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December 13, 2022

Two Films by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze

immoral moment.jpg
The Immoral Moment / La Denonciation
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze - 1962

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A Game for Six Lovers / L'eau a la bouche
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze - 1960
Icarus Films Home Video DVD All Regions

It has been a short while since it was announced that Chantal Akerman's film, Jeanne Dielman had topped the recently released Sight and Sound critics poll. I would not mention that film except that it turns out that Jacques Doniol-Valcroze had a small role as the Second Caller.

Having two new 2K restorations of features written and directed by Doniol-Valcroze is a reminder of the work to be done to have a deeper and truer understanding both of French cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. While Andre Bazin is the name that always appears, it was Doniol-Valcroze who was a co-founder of Cahiers du cinema. His first feature, A Game for Six Lovers was released in 1960, but as a filmmaker, Doniol-Valcroze never became as internationally celebrated as the younger film critics who also made their feature debuts at that time. I could find no indication that A Game for Six Lovers even had a stateside release, while The Immoral Moment had a belated U.S. release by a very small distributor in 1967.

The Immoral Moment is closer to the work of Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais as a film about memory. Michel steps into a nightclub that is still dark, yet to be opened. There is a dead man on the floor. A couple of people step in from a lit hallway on one end, with another man entering from the opposite direction. Michel is knocked unconscious. The cops and the actual murderer and associates know that Michel did not kill the man, yet Michel receives threatening letters in spite of the fact he cannot identification of the killer. Michel tries to remember the moments before he was struck in the head. He also ties his cooperation with the police, or collaboration as he puts it, with a wartime incident when he provided information to the Nazis under threat of continued torture.

Doniol-Valcroze cuts between present day Paris and Michel's memory of being a prisoner, ending with his mistakenly acclaimed as a hero of the French Resistance. Michel returns to the nightclub which features women in various states of undress, imagining his wife as one of the performers. The film was shot in the CinemaScope ratio with Doniol-Valcroze frequently placing his actors on either side of the screen, including traveling shots following the actor. While stars Maurice Ronet and Francoise Brion may be familiar to some, the most recognizable actor here is a younger Michael Lonsdale, the future James Bond villain, Hugo Drax, of Moonraker.

A Game for Six Lovers has a few bits of business to distinguish itself from some of the bedroom farces of the time. Two estranged cousins, Fifene and Jean-Paul, are invited to a country estate for the reading of a will and a possible inheritance. Jean-Paul is delayed, and Robert, Fifene's lover, shows up pretending to be the male cousin. Their hostess, Milena, and her lawyer, Miguel, are sometimes lovers. The estate's majordomo, Cesar, pursues the new maid, Prudence. This is the kind of film that was popular in the early 1960s in the art theater circuit because it was considered racier than anything from Hollywood, although it would be rated PG-13 now.

The film begins with the title song from Serge Gainsbourg who also wrote the music, sort of jazzy soft rock. Top billed Bernadette Lafont, as the new maid, suggests sauciness even when motionless in close-up. In one scene, she is chased by the insistent majordomo, ripping off her clothing, leaving Lafont, seen from a distance, in bra and panties. The Canadian actress Alexandra Stewart provides moments of partial nudity in bed as well as a nude swim. This is not a film for those who get worked up about the male gaze. The French title translates literally as "water of the mouth", and more loosely as "mouth watering".

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:11 AM

December 06, 2022



Shinzo Katayama - 2021
Dark Star Pictures

What is noted about director Shinzo Katayama is that he served as an Assistant Director to Bong Joon-ho on Mother and Bong's segment in the omnibus Tokyo!. What brings Bong to mind in Missing is actor Jiro Sato as Harada, the miserable sanitation worker whose disappearance initiates the story. Sata bears some resemblance to Parasite's Song Kang-ho physically, but lacking Song's sometimes unfounded optimism. The sad sack Harada is a grubby, part-time sanitation worker who is introduced as needing the care of his middle school daughter, Kaede. Harada's sudden absence is taken seriously only by Kaede who is certain that her father is in search of a serial killer in order to claim the reward. Katayama reverses the more common narrative of father or father-figure as the searcher with the daughter or young girl as the searched. As the film progresses, it becomes a darker exploration of human nature.

Katayama's Japan only looks attractive from a distance. Most of the film takes place in what appear to be the grungiest sections of Osaka. There are hardly any streets, but mostly a claustrophobic maze of alley ways, pathways clogged with bags of garbage and abandoned junk. In a later scene following the serial killer, Yamauchi, he is shown a pictorial view of the small island by an orange farmer. Down from the peak, is a rough road with worn down people and houses. Yamauchi also has a scene with a woman on a beach. Their relationship is unclear. The beach is otherwise dull and devoid of any other people. Where Harada works is too organized to be described as a garbage dump, but it is an industrial site filled with things that have no more use. From the opening scene, most relationships are depicted as transactional, from spare change to millions of yen, even in literal matters of life and death.

The opening scene is composed of a series of traveling shots following Kaede running through the streets of Osaka, with the occasional shot of composed of multiple surveillance cameras on one screen. Following on this is a later scene where Kaede spots Yamauchi, with the camera following her as she pursues the suspected serial killer on foot and bicycle. There is some graphic horror but most of the scenes depicting murder are more luridly suggestive. The narrative is awkward, depending on two extended flashbacks to explain the relationship between characters from the points of view of the three main characters. The final scene is of Harada and Kaede playing ping pong. The camera zooms out from the table to show the two on each side of the screen while they come to a mutual understanding following a resolution of all that has previously transpired. There is a second game where Harada and Kaede are going through the motions of playing ping pong while the camera zooms towards the middle of the table. This last scene could well be a nod towards Antonioni's Blow Up with its missing murder victim and a tennis game with a ball heard but not seen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:59 AM