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Casque D’or

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I didn’t know what to expect when I borrowed Casque D’or from the library. One surprise was that the heroine, Marie, was played by Simone Signoret, who gave a forceful performance in Army of Shadows. Marie is a a gangster’s moll and outshines her friends, not only with her cascading blonde hair, but with her vivacious spirit. The film opens with scenes that come right out of a Renoir painting. A party of young lovers rowing along a river followed by a lively dance hall scene. Marie stands out as she is the only woman who’s rowing a boat and she stands up to her boorish, abusive boyfriend.

(It was hard to believe that Marie, who’s so self-assured, would give such a churl the time of day, but the plot requires that.)

In the dance hall we first see a dozen or so upper class men and women enter to take a good look at their “inferiors.” From their comments it’s clear that they’re hear for the entertainment of watching how people who aren’t dripping in diamonds behave.

Soon the attention turns to Marie’s friends, the gangsters and their girls. Ever petulant, Marie’s boyfriend Roland takes an immediate dislike to Manda a carpenter who catches Marie’s eye. Manda is a friend of one of the gangsters and introduces himself to Marie’s set and holds his head high as they mock him because he’s a carpenter. He is confident enough to let their jokes roll of his back and he accepts Marie’s offer of a dance.

Hothead, Roland is furious and a fight with Manda ensues. Overseen by the gang’s boss, Felix, who also has a thing for Marie, Roland and Manda fight in a way I’ve never seen in a film. First both men are searched and any weapons are confiscated. The two men are spit far apart and Felix tosses a knife to the ground and the first man to get it,can use it on his opponent. Roland gets the knife. The fight is deftly shot with many close ups and felt realer than any I’ve seen. In the end Manda kills Roland, which sets up the story.

Banda must flee, but Marie pursues him and while Manda hides out Marie is with him and their romance grows. Smitten with spunky Marie, Felix plots to get Felix arrested and sacrifices one of his own men to lure Manda into captivity. The ending is bold and theme of loyalty and Marie’s life-giving spirit make this a must-see.

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Poem of the Week

The Break of Day

BY JOHN DONNE
‘Tis true, ‘tis day, what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because ‘tis light?
Did we lie down because ‘twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honour so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.

Must business thee from hence remove?
Oh, that’s the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.

Sepia Saturday

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This week’s prompt made me think of fountains and real sepia tones. So I went with both.

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According to the Library Company of Philadelphia, the image above is probably taken at the entrance of Fairmont Park and no date is given. My guess is 19th century.

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According to comments on Flickr Commons, this Cornell University Library photo is most likely from Mexico City. The library holds the image in the A.D. White Architectural Photography collection and estimates the date at 1885-1895.

 

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The week’s final fountain photo is from New South Wales. It’s a drinking fountain that was taken before 1885.

Visit Sepia Saturday for more fountain-inspired photos from days gone by.

Mr. Thank You

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Arigato-san or Mr. Thank You in English is a simple, rather slow-moving film that shows Japan in the depression of The hero, Arigato-san is a bus driver known up and down his rural route as “Mr. Thank You” because he yells a cheery “Thank you!” to everyone he passes on the road.

The plot isn’t much and this isn’t a film for anyone who needs action, even the usual dose of action. However the film does make an impact at the end. Mr. Arigato is the epitome of kindness. He stops whenever someone flags him down. Then he’ll carry messages to relatives down the road or pick up items for people who ask him to. As usual, the level of service in Japan is and was astounding.

On the bus are a mother who’s taking her pretty young daughter to the city to sell her to a brothel (not a fancy geisha house, a brothel of which there were plenty), a chatty citified woman who smokes and drinks and shares her flask liberally with her fellow passengers, a fuddy-duddy salesman who looks very successful and leers and the young women, and an array of short term riders from the countryside.

One cultural note that struck me was that one couple who were off to attend a wedding got right off the bus and decided to walk rather than share a bus with someone who was going to a wake. That would have bad luck for their relative who was getting married. The film is striking in how clearly it shows the poverty in Japan in 1936.

All in all, Mr. Thank You isn’t a must see and even though it’s just 57 minutes long it did drag for me. Probably when it came out, a Japanese audience would have no complaints about the pace. If you have a keen interest in Japanese culture or film history, this is worth seeing.

Thirst

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Call me a philistine but Thirst (1949) is the first Ingmar Berman film I’ve seen. Hmm. I can’t say I liked it, though there were shots that were captivating like when two young dancers are seen in a dressing room mirror and their grouchy teacher’s seen in the mirror beside it.

However, this film about a married couple and their previous lovers didn’t do much for me. I was put off by their intense “go for the throat” arguments. The heroine, a young dancer who’s career’s ended, was egotistical, selfish and mean. No doubt Bergman wanted to show intense feeling when you want to kill or tell your partner to go to hell, but do we need 100 minutes of this? All the characters seemed both sadistic and masochistic. I suppose the raw emotion and language was modern for the 1940s, but it didn’t do anything for me, except make me not want to visit Sweden.

Seeing that last week I saw and enjoyed Passing Fancy, which I grant is a comedy so not comparable, it was perhaps harder to appreciate Thirst. In Passing Fancy we also see characters who’ve had it with each other, who tell each other they hate them, but the storm passes and other emotions exist. In Thirst when a couple reconciles a bit you believe they still want their partner to die and go to hell. Lovely. Charming.

Actually, Thirst seemed like a bit of hell on earth.

I won’t swear off Bergman, but I’m not in a hurry to see more.

I think I need to see more Poldark and Ozu to counteract the Bergman effect.

Passing Fancy

Kahichi and son Tomio

Kahichi and son Tomio

Yasujiro Ozu’s Passing Fancy (1933) takes us into the shitamachi, i.e. tenement neighborhood of Tokyo where factory worker Kihachi, a widower, lives with his young son, Tomio. The film opens with Kihachi watching a storyteller with his neighbors. The scene with Kihachi battling a fly are comedic. After the show, Kihachi meets Harue, a young, pretty woman who’s just last her job and has no where to go.

Not only is Kihachi moved, he’s smitten. His young neighbor Jiro kids Kihachi urging him not to get his hopes up. A lazy, uneducated jokester, Kihachi’s amusing, but you know he’ll never get ahead. Moreover, you know he’ll never get the girl. His hopes die hard. He’s unaware of Harue’s soft spot for Jiro, who rebuffs her advances. Still her continued love for Jiro means she’s never going to fall for Kihachi.

Tomio’s a good student and impudent son. His classmates taunt him and in turn, Tomio puts down his father for his illiteracy and lazy ways. The argument escalates, but Kihachi realizes his son’s situation and gives a lot of money to spend as he wishes. He hopes the windfall will alleviate the pains of their poverty however briefly. But Tomio, who’s about 9 or 10, gorges himself on sweets, which results in a critical illness. With Tomio in the hospital Kihachi, Jiro, Harue and another neighbor are brought together.

It's never explained why Tomio's got the eye patch

It’s never explained why Tomio’s got the eye patch

The silent film moves slowly by modern standards, but is full of touching scenes that will reward patient viewers. Ozu’s characters are engaging. I particularly liked that the boy was sometimes the model son, who has to make his drunken father get up for work, sometimes a victim and sometimes a brat. It isn’t often that children are so multi-dimensional in film.

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The Gold Rush

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As part of my New Year’s Resolution to watch old films, I saw Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, which charmed me. As with the other Chaplin films, The Gold Rush offers charming little moments, moments when the tramp is under-appreciated, forgotten or forlorn, but carries on in spite of his troubles. He’s always forging onward even when the deck’s stacked against him. He’s a beautiful loser in a way that harkens to Chekov.

The film contains memorable scenes where Chaplain’s Lone Prosector hilariously defies bad luck. He’s come to the Yukon to seek his fortune, but like many all he finds is hardship (till the very end of the film). He’s cold, lonely and hungry through most of the film. With hundreds of other the Lone Prospector treks a great distance at the start of the film out onto the tundra. It’s a grand scene as are the scenes when the cabin is about to fall off the mountain.

From the Criterion Collection audio, I learned that the shoe shown at the top of the page is made out of candy. Some of the films funniest and most poignant scenes surround food and hunger. The tramp, here called “The Lone Prospector,” faces hunger out on the Yukon tundra. There are classic scenes in which the Lone Prospector’s pal Big Jim is so hungry he imagines the tramp is a chicken. (This narrated version was released in 1942 and Chaplain himself is narrating.)

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As you’d expect the Criterion commentary is superb and you’ll learn a lot about the production and Chaplain’s meticulous rehearsing and his romantic relationships with his actresses.

Related

Essay “As Good as Gold” on Criterion’s website.

La Grande Illusion

b3_d__0_GrandIllusionI knew that Phil Jackson would show Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion  (1937) to his players before every season, but I wasn’t sure why. (I’m still uncertain as to what he wanted his team to learn, though the film has plenty of insights.)

I didn’t know what to expect. The DVD package promised a war film, which I’m never in the mood for, but if 3:10 to Yuma was good, perhaps this would be too. Starring Jean Gabin (whom I saw in Touchez Pas au Grisbi) La Grande Illusion tells the story of French POWs in World War I. Of course, if the main characters are stuck in prison, the film’s objective must be to get them out, n’est pas? Bien sur.

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The three central characters are Gabin’s working class Maréchal, Pierre Fresnay’s blue blooded Capt. de Boeldieu and Marcel Dalio’s Lt. Rosenthal. When Maréchal is captured he’s put in a cell with de Boeldieu and Rosenthal, who shares the delicacies his family send him from France with all his comrades. Maréchal soon learns that the men have been digging a tunnel to get out. While other escapees get caught and shot, these men’s plan is thwarted as they are all moved to another prison camp just before they plan to use the tunnel.

de Boeldieu et von Rauffenstein

de Boeldieu et von Rauffenstein

The three are transferred and try to escape repeatedly till they’re sent to Capt. von Rauffenstein’s camp. Played by Eric von Stroheim, von Rauffenstein is a compelling character. Throughout the film, von Rauffenstein wears a full body cast and wears white gloves to hide his burned hands. He lives in a gothic chapel that he’s oddly decorated and made into an apartment. He prides himself on running a civilized prisoner of war camp for officers, whom he treats almost like guests.

Von Rauffenstein most connects with de Boeldieu as their family trees are most on par. While de Boedleu has come to see that the old social order is dying, von Rauffenstein’s blind to that. He also can’t fathom how de Boedieu can seen any value in the working class or nouveau riche, that’s his downfall.

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From critic Peter Cowie’s essay on the Criterion Collection website:

Made just three years before World War II, it gazes back to a different era, and to a war, in the words of the director, “based on fair play, a war without atom bombs or torture.” Hitler had not appeared. “Nor,” says Renoir, “had the Nazis, who almost succeeded in making people forget that the Germans are also human beings.”

The film is simple, but compelling with fascinating characters I won’t soon forget. It unfolds effortlessly and haunts me days after I’ve seen it. I can’t wait to watch it again, next time with the commentary.

3:10 to Yuma

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I’m normally not a fan of Westerns, but if the Criterion Collection saw fit to offer Delmar Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma (1957), maybe this Western was worth a look. It sure was. Starring Glen Ford, whom I associate with TV sitcoms if anything, 3:10 to Yuma is a psychologically compelling game of cat and mouse. Ford plays Ben Wade, a slick, charming head of a gang of stagecoach robbers. After his gang kills a stagecoach driver while robbing the coach, his gang disperses to hide out. Ford miscalculates and allows a little romance to detain him and so he gets nabbed.

He’s in hick country and doubts the locals can keep his gang from him from breaking loose or getting rescued. Surely, he can outsmart these poor yokels. The central yokel, is a small rancher Dan Evans, who agrees to escort Wade to a town where a train to Yuma will take Wade to the nearest judge. Evans needs the $200 reward to save his cattle. Just as desperately Evans heeds his wife and sons’ esteem. That they seem to see him as a man who always plays it safe is getting to him.

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Some of the tensest moments are in a hotel room where these two character kill time till the train’s about to leave. The film’s strength is the psychology of the characters, that and the remarkable cinematography of the desolate Western landscape.

Good quote:

Bisbee Marshal: Do I have two volunteers? First Posse Member: We gotta know what we’re gettin’ ourselves into.

Second Posse Member: Sure… might not be safe.

Bisbee Marshal: Safe! Who knows what’s safe? I knew a man dropped dead from lookin’ at his wife. My own grandmother fought the Indians for sixty years… then choked to death on lemon pie. Do I have two volunteers?

As with all the Criterion films I’ve seen, the extras were well worth my time. One was an interview with Glen Ford’s son, who’s written his father’s biography. The other was an interview with Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story the film’s based on. I’ve heard Leonard’s name and associated him with short stories, but the interview was inspiring and insightful for writers. The power of this spare film, stuck with me for days. I’d definitely check out more of Daves’ films. [categorie film, review, New Years’ Resolution Film Challenge]

Chronicle of a Summer

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I’d heard the term “cinema verite” and like many wrongly thought that referred to a film that’s extremely realistic. It turns out that’s not exactly right. For my classic movie resolution, I watched Chronicle of a Summer by the inventors of cinema verite, two French sociologists. Cinema verite is a sociological film that forces people to come to the truth. Released in 1961, captured on black and white film, which adds a filter of reality that color couldn’t strangely enough, Chronicle of a Summer sets out to prompt real people to come in contact with truth through interviews and discussions that begin with the simple question: Are you happy? The directors behind the film are Jean Rouch, an engineer turned ethnological filmmaker who mainly worked in Africa and Edgar Morin, a sociologist based in Paris.

With two directors, the film does have two distinct moods. Viewers can feel when the somber, analytical Morin is in charge or when the more playful Rouch has the reins. The film begins with a woman agreeing to interview people on the street asking subjects whether they’re happy. It turns out that in Paris in 1960 few were. Still the film gets under your skin. Though neither director has gone to film school, the creative shots grabbed me and did feel very real. At times the film just shows people, working in a factory, eating lunch, walking down a street. They’re shown in their individualism in a way that’s compelling and fresh. I liked some of the subjects more than others. For the most part, the subjects came off as sincere and they presented a snapshot of life in 1960. I found the ending simple and powerful. Rouch and Morin gather their subjects for a screening of the film followed by a discussion. We hear their reactions whether they thought some people were exhibitionists or authentic, whether the whole endeavor was true to life or indecent. People were honest and through this scene were elevated beyond just being “performers” or “subjects” to being co-creators. Chronicle of a Summer is a Criterion Collection film and as usual features some worthwhile bonuses. The best was an insightful interview with Faye Ginsberg, who worked with Jean Rouch after he made this film.

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