Well, I did my best to cram near the end here:
Die Letzte Chance (Leopold Lindtberg 1946)
A pair of stranded soldiers attempt to make their way to Switzerland, collecting a coterie of displaced persons in the process. While the film boasts a cornucopia of languages and nationalities represented, the narrative itself is rather tired and indistinguishable from any average Hollywood war programmer— no wonder MGM snatched this one up for stateside release!
De røde enge (Bodil Ipsen and Lau Lauritzen Jr 1946)
Fine if unexceptional wartime tale of the Danish resistance. An easy way to pass an hour and a half, but this pales in comparison to its fellow 1946 awardee Muži bez křídel
, which also told of Nazi resistance, but with a moral weight and complexity this film doesn’t approach.
Due soldi di speranza (Renato Castellani 1952)
Like the Oscars, Italian cinema is way over-represented at Cannes, and head-scratchers like this are Exhibit A. I don’t know if I agree with knives’ assertion that the film possess “sheer Italian-ness,” but it certainly embodies the same frantic and aggressively unfunny schtick from countless other laugh-free Italian “comedies.” Perhaps this is just a cultural gap I will never conquer. I did not find a single minute of this exhausting collection of people yelling at each other amusing, and it would take a lot more than two cents to entice me to watch another Italian comedy on purpose.
Eternity and a Day (Theo Angelopoulos 1998)
A transparent combo of two superior films, Wild Strawberries
and the Search
(the original, though even more so for the remake I guess), this doesn’t add up to much but it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. Like most Angelopoulous films, the movie achieves a sustained lilting tone punctuated with unexpected, large-scale images of unshakable power. The highlight for me is the bizarre, fog-soaked border fence, populated with what first appear to be dummies who then slowly begin to move along the chainlink fence as Bruno Ganz wanders up to the gate. An otherworldly and inexplicable moment, and the film gives us a few others that try to come close. Ultimately, however, regardless of pretty accoutrements, the film’s story and impact are too familiar to make this add up to much more than “okay.”
the Go-Between (Joseph Losey 1971)
A twelve year old visitor to a British estate finds himself ferrying messages between Julie Christie’s Have and Alan Bates’ Have Not. I appreciated how transparently both sides of the tug of war on the boy are outwardly friendly but still treat him with nothing but disdain and anger once he stops being useful (showing he’s even further down the food chain than the lowly farmhand). The film’s focus on class pressures is oddly insincere— most characters come off well or poor apart from their position in society, not because of it. The film is weirdly rushed in the end, and while the message and outcome couldn’t be more predictable, the film’s embarrassed mad dash to see itself out the door does it no favors. Some nice flavors here and there, but ultimately a little too milquetoast to quite work.
the Hireling (Alan Bridges 1973)
Another British class system drama from the same author of the Go-Between
, and like Losey’s film, this one is for most of the running time okay but still doesn’t quite add up in the end. Robert Shaw’s chauffeur falls in love with society lady Sara Miles, to predictable results. That’s it. While the impossibility of the union is not hard to predict, I thought the film wasted any potential to make larger gains by throwing everything away in favor of a deflated finale. For the period in history in which it was released, the film is almost ludicrously removed from the class concerns of the then-current climate, and adds nothing new to an already well-trod tradition of films and novels just like this.
La classe operaia va in paradiso (Elio Petri 1971)
And here are modern class concerns done right. I didn’t get much out of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
but this repairing of the director and star Gian Maria Volontè is terrific. Volontè’s perf as the company man factory worker who revolutionizes after an injury is propulsive and bombastic and, like everything else in the film, captured with claustrophobic and disorienting close-ups. It is a film that captures the mania in the mundane and the chaos inherent in breaking with the norms. Highly recommended.
La symphonie pastorale (Jean Delannoy 1946)
A married pastor takes in a feral blind girl and ten years later she looks like Michèle Morgan. Complications ensue. The films offers an incredible interlocking of component character complications without any clear “right” or “wrong” answer or solution: the pastor and the girl have fallen in love with each other. The pastor’s wife knows and accepts this with grim fortitude for as long as she can. The pastor is in denial, and uses the girl’s blindness to keep her indebted to him. The pastor’s son, already engaged to another, eventually recognizes the father’s love as well, but not until after he’s fallen for the girl himself. All is already impossibly complicated when the possibility of the girl’s blindness being cured enters the picture, and then things really
start to go off the rails.
If this sounds like typical melodrama hysterics, well, that’s what I expected, but it’s not what we get. Rather than amp up empty oppression and misunderstandings, the film gives us a believably hopeless scenario and then puts the screws to its characters, who are caught in a situation they can’t possibly extricate themselves from, but keep trying. The film’s most telling line from the girl: “I say ‘yes’ or I say ‘no’ and I’m still wrong.” It is so rare in a film like this to have no villains or heroes, where every character’s motivations are just and sensible, but often wrong and disastrous for themselves or others. It is a film alive with the complexities of life, not the easy answers of many films along more conventional narrative constraints.
Here is why art house films shouldn’t default so readily to copping out with a suicide ending. So many lesser films employ this crutch in a fashion that suggests the filmmakers ran out of ideas and decided to leapfrog into an unearned Deeper Meaning, but here the resolution is apt and appropriate to all that led up to it. And the final image of Morgan is unforgettable:
This is also, of course, one of the films singled out by Truffaut in his infamous “Certain Tendency” essay, where it was derisively accused of being another victim of Aurenche and Bost’s screenwriting simplification and bastardization. However, Truffaut was really
reacting to what he perceived to be anti-clerical sentiment (I’d call it more accurately “humanity,” but y’know, whatevs), among other biases. Truffaut also objected morally to the above spoilered shot, a baton later picked up to nonsensical extremes by Rivette against Kapo
. Needless to say, Truffaut’s anger and youthful arrogance are misplaced here. Regardless, it was nice to finally get around to see another of these (unfairly, in this instance) vilified films and be able to connect a few more dots in understanding and approaching such an infamous inflammatory piece of writing. This list project was mostly a wash in terms of discoveries, but it was worth it to get this gem bumped up in the queue. Highly recommended.
Le Monde du silence (Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle 1956)
Despite its popularity on release, this film is more or less MIA in the states and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. It’s hard to imagine a modern audience for this film, as those prone to Planet Earth
et al docs would surely not make it far into this filmed record of disruption and destruction of naturally occurring ecosystems. Hard to imagine animal lovers making it through the dynamite scene, but even if they did, how many would push through the one-two punch of a baby whale caught in the propellers (and later shot in the head with a rifle on-camera) which is then eaten by a swarm of sharks? And those who made it that long, would they then keep watching as Cousteau’s crew start snatching live sharks out of the water, bringing them on board to beat to death out of frustration? There are some strong visuals and the film is entertaining in its fashion, but the “doc” (much of the ship-set footage is clearly staged) is a last gasp of traditional French colonialist attitudes: these crew-members are not interested in science or discovery, but conquering nature for their own selfish thrills.
María Candelaria (Emilio Fernández 1946)
Mexican tale of moral outrage and endless indignities suffered by the titular innocent, the Indian daughter of a prostitute. The film is handsomely crafted (the visual early on of the entire town blocking Dolores del Rio’s entrance into the village with their ships is terrific), but the film lays on the melodramatic excesses on so thick that it comes across as suffocating. I understand the appeals of stories like this that ramp up the injustices as vicarious catharsis for whatever ills an audience is facing, but this makes most Hollywood women’s pictures look relatively restrained in their deck-stacking!
Padre Padrone (the Taviani Brothers 1977)
Never have I been so strongly compelled to stop watching a movie than about thirty minutes into this abusive father stereotype mixtape. I see both write-ups in this thread have only referred to this sequence obliquely. Allow me to be direct: I do not ever ever ever EVER need to see a bestiality montage. And yet this film delivers one capped with an even more
tasteless (!) sound bridge and
walked away with a Palme d’Or and now merits luxury releases from boutique labels. If this is me being unhip or conservative or just not getting it man, so be it. I did not stop watching, mainly so I could have the right to say non-sexually fuck this movie. Beyond this, the film is a trove of low, earthy humor— why yes, we do get scenes centered around shitting, pissing, and
farting, thanks for asking— and repeated hammerings of the same Bad Dad ideas. There were plenty of parts of this I didn’t hate, but the lows are black holes of worthlessness and it doesn’t matter.
Peppermint Frappe (Carlos Saura 1968)
Dedicated to Bunuel but more indebted to Vertigo
, this tale of a doctor suffering from murderous envy over his best friend’s wife is enjoyable and slickly shot (Saura seems to be having his own tormented love affair with 360s) but a bit hollow in the end. Using Geraldine Chaplin to play the roles of both the coquettish object of affection and a “lowly” nurse dolled up to look more like said coquette ends up being a bit of an empty gimmick, with no payout beyond what would have worked for different actresses. The film flirts with some compelling ideas in the moments showing the doc possessing an unusually expansive knowledge of current fashion trends, which he uses to belittle and cow the nurse, but these avenues are only halfheartedly explored in favor of more familiar wronged man revenge theatrics. The film often forgets about Chaplin’s nurse for vast expanses of the film’s running time, leaving her part in the finale muted and less of a payoff than intended. Like a sweet drink, this is fine in the moment but leaves little in the way of lasting impact. FYI as of when I wrote this thumbnail, someone edited the film’s Wikipedia to include what looks to be a college term paper proposal!
Scarecrow (Jerry Schatzberg 1973)
More freewheeling nothingness from New Hollywood, as Al Pacino and Gene Hackman play drifters who aggressively act at each other on their shaggy dog trip to Pittsburgh and promises of rabbits— er, a car wash. At least Easy Rider
or Of Mice and Men
had authentic bonafides from their creators re: their subjects. Scarecrow
feels like a bad first novel trying to be Important, with Symbolism and ridiculous affectations passing as characterization. Take Al Pacino’s lamp, which he carries around in an increasingly dirty white gift box. It is not hard to attach obvious symbolic weight to this lamp and what it represents, but gimme a breaksville: would this character, or anyone in his place, carry this lamp around in plain sight (and never in a bag or any kind of covering) for any other reason than that the screenwriter has decided the Important Symbolic Meaning outweighs logic?
Signore e signori (Pietro Germi 1965)
This is the third and last film I will ever see by Germi, an auteur with a comic sensibility that is as far from my own as imaginable. This is comedy as filtered through a worldview currently exhibited by the Incels subreddit: men are either weak cuckolds or cock-strong sexual conquerers; women are duplicitous sluts or henpecking hags; everyone cheats on everyone else, and the status quo remains the same at all costs. Hilarious?
The film is a series of three interconnected vignettes, each somehow worse than the one before. First we get a tale of a man who fakes impotency in order to bed his pal’s wife. Second we get a slovenly husband who leaves his wife for a beautiful cafe waitress (Virna Lisa from How to Murder Your Wife
, which comes across like the Feminine Mystique
compared to this) and faces societal pushback to his flagrancy. Funny how there’s never any shortage of pretty women just dying to bed married shlubs in these pathetic lad-mag fantasies. And finally, we get a remarkably tasteless number about how five of our main characters bed a fifteen year old girl and then weasel out of responsibility once charges are pressed. In a film with a restraining order on good taste, this one tops itself at the end, when the bougie wife of one of the accused men is raped by the peasant father of the victim and stops during the attack not to protest, but to close her purse. Are you laughing yet???
In fairness, the overall 1966 lineup was dreadful, but awarding this and Un homme et une femme
was not making the best of a bad situation.
Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami 1997)
Another episode of Iranians in Cars Getting Canonized
. I’m somewhere between the extremes of Ebert and Rosenbaum here: I don’t think Kiarostami pulls off anything exceptional, but I admire his consistency of tone and approach, even if it doesn’t add up to much on my end. I think Kiarostami has made far superior films where the audience didn’t have to do quite so much leg work to get their masterpiece (such as Close-Up
), so it’s hard for me to entertain deification claims for this film given the film itself.