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December 17, 2019

A Sunday in the Country

sunday in country.jpg

Un dimanche a la campagne
Bertrand Tavernier - 1984
Kino Classics BD Region A

The best reason for getting the new blu-ray of Bertrand Tavernier's award winning film is that in addition to the film, there is Tavernier's feature length commentary track. Not only does Tavernier explain how he made the film, but also clears up some previous critical misunderstandings. Tavernier also gives credit to his collaborators, especially former wife and co-writer Colo Tavernier, cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer and source author Pierre Bost.

The film covers one Sunday from morning to evening at the country home of aging artist identified only formally as Monsieur Ladmiral. Taking place in 1912, the home is far enough away from Paris that the visit by Ladmiral's son and family are a special occasion. Disrupting the events is the unexpected visit by Ladmiral's daughter, as free spirited as her brother is formal. The daughter, Irene, appears as a manic force of nature privately masking a more melancholy existence. There is no high drama, but a series of small incidences, of a family that is more often than not disconnected from each other even when sharing the same space.

Taking place shortly before World War I, the story is indirectly about the end of an era. As an artist, Ladmiral has achieved a certain amount of commercial success with his still life paintings. He is also aware that his work will never be as creative or as significant as that of Cezanne or Van Gogh. It is also a matter of time before photography makes his work virtually irrelevant.

Tavernier discusses how the color scheme of the film was influenced by the photography of Louis Lumiere's autochrome process which was introduced in 1907. Amazingly, this was Bruno de Keyzer's first work as cinematographer on a feature film following two shorts. In addition to the continual use of depth-of-field, most of the shots are extended takes with the camera almost constantly in motion, sometimes in a complicated dance with the actors. There are times where in viewing the film one takes notice of small actions in the background in addition to what is seen in the foreground. The camera darts around, presenting a sense of space that is both unified by the lack of cutting, yet also selective in what is seen within the shot at any moment. Also adding to the sense of period is the use of music by Gabriel Faure, some of which was played during the course of the production to allow the camera to move to the rhythm of the music.

Ladmiral is portrayed by the then 73 year old Louis Ducreux, primarily known for his theater work. As Irene, Sabine Azema won several awards. Thirty-five years later, Tavernier's film is virtually the antithesis of much of contemporary cinema with its subtlety and deliberate ellipsis. And hopefully, Kino might be able to bring a blu-ray version of my own favorite of Tavernier's film, the medieval set Beatrice.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:39 AM

December 10, 2019

Long Day's Journey into Night


Diqiu zuihou de yewan
Bi Gan - 2018
Kino Lorber BD Region A two-disc set

I might have more questions than answers on this film. Like the title, taken from the play by Eugene O'Neill
but having nothing to do with that work. Bi's film could well have been titled Journey to the End of the Night or In Search of Lost Time, not relating directly to the literary sources, but titles that would have worked just as well.

More problematic is the now legendary second half of the film which was made to be seen in 3D. If the viewer is unable to see Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan's film as he intended, is that still a valid viewing experience? And is it the responsibility of the distributor to have the film screened in 3D unless there is no other available option? I skipped seeing Journey theatrically in Denver because the theatrical run was in 2D, and in a theater that is uncomfortable in its seating. I was a bit baffled as the Godard film, Goodbye to Language was shown at a Denver area art and indie theater equipped for 3D. I can only take the word of one critic who stated that even in 2D, seeing Journey theatrically was "immersive". The blu-ray release has both a 2D version and a 3D version, although the 3D version requires a 3D capable blu-ray player. I tried to rent such a player only to come to a dead end. Further making things a little less clear is learning that the 3D sequence was filmed in 2D. The only way Bi was able to make the film he visualized was in post-production. I may be pedantic here, but the effect is somewhat analogous to being expected to accept watching a widescreen movie in the pan-and-scan version.

The story, as such, is about Luo returning home to Kaili, following the death of his father. Inheriting an old van, Luo goes on a road trip, an attempt to piece together various memories from the past. The first seventy minutes are in fractured chronological order, darting between past and present. Luo is an unreliable narrator, so what is seen may be as much of a dream as the the dream sequence. There are several shots through dirty or broken windows, space obscured by plastic sheets, people divided by various partitions. One shot is of the back window of of a car going through a car wash. One can discern some kind of movement within the back seat, but not clearly enough to say what is going on with the briefly seen arms in motion - is it a couple making love, or a murder in progress? There is an emphasis on dark passageways and blocked and confined spaces.

As for the last hour, even in 2D, it is spectacular to think that this was actually filmed in real time with no breaks, no editing tricks. The camera follows Luo traveling down on a gondola to a hidden room, out again, wandering into the wreck of a neighborhood where local performers are singing for promised prizes, into and out of a makeshift pool hall and dressing room. The camera moves in close for an intimate view and later flies above the stage and the audience. The only thing random in the take that was chosen was a horse that was temporarily out of control. The blu-ray comes with both written interviews with Bi Gan and a video interview, plus a "Making of" short that is really a two minute montage, none of which completely explains how the sequence was done.

The best reason to have the blu-ray may be that the narrative makes more sense with multiple viewings. Bi's debut feature, Kaili Blues, about a visitor who seems to be wandering around town, in pursuit and in hiding, could be seen in retrospect as a warm-up for his second film. Lines that might seem simply conversational forecast connections to scenes that appear later. While the references to several Asian celebrities may be obscure for some, there is one moment that is clearly Bi's nod at A Clockwork Orange. Bi Gan is hardly the first to observe the idea of movies as dreams, and early on, Luo makes a comparison between films and memories. Broken clocks make appearances. For Bi, time never really stops, but can be malleable.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 09:42 AM