Grr. I sprained my ankle on Saturday night, which effectively ended my plans for Sunday’s screening of Ma Mere at BAM (it is on my Netflix Queue now), but before I ruined my recent running program (I was up to 3.5 miles which, starting cold after months of inactivity, was a nice start), I was able to take in a few films this weekend. I started off on Thursday night with a screening of Philippe Garrel’s Le Lit de la Vierge (The Bed Of The Virgin), which was shown in an absolutely gorgeous black and white cinemascope 35mm print. The film, essentially an undercooked tone poem on the life of Jesus performed by beautiful, young people at the high of the sexual revolution, didn’t do much for me as a cohesive work of art. Yes, there were several visually stunning sequences, but they were almost always undermined by half-baked narrative ideas; Mary Magdalene having sex with men who pay her in rocks is not a great idea, but having her say “Did you bring me rocks?” every time she is on screen amounts to narrative suicide. Imagine the incoming freshman class at an upper-class Parisian art school with no history department being forced at gunpoint to improvise a play about the life of Jesus, and you probably get this movie. I ran into a friend at the screening, and he really loved it. The images were beautiful, but what can I say? Hippies who imagine themselves as saviors are not my cup of tea.
The next night, it was back to BAM and Generation Garrel for the one-off showing of Christophe Honoré’s Dans Paris, which is a movie I loved to death. The story of two brothers and the impact of a sibling’s suicide on their own personal relationships, Honoré’s film was funny, moving, stylish and full of life. Romain Duris plays Paul, the older brother whose break-up with his lover has left him so devastated that he moves back home to Paris to live with his divorced father and Jonathan (Louis Garrel,. in his best performance yet), his Antoine Doinel-ish lothario of a younger brother. The things that Honoré gets right are too numerous to mention, but by example, a stand-out sequence; Watching Paul’s relationship dissolve in non-sequential, non-linear moments was a deeply moving portrayal of the thought process that marks end of a relationship. That is to say, what Honoré does in this sequence is give the impression of memory, of remembering the details of a break-up. Little moments that rhyme with one another, that compile, that remind Paul of other antithetical moments; Things that are lovely, things that are cruel. This sequence was almost like a separate film within Dans Paris and gives the movie an almost novelistic feeling, where tone and point of view and style are allowed to shift to perfectly articulate the depth of experience of Paul’s loss.
Wave Goodbye: Romain Duris and Joanna Preiss in Christopher Honoré’s Dans Paris
And depth is necessary, because once Paul lands back in his father’s house, the charming and comic Jonathan steals the show. Jonathan is the perfect vehicle for Honoré to pay homage to the Nouvelle Vague; young, stylish, without a care in the world, he spends his days seducing beautiful women with an ease and fluidity that almost masks the hurt at the center of all of his conquest. It is only in contrast to Paul’s deep suffering that Jonathan’s role as bonne vivant can be seen as the opposite side of the same coin; His refusal to forge anything meaningful and lasting in his relationships with women leaves scars of its own (personified in a lovely performance by Alice Butaud as Alice, Jonathan’s ex-lover). Honoré is not afraid to throw every device in the book at us (high speed montage, a musical sequence!) or to steal (and thereby rhyme) shot after shot in order to bring memory and depth to the forefront of our experience in watching the film. Add in an amazing and timeless jazz score by Alex Beaupain, and Dans Paris stands as one of my favorite films of the year so far. IFC First Take has the movie, so catch it at the IFC Center when it arrives in the theater later this year.
Bed and Bored: Alice Butaud and Louis Garrel in Dans Paris
Saturday, I met up with another friend at the Quad to check out a double feature at the David Bowie curated High Line Festival. A quick note on this festival; Great that they are doing a festival across several media, and a nice idea to have a “Spanish Film Series” as a part of the festival (it has since been updated to “Latin and Spanish Film Series” which is closer to the reality of the program), but if you’re going to have these screenings at The Quad at a cost 20% more than a normal film admission, there needs to be someone on hand to contextualize the experience as somehow part of the overall festival. It is interesting, I’ve heard the same thing from people who attended the music portion as well; No mention of High Line and no one to introduce things in the context of the festival. It seems like a series of disparate events that were organized around the principle that if you put up a head shot of David Bowie and use the word ‘curated’, somehow it all makes sense. It doesn’t.
That said, my “festival” expectations dashed, the lights went down at 5:00 pm without a trailer or word of introduction, and up on the screen popped the Main Menu for the DVD of Luis Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe*. I had never seen this English-language re-telling of the classic novel, but I really enjoyed it despite some very dark digital projection (which is a huge shame because you can tell that on 35 mm or with proper digital projection, this colorful movie would have been gorgeous). The film, which read to me as a particularly Buñuelian take on the idea of living outside the moral context of the ‘civilized’ (re: Christian) world, had the robust feeling of the adventure films of the period (think of a Steve Reeves film with much better line readings); Robinson Crusoe is a celebration of manly survival with the novel’s colonialist mindset (and inherent racism– “You Friday, me Master!”) accurately preserved. An odd choice for a “Spanish and Latin Film Series” as it is in English (although produced in Mexico), but fun to catch up with this minor piece by Buñuel.
A quick break, and back into the theater to catch Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s brilliant film from 1968, Memorias del subdesarrollo (which was given the strange English title Inconsolable Memories instead of the literal and far more accurate Memories Of The Underdevelopment). The film is a wondrous piece of existential isolation in early 1960’s Cuba (essentially taking place between The Bay Of Pigs invasion and The Cuban Missile crisis), and while by no means against the principles of the revolution (‘counter-revolutionary’ characters, most of whom flee to Miami, are shown as self-absorbed fools), the movie is certainly critical of Cubanissmo, or rather, Cuba’s self-delusions. The story follows Sergio (Sergio Corrieri, looking like the love child of Javier Bardem and John Malkovich), a once-wealthy landlord whose private holdings are slowly being ‘liberated and nationalized’, without much concern from Sergio himself; He has bigger fish to fry in the form of the newly-liberated Cuban woman. Sergio’s wife has left him for the promise of life in America, leaving him adrift in post-revolution Havana, a city he both needs and loathes, fantasizing about the sexual conquest of his cleaning woman and a young girl he meets on the street named Elena (Daisy Granados). After finally seducing Elena (and picking up a copy of Nabokov’s Lolita in a local used book shop), Sergio is brought to trial for manipulating and seducing a virgin. And so, while Cuba takes its liberation seriously, it obviously doesn’t take it that seriously at all.
Deflowered: Sergio Corrieri in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memorias del subdesarrollo
Alea does a fabulous job of bringing the real world of Cold War politics crashing in around the seductive agenda of Sergio, pulling his sexual adventures into context with a great documentary sequence that uses a critique of Bay Of Pigs insurgency to very stealthily call Castro’s own revolution into question (you can see how literal minded censors would have missed this). The film ends with a final juxtaposition; A recently acquitted Sergio returns home to find that the entire nation is preparing for World War III and, while he has been wrapped up in saving his own hide from the insanity of the People’s revolutionary justice system, the world around him has gone equally mad. The final shot of the film suggests that the end is nigh, both for the world and for Sergio’s own vision of a cosmopolitan liberation, of a developed and mature society in full flower.
*A note to all theaters; If you’re going to show DVD, make sure you cue the film so no one has to see the title menus and also, a high quality digital projector makes all the difference. C’mon now.