From the Chicago Reader (April 22, 1994). — J.R.
Directed and written by Ousmane Sembène
With Omar Seck, Mame Ndoumbe Diop, Thierno Ndiaye, Ndiawar Diop, Moustapha Diop, Marie-Augustine Diatta, Samba Wane, and Joseph Sane.
We like to think that the essential works of any art form are readily available to everyone; but when it comes to film we still aren’t within hailing distance of that goal, even if we agree to the debatable proposition that a film’s transfer to video equals its availability. The canons of film history taught in film departments across the country are based almost entirely on the titles that film, video, and laser disc companies choose to place or keep on the market, which is all that most film professors have seen in the first place. And now that 16-millimeter film distribution is already on its last legs, the history and breadth of the medium, even for most film students, is quickly being reduced to what can be found at local video stores.
Among the many key items that can’t be found there are virtually all the major African films, including the seven features and four shorts of Senegalese writer-director Ousmane Sembène, by most accounts the greatest African filmmaker.… Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
La Gueule Ouverte. A 5O-year-old Frenchwoman named Monique (Monique Melinand) is dying of a painful disease. She gradually loses the ability to communicate with any ease, and finally the power to speak at all. Eventually she’s moved from the hospital to the family’s house in Auvergne, where her husband Roger (Hubert Deschamps), along with her son Philippe (Philippe Leotard) and his wife Nathalie (Nathalie Baye), take care of her and wait for her to die. It’s a painful and less-than-inviting subject for a film, but somehow Maurice Pialat works wonders with it. Too recognizable and embarrassing to be strictly sentimental and too inventive and observant to be predictable. his story moves like a string of terse epiphanies, beautifully recorded by Nestor Almendros’s camera. The characters are neither bigger nor smaller than life: Roger is a drunken grouch whose idea of kicks is to cop a feel from a pretty girl while she changes sweaters in his clothing shop, yet he is the one most affected by Monique’s death. Philippe screws Nathalie and then goes hunting up prostitutes in his desperate flight from the fact of death. Father and son don’t like each other much, and when Philippe and Nathalie drive away at dusk– an extraordinary extended shot that encapsulates a lifetime into a few miles — we can be confident that they won’t be coming back again.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 503). — J.R.
Director: Phil Karlson
In films as diverse as 99 River Street and The Phenix City Story, Phil Karlson has shown a striking aptitude for the dynamics of seedy crime melodramas — particularly those which deal, in Andrew Sarris’s phrase, “with the phenomenon of violence in a world controlled by organized evil”. Working, however, in slicker settings and with a plotline at once as hackneyed and as confused as the one in Framed, he appears no better than anyone else at handling the hysterical revenge theme that has often seemed his stock-in-trade.
Discounting some lamentable lab work and five minutes of censor’s cuts in the version under review — which apparently include a rape and some protracted pre-murder mayhem perpetrated by the hero against a failed kidnapper (shooting one ear off and prodding the other with hot wire, until he gives out information) — it is difficult to imagine what could have been salvaged from such a nonsensical collection of plastic characters and cardboard stances, where the narrative proceeds as if by hiccups and the film’s dramatic highlight is provided by the hero remarking of a minor villain, “First time I ever saw a tub of shit in a suit”.… Read more »
From Oui (August 1974). As unlikely as this may sound to some, Out 1: Spectre enjoyed a week-long run in Paris at a Left Bank cinema (Studio Gît-le-Coeur) in my own neighborhood around the same time I wrote this capsule, so I had many opportunities to make return visits. –- J.R.
Out 1: Spectre. “Who are the 13?” jean-Pierre Léaud, when he isn’t impersonating a deaf mute on Champs-Elysées, is traveling around the rest of Paris, asking a variety of people this embarrassing question. He’s trying to solve the riddle of a secret society alluded to in a coded message – hidden relationships of power and influence lurking behind the normal surfaces of the everyday. Some of the reputed members of this sect include the owner of a hippie boutique (Bulle Ogier), a theater director (Michel Lonsdale), a lawyer (Françoise Fabian), and a novelist (Bernadette Lafont). Meanwhile, a small-time hustler (Juliet Berto) comes across additional evidence in a b atch of letters that she steals for blackmailing purposes. Although Berto and Léaud never meet, just about everybody else in Out 1: Spectre cross paths at one point or another. The movie’s geared to work that way, with each actor furnishing his own scenario and improvising dialogue while Jacques Rivette, the director, stages confrontations between them within his master plan.… Read more »