Poil de carotte (Julien Duvivier, France, 1932)

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An astonishing moment of melodrama in Duvivier’s Poile de carotte  (see below) where the eponymous hero, a young child,  rages against the conditions of his life: his mother hates and abuses him; his father is indifferent; his siblings are favoured. A family, he tells his father, should be made up of those one loves and those that love one. But that´s not his own situation. Whilst he watches everyone else give and receive love, he alone seems exempt, alone in the world and raging. It’s an extraordinary moment of child rage followed by an equally extraordinary dramatisation of child abuse on film that is depicted as  both physical and psychic.

 

 

The rest of the film will show how a child is driven to suicide and how that suicide is avoided. I don´t hink I´ve ever seen anything like it on film., particularly since its darkness is layered over with the picaresque, thus rendering it amusing and likeable. It´s an incredible achievement of tone, beautifully visualised by Duvivier, with lyrical dream sequences where the child´s inner self eggs him on to off himself.  A powerful film in spite of some weaknesses in the performances by the children and the mother (Robert Lynen, Simone Aubry). Still the great Harry Baur plays the father and is a joy to see.

Yves Montand in Marcel Carné’s Les portes de la nuit

Screenshot 2019-09-19 at 10.14.34.pngYves Montand is ridiculously handsome and sexy in Carné’s Les portes de la nuit. He’s at least a foot taller than anyone else in the frame, hair pompadoured, his shoulders made even wider by the zooty suits of the period; and he’s referred to as Tarzan. That plus his public persona as an immigrant man of the people associated with the Communist Party gives one an insight as to the range and depth of his popularity as a pop idol of the period, and what it represented. The film itself was a flop.

José Arroyo

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L´homme du jour (Julien Duvivier, France, 1937)

 

L´homme du jour has so many delightful moments, many that revolve around Maurice Chevalier singing :Il-y-a de la joie (above), Yop la Boum! Ma pomme, and Mon vieux Paris. In fact Chevalier has grown on me over the years. Except in his great Lubitsch films (The Smiling Lieutenant, One Hour With You, The Merry Widow), I used to find his mugging tiresome. But now his presence gives me a lift. Watching him is like hearing Ethel Merman: what they do is not subtle but it evokes joy. No one evoked preening, smug masculinity like Chevalier until Burt Reynolds came along in the 70s, and both ironise it enough so that we know they´re both kidding it and embodying it simultaneously.

 

Moreover, unlike in his American films where he always invariably ended up as upper class, in L´homme du jour, Chevalier is the Chevalier born in Ménilmontant, a Parisian version of a cockney, man of the people, an electrician who wants to be a star, a man like the star himself. In the clip above, in a glorious art deco setting,, Duvivier shows us Chevalier trying to hide his dirty shoes, before integrating himself into the queer world of toffs, where floors open and tables rise, by getting them all involved in singing ´Ma pomme.´That they all do so with less talent, skilll and chic only enhances the natural nobility of the working man Chévalier.

But  L´homme du jour is Duvivier as well as Chevalier and there are other pleasures: the satire on celebrity culture, the kidding of the highbrow, the sympathy with the queers and whores that people his films; the conceptual and technical flair of the mise-en-scène. This has a great moment where Chevalier as Alfred Boulard, an electrician who dreams of becoming a star, goes backstage to see his girlfriend in a show Maurice Chevalier is starring in, and we get to see Chevalier as himself teaching Chevalier as Alfred Boulard how a song should be done. I´d say such as ironic self-awareness  postmodernism before the fact if it weren´t also evident in so many other works of this period. You can see the excerpt below:

 

 

A French musical, clearly influenced by the backstage musicals of the period, and much more visually and conceptually sophisticated than most of them.

As an interesting aside, Sheldon Hall has pointed out to me that ´L’HOMME DU JOUR was one of the 14 feature films shown on BBC Television before the war (on 12 and 13 Sept 1938)´. The UK title was Man of the Moment.

José Arroyo

 

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 171 – The Souvenir

A gentle, somewhat meandering podcast to follow a gentle, somewhat meandering film. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir talks of artistic development, the vigour of youth, life without money worries, and the complications of love, all through a soft camera and subtle performances. It’s a film that refers to and respects art, that remembers the past fondly, and that leads José to explain the Portuguese concept of saudade, quoting Eugène Green here.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 170 – Ne Zha

 

Ne Zha, a Chinese animated film, holds the record for the biggest box office in a single market (having made over $700m in China), but Mike isn’t that impressed with it, comparing it to the likes of Ice Age. José had a better time, though asks himself why he overlooks some of its more questionable elements, including a rather homophobic running joke that just doesn’t go away. But there’s a certain flair and thoughtfulness to some of its visual design and characterisation that we appreciate, and it gives us food for thought.

Discussing Ne Zha leads us into a conversation about British film culture as it relates to foreign language cinema. It’s not impossible to see foreign language films in Birmingham – though Ne Zha making it to Cineworld, as opposed to the Electric or mac, is notable – but outside London, the kind of culture that European and South American countries have of showing films from other countries as a matter of course in the main cinemas just doesn’t exist here. In going through our list of podcasts so far we see this reflected, a little over one eighth of our podcasts to date being about non-UK/US films, and a number of those thanks to MUBI, the streaming service, rather than cinema screenings. We can definitely do better, and intend to, but it is the case that foreign cinema culture in the UK barely exists.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2009)

My original review of Broken Embraces as  published in Sight and Sound in 2009:

Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces is the work of a master film-maker who has lost control of his material. It’s an undisciplined and occasionally self-indulgent work: entire monologues that are meant to be dramatic culminations end up defeating the actors with the sheer amount of unnecessary plot they are forced to recount; the incessant voiceover narration by the central character Mateo – a former movie director who, now blind, writes screenplays under the pen name Harry Caine – while permissible for the noir genre the film stakes a claim to, is excessive in amount and deficient in tone, telling what’s happening but failing to communicate the feelings associated with these events. The film-within-the-film Chicas y maletas (Chick and Suitcases) is a sad mistake, even if the concept behind it – how fragile an art film is, how editing can reduce it from greatness to trash – is an interesting one. It’s clear, moreover, that it’s a reworking of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown(1988): to use one of the greatest comedies of the 20th century as source material for Mateo’s film maudit shows an uncharacteristic lack of judgement on Almodóvar’s part. When Mateo/ Harry, his agent Judit and her son Diego look at the director’s cut of Chicas y maletas and say, “It’s marvellous,” how can an authence familiar with Women on the Verge think anything other than, no, it’s not?

Those who require neatness, order, rigour and balance in their art will therefore find Broken Embraces a disappointment. But those with a more open disposition will find much not only to enjoy but to treasure – for example, when Mateo first sees Lena and we gasp right along with him at the beauty of Penélope Cruz and the beauty with which Almodóvar has shown it to us. It’s a moment to rank alongside Rita Hayworth’s expression when she says, “Who, me?” in Gilda (1946), or Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift’s kiss in A Place in the Sun (1951). And when Diego asks Mateo/Harry, who is feeling very down, what DVD would give him a little lift, he replies: “I’d like to hear the sound of Jeanne Moreau’s voice.” It’s something anyone who knows and loves cinema will understand.

Broken Embraces is, in fact, a cinephile’s dream of a movie. Penélope Cruz’s character is called Lena for a reason: Marlene Dietrich played Concha, the Spanish temptress who bewitches and destroys rich and powerful older men, in Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil Is a Woman (1935). The work was based on Pierre Louÿs’ novel La Femme et le Pantin, which Julien Duvivier turned into a film with Brigitte Bardot in 1959 and which Buñuel used as source material for That Obscure Object of Desire in 1977. Angela Molina, here cast as Lena’s mother, played the earthy Conchita (as opposed to the more ethereal one played by Carole Bouquet) for Buñuel. Thus Lena here is the daughter of both Dietrich and Molina (and perhaps even Bardot), and of the cinematic creations of von Sternberg and Buñuel. Lena’s nom de plume, Séverine, is another nod to Buñuel, this time the character played by Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour (1967). The film is full of such references, refracting a kaleidoscope of connections.

I mention them not to show what a good student of cinema Almodovar is (though there are few directors better), but because such an engagement with cinephilia is crucial to a film that is an extended thesis on cinema itself: the pre-credit sequence is made up of ‘stolen’ footage taken by the video camera that film-makers attach to the normal camera to see takes during and immediately after shooting; the first shot we see after the credit sequence is a light coming through a window and a turning page reflected in an eye – an image condensing a century of debate on cinema as a window on the world versus cinema as spectacular storytelling. Lena breaks up with her older lover Ernesto by speaking the words she is uttering in the silent footage he is watching – in effect a live dubbing of oneself. The film offers a whole treatise on the importance of editing, both through its plot and via what we are shown of the film-within-the-film. When we see an excerpt from Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1954), it’s not mere padding or empty quotation, it’s both source of, and comment on, one of Broken Embraces’ central themes (not to mention its title).

If Broken Embraces is sure to interest cinephiles, it will also be indispensable to Almodóvar fans. Aside from its take on Women on the Verge, it is a complement genetically to Bad Education (2004) and perhaps even Live Flesh (1997), and a continuation of themes explored in All about My Mother(1999). The forgiveness of absent fathers is a key, almost a structuring theme, in the film.

Broken Embraces offers evidence too of Almodóvar’s familiar fascination with structure (Lena sells herself for her father; Judit, in a different way, for her son). Cruz and Molina are fabulous. Visually, the director is working with a new cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto; it’s a departure (grainier, darker, less glossy than his work with José Luis Alcaine) and a potentially fruitful one for future development. However, the film lacks discipline in paring the unnecessary, and Almodóvar, with his insistence on forcing the characters to say, say again and say some more, seems to have lost sight of dramatising and showing. After his recent run of films (All about My Mother and 2002’s Talk to Her, at least, are masterpieces), anything less than great would be considered a disappointment. But as failures go, Broken Embraces is a great one. * Jose Arroyo

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Arroyo, Jose.Sight and Sound; London Vol. 19, Iss. 9,  (Sep 2009): 60.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 169 – Transit

Adapted from the 1944 novel of the same name by Anna Seghers, writer-director Christian Petzold’s Transit behaves to some degree like Shakespeare in modern dress. The story follows a German man, Georg (Franz Rogowski), escaping facist-occupied Paris to Marseille, and there encountering other refugees, forging connections and affections with them, making arrangements at consulates for passage and visas to Mexico and the USA, all while rumour and hearsay about the spread of the occupation to the port city hangs over him. But with markers from nearly a century later – present-day vehicles in particular, although much of the clothing lives in an ageless world that bridges the years, and an ethnic component that makes more sense in today’s world than the Forties – Petzold turns a historical narrative into a fable of creeping fascism and the refugee crisis of today. Indeed, the idea that Transit functions like modern-dress Shakespeare might make it sound terribly stilted and artificial, but the real power of Transit‘s transposition to the modern day is just how perfectly it works. Transit‘s world is deeply convincing.

Mike argues that part of the reason that this is the case is the film’s focus on the refugees, and the details of day-to-day life in a city merely threatened by future occupation rather than currently undergoing it. The film’s explicit visual symbols of occupation – stormtroopers lining up citizens against walls, dragging refugees from their families – do stand out, and are both necessary and necessarily rare. That the occupation looms is enough, for the most part – it’s what it makes people do and feel that is the film’s focus, and it doesn’t need to build a Children of Men-style dystopia to explore that. The film is described on the poster, in rather an exciting quote from Indiewire, as “Casablanca as written by Kafka” – a glib line that we partially agree with. The Casablanca connection is clear, at least in basic terms being a complicated World War II love story set in a – for now – safe haven for refugees, the assignment and value of visas and travel documents of constant importance. The Kafka connection is inaccurate, the bureaucratic systems depicted in the Mexican and US consulates being ones that, while overwhelmed by vast numbers of refugees, aren’t designed to confuse or dehumanise. Whatever ails Georg isn’t Kafkaesque.

Georg, as José points out, is something of a cipher. We hear little of his story, know only one or two real details about him of any substance – and even one of those may be a lie – but to the film’s credit it’s not something we ever question. His mental state, reasons for behaving as he does, are always clear, if, as Mike suggests, a little frustrating at one point. Through him, we are able to hear people’s stories, those he encounters in queues and cafés keen to tell him who they are and why they’re there. Being able to tell one’s story and having it heard is a central theme to the film, as well as the ways in which we change or misremember our stories to our benefit – a slightly unreliable narrator occasionally describing things that differ in details from how we’re shown them. Georg may not speak much, may not tell anyone his story during the course of the film, but the narration tells his story in the third person – José having read that some or all of the narration is lifted directly from Seghers’ novel, though having not read the novel, we cannot be entirely certain of how much.

The narration, when it faithfully describes what we see, comes across to Mike as rather needless – showing and telling at the same time to pointless effect. Mentioning one scene in which the narration tells us that a number of refugees feel shame for standing by as a woman is violently separated from her family, he complains that the film should be able to convey this visually. José argues that underlining the point through narration is purposeful, bringing home that we in the present day should feel the same shame for standing by as refugees and immigrants have the same things done to them today. The narration changes a dramatisation into a call to action, and in so doing the film constantly asks us pointed ethical and moral questions of ourselves.

In short, Transit is a considerable film and unquestionably worth your time. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 168 – It Chapter 2

Following 2017’s It, the characters are 27 years older, the events of the first film mere memories, and the effects are more thrilling than ever. But it leaves us feeling much the same as its predecessor – despite fantastic production values, wonderful monster design, and attempts to delve into interesting themes of trauma and the scars with which it leaves us, it’s, well, kind of stupid really.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

José Arroyo in Conversation with Joaquín Aras

 

Joaquín Aras is an artist and filmmaker from Buenos Aires. His work is on show alongside that of María Agustina Fernández Raggio and Paula Monzillo at the What It Became Is Not What It Is Now exhibition curated by Louise Hobson and currently on show at Grand Union until the 9th of November. Aras also screened Snuff 1976 at The Electric Cinema in Birmingham. Snuff 1976 is a reworking of the original ´snuff´/horror/ soft core porn’ American exploitation film shot in Argentina just at the time when a military dictatorship was coming into power and beginning to commit the atrocities this period in Argentine history will forever be remembered for. The film was advertised as ‘A movie that could only have been made in South America, where life is cheap’.

 

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This is a wide-ranging conversation that touches on: film history; what is centre/ periphery in relation to how film cultures circulate?; how does one reconstruct popular memory?; film preservation; the connection between Snuff 1976, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the Manson murders; and Aras´ ongoing attempts to give voice and expression to those areas related to history and popular memory currently occluded, bypassed, sometimes even lost or erased.

Joaquín and I also discuss the relationship of his work to the video essay, how his choices of what to focus on are contextual and specific to Argentina. We discuss the relationship of guest and host in the horror film and what the work of Levinas and Derrida can bring to an understanding of that relationship. We also talk about how memory might be a great way to challenge historicity. A conversation worth hearing and a show worth watching. Details of the exhibition are below:

 

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Those of you interested in issues of film history and popular memory might want to follow up by reading Annette Kuhn´s foundational work in these areas:

An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. Published in the US as Dreaming of Fred and Ginger: Cinema and Cultural Memory. New York: New York University Press.

Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. London: Verso, 1995; rev edn, 2002.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 167 -Notorious

 

 

 

 

Considered by some to be his best film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious comes to the mac in a beautiful 4k restoration. We explore its sumptuous close-ups, complex characterisation and smart, effective editing, which elicited big responses from the audience. We also have an argument about focus pulling.

Below, you can see several screenshots and four clips of moments and scenes to which we refer in the podcast.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

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José Arroyo in Conversation with David Greven

 

A conversation with David Greven, distinguished Hitchcock scholar, author of Intimate Violence: Hitchcock, Sex and Queer Theory, Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin and many other books (see images below) which took place at the Under Capricorn +70 Conference at King´s College, London. We talk of Hitchcock as a queer filmmaker, how his works undermine gender roles and expectations. We discuss David´s explorations of the intersection of Queer Theory and Hitchcock and what he´s learned by bringing them together. We bring into the discussion recent television work by Ryan Murphy as well as the work of Pedro Almodóvar. We touch on the significance of the re-release of five Hitchcock films in the 80s in the context of gay male representation, as well as on E.M Foster adaptations such as Maurice, Room with A View, Howard´s End and the recent theatrical deployment of some of those structures and tropes in The Inheritance. Finally the conversation refocuses on his work on Under Capricorn, the presentation of which is David´s reason for being in London, putting it in the context of Ingrid Bergman´s ‘trilogy’ with Hitchcock (Spellbound and Notorious are the others). Under Capricorn is enthralling but is it goodP? Finally David offers some recommendations on how to introduce yourself to Hitchcock´s work if you haven´t already done so. If you don´t love Under Capricorn, you don´t love Hitchcock, and if you don´t know how to appreciate Hitchcock, you don´t know how to appreciate cinema. An informal but stimulating and all too brief conversation.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 166 – Pain and Glory

It’s probably fair to say that Pedro Almodóvar’s films seem to be made specifically for José. It’s in every detail: the locations, eras, sexuality, ways of life, attitudes, class, love of cinema and countless other aspects of Almodóvar’s ouevre speak to José on a deep, intimate level. He’s watched every one of his films time and time again, and he considers Pain and Glory, which he has already seen twice and plans to see again, a masterpiece. Mike doesn’t have anything like such a specific relationship to Almodóvar, and indeed has only seen one other of his films, 2016’s Julieta, which he liked very much – and indeed he likes Pain and Glory just as much… though not quite as much as José.

We discuss how Pain and Glory stands alone but might benefit from being seen in relation to Almodóvar’s ouevre. Several of his regular collaborators appear, including Cecilia Roth, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano and Penélope Cruz; this film, as with The Law of DesireBroken Embraces and Bad Education, is about a filmmaker; it makes use of art as an unconscious but pointed visual layering and underlying theme; images of characters writing on typewriters or computers show up – this is a film about, amongst other things, writing. Mike brings up the way chance events are used to drive the plot forward and thinks about how they’re contextualised; José praises how fluid Almodóvar’s storytelling is here, effortlessly bringing together disparate timelines and plot strands.

Is this autofiction, as the mother in the film accuses her filmmaker son of so often indulging in? José considers the appearance of Almodóvar’s own mother in his previous films and how so many of his previous films are in fact about mothers (All About My Mother and Volver being the most obvious examples). We discuss the structure of the film, the movement from the relationship with an actor who’s an addict to a previous relationship with an addict, through the performance of a confessional monologue titled Addiction, then a sexual awakening seen from a young boy’s point of view. Representations of Spain in the 50s, memories of the past and a present setting fluidly intermingle. We also consider its themes of illness, ageing and loss, and how it’s a film about cinematic expression, the revelation that half of the diegetic world is in fact a film within a film recontextualising half the story, similar to Bad Education but to different effect here.

It’s a film on which as soon as we finished, José regretted not saying more: The references to Lucrecia Martel’s La niña santa, the clear allusion to Fellini’s , the use of Rosalía to sing the song by the river, the section on films that feature water such as Splendor in the Grass and Niagara. He’s only scratched the surface of a great film.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

EICTVianos por el mundo: José Arroyo, Pablo Ascanio, y Jaime Guerra se reunen en Madrid y discuten la gran peli de Nuri Bilge Ceylan, El Peral Salvaje,

EICTVianos por el mundo se re-encuentran en Madrid para hablar de cine en una noche de verano. Pablo Ascanio es de Puerto Rico, Jaime Guerra de la Repulica Dominicana. Los dos son cinematógrafos, asique empezamos hablando de lenses. José Arroyo, EICTViano, honorario solamente, es crítico en Inglaterra. La pelicula es una grande que nos pide todo lo que sabemos: El peral salvaje de Nuri Bilge Ceylan . Mucho de hablar y de disfrutar. Al final nos reunimos con Claudia Caremi, otra EICTViana entre los cines Golem de Madrid y la libreria Ocho Y Medio, despues de una gran pelicula, y con amigos viejos y nuevos: una noche perfecta hablando de cine.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 165 – Animals

There’s a remarkable female gaze in Animals, Sophie Hyde’s adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel, and a wonderful sense of insightful observation in the world occupied by and behaviours of the two friends whose stories it tells.

Mike, who’d been anticipating it keenly since seeing the trailer, feels a little shortchanged by the triteness of the larger themes on which the film builds and the relative lack of excitement in comparison to what the trailer conveyed. José shares a little of that feeling but is keen to express his pleasure at seeing a film so confidently and originally expressive of a female perspective, particularly in its sex scenes. And we both adore the stars, Alia Shawkat for her fabulously performative comic theatrics, and especially Holliday Grainger for her extraordinary, sensitive, soulful expression of a girl falling in and out of love and friendship and upset with her own failings.

Animals is a film that explodes with creativity and expressiveness in the details, but whose big picture leaves us wanting.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.