Le Doulos

Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1962 classic noir gangster film Le Doulous blew me away. Beinning simply with ex-con Maurice walking though a squalid neighborhood, it soon delivered its first of several completely surprising murders. Maurice visits his friend Gilbert, who gives him information and offers cash to tide him over with the promise of more. After Maurice asks Gilbert to borrow a gun, he turns the gun on his old friend. It’s the first of several betrayals and murders.

Maurice then grabs Gilbert’s cash and all the jewel’s he’s reworking and was going to fence. Before he’s out of the house, Maurice hears a car drive up and he scrambles to escape and stash the jewels and money. Nuttheccio and Armand, big time gangsters, were to get the jewels from Gilbert and when they see he’s dead. Maurice manages to flee and bury the loot.

Next thing we see is Maurice is at his girlfriend Thérèse’s apartment preparing to meet his crony Rémy to carry out their heist. Maurice and Rémy’s jewel heist fails with both Rémy and the victim killed and Maurice is shot and passes out. Selien visits Thérèse and brutally beats her to find out Maurice’s whereabouts. Somehow Maurice winds up at a friends home where a doctor is tending to his wound, while Selein appears to be double crossing him with the police.

Melville treats us to a well lit, dark gangster film that pays homage to American gangster films while exploring friendship, loyalty and betrayal. The plot is loaded with shocks and surprises till the last scenes. There isn’t one point that didn’t hold my attention.

The Criterion Collection DVD is now unavailable, but many libraries probably have it. Mine did. Besides the masterful film there are bonus items like two interviews with directors who began as Melville’s apprentices and an analysis of three pivotal scenes.

From these extrasI learned that Melville always had to be at war with some one on the set. He built an apartment cum studio and his apartment was decorated in a New York rather than Parisian style. He tried to make this film look as American as possible. On the first day of filming he’d say “Good Morning” to everyone working on the film then he’d announce that he would not be wasting time with these greetings in the days ahead. He had no time for that!

Memories of Melville’s Army of Shadows led me to find another film of his and I’m glad I did.

Cuties

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I don’t know the director’s intent, but Cuties, a French coming-of-age film, was sad and disturbing. The heroine, 11 year old Amy has come to Paris with her mom and two younger siblings. Her mother is devastated to learn that her husband, who’s still back in Senegal, has chosen a second wife. It hits Amy hard, but her reaction is far more self-destructive than she knows.

At her new school, Amy becomes obsessed with joining a mean girls clique, who’re preparing to dance in an upcoming competition. That sounds a bit harmless, though sacrificing your self-respect to befriend people who mock, humiliate and hit you, is not a good choice. I cringed when the girls kick out their lowest status member and Amy strives to get accepted by a group of misguided, powerful jerks.

Amy and her new “friends” get way over their heads in social media and sexy dancing. The camera draws the audiences’ attention to the girls’ bodies and movements that is gross and would only appeal to a pedophile. It’s really horrible and a far cry from a “feminist liberation” as the director claims. The director has recently claimed that the film is a critique on the exploitation of girls. I see it as more of a film about a degenerative society where parents neglect their children. The girls aren’t roped into anything, they just have no adult in their life who’s paying close attention to them.

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Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 7

This episode was so adrenaline spiking that if there was one more iota of excitement, I’d have to go to the hospital with a heart attack. yet there were some coincidences that were a bit much.

Ross manages to single-handedly get himself out of the mine he was thrown intoRosina, the  and to find the ore that Tess and her henchman have hid, i.e. stole. So Demelza is soon relieved.

Meanwhile Tess is flirting with Demelza’s preacher brother, Sam. Rosina, another village girl was sweet on Sam. She had her heartbroken last season so she’s due for some love. However, Sam thinks Tess really wants to find God. It’d be nice if she did, but it’s doubtful.

Since Ned was executed, Kitty’s staying with Caroline and Dwight, who invites her to stay as long as she likes. I’m pretty sure these estates were built for big families and lots of guests. Caroline is jealous, needlessly. Her jealousy increases when Dwight proposes that Kitty come with him to London, where she can convince people to stop the torture done in prison. Caroline goes to London herself and helps Kitty hand out flyers advocating against torture.

At dinner at Nampara, Morwenna and Drake announce that Morwenna’s expecting. I figured this would happen. So they’re sure to have a happy ending. I do expect all or most of the characters we like will end on a high note, unlike the 1970s series which ended with Elizabeth’s death.

When Dwight finds out that Caroline is in London and her horse threw her, he’s angry. They argue about his attention to Kitty and she overhears them.

The plot continued to ramp up as Ross comes across some Frenchmen who’re up to no good and are led by the Frenchman who wanted to kill him a season back. That seemed rather coincidental. Ross offers to betray his country to save his skin. After all, his government just hanged his good friend Ned.

Kitty decides to return to Honduras. It makes sense as that’s where she’s lived and has I assume friends and family. Everyone’s so sad, but she probably has more connections and there’s plenty to stand up for in Honduras.

Geoffrey Charles and Cecily are about to run off to America to elope, but Ross doesn’t turn up to help them as planned. Of course, this won’t work. It’s the penultimate episode so we’ve got to have lots of problems. Cecily’s father turns up just as Demelza’s helping the couple and Geoffrey Charles is assaulted and near death. The evil father bargains with Cecily. He threatens to let Geoffrey Charles die, unless Cecily promises to never see him again. So she capitulates and tells GC that she doesn’t love him.

By the end of the episode everything’s gone wrong and the French ships on the horizon and will soon attack. it’s almost too much action. The finale is going to be action-packed.

Remorques

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Remorques (1941) stars Jean Gabin as André, a tugboat captain, married to the lovely, devoted Yvonne (Madeleine Renaud). As the film opens André and Yvonne appear to be the perfect couple. Everyone at a wedding for one of André’s crew members, looks to Yvonne and André, who’ve been married 10 years as the perfect couple. I sure did. They are loving, practical and truly care about each other deeply.

When the Cyclone, André’s boat is called to rescue a ship caught in a wild storm, Yvonne offers to console the bride whose honeymoon must be postponed and whose husband faces peril with his comrades. Yvonne shares how distraught she gets anytime her husband goes to sea and how lonely she is. Yvonne’s built her life around her marriage, while André’s first priority is his boat and its mission with his wife coming in a close second.

As the waves and storm attack the boats, the scenes of the storm thrill.

The rescue is daunting enough, but the greedy captain of the endangered ship doesn’t want to be rescued. If his boat is saved, he’ll have to pay the tugboat for doing so. He’d rather lose all his crew and cargo and collect the insurance. Now that’s a villain.

Disgusted by the evil captain, his wife Catherine (Michele Morgan) and some crew members escape in a raft and the tugboat takes them aboard. Of course, Catherine is stunning. She’s decided to leave her nasty husband.

You can probably guess what happens. Yep, Catherine tempts the faithful André. The film gets sentimental and predictable but Gabin, Renaurd and Morgan’s performances make Remorque compelling. It’s not a masterpiece, but it held my interest.

Masterpiece: Les Misérables

It’s no secret that Les Misérables is one of my favorite stories of all time. I’ve read the book and seen the musical, the film with Liam Neeson, the film with Jean Gabin and the one with Harry Barr. I’ve loved them all.

I lost track of time and missed the premier of Masterpiece’s newest Les Mis, but fortunately, I taped it and am now ready for episode 2.

Beginning with Thénardier (Adeel Akhtar) robbing the pockets of soldiers killed at Waterloo. As luck would have it, Pontmercy, a solider, wakes up and mistakes Thénardier for a savior. Then in the prison where Jean Val Jean (Dominic West) toils away while being abused, beaten and tricked by the guards and Inspector Javert (David Oyelowo), a 19th century French Pharisee. Early on we also see Pontmercy’s wealthy father-in-law who’s taken custody of his grandson when the boy’s mother died. Vehemently opposed to Pontmercy’s politics, the grandfather forbids Pontmercy to see his own son, Marius, a cutie pie in velvet and frilly collars.

Fantine’s story of meeting Felix, Cossette’s father, this production starts earlier in the book than the musical. We get to see the slimy, philandering Felix who loves and leaves poor, naive Fantine. Interwoven with Fantine’s story, we see Jean Valjean get freed from jail and encounter hostility and injustice till he’s welcome by the saintly Bishop Digne.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the story. It’s a lush production. I always have an odd feeling about computer graphics. I can tell it’s not real (or faux real). I sense something lacking in the vast settings that must be computer graphics.

The story spans decades and contains several plot lines. Victor Hugo dedicated each section of the book according to a main character. The screenwriter has woven several sections together and the chronology’s changed. Some things seem to be simultaneous here, when they weren’t in the book. For example, at the end of episode 1, Fantine’s holding her daughter Cossette, who looks like she is at least a year old. Yet Felix just abandoned her a few hours before. I thought Fantine got pregnant after Felix left her. Also, Jean Valjean has just left the Bishop’s. It seems the timing is off between Fantine, whose story doesn’t need much time to progress to the next stage, and Jean Valjean, who took many years to get to the next point when he’ll meet Fantine.

Even though there are some differences between other productions and these do bother me, the annoyance is small and Les Misérables is a story that can’t be ruined. (Knock on wood.) So far this series is off to a good start.

Audubon, On the Wings of the World

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I learned so much about the life of John James Audubon from the graphic biography, Audubon, Audubon, On The Wings Of The World [Graphic Biography]. I knew nothing about his dedicated wife, who had to put up with her husband’s long absences as he worked on his magnum opus,  The Birds of America

This book tells the story of his life from his first foray into illustration and his courtship. His wife was incredibly patient and supportive. What Audubon was trying to do, illustrate birds so that they seemed fully alive, was unheard of in his day and he experienced great frustration because people kept comparing him to Alexander Wilson, an earlier illustrator, who inspired Audubon, but whom Audubon believed was inferior.

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I was shocked at the number of birds, Audubon shot in order to illustrate all the species found in American. He’d shoot many of one species and shot thousands over all. According to the book, he did not find this at odds with his love for birds or his desire to add to their conservation and our understanding of them.

On The Wings of the World, has good illustrations, though they aren’t on par with Audubon’s own work. That would be amazing — and would probably mean a much more expensive book. I feel I’ve a fuller and deeper understanding of Audubon, who’s presented warts and all. It would make a great gift and belongs in every library.

Loving Vincent


This week I received three suggestions for the library’s Fall Movie Challenge, which I chose “Groundbreaking” for my challenge. One of the films chosen for me was Loving Vincent, an animated film that investigates the end of Vincent Vah Gogh’s life.

The film was made from Van Gogh’s paintings and oil paintings inspired by his style. It’s a visual feast. The story is engaging. The hero is a young man whose father was a good friend of Van Gogh’s and the village postman. The father sends his son on a mission to take a letter of Van Gogh’s to the artist’s brother Theo. Soon the hero learns that Theo is dead so now the hero doesn’t know what to do with the letter and embarks on a journey to discover what exactly happened to Van Gogh at his death.

The film then goes back and forth in time  with black and white flashbacks of what took place at the time of Van Gogh’s death and shows how murky the the interpretation of what really happened is.

With Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson of Poldark, Chris O’Dowd of Moone Boy and Saoirse Ronan, the film stars Douglas Booth, who was new to me, but who does a great job as a stubborn young man learning to figure out life as he puzzles out what to do about this letter from a dead man to his dead brother.

Below there’s a short video on how they made this groundbreaking film.

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