Les Misérables, Ep 3

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The story moves on. Jean Valjean decides to go to the court to exonerate a man falsely accused of stealing and mistaken as Jean Valjean. It would be so easy to let this pass. Le Mayor (J.V.) could let this go and race to save Cosette, whom the Thenardiers abuse and neglect. But Jean Valjean (le Mayor) realizes he should free the man wrongly accused, even though that man is a thief. It’s a tough decision and few would sacrifice as J.V. does.

Cosette dies alone without seeing her daughter Cosette. She’s alone, emaciated and looks white as a ghost. A nun tries to pacify Fantine by lying that the doctor won’t let Cosette come because she’s so sick. Really, if Cosette was there, consider how zombie-like poor Fantine looked her daughter might have been traumatized for life. Better that Cosette remember her mother when she was healthy.

Jean Valjean entrusted his manager to rescue Cosette, but that grumpy, judgmental woman didn’t bother. Time passes and eventually JV manages to get free from jail and race ahead of Javert to get Colette.

At Thenardier’s we see how horribly they’ve treated Cosette. This production adds more suggestion that JV is buying Cosette for untoward reasons. It was particularly slimy. After JV departs with Cosette and her new porcelain doll, the Thenardiers report her as kidnapped. That was a strange, unnecessary addition. Then the Thenardiers are soon evicted from their inn. That was a change from the book and odd, because they had just received a windfall from JV.

JV and Colette make a life in a lower class neighborhood in Paris, where they live a quiet life, except for a nosy neighbor who wears an elaborate powdered wig, which I thought only rich people could afford. Any way this French Mrs. Kravitz suspects that JV isn’t Cosette’s kin and reports him to — da da da da –Javert. Hugo sure gives us a small world for this story.

Javert goes after JV, who manages to flee to a cloistered nunnery. In this story rather than a gardener, whom JV knew, helping him. The nuns do. The abbess agrees to let Colette attend school there, hires JV and lies to Javert.

I think it’s impossible to ruin this Victor Hugo’s story, but I could have done without a few of the changes that modernized or over-explained. Fantine’s make up was overdone IMHO and the added scenes on with Thenardier’s eviction and the nosy neighbor who suspected pedophilia didn’t improve the story. Nonetheless I enjoyed the episode.

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Les Misérables, Ep 2

lily les misLast night was the second episode of the Masterpiece/BBC production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I knew what was coming. I knew that Fantine was in for a tough timethis week. Her lover Felix had agandoned her and their baby Cosette and Fantine had no family or skills to support her well.

Last night we saw Madame Thenardier for the first time. Olivia Colman’s portrayal is both lusty as you’d expect, but also more likable because unlike the novel or the films, this Madame Thenardier tells her disreputable husband that he should be more honest because by getting a reputation for honesty, their inn would prosper. He slaps her for this. Later, another character makes the same point. I’m not sure why this production chose to white wash Madam Thenardier’s character when earlier productions succeeded with the character depicted as shown in the book.

As anyone who’s seen the films or read the novel know, in the next chapters Fantine experiences great hardship. She’s truly one of the “Les Misérables.” Though I wanted to be strong, I did have to look away at at one time mute the TV as Fantine’s fate takes a turn for the very worse.

The episode was unstinting in its depiction of Fantine’s fall. In fact the scribbler she uses to read letters from the Thenardier’s treats Fantine horribly suggesting, if not urging her to sell herself and criticizing her for selling her “assets,” i.e. her hair and teeth, before she turned to prostitution because with her cropped hair and toothless smile, she’s a less desirable object . . . . Ugh.

Fantine’s fall is worse than Jean Valjean’s and part of this is due to her extreme naivety. She never questions the Thenardier’s who constantly ask for more money to care for Cosette. She leaves her daughter with absolute strangers, though in this day there were orphanages for children with living parents. That would be the better route. In the book we’re told that Fantine had no parents at all and just grew up wandering about her small town and getting food, clothing and shelter from whoever felt generous. (Not sure why she wasn’t in an orphanage.) So that information explains a lot about why Fantine lacks common sense and has no one, no aunt, cousin, parent, etc. to turn to for help.

Cleaned up and dignified, Jean Valjean has moved upward gaining wealth and power now that his factory is prospering and he’s become mayor. The people love him. But soon Jalvert turns up and recognizes his old prisoner. Naturally Valjean gets nervous, but he remains true to the Bishop. He’s found God and honesty, though he still errors (in terms of firing Fantine, mainly because he didn’t know her full story). This production does a better job than the musical showing how much Valjean agonizes over saving the thief who’s about to die in his place. The musical certainly shows us how easy it would be for Jean Valjean to keep quiet and continue to live his new life, but this drama accentuates the dilemma.

There’s one sequence with Marius as a young boy. Somehow time hasn’t effected him as much as it has Cosette. His growth is a lot slower than hers in the interim between this and last week. Anyway, what struck me was the powered wig he sports and is worn by his grandpa and his cronies. It’s a stark, grandiose contrast to the prosperous Jean Valjean’s hair. I can’t remember if Hugo’s book makes the upperclass this contemptible.

All in all, I’m enjoyed episode 2, though it had some scenes of great suffering that I couldn’t bear. Things are bad, but not this bad in the weeks ahead. I will add that this is not an episode I advise kids watching. It might even be considered R rated for Fantine’s struggles in the streets.

 

Le Poison

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The comedy in Sacha Guitry’s La Poison (1951) is trés noir. In fact, I’m unsure if I should like it. In this guilty pleasure, La Poison gives us Paul Bracconier, a husband who can’t take his wife. Generally, I can’t stand jokes that put wives or husbands in a bad light, or that are just a series of complaints. But Blandaire Bracconier, the wife in question, is such a mean-spirited drunk with no redeeming qualities and it does seem that with a nicer woman, Paul would be a-okay, so I made an exception.

Also, since the wife has purchased rat poison to do her husband in, it seems they’re on equal footing.

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Played by Michel Simon (Two of a Kind , Port of Shadows and many other classics), Paul has a redeemable side. He doesn’t rush to murder his wife. At the start of the film he visits the local priest for sympathy, mercy and perhaps some advice.

When he hears a radio interview with a lawyer honored for getting murderers off, he goes to meet the lawyer. The conversation with the unethical lawyer convinces Paul that, yes, he can get away with murder so he is emboldened to try.

Scenes with the neighbors and their children add to the humor. One of my favorite scenes involves Paul’s neighbor visiting him in jail and recounting how grateful the neighbors are to Paul because his crime has increased tourism and business in the hamlet.

An entertaining film, La Poison is a dark, old-fashioned comedy that does show the problems in the legal system. According to the background commentary, Guitry made it as a commentary on his own incarceration when he was wrongly accused of collaborating with the Vichy government during WWII.

Gigot

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Serendipity brought me Gigot starring Jackie Gleason of The Honeymooners fame. I remember Gleason’s sitcom from my childhood, but my view of him as an actor in film was vague, i.e. I knew he was in movies, but hadn’t watched any, not even Smoky and the Bandit.

Gleason wrote the story of Gigot, a pet project of his. Gene Kelly directed it and someone else wrote the screenplay. Gigot is a mute janitor in France. He’s the butt of everyone’s jokes and pranks. His landlady cheats him. Yet kind-hearted Gigot lives according to his own generous principles. He never gives up on goodness, though no one treats him well.

Late one night Gigot runs across a prostitute and her young daughter trembling in the rain and he gives them shelter in his basement apartment. Soon Gigot and the girl bond and his life mission becomes keeping Nicole, the girl, in good spirits. The scene where Gigot follows Nicole inside a church and she asks him what this building is was beautiful. Gleason astonished me with his acting. He showed so much heart and intelligence behind the veil of his character’s disability.

The prostitute is just as jaded and conniving as many of the villagers. She argues and berates Gigot, until the scales fall from her eyes, for a time.

The film is moving, but if you can’t take some sentimentality you won’t like it. If you want to see Jackie Gleason’s depth as an actor or just enjoy a movie with a lot of heart, before sarcasm became en vogue, try Gigot.

It Was the War of the Trenches

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A gritty look at WWI, Jacques Tardi’s It was the War of the Trenches shows the dark side of World War I from the French side. Most of characters are jaded, egotistical schemers, who’re willing to break the rules. They’d inflict themselves with wounds to avoid fighting. They’d collude with the enemy if it meant survival. They would shoot women and children if that was the order given.

Nonetheless, I felt bad when a man would die, even though that same man would desert his comrades or cheat them one way or another. It’s an interesting angle to a historical book.

Well, it’s not exactly a historical book. In the forward Tardi says:

“This is not the history of the First World War told in comics form, but a non-chronological sequence of situations, lived by men who have been jerked around and dragged through the mud, clearly unhappy to find themselves in this place, whose only wish is to stay alive for just one more hour…”

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The drawings convey the horror and violence of the war, but I must remind myself and you to realize that this book is just one perspective on the war. It’s definitely worth reading, though I don’t think children under 15 should read it (maybe older still). But also, we should read and view other more historical books or films to really understand “The War to End All Wars.”

Which Way Challenge

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Avignon, France

The Which Way Challenge, that Cee began, has been picked up by the Sonofthebeach69 blogger.  The beauty of it is that it’s very free form. You can include images of doors, gates, roads, streets exits, signs, paths, waterways, you name it.

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Bali, Indonesia

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Jinan, China

The Last Metro

Starring the elegant, beautiful Catherine Deneuve, François Truffaut’s The Last Metro takes us back to WWII where Marion Steiner struggles to aid her Jewish husband who’s hiding under their theater, to put on a new play despite the government censors. The news is that Lucas Steiner has fled France, but that’s a cover. He’s hiding out in the theater’s basement, where his wife Marion visits every night. She lined up a guide to get him out, but the plan fell through as the situation has grown too dangerous.

Though he’s going stir crazy, Lucas listens through the pipes and gives notes to the performers via Marion, who must keep a cool façade while being pulled in all directions fearing that a German-sympathizing critic will censor the play, which could lead to the discovery and imprisonment of her husband.

Gérald Depardieu plays a young amorous actor, who’s also in the Resistance.

As the film is based on Truffaut’s childhood memories of the era, The Last Metro offers several light hearted moments, such as Depardieu’s failed attempt to woo one of the theater staff.

The film is well acted and paced covering a significant era, but for me it wasn’t quite as good as The 400 Blows or Zazie dans le Métro