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Thread: 2006 Repertory

  1. #61
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    Your description of this haunting film is detailed and informative. I've watched it carefully and studied its background a bit, read the story in French. It's equally mesmerizing and powerful in both forms. The story has a slow, cumulative power that's well captured in the film. Had forgotten the outdoor scenes of the film. The man and his niece's silence of course radiates hatred. You never know if they are at all won over by the German's well-meaning but naive good will; you tend to think not. Their silence, like the story, represents French resistence to German occupation. But the German is given a chance. The approach is subtle. When the German is shocked out of his delusions, it's shattering for us also. Appearing in 1941 clandestinely, Le Silence de la Mer was a daring and unusual story that took serious risks appearing even if only to a few select readers right during the early stages of the German occupation of France. For some time, I don't think the story was well-received--that it was too gentle in dealing with the Germans; I think Vercors may even have beenin some danger from both sides, but his identity was well-conceiled. How it was received and how it is meant to be literature of resistence somewhat baffles me still. But of course the Germans would not know about the German character's final realizations. I think some French readers, though now they may regard this as a beautiful work, thought it too soft on the Germans. But its moral comlexity is what gives it value to us.

    You must be aware that the German speaks beautiful, correct French, but in the film, with a slight accent.

    The author's name is Jean Bruller, pen name Vercors. He was a graphic artist, instrrumental in establishing an underground publishing house that eventually became Editions de Minuit, which later was the first to publish Samuel Becket and also Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon, Marguerite Duras and Robert Pinget.

    It never occurred to me that this had any similarity to Bresson. It is an accomplished, if understated, work, but quite different from Melville's later noir classics, which include of course Bob le Flambeur, Le Samouraï, the recently revived Army of Shadows, Le Cercle Rougs, Un Flic....

    I wonder why Cocteau got Melville to direct Les Enfants Terribles instead of directing it himself. I guess it wasn't material that was surrealistic enough for him to bother with.

    Léon Morin, prêtre, starring Belmondo and Emanuelle Riva is another Meliville film that takes place in the occupation. I don't even remember it. Melville gave Alain Delon some of his best and most appropriate roles.

  2. #62
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    Rich, delicious post, Chris. I have over a dozen films to post about in this thread. So I thought of doing brief paragraphs like your post for the London Film Festival. Now I'm glad I didn't cut corners when dealing with Melville's debut. I'm responding to your post in stages.

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    I wonder why Cocteau got Melville to direct Les Enfants Terribles instead of directing it himself. I guess it wasn't material that was surrealistic enough for him to bother with.

    This excerpt from filmmaker and cineaste Richard Misek's essay on Cocteau is useful I think.

    Cocteau was no Orson Welles. His avant-garde temperament fuelled his desire to rewrite the rules of film. But unlike his great contemporary, also a self-confessed amateur in the field of film, Cocteau did not have a strong enough vision to counter the aesthetic conventional wisdom of the time. Faced with the technical and logistical pressures of shooting a full-length film, he often found himself unsure of what to do with the camera. So he fell back on his crew and on the conventional film language of the time: eye-level camera, strict continuity editing and of course the 180º Rule. A disparity between his unconventional subject matter and his adherence to classical film language can be seen to varying degrees in all his films.

    Les Enfants terribles was itself filmed in 1950 by Jean-Pierre Melville, in close collaboration with Cocteau. Melville had been making films since he was a child, and brought with him an instinctive understanding of film form. In contrast to Cocteau's modest camera movements, Melville utilised the full gamut of camera techniques at his disposal. He used long, elaborate dolly shots as well as handheld shots, long-lens close-ups and ultra-wide angle master shots. In his editing, he was not afraid to use ellipsis or to cross the line. And he finished the film with a crane shot so breathtakingly operatic that it immediately found its way into French film history.


    Léon Morin, prêtre, starring Belmondo and Emanuelle Riva is another Meliville film that takes place in the occupation. I don't even remember it.

    This is my review of the film:

    Leon Morin, Priest (France, 1961) on PAL dvd
    The second of Melville's trio of films set during the occupation of France was a critical and commercial hit. The protagonist is not J.P. Belmondo's Morin but Emmanuelle Riva's Barny, a bisexual widow and atheist with communist leanings. As the film opens, Barny has her half-Jewish daughter baptized and entrusted to two old ladies living in the country. We are introduced to Barny's mostly female co-workers, some of which are collaborating to some extent with the occupying Italian and German forces. Her Jewish supervisor changes his identity and emigrates and Barny feels attracted to the beautiful woman who takes his place. Fifteen minutes into the film, she meets Morin. The balance of the film concerns the relationship that develops between these disparate characters. Will Barny's curiosity about Christianity result in a conversion? Will their acquaintance turn into friendship or perhaps, erotic passion? Will Barny actively pursue her new boss? Melville's first cut of the film, based on Beatrix Beck's autobiographical novel, was over one hour longer than the film that premiered at the Venice FF. While the film evokes quite successfully this tragic period in French history, aspects of Leon Morin, Priest that concern political collaboration/resistance are sketchy in the final cut. For instance, there's a brief scene in which Barny helps to hide a Jewish boy. It seems to come out of nowhere, and then the incident is never broached again. Mellvile was very proud of Leon Morin, Priest, going as far as calling it "perfect". It's undoubtedly a major film from a major director, but I wish we could see the 3-hour cut of the film. There are some dramatic setups at the onset that are not fully developed, in order to focus almost exclusively on the very interesting relationship between Barny and Morin. A relationship explored in all its complexities and ambiguities.

  3. #63
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    Thanks. That explains why Melville's shooting of Les Enfants Terribles is more interesting than if Cocteau had done it. I still don't get Leon Morin Pretre, whose content sounds so lukewarm, or whether I've seen it. The role for Belmondo somewhat resembles his role in Two Women/La ciociara, perhaps, as contrasted with his usual rakish roles.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-18-2006 at 09:07 AM.

  4. #64
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    The man and his niece's silence of course radiates hatred. You never know if they are at all won over by the German's well-meaning but naive good will; you tend to think not. Their silence, like the story, represents French resistence to German occupation.

    No doubt it represents resistance to the Occupation. And no doubt that the man and his niece initially feel hatred toward Werner. They regard him simply as a representative of all things German, and all things Nazi. But they can't help, as he reveals himself to them over the course of several months, to begin regarding him as a more specific human being. One who does not embody the worst traits of his people and the Nazi leadership. When Werner returns from Paris after learning about the Final Solution and the leadership's plans for France, the man and his niece believe he truly feels pained and dejected by this. He is still the "invader" and their silence is maintained, but changes in the niece's gesture and demeanor are tangible (to her uncle and the spectator, not necessarily to Werner). She finally breaks her silence with a simple "adieu" after Werner decides to abdicate his high-status position and return to the trenches (a suicidal move?). This "adieu" is open to interpretation. I've read from two people who believe the girl has silently fallen in love with Werner, but I wouldn't go that far. I would conclude though that the man and his niece both view Werner, when he leaves, as a victim of his father's blind nationalism and his country's barbaric government.

  5. #65
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    My point was that since Le silence de la mer was a clandestinely published work of the resistence, we have to see the content of the narrative as being an act of resistence and a dramatization of such an act. The man and his neice choose to "send" the German officer "to Coventry," to give him the silent treatment, as an act of resistence. "Adieu" means we won't see you again, and his decision is clearly suicidal. To extrapolate what the French pair think or feel is otherwise somewhat futile, I think. You can speculate, but it's not in the story, or the film. Of course it would be too static if we could not watch for gestures or expressions; these little details keep the viewer on her toes. The whole thing is complex and ambiguous, though the fundamental movements of the action are unquestionable and clar.

  6. #66
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    To extrapolate what the French pair think or feel is otherwise somewhat futile, I think. You can speculate, but it's not in the story, or the film.

    I agree with everything you say. But part of the enjoyment I derived from the film was to observe closely and attentively to the gestures and movements of the niece, and listen to what her uncle says about her, and speculate indeed about what she thinks of Werner and how that changes over the course of the film. I also derived enjoyment from reading the different ways viewers interpret her behavior and her lone line of dialogue.

  7. #67
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    That may be true for you, but for me it's even more fascinating that the two are able to remain silent and essentially reveal no feelings whatever. This is the measure of their anger, that they utterly refuse to respond, no matter how much the German officer tempts them with his charm and understanding and flattery. Any movements they make to me are more signs of the effort this takes, rather than any revelation of specific feelings.

  8. #68
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    Yes, they are able to remain silent and essentially reveal no feelings. To Werner that is. But the audience learns first-hand (from the Frenchman's voice-over narration) that his feelings towards Werner do change, and that he interprets what he sees in his niece as a change in attitude. If you watch Le Silence de la Mer again notice how the filmmakers themselves express that cinematically. Initially, Werner is harshly lit, with a high degree of contrast that makes him look sinister. After his return from Paris, the lighting used during his close-ups is more diffuse and even. There's also a change in camera angle, from low angle shots that make him look menacing to eye-level shots that regard him with neutrality. Add to that the way Edgar Bischoff's music score favors warmer tonalities towards the film's conclusion. This final refusal to hate while maintaining their dignity is what makes the film so special to me. I don't know how this differs from the short story.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 12-18-2006 at 08:39 PM.

  9. #69
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    Had forgotten that. Have not seen the movie in a while. I read the story by Vercors last year. I guess the movie adds those things. Good points. It is fascinating though, isn't it? The material is very subtle, really powerful stuff. I still think silence speaks more than words is the guiding principle.

  10. #70
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    I started this thread in July, when I already had over a dozen films to discuss. I never got caught up. Anyway, here are the rest of the old films I watched in 2006 that I thought were special, including two each from my beloved Ozu and Naruse that were quite hard to find.

    SALVATORE GIULIANO (1961)
    This film about the Sicilian outlaw/hero is, arguably, the best one directed by the formidable Francesco Rosi. The flasback structure was quite novel upon release. Considered a major influence on Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers). Rosi won the Silver Bear at Berlin.

    GILDA (1946)
    In Buenos Aires,Glenn Ford goes to work for the casino owner married to his old flame. She's played by the magnificent Rita Hayworth, and yes, this is the movie where she sings "Put the Blame on Mame". The script is very witty, with plenty of pansexual innuendo that somehow managed to escape the censors.

    PETULIA (1968)
    Julie Christie's best performance, as a shallow, unhappily married socialite who starts a affair with a middle-aged, recently divorced surgeon.Richard Lester's quick-cut, fragmented style a perfect counterpart to the character's ambivalence and the shifting moral compass of the late 60s. The last film lensed by Nicholas Roeg, who went on to direct Performance, Walkabout, and Don't Look Now.

    SMALL SOLDIERS (1998)
    War toys run amok in suburban Ohio. A smart satire of pop culture and the culture of violence directed by Joe Dante. Many critics unfairly dismissed it, seemingly based on the ad campaign aimed at kids and toy tie-in marketing. Dante recently directed the most cathartic protest against the Iraq war put on film: Homecoming, an episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror series.

    YESTERDAY GIRL (1966)
    Highly ambigious and multi-faceted portrait of a young salesgirl and college student, apparently Jewish, having difficulty adjusting emotionally and finding her place in the world. Award-winning film was directed by the renowed author and filmmaker Alexander Kluge, considered the first film artist to deal with Germany's nazi past. Yesterday Girl uses avant garde techniques to enrich what is essentially a character study. Challenging and compelling stuff, based on Kluge's own book "Story of Anita G."

    WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (Frank Tashlin/USA/1957)

    SALESMAN (Albert and David Maysles/USA/1969)

    THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T (Roy Rowland and Dr. Seuss/USA/1953)

    THE DEVIL DOLL (Tod Browning/USA/1936)

    HOUR OF THE STAR (Suzana Amaral/Brazil/1985)

    PASSING FANCY (Yazujiro Ozu/Japan/1933)

    BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY (Yazujiro Ozu/Japan/1941)

    WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (Mikio Naruse/Japan/1960)

    LATE CHRYSANTEMUMS (Mikio Naruse/Japan/1954)

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