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Tag: French

Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman – 1956)

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Initials BB (aka Being Boring)

A parasitic form of life, women love nothing more than being slapped in the face. That’s the idea behind Roger Vadim’s first movie, which alternative title could be St Tropez… In the Beginning, a quainter than quaint piece, dated before being contemporary. It nevertheless drew massive crowds, and placed Brigitte Bardot’s on orbit as THE French sex Goddess. To each his own.

Arguing that Vadim was more interested in playing God with women than in cinema undoubtedly has a point. His track record in womanizing is impressive. His writing and directing are far less stellar though, a curious case of zeitgeist marginally interfering with melodrama, present movie being the prefect case study.

The mother of Tropezian Tart, Juliette (BB) is a despicable tease and a sloth. She wants to be happy and makes everyone miserable in the process; she is a black hole of selfishness and stupidity. Far above her head when it comes to even wake up, she sow frustration and destruction wherever she goes, barefoot, under St Tropez’s stupid, selfish sun. She’s in love, but not quite, with one guy whose brother Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant, handsome in his prime) she will marry, precipitating a not very interesting chain of events including guns, a juke box, a torrid mambo scene and Curt Jurgens as the cosmopolitan vile seducer without whom the whole piece would play out like Marcel Pagnol.

Bardot is a complete cipher, reluctant to act as to be filmed. She either pouts in rebellion or pouts in lascivious oblivion of said rebellion. She’s the French Megan Fox, at an antiquated time when a novelty actress career could last for more than three movies. Jurgens is straight out of an Eddie Constantine movie and Trintignant, still inexperienced, is by far the best of the lot.

Scenes abruptly fade to black after half hearted one-liners, leading to nothing but the oh-so-slow build-up of a presumably dramatic end but fear not, if you have the leisure of feeling involved between two yawns, nothing bad will happen and the status quo will prevail. “I would like to think of nothing”, says Bardot, meaning nothing, then she dances in front of a mirror since she only likes herself and not even that much. A couple of slaps later she’s back in the marital bed; a sex Goddess indeed.

Vadim and Bardot kinda invented reality TV, And God Created Woman a precursor of Temptation in the Kardashian Island. Is that worth of your time 60 years later? Definitely not, according to Vadim, whose last movie was a remake of the same, featuring Rebecca de Mornay, the American Brigitte Bardot. Sigh.

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A l’intérieur (Inside – 2007)

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The Boy is Mine

Biblically simple, Inside has only five short expository scenes before The Woman is unleashed to attack The Mother, in a way Jean Eustache had never dreamed of – or have nightmares about when writing La Maman et la Putain. The Mother had a car accident in which she loses her husband, but the baby she’s pregnant with is fine, confirms her obstetrician; she meets an ominous nurse, then her estranged mother on the hospital parking lot. Her boss confirms she’s a a great photographer. Fast forward to almost delivery time, in a suburban home incongruously bearing a 666 address – no French house has such a number, but it displays some ambition from the film makers to transcend their national market. And so they do, in the best French horror movie of its decade.

These initial scenes establish that Alysson Paradis (Vanessa’s younger sister) is unable to act; fortunately what will be required of her in the rest of the movie is to scream, to crawl and be terrorised by The Woman, quite splendidly played by Beatrice Dalle, tapping deep into her inner witch. The Woman wants The Mother’s baby, see, and nothing will stop her to rip it off her womb. There goes a tightly paced, gory thriller not quite any other.

Inside, as its title indicates, is claustrophobic to the point of slapstick. The Mother hardly leaves the bathroom she has found refuge in, mostly being successful in keeping the Woman, well, outside. Various intruders unwillingly come to her rescue – her boss, her mother, a police team featuring a petty thief they have previously arrested – that The Woman dispatches by way of a firearm, a knife, a knitting needle or her weapon of choice, scissors. Big ones. Not that she doesn’t go through hell herself in the process.

The Mother is a survivor because she carries life; The Woman has nothing to lose she hadn’t already. Both will inflict pain on the other, until the brilliant – and utterly logic, for once – finale, playing like an atrocious fairy tale. Inside is “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, to quote Mary Shelley about Lord Byron. It’s definitely no date movie, or if it is, one of you puppies is definitely sick. Highly recommended.

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Mortelle Randonnée (Deadly Circuit – 1983)

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Capital in Czechoslovakia, four letters.

The closest you can get to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in French is by watching Mortelle Randonnée. It’s a haunted classic a stellar noir and a fatherhood fable rolled into one. You thought you got that one right, Hollywood? Let’s take a trip down memory lane, thirty three years ago.

The movie is Shakespearian but mundane. It includes the best giallo murder not filmed by Argento. It does not end well. It is devastating, devastatingly so.

The original material is a pulp novel by Marc Boehm, titled The Ice Maiden. Hollywood remade it with Ashley Judd and Ewan McGregor as The Eye of the Beholder (1999, obviously losing the paternal dimension. The movie is about what you see and what to refuse to see; what you chose to see instead. Scopophilia and fantasy, spectacle and dream.

Main character The Eye (Michel Serrault, formidable), is tasked by his bitchy boss, the fantastically named Mme Schmidt-Boulanger (Genevieve Page, a monument to French diction) to follow and report on the heir of a Belgian shoe-making dynasty. He soon discovers said heir has been victim of a praying mantis (Isabelle Adjani), whose neuroses reflect his: she’s lost her father and him his daughter. Only at the end of the movie those two will come across and both will die, one symbolically. A feel-good movie it is not, even though it ends on a soothing note.

The Eye is jaded by a job too easy for his capacities. One look, just one look, case closed. But the Ice Maiden proves to be a tough nut to crack, leading him off track, across Europe and within himself. His opening monologue is anything but a conventional voice-over. It deceptively sets The Eye as a man in need. He’s not. It’s all crosswords for him, enigmas piled on riddles. He’s looking for meaning. He won’t find any, or only of the darkest kind. A quantum of solace, too.

It starts in Paris by a carousel and drifts from there, under the pretense of PI work. If you speak French, the movie is delectable from start to finish : it was the last one to benefit from the work of dialog-writer Michel Audiard, father of director Jacques Audiard and author of some of the most cultish sentences in French cinema. It’s the French version of screwball comedy, both elegantly written and playfully delivered. Actors here do not miss a syllable or a comma for effect. It’s clockwork, respectfully served by director Claude Miller.

The Virgo, symbol of the sweetness of things is revealed as a Capricorn, symbol of winter. In the novel horoscopes played an important role and so do they in the movie. Lucie (the light), as she is first introduced, bumping on The Eye by a carrousel, has no plan. She is adrift, as he is. The eye has to travel, so he will follow her, fuming but enthralled.

She fucks men and kill them singing La Paloma (the dove), another virginal deceit from a witch. There is a lot of blood on the first murder scene. The Eye decides to let it slide and they embark on a not-so-merry-go-round. She’s now Eve, another maiden. She reaches the peak of her trade: “A mink! Emeralds! What a nice companion you are!” she enthused before killing a second guy she was engaged under a third name. She’s a child, she has no ethics or guilt. She’s a go-getter, whatever it takes.

Guilt is on The Eye’s side after he kills a blind man (ha!), the Ice Maiden’s true love (Sami Frey, dashing). It’s a sacrifice he will regret to exert and try to cope with, to no avail. It’s a zero sum game, a lost-lost. But still they go, relentlessly, from a daylight version of Malcom McLaren’s Madam Butterfly video set in Baden Baden to Rome, where the sacrifice takes place.

The way it spirals downward from there is too painful to tell. A very dark comedy, Mortelle Randonnée is as venomously funny as it is tragic. It leaves a strong, bitter after-taste. One has watched this movie repeatedly and can’t get tired of it. It’s a tantalising object, much too dark to be watched but through the looking glass, and it’s impossible to forget. Impossible to un-see.

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