virtuosity shows film being made and all the drama behind the scenes, but…this ode to film, and the great love of Truffaut’s life, makes its point and then it’s done, and somehow leaves me a little flat. So much, so obvious. 3/5.

3 Diva

OVERRATED
So what of those films that make it to lists of ‘great’ films, and that shouldn’t be there? It’s down to personal taste. It always was, with any list. The following are films I haven’t liked, some to excess. Film that seems contrived, playing self consciously to a market, trendy, reliant on technical resources over content, and many of the other ways a film can be sold short in the complex process of making it.  But again, it’s all a matter of opinion.

Nathalie 2003. Anne Fontaine’s film stars Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart and Gérard Depardieu. It is a sophisticated attempt to look at the ways people betray each other, based on the murky dynamics of a long term marriage. Features a coincidence driven plot, static acting and a contrived resolution. My review at BestQuest is at https://phillipkay.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/nathalie/.  2/5.

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain or Amélie 2001, This is whimsy unadulterated, a real crowd pleaser by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I found it trite and silly. Like Die Hard II it is relentless in delivering its stuff, in  its case, fairy floss. 2/5.

8 Femmes 2001. Ozon’s very insular and PC mix of Agatha Christie and musical melodrama was good for his career but otherwise rather meaningless. Yes it has a lot of great French actresses (Ozon tries but is not successful in directing women) and is full of references to other films. Chocolate box nostalgia. There has to be something more to get me involved. 2.5/5.

Delicatessen 1991. Jeunet’s film is a homage to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil but leaves out the overtly political for what is termed “black humour”. Would this mean jokes that fall flat? Jokes about killing animals? So very PC non-PC, it lets you have things both ways, and that’s all. 1.5/5.

Le Samouraï 1967. Jean-Pierre Melville’s influential film casts Alain Delon as the heavily romanticised hit man who conceals a great deal of sentimentality behind his impassive exterior and spartan life style. Preposterous and as believable as James Bond, but it has style, style, style. Not enough to make it interesting. 2.5/5.

Belle de jour 1966. Luis Buñuel’s famous film, like the book it was adapted from, has all the psychological insight of The Story of O, here given the “surreal” treatment expected from Buñuel. Trouble is the lead, played by Catherine Deneuve, is beautiful but inexpressive. Why she acts as she does remains forever a mystery. So, another potshot at repressive bourgeoise society from Buñuel, so what? 3/5.

L’Homme de Rio 1964. That Man from Rio, Philippe de Broca’ s fast paced spy spoof, has Jean-Paul Belmondo, who is incredibly athletic, and devastatingly charismatic throughout. The film has spectacular locales, non stop action, and is very funny. So what’s not to like? The mood has changed with the times, and the film, like 1962”s Dr No, has just lost its impact. See it once, not twice. 3.5/5.

Le feu follet 1963. Lous Malle’s film (the title means possessed by a destructive, demonic force) of a terminally depressed man contemplating suicide is pretty unrelenting, and, for me, pretty dull. A lot of Malle’s early films are highly admired by critics but I think they all suffer from over earnestness. It may be a Gallic attitude, but it appears melodramatic and false. This one suggests no insight into character or milieu, limiting itself to empty posing. 2.5/5.

Jules et Jim 1962. This fervid melodrama about an unstable woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) impelled to move from man to man and who wilfully destroys two relationship, with Jules and with Jim, before destroying herself and Jim, is over cooked and now seems merely funny. Catherine remains an enigma throughout the film and all that can be seen is that two men so value their friendship they allow themselves to be damaged by her to preserve it. Talk about male bonding! 2/5.

L’Année dernière à Marienbad  1961. A film reputedly directed mainly by the script writer, Alain Robbe-Grillet, who was an experimental novelist writing mainly for an audience of critics. Resnais turned it into a meditation on thought and memory similar to his previous film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. Marienbad is a film for those happy to look at images and not seek a significant meaning for them. Tres surreal, a bit like Buñuel’s El ángel exterminador released the following year. And the critics like it. Inferior work from a great film maker. 2/5.

A bout de souffle 1960. Shot in a style of improvised reportage entirely on location, and edited with genius (think, “jump cut”), Godard’s Breathless seemed like a breath of fresh air when it was first released. But, as time went by, you noticed how derivative it was. Belmondo is not Belmondo here. He’s Bogart. Beautiful American girls selling newspapers on street corners? Only happens in Hollywood. Car chases, shoot outs also come from Hollywood films Godard admired. A hoary old melodrama given a facelift. 3/5.

Les quatre cents coups 1959. Truffaut’s autobiographical film (the name seems to imply a reference to boxing, “go the full distance, number of rounds”, but comes from a term used of adolescents, “to raise hell”) is all about cinema, like Day for Night, and ends with a freeze frame, like Jules et Jim. Like most films by Truffaut it’s a sentimental melodrama, so if you like those you’ll like this. Did someone say “New Wave”? 2.5/5.

Les diaboliques 1955. Now get this: two women, wife and mistress to an evil man, conspire to murder him. But he doesn’t die, and they don’t realise it. Then the mistress and the supposed corpse conspire to murder the wife, and succeed. Poor Véra Clouzot gets the rough end of the stick again. The film is considered one of the best horror movies ever made, and the suspense as the corpse walks again is unendurable. I couldn’t stand it. 3/5.

L’Atalante 1934. Jean Vigo’s film contains little action, not much of it significant. A newly married couple quarrel over nothing, the husband abandons his wife in Paris and sails away on his barge L’Atalante, his chief mate goes and finds her and the couple are reunited. The look of every scene is the important thing, for this film is a collection of paintings in light. Vigo did what the New Wave directors were trying to do. A film for art lovers. 3/5.

La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc 1927. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film of the trial of Joan of Arc stars a then famous stage actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti, and is unendurably melodramatic for its whole length. Shot almost entirely in close up, the film explores Joan’s emotions as she is persecuted by her judges during her trial. Today this seems very manipulative. The viewer is forced to feel pity and horror for the victim of political wrong. But silent film dramas all seem to be overwrought to me, a sign perhaps of the times in which they were made. Lack of contrast in shooting scenes made this film hard to watch for me. 3/5.

4 Rouge

©2014 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

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