Daily Archives: February 9, 2021

Belle Toujours

From the Chicago Reader (October 20, 2006). — J.R.

Manoel de Oliveira’s sequel — or tribute, or speculative footnote — to Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carriere’s Belle de Jour (1967) differs from that transgressive classic by being less about Severine (played here by Bulle Ogier, in the original by Catherine Deneuve), a devoted wife who secretly works as a prostitute to fulfill her secret masochistic desires, and more about Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli in both films), a rakish aristocrat who discovers her secret. (It’s also more about class and less about sexual desire.) Husson arranges a meeting with a reluctant Severine many decades later, and de Oliveira stages their dinner like a lush religious ceremony, albeit one with a couple of witty and pungent punch lines. In French with subtitles. 70 min.

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My Favorite Belgian DVD Box Set

From my Spring 2006 DVD column in Cinema Scope (“Global Discoveries on DVD”). Although this is sadly no longer in print, one can at least access most of its contents in an André Delvaux box set available here; and for more material about Delvaux in general and this film in particular, go here. — J.R.

My selection of Rendez-vous à Bray (1971) by André Delvaux (1926-2002) as the best box set of the year in Masters of Cinema’s end-of-the-year poll as well as one of the best in DVD Beaver’s (even though they point out that technically, it was released in late 2004) prompts a bit of explanation. When I reviewed this Belgian film and period mood-piece for the April 1976 Monthly Film Bulletin, my appraisal began as follows: “An appealing foray into ambiguity that uses ellipsis as a kind of erotic invitation, Rendezvous at Bray largely wins one over because its more modest ambitions are so gracefully realized. Derived from a short story by Julien Gracq —- a writer whose rather specialized terrain seems midway between the Gothic novel and Surrealism —- its boundaries are clearly marked by its cozy range of cultural references and its attractive period atmosphere, both of which allow for fireside reveries more nourishing to the imagination than to any prolonged analysis.” Read more

Army of Shadows

From the Chicago Reader (May 26, 2006). — J.R.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 thriller about the French Resistance, finally receiving its first U.S. release, is a great film but also one of the most upsetting films I know. Melville based his story on a novel by Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour) that was published during the occupation and is reportedly far more optimistic; in the movie a resistance leader (Lino Ventura) gradually discovers that he and his comrades must betray their own humanity for the sake of their struggle, though in the end their efforts are mainly futile. As Dave Kehr wrote, “Melville is best known for his philosophical pastiches of American gangster films (Le Samourai, Le Doulos), and some of their distinctive rhythms — aching stillness relieved by sharp flurries of action — survive here.” With Simone Signoret (in one of her best performances), Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and Serge Reggiani. In French with subtitles. 145 min. Read more