Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Le Beau mariage

The second film in Eric Rohmer's series of "Comedies and Proverbs," Le Beau mariage (1982) opens with a quote by La Fontaine, "Can any of us refrain from building castles in Spain?" which is curious for a film with no Spanish characters that's set entirely in France. The heroine, Sabine (Béatrice Rommand), is fair-skinned enough to pass for Spanish, and she certainly has a Spanish temperament. In an early scene, she suddenly decides to call off her affair with a married painter, Simon (Féodore Atkine), when their sexin' is interrupted by a phone call from Simon's kids. Out of spite, she tells him she's getting married, even though she doesn't have any prospects. Sabine isn't a likable character, and I mean that as a compliment to the film.

If you've seen any of Rohmer's contemporary romantic dramas, you pretty much know what to expect. His style is characteristically austere with minimal camera movement and almost no music. The plot is elegantly constructed and there's lots of philosophical pontificating on the nature of male-female relationships. What's new here are the particular quirks of Sabine's personality and the beauty of the film's images. Much of the film is set in the Le Mans, and Rohmer gets the most of the town's historic architecture. Furthermore, the cinematography by Bernard Lutic is gorgeous. In one scene in a restaurant, the only light source is the diffuse side-lighting that comes in through a nearby window. Still, this is Rohmer playing it safe; I prefer his more adventurous period films, like Perceval le Gallois (1978), L'Anglaise et le duc (2001) and Triple Agent (2004).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Madame de...

Well dressed but dull, Madame de... (1953) is a disappointingly frivolous and uninvolving film by Max Ophüls, whose Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) is a masterpiece. This film opens with a title telling us that the heroine, Louise (Danielle Darrieux), wouldn't have had any problems in life if not for a certain pair of earrings, though maybe she'd be more interesting if she had. The wife of a French general, she falls in love with a bland Italian diplomat, Fabrizio (Vittorio De Sica), which leads to a montage sequence showing the two of them waltzing together at a succession of society balls while staring dreamily into each other's eyes. In contrast with the convoluted journey taken by the aforementioned earrings, which Louise decides to sell in the opening scene, the emotional dynamic between the three leads couldn't be less complicated. As a rule, Ophüls' post-war French movies are lighter in tone than his post-war American films, and his leading ladies--Darrieux in this film; Martine Carol in the much better Lola Montès (1955)--are rather lifeless compared to Joan Fontaine in Letter From an Unknown Woman and Joan Bennett in The Reckless Moment (1949), so while I won't say whether Madame de... ends happily or tragically, I can tell you that I didn't much care either way.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Les Amants réguliers

Playing this month at Cinémathèque Busan as part of a series of French films, Philippe Garrel's Les Amants réguliers (2005) is a languourously plotted, stunningly beautiful film--masterfully lit by William Lubtchansky, who uses hard, contrasty lighting--about a group of young people who live through the events of May '68 and their aftermath. The film has a loose, episodic structure, and it moves at a deliberately slow pace even before the main character, François (Louis Garrel), starts smoking opium. But Garrel's singular talents have less to do with classical storytelling than his ability to conjure up mysterious, sublime moments of pure cinema. To cite just one example, the first time we see François smoking opium, about half-way through the film, Garrel flashes back to a scene of protesters being arrested during the May demonstrations--an event François wasn't present for. The protesters are lined up against a wall in the background on the left side of the frame, and in the middle ground in the center of the image, a plain clothed police officer stands with his back to the camera. Garrel returns to François, who's passed out, and then cuts back to the arrest. The plain clothed police officer turns to face the camera, and instructs two uniformed cops on the left side of the frame to take away the protesters. The plot is mainly a baggy framework to hold together a series of episodes, and Garrel's painterly long takes often have the effect of suspending narrative entirely.