The Criterion Collection calls SOLEIL Ó/ OH, SUN , ‘A furious cry of resistance against racist oppression and a revolutionary landmark of political cinema’. The Celluloid Liberation Front, writing for MUBI, calls it ‘one of the most dazzling debuts in the history of cinema’; ‘A work of erudite formalism and incendiary refinement’; ‘never didactic’. We dispute all of this. The film is definitely, flamboyant, anti-clerical, modernist, anti-colonial, deploying folklore and experimenting with style. An important film then, very much of its time, but which can now seem to lack complexity and subtlety, though perhaps subtlety was never its aim; and perhaps we should also acknowledge that our perspective is that of two white men. Richard appreciated it more than I. We both urge everyone to see it. It’s an interesting companion piece to Ali in Wonderland and Mandabi. We discuss all of this in the accompanying podcast. Part of the series of important restorations being screened on MUBI.
The podcast may be listened to below:
The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT
and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546
The film inspired a series of photographs by Kudzanai Chiurai displayed at Tate Modern as part of the World in Common, Contemporary African Photography Exhibition.
José Arroyo & Richard Layne
I went to see this for Rossy de Palma and it was worth seeing for her. She’s middle-aged now, a bit zaftig. She’s still got the wonky Picasso eyes, which evoke a memory of the strange and marvellous energy her mere presence once catapulted into any film, but can now pass for an ordinary working-class middle-aged Spanish lady, as she does here. The film seems to me a nothing; or to be fair, nothing I understand. It’s a farce in which Michel Leproux (Christian Clavier) is seeking one hour of tranquillity in which to listen to that great jazz album he’s been longing to hear all his life and finally found but gets constantly interrupted: his wife reveals an affair; the son brings in a Phillipino family to stay, the Polish plumber who is really Portuguese bursts the pipes, his mistress comes to reveal their affair to the wife etc. It’s very French and very sitcommy. I did not find it funny though the audience I saw it with could not stop laughing in ways that I simply didn’t get: offering guests at the neighbourhood party expensive wine got howls of laughter. I found the representation of Rossy de Palma as the Spanish maid, the jokes about the Portuguese/Polish plumber and the whole bit with the Phillipinos a bit crude and slightly racist. What it did make me think of is how certain people can just lift a film out of ordinariness and make it worthwhile to see and think about, like some expensive and exotic ingredient in a store-bought trifle. In this film it’s Rossy of course, who seems to be acting in a coarser, better film than this one — she feels slightly out of place; and Carole Bouquet as the wife, who doesn’t get to do very much but manages to express quite a bit and is so extremely beautiful one can’t help but be riveted by her mere presence.