Voici le temps des assassins (1956)

MovieCovers-137729-192601-VOICI LE TEMPS DES ASSASSINSIt took me some time to get properly in tune with Duvivier’s movie. Unexpected difficulties arose, I guess, from a completely idiotic title under which this movie is known in the US. I mean – Deadlier than the male? Seriously? Seems that translators of old were quite nonchalant both with translation and adaptation of foreign movies. Must be all that crack they used to smoke after the War. Whatever the reason Deadlier than the male doesn’t even hint to nature of the business so it took me awhile to properly understand that what I’m watching is not just a drama, but a crime-drama up there with the best of them. You know the type. Not really a noir but full of femme fatales regardless. After all, it’s happening in France.

Once this has been properly understood, real problems appeared. Sort of which you can’t get rid of until after the end of the movie (sometimes not even then). For example – the biggest challenge here was enduring a 100-minute movie that irritated me with every single part of its digital being. This is in itself by no means a rare thing. Stuff tends to irritate me quite a lot these days. But – there is a certain variance to irritation. Some things irritate because they’re bad, stupid, slow, incompetent, or any combination of the above. Other things…other things irritate differently. In this instance, irritation stems from the sheer brilliance of Danièle Delorme.    

bscap0001She plays a character any sane person would want to impale on a stick (as our Turk friends used to do few years back) and she plays it magnificently. Now, interacting with scheming bitches is one thing. If they’re any good, you won’t even know what hit you. But, watching scheming bitches do their routine and not being able to do anything about it is agonizing. Part of you wants to scream, part of you wants to break something (a head, a kneecap, whatever you got) and the sane part of you tries to rein in all these emotions by reminding you that it’s only a movie and that if you break something you’re never gonna hear the end of it from missus.

Yes, we’re all these big, bad, cynics who were around when Eastern Bloc was an actual fact, we rarely react with emotions to anything that has something to do with art – we’ve seen it all before, and we’ve seen it done better – and we fart in your general direction etc., but sometimes, someone, manages to punch right through that carefully cultivated protective shell after which hilarity ensues. Suddenly, we remember that there is a life outside our intellectual barrier. So, if for anything, kudos to Julien Duvivier for that.

bscap0000Regardless of me being crazy like that (getting irritated by QUALITY fiction), Voici le temps des assassins is genuinely good. As far as I can tell (this irritation is so rare that it managed to successfully distract me from quite a lot of everything else) it’s no masterpiece but it’s far from genre-crap people used to and still make. Not sure how this would fare with feminists, though. Once again, woman is demonized (just listen to that – Deadlier than the male) from almost every aspect, her sole being is an act of pure aggression towards cultured and cultivated, ordered male world. Still, one might argue that the character of Catherine, however despicable it might be, is the only honest (or true in an ontological sense) character in an entire movie-universe. Anyhow, there’s bound to be something more than your average “she’s a villain” plot here but this time I was too distracted to look for it. You’ll have to take care of yourself.

Directed by Julien Duvivier
Produced by René Bezard
Raymond Borderie
Pierre Cabaud
Screenplay by Julien Duvivier
Charles Dorat
Pierre-Aristide Bréal
Based on a story by Julien Duvivier
Charles Dorat
Maurice Bessy
Starring Jean Gabin
Danièle Delorme
Music by Jean Wiener
Cinematography Armand Thirard
Edited by Marthe Poncin




Hannah Arendt (2012)

437197_409328_1318Hm… it pains me to say but I honestly think this movie would’ve been so much better if it were done by some contemporary Frank Capra wannabe instead of Margarethe von Trotta. It sounds like blasphemy, I know. Pairing one of the most important 20th century thinkers heavily influenced by maybe the most important philosopher of the same century with Capraesque Hollywood-drama sounds a bit over the top. I bet there are posh intellectual snobs of European origin rolling their eyes to the mere thought of it, but I’m not saying this just for the hell of it. It seems to me that Hannah Arendt doesn’t quite deliver what it should have delivered, and the main reason for that failure is von Trotta’s insistence on distancing herself from the Hollywood biography-drama which has its flaws but has its merits that have been carefully thought out throughout more than a couple of decades. Sometimes, being different just for the sake of being different and just to be clearly classified as European (i.e. opposed to the American populist mainstream) doesn’t quite work out for the best.

vlcsnap-2014-07-18-16h02m41s218 What Hannah Arendt should have delivered then? Well, let’s try to illustrate this. How many of you knew who Hannah Arendt was beforehand? Okay, I can see some of you raising hands so another question is, do you have any background in philosophy or cultural criticism? I know you do. Thing is, Hannah Arendt wasn’t some sort of sports-hero, unimportant to anyone not interested in that particular sport (and God knows too many of these have been put on the big screen), Hannah Arendt and her concept of the banality of Evil is vastly important to anyone, not to mention highly applicable outside the context of Eichmann, Holocaust and World War II. Is this clear from the movie itself? Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s not just about direction, there’s a fact that neither von Trotta nor Pam Katz can’t write for shit. They chose to give too much importance to the Jews-accomplices controversy, which was overhyped at the least, ignoring the more important aspect of the problem of bureaucracy and its application to modern military and neo-liberal corporatist’s ideologies. There are so many “cryptic” images in this movie which can’t be decoded by anyone outside the “philosophy circles” (for example relation of Martin Heidegger and forest) so that entire thing looks like somewhat hermetical wet-dream of an average philosophy major which (quite expected, being hermetical and all) doesn’t quite care for the concept of communicating with others.

vlcsnap-2014-07-18-16h02m14s201Capra would have done this differently. He would have hammered the main point into your head, and he would have done it with style. Oh, it would have been pathetical but if that’s the only way that the idea of Hannah Arendt and her importance can be communicated in this time and age then there’s no reason to be snobbish about it. Hannah Arendt wanted to distance itself from the tabloid discourse of Hollywood biography-dramas and as far as I can tell, it was a bad choice. Sure, Arendt isn’t what you would call a tabloid material, but leftists need to finally learn how to use the populist discourse to their own benefit. Staying within the mind frame of “if you don’t know who Hannah Arendt is than you should learn” (reflected in the movie in the dialogue between Arendt and her editor from New Yorker) only alienates people and one shouldn’t alienate people from this. What was the importance of the idea of banality of Evil in the context of the Holocaust? The movie doesn’t answer this question and it really should have. Oh, I know that you know the answer, but you, like myself, are not important. Movies shouldn’t be preaching to the quire and Hannah Arendt does exactly that.

Directed by Margarethe von Trotta
Produced by Bettina Brokemper
Written by Margarethe von Trotta
Pam Katz
Starring Barbara Sukowa
Janet McTeer
Klaus Pohl
Nicholas Woodeson
Axel Milberg
Music by André Mergenthaler
Cinematography Caroline Champetier
Edited by Bettina Böhler
Bayerischer Rundfunk
Westdeutscher Rundfunk

Try before you Buy

The Artist (2011)

artist_ver3God dammit, it seems that once again I’ll start with quotation marks. This time it’s James Berardinelli’s voice speaking: “Hazanavicius isn’t just making a silent movie, he is attempting to enter a time warp and craft something that would fool all but the most studious and scholarly into believing it could have been a lost film from a bygone era.” So says our James, and we laugh a little. Cracking a mad, demented laugh sprinkled with subtle hints of satanic rituals just because I intend to use this we pronoun from now on. We don’t consider ourselves even close to ‘studious’ or ‘scholarly’ yet we can spot the difference in an instant. It only requires some perception, some interest and  some knowledge of how did these silent-era movies actually looked like. This isn’t any sort of scholarly knowledge. It’s easily acquired. All one needs is to actually watch some of them. It shouldn’t be a problem, considering this thing we call Internet, but nevermind this now. We tend to rant. We would have to read some notes on production or even an interview or two to see if this discrepancy is intentional or if Hazanavicius is just one of the hipsters who really loves ‘cool stuff’ from the past without really understanding them. This is just too bothersome for us (remember what I sad about ‘studious’?). Still, we are inclined to go with first interpretation. There is evident knowledge of silent-era form, there is some knowledge of its “essence”, and obvious discrepancies in style, structure, themes, framing and acting we’ll explain as intentional. After all, Hollywood was always about illusion and making things better than they are. Hazanavicius’ The Artist is something like a boob job on your grandmother. You notice the boobs, but you notice the grandmother as well.

vlcsnap-2014-06-20-00h13m29s213Anyhow (I’ll drop this we act for now), I am still puzzled by the effect of The Artist. I can understand why it was awarded with Academy Award (though Scorsese’s Hugo,with which thismovie shares similar motifs, was much more to my liking), but I can’t understand how it managed to do so well with revenue. It seems that, despite all of my supposedly bravado know-how of the inner workings of media, I still manage to disregard sheer impact of marketing and thoughtfully constructed media-hype. Playing on nostalgia card is perfectly understandable, though existence of recipients attuned to this particular type of nostalgia is something of a mystery. Intertextual dialogue with silent-era was done before. If nothing else, Sunset Blvd. and Singing in the Rain come to mind.  Every so often, wave of nostalgia sweeps across a cultural landscape transforming all media in its wake. What is left is rarely more than cute manirism (in some way The Artist is as maniristic as they come) but sometimes it happens that it resonates well with crowds. If I had to guess, I would say that amongst the thousands who went to see The Artist, almost none had any particular connection with a world of silent movies. The Artist was “an event” movie. This is to say it managed to replicate what it was trying to replicate (despite everything that formalists like myself had to say about an actual success of replication). For a brief season, it managed to conjure the paradise lost. This innocent time of fairytales in screen-form. So remote now that it almost seems like it never existed at all.

vlcsnap-2014-06-20-00h13m39s45Part of me was weirded out seeing “silent movie” in high definition. Every “original” silent movie that I have seen, even when I saw them in theatres, was lacking in some aspect. Either it was restored poorly, or it was a bad copy, or it was something else. This grainy picture which bared marks of damages that piled up during past decades became something like a metaphor for life, universe and everything else. Seeing something that tried to emulate silent-era in crystal clear form wasn’t quite the same. It drew attention to its artificiality. Make-up wasn’t quite the same, camera work was too modern, editing as well, affectation and hyperbole were almost non-existent, narrative was “blasphemous”, and myriad of tiny little details kept reminding me that what I was seeing is something like a love letter. It was a letter written by an admirer, not by a fan, and part of me wasn’t satisfied. The other part of me wasn’t satisfied with general tone of The Artist (despite it being generally attuned to the dominant sentiment of American moviemaking). I couldn’t help but see cynicism in treatment of Jean Dujardin’s character (even on a metaphorical level). His transformation from silent-era romantic action-figure to Fred-and-Ginger-dancing-darling of the thirties strengthened up the underlying notion that it was always about entertainment and never about Art. I couldn’t force myself to applaud to that.

Recollecting my thoughts on The Artist it seems to me that once again Academy Award went to the movie that managed to create best illusion amongst contenders. There were far better movies produced that year, but none of them managed to create this artificial vibe that resonated almost too well with the essence of Hollywood. For the Industry, it was always about Industry and it’s no wonder that Industry rewarded the guy that felt nostalgic about that.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Produced by Thomas Langmann
Written by Michel Hazanavicius
Starring Jean Dujardin
Bérénice Bejo
Music by Ludovic Bource
Cinematography Guillaume Schiffman
Editing by Anne-Sophie Bion
Michel Hazanavicius
Studio La Petite Reine
ARP Sélection
Studio 37
La Class Americane
France 3 Cinema
U Film
Jouror Productions
JD Prod
Wild Bunch

Try before you Buy