08 January 2010

The Movies

Bloggerboy's Welcome Visitor has featured recent entries on the subject of vintage Italian films. Those entries are excellent, and I have enjoyed them immensely. They have inspired me to recommend three films that I myself recently watched again.

Of course as recently as three and a half months ago, I had sworn off watching any films other than Casablanca for the rest of my life. Then I discovered Juan the Movie Pirate and his wonderful café and rethought my resolution of abstinence. Now, what with the weather, I have rigged up a situation where I can lie under multiple blankets in a sweat suit and watch movies while I wait out an entirely unseasonable, dreary, cold rain.

So I go through phases. Everyone goes through phases, don't they? However, I assure you that I am not watching any of that bullshit that passes for film work in Hollywood nowadays.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Krzysztof Kieślowski is an utterly remarkable Polish film director who died in 1996 at the age of 54. He was not long enough with us. I would like to tell you a bit about his masterpiece, Trois Couleurs, a trilogy. These three films were released in the mid-nineties.

But first, if you are wont to whine about foreign films with subtitles, forget it. The dialogue in these films is crisp, and the subtitles are not a burden, but still. . .just forget it. Your reading skills are obviously not up to this. Second, if you require an explosion every few minutes in your films, forget it. If you have squalling kids tugging at you or must attend to a spouse who is a moron, forget it. These films require your undivided—and I do mean undivided—attention. In fact, these three films are best absorbed when you are absolutely alone in absolute quiet. Does anyone remember such a time and place? I have found it.

The three films are named Blue, Blanc, and Rouge, the three colors of the French flag from left to right. The respective films do feature these respective colors, but do not labor too much over the symbolism of that. Kieślowski said that they were named in that fashion and feature those colors simply because the money to make these films came from France. Nonetheless, if you forget the order in which to view them, you need only take another look at the French flag.

As with all successful leaders, a great part of Kieślowski's talent consisted of his ability to surround himself with the best. Actually, his producer, Marin Karmitz originally from Romania, also deserves a great deal of credit for giving Kieślowski the best. I am not only talking about the actors. More about them later. I am talking about the camera guy. I am talking about the composer. I am talking about the lighting technicians. I am talking about everyone on down to the grips and best boys.

Kieślowski himself was a man in a hurry. He edited Bleu and wrote Rouge at night while directing Blanc during the day. Did he know he would soon die? Toward his end he went on a tear and made twelve—nearly thirteen—films in less than a year.

The first film, Blanc, is a study of a woman in mourning and the various stages of that human phenomenon we call mourning. It did remind me of remarks written to me some years ago by a lawyer friend of mine from Anchorage, Dick Haggart:

I'm afraid this all seems excessively cerebral to me, involuted and purposefully obscure. Rather like some of my least favorite French films, in which the script consists largely of pregnant pauses and meaningful silences, all viewed through drifting shrouds of cigarette smoke. The kind of movie that seizes your heart and soul at age 20 but leaves you stupefied and dozing at 50.

There is a bit of that about Blanc. However, when you find yourself gazing at an *actress, in this case Juliette Binoche, for in excess of an hour and a half with your jaw sagging, your mouth open, and the flies crawling in and out, and she does not bare her breasts even once, then you can be sure that you have seen a pretty fair job of acting. That is my criterion anyway.

Blanc is much more story driven. It is the tale of a Polish immigrant in France, Karol the hairdresser, who is brutally dumped by his beautiful French wife. We are then off to the races with his elaborate strategy for revenge. Much subtle and enjoyable humor in this one. Karol's Polish friend and aider and abettor, Mikolaj, is a brilliant creation by the actor Janusz Gajos. Admirable job, also--to say the least--by the stunning and profoundly sexy Julie Delpy as the wife, again without baring her breasts. Julie Delpy is that kind of sexy that would keep one awake at night if one were not, thankfully, 62 years old.

Rouge. . .my goodness, how does one describe Rouge in a few words? Rouge is the story of an encounter between an aging retired judge played by the great French actor Jean-Luis Trintignant and a young runway model played by Irène Jacob. You may remember Jean-Luis Trintignant in his youth in the classic A Man and a Woman. The casting of Irène Jacob was brilliant. You sometimes see an actress make a role absolutely her own. That is what happens here. And yes, she does this without baring her breasts. Rouge ends with a very bizarre and very controversial closing scene that looks back at all three films.

But again, do not attempt these films if you cannot give them the concentration they deserve. Furthermore, I would suggest that you be open to watching them more than once. Subtle visual clues can fly right by you otherwise. Also, the films intersect in delightful ways. For example, when the mourning woman in Bleu is searching a courthouse for the female lawyer with whom her deceased husband was having an affair, she blunders into the courtroom where Karol's divorce trial is taking place in Blanc. You can easily miss these things if you are fucking around tending to the popcorn.

There you go. Best I can do. I never contended that I was another Roger Ebert. . . Actually, the best movie critic I have ever encountered was Pauline Kael, whose work appeared in The New Yorker for years. Dead and gone now. I trusted her, and I miss her.

*Yes, I know that I am now supposed to refer to a female in the profession as an “actor,” not an “actress.” Holly Hunter attempted that instruction of me some years ago in a very ham handed way on that interview show with the guy who specializes in pregnant pauses and meaningful looks while he interviews prominent folks in the profession. I refuse. What the hell are they going to do to me? Put me in a camper trailer alone in the middle of México with an unseasonable, cold, dreary rain outside?


Four Dinners said...

Having many Polish friends I have heard of these movies.

Subtitles bother me not one jot if it's a decent movie.

I will go out of my way to see these.

Cheers old bean


Señor Steve said...

Four, I hope that these films are half as entertaining for you as The Drunk Punk on the radio is for me.

Candy Minx said...

Ah, good viewing memories brought to mind with this review. Thanks Steve!

What is the situation about there for getting movies to watch? Do you have a wide selection? Did you bring these movies w/you or rent/borrow them...can you get more movies to watch for those cold weather days?

And no big deal about actress...after all a good paintress and good lawyeress are terrific people to work with. I don't take a engineress any less seriously than a guy.

Ruth said...

Saw these films some time ago, Steve. Nice work.

As for subtitles, who even sees them after the first few scenes?

Stagg said...

Yo Steve!!!

I used to work with this awesome Chicago actor,he was Polish American and loved those movies!! I will see them someday!!


Bloggerboy FFM said...

For some reason I've yet to see this trilogy. I keep hearing great things about it, and people who know that I'm a film buff tell me I will like it. I'm starting to enjoy the anticipation of a quiet time when I can watch all three films over a period of two or three days and then, as you suggest, try to watch them again. Good work, Steve. As for your friend's comments, I find that as I get older, I'm able to appreciate the "slowness" of films more than when I was younger, but hey, that's personal stuff. I'm just not in a hurry anymore. Maybe I should be ...

The Bumbles said...

So now I have to put THREE movies in my Netflix queue?! Are you aware that our DVD player decided to bite the dust this morning? *sigh*

I just watched Rashomon last weekend. Minimal dialogue made it wonderful since I could focus on the images instead of the words. But I don't let subtitles get in my way of a good film.