Tag Archives: Douglas Sirk

The Youssef Chahine Podcast — No. 5: Jamila, the Algerian/ Djamila Bouhired (Egypt, 1958)

 

An extraordinary political melodrama about liberation struggles in colonial settings, produced by its female star and released at the same time as Mehboob Kahn’s Mother India, with which it would ideally be programmed. It would also make a fantastic double bill with Gillo Pontecorvo The Battle of Algiers (1966),  which also features the character of Jamila. When we began this podcast I was a bit anxious that we weren’t knowledgeable enough on Chahine’s oeuvre to say anything worth listening to. But as I’ve began reading the literature on Chahine, I realise that what we know and can bring to the table is a knowledge of film history and film aesthetics. None of the books on Chahine I’ve read, for example, mention the influence of Gone With the Wind on this film — extraordinarily interesting in the light of current discussions of the film — and we are beginning to dig out patterning: the melodramatic mode, the politics that underpin, the extraordinary long takes often shot in and for depth, the filming from the inside out, the mobile camera, the ease with which affect is generated, the cinephilia through which one sees and where one detects the influence of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc (1928), Sirk’s mise-en-scène, American post-war musicals; the homoeroticism more evident in some film than others but always a running thread; the filming of individuals with crowds, which are often depicted as community but also shown to turn against the individual. This is a film based on a true story and filmed in the heat of the moment where the fate of the heroine was not yet settled. It’s an extraordinary film that once more raises questions regarding the relations between political cinema and film form. We highly recommend it.

 

The podcast can be listened to below:

The film can be seen below

 

 

 

Some of you may find useful the 2019 Ritrovato Catalogue on Jamila, The Algerian, with its plot summary and credit listings:

 

and I made a fun gif to publicise this podcast:

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Peter Hourigan, who alerted so many of us to the existence of Chahine fims on Netflix through the Ritrovato Page, has done a  a lovely appreciation of the film (and of this very podcast) in Film Alert 101  here: 

 

José Arroyo

Day Seven: Ten Films in Ten Days — All That Heaven Allows

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I saw this as a teen at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. I was going through a Holden Cauldfield period where I thought everyone was a phony. And the biggest phonies were those who claimed this was a great movie. I think I half snorted, half-giggled my way through my first viewing, to the annoyance of my friends. They were talking about colour and screens and mirrors. I was, ´so stilted…and the deer!´. Learning to love and appreciate Sirk was my way of learning to see differently and learning different ways of seeing. The memory of that first experience has come in very handy when teaching the film subsequently. Laura Mulvey has written that one can map a whole history of Film Studies onto the history of the various approaches to Sirk: auteurist, Brechtian, Sociological, Feminist, Queer, etc. etc. and that is indeed the case. It´s now a film I never tire of watching…for the colours, and the mirrors, and the camera movement and the screens….and all what i then thought was ´phony´talk about it.

José Arroyo

A Moment of Poetry in Far From Heaven

Seeing Todd Haynes´Far From Heaven (2002) recently, I was struck once again by the beauty and power of the work. Like with the greatest of films, new and different aspects of it catch one´s eye, in this latest instance the shot you can see above. Cathy (Julianne Moore) thinks her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is working late so she goes to his office to bring him his dinner only to discover him embracing another man. The shock of the revelation, visualised for us through a brilliant white light, makes her flee back into the darkness of the corridor, a canted angle showing her state of mind as her husband´s lover races past her.

The clip above begins in a medium close-up when she enters the elevator, shocked, out of breath, her face as if about to cry but not quite doing so. The shot then dissolves into  the exterior of the Whittaker house, her house, lights on at night, with the camera low on the ground moving up past the doorway of the house, further into the darkness, then cranes up through some bushes like in a horror film and zooms in towards the light of a window, where Cathy is framed as if in prison, looking away from the camera to await the horror to come.

It´s a beautiful shot. Why the dissolve rather than a cut? Because this revelation is the cause of her house becoming a prison instead of a home. The knowledge of one thing actualises, shapes the conditions of Cathy´s subsequent existence. The shot of her shaken with the revelation in the lift becomes her entombed and imprisoned in her home, only partly visible through a window that looks like it has bars in it. We don´t get too close to her either and remain outside. A car´s headlights, ominous, and threatening, announces the arrival of Frank.

It´s a shot in which each beat is thought through, expressive, telling us not only the story as is but through metaphor, allusion, rhymings, through a particular usage of film form, also both distilling and expanding the meaning of a moment that seems true and beautiful, finding what seems the perfect form for its expression. Seeing it again, I thought this is what poetry in film looks and feels like.

It´s a shot, that like much of the film, also brought to mind Douglas Sirk´s All That Heaven Allows (1955), particularly the moment, just before Cary´s (Jane Wyman) children arrive but after she´s given up Ron (Rock Hudson) where the camera moves from children singing Christmas Carols to Cary´s icy tears, her house also now a prison.

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José Arroyo