Monday, July 5, 2010

Love of Movies (Carles, Rohmer)

La Petite Forêt (Gilbert Taggart, 2000), La Guerre des Boutons (Yves Robert, 1962), The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin, 1940), Leonardův Deník (Jan Švankmajer, 1973), Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (John Robertson, 1920), L’âge de la machinne (Gilles Carle, 1978) Le Viol d’une Jeune Fille Douce (Gilles Carle, 1968) When the Day Breaks (Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbis, 1999) Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune (Éric Rohmer, 1984), La Città Delle Donne (Federico Fellini, 1980), Konservfilm (Zlatin Radev, 1990), Runaway Train (Andrei Konchalovsky, 1985), Ssaki (Roman Polanski, 1963), The Shout (Jerzy Skolimovski, 1985), Across The Street (Arto Paragamian, 1988), Fast Company (David Cronenberg, 1979)

The second annual Fête du Cinéma hosted by 24 Images: La Revue Québécoise du Cinéma at the Cinémathèque Québécoise took place in the salle Claude-Jutra and at the Café-bar Saturday June 19th to Sunday June 20th. The Fête du Cinéma consisted of a twenty-four hour movie marathon; 35mm and 16mm celluloid passing through a projector for an eager community of cinéphiles. In the lobby there was a booth selling the magazine (2$ for older issues; 6$ for the ones including a DVD) and the Café-bar had specials on sangria and local brews while on the patio they were projecting classic NFB Unit B documentaries. The magazine 24 Images, which started in 1987, has always had a close relationship with the Cinémathèque as it typically reviews the more eclectic films that they screen, the venue’s ticket booth sells the magazines and for special occasions 24 Images dabble in programming. I got there later on in the day at seven o’clock for a commemoration of the works of Gilles Carle.


Gilles Carle’s cinema reflects both his creativity and its fragrances over his perceptions of the Québécois landscape. Whether it is the runaway housewife in La vraie nature de Bernadette (1972); the effortful mannered gentleman in his 1950s Labatt commercials “C’est l’étiquette”; the whimsical police officer who truly wants to become an entomologist in L’âge de la Machinne (1978); to his multifaceted social portrait and bewildering comedy Le viol d’une jeune fille douce (1968). Gilles Carle’s always seem interested in showing the mainstream and sub-sector of his wonderful French-speaking province with wit and an eccentricity.

The misspelled typo in the title of L’âge de la machinne (there is only one “n” in machine) refers to the inability to backspace in the then modern new technological instrument of the typewriter. The title also shows up in Le viol d’une feune fille douce when one of the girls is also learning how to use the machine. L’âge de la machinne is set in 1933 and is about a police officer going from Senneterre to Montréal to recover a cute detainee on Christmas Eve. This NFB short film is noteworthy for the universal theme of pursuing independence in face of the imposition of religion, job security and social norms. There is a meticulous attention to period detail like the community-truck, which is an enclosed flatbed on a truck as a form of public transportation, is significantly delayed due to a roadblock. There is sense of warmth in the filming of all the characters as the viewer can sympathize with all these passengers that would rather be at home with their families then waiting at a train station for a delayed locomotive.

Le viol d’une jeune fille douce is a pop aesthetic portrait of a young women, Julie (Julie Lachappelle), ennui, pregnancy and early motherhood in Montreal in 1960s. It is comparable to Jean-Luc Godard’s early filmmaking period as the two are marked by an iconoclastic enthusiasm. The oddly title of the film refers to an unsympathetic short scene where Julie’s three thuggish brothers rape a young women. It is just one short episode out of many. Emphasizing that even amongst all of this fun and excitement, brutalities still unfold. There is a deadpan humor to everything as people remain emotionless. Gilles Carle dabs each frame with a Crayola-crayon palette of primary colors: a tyrian purple hat here, a baby blue sports car there, the placement of a bulk of consumer goods, and references to contemporary art. The characters dialogue also seems interested in the expressions of a national identity. Like when Julie’s Moroccan Jewish boyfriend asks her about her citizenship in reference to the national holiday Saint-John-Baptiste and the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ). While later on Julie buys stereotyped African groceries emphasizing the food consumption value whereas he see the goods in terms of their country of origin. There seems to be constant conflict between opposing people’s whether it is through language or actions.

Gilles Carle passed away at the age of 81 on November 28th 2009 at a hospital in Granby, Québec. His mark on Québécois cinema and culture seems omnipresent whether it is through the programming of his films or the respect and awe he instills. There are even visual reminder of his presence like the etching on the Fête du Cinéma poster or his portrait that hangs around certain cultural landmarks, for example, the restaurant Le Café Cherrier. His films La vraie nature de Bernadette, La Mort d’un bûcheron (1973) and Fantastica (1980) made their way to the Official Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Gilles Carle is proving to be an untapped treasure of French-Canada cinema and his films continue to prove to be ever adventurous and intensely pleasurable.


The series highlight and my favorite was the late Éric Rohmer’s Les nuits de la pleine lune. A masterpiece! The fourth in his series Comédies et Proverbes, the subtitle is “Qui a deux femmes perd son âme, qui a deux maisons perd sa raison”. Les nuits de la pleine lune is about a gorgeous, yet somewhat androgynous, women Louise (Pascale Ogier) who gets bored with her husband Rémi (Tchéky Karyo), an architect working on the redevelopment of Marne-la-Vallée in province de Champagne. Louise decides to return to Paris studio that is no longer being rented. Basically, Louise is having a midlife crisis and is unsure of what she wants. Still, she will continue her deep friendship with intellectual and writer Octave (Fabrice Luchini); have a one-night stand with a drummer Bastien (Christian Vadim) who’s leaving town; and sporadically visits her husband.

The night Louise spends with Bastien consists of party hopping and riding on his motorcycle. She returns to his place. They have sex. When she leaves in the middle of the night there is a full moon. Les nuits de la pleine lune is similar to Ma nuit chez Maud (1969) and La genou de Claire (1970) as Éric Rohmer uses movie titles that express the films visual imagery while simultaneously important scenes that culminate the crashing or comedy of an enlightened self-deception. While Les nuits de la pleine lune also refers to the myth of the werewolf and the transformation towards animalistic impulses that arises during full moons.

Éric Rohmer, like the large-format photographs of Jeff Wall, uses fiction as a guise to document the modernization of their own countries respective metropolis; Paris, France and Vancouver, Canada. After a rudimentary glance at Éric Rohmer’s episode Place de l’Étoile in Paris vu par (1965) this fact is further emphasized. The film follows this quirky shirt salesman Jean-Marc (Jean-Michel Rouzière) as he accidentally gets into a fight with a thief. In the background of all of this comic yarn is the 1964 subway reconstruction and theArch of Triumph. Cranes are flying, buildings are being built, roads are closed off and construction workers are on the street. One of Les nuits de la pleine lune more sublime camera movements is at the start with a 360-degree pan of the newly built housing developments and the subway connecting it to the rest of the city. Like Jean-Luc Godard’s 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1967), these films are interested in Parisian real estate and architecture and how their consumption infiltrates modern day consciousness. One of Les nuits de la pleine lune shots is framed through a two-plane window. There is an immense crane right in the center of the image. Just as the banlieue is in a constant state of construction, the characters themselves are simultaneously also in a current state of expansion. Where the future for everyone and everything is equally uncertain.

Éric Rohmer birth name is Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer. The first name Éric is an appropriation of Austrian-born director Erich von Stroheim and the last name Rohmer came from the American pulp novelist Sax Rohmer. Mr. Rohmer finished his thesis dissertation on the organization of space in F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926). He was a film critic and editor during the early years of Cahiers du Cinéma. He worked into his septuagenarian years creating his last film Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon in 2007 from Honoré d'Urfé 17th century text L'Astrée. One of the heirs of his particular type of talky cinema is Noah Baumbach. As Baumbach’s latest film Greenberg (2010) approach is interested in household and restaurant conversations that are really inquisitive and poignant in regards to his characters motivation and there are strong textual references that give off a strong sense of the Los Angeles and its progressive upper class culture.

The French New Wave actor László Szabó has a small role in the film as a comic-book artist sitting at a café one night. He draws sketches of people and is inspired by the dreams of people. The idea of an artist drawing rough sketches of people is a very modest proposal especially from Éric Rohmer who, if I can be so bold, is one of the most psychologically introspective directors. Éric Rohmer seems interested in the use of language and how it is used and abused in conversations as a way to better understand one another. These inquisitions have quick way to intensify and some times are so memorable that Octave has to write them down. These conversationalist appear all the more foreign and exotic as it seems to be a culturally specific quality that makes France and French culture all the more attractive.

What a terrific experience! My personal reaction to the film (in the Barthesian punctum sense) was very engaged. I downlooked, sighed, was exasperated, laughed, got frustrated and was on the edge of my seat. To see a Éric Rohmer film on the big screen (my first time) was a terrific experience. The wall-sized screen is a right outlet for the classic cinematography of Renato Berta that focuses more on full body shots while consciously discarding classic editing norms. In a gorgeous 1,37:1 35mm original print without any subtitles this was the highlight of the night.


Federico Fellini’s La città delle donne (1980) is a commedia all'italiana about Snàporaz (Marcello Mastroianni) who gets mixed up in a feminist rally and then in a philanderers mansion party that even Silvio Berlusconi would approve of. The one memorable scene that sticks out is a nostalgic musical sequence to Irving Berlin’s Lets Face the Music and Dance with Mastroianni in a top hat and cane prancing with two showgirls. Other then that the film gets itself lost in its own episodic drift and carnivalesque spectacle. By the end keeping up got strenuous.

I would have slept through more of Andrei Konchlovsky’s Runaway Train (1985) if the soundtrack weren’t more obtrusive. It felt like a movie made by a high school drop out that sees the world through crude stereotypes. The Alaskan cinematography was all right. Starring Jon Voight and a couple of other unimpressive actors.

Why I bothered to stay through the dreg were these next two films. Roman Polanski’s Ssaki (1961) is the last of his Łódź Film School black-and-white short films. The English title Mammals is appropriate as it is a tale of two guys who interchangeably pull one another on a sled in a barren snow-covered field while slowly depluming a chicken. A conceptual work whose title I posit refers to the plight of humanity.

Following was Jerzy Skolimoski’s fantastic horror film The Shout (1978). Jerzy Skolimoski who arrived in London from Poland in 1968, like the Italian director Marco Bellochio, seems like the type of director that is really underrepresented on video, which really restricts autodidact studies on these films. Thankfully the Cinémathèque has these programming and where I was lucky enough to see Marco Bellochio’s Abbasso il zio (1961) and Nel nome del padre (1972). Jerzy Skolimosky’s (who in 2008 appeared in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Provinces) The Shout begins with an unsuspecting visitor (Tim Curry) going to mental institute and what unfolds is the maddening of the already insane. All of this takes place in a flashback during a game of cricket in a Caligari fashion. There are some pretty interesting formal experiments including reverberating sound equipment and the use of close up.


Though by six in the morning - like for most movie marathons - consciousness drifts in and out. I still perceived an overall unifying narrative to the programming. Both le viol d’une jeune file douce and Les nuits de la pleine lune have women protagonist and a narrative that progressives monthly, while the displacement from Montreal to France emphasized a shifting international setting. La città delle donne takes the idea of a vacation and pushes it southward to Italy. The progressing train Snàporaz is on with his wife before he starts dreaming will be passed on to Runaway Train and that movies winter landscape will be shared in Ssaki while the interest in landscapes will be continued now through sand desert vistas in The Shout. Les nuits de la pleine lune, La città delle donne and The Shout all have bookend stories that start at the location where they begin.

The programming at the Cinémathèque Québécoise under Pierre Jutras and Yolande Racine continues to prove to be adventurous. The fun and carriable eco-responsible schedule (which started in autumn 2009) and a good communicative website make their calendar easily accessible. The special programs highlight both high- and low-cultures works and highlight films and filmmakers hard to come by on video or ones that truly deserve a big-screen and communal viewings. Like their series on erotic Japanese films, Souleymane Cissi, Stroheim Boulevard, Marco Bellochio, Chairs et Vicere and Ken Rusell among many others.

After The Shout I decided to leave. I was on my way to my friend Alexandre Lemire’s place. I met a few of his friends there too. I was really tired after all that movie watching. Even the previous night I did not get much sleep after partying with friends at an Italo disco concert. St. Denis and Sherbrooke Street are really still at six in the morning. There were very few cars and a few staggerers that look like they belong in a Donigan Cumming or Robert Morin film. After a long night like that all you want to do is get to bed. Tomorrow will be a new day.-David Davidson

(Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 boul. De Maisonneuve Est, Montreal, QC, 19/06 & 20/06)

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