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February 25, 2020



Henri-Georges Clouzot - 1949
Arrow Academy BD Region A

Like the characters in his films, as well as in the life of Henri-Georges Clouzot, it would seem impossible not to make a deal with a devil. Working as a script writer in Germany in the 1930s, Clouzot was fired for being friendly with a couple of Jewish producers. He had seen enough in Germany to be concerned about Hitler and the institutionalized anti-Semitism taking place. Finally making his directorial debut in France during World War II, his first two films were produced by a German company. Even though the films were not propaganda, it was enough to mark Clouzot as a Nazi collaborator. I do not think that Manon can be entirely understood or appreciated without knowledge of Clouzot's own history.

The story is loosely adapted from the 18th Century novel by Prevost. The bulk of the narrative takes place during the final months of World War II through the first year or so after the liberation of Paris. Robert is a resistance fighter in a provincial French village charged with holding Manon prisoner. Manon is accused of being a collaborator due to her working in her mother's bar that had been popular with German soldiers. Manon convinces Robert of her innocence, and the two run off in the confusion of an air raid. Making their way to a now free Paris, their idealized love is challenged by Manon's desire for material comfort, Robert's disinheritance, and a volatile relationship best described as l'amour fou. The pair attempt to escape Paris by stowing away on a boat carrying Jewish refugees to Palestine. As might be expected from a film by Clouzot, nothing ends well.

While Clouzot has put something of himself in the predicament of Manon, someone who may have unfairly been tagged a guilty by association, there seems to be little critical analysis regarding the Clouzot's choice of having Manon and Robert specifically make their escape on a freighter with stateless Jews. While not clearly stated, the scenes on the ship taking place in Marseilles and the Palestinian coast indicated this is a human smuggling operation. The ship's captain is sympathetic stating that the refugees are not to blame for their situation. It is also worth pointing out that composer Paul Misraki incorporates the song "Hatikvah" (The Hope) into his score, the song that became the Israeli national anthem. Also noteworthy is that Clouzot cast the refugees with a Yiddish theater group who primarily speak Yiddish throughout the film. The final sequence with Robert and Manon with the refugees in Palestine is in need of deeper exploration both regarding Clouzot's life, as well as its political context, past and present.

There are several good visual moments. A brief montage of three statues of saints in a bomb out church bear witness to Manon and Robert's declaration of love. Manon regards her reflection in a small pool of water. There are overhead traveling shots following Manon in the overcrowded train going to Marseilles, Manon facing the camera as she pushes her way forward. In one train car she is briefly shoved against a large man who complains that she is taking up too much room. There's also something to be said about the audacity with which Clouzot has his Robert (Michel Auclair) drag Manon (Cecile Aubry) through the desert like an oversized sack of potatoes.

The blu-ray comes with two supplements. A 1970 documentary, "Bibliotheque de poche: H. G. Clouzot" is primarily about Clouzot and literature. There is also an overview on the making of Manon by British film critic Geoff Andrews. While Andrews' discussion is primarily about Clouzot's early films as a director, he stresses the point that Clouzot has been somewhat inaccurately described by some as genre filmmaker, primarily based on his two international and critical successes, The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:08 AM

February 11, 2020

The Trouble with You

trouble with you.jpg

En Liberte
Pierre Salvadori - 2018
Kino Lorber R1 DVD

The trouble with The Trouble with You is that it tries too hard to be funny. The film begins with a police bust. The apartment door bursts open with a big explosion, and the lead cop finds a few seconds between shooting the felons to take a selfie with his phone. Beaten, bruised and knifed, this unstoppable cop is able to leap from the window of the tall apartment building straight into a convertible directly below him. It's then revealed that what we've seen is a version of the cop's adventures as told by his wife to their wide-eyed young son.

The cop, Santi, has been dead for two years, and his wife Yvonne, a police lieutenant, discovers by chance that the man whom everyone thinks of as heroic has actually been on the take. A jewelry store hold-up from 2009 was not only an inside job, but the person convicted was an innocent employee, Antoine. Yvonne decides to make it her mission to rehabilitate Antoine who has just been released from prison. The problem is that Antoine has decided to embark on a life of petty crimes and anti-social behavior.

Filmed around Marseilles, the story takes place in provincial town that's quirky enough to include a well-furnished S & M brothel, and a mild-mannered murderer who totes around the remains of his mother. Santi's police force partner, Louis, is so infatuated with Yvonne that he's oblivious in the presence of the felon he's suppose to be hunting. There are several moments of violence that are brutal enough to undercut writer-director Salvadori's overall comic tone.

Best known as the muse in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Adele Haenel starred in this earlier film. While mostly known for dramatic roles, Haenel previously showed off her comic chops in Love at First Fight as a young woman showing off her survivalists skills against a would-be boyfriend. Haenel is especially sweet in the scenes with her onscreen son, as well as expressing her dismay at discovering the truth about her husband. Audrey Tautou, a previous collaborator with Salvadori, appears in a supporting role as Antoine's very patient girl friend.

Much like the those moments of tonally ill-fitting violence, The Trouble with You is a bit heavy-handed with some of the gags when whether in scenes of action or comedy a lighter touch would do.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:42 AM

February 07, 2020

The Lodge

the lodge.jpg

Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala - 2020

Five years after their feature debut, Goodnight Mommy, the Austrian team of Franz and Fiala have made returned with an English language film. The Lodge has been described as slow burn, but slow freeze might be more accurate. The most basic of elements are shared in both films - two siblings, a female adult, an isolated house.

Teenage Aiden and his pre-teen sister Mia are both still in mourning for the death of their mother, who committed suicide. Their father has long planned to marry Grace, the daughter of a man who lead a religious cult. The small cult became notorious for the death of all the members except for Grace. Aiden and Mia are uncomfortable with the idea of Grace becoming their step-mother having read about her in an internet search. Their father, who has no qualms about Grace's past, leaves the three together in a remote house during Christmas vacation, where they are promptly snowed in.

One of the things I like about the two films by Franz and Fiala is that they show and understand how siblings interact and support each other independently of their parents. Mia is almost always seen with a doll, the kind that looks like a miniature adult such as "Barbie". Aiden pulls out the arm of a doll Mia is holding, which Mia reattaches. It's the kind of action that if done by someone else might be malicious, but is intuitively understood as part of the playfulness and private humor between siblings. That the loss of the mother has still not been fully processed is indicated in the scene of the Thanksgiving dinner where the father and two children are sitting at a table with a setting for four.

There is also the visual repetition of people barely seen through frosted windows, or as reflections on glass or mirrors. As in Goodnight Mommy, nothing is necessarily as it appears to be. Where The Lodge perhaps requires a more subjective understanding is with its religious themes of guilt, sin and redemption. What does work is the general atmosphere of creepiness, the sense of loss of control.

Adding to the sense of unease is the atonal string score by composing team of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. As Grace, Riley Keough continues to impress taking a role that may not be entirely sympathetic, and hey, Alicia Silverstone, nice to see you again, if briefly. Lia McHugh as Mia gives the older actresses competition with the most emotionally visceral performance.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:09 AM