|Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
|The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
|Carl Th. Dreyer
|A Woman under the Influence
|A IDADE DA TERRA
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
The ultimate work in which work, art, love, and life collapse sublimely into each other. Possibility: Demy and set designer Bernard Evein could have painted over the old, stained white wall right behind Gene Kelly and Catherine Deneuve as they run into each other. They chose not to. Every other surface in Rochefort is touched by fantasia, whimsy, levity and seven layers of primaries and pastels, but this chipping, memory-stained white wall? – no, they said. We leave this the way we found it. Daily reality sneaking into so-called fantasy. Where you see the solemn, see joy; joy, the solemn. Demy’s cinema is built upon a simple premise: we have no idea along what cruelly random byway life will lead us. Les Demoiselles is where Demy’s chief obsession, the chance encounter, blooms most freely. Is it by seconds that I will miss the one I love? Will anyone notice the art I’m trying to make, the voice I’m projecting as far and clear as I can? Do I stay in my hometown (the known), do I move on to greener (maybe greyer) city pastures?
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
I consider Parapluies and Demoiselles a totally unified, epic project, in the vein of Coppola's first two Godfathers. But Parapluies and Demoiselles, for me, are far more mysterious, ineffable. What is this force called love? We accept happiness as one of life's ultimate pursuits – but is it worth it? Is it even attainable? Perhaps Solange is Geneviève in another world – a world in which dreams of song and dance are not stifled by bourgeois social climbing, parents who only pass on their failures to their kids, the quest for comfort at any cost. Demy: “When something so dreadful has happened, you think that nothing more awful can happen. From that point, therefore, you dream up another, more ideal existence.”
On how to see someone – no, to *experience* them – in all their unadorned pain, their beautiful wretchedness. But also, their potential for grace and change. The greatest ending in cinema: how can you not weep? As our ideals die, we must "be brave! Face life!"
The film that teaches you not only how to live in a city, but also how to live with people, how to sculpt the noise of seeming inhospitality into a rhapsody. Like my most treasured directors (Varda and Demy, Minnelli, Reichardt, Truffaut, McCarey, Ozu, Pasolini, Burnett, Chaplin, Sofia Coppola, Hamaguchi), Tati's view of people is the most harmonious proportion of measured, caustic, brutally honest, and yet (not without a touch of the daft): achingly generous.
When speech and ideas are the only tangibles you have left in the world. “When I’m near the grave and look back on my life, I’ll say to myself: I suffered much and made many mistakes, but I have loved.” To give love back to an unloving world makes Gertrud one of the greatest revolutionaries of her time; undoubtedly, her route will end in pain, tragedy, jeers of hate, and the promise of obscurity. Yet Gertrud accepts this, as does Dreyer, as do we. Gertrud ends with a closed door, but the dominant mood is one of surging, manic hope – what else have we left? Here, love is the only miracle that exists, and it may never come. Dry and passionate, still and volcanic, Dreyer poses a stream of arguments and counterarguments on what it means to live a fulfilling life, what it means to create art, what 'love' means. This is truly cinema as dialogue. Draw a clear line from this to Rohmer to Drive My Car.
A Woman under the Influence
See: Gertrud's speech, above. Cassavetes on the set of Love Streams: "That's all I'm interested in: love." His films are the invention of a new way of presenting the broken self, which can be nothing but broken. This, my first Cassavetes, put me on the path towards seeing this essential brokenness. And accepting it. For all the busy, loud, propulsive, sweaty, angry writhing of his imitators and descendants, we fail to properly experience his keen powers of observation, his intuitive ability to spot a beating heart in the perpetual modern morass of irony and nihilism. "Dad, will you please stand up for me."
The pain of growing up, expressed in such awe-inspiring clarity. The movie slows to a sublime stop in order to watch a family that has never seen a pineapple before learn how to cut it, properly, in uniform pieces. This is living. A back-and-forth (Michael Snow) between the known and the unknown.
Seeking love in the city while bearing the omnipresent load of racism, trying to ease the bitter tensions that divide precariously middle-class families over generations – seldom have such themes been lent so sweeping a treatment as in Personal Problems. It’s a work lined with fragments as diverse as daytime soap opera, New Orleans jazz, Black films of the 1940s, Ishmael Reed's insouciant genre-bending, Chicago blues, and the cathartic, funereal rawness of Cassavetes. These individual shards must be both dwelled in and read shot by shot – as in a poem where you may dwell upon one unstable word or rush madly across entire fields of action. It pushes the notion of a human as unrepresentable yet defiantly present; in a state of restless, blurry forming; engaged in a film act rather than ended as a recorded thing.
One of the few narrative features that dares to attempt to capture how our thoughts move (count Peter Watkins's Edvard Munch, Schatzberg's Puzzle of a Downfall Child, and of course Roeg's and Resnais's features among them). Virginia Woolf on the cinema, 1926: “We should see violent changes of emotion produced by their collision. The most fantastic contrasts could be flashed before us with a speed which the writer can only toil after in vain… The past could be unrolled, distances annihilated, and the gulfs which dislocate novels (when, for instance, Tolstoy has to pass from Levin to Anna, and in doing so jars his story and wrenches and arrests our sympathies) could, by the sameness of the background, by the repetition of some scene, be smoothed away.” Richard Lester fulfills such a promise, in a melodrama that doubles as a bottomless well of cold truth and ruin. It reminds you that even when we live among machine-like beings, we can still be made to feel – through the devastating but necessary act of remembering.
A IDADE DA TERRA
The film of the future. Crazy, violent poetry – among the cinders and bullets, Glauber grows a rose. And it decimates. Like Gertrud, cinema as dialogue – by other means.
An impossible task, naturally, to select what I think are the 10 greatest films and no more. An alternative list could have been composed in which featured:
(1) Most anything by Vincente Minnelli (Some Came Running, The Clock, Gigi, Lust for Life, the radical Bells Are Ringing); (2) Patricio Guzmán's The Battle of Chile; (3) Most anything by François Truffaut (Two English Girls, Shoot the Pianist, and The Green Room are my favourites); (4) Barbara Loden's Wanda; (5) Francesco Rosi's Christ Stopped at Eboli; (6) Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow; (7) Jacques Rivette's L'Amour fou; (8) Mohsen Makhmalbaf's A Moment of Innocence; (9) Milos Forman's Taking Off; (10) Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car or Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, particularly the third episode