La Verité (1960)

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Watched this one a little while back. First time with Henri-Georges Clouzot I believe. Got a bit of Roeg’s Bad Timing about it, especially with the sense that its a culture or a social bracket on trial here rather than an individual. HGC is super even-handed, though: the absolute highlight for me was Gilbert’s first, ecstatic go conducting the orchestra, feeding off Dominique’s unseen presence. Watching the bank of fiddles cut up and down in unison as the horns blare is unapologetically thrilling and a great way to divide our sympathies midway through. Bardot is pretty amazing in the smooth way she goes from defensively withholding emotion to screaming it out and back (she herself attempted suicide by the same method as her character in the year of LV‘s release). Despite a regenerative freshness attained by varying the length of the flashback cuts – inviting us to scrutinise the courtroom presentation of the past despite its apparently faithful presentation – the film tends to lose its flavour through over two-hours of often-unfortunate self-similarity, which itself can dampen each of the vignettes. Ending therefore came as a real shock: devastating last words and a seriously cruel coda with the advocates so apathetic after such impassioned performances.

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Alphaville (1965)

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The opening sequences are excellent; thinking forward to Bladerunner with the noir pastiches, then the tracking shots of sullen Caution in the hotel (terminuses, outposts, a little of Ashes and Diamonds). Then the bedroom scene is absolute gold: brash, wild, hilarious, perfect introduction to the way LC punctures this world of perverted efficiency with his ruthless, provincial, illogical violence. Some incredible camerawork here out, too, particularly in externally tracking a glass lift down a floor.

The grimness and the systemic absurdity put this in a Russian mode for me; maybe Zamyatin or Roadside Picnic. The world is, at times, as intensely refractive as Cléo de 5 a 7‘s Paris; loved watching LC track his own plot through the lobbies and dimly lit streets. At the same time, the whirring and spinning technology on show here is fascinating, humanised in its visual mechanics unlike today’s abstracted and occluded digital computing.

Then the script really bulks up, and A begins to drag its heels. There are interminable hotel scenes where the dynamics of the political setup are simplified (after some opaque narration by the central tracheotomic HAL character Alpha 60) into generic binaries of technology/humanity, rationality/sensation, trans/humanism. Begins to lose its flavour in spite of frenetic accelerations and a pulpy, destructive climax. By the time the inevitable disruptive editing effects kick in they feel like excessive seasoning.

Perhaps because I connect it most closely, as a holistic piece, to Marker’s superior La Jetée, which seems wordless in spite of its narration. Would seriously consider watching again with no sound (despite an excellently menacing score) or at least no subs.

100th note.

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Amour (2012)

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Second time with Michael Haneke after The White Ribbon. Would compare the patience, the sombreness, the philosophical inquiry, the manipulation of shock like ringing glass.

The first sign of deterioration is pretty unforgettable: a profound blankness descending on Anne as she sits with Georges at breakfast. It’s an absence, a disconnection, but it feels almost like a message or a revelation. It encapsulates the future; G’s response is as desperate as he will be until the end.

I thought consistently of The Salesman because of the undermining and disquieting of domestic space. Haneke’s camera is coldly stable, but the hallways and living spaces seem to expand and contract depending on the quality of life and liveliness inside them. A reclining on the couch, both reading, reminded me of the contented flashbacks in A Single Man. Later, alone, G staggers around like a disoriented Miss Havisham, the austere perpendicularity of his house like a sepulchre. Most obvious here is the terrifying dream sequence which strikes at the couple’s deepest fear (note again that he is alone here, A’s voice muffled through the wall as he pads round forbidding corners). The standing water is a shiver-inducing image, perhaps connecting to his rendition of the Bach piece which soundtracked T’s Solaris. Both solitude and mental incapacitation are like rising damp, destabilising the architecture of a life while threatening to suffocate it, as if they were an unseen hand.

Intimacy of weakness: G and A are only physically immediate when he is lifting her. At these moments A is suspended and therefore most fragile. This image most obviously metonymises the later relationship: A is completely dependent upon G, even if she retains directive agency. The film stages their attempts to negotiate this relationship; in A’s case to assert autonomy, in G’s to take the extra weight.

MH particularly observant on dignity and the way it is conceived by onlookers. The most awkwardly timed comments from friends and well-wishers are misconstructions: “hats off to you,” says a neighbour to G; G’s pupil attempts to romanticise a visit as a moment of sadness and purity. The reality is too close to the image from a particularly striking dialogue: G narrates a funeral, with ill-judged gestures from mourners and the comic spectacle of a small urn in place of a coffin, wheeled through the grounds. A immediately responds with her first request for death. She fears becoming that undignified, misplaced memorial to be wheeled around for the attention of others.

A’s struggle to speak, like Florentina Hubaldo. Scenes like this we almost feel intrusive – “none of this deserves to be seen” says G, to his daughter, of the daily routine. Also Emmanuele Riva’s performance is incredible; kind of fearless, shocking.

This doesn’t have any of the slightly removed, costumey feel of TWR. Read that MH is writing from his own experiences (particularly of an aunt who desired euthanasia) and A feels like a personal film. It’s a level exploration of a situation which is extreme but also disquietingly common and emblematic of fundamental concerns about human relationships.

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Immoral Tales (1973)

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Second time with Walerian Borowcyzk. Watched this after Goto, Island of Love as a Mubi double bill with M (her suggestion!).

Shares, with GIoL, a predilection for glimpsed detail, a fascination with facial closeups and human physicality (here again awkwardness but also pure beauty), a minds-eye for the surreal. Tentative connections with Bataille (initiations, eyes, lack of clear connectivity in the anthology structure) and a general Picnic at Hanging Rock vibe throughout, especially in the historical pieces (of which 2 and perhaps ‘5’ also evoke Valerie And Her Week of Wonders and The Duke of Burgundy, while 3 suggests a wacked-out Cries and Whispers).

1 has a stroppily authoritative young man attempt to teach his submissive cousin “the mystery of the tides”. There’s a textural and rhythmic beauty which is more focused than that of GIoL but still distinctively WB’s in its deceptive surreality; liked the bizarrely striking shots from the oncoming waves towards the couple onshore. Also earlier the feeling of estival germination, bikes on the road the boy weaving a predatory path behind the singing girl.  There was a disappointingly unrealised hint later that she was about to pick up a pebble and bash the guy’s brains in, but we’re spoilt for violence later on anyway.

2 contracts the expansive abandon of 1 into a post-gothic (M Lewis especially) sketch of puritanical suppression: a hyperimaginative girl is locked away by her mother superior but finds stimulation in a handbook of erotic tales. The petulant authority of the boy has vanished; here 2’s girl is suffocated by maternal authority, fantasising about christological male benefactors like the stern faces in a political portrait in her room. 2 has an intoxicating, Bressonian tactility: the girl feels her way through the room’s objects, engaging with the world primarily through this intimate but childlike sense. That dreamy Valerian (geddit) atmosphere pairs some gorgeous colours (bronze hair, oak, clerical shawls in red white and gold) with WB’s eye for movement and composed framing. Feels celebratory; there’s a shot of the girl escaping through a meadow that distinctively echoes one of a man escaping the town in GIoL, silent through binoculars (here she doesn’t make it).

3 tells the story of Countess Bathory, progressing from a comically bumpkin-ridden and cabbage-strewn Hungary countryside to a sinister palace of pleasures. There’s again something about authority in the peasant’s blinded eyes drinking in the marauding countess on horseback, the invocations of Jesus at an altar, the master/servant relationship, the surprising reassertion of masculine police rule after the debauched and dire project of the Countess. A whirling climax with atonal clattering in the score whisks away the fixated scenes of the sacrificial girls showering, glimpsed by the assistant in a mirror as if too intoxicating to be viewed directly; these led to a few direct shots suddenly intercut with a familiar eyes-closeup of the Countess – she has conceded to vampiric temptation. Perhaps a warning about the psychological unbalancing that results from the immurement inflicted in 2 (and on CB in real life as a form of execution, I believe).

There’s a uneasy realisation in the pastoral, innocent early sections of 3 that much of the female nudity has been of rather young women (the girl in 1 is explicitly 16, for example, while 2’s is treated like a schoolgirl, and no-one is too young for scrutiny, at least, in 3). 4 takes a reflexive turn by incorporating this into a quite bitter and surprisingly subtle critique of the catholic church. The ostensive focus is Lucrezia Borgia, whose incestuous indulgences backstage after mass are intercut with the soapbox ravings of a dissenting priest elsewhere. She is troubled by the presence of a bust of her mother, hailed as a paragon of beauty by her male relatives; she bristles when they adorn the statue with her lavish hats and call it queen. Her warped ascent to maturity is therefore figured as an attempt to emulate or supplant her maternal idol, leading into depictions of the Church’s fixation with youthful succession through obedient censer-carrying altar-boys and the inquisitive gaze of a newborn child at its christening. The dissenter side-plot plays out with his predictably linear condemnation; I think we’re therefore encouraged to be troubled by his words, and therefore also by the moral corruption onscreen.

Does test the distinction between erotic and pornographic at points – especially the interpolated middle section, ‘5’: this apparently intended for inclusion in IT, with one other lost segment, to make six parts; was instead adapted into La Bête (1975) but for some reason mubi’s screening left the short version in here between 2 and 3. Initially it segues nicely from 2, adapting that meadow-retreat shot into a discovery of immorality (rather than a graduation from it). But the rest of it is completely ridiculous, awkwardly attempting to combine passionate subsumption into nature (the snail on the shoe, the ribboned clothes in the pond and on branches) with a surrender to fantastical bestial pleasure, here in the form of a rampant half-bear-half-boar-thing. It thereby ditches the appealing Weirian/Stricklandian fairytale atmosphere for b-movie (even Chuck Tingle – seriously) titillation (cf. also the attractively ominous harpsichord motif which is run into the ground through untreated repetition). A complete batshit distraction for the rest of the film – 4 is much more successful as a superficially climactic closer with a troubling but understatedly moralistic takeaway.

Had to watch WALL●E after this to clean out my brains.

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Goto, Island of Love (1969)

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First time with Walerian Borowczyk. Nice Klimtian Polish poster.

Looks very artificial: frequent use of stages as a set, performance (musicians, capital punishment, horse lessons). There are some flashes of colour that interrupt the greyscale consistency – imaginative glimpses of a world beyond Goto, the tinpot island dictatorship? (“We may not have light or air,” says the King, “but we have security.”) Also obviously allusive: Hitchcock in the tragedy, the shapes; Buster Keaton in the physical comedy and the square mise-en-scène (silent film is a touchstone more generally); also thought of Stalker‘s opening in the square shots, the austerity, the cart transport, Eadweard Muybridge’s animal studies with the frequent anatomically blank images of horses, dogs, flies.

But if it looks artificial it has a ring of truth. It’s an appealing story: somewhere between Kind Hearts and Coronets and A Brave New World. There’s an earthy and flat physicality to the characters (a bumbling energy – lots of people falling over) which made me think of Hard To Be A God and even Pictures Of The Old World, but the unburnished texture is presented through that cinematic lens and charged with a kind of wonky surrealism that gives it an Arthurian feel: the dialogue is amusingly bald and obtuse, attesting to the broader national stupidity and the pathetic irascibility of our doomed protagonist.

At its brightest it has the indie playfulness of Wes Anderson, but there’s a cracked horror behind the smile (there are two funeral scenes: the first is pretty horrifying and elemental, the second is a complete farce). Guards will nap in the street while their colleagues investigate the scene of a murder, or they will enforce orwellian regularity with total obedience. An unruly classroom is the seat of brainwashing, the incubation chamber for the narrative about the island having been frozen in time after a devastating earthquake in 1887 (HTBAG eh).

Buñuelian fun in a sad grey world poisoned by lust and ignorance, viewed through binoculars the wrong way around.

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A Man Escaped (1956)

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First time with Bresson.

From the first moments (post-credits) we are made to feel like conspirators – with all the exciting potency and uneasy sense of risk that entails. In the car the camera’s glance darts back and forth as if we are being trusted to give the signal (spare pairs of eyes will later become integral to Fontaine’s escape plan). After failure and a beating he plays dead, “…sure I was being watched”; no broken bones but “I can’t have been a pretty sight.” Throughout AME ines of sight, perspective and panoptic paranoia create a spatial field which RB distends through long takes into scenes of uncompromising tautness (unsurprisingly this two-dimensional principle is exactly how games like Splinter Cell work).

Little room for artifice; reminded of Beckett’s attempts to write without style. Light and shadow is peacefully uncomplicated, planar, like Dreyer stills. A guard drags his keys along iron bannisters to create broken tones, a musicality alien in the colourless prison. Winter Light, monastic focus and interiority.

Your man’s got a bit of Ian Curtis about him, but also the languid and intelligent grace of Edward Fox in The Day of The Jackal (as it exists in my memory).

The focus is intensely manual, material. Processes are given proper attention and become ritualistic, freighted with history like artisan handiwork. Repetition of close shots (lean from bed, keyhole circle) gives texture to the distension which creates an unsettling timelessness to the incarceration (there is only a threatened terminus – these abstractions play into the catholic subtext, works and salvation amid abstract waiting). The exposition is again conspiratorial but also mirrors the dry but allusive concision of the visuals – “that night I fell asleep less unhappy.”

Besides all that it’s a great true story (as declared), a Colditz feat deftly and patiently handled and infused with a spiritual urgency. Sweaty palms.

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The End Of Eddy (2017)

Édouard Louis’ autobiografictional phenomenon appears three years later in English translation by Michael Lucey.

The moulting of an old self. An attempt to constitute himself as an individual, as beautiful. First moments of real self-discovery on 16:

I’d pilfer some of my sister’s clothes and put them on and parade around … These performances, for which I was the only spectator, seemed to me the most beautiful I had ever seen. I found myself so beautiful that I could have cried tears of joy. My heart could have exploded it beat so fast.

E’s emancipation is definitely by his own bootstraps, which can pair uneasily with the determinism governing the people in his world. But critical self-awareness also emerges as one of the forces that contribute to the social aporias that hold reality in place (see note about mother’s “modes of discourse” below). TEoE ultimately feels soberingly diagnostic without being too directly prescriptive.  That diagnosis plays paradoxically with perspective, as E’s position is now an alienated one, yet he claims an unromantic lucidity from direct experience: the buildings of his Picardy neighbourhood

conjure up in the imagination the towns and working-class landscapes of the North with houses crowded up against each other, piled on top of each other (in the imagination of people who aren’t there, that is. People who do not live there. For workers from the North, for my father, my uncle, my aunt, for those people, they conjure up nothing in the imagination. They provoke a disgust at daily life, or, at best, gloomy indifference. (22)

(See also the interpolation of symbolically freighted working-class food into haute cuisine, 77) E is perceptive and deft when marshalling our sympathies, knowing when to emphasise the uniqueness of his deeply troubling experiences vs when to paint pictures many of us could recognise:

I wandered without seeming to wander, with a sure step, always pretending I had something specific to do, some place to go… (24)

This is a text about the complexities of involvement vs abstention, about “what the real meaning of complicity is, what the boundaries are that separate complicity from active participation, from innocence, from carelessness, from fear.” (26) The note here is on the recurring, magnetic presence of E’s school bullies; under the heat of their glare E’s emotions and reactions warp until they are at times so deceptive as to even resemble gratitude (we learn later that he “knew them really well,” better than almost anyone else, purely through these physical interactions [136]).

But the dynamics of complicity also govern the involvement of E’s people in their own lifestyles. Causality is indecipherable: “Bellegueule is a fag cause he gets beaten up (or the other way round, it didn’t matter)” (25); his mother would rationalise his father’s health issues “without realising that these problems were not the cause, but rather the result of my father’s punishing workday.” (27) People (always already) tired before work rather than after (52); a cousin attempts a crime to at least equal the jail sentence he knows is coming anyway. There is a sense throughout that writing has at least helped E (he has written himself out of his past), and that literary diagnosis will elucidate these dynamics for proper attention. But when E adopts a panoptic perspective the inevitability seems to rush up to us from below: his mother

didn’t understand that her trajectory, what she would call her mistakes, fitted in perfectly with a whole set of logical mechanisms that were practically laid down in advance and non-negotiable. (53)

The textual effect of these inconsistencies is often a kind of jarring affective disjunction, most commonly where the recorded past’s light entertainment scans as appalling tragedy; see the grisly, Joyce-Carol-Vincent story of an immured deceased man – “we told that story often, we thought it was funny.” (82) Sometimes its just the proximity of violence, as in the grandmother’s disquietingly extended metaphor of a rabid dog when sympathetically relating the story of her grandson Sylvain’s evasion of the police. (115-6)

E’s frustrated and abortive realisation of his own homosexuality is riddled with these disjunctions as he internalises the confusing compulsions of his surroundings as violently contradictory and self-destructive feelings. (these again mirror more popular forms of self-destruction, as in the youth alcoholism of 86; 128 has the striking image of E trapped between his own subconscious impulses and the external rhythms of industrial, masculine society: “sound of a hammer, then a heartbeat, sound of a hammer, then a heartbeat; the two together combine in an infernal symphony”) The sense of being always-already thwarted extends to his identification with female pop singers and tv personalities, as he is forcibly identified with a gay tv host by his caustically homophobic father (“once again, crying was not an option. I smiled and hurried to my room.” 97) The epicentre of these excruciating negotiations of identity is the chapter ‘The Shed’ (which begins the book second section), in which E’s first homosexual experience is a kind of sickeningly perverted emancipation, a pitch-dark cousin to Alma’s epiphanic beach story in Persona. It allows him to perceive the more radical futility that emulates the broader aporetic social determinism but which weighs on him centrally as a young gay man: “The crime was not having done something, it was being something.” (140) This sequence is the text’s Big Crunch, at which the pressure is maximum and from which E is propelled outwards (though still whirling chaotically) towards his eventual amputation from his home.

It is important to note that the chaos does not subside, because again E is forced to internalise this traumatic experience and fundamentally misinterpret it. He strains to attain the standards of heterosexual virility that are demanded of him; he can justify his flickering success as facilitated by the real underlying problem: “We are always playing roles and there is a certain truth to masks. The truth of my mask was this will to exist differently.” (149) The conscious, bootstrap agency that will eventually give him the centrifugal shove needed to escape his social orbit is here interpreted counterproductively and, again, self-destructively. That glimmering prospect of emancipatory self-love (Philautia) quoted at the top here temporarily becomes an obstructive impulse to self-correct, having internalised externally imposed standards:

I wanted to show the world, and myself, since I was watching everything I was doing and kept by far the closest eye on my own performance, … that I was attracted to women… (163)

But the individual focus of the book is retained and does become liberating. E cites Gide as an inspiration (for his inclusion of gay lives in a literary sphere that had not thitherto accepted them openly) but the titling of a late chapter (beginning “I had to get away” 175) as ‘Strait is the gate’ is transformative (strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life…)

What is most immediately eye-catching about the book is the use of register. The provincial, often acidic and guttural speech of the townsfolk (of the recalled past) is rendered in italics (though Lucey’s translation does seem to slightly muffle the effect). E said in PR that he “wanted to point out that these two languages are created in relation to each other by mutual exclusion,” and he achieves this disjunctive effect by weaving the prose together with a flow that accentuates the disparity:

She even said as much from time to time, Look, when your job is wiping old people’s arses, that’s the expression she’d use, I make my living wiping old people’s arses, old people with one foot in the grave (then the inevitable joke, always the same one, at this moment of the story All it would  take is a heatwave or a flue epidemic and I’d be out of a job), every evening up to her elbows in crap in order to earn enough to keep food in the refrigerator… (58)

There is a kind of infected frustration that E reveals to be in part produced, again, by internal confusion: “I came to understand that many different modes of discourse intersected in my mother and spoke through here…” (59) discourses with contradictory ideas and impulses about education, employment, family, pride, shame, poverty, culture. As far as his own voice, E foregrounds the distance; he admits that

(I didn’t say it exactly like that, but some days, as I write these lines, I’m too worn out to try to reconstruct the language that I spoke back then) (66)

(he also confesses to crying as he writes on 143). He has an objective, almost Levian documentary style, which occasionally rises to a pitch of Gallic urgency: “Imagine a scene taking place every day…” (47) (This reflects back onto a proleptic note about the inheritance of a loud tone that makes him stick out among the “self-possessed voices of well-brought-up young men” in the city. 59)

“I didn’t want to be around them; I refused to share this moment with them.” (184) The ending is a furious defiance, a rapturous realisation of E’s status as a person. It made my breath catch in my throat. But there is a poetic epilogue filled with fragmented observations of a new life at the lyceé that ends with a troubling recurrence. At first this confused me but I think the formal shift helps to constitute this as an important postscript, a story on its own terms. The End of Eddy happens at the end of the book, but that is not to say that the future is devoid of the forces that created him. It sheds light on E’s decision to revisit his past: he is writing in a future from which his past will continue to return to him.

I thought of Knausgaard only twice: when I picked TEoE up, and on 74, when an aside reports his sister’s notice that they would need to renovate their late grandmother’s upsettingly neglected house, much as Karl and Yngve do with their deceased father in My Struggle Book One. E cites Kn in that Paris Review interview so I wouldn’t be surprised if this parenthetical addition is a nod. In any case, the fact that it stuck out to me revealed how sui generis E’s text is, despite being grouped in the same autobiografiction bracket. It’s somehow purgatory and cathartic while also being revelatory. It speaks with a distinct voice that rewrites its precedents (as a thorough reevaluation of socioeconomic problems in contemporary France, as an autobiographical investigation of LGBT identity). It weaves and spins its internal relationships and dynamics into aporetic inconsistencies, its protagonist only wrenched from the social mechanics with a scream and ragged scars that belie the finality of the title. Thinking about reading it again soon.

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