Pleasantville (1998)

pleasantville 1This was not the film I expected from the outset, and oftentimes that’s a far more gratifying experience. Nostalgia was expected and this film certainly has it,  even to the point of casting the legendary funny man and cultural icon Don Knotts in the integral role as the television repairman.

However, with this there was a degree of apprehension, because while paying homage to the past, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Andy Griffith and so on, there seemed to be a certain amount of denigrating of such classics– a tongue and cheek way of approaching the quaint television past of the 1950s. There was little reverence for these admittedly quaint but still respected programs.

My fears were seemingly confirmed minutes later with black and white imagery being equated to repression as the beautiful colors of the town became unfurled with greater enlightenment and personal expression. But that’s not quite right. The story goes both ways. And to understand that we have to take a closer look at our two diverging main characters.

When Garry Ross’s film begins in the present day, David (Tobey Maguire) leads the life of a bookish TV nerd, watching old reruns and cataloging trivial factoids in the cavernous crevices of his mind. At this point he’s relationally stagnant and based on this social life, he looks to be going nowhere fast. His sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) is on the complete opposite spectrum, infatuated with boys, imbued with sexual freedom, and dare we say a tad superficial.

But to make a long story short, these two siblings get thrown into the life and times of David’s favorite TV show Pleasantville, complete with black and white cinematography and vintage ’50s lifestyles. The interesting part is watching them learn how to find another part of themselves contrary to what they initially found their identity in. It means freedom of not only body but mind too and that extends to all the other people who they influence.

In a pinch, it also makes for a handy allegory on race, with literal color being of such a high concern among the paranoid townsfolk. Because as more people become “colored” it creates a degree of unrest in the community. They hold to the belief that “different” is not good — to be “other” is to be frowned upon. It’s Jennifer first and then David who begin to change the status quo, including their mother (Joan Allen), the local diner owner (Jeff Daniels) and many of the other teenagers.

So on second glance, Pleasantville is a film that says television reruns and nostalgia are quite alright, but then again, there’s so much to be lived and experienced in the present moment too. There will be bad just as there was bad before and there will be good things that will manifest themselves still more abundantly like previous generations. Those are the universal rhythms of life, and they should free us up to live with supreme confidence in who we are, breaking out of the tedium that is our comfort zone. And that’s a lesson that not only revels in the glories of previous generations but still gives us hope for the future millennium, now well underway over 15 years after Pleasantville was originally released.

It’s not a story without flaws, but it’s the fact that it has flaws that actually make it worth watching. We need a little bit of rain in our lives — the inconsistencies and the idiosyncrasies to add greater depth, not only to our character but in turn to our relationships. It then becomes absolutely necessary to come up with a clear definition of pleasant or even to concede that not everything can or should be pleasant. Because you need the darkness to bring out the full spectrum of colors — all those colors commonly referred to as human emotions.

4/5 Stars

Weekend (1967)

weekend1One of Jean-Luc Godard’s strengths is his capability of feigning pretentiousness, while still simultaneously articulating humor. His film opens with its first of many inter-titles, “A film adrift in the cosmos,” followed by the equally poignant “A film found in a dump.”

Our protagonists Roland (Jean Yanne) and Corrinne (Mireille Darc) are hardly protagonists at all, but curmudgeon bourgeoisie couple both caught up in affairs and preparing to out into the country in order to acquire Corinne’s rightful inheritance from her dying father. But this is never a character study and the actual arrival at the home of her parents is of little consequence. It’s another occurrence in a long string of events that Godard plays at with acerbic wit.

We are constantly reminded that this is an age of sexual revolution and political unrest–the class struggle against the tyranny of the powers that. In foreshadowing the events of the 68ers or even putting a finger to the social unrest, Godard is not alone. It’s how he does it that should be of note.

Weekend quickly becomes a discordant cacophony of sound and image that immaculately illustrates the dissonance of the decade.  Rather like a Tati film, Godard uses color prolifically, but it’s hardly as innocent as the former. The colors show the pools of blood and piles of wreckage scattered across the land–In one instance inane and another horrifying.

It’s the emblematic film of the modern age of noise pollution where Godard practically tortures us with the sound of car horns. Constantly adding to the general din. Not to mention the universal, ubiquitous road rage that overtakes everyone and leads to heavy carnage. Some seen, some unseen. Meanwhile, actors or real-life historical figures–the distinction is difficult–including St. Just (Jean-Pierre Leaud) wander the wasteland spouting off inconsequential rubbish in anachronistic garb.

weekend2Conflagrations engulf cars and human bodies while above the din comes the piercing screams of a woman bemoaning the loss of her Hermes handbag. We cannot take this anyway but humorous because it once again is yet another moment of utter insanity.

The French countryside becomes the perfect locale for an apocalypse mixed with a modern coup de’tait. There’s a call to arms for guerrilla tactics–a new French Revolution. Still, Roland and Corinne frantically hurtle towards their destination of Oinville. Their actions there are far from unexpected highlighting the baseness running through the entire film.

Once again it feels of little consequence that the pair is captured by a band of cannibalistic, free-loving revolutionaries. Cracking eggs on lifeless bodies and painting on naked ones. It’s pretty strange. Godard slips in a bit of love of the cinema as their call names include Battleship Potemkin, The Searchers, and Johnny Guitar. But there’s little point to it, only another pointless attribute in this narrative of volatile absurdity. But in that respect, Godard has hit his point home, by spurning convention as always and supercharging his film with political chops. It drags a bit in the second half, but he salvages it with the utter insanity of it all.

Furthermore, Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard are absolutely fabulous at utilization tracking shots to the nth degree in several instances, namely with the initial traffic jam extending for what feels like eons and then camera cycling through the town as the music plays in the background and our two travelers wait for their next ride. Let’s not forget the final moments of Weekend either, where Corinne has been transformed into a fellow commune member feasting on a scrumptious piece of meat with a fellow hippie. Her husband was not so lucky. There’s little to no need to say what happened to him.

4/5 Stars

Shadows (1959)

shadows1By today’s standards, it might not look like much, but all conversations of independent filmmaking cannot go anywhere without John Cassavetes and specifically his debut Shadows. It’s hard to get out of our modern perspective with so many different outlets to get films made, but back in the 1950s your only road was Hollywood and that was only a select few. Then Cassavetes got the idea to make a film with a group of his acting school students, who were trying to carve a niche for themselves amidst the method acting revolution overtaking New York.

In its initial cut, Shadows was far from popular, and after it was overhauled and re-edited it did a bit better. But now it is the emblem of indie movies — it’s a different type of film-making altogether. It’s the Beat Generation. It’s New York City. It’s handheld camera work. It’s thumping jazz. It’s improv. It’s spontaneous.  All of this loosely ties together the narrative of three siblings dealing with universal issues like family and highly volatile ones like interracial relationships.

shadows2The first is younger brother Ben Carruthers, a light-skinned black who has a struggling career as a jazz musician which he balances with a nightlife of escapades with his buddies. More often than not he’s getting in trouble, in a pinch for cash, and his violent temper gets the best of him more than once.

Then there’s his older brother Hugh who is trying to sing a new gig with the help of his agent, but he must settle for a stint at a sleazy nightclub. It feels below his talent and completely wastes his ability, but he just goes with it. On the side, he tries to keep an eye on his younger brother and sister who he feels responsible for.

shadows3The youngest, Leila, is still an innocent and naive girl who thinks she knows how to take care of herself. Over the course of the film, she winds up with a few very different men. The first is a stuffy author with an authoritative streak. The second is a soft-spoken bright-eyed man, who gets her to sleep with him. Finally, the last one is a young African-American man who is gentlemanly, but not about to be made fun of. In fact, over the course of these relationships, we see the evolution of Leila as she starts out as a demure girl with the big doleful doe eyes. Slowly she becomes more controlling and self-absorbed, but still, she has a lot to learn about actual romantic love.

She’s not the only one either. We leave Ben as he lays battered with his buddies after they got in a brawl with some tough guys over some broads in a diner. There’s no big epiphany at the end of this or some riveting conclusion. We leave them in a moment of their existences just like any other. It’s nothing altogether novel or interesting, and ironically that’s what makes Cassavetes’ film so fascinating. It broke the mold — perfect in all of its imperfections or more aptly because of them. Not to mention the fact that it flipped conversations on race and gender upside down.

4/5 Stars

Branded to Kill (1967)

branded to kill 1Branded to Kill is the stuff of legend inasmuch as director Seijun Suzuki offered up this wonderfully wacky, perverse, dynamic film and was subsequently dumped by his studio.  At Nikkatsu they accused Suzuki of crafting an oeuvre that made “no sense and no money.” And if we watch it with the eyes of a rational, money-grubbing business mind, there’s a point to be made. Because this film is ridiculous on so many accounts, absurd in plot and action, starring an unlikely cult hero — a silky smooth hit man with prominent cheekbones and a hyper-sexualized penchant for steamed rice.

Its budget and yakuza genre suggest it has no right be remembered as little more than a throwaway action flick–a petty amalgamation of American film noir and James Bond. In fact, that’s probably what the bigwigs at the studio would have liked, but Suzuki worked his own bit of cinematic magic.

If we set the scene everything looks sleek but potentially uninspired. This is your typical everyday hitman movie where each gunman is deadlier than the next, trying to knock off their marks so they can move of the hit list to the coveted  #1 spot. Except it’s all played off satirically. That’s important to note.

From the outset, Goro Hanado is # 3 and he is joined by a drunken, spineless cohort in protecting a client from other assassins. It’s entertaining action that maintains some sense of stylized reality. But soon enough the cutting and jumps in continuity make Branded to Kill into a full-fledged absurdist trip – simultaneously wacky and deadly. Now we’re getting into stranger territory.

branded to kill 4Phase two follows Goro as he flaunts his tireless inventiveness as a hit man. Hiding inside a cigarette lighter advertisement and shooting his target through an adjoining water pipe for good measure. Then the femme fatale Misako slinks into his life and after a botched job, his life is in jeopardy, an unlikely adversary being his wife.  She rightly characterizes them as beasts and their home life is pure chaos.

By the latter half, the film has completely careened off the rails of convention, at times functioning as a widescreen collage of glorious visuals matched with the sweet cadence of sounds and score. Chiaroscuro lighting is pulled directly from the shadowy avenues of noir streets, with the camera, often moving leisurely through modern interiors and human bodies constantly obscured by fountains of water, butterflies or whatever else.

branded to kill 2By now we have the total dissolution of the character we have known as he begins to sink into an all-out state of sniveling paranoia. He finally meets the mysterious number  1 and far from being a tense showdown, it turns into a rather pitiful scenario. They go arm and arm to the toilet, not allowing each other out of sight as number 1 decides how to finish off his hapless foe.The final showdown comes and it’s all we could ask for. Brutal, perplexing and above all undeniably unique – accented with the brushstrokes of an utterly creative mind.

My thoughts thus far feel admittedly disjointed and almost incoherent. I feel like I’m writing chicken scratch crossed with gobbledygook, but that’s the perfect homage to Suzuki’s art. Its aesthetic is hard to comprehend in common terms. Is it a masterpiece? Is it not a masterpiece? I’m not quite sure I can give a clear conclusion. What measuring stick can we hope to use with it? And that’s hardly the point. If you want something immeasurably different–something that will shake you out of the millennial malaise, view Branded to Kill. You might not like it because those Nikkatsu fellows were right. No sense. No money. But there’s more to life, now isn’t there?

4/5 Stars

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

larsandtherealgirl1

This Canadian-American production, written by Nancy Oliver, undoubtedly frightens the more suppressed of us in the audience (mainly me) with its main hook, a man who begins a relationship with a female sex doll, but just like his entire town, most of us leave this film with a very different perspective. There’s an innate somberness to this film that hearkens to the palette and tone of Alexander Payne, and yet Lars and the Real Girl feels surprisingly innocent. The beauty of the film is how an entire community gets behind this one man and truly accepts him for who he is.

Lars Lindstrom as played so impeccably by Ryan Gosling is an isolated, lonely young man who goes to church on Sundays, lives across from his brother and sister-in-law, and avoids the cute girl at work with averted eyes. He’s an Elwood P. Dowd for the modern age. He trades in a disarming personality for an aloofness that conceals a deep well of loneliness and nevertheless shies away from normal everyday human interaction.

His views of sexuality and intimacy have been in many ways twisted up inside of him due to the specters in his past and a modern culture that does not know how to deal with sex by normal means. For Lars, it manifests itself in the form of a doll he buys off the internet. But far from using it to gratify his utmost desires sexually as we would expect, what he really does is project what he truly cares about onto this figure, christened Bianca.

She wears clothes like you and me, holds a nursing degree, lived the life of a missionary, and is constrained to a wheelchair, relaying all her thoughts to Lars and Lars alone. Harvey was an imaginary being whereas Bianca is tangible–in the flesh–sort of.

At first, this situation feels slightly uncomfortable and increasingly strange and in the moments of discovery Lars’s brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) are beside themselves. What will the town think? He’s crazy. What are they to do?

But the beautiful thing is that they seek counsel from older, wiser people in the community including the local minister and they preach a message of love, accepting Lars for who he is, and helping him through his healing process, whatever that means.

Everyone else only sees the freak, the dysfunction, but they fail to see the dysfunction in their own lives. It’s the ones who realize that–realize that they too have their own problems. They shed their hypocritical point of view and take Lars for who he is, quirks and all. By this point, the film has subverted expectations and the joke’s on us because although some people stop and gawk, the majority of the locals begin to rally around Lars.

He still maintains his delusions as his own insecurities, fears, and the dark recesses of his childhood become more evident. He’s fearful of contact, scared of being close, and it’s these moments that dredge up all the FOO, and he’s forced to deal with it.  But that makes way for some intricate conversations, brother to brother and between Lars and the kindly psychologist Dagmar.

It’s when he finally realizes just how much people care, that he’s able to let go. Give up Bianca and engross himself in the real world with a real girl. He doesn’t have to live life scared anymore. The film wins because of its sincerity. It never belittles. Never plays its story like a joke. For that, it deserves our respect as an audience. Even in the moments that it feels utterly absurd, pay it the respect it is due — just like what all these characters give to Bianca and in turn Lars.

What struck me in particular, was the nuance of all the main female characters. When we first meet Karin (Emily Mortimer) she is a generally caring sister-in-law who has such a great capacity to extend grace towards Lars. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), although she is a doctor, never becomes didactic–trying to change Lars or alter him– instead allowing him to heal of his own accord. Meanwhile, Mrs. Gruner (Nancy Beatty) is spot on as the Christian lady we all wish we knew. She cuts the holier than thou attitude, covering it with a heavy dose of genuine neighborly love. That speaks more than any amount of sermons or platitudes that can be spouted off as actions invariably speak louder than words.

Finally, Margo (Kelli Garner) is the epitome of the girl who Lars deserves. Sweet, authentic and a faithful friend. When Lars finally let’s go and finally concludes the grieving process, she is right by his side ready to live life next to him. She’s a real girl, through and through.

3.5/5 Stars

4 Living Legends Part 2

day-midnightlaceMichele Morgan (1920-): A French beauty and leading lady for numerous decades known for integral roles in films in her native France and across the globe. Her filmography includes Michel Carne’s revered classic with Jean Gabin Port of Shadows as well as Carol Reed’s adroit drama Fallen Idol.

Nanette Fabray (1920-): Fabray had her roots in vaudeville and musical theater and I know her best for her memorably fun role in the Stanley Donen musical Band Wagon alongside Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and of course, Oscar Levant. In the 1950s she was also paired with Sid Caesar on his eponymous “Caesar’s Hour.”

Rhonda Fleming (1923-): If Maureen O’Hara was Classic Hollywood’s favorite fiery redhead, Rhonda Fleming deserves to be thrown into the conversation as well, lending herself to many intriguing film-noir including classics like Out of the Past and lesser-known gems like The Spiral Staircase,  Cry Danger, and While the City Sleeps. The true “Queen of Technicolor” is still up for debate.

Doris Day (1924-): Undoubtedly the biggest star on this list, Doris Day was quite the extraordinary performer as a singer, actress, and comedienne. Her string of romcoms with Rock Hudson and Tony Randall were memorable including Pillow Talk. However, she also paired with the likes of James Garner and Cary Grant in Move Over Darling and That Touch of Mink respectively. If there was a big-name leading man in Hollywood there’s a good bet that Day sparred with them. She also showed off her dramatic chops in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, a film that boasted her signature song, “Que Sera, Sera.”

Liberal Arts (2012)

liberalarts1Where to start with Liberal Arts? It’s one of those deep blue funk movies. Zach Braff tackled this issue in Garden State, and Josh Radnor does a similar thing here. Because the reality is that we live in a generation of early onset midlife crises. In the opening moments, 35-year-old Jesse Fisher (Radnor) has nearly every article of clothing he has aside from the shirt off his back stolen from a local laundromat when his back is turned. We can easily surmise that this single event epitomizes his life right now, and this is hammered home rather obviously when his unnamed girlfriend clears her belongings out of his flat. There’s no better symbol of isolation and alienation than a break-up.

That’s when Jesse’s former professor the personable and witty Professor Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins) pays him a call that doesn’t so much change his life as it alters his course. The professor is preparing for his retirement and as is usually customary a dinner is being held in his honor. Jesse is one of the people he looks to invite and the former liberal arts major takes him up on it gladly as the nostalgia begins to waft over him. It’s excruciatingly corny at times even painfully awkward.

However, it’s no small coincidence that it was filmed at Radnor’s real-life alma mater Kenyon College in Ohio–a beautifully tranquil campus that reflects an idolized Middle America–a perfect place to rediscover youth and ruminate pensively on past endeavors. Jesse does all of the above, but while staying with the professor he also meets Libby (Elizabeth Olsen), a current college sophomore whose father and mother had ties with Peter as well.

Zibby has a self-assurance–the way she carries herself is completely disarming but in a good way. In fact, it intrigues Jesse (Radnor) sweeping him off his feet before he even knows it. But that’s not the only thing that affects him. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. I can feel it now as I close the books on my own college career, and I can only imagine this character who is looking back at those idyllic glory days when he was an optimistic, naive young man.This peaceful campus is completely different feel than the bustling public institution I became accustomed to, but the important things are not all that dissimilar.

liberalarts2It’s crucial to note that at this juncture nothing substantive builds between these two acquaintances romantically, but they do foster an immense connection. While Jesse is taken by Zibby’s personality, she, in turn, is discontent with a contemporary culture where no one dates–everybody’s casual about relationships. She feels unequivocally millennial and yet she readily admits these areas of old-fashionedness.

As she and Jesse part ways, Zibby burns a CD of classical music for her new confidante and entreats him to write her correspondence with pen and paper–like gentlemen and ladies in days of old. It feels very much like a Jane Austen novel, perhaps a little pretentious, but it’s hardly a criticism of these characters. What it creates within the both of them is not only a deeper connection going beyond sexual attraction but an awareness or realization of being — what people these days often call mindfulness.

As they traverse this road together there are some obvious digressions that we could easily foresee, and yet the film takes a mature and altogether realistic path. It considers the relationship between various points in time, passing of the years,  looking backward and forwards. In one direction with nostalgia and the other with anxiety and maybe even expectancy. All these are the backdrop for this complicated friendship between a 35-year-old and a college student.

The conclusions of Liberal Arts perhaps feels a bit muddled, but that’s only indicative of life. We’re all set adrift in a world that we don’t know all the answers to. As Zibby so rightfully ascertains life is basically improvised. We’ve just got to step out and live it to the best of our capabilities. Pick ourselves up when we fall and do our best to make the most of what we have. A lot of that comes when we learn how to connect with the people around us in such a way that leaves us content with who we are. I think it can be said that we leave both Jesse and Zibby better off than they began.

3.5/5 Stars

This is the only time you get to do this. Read books all day. Have really great conversations about ideas. – Jesse Fisher

Knife in the Water (1962)

knifeinthewater4Inspired directors oftentimes do not make themselves known in grandiose flourishes but in the smallest of touches, and in his debut, Polish newcomer Roman Polanski does something interesting with the opening of Knife in the Water. Perhaps it’s not that unusual, but it’s also hard to remember the last film where the camera was on the outside of a driving car, looking in. We see shadows of faces overlaid with credits and then finally the faces are revealed only to be shrouded by the reflections of overhanging trees glancing off the windshield.

Only minutes later do we hear their first words and actually get inside the car. From that point on it’s a jaunt to remember, but Polanski seems to be toying with us a bit. Getting us a little on edge for the inevitable that awaits us. And the beauty is that the film continues to be a story of intricacies rather than overbearing bits of drama and action. It works in the minutiae.

Our narrative is incited by the fact that the couple picks up a young hitchhiker, or rather the husband almost runs him over, getting out to berate the man’s stupidity, before relenting and allowing him to join their escapade. Soon enough, they are about to board their boat for a day out on the water and in this premise, it feels a little like Purple Noon. People in close confines inevitably leads to conflict, all it takes is time. Knife in the Water’s silver shades of black and white serve as a contrast to the other film, and while Alain Delon eventually leaves his sea legs behind, for all intent and purposes this is a chamber piece.

knifeinthewater3Thus, it becomes an exercise of technical skill, much like Hitchcock in Lifeboat or any other film that limits itself to a single plane of existence. Polanski’s framing of his shots with one figure right on the edge of the frame and others arranged behind is invariably interesting. Because although space is limited, it challenges him to think outside the box, and he gives us some beautiful overhead images as well which make for a generally dynamic composition. That is overlaid by a jazzy score of accompaniment courtesy of Krzysztof Komeda, a future collaborator on many of Polanski’s subsequent works during the ’60s.

Although this was Polanski’s first film, as viewers we have the luxury of hindsight, knowing at least a little about his filmography from Repulsion to Rosemary’s Baby to Chinatown to The Pianist proves enlightening. Thus, he automatically conjures up elements relating to psychological duress and personal misery. The tragic murder of his beloved wife Sharon Tate and his turbulent life following that act are obvious touchstones.

knifeinthewater2However, at this point, as a young director, he is simply sharpening his teeth and getting acclimated to the genre a little bit. Knife in the Water builds around the three sides of a love triangle, creating a dynamic of sexual tension because that’s what tight quarters and jealousy do to people. This is less of a spoiler and more of a general observation, but the film does not have a major dramatic twist. Instead, there are heightened tensions, a bit of underwater deception, and finally a fork in the road.

A husband must decide what his conscious would have him do. Call the police or ride away with his toying wife, who he thinks is playing mind games with him. It’s less of a biting melodrama and more of a slow stew, which is admittedly far more interesting in this case. Because, again, Polanski shows his prowess in working in the minutiae. A game of pick-up sticks even becomes entertaining, and the eponymous knife does not play the type of role we expect.  It’s a testament to a director not giving way to convention, but finding inspiration to subvert the established order and do something with a new level of ingenuity.

4.5/5 Stars

A Day in the Country (1936)

adayinthe1It’s only 40 minutes — hardly a feature film and more of a featurette, but Jean Renoir’s truncated work, A Day in the Country, is nonetheless still worth the time. Admittedly, I still have yet to venture to France and I hope to do that someday soon, but this film propagates marvelous visions of the countryside that resonate with all of us no matter where we hail from. Those quiet jaunts out in nature. Sunny days perfectly suited for a lazy afternoon picnic. Peacefully gliding down the river as men fish on the bank contentedly.

Our little vignette opens at a calm seaside fishing getaway where a group of Parisians journeyed for a little relaxation away from the city limits. Among their ranks are the worldly but personable Monsieur Dufour and his bubbly wife. They are accompanied on the adventure by their pleasant daughter Henriette and the peculiar shop assistant Rodolphe.  Their arrival in the country is full of gaiety and playful interludes reminiscent of the decadently sensuous works of Rococo artists Watteau and Fragonard, most specifically The Swing.

Two young men named Henri and Rodolphe spy the recently arrived female travelers and are immediately intrigued. As veteran fishermen, they’re prepared to set out their bait,  cast their lines, and hook their catches for an afternoon of harmless enough fun.

adayinthe2As always these characters set up Renoir’s juxtaposition of luscious extravagance with the earthier lifestyle of the lower classes. However, there is a geniality pulsing through this film, with Mrs. Dufour exclaiming how polite these young men are–they must be of good stock, obviously not tradesmen. Even Mr. Dufour is a good-natured old boy who gets fed up with the elderly grandmother, but he willingly takes the boys charity and advice when it comes to the prime fishing holes.

There is only one point of true drama, in the melodramatic sense of the word, and that’s when Henri takes Henriette to a secluded to observe a bird up in the treetops and proceeds to try and kiss her amorously. It’s a quick sequence, initially met with rebuke and finally accepted in a moment that will leave an indelible mark on both their lives.

It’s the quintessential wistful love that can never be that we’ve seen countless times in film and television series. Time passes and  Henriette comes back with the image of that place and Henri with it, emblazoned on her mind. They reunite, but again, this time, it cannot be either because Henriette is now married. She is spoken for and there’s nothing that Henri can logically do about it. That’s where our tale ends. Certainly, there could have been more, but we don’t necessarily need anything.

adayinthe3We get the essence of what is there and we can still thoroughly enjoy Renoir’s composition. His is a fascination in naturalistic beauty where he nevertheless stages his narrative to unfold in time. But really this mise-en-scene created by the woods, and meadows, trees, and rivers really function as another character altogether. And when all the players interact it truly not only elicits tremendous joy but an appreciation for Renoir’s so-called Poetic Realism. Whether he’s capturing a woman swinging jubilantly on a swing or framing a shot within the trees, we cannot help but tip our hat to his artistic vision. If his father Auguste was one of the great painters of the impressionist era, then Jean was certainly one of the most prodigious filmmakers of his generation, crafting his own pieces of impressionistic realism. In fact, with father and son, you can see exactly how art forms can overlap on canvas and celluloid. They truly share a fascination in some of the same subjects. Universal things like nature and human figures interacting in the expanses of such environments. It’s beautiful really, even in its pure simplicity.

4.5/5 Stars

Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)

boudu1“He spat on Balzac!”

Jean Renoir always had a preoccupation with class divides and Boudu showcases that same blatant juxtaposition of class, or more precisely, the lifestyles of the middle class versus a lowly tramp. Except in this specific instance, the tramp (the indelible Michel Simon) could care less about the gap. He thumbs his nose at any charity and makes no effort to conform to the reins put on him by the reputable of middle-class society.

The man who steps to the fore is a middle-aged married bookkeeper who has the hots for his housekeeper. With his wandering spyglass, he spots the hapless Boudu jump into the Seine. From that point, he leaps into action toddling out to the street followed by the crowds of onlookers. He’s the first to plunge himself into the depths to bring the unfortunate soul to safety, and his middle-class brethren laud him for his supreme act of charity. But Monsieur Lestingois does not stop there, insisting that the wretched man be brought to his nearby flat.

boudu4Soon Boudu is wrapped up in middle-class luxury that he didn’t ask for, at the behest of Edouard who takes an initial liking to this bushy-haired man he happened upon. After all, he is intent on playing savior and Boudu obliges. It’s in these forthcoming scenes that Renoir examines class in a satirical way, feeling rather like a precursor to some of Bunuel’s later work, without the religious undertones. And yet for some reason, we cannot help but like Boudu a lot more. True, he is loud, messy, rude and unruly, but there’s something undeniably charming about his life philosophy. There are no pretenses or false fronts. He lets it all hang out there. In this regard, Michel Simon is the most extraordinary of actors, existing as a caricature with seemingly so little effort at all. He steals every scene whether he’s propped up between two door frames or cutting out a big swath of his beard for little reason.

In the meantime, he wears their clothes and eats their food, but he doesn’t have to concede to their rules. Boudu ends up winning the lottery of 100,000 francs, while unwittingly stealing away his esteemed benefactor’s unhappy wife. Whereas Boudu has the audacity to do the unthinkable out in plain view, he’s perhaps the most brutally honest character in the film. Everyone else veils their vices and hides their true intentions behind good manners and closed doors. But there has to be a point where all parties involved are outed and the moment comes when husband and wife simultaneously catch each other.

boudu3Charity in a sense is met with scorn, but it feels more nuanced than, say, Bunuel’s Viridianna (1961). In many ways, Boudu seems like a proud individual or at least an independent one. He hardly asks for the charity of the wealthy, and he’s content with his lot in life, even to the extent of death. It’s also not simply chaos for the sake of it, and he hardly lowers himself to the debauchery of Bunuel’s unruly bunch. Still, he obviously rubs the more civilized classes the wrong way, by scandalizing their way of life and trampling on their social mores without much thought. It’s perfectly summed up by the last straw when  a fuming Edouard incredulously exclaims, “He spat on Balzac.” The nerve!

The ultimate irony is that Boudu ends up in the water once again, and he’s not the only one this time. This also serves to take Renoir back into his element, because he’s always at his best in the great outdoors where the natural beauty of parks and rivers become his greatest ally in his misc en scene. Still, his framing of shots always gives way to a beautiful overall composition inside and out. Boudu is no different. You simply have to sit back and enjoy it like a pleasant outing on the Seine.

4/5 Stars