It’s a pity that André Malraux’s only film, a pre-neorealist feature about the struggle of his own Republican squadron in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, with a stirring original Darius Milhaud score — started in Barcelona in July 1938 (a few months after publishing his novel of the same title in France), suspended in January 1939 after the Franco Nationalists seized Barcelona, completed in the French Joinville studios just ahead of the German occupation, and finally released only after the Liberation, in 1945 — is virtually unknown today in the English-speaking world, even though a DVD of the restoration with English subtitles is available in France. James Agee compared its poetry to that of Homer, but it seems to have become a forgotten film in the U.S. since then.
I showed a couple of clips from the film in my World Cinema of the 1930s course last night, as a kind of irreverent and dialectical contrast to Howard Hawks’ dark and beautiful Only Angels Have Wings, shot almost simultaneously in Hollywood. Much as I love the Hawks film, which I would describe as profound hokum, I don’t think its ideological and colonialist trappings should be entirely ignored. Read more
Pascal Aubier directed this sweet and winsome 1995 French comedy. A 20-year-old tour guide (Gregoire Colin) in charge of Georgian singers giving a Paris concert pretends to be the son of a famous (but fictional) French New Wave director named Gascogne alleged to have left behind an unseen masterpiece when he died in the mid-70s. This impersonation momentarily gains him admission to the French film world, an identity, and even the love of a young Georgian woman, who accompanies him around Paris in a giddy sequence in which they reenact famous scenes from French New Wave classics. Part of what makes Aubier, a middle-aged filmmaker, tolerant about this deception is his hero?s tender years; charmed and intimidated by the mythology of the New Wave, the boy finds that the only way he can become heroic, to himself and to others, is to become part of something that ended around the time he was born. This reveals a telling postmodernist dilemma for cinema as a whole, not just the French cinema: directors like Quentin Tarantino require allusion and imitation for their very existence, not simply as a means of getting ahead or being fashionable, and this romantic and alluring story dives gracefully yet forcefully into the heart of this dilemma. Read more
Herman Mankiewicz is undoubtedly the victim of a credit thief, but the thief in question isn’t Orson Welles but director David Fincher, brandishing and “delivering” the screenplay of his late father Jack. All the best lines in this script come from Herman, but Fincher Sr. is allotted the only writing credit because that’s the way money (not writing) is supposed to work in Lotusland. Yet we’re supposed to credit Mank for telling us how Old Hollywood thought about itself (and incidentally about us too–assuming that we must be idiots for buying into all their lies, Louis B. Mayer’s as well as Fincher’s). I got tired very quickly of all the witty lines, by Herman and Jack alike, thinking, “Can’t somebody, just once, speak half-normally? Is cynicism the only spice we’re allowed to taste, Hecht and Company by the bucketful?” Yes, I know (spoiler alert), the white wine came up with the fish, and all I could think about, almost to Mank‘s bitter end, was when Jack would finally work in that climactic line. Finally, climactically, at the bitter end, natch. Give that dead man an Oscar. Read more
From the October 5, 2007 Chicago Reader. I was pleased to find this review quoted in the expanded second edition of Richard Porton’s Film and the Anarchist Imagination (2020) — J.R.
In this 50-minute political documentary (1974) by Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella — made the year before Franco’s death, on the same night that the militant anarchist Salvador Puig Antich was executed — five former political prisoners, four men and a woman, whose combined prison terms lasted over 50 years, are seen meeting over a meal in a Catalonian farmhouse (the title means The Supper in Catalan) to discuss political strategies and the effects their prison terms have had on their political commitments. This is mainly a political and historical document, but just as Portabella’s more experimental films (Cuadecuc-Vampir, Umbracle, Warsaw Bridge) are never entirely divorced from politics, this political film has its own formal concerns, most of them related to camera movements and sound recording, as well as the pregnant silences that eventually overtake the conversation. In Catalan and Spanish with subtitles. (JR)