From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 1987). — J.R.
Often juxtaposing or superimposing two or more video images within the same ‘Scope frame, Jean-Luc Godard’s remarkable (if seldom screened) 1975 feature — one of the most ambitious and innovative films in his career — literally deconstructs family, sexuality, work, and alienation before our very eyes. Our ears are given a workout as well; the punning commentary and dialogue, whose overlapping meanings can only be approximated in the subtitles, form part of one of his densest sound tracks. Significantly, the film never moves beyond the vantage point of one family’s apartment, and the only time the whole three-generation group (played by nonprofessionals) are brought together in one shot is when they’re watching an unseen television set. In many respects, this is a film about reverse angles and all that they imply; it forms one of Godard’s richest and most disturbing meditations on social reality. The only full ‘Scope images come in the prologue and epilogue, when Godard himself is seen at his video and audio controls. In French with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)
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A program note written for the London Film Festival in 1976, held at the National Film Theatre in November. On November 17, at the first of two screenings, Duelle appeared as a double bill with the world premiere of Noroît, which was shown immediately afterwards, with Rivette in attendance. –- J.R.
Labelled the second feature in [Jacques] Rivette’s four-part Scènes de la Vie Parallèle, Duelle is in fact the first to be completed. Like all the films in the projected series, it covers the ‘Carnival’ period between the last new moon of winter and the first full moon of spring: the only time when goddesses can appear on earth and have commerce with mortals. These goddesses are split between moon ghosts and sun fairies; in Duelle, we find a ghost (Juliet Berto) and a fairy (Bulle Ogier) competing for possession of a diamond known as the Fairy Godmother which can keep them on earth past their allotted forty days.With a non-existent word (the female form of a masculine noun) as title and an imaginary muth as starting-point, Duelle deliberately defines itself through contradictions and clashes, maintaining a perpetual disequilibrium of elements that equally flirts with and refuses the comforting balances of ‘classic’ narrative.… Read more »
From the May 26, 2006 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Army of Shadows
Directed and written by Jean-Pierre Melville
With Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret, Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet, Christian Barbier, and Serge Reggiani
Around 1971 Jean-Pierre Melville said, “I sometimes read (I am thinking of the reviews after Le Samourai and Army of Shadows), ‘Melville is being Bressonian.’ I’m sorry, but it’s Bresson who has always been Melvillian.”
Melville’s assertion — echoed by critic André Bazin and allegedly by Robert Bresson himself — may seem startling. Melville is best known for his eight noir features, all of them stylish and artificial in a way that seems utterly foreign to the more physical and neorealistic surfaces of Bresson’s work. But these differences are ultimately superficial. What the two filmmakers have in common is much more important: the styles, themes, and philosophical positions of both can be traced directly to their experiences during World War II.
Bresson spent nine months in a German internment camp in 1940-’41, before the occupation of France, and his imprisonment is alluded to in one of his greatest films, A Man Escaped (1956). Melville, born Jean-Pierre Grumbach, joined the resistance in the early 40s — changing his Jewish surname to Cartier and then Melville in homage to Herman Melville — and three of his 13 features, all made after the war, deal with the German occupation.… Read more »