Tag Archives: Francois Truffaut

Dioscuri movies and more!

My friend Ross has often used the term “dioscuri” — the Greek name for the heavenly twins, Castor and Polyneices — to refer to twinned fiction characters such as Kirk and Spock, Holmes and Watson, Starsky and Hutch, and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. They fit together. They’re each other’s missing puzzle piece. And that applies to some of my recent viewing.

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road films had them cast as vagabond Dioscuri entertainers, always united until it came to figuring out who gets the girl. ROAD TO RIO (1947) was in a two-movie set with Road to Bali but it’s much better. After enraging a few too many fathers by hitting on their daughters, the guys head south of the border where they end up helping Dorothy Lamour, whose aunt Gale Sondegaard is hypnotizing her into a marriage for mysterious reasons. A lot of fun, though having a happy ending arranged via hypnosis doesn’t age well at all; parodies both McGuffins (“The world must never know.”) and last minute cavalry charges (“It didn’t amount to much but it was exciting.”). “Blood is thicker than water — and this is not the time to prove it.”

JULES AND JIM (1961) is Francois Truffaut’s story of two Dioscuri, one German (Oskar Werner) and one French (Henri Serre), who meet and bond deeply in the years before WW I and remain friends despite fighting on opposite sides (their biggest fear being injuring or killing each other). But when Jules falls in love with the mercurial, restless Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), who also fascinates Jim, it sends their friendship and their lives in an unexpected direction. I clearly remember being underwhelmed with this when I first saw it but for the life of me I can’t figure out why, as it’s excellent. Along with being well-made, the casual attitude to sex and love must have stood out from Hollywood’s films back when it debuted. “I’m slowly renouncing my claim to her — and all that I love in the world.”

In ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) attorney Albert Finney doesn’t think of working-class mom Julia Roberts as much beyond an annoyance. Then she takes an interest in some old case files involving a small town, a whole lot of health problems and a utility covering up its polluting track record and they become the team they were destined to be. Steven Soderbegh directs an excellent based-on-truth film with supporting performances by Marg Helgenberger as a victim, Conchata Ferrell as a secretary, Aaron Eckhart as Brockovich’s biker boyfriend and Peter Coyote as a lawyer.  “Before you go off on some sort of crusade, you might want to consider who you’re dealing with.”

And now the more — I picked GLASS ONION (2022) as my and TYG’s December date night film and it was an excellent choice, even though TYG, contrary to my memory, swears she hasn’t seen Knives Out. Daniel Crag once again plays Benoit Blanc (TYG gives his accent thumbs up) who somehow winds up invited to tech billionaire Edward Norton’s isolated Greek island along with politician Kathryn Hahn, airhead model Kate Hudson (“How was I to know ‘Jew-y’ was offensive to Jews?”), YouTuber Dave Bautista and others — and wouldn’t you know, death is in the air? A traditional set-up — an isolated mansion, a murderer among us — but enlivened by director/writer Rian Johnson’s skewering of the rich (pretty much the perfect moment for it too). While I think Knives Out worked slightly better as a mystery, this may be a better film overall. “I think it’s dangerous to think speaking without thinking is the same as speaking the truth.”

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A feminist and a pianist: This week’s movies

During that thrift-store visit I blogged about yesterday I picked up a DVD of DOWN WITH LOVE (2003), the delightful take0ff on the Rock Hudson/Doris Day sex comedies (not that there was a lot of sex happening but it was clearly on their minds) of 60 years back. Renée Zellweger plays Barbara Novak, author of Down with Love, a book about how women should approach love and sex like men: don’t get attached, have your fun but never let it interfere with your career. After globetrotting womanizing reporter Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) — “man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town” — stands her up for an interview in favor of getting laid (stewardess Jeri Ryan being among the distractions), she singles him out as precisely the kind of man women should stay away from. As her book climbs the bestseller lists, Block sets out to prove Novak is no different from any other woman — he’ll make her fall in love with him (after assuming a disguise, of course) and catch her confessing her deepest desire is to be a housewife!

I was curious what TYG would make of this as she hasn’t seen any of those old comedies (including Lover Come Back and Pillow Talk) but she enjoyed it as much as I did. Part of the fun is the glamorous ultra-fashionable 1960s set design and fashions; we also have Sarah Paulson as Novak’s frustrated editor and David Hyde Pierce as Block’s editor and buddy, the kind of long-suffering sidekick role Tony Randall played in the Hudson/Day comedies (Randall himself appears as a publisher). Probably not to everyone’s taste, but definitely to ours. “I had the idea that I was in some zany sex romp and you’d switched keys with the lead so that you could use his apartment to entrap me.”

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (1960) was Francois Truffaut’s second feature and unlike The 400 Blows it lived up to my memories. The protagonist is a piano man (Charles Aznavour) tickling the ivories on a second rate piano in a small Paris bistro; when his brother shows up, on the run from some hoods, the pianist helps him get away and thereby draws the thugs attention to himself. As his story (including striking up a relationship with a cute waitress [Marie Dubois]) progresses, we also flashback to when he was a star concert pianist only for tragedy to erupt. Ever since then he’s been hollowed out — will he come back to life now? Will the thugs give him a chance?

As a film writer with Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut and his colleagues expressed an admiration for American filmmaking that was quite radical for the time (Hollywood films were generally considered Not Art). The Hollywood influence is much stronger here than in 400 Blows: this is a noirish crime drama where no matter what the protagonist does, it’s probably going to end badly. However it’s also distinctly Truffaut, though I’m not sure I could define what I mean by that. “All I ask of a man is to tell me when it’s over — no-one has.”

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Classic, crappy, creepy: assorted movies

After reading Hitchcock/Truffaut, I figured I’d rewatch Francois Truffaut’s films as I did Hitchcock’s. First up is Truffaut’s first feature, THE 400 BLOWS (1959, in which a restless starts out coping — barely — with domineering teachers and somewhat neglectful parents — and winds up sliding into the school-to-reform school pipeline through increasing misbehavior.

I remember liking the film a lot when I first saw it on TV but it didn’t impress me as much this time. The adult figures in his life don’t have much to commend them but I don’t find myself feeling much sympathy for the boy either. So maybe it’s just age that makes the difference.

It’s still a well-made, supposedly somewhat autobiographical film, and very different from how an America movie of that era would have done it — what I assume is the American poster makes The 400 Blows sound like a Hollwyood juvenile delinquency story and I don’t think it is. “I deface the classroom walls and defile the French language.”

THE LOST GIRLS (2022) stars writer/director Livia de Paolis as Wendy Darling’s (of Peter Pan) granddaughter, haunted by vague memories/hallucinations of her own trip to Neverland,  her mother’s mysteri0us disappearance (did Peter take her and keep her) and her daughter’s angry dismissal of her mother’s presumed delusions about some flying boy. This is a muddled mess in every way possible, from de Paolis’ distracting Italian accent to the bland look of Neverland and the murky narrative; de Paolis apparently wanted to give us a mix of Neverland fantasy and female trauma and flops both ways. Vanessa Redgrave as Wendy leaves the rest of the cast in the dust.“You disappoint me — I expected better of a Darling.”

That article on Catholic horror I read recently recommended THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (2018) as an example of Catholic horror that deals with the Church perpetuating evil rather than just standing against it. It’s 1960s and two priests — one idealistic and young, the other old enough to be skeptical about miracles — arrive at a Magdalene Laundry to determine whether one of the statues there is genuinely weeping blood.In the 75 minutes that follow, the two priests grapple not only with supernatural manifestations but with the brutality of the institution, and the way the nuns treated unwed mothers and illegitimate children (“Would you like to know how many of the fathers were … fathers?”). Shackling and restraining a teenage mother possessed by Satan isn’t that different from what the church did to non-possessed unwed mothers. It’s the Catholic equivalent of ethnogothic horror. It’s also very good.  I normally dislike found footage films — it often feels like an easy way to keep the audience in the dark — this one works, though it does feel a little too Blair Witch Project at the finish. “You sweep it all under the rug, then leave us to hide the dirty laundry.”

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