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.… Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
Stavisky. Arriving on the crest of the nostalgia boom, Alain Resnais’s new movie — his first in six years — is already destined to make a voluptuous splash. With a script by Jorge Semprun (who collaborated with Resnais on La Guerre est Finie) , a bittersweet score by Stephen Sondheim, and Jean-Paul Belmondo in the title role, Stavisky serves up the glitter of Thirties glamor in a style both graceful and elegiac. Its subject is Alexandre Stavisky, the celebrated high-finance swindler whose exposure led to the collapse of two French ministries. Before the law caught up with him, Stavisky held Paris in the palm of his hand, living in a kind of extravagant luxury from which legends are born. And it’s mainly the legend that fascinates Resnais in his ironic tribute to a certain vanished elegance: a roomful of white flowers, recruited at six A.M. to greet the awakening of Alexandre’s wife Arlette (Anny Duperey) in Biarritz; a continuous flow of champagne and jewels to spark the afternoons. Fans of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel may regret the absence of narrative innovation here. But Resnais still knows a lot about beauty, Belmondo has bushels of charm to spare, and together they paint a memorable portrait of bygone days — a historical fantasy tinged with sweet dreams and sad awakenings.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1974 (vol. 41, no. 489). –- J.R.
Drummer of Vengeance
Great Britain, 1974
Director: Robert Paget
The American West, shortly after the Civil War. A rebel soldier who goes over to the Union army returns home to find his Indian wife and his son murdered — the former after having been raped — and their house burned to the ground by vengeful Confederates. Coming upon a wind-up toy drummer in the ruins, he vows to track down and kill all the men responsible. His usual method of revenge is to wind up the toy, place it on the ground, and ask his victim to make his play — whether armed or unarmed – before shooting him. He pays a carpenter to make the necessary coffins in advance and quickly dispatches six of the men he is after. The angry townsfolk, eager to be rid of the avenger (known only as the Stranger) and anxious for Sheriff Mason to apprehend him, are spurred on by the fanatical Bible-spouting of the town’s gravedigger — actually the Stranger in disguise. The Stranger also impersonates an Indian in a lance-throwing act in O’Conner’s Travelling Show in order to kill his next victim.… Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
Sweet Movie. Get this: Miss World of 1984 (Carol Laure), a virgin, gets married to the richest man in the world, a vulgar Texan named Capital who’s hung up on hygiene, has a golden phallus, and celebrates his honeymoon by pissing on the bride, leaving her wet but intact. She’s whisked away to the inside of a giant milk bottle, where she confronts Jeremiah Muscle, a black specimen with bulging biceps in the service of Capital, who zips her into a suitcase, which he sends to Paris — still with me? – where she turns up on the Eiffel Tower. There she falls for a campy Mexican named El Macho (Sami Frey), who takes her cherry — only their bodies get stuck together in mid-fuck, and they have to be towed away by a crowd. While all this is going on, Captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal), who is sailing down a canal in Amsterdam on a boat called Survival, picks up a sailor (Pierre Clementi) from another ship called Potemkin. Anna gives him a bath, screws him in an enormous vat of sugar, and then cuts him up with a knife, which he seems to enjoy.… Read more »
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 Time Out (London), September 13-19, 1974. –- J.R.
For Godard, French neo-realism was born with Jacques Tati’s ‘Jour de Fete’ in 1947. An even likelier candidate might be Jean Renoir’s ‘Toni’ (Everyman to Saturday), shot in southern France in 1934 with a cast of unknowns, and dealing with a community of immigrants who work in a stone quarry. Actually, it’s a melodrama about love and sex, jealousy and murder -– the sort of staples that have kept the cinema going for seventy years or so -– but Renoir invests it with a sense of character and place that gives it an unusually blunt and sensual impact. Neither romanticizing his workers nor turning them into rallying points, he accepts them as they are and follows them where they go. The plot is based on a real crime that occurred in Martigues (where the film was shot) in the early Twenties, Jacques Morier, an old friend of Renoir’s who was the local police chief, assembled the facts, and Renoir wrote the script with another friend, art critic Carl Einstein. The results are both stark and gentle, as well as sexy: Toni sucking wasp poison from Josefa’s lissome neck is a particularly fine moment.… 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 »