From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
Lancelot du Lac. Robert Bresson has wanted to make this film for 20 years, and now we know that the wait was worth it. The unique vision of the director of A Man Escaped, Balthazar, and Four Nights of a Dreamer has been slow in reaching American audiences, but his treatment of the legend of Sir Lancelot may be the widest door yet into the hermetic beauty of his special world. As usual, Bresson’s actors are all non-professionals: Lancelot is Luc Simon, an abstract painter; Queen Guinevere is Laura Duke Condominas, daughter of sculptress Niki de St. Phalle; Gawain is l9-year-old Humbert Balsan, a former economics student. At the center of the story is Lancelot’s adulterous affair with Guinevere, set in the twilight years of King Arthur’s rule. Around the edges are scenes of violent action — nightmare battles of clanking arrnor in a dark forest, a climactic jousting tournament. Bresson makes us watch the tournament as though it were visible only out of the corner of one eye — an elliptical rush of horses’ feet and lances striking shields. The crowd is heard much more than seen. In his striking medieval tapestry, love in a hayloft and death in the afternoon become interlocking parts of the same spiritual drama.… Read more »
From Oui (September 1974). –- J.R.
Piaf. In her life and in her music’ Edith Piaf is probably the closest thing France has had to a Billie Holiday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that a feature-length fiction film based on her life gives her the same kind of treatment that Lady Sings the Blues gave to Billie. We begin with Edith’s birth in 1915 in a red-light district of Paris. Abandoned by her mother, she grows up in a provincial whorehouse, Edith starts singing for centimes in street acts with her acrobat father. Then she goes independent and sings on the street while her half-sister, Momone, accompanies her on harmonica.Piaf is menaced by a Montmartre pimp who sells her “protection”. After she gives birth to a bastard daughter who dies in infancy, she gradually makes her way up the ladder from a dive in Pigalle to a Champs-Elysées niqht club. The plot is taken from a “fictionalized” biography by Simone Berteaut, the real-life Momone. Newcomer Brigitte Ariel plays Piaf, although the singing voice belongs to Betty Mars in both the French and English versions of the film. Guy Casaril, the director, serves it all up in something akin to the American bio-pic Style: Edith sings her heart out as the camera sails up into the sky.… Read more »
From Oui (August 1974). — J.R.
La main à couper. It’s been suggested that one reason why movies are so popular in Paris is that French TV is so bad. In point of fact,a conventional Gallic thriller such as the current La main à couper is not very different from what an American spectator is likely to see in a weekly series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The central intrigue, of course, is classically Continental: bourgeois adultery, the same subject that Claude Chabrol staked out years ago, although it is as perpetually common to French melodrama as raincoats are to spy thrillers. A married woman (Lea Massari) is having an affair with a young sculptor who is roughly the same age as her son. One day she goes to meet him at his studio and finds him dead, murdered with a blunt instrument. From this point on, practically all of the suspense and tensions develop out of the hypocrisy that her position requires, She can’t go to the police or tell her husband (Michel Bouquet), her daughter, or her son. The task of behaving normally becomes even more of an ordeal when an odd little fellow with a Hitler mustache (Michel Serrault) turns up and starts blackmailing her.This,… Read more »
From Oui (August 1974). — J.R.
Violins at the Ball. It appears that the two obsessive themes of French cinema right now are movies about movies and movies about the German Occupation. Michel Drach’s Violins at the Ball combines both of these, but on a very personal level, for the story he has to tell is Drach’s own. It is told in two tenses: a present in black and white showing Drach as he tries to interest a producer in his film and he travels around Paris and Oise with his cameraman; a past in color that he is filming, which describes his adventures as a Jewish child during the Occupation.Drach’s wife, actress Marie-José Nat, plays herself in the present and his mother in the past, while their son David portrays Michel at the age of eight. To complicate matters further, the producer declares that the film can’t be made without a star, and Drach immediately replaces himself with Jean-Louis Tringtignant – who also happens to be his best friend. Drach has wanted to make this film for 15 years, and it shows in the careful attention given to various details, the subtle transactions between memory and invention, fear and comfort, yesterday and today.… Read more »
From Oui (December 1974). – J.R.
Le Trio lnfernal. It’s the Christmas season and Michel Piccoli shoots
a man in the eye — straight through a newspaper he’s reading — while
downstairs, Romy Schneider is finishing off Andrea Ferreol with
similar dispatch. The bodies are stripped clean and plunked into
adjacent bathtubs, which Piccoli promptly fills with sulfuric acid.
Mascha Gomska, Schneider’s sister — who completes the infernal
trio of murderers who slaughter people for their life insurance –
barfs on the living-room carpet, while offscreen, excited by all
these gay and yummy events, Schneider is giving Piccoli an
impromptu blowjob in the bathroom. Later on, after the bodies have
decomposed, Piccoli dons a gas mask, ladles the slop into pails,
then empties the heady stew outdoors while one of the girls is
shown eating spaghetti. Excessive? This Grand Guignol comedy is
nothing but, as it chronicles the exploits of three glamorous
monsters butchering their way to wealth, with lots of kinky sex
on the way. Francis Girod, a producer-turned-director, exhibits an
unusual amount of expertise in his first film. But most of the show
belongs to Piccoli, who dances through all of the Thirties décor
performing a veritable concerto of comic invention. And for
sound-effects freaks, the bathtub glop is recorded so lovingly as it
gurgles nto a pit that you can almost taste it.… Read more »