995 (130). Douce / Love Story (1943, Claude Autant-Lara)

Screened January 27 2010 on DVR downloaded from the website that dare not speak its name in Brooklyn NY TSPDT rank #839  IMDb

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, the one film on the TSPDT 1000 that I hadn't been able to locate in any form was this one, which had just been re-introduced to the list after the January update. Not long after that update, with the help of a couple of wonderful people from the French archival cinema community, I was able to track down a 35mm print of the film with the rights held by Gaumont. Unfortunately, Gaumont quoted me a ridiculous fee of several hundred Euros to rent the print, which made it pretty much impossible for me to access it. However, fortuitously at the same time, someone posted a DVR rip of the film, presumably from European television broadcast, to a site that will here remain unidentified. So I had my chance at last to watch this strangely inaccessible classic of French cinema.

The one catch was that the rip was unsubtitled, which presented me with the dilemma of whether I should proceed with watching, esp. given that reviews of the film mention the elegant script by Pierre Bost and Jean Aurenche. Fortunately, Marilyn Ferdinand provides a solid enough account of the plot on her site that I was encouraged to take the leap. All the same, I must acknowledge that my understanding of the film is by no means satisfactory. I can only hope that my opting to treat this as an experiment in watching a film without a grasping its dialogue might offer alternative insights focused more intently on its cinematic properties.

I should also mention that watching the film in this manner reminded me of many times as a child when I'd watch American comedy films and TV shows with my mother, and I'd laugh along with the punch lines only to turn to see my mom bearing an uncomprehending smile, aware that there was something to laugh about but not quite knowing what was funny. I think there were at least a couple of instances where I'd play the asshole and ask her if she got the joke. In some ways I was as confused as she was - ashamed at the wedge between us, irrationally resentful to her for making me feel alienated in my joy even as with the TV laugh track to egg me on. I dedicate this entry to her, that we may unshamefully derive our own pleasures from what we don't fully understand.

What strikes me most is how insular the film feels - it's all filmed on sets, largely interiors, with exteriors taking place in night streets and alleys taking place at night. Knowing that this was a production under German-controlled Vichy adds to this feeling of confinement. The stage-bound artifice also adds a dollhouse fairy-tale like quality. It's felt as early as the opening establishing shot, an ostentatious track across a model replica of 1880s Paris, featuring an Eiffel Tower still under construction:

For the most part the film takes place on a giant soundstage dressed as a grand aristocratic house, somewhat reminiscent of the Amberson estate in The Magnificent Ambersons. There are two levels, joined by a grand staircase as well as a newly installed elevator for the convenience of the aging matriarch that presides over the household. Some scenes make good dramatic use of the upward and downward motions of characters traversing the levels.

Graceful tracking shots help bring dynamism between these walls: they alternate in functions between scanning the interiors like a Martian probe and connecting characters' eyelines to objects. But the film repeatedly rests upon images of entrapment. From the opening scene a prison motif is introduced, as the title character (Odette Joyeux) first appears veiled an anonymous at a confessional booth rendered like prison bars:

A later scene between Douce and her governess, the scheming Irene (Madeleine Robinson) introduces another motif of fire that recurs (see title card) though less frequently. This fireplace POV shot (look carefully for the flame between them) symbolizes their respective romantic passions contained by 19th century decorum.

This shot moments later suggests the concealing of thoughts between them - unbeknownst to Douce, Irene is carrying on an affair with the man she fancies.

Mirrors are also used to create a sense of deflection in relationships - here Douce addresses Irene through a mirror at a moment where her trust of her has been broken irreparably:

Windows, doors, shadows and bars permeate the film, confining the characters throughout:

The servants in the house largely function as comic relief, with boorish dialogue and gestures:

There's even Jacques Tati as a servant, in one of his very earliest roles:

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But there's room for the upper classes to be skewered visually as well. Marguerite Moreno as Madame de Bonafé is often dressed in oversized frills conveying her aristocratic excess, though her middle-class, kiss-ass estate manager Fabien (Roger Pigault) takes the cake with his ridiculous fur coat:

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Yet over the course of the film the destructively selfish Fabien comes to be redeemed by Douce, a character so angelically pure that in one scene she sparkles:

While in this scene he literally has a cross of salvation cast upon him while in Douce's embrace:

There's enough going on visually to compensate for not understanding the dialogue; though in the more stagebound scenes a lot is riding on repartee. There are plenty of moments where the stagelike nature of the production gives the impression that this is largely a theater production captured on film with a modicum of tracking shots and lighting effects used to spice things up. But this is certainly worth watching again, especially if accompanied with a subtitle track.

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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Douce / Love Story among the 1000 Greatest Films on the TSPDT 1000:

Bertrand Tavernier, Profil (2004) Frederic Vitoux, Libre Journal du Cinéma (2009) Lenny Borger, Libre Journal du Cinéma (2009) Lindsay Anderson, Sight & Sound (1992) Patrick Laurent, Libre Journal du Cinéma (2009) Philippe Ariotti, Libre Journal du Cinéma (2009) Bertrand Tavernier, 10 Overlooked French Films (2003) Sight & Sound, 360 Film Classics (1998) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

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Director Claude Autant-Lara was one of the principal figures of the French “tradition of quality” that flourished during the Nazi occupation, and this 1943 masterpiece, which also introduced the writing team of Pierre Bost and Jean Aurenche, is the first of several great films he made. The radiant Odette Joyeux stars as the title heroine, a socialite who seeks to flee her lavish but suffocating environs with the handsome family caretaker, only to discover that the relationship is doomed. Autant-Lara's exquisite blend of social commentary, lush romanticism, and opulent sets and costumes—he began his career as a designer—vividly re-creates France's belle epoque and recalls Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons both thematically and in its deep-focus exploration of interior space.

- Joshua Katzman, The Chicago Reader

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It was under the Occupation that director Claude Autant-Lara proved his mettle and established himself as one of the finest directors of his generation. His best film, Douce, is a magnificent blend of romance, satire and dramatic irony, beautifully filmed, with some enchanting acting performances. Although the film is set in the late 19th century, its story of forbidden love between servants and masters from two totally different social strata was relevant to 1940s France, a country that was as divided by class as it was by the war.

The character Douce is played with great force and subtlety by Odette Joyeux, undoubtedly her best screen performance. Her portrayal of the love-sick adolescent who who makes a doomed attempt to cross the barriers of class and respectability is totally captivating, giving the film the tragic dimension that makes it a masterpiece.

Another noteworthy performance comes from Marguerite Moreno, who play’s Douce’s imperious grandmother. Well into her seventies, Moreno had become the archetypal eccentric ageing tyrant and this film sees one of her most spirited and charismatic performances. Her character epitomises everything that is wrong with the bourgeois elite – patronising, dictatorial, insensitive. The casting of Moreno is a stroke of genius because the strength of her character’s position and her inability to change her viewpoint reinforces the nobility of her son and grand-daughter, who opt for love before protocol. Moreno’s la comtesse de Bonafé is a grotesque caricature but it provides an entertaining and accurate satire of the French bourgeoisie.

- James Travers, Films de France

Douce was the first film scripted by the so-called “Tradition of Quality" team of Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost. Tradition of Quality films were dubbed as such by the leading critics of the 1940s and 1950s for their academic production values, basis in traditional literary classics, and theatrical scripting. I might add that the work of Aurenche and Bost, frequent collaborators of Autant-Lara, is where I would place the quality. Their writing is extremely witty and subtle when they are going for social commentary. Marguerite Moreno certainly had a plum role as the Grand Dame of the house. Her lines and actions would have been buffoonish if they hadn’t been closely observed and written. When she goes through her closet to choose items to give to the poor tenants on her land for Christmas, she holds back one jacket. “That’s too good," she instructs Irène, saying (I paraphrase), “It will only depress the people because they will see the heights to which they never can aspire." When she Douce_05.jpgcalls on her tenants, she brings Irène and Fabien with her to carry the clothes and soup. One tenant gets up to heat a bowl of soup for herself and her husband. “No, no," says Madame, “It’s my turn to serve you. Irène, put the soup on the stove."

Some quibbles. Joyeux looked too old to still be dressing like a child, and Joyeux, Robinson, and Pigaut have a severe, mannered acting style. The love talk between Pigaut and the two women is the ultimate in purple prose, as well. The film takes a somewhat predictable turn to tragedy, but it was startling to me because up until then I had been watching a very funny comedy of manners. The overly melodramatic elements made me all too aware that there was a moral to this story. I wonder, in fact, whether the German honchos might have insisted that the story reflect a superior/inferior class ethos to suggest the depravity of “mixing." But this is mere conjecture.

- Marilyn Ferdinand, Ferdy on Film

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It was Autant-Lara who introduced Bost to Aurenche to help with the dialogue for his film Douce , taken from Michel Davet's simple story of a devoted governess in a bourgeois family. Their screen version cleverly subverts the original text by shifting the emphasis to expose middle-class complacency. Thereafter the two writers formed a unique partnership translating for the screen an impressive array of literary classics, including works by Aymé, Colette, Feydeau, Gide, Radiguet, Stendhal, and Zola. Their initial collaboration set the pattern for their approach to adaptation; Aurenche concerning himself mainly with the screenplay and Bost with the dialogue. Frequently their shared left-wing sympathies are reflected in the inflection given to their reworked film narratives. Although they worked for several directors their most memorable achievements are found in films by Delannoy, Clément, and Autant-Lara.

- R.F. Cousins, Film Reference.com

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Truffaut denounces these men (as well as the cinema they represent) for their irreverence toward the literary works they adapt (most of the scripts and films in question were literary adaptations), their anti-clerical and anti-militarist stances, their pessimism and negativity, their “profanity” and “blasphemy.” His concerns here show the utter conventionality and the extreme cultural and political conservatism of his views’ on art. These scriptwriters’ irreverence toward their sources, the great French literary masterpieces (in some cases at least), reveals to Truffaut their lack of concern for tradition and conventional values, Truffaut sees the cinema d'auteurs as a return to the eternal verities and the classical French values of the enlightenment and romanticism. His opposition to their insertion of anti-militarist and anti-clerical stances into the works they adapted is a defense of art’s autonomy. No social or political views, those dreaded “messages,” are to mar the purity of art. Art must be free of all outside influences, Truffaut thought.

Truffaut also objects to pessimism and negativity because he holds the opposite view of the potentiality of (at least some) human beings. And these special human beings, not the common person, are to be the fit subject of art, Here Truffaut is also opposing the deterministic view of life which often prevailed in the French cinema of the 1940’s and 1950’s, a view of life which had its origin in Zola’s Naturalism. Finally by objecting to the “profanity” and “blasphemy” in many French films, Truffaut declares his allegiance to Catholicism, the continual target of the French Left. For, as stated in Part One of this article, la politique des auteurs was a recapitulation on the level of culture of the bourgeoisie’s forceful reassertion of power in the decade after the war. Aurenche and Bost were the products and representatives of the era of the Popular Front and the Resistance, the ethos of which Truffaut opposes.

- John Hess, "Politique des Auteurs, 2" Jump Cut

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989 (121). Toute une nuit / All Night Long (1982, Chantal Akerman)

Screened November 29 on YouTube (thanks to Gina Telaroli for the tip) in Brooklyn NY TSPDT Rank #975  IMDb

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In a way it makes sense that Chantal Akerman's 1982 masterpiece is (for the moment) available on YouTube, because it resembles a fan video compilation of dramatic scenes from the movies, stitched together in one ecstatic montage.  Instead of ripping them from her DVD collection, she's reshot them in her own beloved Brussels. By my count we're looking at 55 dramatic encounters, embraces and separations involving 75 nameless characters, usually in couples, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes, arranged in loose chronology from anticipatory dusk to weary dawn. It's a puzzle-form film that practically begs to be re-watched and broken down by geeks to find patterns and beguiling inconsistencies - like when a woman checks into a hotel in one scene only to be seen running into the same hotel a few scenes later. Many characters resemble each other in appearance and dress (women in blue dresses, men in white shirts) such that they all bleed into each other - only upon close observation does one realize that only a few characters reappear, and mostly near the end.

This convergence of the universal and the specific is but one of the film's several paradoxes. With it's actors' balletic movements, rushing up and down streets and stairwells, pushing and pulling their partners in bars and bedrooms, it's a musical, except  without music (save the recurring clacking of heels, as irresistible as fate). It depicts a city teeming with human life, energy, lustful passions, yet nearly every figure seems touched with lonely desperation even in their moments of consummation.  Or the way the characters move and speak like automatons following pre-programmed behaviors to express their most selfish desires. Love and lust, so exciting in an isolated moment, so banal in the context of human history, a script that essentially has never changed.

For me, this dialogue between love in the movies and in real life is the film's most beguiling paradox. These fleeting scenes of romantic union and dissolution somehow embody both the larger-than-life drama of movie climaxes (and cliches) and the quotidian pleasure of everyday people-watching. Because these sublime encounters are devoid of the larger narrative granted to movie characters, they become as anonymous as people embracing on the street. The thrill of the movies aren't just on screen, they're everywhere around us, if we have the eyes to see them. This movie grants us that gift.

PART ONE OF TEN:

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Toute Une Nuit among They Shoot Pictures Don't They's 1000 Greatest Films:

Berenice Reynaud, Sight & Sound (1992) Helmut W. Banz, Steadycam (2007) Peter Korte, Steadycam (2007) Jim Jarmusch, Premiere: The 1980's Best (1989)

PART TWO OF TEN:

Chantal Akerman said good-bye to minimalism with this 1982 feature, which finds its model less in Michael Snow than MGM musicals. A hot summer night in Brussels is covered in brief narrative fragments centered on couples coming together or breaking up; as the film continues, it acquires an almost choreographic sense of rhythm and space. A real pleasure to watch, though Akerman doesn't skirt the darker implications of this dance of desire.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

PART THREE OF TEN:

Chantal Akerman presents a structurally challenging, yet emotionally honest, understatedly humorous, and visually compelling choreography of motion, rhythm, and passion in Toute une nuit. Using short takes, minimal dialogue, and fragmented narrative, Akerman distills the visual narrative into the brief, yet essential moments that define the spectrum of human interaction: separation, attraction, reconciliation, reunion, intimacy, absence, rejection. Filmed as a narcoleptic journey through a sultry and languorous evening in summertime Brussels, Toute une nuit becomes a subtle and relevant validation on the singularity of human existence - a chronicle of the irrepressible passion and vitality that lay beneath the surface of an alienating urban landscape.

- Acquarello, Strictly Film School

PART FOUR OF TEN:

Akerman, the mistress of minimalism, has made her own midsummer night's sex comedy, with a superabundance of stories and a cast of (almost) thousands. The film shows an endless series of brief encounters that take place in Brussels in the course of one delirious, torrid June night, with the twist that each relationship is condensed into a single moment of high melodrama - the coup de foudre, the climax of passion, the end of an affair - with the spectator left to fill in the fictional spaces between scenes. Each couple compulsively plays through the same gestures, each mating rite is a variation on the same theme: repetitions which Akerman uses both as a rich source of comedy and as a device to show erotic desire as a pattern of codes and conventions. Marrying the pleasure of narrative to the purism of the avant-garde, this is her most accessible film to date.

- Time Out

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In Toute une nuit Akerman displays her precision and control as she stages the separate, audience-involving adventures of a huge cast of all ages that wanders out into Brussels byways on a hot, stormy night. In this film, reminiscent of Wim Wenders and his wanderers and Marguerite Duras's inventive sound tracks, choreography, and sense of place, Akerman continues to explore her medium using no conventional plot, few spoken words, many sounds, people who leave the frame to a lingering camera, and appealing images. A little girl asks a man to dance with her, and he does. The filmmaker's feeling for the child and the child's independence can't be mistaken.

- Lilian SchiffFilm Reference.com

PART FIVE OF TEN:

Toute une nuit continues the theme of solitude, as it follows the monotonous sexual encounters of one particular night, as sugested in the film's title. Couples do not get together in All Night Long. Marsha Kinder describes the challenges posed by this film:

"By denying us a single unifying story, by frequently pitting word against image and non-verbal sound, by discouraging us from identifying with any of the anonymous characters, by denying us a single unified subject position... Toute une nuit makes us change the way we read a film."

Gwendolyn Audrey FosterIdentity and memory: the films of Chantal Akerman. SIU Press, 2003. Page 3.

Chantal Akerman's work has a dry, cumulative intensity. Extended takes, fixed frames, and a resolutely frontal camera position efface the conventions of analytic editing; precise and repeated framings are coupled with a consistent focus on single characters and an insistence on time. In the 1970s films, single protagonists propel the narrative through visible displacements (Je tu il elle, 1974, Meetings with Anna, 1978) or increasingly charged stillness (Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, 1975). This premise is reversed in the '80s work - in Toute une nuit (All night long, 1982), for example, whre Akerman's narrative, though still predicated on accumulation, is spread over multiple episodic threads, as characters couple and decouple according to a logic of the romantic - through longing, sexual desire, boredom...

In Toute une nuit, Akerman passes from the minimalist narratives of her earlier films to her later, idiosyncratic use of the movie-musical form - a natural outgrowth of her attention to the rhythms of gesture and dialogue, and to her transformations of them into an antinaturalistic choreography of concreteness. "No links except a musical one, with recurrences and ruptures," says Akerman of Toute une nuit's fragmentary structure...

Ivone Margulies. Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday. Duke University Press, 1996. Pages 171-172

PART SIX OF TEN:

Toute Une Nuit exemplifies her fairy tale wish granting on a grand scale. As in the other films, extremes of hunger and appetite, need and excess, too-much and not-enough retrain our senses. Avant-garde filmmaker Anne Severson once made a film of animals running, culled from archive footage, to satisfy her own childhood hunger to see more jungle every time the Hollywood camera returned to Ava Gardner, or some such colonial-abroad star, wiping sweat from her brow. I can imagine Akerman indulging the same hunger for the archetypical movie embrace, that mad dash into (or out of) each other's arms in the cathartic moment of numberless Hollywood or French movies of the thirties. Enter the fairy tale. Akerman stacks her film with these embraces - and virtually nothing else- so that they are totally stripped of psychological definition and narrative meaning. The embraces become, like many of the actions in her films, very nearly existential. They have no meaning beyond their visual literalization. And yet, having given up the expectation of emotional drama, the viewer is rewarded with a semblance of a post-modernist musical in which the tableaux, rhythm of shots, exchanges of looks, even falling of glasses, become a choreographed and scored performance played to the hilt. The film turns itself inside out, embodying a critique of romance and the musical genre all at once.

Akerman adds an extra layer to her metacinema by seeding her films with jokes and references to earlier work. In Toute Une Nuit, Akerman's own mother smokes a cigarette as her daughter cries "Mama on the soundtrack, in a simultaneous invocation of News from Home and Rendez-vous d'Anna's pillow-talk sequence.

B. Ruby RichChick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement. Duke University Press, 1998. Page 172.

PART SEVEN OF TEN:

PART EIGHT OF TEN:

Another beautiful insomniac's journey from Chantal Akerman. Narrative is La Ronde fractured, spun out of dozens of fragments of personal dramas not quite intertwining over a humid, languorous night in oppressively impersonal Brussels. A woman meets her lover in a bar while another couple looks on from a nearby table, separated until a tentative embrace breaks through the symmetry of the frame; a trio splitting leads to another couple dancing around a jukebox in a deserted restaurant; another middle-aged couple decides to go out while a woman packs up her things and takes off while her husband sleeps, and so on into dawn. Huddling actors and non-professionals (the only recognizable one is Aurore Clément, Anna in Les Rendez-vous d'Anna), Akerman grids out a panorama of aching city dwellers stepping into and out of apartments, hooking up or barely missing each other, a rendezvous kept and then broken, each and every affair marinated in its own flavor of heartbreak. Her Brussels is a democratically alienated center, with young and aged, straight and queer, local and immigrant soaking in the heat and suffering through the mysteries of human interaction with delicate variations of an ongoing plaintive murmur ("Come with me. No? ... I don't think we still love each other ... Keep me from drinking. I am scared.") Akerman's framing and panning are as severe as in her previous films, yet the duration of her shots is lighter, more elastic, reflecting the ephemeral feel of the passing fancies she captures -- a notion expressed in the closing passage with sublime consequences for Tsai Ming-liang and Claire Denis, Clément dreamily swaying with her lover through a reverse tracking-shot down a corridor while in the soundtrack their romantic Italian chanson battles it out with the disembodied honking of cars implacably ushering in the early morning, and reality.

Fernando CroceCinePassion

Although Toute Une Nuit is not as personal as Akerman’s most powerful films, her methodic filmmaking, sly humor, and obsession with relationships is firmly on display in her pseduo-conceptual work.Toute Une Nuit, like most Akerman films, contains minimal dialogue, and slowly tracks over two dozen characters as they move around urban Brussels passionately connecting with one another, if only for brief moments. It is hard to imagine Richard Linklater’s great film Slacker working, or even existing, without Chantal Akerman. While Toute Une Nuit is still only available on VHS, it is worth seeking out (and can be found on Amazon for under $5!) It is a good introduction to Akerman’s work (although I think News From Home (1977) would be the best introduction) and has quietly thrilling aspects that have become part of Akerman’s signature voice.

James HansenOut 1

PART NINE OF TEN:

Instead of a safely potted narrative plant, Äkerman gives us a plethora of seemingly random narrative shoots. These bits of life reflect how we experience our own lives. Characters are let go of for a while and picked up again. While her husband soundly sleeps, a woman noisily packs her bag right on the bed and leaves him, goes to a hotel, but returns home at dawn defeated, gets back into bed just in time for the ringing alarm clock to presumably awaken her, as well as him. For years I took exception to this artificial aspect, this miniature story, but now I find that it underscores by contrast the different method of the rest of Äkerman’s formally rigorous yet open-ended film.

- Dennis Grunes

The odd adventure in filmmaking is worth savoring because of its uniqueness, its lingering hypnotic effect, the artistic way all the brief encounters reach a melodramatic moment and in the delicate manner Miss Akerman tells her amorous narrative in an experimental film style. Miss Akerman plays with the same theme for each couple, as the repetition offers both a mix of sad and happy moments. It's surprisingly an accessible film (at least for her), and combines a sense of absurd humor with the erotic. Not a great film, but one that catches your attention.

- Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews

PART TEN OF TEN:

The yearning for romance and for the romance of the ordinary is a central ingredient of her work, but the most remarkable moments in her films are those in which her other, demonic impulses rebel against this fantasy. Emblematic in this respect is the ending of Toute une nuit, an insomniac's movie about insomniacs, in which a couple's lovemaking is gradually smothered, and all but obliterated from our attention, by the hectoring sounds of early-morning traffic outside. The tortured aggressiveness of such a moment is finally what her filmmaking is all about--her cold, elegantly symmetrical compositions and brutal sounds being hammered into our skulls with an obstinate will to power that makes Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood all seem like pussycats.

Jonathan RosenbaumThe Chicago Reader, January 26, 1990

ABOUT CHANTAL AKERMAN

IMDb  Wiki

The following quotes are found on the TSPDT Profile Page for Chantal Akerman:

"At the age of fifteen Chantal Akerman saw Godard's Pierrot le fou and realized that filmmaking could be experimental and personal. She dropped in and out of film school and has since created short and feature films for viewers who appreciate the opportunity her works provide to think about sounds and images. Her films are often shot in real time, and in space that is part of the characters' identity." - Lillian Schiff (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)

"Belgian-born director who makes long, often tedious, but sometimes hypnotically watchable arthouse films in which the camera's concentration on scenes for a long period of time can turn the viewer's pleasure into discomfort, interest into boredom or disinterest into perception. A unique film-maker, she continues to alternately baffle and fascinate her audiences." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Film Directors, 1999)

"Independent filmmaker noted for her minimalist narratives and static visual style...Her films, often dramatically vague and nearly plotless, typically seek to explore human emotion and character through unorthodox cinematic means. Although she is admired by serious critics, her films are barely accessible to general audiences.." - (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)

On one hand, the films of the 39-year-old Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman are about as varied as anyone could wish. Some are in 16-millimeter and some are in 35; some are narrative and some are nonnarrative; the running times range from 11 minutes to 205. The genres range from autobiography to personal psychodrama to domestic drama to comedy to musical to documentary to feature-in-progress--a span that still fails to include a silent, not-exactly-documentary study of a run-down New York hotel (Hotel Monterey), a vast collection of miniplots covering a single night in a city (Toute une nuit), and a feature-length string of Jewish jokes recited by immigrants in Brooklyn exteriors (Food, Family and Philosophy), among other oddities.

On the other hand, paradoxically, there are few important contemporary filmmakers whose range is as ruthlessly narrow as Akerman's, formally and emotionally. Virtually all of her films, regardless of genre, come across as melancholy, narcissistic meditations charged with feelings of loneliness and anxiety; and nearly all of them have the same hard-edged painterly presence and monumentality, the same precise sense of framing, locations, and empty space. Most of them are fundamentally concerned with the discomfort of bodies in rooms. (Akerman is basically geared toward interiors, which may be one reason her latest feature, Food, Family and Philosophy, set mostly in exteriors, is not one of her strongest. The fact that virtually all of Window Shopping, her musical, is set inside a shopping mall sets up an interesting ambiguity about whether one is inside or out--until the shock of the ending, when the film finally moves out into the open air.)

If I have a reputation for being difficult, it's because I love the everyday and want to present it. In general people go to the movies precisely to escape the everyday.

--Chantal Akerman

A yearning for the ordinary as well as the everyday runs through Akerman's work like a recurring, plaintive refrain. It is a longing that takes many forms: part of it is simply her ambition to make a commercially successful movie; another part is the desire of a self-destructive, somewhat regressive neurotic--Akerman herself in Saute ma ville, Je tu il elle, and The Man With a Suitcase; Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman; Aurore Clement in Les rendezvous d'Anna--to go legit and be like "normal" people. Je tu il elle and Les rendezvous d'Anna both feature a bisexual heroine who wants to either resolve an unhappy relationship with another woman or to go straight; in Saute ma ville, Je tu il elle, Jeanne Dielman, and The Man With a Suitcase, the desire to be "normal" is largely reflected in the efforts of the heroine simply to inhabit a domestic space.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader, January 26, 1990

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Akerman's defiance of cinematic conventions - not just the faster takes but the intrusive soundtracks, the constant visual fidgeting, the tendentious editing - has something liberating about it. Her approach, characterized by extreme restraint, makes you aware of just how manipulative, even bullying these conventions can be, though we rarely give them a second thought.

Her own slow style discourages the suspension of disbelief, allowing the mind time and space to roam, to contemplate, to question. Of course, her style can also frustrate. Akerman toys deliberately with our desire to know more, to see more, to glean a plot or grasp what is going on. Her strategy can make you resentful, but it also creates tension.

- Sebastian Smee, The Boston Globe, June 8 2008

What has made Chantal Akerman such an important part of world cinema has been her ability to raise, across a wide variety of forms, common questions that touch the core of both cinematic aesthetics and feminist political practice. The flexibility she has exhibited over the years should confirm her status not as a progressively more compromised filmmaker, but as an artist committed enough to ask questions in different idioms, instead of piously relying on one (supposedly) politically or aesthetically purified form, as so many members of both the political and romantic avant-gardes have.

- Jerry White, "Chantal Akerman's Revisionist Aesthetic." From Women and Experimental Filmmaking, edited by Jean Petrolle, Virginia Wright Wexman. University of Illinois Press, 2005. Page 47.

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985 (117). Le diable au corps / Devil in the Flesh (1947, Claude Autant-Lara)

Screened November 14 2009 on DVD rip of Video Yesteryear VHS (dubbed in English), purchased on Amazon TSPDT Rank #903 IMDb Wiki

Andre Bazin called it "the first and most exemplary psychologically realistic film" in French cinema. Francois Truffaut singled it out as a prime culprit of "le cinema du papa" against which he and other members of the French New Wave would rally.  It was both censored and defended in France for sympathetically portraying a adulterous couple, yet reviled by the likes of Truffaut for gussying up the illicit affair with "the cinema of quality" to make it palatable to bourgeois audiences.  Devil in the Flesh is a fascinating historical lightning rod, straddling both the moral and aesthetic conflicts of its time.  (As of now I'd say there's more going on in this film on different levels than, say, the tasteful stiff upper lip adultery of Brief Encounter.)

Because of its contradictory significances, its best to consider the film without that largely unhelpful label "cinema of quality" (one that unfortunately is still invoked today) and consider the tensions within the film itself. It starts with French heartthrob Gerard Philipe and his strange blend of adolescent swagger and sulky introversion. Or the way the characters are seen through multiple filters. There's the extended flashbacks, summoned aurally by a strange grinding sound, as if it were the gears of a machine [a film projector?] being wound back then forth. The prominence of all sorts of frames (windows, doors, mirrors) that continually give the sense of encasement and self-consciousness. And the frequent rain that operates as more than just for typical, sentimental exclamation during emotional climaxes, but underscores the characters' physical exertion as they move through wet spaces to see each other.

The film isn't without its questionable flourishes, such as a 180 degree shot of the bed as the couple is about to consummate their affair, that ends with one of their hands turning out the light (if this is the first instance of this romantic movie cliche, then the film has a lot to answer for). It wouldn't be half as bad if a later climactic scene didn't reprise this same shot to spell out in boldface that the affair has come full circle. Such impositions speak to the complaints from the likes of Truffaut, that this is filmmaking that looks down on both the characters and the audience. But this shouldn't discount the moments of light from within, most notably in the intimacy achieved between the leads - whose fragility may actually be enhanced by Autant-Lara's insistence on boxing them in with his frames and devices.

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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Devil in the Flesh among the 1000 greatest films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? Andre Cayatte, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Barthelemy Amengual, Positif (1991) Claude Autant-Lara, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Francis Bolen, Sight & Sound (1952) Helmut Kautner, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Marcel L'Herbier, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Marc-Gilbert Sauvajon, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Noel Coward, Cinematheque Belgique (1952)  Brussels Referendum: Filmmakers, The Ten Best Films (1952)  Daniel & Susan Cohen, Book - 500 Great Films (1987)  David Thomson, Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films (2008)  Georges Sadoul, Best French Films Since the Liberation (1965)  They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Andre Cayatte Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Barthelemy Amengual Positif (1991)
Claude Autant-Lara Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Francis Bolen Sight & Sound (1952)
Helmut Kautner Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Marcel L'Herbier Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Marc-Gilbert Sauvajon Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Noel Coward Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
 Brussels
Referendum:
Filmmakers
The Ten Best Films (1952)
 Daniel & Susan Cohen Book - 500 Great Films (1987)
 David Thomson Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction
to 1000 Films (2008)
 Georges Sadoul Best French Films Since the Liberation
(1965)
 They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

HISTORICAL REVIEW

Devil in the Flesh, a French film which features the gifted young actors above, is a story of adolescent love that runs its course to disaster in the topsy-turvy world of a nation at war. Beautifully directed by Claude Autant Lara, it has aroused cries of jubilation from the critics and rage from the censors, who object to the film's compassionate attitude toward the sinful lovers. It is one of the two or three movies to be released in the U.S. in the past half year that are worth going to see more than once. A few years ago it would have been practically impossible to see it, or a movie like it at all, outside of New York and half a dozen other big cities. Motion picture exhibitors were generally convinced that anything which broke away from the standard Hollywood formulas was box-office poison. What they rather contemptuously referred to as "art pictures" might, they said, get rave reviews in the big-city papers, but they would never be in a class with Betty Grable when it came to reaching for the customer's pocketbook.

But since 1946 there have occurred such extraordinary phenomena as Olivier's Henry V, which has already taken in $2.5 million in the U.S.; the grim Italian picture Open City, which played in towns where no foreign language picture had been seen before and grossed a million dollars, and the even greater financial successes of the British Hamlet and The Red Shoes, and the Italian Paisan. The lesson is sinking in, and perhaps people in all 48 states wil soon be getting a chance to see Devil (although only after censor's cuts)...

- Life Magazine, June 20, 1949, Page 61

An extraordinarily frank and understanding contemplation of a tragic love affair between a 17-year-old French schoolboy and the wife of a soldier during the first World War is beautifully and tenderly accomplished in a most formidable new French film, "Devil in the Flesh," which was presented at the Paris Theatre last night.

Already celebrated by the controversies it has aroused on the Continent, where it was presented under the title "Le Diable au Corps," and also by some slight embarrassment in its admission to the United States, this film is plainly one for starting impassioned discussion, pro and con. And its merits will likely be debated on other than artistic grounds. For not only does it have forebearance for the youthful principals in an adulterous romance but it lays bare the merciless irony in certain conventional attitudes...

Produced by Paul Graetz, this picture is perhaps the finest, most mature from post-war France, and its admission for exhibition by our assorted censors is a triumph to be hailed.

- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, May 10 1949

Devil in the Flesh (Graetz; A.F.E.), when it first appeared in France a couple of years ago, caused the devil of a row. Like the celebrated autobiographical novel on which it was based,* it was rough on French national dignity (the municipal council of Bordeaux denounced it as "shocking, painful and scabrous") but enthusiastically received by the public (it ran to packed houses for more than a year).

Devil in the Flesh is a profoundly moving film because it is profoundly honest. With an ear for dialogue as accurate and intimate as a wire recorder in a bedroom, Writers Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost (who also collaborated on Symphonie Pastorale) have provided a script that is at once ruthless, compassionate and quietly penetrating. Working in the same low natural key, Director Claude Autant Lara has produced an extraordinary fluoroscopic effect of life-in-depth. The lovers' moments of clandestine passion (as frank as any that have recently reached the screen), their childish gaiety, their anguish and fears have an almost unbearable intimacy. Sensitively conceived and superbly acted—notably by Micheline Presle and Gérard Philipe—Devil makes most cinema explorations of the human heart appear strictly two-dimensional.

- Time, March 21 1949

Le diable au corps was certainly the French film of 1947. Winner of several European awards, the film was also banned in communities across the Continent. While a proud tribute to the French literary tradition, it posed as the most avant-garde example of postwar cinema in that country.

There is no paradox here, for the aesthetic ideology of the "cinema of quality," of which this film serves as an outstanding example, openly mixes an interest in iconoclastic subject matter, high art tradition, and a refined studio treatment. Aurenche and Bost's careful reworking of a youthful and rebellious novel points up its key social and psychological oppositions. Claude Autant-Lara was then able to put these oppositions into play through the psychological realism of his handling of actors, and through the narrational commentary wrung out of decor, music, and cinematic figures.

Their grim intelligence and determined passion made Gérard Philipe and Micheline Presle an instantly legendary couple; he as a precocious teenage malcontent, son of an upright bourgeois, she the older woman whose husband is off at the front in World War I. Autant-Lara evinces sympathy for their questionable moral position by rendering the action through a series of flashbacks from the boy's point of view. The war is over and the town celebrates the return of its veterans, but he must hide in the room of their forbidden love and go through the anguish of recalling that love. This flashback structure, together with the doomed love of the couple, reminded critics of Le jour se lève , and made the public see Gérard Philipe as the heir of Jean Gabin. But the limpid expressiveness of the prewar realism had been complicated after the war. Philipe's gestures were calculated to display his passion and anguish, whereas Gabin had moved and spoken instinctively, without the hesitation of either good taste or intelligence, hallmarks of the postwar style. The same holds true for the direction. While Carné and Prévert had devised a number of highly charged objects, Autant-Lara multiplies effects wherever he can. The incessant play of reflections in mirrors and by the ferry insists on the significance of the drama, but does so from the outside. Similarly the famous 360-degree camera movement that circles the bed of the couple's lovemaking demands to be noticed as a figure supplied by an external narrator, especially since it begins on a crackling fire and ends on dying embers. This is more than a metaphor for passion, it is a poetic display that lifts an ordinary drama into telling significance.

Altogether Le diable au corps stuns its audience with the cockiness of its presentation as well as with the audacity of its subject matter. This is its conquest as well as its loss; for in only a few years the New Wave critics, led by Truffaut, would clamor for the downfall of psychological realism and of the paternalistic, elitist narration that preaches a liberal morality. If Radiguet, the novelist, likewise condemned a suffocating society, he did so from within, from the perceptions and language of his hero. Autant-Lara has used Radiguet's rebelliouness, has packaged it approvingly, but has made of it a mature, stylish film. Radiguet, legend has it, put everything of himself into this novel and then died. The movie pays tribute to his effort and his views, but is just another very good movie.

- Dudley Andrew, Film Reference.com

For (Francois Truffaut), Aurenche and Bost are essentially literary writers and he aims his ultimate reproach at them: they show contempt for the cinema and underestimate its potential. "They behave vis-a-vis the scenario, as if they thought to reeducate a delinquent by finding him a job; they always believe they've 'done the maximum' for it by embellishing it with subtleties, out of that science of nuances that make up the slender merit of modern novels." According to Truffaut, a valid adaptation can be written only by a "man of the cinema."

In Radiguet's short novel, written in the first person by the young narrator, the central character-narrator recounts how he met Marthe, the heroine, for the first time as she got off a train on the platform at a train station:

When the train drew into the station, Marthe was standing on the step of the railway carriage. "Wait till it stops!" cried her mother... The girl's recklessness delighted me. Her dress and hat, both simple, evidenced her lack of respect for the opinion of outsiders.

Aurenche and Bost transposed the action to the courtyard of a lycee, or secondary school, transformed into a military hospital. Marthe is a volunteer aid, helping the seriously wounded soldiers arriving from the front. This change in location allows the scriptwriters to introduce a very bitter indictment against educational, military, and medical authorities, on the one hand, and against the matriarchy, on the other: the professor is a guard dog, the military doctor is a sadistic brute, and Marthe's mother-in-law is a real harpy. Thus, from these few details we can readily see how the adapters introduced via transposition a number of motifs completely absent from the original novel, whose anti-militarism, while real, was signified in a totally different, and more subtle, manner. "What is the point of this equivalence? It's a decoy for the anti-militarist elements added to the work by the screenwriters, in concert with Claude Autant-Lara. Well, it is evident that Radiguet's idea was one of mise-en-scene, whereas the scene invented by Aurence and Bost is literary."

Finally, Truffaut defends the idea that it is impossible to appreciate simultaneously those directors belonging to the tradition of quality, such as Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, Rene Clement, Yves Allegret, and those considered auteurs, principally Jean Renoir, Max Ophuls, Jacques Becker, and Robert Bresson, because he does not believe in the "peaceful co-existence of the tradition of quality and the cinema of auteurs." The fundamental opposition established by this young critic between these two antagonistic categories rests in their directors' attitudes towards their characters: for the former, there is an all-powerful attitude in which the protagonists are only puppets manipulated by the director. "In the films of 'psychological realism' there are nothing but vile beings, but so inordinate is the authors' desire to be superior to their characters that those who, perchance, are not infamous are, at best, infinitely grotesque."

-Michel Marie, Richard John Neupert, The French New Wave: An Artistic School.  Wiley-Blackwell, 2003. Pages 37-38.

RECENT REVIEWS

Director Claude Autant-Lara presents a faithful adaptation of the novel published originally in 1923 by Raymond Radiguet, supposedly semi-autobiographical, when the author was only 20 years old. He died of typhoid fever later that same year. The film is linked to the school of cinema known as "cinema de papa."

Sensitive performances by the stars and atmospheric footage from the period keeps the fires going, in this otherwise overcooked romantic drama.

- Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews

The script feels like it was written by an eighteen-year-old. It wasn't, but it was adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel written by an eighteen-year-old, Raymond Radiguet. Radiguet died two years later of typhoid fever. The two lead characters are never more than shallow archetypes: a hormonal teenage boy and an attractive but lonely older woman. It's never evident what either one sees in the other beyond pure carnal desire. They are given no personalities.

The best thing about the film is its atmosphere. The sets are elaborate and impressive in their period detail. Michel Kleber provided lots of rainy or misty days, giving the film an ethereal quality. There're some artistic shots and interesting camera angles. The music by René Cloërec is very romantic and would have worked had the love story itself been more profound and moving. As it is, the music feels overblown. The VHS copy that I purchased is very poor quality, both for the video and the audio. The film available in America is also dubbed rather than subtitles, so the poor sound quality is a major deficit.

I sought out this film on the basis of one sourcebook rating it at 4-stars (our of 5 possible) and, most especially, from a desire to see Micheline Presle in her heyday. I had enjoyed her work at a later stage of her career in The King of Hearts (1966), one of my all-time favorite films. Presle gives a nice performance, but her character is so shallow that I had no sense of experiencing anything of her beyond her surface beauty. Although Gérard Philipe went on to be a popular romantic lead in France, until his untimely death at just thirty-nine, his casting here at age twenty-four as a seventeen-year-old destroys the credibility of the story. Although Philipe manages to convey the lack of depth and immaturity of a smitten seventeen-year-old, he never looks less than his real age. Since a significant part of the story's point was the mismatch in ages of the lovers, the casting mishap is a major deficit for the film. Philipe later appeared in La Ronde (1950). I thought the best performance in the film belonged to Jean Debucourt, in a small role as François's father. His other work included Mayerling (1936) and The Earrings of Madame de . . . (1953).

- metalluk, Epinions

claudeautantlara3 ABOUT CLAUDE AUTANT-LARA

IMDb

Claude Autant-Lara, whose talent was revealed during the war by Douce[Love Story, 1943] and Le Mariage de Chiffon [The Marriage of Chiffon, 1942], is an uneven filmmaker whose critical or analytical faculty is uncertain (witness Le Bon Dieu sans confession [God without Confession, 1953] and Marguerite de la nuit [Marguerite of the Night, 1956]), but whose dour and biting personality affirms itself brilliantly when his subject is well chosen (as in La Traversée de Paris[Four Bags Full, 1956]). We also owe to Autant-Lara the first and most exemplary psychologically realistic film, Le Diable au corps [Devil in the Flesh, 1947], which was adapted from the famous novel by Raymond Radiguet.

- Andre Bazin, from "Fifteen Years of French Cinema" republished in Bright Lights Film Journal

A director's highest duty is to reveal the actors to themselves; and to do that, he must know himself very well. Cinematographic failure generally occurs because there is too wide a disparity between a filmmaker's temperament and his ambitions.

From Diable au Corps (Devil in the Flesh in the United States) to Marguerite de la Nuit, and in between - in L'Auberge Rouge, Le Ble en Herbe, and Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) - I have consistently attacked Claude Autant-Lara and I have always deplored his tendency to simplify everything, make it bland. I disliked the coarseness with which he "condensed" Stendhal, Radiguet, Colette. It seemed to me he deformed and watered down the spirit of any work he adapted. Autant-Lara seemed to be like a butcher who insists on trying to make lace.

But I admire, without any real reservations, La Traversee de Paris. I think it's a complete success because Autant-Lara has finally found the subject he's waiting for - a plot tha tis made in his own image, a story that his truculence, tendency toward exaggeration, roughness, vulgarity, and outrage, far from serving badly, elevates to an epic.

- Francois Truffaut, The Films in My Life. Da Capo Press, 1978. Page 171

Claude Autant-Lara, the director who made his name with films like ''Devil in the Flesh'' and ''The Red and the Black'' and who made an infamous foray into far-right politics late in his life, died on Saturday in a clinic in Antibes in the south of France. He was 98.

One of France's most prolific directors, Mr. Autant-Lara made more than 30 films, many of which are classics of 1940's and 50's French cinema. His work, characterized by emphasis on plotting and dialogue and often based on literary adaptations, frequently attacked or ridiculed social institutions and made provocative jabs at bourgeois society. But in his lifetime, his politics veered 180 degrees. As a young man he was an avant-garde left-wing atheist. By the time he left politics in 1989 he was a member of France's far-right National Front party.

Mr. Autant-Lara's career as a filmmaker reached its height in the 1950's with films like ''Le Diable au Corps'' (''Devil in the Flesh''), which scandalized France with its steamy account of an adolescent's affair with a young woman whose husband was away at war. The sensation of its day, the film condemned those who glorified adultery and tacitly criticized the war. The British banned it for six years, finally releasing it with an X rating. But the movie, starring Micheline Presle and Gerard Philipe, was also seen as capturing the cynical mood of the post-war generation and won several awards.

By the 1960's, Mr. Autant-Lara and his contemporaries in the French ''tradition of quality'' films came under sharp attack, notably from Francois Truffaut, who argued that their films were ''stale'' and relied too much on adaptation of old material. Though Mr. Autant-Lara continued making films into the 1970's, he was effectively eclipsed by the more vital French New Wave filmmakers. His last film, ''Gloria'' in 1977, was largely ignored by critics.

Active in the 1950's as a spokesman for the film industry and later as the head of several film trade unions, he emerged on the national political scene in the late 80's. He was elected to the European Parliament in 1989 as a member of the National Front, though he soon resigned after the monthly magazine Globe quoted him as saying that a French politician who survived a concentration camp had been ''missed'' by the Nazis. He also cast doubt on the existence of Auschwitz and said he was glad the Israelis had a home and that he wished they would stay put there.

- Suzanne Daley, The New York Times, February 9 2000

The so-called qualite francaise may sound abstract and overly comprehensive, but in fact it included mostly prestige productions (classic literary adaptations, costume dramas, and historical reconstitutions), whose actors, principally from dramatic schools, were adorned with elaborate attires and surrounded by magnificent studio sets. The works of the directors who emerged from the dark hours of the Occupations had become, by the middle of the next decade, quite imposing in the number of their achievements and the prestige of this so-called quality. They contributed significantly to the reputation of the French film industry throughout the world. As the years went by, however, most of these experienced filmmakers progressively lost their own idiosyncratic artistic creativity and cinematographic originality, which had been their determining trademark fifteen years before. They had simply fallen prey to their own triumph due to the constant demand from film producers for bigger budgets and an invariable need to satisfy the expectation of new spectatorship. French cinema focused less on its spiritual and moral correlation to viewers and more on its own methodology to engage a subject matter. Although the works they performed were ingenious and academically stimulating, there was little change in the concept of cinema itself. This was a scenarist cinema, the genre and rules of stagecraft seemingly fixed within an agreed perception of what constituted literature, history, or vaudeville. The films of Claude Autant Lara epitomized the literary adaptation trend of the late 1940s and mid 1950s, Many of the literary adaptations of the postwar era were inspired from realist or contemporary literature, such as Raymond Radiguet's novel Devil in the Flesh (Le diable au corps), Andre Gide's The Pastoral Symphony (La symphonie pastorale), and Jean-Paul Sartre's The Chips Are Down (Les jeux sont faits). The ringleader of the qualite francaise was Autant-Lara, with adaptations of Colette's The Game of Love (Le ble en herbe), Stendhal's The Red and the Black, Georges Simenon's Love Is My Profession (En case de mahleur), and Marcel Ayme's short novel Le vin de Paris. Honorable attempts to transfer the involvements and density or classic French novels to film were sporadically made but logically remained incapable of capturing, entirely and in depth, the full dramatic fortune of the novel. French cinema was focused too much on an imaginary past (adaptations of literary classics) and remained clearly disconnected from France's current events and its preoccupations. For film historian Roy Armes, the constant dilemma for directors was between realist venture and quality impulse:

French cinema has always been at its richest when it has direct contact with the world of the arts in general, but the major currents of thought and literature hardly find their reflection in the cinema of the 1950s, whose concerns remain, essentially, professionalism, attention to detail in setting and acting, and commercial viability. In this sense it was a cinema without risks, which could hardly attract the young aspirants who were nurtured by the growth of the cine-club movement in France after 1945, by the activities of the Cinematheque francaise, which maintained a lively and eclectic approach under Henri Langlois, and by the new generation of film critics.

The cinema des scenaraistes reached its heyday with productions such as Children of Paradise (premiered in 1945), thanks to the team of Marcel Carne and Jacques Prevert, clearly experiencing its slow decline by the beginning of the 1950s. A new team of scenarists, Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, marked the soaring postwar era. Their specialty was the adaptation of literary oeuvres labled de qualite. Unfortunately, although many of the works produced reached a high level of quality (such as The Pastoral Symphony and Devil in the Flesh), they generated an overly academic approach, the rigidity of which hampered the creative process that indirectly opened the door for the future New Wave of 1958-59. Representative directors Autant-Lara and Christian-Jaque removed themselves from France's current preoccupations by their impersonal works and their rejection of the ecumenical character in their films. Although assisted by expert technicians - Jacques Natteau, Robert Juillard, Oswald Morris, and Louis Page, to name a few - they were unable to capture any sense of rejuvenation within their visual style. In 1954, a young journalist named Francois Truffaut wrote what remains today a landmark in cinematographic history, an article entitled "Une certaine tendance du cinema francais" in Les cahiers du cinema, which vehemently reevaluated the cinema de qualite and all other concepts of film studies of the 1950s. Truffaut accused directors and scenarists of the qualite francaise of conforming to established standards so closely that they eventually destroyed the spirit of their original work. This devastating position would essentially give the world the New Wave. The evolution toward a new concept of filmmaking had become a necessity.

- Remi Fournier Lanzoni, French Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. Pages 159-161

ABOUT GERARD PHILLIPE

In a brilliant but sadly brief career, Gérard Philipe was celebrated as the most talented and most loved screen and stage actor of his generation. An enormously gifted, intelligent, and committed professional, he possessed a fine voice, a handsome, youthful appearance, and a charming freshness which suggested both residual innocence and emotional intensity. Encouraged by Marc Allégret, he trained under Jean Huret and later Jean Wall before making a promising stage debut at Cannes.

Philipe's film career was launched by Marc and Yves Allégret in their romantic comedies La Boîte aux rêves and Les Petites du Quai aux Fleurs , but his first leading role came in Le Pays sans étoiles as a dreaming clerk uncannily acting out a crime of passion. A more demanding part, executed with discerning subtlety, followed as the reforming, idealistic, and deranged Prince Myshkin in L'Idiot . However, in Le Diable au corps , as the adolescent passionately and perhaps irresponsibly involved with a nurse who, although engaged to a soldier, bears his child, he triumphed with a public deeply conscious of the personal moral dilemmas posed by wartime separations. The successful partnership with Micheline Presle led to a laborious romantic farce, Tous les chemins mènent à Rome and a later lesser variation on the adulterous couple relationship in Les Amants de la Villa Borghese .

In a remarkable career, Gérard Philipe worked with the leading directors and actresses of his day and was never less than accomplished. With his handsome looks, seductive voice, and engaging personality he endeared himself to audiences as the noble but often humble romantic hero. Through his dedicated craftmanship, he won the respect of his fellow professionals to become one of the legendary figures of French cinema.

- R. F. Cousins, Film Reference.com

Among a myriad of new talented actors, it is worth considering several heroes of the 1950s generation. One of the best known illustrations is, of course, Gerard Philipe (1922-59), who died at the age of thirty-seven (a fate similar to American actor James Dean) but whose few roles made him one of the most identifiable icons of postwar French cinema. Although many have argued that his celebrity status came from the simple fact that his image of rebel youth remained untarnished by age and universally appealing for future generations, Philipe proved on many occasions the extent of his repertoire and the depth of his acting potential. He is described by film historians Olivier Barrot and Raymond Chirat as a "hero to whom the gods o fhte arts as well as the public, have bestowed... a legendary providence." Autant-Lara's Devil in the Flesh led Philipe to become the most celebrated of all French actors following his first success, which garnered the Grand Prix for Best Actor at the Brussels International Festival in 1947. Philipe concomitantly pursued a second career in theatrical drama and was consecrated with national glory at Jean Vilar's TNP in 1951. During the 1950s, thanks to his seductive talent and panache in popular cape-and-sword productions (reminiscent of Errol Flynn's performances), he became the enchanting emblem of the cinema de qualite as well as the favorite male actor among the French female public. His most memorable roles include Roger Vadim's Dangerous Liaisons (Les liaisons dangereuses, 1959), Autant-Lara's The Red and the Black, Christian-Jaque's Fan-Fan the Tulip, and The Charterhouse of Parma (La chartreuse de Parme, 1948).

Remi Fournier LanzoniFrench Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. Page 161

983 (115). Le signe du lion / The Sign of Leo (1959, Eric Rohmer)

Screened November 7 2009 on Artificial Eye DVD TSPDT rank #939  IMDb Wiki

Eric Rohmer's debut feature suggests that there were many Eric Rohmers vying for the man's artistic identity, informed by the cinephilic breadth of influences one would expect of a Cahiers du Cinema critic having his turn behind the camera. In this film, the approaches threaten to partition the movie like a post-war European city. The first part, where American expat Pierre throws a party celebrating his inheritance, dances around the room with dolly shots, snatching pieces of conversation in the tradition of Renoir/Ophuls. When Pierre's inheritance proves bogus and he's turned on the street, the film goes Neo-Realist, tracing his demise first in shades of DeSican social pathos before confronting a Rossellinian existential void. An 11th hour force majeure feels more like Preston Sturges than Robert Bresson, in terms of feeling less emotionally invested in the forces of transcendence and more like a self-reflexive act of writerly intervention that brings attention to mechanism of the plot. This is something Rohmer tries on more than once throughout the film, peppering it with seemingly incongruous digressive moments (a reporter's trip to Africa, a car wreck in the French countryside), only to tie them back into the main storyline. It's a film that, in more than one sense, is all over the map.

Perhaps it took the film's unequivocal flop with critics and audiences for Rohmer to resolve this multivocal struggle over the years that followed, leading to his unmistakable way of looking and listening to people, so compositionally controlled, yet so light and in the moment, that's been with us for for over four decades. There are traces of that Rohmer throughout The Sign of Leo, like his documentarian's way of looking at things with an eye for lived-in detail. Or the moral preoccupations of the parable-like plot; in this case it verges on the predictable or the pathetic more than once, but is saved by the ever-shifting perspective (social realist? existentialist? metafictional farce?) Or how characters project their persona through their words; Pierre lives large so long as he talks large. When his assertion of impending wealth is proven false, he retreats into a increasingly wordless state, and the indomitable city, pulsing with life in an August swelter, looms so much over him it threatens to swallow him whole. This antagonism between people and their environments always seemed secondary to the interpersonal tensions that dominate Rohmer's films, but here it's so present that you want to rewatch all of his other films to see if it's been there throughout his career, and more than just a background to human characters.

The city of Paris is the most fascinating character in The Sign of Leo; the metropolitan equivalent of Fred Astaire, it takes a slobbery lout of a main character and makes him tread with divine grace down its streets and canals. The end finds Pierre financially redeemed, though with the sense that he hasn't learned a thing from his suffering. It's as if Rohmer posed him as a negative example of what path he as an artist should take, learning from his failure and coming out with a more singular sense of self.

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HISTORICAL REVIEWS

Rohmer, the former Cahiers du Cinema critic and one of the principal intelligences of the old New Wave, is now to be recognized as one of the most interesting filmmaking talents to emerge from that long-ago period. Interesting and, in the context of that time, original. For Rohmer is a comparatively classical director who makes films about people of a certain worth and moral awareness, about people who talk well and respect each other's privacy, and who have within them the vestiges of now almost forgotten, established social orders.

In much the same way, Rohmer reflects these things in the manner in which he tells stories, with a civilized wit and style that come close to seeming austere. Pierre is really a bit of a bore (a major fault of the film), but he's basically decent, as are his friends, and Rohmer respects them by avoiding tricks, narnative or visual.

The last third of "The Sign of Leo" is one of the most effective, though unhysterical, depictions of emotional breakdown ever put on film. Pierre doesn't cry, or get drunk, or have hunger visions. Instead, he loses the sole of one shoe, which he has to tie with a string, and the world around him simply becomes increasingly clear and distant, as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, May 6 1970 (New York Film Festival)

Le signe du lion, with Pierre's long slide into misery and final redemption, in many ways fits the structure of a parable more than the later films of his Six Moral Tales series. The sense of fate, which often influences Rohmer's stories, is dominant and heavy-handed here. Moreover, while later Rohmer male characters spend much of their time thinking and debating, Pierre seems to have no real mind of his own. The first private screenings of Le signe du lion were very disappointing, and its distribution was further complicated by financial problems at Chabrol's AYJM. Completed in October 1959, though later recut and rescored, it was not shown commercially until 1962 at the Pagoda in Paris, selling only five thousand tickets. Le signe du lion never earned any money, though it garnered a few sympathetic reviews. Magny points out that the biggest problems for the film were that it offered a thin story line, an unappealing protagonist, repetitive music, and insignificant details that were nonetheless granted excessive screen time. Magny does acknowledge that Rohmer's first feature fits the New Wave spirit in many ways, however, especially in its documentation of a Paris that is very different from the commercial cinema's stereotypical city of romance and monuments. Here, Paris in August is presented as a hostile place, and many images preserve Pierre's heavy boredom and emptiness via the aimless duration of time and cavernous deep space in striking long takes. Jean Collet praises Rohmer's city, arguing that Rohmer's first feature proves right away that he is as much an architect as a director: "Le signe du lion is nothing if not a meditation on the city, the indifference its inhabitants show for one another and the distance established, as in Rear Window, between the characters and the spectator-tourists."

Certainly Le signe du lion should be seen today as an interesting but failed experiment; some of its traits, such as the connection between appearances, setting, and character, will be worked out more elegantly in Rohmer's later Moral Tales. Here, the obsessive documentary-like observance of the decline of Pierre and the hard, cruel space of the unforgiving Paris around him become a bit too obvious and even preachy. Frodon, however, praises Rohmer's fascination with the concrete: "The mise-en-scene belongs firmly to the material side, granting a striking physical presence to the building walls, pavement, and cobblestones that surround this character, who could not have been named anything other than Pierre [stone]." But Crisp effectively sums up the problems: "The New Wave had accustomed the public to all sorts of frenzied and unpredictable outbursts, but not to the austerity and understatement of this film... [much less to] being told that men were drab, slack and uninteresting."

- Richard John Neupert, A History of the French New Wave Cinema. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2007. Pages 253-254.

RECENT REVIEWS

The Sign of Leo is a fascinating film that both anticipates Rohmer’s later work and in other respects is quite unlike it. Made at the height of the New Wave, it shares with the films made by Rohmer’s comrades its intense naturalism: lightweight cameras enabled filming on real streets. The film gives a palpable sense of Paris in a heatwave, crowded with tourists: it’s not hard to imagine Pierre getting filthier and sweatier and more unshaven and unkempt as the hour-long central section depicting his decline and fall progresses. Then, in a very un-Rohmerian camera flourish (a combination of a crane shot and a model shot seeming to send the camera soaring into space), fate takes a hand. The somewhat ironic workings of fate feature in later Rohmer works such as The Green Ray and A Winter’s Tale, but here Rohmer leaves it open-ended as to whether Pierre has learned from his experience – the final line of dialogue pointedly leaves us to decide that. The film is a moral tale before Rohmer embarked on the series of that name, and differs from those films by not framing its story as a love story between men and women.

The film is rather less dependent on its characters’ talk than many of Rohmer’s later films, partly explained by the presence of a co-writer, Paul Gégauff, who is specifically credited with the film’s dialogue. It also depends on a superb performance from Jess Hahn. Hahn was a genuine American (born in Terre Haute, Indiana) who never made a film in the country of his birth but had a lengthy career in Europe. Sadly, many of the ninety-odd films he made were undistinguished, because his work here shows that there was much more to him. He makes Pierre’s desperation quite tangible, and hard to shake off. In a small role is Stéphane Audran, later to be Claude Chabrol’s regular leading lady and also his wife. Jean-Luc Godard appears in a brief role, uncredited. Nicolas Hayer’s black-and-white camerawork and Louis Saguer’s score, dominated by a solo violin, are also very effective.

Gary CouzensDVD Times

Eric Rohmer’s first full length film is this tragicomic tale of one man’s spiral descent into poverty and isolation.  Whilst the film shows Rohmer’s inexperience as a filmmaker too clearly and also suffers from some quite obvious flaws – most notably the awkward references to astrology and preordained fate – it is a compelling and, on balance, poignant work which makes some valid statements about human nature.

Any film which broaches the issue of homeliness is unlikely to do justice to the subject and to capture fully the tragedy of this predicament, but this film goes some way towards achieving this aim.  Pierre’s increasingly desperate attempts to find food and to hold his shoes together are simultaneously funny and agonisingly moving – as in many of Rohmer’s later films, it is these small details which can have a big effect on the audience.

The film certainly lacks the playful spontaneity and realism of Rohmer’s more recent film - the contrived happy ending being a particular disappointment.  Despite the jarring artificiality of the narrative, the cinematography is quite impressive, almost as mesmerising as in Rohmer’s better known films.  The eloquent location filming in Paris manages to match very well the mood of the central character – vibrant and fun when Pierre is celebrating his assumed inheritance, melancholic when he realises he has inherited nothing after all, and cruel when he finds himself alone and penniless.  The photography is distinctively Nouvelle Vague, and, appropriately, one of Rohmer’s contemporaries, Jean-Luc Godard, makes a silent cameo appearance near the start of the film.

- James Travers, Films de France

With its depiction of one man's long physical and spiritual decline, Le Signe Du Lion recalls the great naturalist novels of Emile Zola as well as the works of American realists such as Theodore Dreiser. It marks Rohmer out as one of the most literary of New Wave directors - always devoting particular attention to his characters' complex emotions and inner thoughts. Later films, though usually lighter in tone, would adopt a similar approach.

- Chris Wiegand, kamera.co.uk

ABOUT THE ARTIFICIAL EYE EARLY WORKS OF ERIC ROHMER DVD

Eric Rohmer's Le Signe du Lion sees the light of DVD for the first time (English friendly). The transfer is much better than I anticipated. Shot on 35 mm film stock, this DVD is far from what it could be, but still a decent one! The most problematic thing is that overall it's a little bit soft, and the non anamorphic picture makes some low level noise visible. Some minor moire effects can be seen on the window shutter's and on the front of cars, but there is no reason why Eric Rohmer fans shouldn't pickup this title.

The DD 2.0 sound in mono is flawless and fairly clean. I appreciate the small subtitle font AE has used on these box-set.

- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver

The Sign of Leo has an inbuilt qualitative advantage over everything else in this set by having been originated in 35mm. It’s transferred in 1.66:1 – a ratio that Rohmer would abandon in favour of Academy Ratio (1.37:1) until the early 1980s – and is not anamorphically enhanced. It’s a generally good transfer, given the film’s age: there is a general softness and some artefacting which may well have been avoided with anamorphic enhancement.

- Gary Couzens, DVD Times

ABOUT ERIC ROHMER

IMDb Wiki

The following quotes are included in the TSPDT Director page for Eric Rohmer:

"All the literary content is peripheral to Rohmer's eye. It is in the quality of his imagery that we feel the intellectual appeal of experience. The camera style is classically simple, but Rohmer adores the effects of natural light, whether the reflections from snow in Maud, the rainy day in Claire, or the Côte d'Azur interiors in La Collectionneuse." - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

"Emerging from the crucible of the French New Wave, Rohmer has forged a style that combines the best qualities of Bresson and Renoir with distinctive traits of the Hollywood masters. And though he was never as flamboyant as Godard or Truffaut, Rohmer's appeal has proved much hardier." - Dennis Nastav (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

"In their own world, Rohmer's films are guaranteed to run and run. This may be because, although they are more or less conversation pieces, they are also cleverly constructed (he always writes his own screenplays) in such a way as to keep an audience's interest alive until matters dovetail at the end, by which time most of Rohmer's characters know more about themselves than when the film began." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Film Directors, 1999)

"An important figure in the French new wave, Rohmer is known primarily for his "moral tales," which leisurely speak of men and women, and the things they do to each other." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

Biography on NewWaveFilm.com

By virtue of a tenure shared at Cahiers du Cinéma during the 1950s and early 1960s, Eric Rohmer is usually classified with Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, and Rivette as a member of the French New Wave. Yet, except for three early shorts made with Godard, Rohmer's films seem to share more with the traditional values of such directors as Renoir and Bresson than with the youthful flamboyance of his contemporaries. Much of this divergence is owed to an accident of birth. Born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer in 1920, Rohmer was at least ten years older than any of the other critic/filmmakers in the Cahiers group. By the time he arrived in Paris in 1948, he was an established teacher of literature at the lycée in Nancy and had published a novel, Elizabeth (1946), under the pseudonym Gilbert Cordier. When he joined the Cahiers staff in 1951 Rohmer had already spent three years as a film critic with such prestigious journals as La Revue du Cinéma and Sartre's Les Temps modernes. Thus Rohmer's aesthetic preferences were more or less determined before he began writing for Cahiers. Still, the move proved decisive. At Cahiers he encountered an environment in which film critics and filmmaking were thought of as merely two aspects of the same activity. Consequently, the critics who wrote for Cahiers never doubted that they would become film directors. As it turned out, Rohmer was one of the first to realize this ambition. In 1951 he wrote and directed a short 16mm film called Charlotte and Her Steak in which Godard, the sole performer, plays a young man who tries to seduce a pair of offscreen women. Two of his next three films were experiments in literary adaptation. These inaugurated his long association with Barbet Schroeder, who produced or co-produced all of Rohmer's subsequent film projects.

Dennis Nastav, Film Reference.com

In 1948, two years before making his first film, in a piece for Les Temps modernes, arguing “For a Talking Cinema” Rohmer writes:

If talking film is an art, speech must play a role in conformity with its character as a sign and not appear only as a sound element, which, though privileged as compared with others, is but of secondary importance as compared with the visual element.

In this early article, Rohmer set out the manifesto he followed throughout his career. He sees speech as an integral part of both life and cinema. In his work the word is not used to impart information, but rather as a revelation of world and character—that is, it is used in exactly the same way as the image is used. The dialogue that fills Rohmer's films—its banalities, intricacies and lies, reveal the interior of his characters as much as their silent glances and physical hesitations. Words are never forced—he writes for the specific voice of each actor—they are used cinematically rather than literally.

It is through writing that Rohmer's films consistently question the nature of the cinematic. It is shocking sometimes to see these long conversations and not be bored by their simple, often static representation. How can so much talk be cinematic? But these conversations are more than just talk. This isn't radio. Neither is it an interview or televised debate. This is talk visually represented. Word and image work together to create a third thing, cinema. But cinema is a vague term (silent films are, of course, cinema) bringing up the idea of moving images rather than this sound/image combination. Defending his Contes moreaux Rohmer writes:

…neither the text of these commentaries, nor that of my dialogues, is my film: Rather, they are things that I film, just like the landscapes, faces, behavior and gesture….I do not say, I show. I show people who move and speak.

The concept of total cinema is often seen as one of pure image, the meaning so completely contained within that image that words are unnecessary. In his quiet way—within what he describes as “self imposed limitations” —Rohmer is one of the few directors who has managed to arrive at a cinema that is doubly total. His is a cinema where the word is more than a signal post in the plot or a neat catchphrase, but something integrated into the cinematic world. He writes, “a means must be found to integrate words not into the filmed world but into the film…” His work is a concerted and successful attempt to do this.

- Tamara Tracz, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

In terms of consistency of both the content and form of his films, Eric Rohmer is without a doubt one of the most distinctive auteurs in the history of cinema. As with Japan’s Yasujiro Ozu, within min utes—seconds, even—of starting to watch one of his movies, it’s clear who made it. Not that his visual style is even remotely flashy; like Howard Hawks—one of the Hollywood directors Rohmer greatly admired when he was critic and editor, in the 1950s and early ’60s, for Cahiers du cinéma—Rohmer prefers to keep technology and technique invisible. Indeed, so decep tively simple and straightforward is his work that some dismiss it as “talking heads.” Such an assessment is right (but not particularly bright) to point to his love of conversation, and accurate insofar as it alludes— accidentally—to his fascination and skill in terms of exploring feelings, opinions, and thoughts, rather than depicting the kinds of actions (catching crooks, killing enemies, saving the world, seeing the light) favored by most directors. But it fatally ignores the remarkable emotional, intellectual, and dramaturgic subtlety of his work. A Rohmer movie is not simply a drama or a comedy, a love story or an exercise in suspense, a psychological study or a philosophical disquisition; it’s all these and considerably more. Whether an original piece or an adaptation, be it set in the present or the past, the city or the country, it’s always first and foremost a Rohmer film. In essence, he invented his own genre.

- Geoff Andrew, The Criterion Collection

Even more than Truffaut or Chabrol, Rohmer has always believed in the power of stories and storytelling. In his early "Moral Tales," the carefully calibrated narratives pushed his gallery of intellectuals toward a melancholy self-realization. As the director became more interested in young people at the beginning of the '80s, his focus shifted to the spiritual. Like Rossellini, one of his role models, the devoutly Catholic Rohmer tends to leave his heroes and heroines in a state of grace, framed within the most ordinary circumstances and settings (it's hard to imagine a more subtly enacted miracle than the climax of Tale of Winter). And, of course, they talk their way right up the spiritual ladder. Many people are driven around the bend by Rohmer's "dialogue-heavy" movies, which supposedly approach cinematic danger level. But in his case, talk always equals action: a form of therapeutic inquiry for the heroes of My Night at Maud's or Claire's Knee, a restless search for clarity in Pauline at the Beach or Le Beau Mariage, a wayward path toward enlightenment in the latest films. Moreover, Rohmer's talking cures are always firmly rooted in their settings: It's the pre-Christmas snowstorm in Clermont-Ferrand that keeps the skittish Jean-Louis Trintignant holed up with Françoise Fabian's game divorcée in Maud's, and it's the golden, sunlit southern countryside that fillsMarie Rivière with the knowledge of her own mature beauty in Autumn Tale.

With his three long series spanning six decades, broken up by excursions into documentaries, literary adaptations, and omnibus films, has Rohmer realized his ambition to be the Balzac of cinema? Maybe. It has to be said that his conservatism borders on nationalism: Unlike Pialat or Téchiné or even Rivette, he's never risen to the challenge of portraying the racial diversity of modern France. But for all its neatness and moral self-containment, his is a remarkable (and often remarkably funny) body of work, rich in natural wonders, bewitching interactions, and emotional passages. Maud's is still his meatiest film: Trintignant's wary self-exposure is perfectly matched by Fabian's seductive frankness, and Nestor Almendros never got a crisper black-and-white image. Depending on your tolerance for Jean-Claude Brialy, even at his least preening, Claire's Knee remains an intricately suspenseful movie: The buildup to that nonlecherous caress is one of the neatest inventions of the '70s. The "Comedies and Proverbs" of the '80s are more diaphanous, with the soulful exceptions of The Aviator's Wifeand the largely improvised Summer. But even the insubstantial Full Moon in Paris vibrates with the delicate beauty of the late Pascale OgierAutumn and Winter (his most purely Christian film) are the most vaunted of the later movies. My personal favorite is the undervalued Tale of Springtime, which works up a lively romantic intrigue against a background of suburban greenery under overcast skies. Also not to be missed: the painterly adaptation of Kleist's Marquise of O, with a devastating lead performance by the great Edith Clever; the early short The Baker of Monceau, the first of the moral tales, filled with new wave exuberance and featuring a young, handsome Barbet Schroeder; and the largely unknown feature debut, The Sign of Leo. A favorite of Fassbinder's, this beautifully elaborated tall tale offers a wonderful portrait of Paris in the late '50s. And, during a nicely detailed bohemian party scene, it features an unforgettable cameo. The young man in dark glasses sitting at a table, endlessly lifting the needle off a record to play and replay his favorite piece of music, is none other than Rohmer's opposite number, Jean-Luc Godard.

- Kent Jones, The Village Voice, February 6 2001

976 (108). Tout va bien (Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin)

Screened July 5 2009 on Criterion DVD in New York, NY TSPDT rank #948  IMDb Wiki

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I watched this film days after working on a lengthy essay on Jia Zhang-ke's 24 City, which keyed me to notice multiple parallels between the two films. Both films are politically conscious works made at a time when their directors were/are trying to make their work appeal to a wider audience. Both deal with depicting the plight of factory labor, with an intent to spark political or social consciousness in the viewer.  Both attempt to utilize elements of mainstream filmmaking, most notably the casting of stars recognizable to their target audience (Jane Fonda, meet Joan Chen).  At the same time, both films utilize arthouse cinema techniques, as well as documentary techniques like on-screen interviews, to challenge the viewer's engagement with mainstream cinema itself. And, perhaps most important of all, both films emphatically view politics and history in terms of performance: recollections and speech acts delivered for the camera, with a directorial emphasis on the act of representation.  It was interesting to read contemporary reviews of both films that found them to be ultimately unsuccessful acts of compromise between commercial, political and art cinema.

I find the matter of evaluating the success of either these films inconclusive, simply because the criteria for evaluating commercial, political and art cinema respectively are largely incongruous. What would it mean for a movie that denounces capitalism to be a box office hit? Or for a film whose aesthetic beauty distracts us from being stirred to take political action?  It's a credit to Tout va bien that it's highly sensitive to these kinds of contradictions and weaves them into its design.  It takes two of the biggest stars of its day and for half the film relegates them to minor characters, while a collective labor revolt in a factory takes center stage.  It's a subjugation of audience prejudice, as opposed to more conventional subterfuge (i.e. how white characters would star in stories about black civil rights, a la Mississippi Burning or Cry Freedom).  It's also not afraid to depict this ostensibly noble uprising as a cruel, chaotic and tedious affair of disunity and brinksmanship negotiation. These scenes lack pleasure while actively commenting on its lack of entertainment value, using compositions to compare with the Keystone Cops or Jerry Lewis. If screwball comedies channel social dysfunction into entertainment, Tout va bien breaks that sublimation, linking them only through a disharmony of critical juxtaposition.

There's a lot of great stuff like this going on throughout the film; of its many virtues there's also one of Godard's strongest female characters.  Though Jane Fonda is relegated to the sidelines for half the film, she delivers a knockout monologue involving a photo of a penis. For all the radicalness of Godard and Gorin's collaborations, this feels to me like one of Godard's most accessible and lucid political works, moreso than his late period works. It culminates in the famous 9 minute supermarket checkout uprising, which in its own way marks Godard checking out from political radicalism.  Less a call to arms than an allegorical enactment of May 68 and its aftermath, it visualizes the hopelessly institutionalized and commercialized times we live in, and the inevitable reprise against it, with a sober, aestheticized objectivity. In one long, majestic take, the camera depicts this cycle by tracking back and forth, a pendulum that still swings today.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Tout va bien among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Jeon Yang-June, Sight & Sound (1992) Shinji Aoyama, Kinema Junpo (1999) Travis Mackenzie Hoover, The Cinematheque Top 10 Project (2005) Sight & Sound 360 Film Classics (1998) Take One, Best European Films of the 'Decade' 1966- 77 (1978)

Movie-Tout va Bien de Jean-Luc Godardtotutvabien-poster3

Godard's return to mainstream film-making after his self-imposed four-year Marxist-nihilist exile is a sort of auto-critique, craftily type-casting Fonda and Montand as media intellectuals (she an American journalist, he a former New Wave film-maker now working in commercials) who eagerly committed themselves to the revolutionary struggle in 1968, but are now led to revise that commitment (and their personal relationship) through their involvement in a factory strike in 1972. A little simplistic at times but acidly funny, with Godard's genius for the arresting image once more well to the fore.

- Time Out Film Guide

"Tout Va Bien" was, as Mr. Godard says in "Letter to Jane," intended as an answer to the then-burning question, "What part do intellectuals play in the revolution?" - a question not asked much since the 1970's. Galvanized by the events of May 1968 in France - a nationwide ideological upheaval that briefly succeeded in chasing President Charles de Gaulle out of the country - Mr. Godard and Mr. Gorin had spent the next four years making raggedly improvised agitprop films with titles like "Pravda" and "See You at Mao" (both 1970). But with "Tout Va Bien," they hoped to take their ideas to the wider public attracted by movie stars, which explains the presence of Ms. Fonda and her co-star, the beloved French actor and music hall performer Yves Montand.

In the film's fictional framework, Ms. Fonda is an American radio reporter working in Paris, who takes her tired boyfriend, a former New Wave filmmaker now working in the more honest medium of television commercials, to visit a sausage factory under siege by its disgruntled employees. The visitors are taken hostage along with the Nixonesque boss of the establishment (Vittorio Caprioli), and after a day and a night of indoctrination by the angry workers (who despise the labor unions as much as the bosses), they return to their ordinary lives. They have not been radicalized by the experience - Mr. Godard and Mr. Gorin are too tough-minded for that - but they have learned the importance of understanding their place in history, a theme that, born here, defines Mr. Godard's work to the present day.

- Dave Kehr, The New York Times, February 16, 2005

Film_275w_ToutVaBien

Opening in Paris on April 28, 1972, Tout va bien was, per Colin MacCabe, “a critical and commercial disaster.” Scarcely more than two months later, Fonda gave the most controversial performance of her career: July 8, she deplaned an Aeroflot jet in Hanoi, where she made ten broadcasts on behalf of the North Vietnamese government. Once the story broke, Fonda became an issue in the presidential campaign—the antiwar activist Nixon supporters most loved to hate.

Tout va bien had its U.S. premiere, a few weeks before the election, at the New York Film Festival. Misleadingly promoted as Godard’s commercial comeback, the movie was tepidly received. I vividly recall my own youthful disappointment that Tout va bien was notWeekend. (Of course, as Tout va bien makes clear, 1972 was not 1968.) Nor did many appreciate Fonda’s game and stellar turn. She’s “most appealing (and very funny) as a solemn American political correspondent who becomes radicalized after being trapped overnight in a strike in a Paris sausage factory,” New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote in one of the movie’s few favorable notices. Her hair still in the stylish shag cut that she popularized with Klute, Fonda gives a forceful, tense performance. Speaking in French throughout much of the movie, she enjoys her finest moment in a lengthy domestic argument with Montand, during which she is brandishing a photo of male genitalia.

J. HobermanCriterion Current

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The assumption behind the Dziga Vertov films is clearly that the revolutionary impetus of May 1968 would be sustained, and it has not been easy for Godard to adjust to its collapse. That difficulty is the subject of one of his finest works, Tout va bien (again in collaboration with Gorin), an attempt to return to commercial filmmaking without abandoning the principles (both aesthetic and political) of the preceding years. Beginning by foregrounding Godard's own problem (how does a radical make a film within the capitalist production system?), the film is strongest in its complex use of Yves Montand and Jane Fonda (simultaneously fictional characters/personalities/star images) and its exploration of the issues to which they are central. These issues include the relationship of intellectuals to the class struggle; the relationship between professional work, personal commitment, and political position; and the problem of sustaining a radical impulse in a non-revolutionary age. Tout va bien is Godard's most authentically Brechtian film, achieving radical force and analytical clarity without sacrificing pleasure and a degree of emotional involvement.

Godard's relationship to Brecht has not always been so clear-cut. While the justification for Brecht's distanciation principles was always the communication of clarity, Godard's films often leave the spectator in a state of confusion and frustration. He continues to seem by temperament more anarchist than Marxist. One is troubled by the continuity between the criminal drop-outs of the earlier films and the political activists of the later. The insistent intellectualism of the films is often offset by a wilful abeyance of systematic thinking, the abeyance, precisely, of that self-awareness and self-criticism the political works advocate. Even in Tout va bien, what emerges from the political analysis as the film's own position is an irresponsible and ultimately desperate belief in spontaneity. Desperation, indeed, is never far from the Godardian surface, and seems closely related to the treatment of heterosexual relations: even through the apparent feminist awareness of the recent work runs a strain of unwitting misogyny (most evident, perhaps, in Sauve qui peut). The central task of Godard criticism, in fact, is to sort out the remarkable and salutary nature of the positive achievement from the temperamental limitations that flaw it.

Robin WoodFilm Reference.com

Tout va bien is, for obvious reasons, the most "professional" of the Vertov films. Gorin and Godard wanted to work again on a larger and more "popular" scale. To this end, they secured two stars from the Left, Yves Montand and Jane Fonda; devised a narrative; and built a set—a sausage factory headquarters during a strike. Having accepted these concessions, Gorin and Godard play with them cunningly: for much of the film the stars function as extras, while other "nonstars" assume center stage; the stars' "love story," once it emerges, fixes their romance solidly in the context of their jobs (as film director and journalist respectively), and thus within the hypocrisies of commercial culture; and the set, in tribute to Jerry Lewis' The Ladies' Man (1961), is a cutaway functioning as another Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt. Such strategies make a film whose formal complexity matches a new variety of discourse: Gorin and Godard here allow boss, unionist, and radical striker all to speak for themselves, giving us more freedom to weigh their respective positions. This freedom is welcome, though it also indicates a loss of fervor. As Gorin has said, Tout va bien is a film of 1972, not of 1968; and the bleakness of its concluding travelling shot underlines the inadequacy of the revolutionary actions that it depicts, the passing of the revolutionary moment

- Erik Ulman, Senses of Cinema

Frame comparisons by Craig Keller of Tout va Bien and Jerry Lewis' The Ladies Man (last image in sequence)

4a5i3o5tTout_Factorytoutvabien_largeLewis_Ladies_House

Tout Va Bien begins with a closeup of a man signing checks. The camera frames the amount of the check -- we see that they're drawn on the account of a film production company. The man, the director, signs the check, quickly followed by another check and another and another. After a minute or so, a female voice: "If you get stars, people will give you money." The checks keep coming, faster. Then, superimposed on the frame: JANE FONDA. Then, YVES MONTAND. In the next scene, Fonda and Montand are a couple in love, walking along the beach, yada yada; in the next sequence they're quarreling bitterly; next, the female voice interrupts again. This is no good, she says, that is too conventional, you have to show how society makes them as they are. You have to show the context.

And most of the rest of Tout Va Bien is context. The story of the man and the woman is interrupted, punctured, by a wildcat strike in a sausage factory. Fonda plays an American journalist who's trying to report on French politics and culture; Montand plays a washed-up film director; but they're caught in the strike before we know much about them. And they're literally caught, trapped in the factory office with the manager, who's besieged by angry young workers. The union said it was supposed to be a brief work stoppage, but it "got out of hand," with workers trashing the offices and terrorizing the managers.

Some writers have called Tout Va Bien worker agitprop; I don't know what movie they've seen. Godard steps well back from the barricades. He shows the multilevel, glass-walled factory in cross-section; one critic wrote that it looks like an ant farm. The workers talk directly to the camera about their jobs, their bad wages, their lives; they attack the union and the leftist parties and the boss. But the boss gets to speak to the camera too, his own perfectly respectable defense of his job and the market. He's presented as a buffoon, but so are many of the leftist leaders in the film, and they're all equally trapped in the system. When the boss needs to use the bathroom, the strikers tease him by letting him out and then camping in the lavatories, turning office rules back on him: "Sorry! Your five minutes are up! Back to work!" Ultimately he has to break his window -- Godard's glass fourth wall -- so that he can pee.

Throughout the 1960s, Godard disdained cinematic form, yetTout Va Bien is elegant and shapely despite itself. The scattershot jokes and subversion of his earlier films, and the anger and chaos of films like Weekend, begin to coalesce here. Godard's tone and meaning are usually indefinite, "between" settled attitudes; Tout Va Bien hovers between comic play (the jokes are marvelous) and despair. The critical consensus is that Tout Va Bien is one of Godard's lesser films. I think it's one of his best.

Les PhillipsCinescene

#18: One of the most famous long takes you'll ever see is in Jean-Luc Godard's Le Weekend, but for me the more entertaining and, magically, more pretentious long take can be seen in his 1972 opus to the ultra left wing Tout Va Bien. Godard's inimitable blend of rambling, dense and boring Marxist politics and the slapstick of the Keystone Kops comes to a head in a nine-minute plus tableau set at a gigantic supermarket. The camera trucks left to right then back again from behind the check out row. We watch as Jane Fonda is wowed by the selection, which includes a raving Communist surrounded by sandbags. Various voiceovers begin to take over as we spy a coterie of shoplifters, counterrevolutionaries and anarchists begin to lay waste to the nice, clean store. Odd, Euro-lookin' products (like milk in boxes - what's up with that?) abound.

- UGO's 21 Greatest Long Takes in Movie History

Ingenue. Sex kitten. Oscar winner – twice. Exercise video queen. Scion of Hollywood acting dynasty. Feminist. French director's wife (and ménage à trois companion). Leftie California politico's wife. Atlanta media billionaire's wife. Barbarella and Hanoi Jane. Many are the ways in which we know Jane Fonda, and lately we can add a couple more: autobiographer and comeback kid, whose first movie in 15 years, Monster-in-Law, recently opened at No. 1. Lately, Fonda has been in full flower on the publicity trail, paving the way for her return to movies with tempting teasers from her book and mea culpas for her extreme fraternization with the North Vietnamese 30 years ago. Jane Fonda is a fixture in the American imagination – and as it turns out, the French imagination, too.

In 1972, following her Oscar win for Klute, Fonda co-starred with French film icon Yves Montand in Tout Va Bien by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin. Godard, who was part of the leading edge of the French New Wave a decade before, was now in a new phase of his career as a result of the French strikes and protests of May 1968. He had begun making films collectively with Gorin as the Dziga Vertov Group, with the idea of making films politically instead of making political films. Nevertheless, the movies they produced over the next few years were stridently Maoist and didactic. But with Tout Va Bien, they snagged two of the cinema's most outwardly leftist actors to star as the film's husband and wife, and – as reflected in the film's self-reflexive opening text – they were off and running on a more commercially viable film project. The film, nevertheless, fared poorly when it opened in France. Then, shortly before its American release, Fonda made her infamous trip to North Vietnam. One of the photos of Fonda in Hanoi inspired Godard and Gorin to make what turned out to be their final film together, "Letter to Jane," a scathing 52-minute analysis of one image of their erstwhile star. It is included here with Tout Va Bien, along with some useful documentary footage of Godard and Gorin, then and now, explicating their work on these two films.

- Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle

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INTERVIEW WITH JEAN-PIERRE GORIN

Q: The couple in TOUT VA BIEN doesn't seem to be a break with the couples in Godard’s earlier films right from BREATHLESS, but to be the politically conscious development of the earlier couples.

A: Yes, exactly. Our slogan when doing TOUT VA BIEN was that we are going to do the same old thing, but differently. The original title of TOUT VA BIEN was “Love Story.” We wanted to do an ironic and joyful film playing with the codes of the normal cinema, and that is why the development of the relationship between Jane Fonda and Yves Montand is so similar to other films. But when it is so much alike there is also the possibility of producing new elements. Maybe the trouble with TOUT VA BIEN is that we didn't succeed in doing the same old thing differently, because for the French audience the film is completely different. That’s why, maybe, that it is of no use any more to try to deal with the traditional codes at all. We really need to produce films that are breaking points—we need to produce new elements, new visuals, new sounds, and to re-think completely the notion of editing. That’s why Jean-Luc is getting into video. Video is a complete change in the conception of editing, because you edit while you are shooting. He is going to be ten years in advance, because it is a completely non-mastered technique promoted as aesthetics.

Q: Was it difficult to work with big stars?

A: Yes, because they were put in a process completely different from the films they had been making before. Jane had been doing KLUTE and was going to shoot with Joseph Losey, and in between she was working with us. But it helped a lot that Jane was very interested in the film and also that she came from a school of acting that was completely different from Yves’. There is much more attitude in the American school of acting, while French actors are basically natures, and like Brecht we prefer attitude to nature. We honestly had big problems with the actors, and sometimes the whole thing seemed to get completely out of our hands. That’s why Jean-Luc doesn't like actors. He never did, but still the actors he used in his earlier films are the big stars of French cinema today: Belmondo, Piccoli, Anna Karma.

The interesting thing about TOUT VA BIEN is that the class struggle is also marked in the differences between the type of acting of the extras and the big stars. The workers in the film are played by people who don't have much experience, and the funny thing is that they discovered a certain tradition of acting that goes very far back in French cinema. They were not at all in the same line. You have a guy who plays like in a Jean Vigo film, and another who plays like in the old Gabin films, and one who plays like Arletty, and they were really enjoying themselves. It was a strange process, getting back to the roots, back to Renoir and the whole tradition of the 30’s, which is a political tradition of acting, because it came out of the Popular Front. Maybe the good thing about TOUT VA BIEN is the strong feeling you have of both individuality among the workers and at the same time some common will and spirit—individuality and mass consciousness at the same time. The two stars were really frightened in the factory sequence, because the whole thing seemed to get out of their hands. It is very difficult to deal with the problems of the actors when you are trying to produce non-psychological films or films where the psychology is completely different.

- Interviewed by Christian Braad Thomsen, Jump Cut, 1974.

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DEEPER READINGS

In Tout va bien, Susan shows Jacques a photograph of a penis being fondled by a woman's hand. The image fills the screen for what seems an unnaturally long time, while Susan says: "Admit that this image satisfies you less than it did three years ago." On one level, she is referring to the declining satisfactions of their marriage; on another level, she is asserting the law of diminishing returns in the exploitation of sexual images in cinema.

Tout va bien unmasks the alienated nature of cultural work in class society. Jacques defines his work as "making films, finding new forms for new content," but in fact his new forms serve only to sell soap and razor blades. Susan tells journalistic anecdotes into the microphones of the American Broadcasting Corporation, but she ultimately finds it impossible to continue in bourgeois media. Jacques and Susan represent a bifurcation of the filmmaking function into images and sounds; taken together they figure forth the cineaste himself. Susan's dismissal of her former work as "crap" recalls Godard's severe judgments on his earlier films, while Jacques' self-characterization as a new wave director radicalized by May '68 corresponds to Godard's own political evolution at the time.

After the at times masturbatory militancy of the Dziga Vertov period films, Tout va bien displays a kind of serenity. Godard feels confident enough to let the various political groups - even the advocates of consumer civilization - speak for themselves. The serenity comes as well from a new honesty about the filmmaker's relation to class struggle. Godard, after all, is not a Maoist peasant or a Latin American guerrilla - he is an artist-intellectual in the capitalist West. The intellectual, Godard seems to realize in Tout va bien, can only offer what Walter Benjamin called a "mediated solidarity" to the working-class oppressed of his own country. Tout va bien critically examines the role of intellectuals - especially those intellectuals who have access to the cultural and ideological apparati - withing social relations as a whole. The cinetracts of the Dziga Vertov period, however essential in their search for a method, were at times irresponsible in their oracular Leftism. They indulged in a kind of tourism of revolutionary struggles - a few months in Italy, next to Prague, then over to the Chicago 8. Tout va bien retains the political bite of the earlier films, but is more accessible in its search for a peculiarly politicized kind of beauty.

- Robert Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard. Columbia University Press, 1992, 56, 216, 222

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Rethinking becomes not just the film's subject matter, but also a necessary process in watching Tout va bien. The spectator rethinks the situations of the workers and the lovers. But beyond this, the spectator must rethink the process of watching a film; he or she may come to see how filmic conventions have been used in the past, and how they may be used in new ways which seek to avoid and expose the naturalization of conventionalized cinematic devices.

This is not to say, however, that the process of separation I have been examining guarantees this response - or any other - in the spectator. The most a filmmaker can do is to create a set of cues of perception. But the spectator may be incapable of taking up those cues, for the ideology of viewing lies to a large extent in learned skills for understanding art works. The vast majority of film-goers have learned no way of viewing other than that needed to approach the classical narrative film.

Tout va bien was not made within the commercial Hollywood tradition, though it cites that tradition extensively and uses stars from it. Rather, the film draws upon the institution of the art cinema. Having left that tradition for the Dziga-Vertov films, beginning in 1968, Godard attempted to create a new kind of cinema for political purposes. Sometimes shooting in 16mm, often substituting rhetorical formal strategies for narrative, he and Gorin found themselves increasingly losing the wide audience Godard's earlier films had enjoyed. However successful one might consider films like British Sounds aesthetically and ideologically, they presented too great a challenge to the conventional viewing habits of most audiences. In Tout va bien, we can see an eminently Brechtian compromise. It returned to the institution of the art cinema; the film ran in regular theaters and allowed Godard and Gorin to make the traditional artists' tour to promote their film. But although Tout va bien utilizes many of the art film's conventions, and indeed is an art film in many ways, it also seeks to undermine that mode of filmmaking.

- Kristin Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor: Neoformalist Film Analysis. Princeton University Press, 1988. Pages 126, 128, 130

One way to interpret Tout va bien is that personal politics are inseparable from a larger sphere, thus the final track opens up the story's realm, while it also becomes a visual pun on taking theory into the streets. The end, therefore, goes beyond the simple description of details or places in the environment, and instead becomes a political essay-like maneuver. Nonetheless, the final shot and its accompanying soundtrack do force the narrative disclosure to reopen after the cafe scene, breaking the final bracket that had been set up to mirror the film's opening.

In order for an Open Discourse film to work it does not need a final section that is completely isolated from the preceding text. The Open Discourse ending does, however, need to supply the viewer with a conclusion that continues narrative systems but not story events. In Tout va bien, the spectator may relate the "France - 1972" song, and the chants that accompany it, to the overall themes of class struggle. Jean-Pierre Gorin, the film's co-director, interprets the final tracking shot and soundtrack as conclusive of several formal and thematic threads that unify the film: "Of course the last tracking shot sums up the whole film- the slum landscape with that incredible song. You pass along the wall, and on the soundtrack you have the three principal sounds of the film - the leftist sound, the Communist Party sound, the boss sound. They're like sound vignettes stamped on that bare wall... That's the summary of the film." While it may not be as easy as Gorin suggests to perceive the three different sounds, much less relate them to specific political voices, the narrative discourse nevertheless continues the film's ideas without any longer using the story elements as supports.

- Richard John Neupert, The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema. Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 127

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Tout va bien, with its almost obsessive exploration of screen surfaces and inquiry into its modes of representation, stresses that artworks are constructions, objects produced by people, and as such obey ideologically determined codes. Hence Godard's main problem in constructing Tout va bien became a formal one; i.e., "how to make political films politically." Vertov's and Brecht's notions of new form for revolutionary content helped him to confront this problem, and Tout va bien (through its acknowledged contradictions" epitomizes Godard's solution.

The complexity of Jane Fonda's fictional character is linked to the process of her de-prostitution, both as a real person/actress and as a fictional character. Fonda's off-screen image, which at that time depended on her reputation for political activity, is exploited in a Brechtian manner. Brecht suggested that actors in the epic theatre should have active roles in the class struggle in their real lives. Thus her personal traits as the fictional Susan presumably correspond to her real traits, or, rather to her media-defined style. At the same time, in her quarrel with Jacques, she is implicitly criticizing her former relationships with [Roger] Vadim and her exploitation by him as a woman/star. As I suggested before, her performance also alludes to another American actress, Jean Seberg in Breathless.However, in Tout va bien Fonda is the politically correct American actress. The fictional Susan also alludes to Susan Sontag, another radical intellectual woman who was for a while, like Fonda herself, an American expatriate in Paris. On another level, Susan, like Jacques, is a surrogate for Godard. As a leftist intellectual involved with the media, she shares the Godardian sensibilities and frustrations concerning the role of intellectuals in the revolution, and like him she concludes that "it all comes down to a question of style." The fictional Susan here also echoes an dduplicates Fonda of the 1970s. Susan/Fonda in Tout va bien is a radical activist, involved with the media and trying to define herself politically and professionally, not unlike Godard himself. In Tout va bien Fonda is shown in the process of creating a new image. Her sloppy, unstylish clothes deliberately demystitfy her former sexy image and her Marxist/feminist lecture to Jacques only reasserts her new image. In Tout va bien she not only abandons her old self but also criticizes it.

- Yosefa Loshitzky, The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci. Wayne State University Press, 1995. Pages 48, 164-165

If Tout va bien does propose any final truth, it is in the male and female voice-overs which conclude the film, stating of the protagonists that 'ils ont commence a se enser hi-stor-ique-ment' [they have begun to think of themselves hi-stor-ic-ally], and proposing that 'chacun sera son propre historien, [...] moi ... toi ... lui ... elle ... nous ... vous!' [everyone will be their own historian, [...] me ... you ... him ... her ... us ... you!]. This proposed fragmenting of history into personalized narratives perhaps predicts Godard's retreat into non-commercial video projects in the mid-seventies. It also subverts the dominant historical discourse of the period, the Gaullist myth that France had been united (in resistance) during the Second World War and ever since. This view of history was to be readdressed in the representations of the Occupation and the Holocaust which began to proliferate in the aftermath of 1968.

- Guy Austin, Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. Manchester University Press, 1996. Page 20.

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ADDITIONAL READINGS

Fascinating…flawed…fervent…and ultimately failing to live up to its intentions, Tout Va Bienmust be viewed as the slightest of successes. Godard and Gorin do catch us off guard and make us pay for being stuck in a certain motion picture mindset. They also play too many games with the plotting, and try to trick us over and over again with the constantly complicated camerawork. Formless and constricted, experimental and exasperating, it is recommended for anyone willing to take the time to try to get beneath its celluloid exterior. Like the individual who will take up pickets and protest a cause they believe in, even to their own detriment, Godard and Gorin only want open-minded, perceptive audiences to view and appreciate their work. They are just like the frightened masses that they harangue, claiming to be revolutionaries, but really only wanting to preach to the converted within their own weird world of anti-filmmaking. Perhaps Godard and Gorin are just like everyone else—committed on the inside, unable to stridently support everything they believe in on the outside. Maybe that is why they, and their film, hide behind so many convolutions and conundrums. Tout Va Bien is not a bad movie, just a wildly uneven and unnerving one. It will take a commitment on your part just to wade through all of its volatile variants.

- Bill GibronDVD Verdict

By the halfway mark it requires a lot of effort to keep watching. For a film made by geniuses supposedly burning with things to say, almost all ofTout va bien rolls by like filler, empty noodling. Since all we're getting is an incoherent lecture, the overall effect is no longer cute or in any way liberating. The freedom of the screen is being used to express anarchy and confusion, but there's nothing interesting in this anarchy and confusion.

Godard and Gorin are obviously committed intellectuals and not dilettantes and what they say in interviews invariably adds up to fascinating insights on cinema and its relation to the world. Artists trying to make their art relevant to the world is nothing new. Their articulate idealism stands apart from both advanced cinema studies talk - which can be really dry - and advanced political thought, which frequently goes far afield of reality. Godard and Gorin in print are not to be sniffed at.

Glenn EricksonDVD Savant

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This anti-bourgeois film addressed to the masses never brought them into the theaters, maybe because even if it was pretty to look at and had two major movie stars, the viewers still found it dull, unperceptive, didactic, unfunny and stridently polemical. It's the kind of in-your-face political film about the class struggle where the indiscriminate viewer might feel guilty munching on popcorn.

Dennis SchwartzOzu's World Movie Reviews

Maoism is not the answer to any problem (and one of the activists admits that he is not sure what Maoism is). So the strike is probably futile, though Godard/Gorin get bored with the strike before it's over and turn the camera elsewhere -- which is the real problem with this film and European art films in general: their attention span is too short to actually develop any ideas. French cinema suffers especially when contrasted with the best American films of the mid-century, which were usually much more effective at sustaining an idea, good or bad. (Of course, film critics at the time pretended the opposite, and regarded even the slightest French films as superior to the best American pictures.)

- David Bezanson, Contact Music

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ABOUT TOUT VA BIEN AND LETTER TO JANE

Letter to Jane resumes the issues of political cinema and the role of intellectuals raised by May 1968 and explicitly by Tout va bien. In Tout va bien, the two actors are sequestered in the office of the manager of a meat factory (Salumi) by the workers who have occupied the factory. The question that is raised by the occupation and their being sequestered is how to engage with these events and in particular how to represent them to themselves, to the workers, to the public and in turn how are the workers to represent their strike to these bourgeois intellectuals. The situation creates a crisis that forces Montand and Fonda to reflect on their role as intellectuals in the light both of the strike and the May events and is also a crisis of reflection and representation for the workers. The question of representation is of course not only an issue for the characters (or a social class), but for Montand and Fonda as persons and most especially for Godard and Gorin, that is the issue is personal and for the fictional couple in the film, political choices and artistic ones impinge on their relationship. The film then brings two dimensions into play and does so by a complicated system of mirroring between fact (reality) and fiction (the story), reality (political conflict) and its representation (a film), the film that is made and the making of the film. Making a film or giving a broadcast becomes a question of how to make a film, that is, a question of forms so that political matters become aesthetic ones. If you want to change politics, you need to change the way of representing things. Tout va bien and Letter to Jane are not political films simply because they speak of politics, but primarily because they speak of film-making.

Letter to Jane concentrates on a single image, a photograph of Jane Fonda (the political militant, the American movie star) listening to (talking with?) a representative of the Vietnam resistance struggle against the American invasion, the American massacre of Vietnamese and the bombing and destruction of their country. The photograph, in an article that contained other photographs, was published in the French popular weekly news magazine L’Express, a kind of equivalent to Newsweek or Time, but more intelligent and better informed. Godard and Gorin discuss in voice-over the photograph and other images that their discussion and the photograph evokes (images of the war in Vietnam, of Nixon, of Marx, of Lenin, of Fonda in other roles, of her father Henry Fonda in other films - Young Mr LincolnThe Grapes of Wrath, the latter a novel written as Gorin notes by the fascist John Steinbeck - of images from Tout va bien, of posters, of writing). The images are accompanied by natural sounds, by revolutionary songs (the Internationale), and by Vietnamese martial music.

What Godard and Gorin manage to do is bring images together that are distant from each other in time, in space, in their nature such that each illuminates the other simply by this fact of juxtaposition. For example, in the photograph there are already two Fondas, the militant and the Hollywood star and there is, by the fact of the latter identity (the star), an association with other stars and similar looks and gestures: Lillian Gish, Rudolf Valentino, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda in Klute) and from these associations another involving the entire Hollywood industry, America, Vietnam, and history, and Bertolt Brecht, Dziga Vertov, the cinema, political struggle, intellectuals, portraiture, framing and, above all perhaps, the mechanism of montage as a form that thinks, that challenges, that interrogates. This complex not only opens up political and ideological questions (the star/the militant), but formal ones (how to photograph, what to photograph, why photograph) and issues such as distance/closeness, clarity/obscurity, light/shadow, repetition, the frame, as if from a single still image not only can an entire history be evoked (and examined and related) but also the history of the cinema including the falsity of fact and document and the facticity of fictions and therefore the relation of the cinema (and its means) to history.

- Sam Rohdie, Screening the Past

A critique of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's treatment of Jane Fonda across Tout va Bien and Letter to Jane, by Julia Lesage, published in Jump Cut

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ABOUT THE CRITERION DVD

This is a very strong release from Criterion. One would expect a package of this quality and scope to be part of Criterion's upper tier, but thankfully it arrives at the lower of the two price points. The transfer exhibits a lot of really nice film grain while supporting solid detail throughout, save for a few soft long shots. The film appears to be free of any significant damage. Colours are very strong as are contrast levels. The image looks much better while in motion than the screen caps indicate. Unfortunately, there are moments where some fairly intrusive edge enhancement is visible (see screen cap #6, left black vertical post). This may cause some frustration for viewers with large displays. In general however it is not an issue for the majority of the film. Audio is clean and without any significant damage or background noise. As always Criterion provides very easy to read and minimally distracting subtitles. Considering the wealth of extras here I still found the 40-page book to be the most informative.

As usual, Criterion has created a beautiful package all the way around.

- Mark Balson, DVD Beaver

Nothing is more important to Godard than how his movies look, and how they are presented to an audience. One imagines that the director would be delighted with how Criterion recreates Tout Va Bien for the digital domain. The DVD presentation is pristine, with a beautiful 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen image at the center. The colors are sharp and suggestive, the details crisp and clean. Even through all of the directors' mixed media ideas, shifting shot selections, and soundstage/location logistics, the print is flawless. The one thing Criterion can be counted on for is to give us the best-looking transfer they can create, and the magnificent look to Tout Va Bien is no exception.

Sound is another equally important aspect to Godard's modus operandi, and once again, Criterion does not fail him. While it's hard to get a made-in-the-'70s mono track to sound anything other than flat and lifeless, the Dolby Digital treatment here seems to actually open up the aural elements a bit. Especially in the final act, where Godard and Gorin play with the voice-overs and the recorded dialogue, the sonic situation is excellent. While the musical scoring is more or less minimal and the other ambient elements are firmly in check, the pioneers of preservation still manage a bit of mood with their digital updating of this title.

Proving once again that they have an uncanny ability to flesh out even the most obscure motion picture, Criterion provides three very different and very telling bonus features for this release. Each one complements and supplements the context of Tout Va Bien, while also providing insight into the individuals responsible for the film. The biggest bonus is the 52-minute short from Godard and Gorin entitled Letter to Jane. More or less a cinematic reflection on a now-famous photograph of Fonda speaking to some members of the Vietcong during a trip to Hanoi, Godard and Gorin offer a lengthy, wordy discourse about how viewing the photo without understanding its motives both hinders and helps the cause of revolution. Using interesting analogies to silent film, a overwhelming dose of diffused rhetoric, and enough cyclical logic to get one's head good and spinning, the filmmakers propose that by learning how to "see" this photo, we can gain a greater appreciation of Tout Va Bien and the role of the intellectual in political change, in general. It may be a message—and a movie—that provides more confusion than clarity for the vast majority of those who watch it. And it is actually more of a lecture than a "letter."

More enlightening, and easier to digest, are the interviews conducted with Godard (from a mid-'70s documentary) and with Gorin (from a recent Q&A). Both men have a definite way with words, but while Godard focuses on the esoteric, Gorin gives us the pragmatic. He discusses how he came to collaborate with the great French innovator, what the real purpose of Tout Va Bien was, and how successful he feels they made the message. Amiable and just a little boastful, he gives a much more personal face to the production than his partner in crime. Godard, unshaven and dressed in a bathrobe, is all pontifications and pronouncements, making his points in salient, simple ways, only to go back and reconfigure them with the next sentence. Almost as if he is working out the logistics of his lamentations as he speaks them, Godard is at once very approachable and far more distant than he ever was. His statements about Tout Va Bien clarify the film's basic intent. But once he gets into the meat of his meaning, the conversation clouds a little. Indeed, all three extras here have an equal power to persuade and confuse—just like the movie they are supporting.

Our final added feature is a hefty 40-page booklet that offers a striking assortment of critical and informational material. Inside, there is analysis of the film from a post-millennial standpoint, a discussion of May '68 and how it affected France, a revisionist look at Letter to Jane, and an interview with Godard and Gorin from 1973. Together, they paint a marvelously dense and detailed portrait of Tout Va Bien, the timeframe in which it was made, the men who made it, and its lasting impact.

Bill GibronDVD Verdict

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ABOUT JEAN-LUC GODARD

IMDb Wiki

The following quotes are found on the TSPDT Director profile for Jean-Luc Godard:

"Godard is the first filmmaker to bristle with the effort of digesting all previous cinema and to make cinema itself his subject. He emerged from the darkness of the Cinémathèque rather than from any plausible biographical background...Filmmaking for Godard is neither occupation nor vocation, it is existence itself. His inescapable dialectic is in terms of cinema and his politics have arisen - disastrously, I think - from cinema theory." - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

"Whether he delights or irritates you, Godard sits securely in the front rank of screen originals, and it is good that he succeeded in rejoining the mainstream of French cinema in 1980 after more than ten years' self-exile to its fringes...Nonetheless the quality of his films has been much more variable in recent times compared to his heyday of the 1960s, including a disastrous modernised sideshoot of King Lear." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Film Directors, 1999)

"If influence on the development of world cinema is the criterion, then Jean-Luc Godard is certainly the most important filmmaker of the past thirty years; he is also one of the most problematic...As ex-Cahiers du Cinema critic and New Wave filmmaker, Godard was initially linked with Truffaut and Chabrol in a kind of revolutionary triumvirate; it is easy, in retrospect, to see that Godard was from the start the truly radical figure, the "revolution" of his colleagues operating purely on the aesthetic level and easily assimilable to the mainstream." -  Robin Wood and Rob Edelman (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)

"Godard is one of the most important filmmakers in cinema history. He has made audiences think about how films are made in a series of dramatic essays on subjects ranging from the Hollywood gangster film to the musical, the Marxist struggle, and films, filming, and filmmakers themselves." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

"For me, discovering cinema was directly connected to his films. I was living in Paris at the time. When Made in USA opened, I went to the first show - it was around noon - and I sat there until midnight. I saw it six times in a row." - Wim Wenders

"The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn't." - Jean-Luc Godard

"To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can't be separated." - Jean-Luc Godard

In discussing the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, one inevitably arrives at the question of where exactly to mark this artist's own “leaps forward” on the timeline of a long and prolific career; and in addressing that question, one first must decide how to make the distinction between “before” and “after,” and then how many times to make the distinction. Could one, for instance, find numerous points of departure through Godard's body of work, and cite as examples the liberated debut feature À Bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959), the serial video works of the 1970s, and, from the 1980s onward, the advent of the transcendental film-essays? On the contrary, could one plead the case for a single break that occurred when, in 1968, Godard dedicated himself to an expressly Marxist agenda, whereby the next several films stood as aggressively didactic, anti-bourgeois “blackboards”? The first instance grants a priori that Godard's body of work can be read as a movement that passes through many aesthetic phases but never fails to constitute an oeuvre that, examined from any point, yields a poetic and cinematic value consistent with or building upon those films that have come before. It is the second standpoint, however, that has been so consistently adopted by a number of prominent (that is, visible) film critics and historians. This flank, whose American roster includes but is not limited to Roger Ebert, Anthony Lane, Andrew Sarris, and David Thomson, have long confused the evolution of the artist Godard with some kind of fundamental betrayal. For this group, Godard is a filmmaker who will forever be associated with pop-art palettes, love-and-guns on the run, and the intellectual exuberance of a breezy pre-Vietnam '60s youth; but who will never be forgiven for discarding the earlier use of Hollywood reference points (which the filmmaker's latter-day antagonists had perceived in any case not as aesthetic critique but as blank cool cultural homage), exhibiting overtly political (even left-wing) tendencies, exploring in his two television series the possibilities of a different medium of transmission, and then settling on a mode of filmmaking that incorporates narrative cadenzas, historical scrutiny, visual poetry, literary citation, and a dominant mood of elegiac contemplativeness. In short, Godard has evolved from making films of great complexity and beauty to making films of even greater complexity that frequently approach the sublime. If Godard's crime isn't merely that for which he's been put to task in many of the mainstream U.S. publications that reviewed his recent Éloge de l'amour(Elegy for Love / In Praise of Love, 2001)—an expression of the belief that Steven Spielberg doesn't make very good films—then it is that which the impatient soul and the Philistine alike deem the greatest felony of all: that Godard is an artist of tremendous agency and authority within his medium, and through the uncompromised expression of his aesthetic and, therefore, moral convictions, demonstrates as little concern for the satiety of the “audience that might have been” as Beethoven, Joyce, or Renoir before him.

- Craig Keller, Senses of Cinema

Jon-Luc Godard

There's always something a little dangerous about saying that an artist has never recaptured the excitement of his initial work. Too often that attitude is just a way for audiences to rationalize their own refusal to let an artist grow and change past the qualities that first attracted them. The growth Godard shows in the 15 movies he made between 1959's "Breathless" ("A bout de souffle") and 1967's apocalyptic and deeply frightening "Weekend" covers a distance in style and sensibility that most filmmakers don't approach in a lifetime.

And I have to be honest here and say that, while I long to believe the praise about the return of Godard that has greeted films like "Tout va bien" (1972), "Numero deux" (1975), "Every Man For Himself" (1979), "First Name: Carmen" and "Nouvelle vague" (1990), none of the films he's made since "Weekend" have captured me in the same way. Though fragments of them have: those headlight shots in "Carmen," the sight of an aged Eddie Constantine (reprising his "Alphaville" role of detective Lemmy Caution) wandering through a run-down Germany in "Germany Year 90 Nine Zero" (1991), the beautifully lit rooms of a mansion at twilight seen from the outside by a camera tracking along them in "Nouvelle vague" and the scenes of the French band Les Rita Mitsouko recording an album in "Keep Up Your Right" (1987).

Exhaustion is not something you'd expect from watching Godard's '60s films -- immolation maybe. The 15 films from "Breathless" to "Weekend" fly through possibilities of style perhaps even faster than they fly through ideas. If there is one misconception about Godard that deserves changing it's that he is a cold, cerebral filmmaker. Yes, his films are filled with quotations (often spoken directly to the audience) from books and films, slogans, interpolated titles, philosophical concepts, musings on the very nature of movies and, especially as they go on, political agitprop. But no one who worked as fast as Godard (15 features and several shorts in eight years) could be expected to develop ideas fully. Instead what we often get are fragments, as beautifully structured as an epigram or as sloppily inserted as a note scribbled on a scrap of paper, and often abandoned as suddenly as they are introduced. This isn't to say that Godard's ideas aren't worth considering. No filmmaker has ever been more profoundly obsessed with the question of how movies, even ones made at the speed Godard worked, could keep pace with a culture that was both fragmenting and accelerating.

- Charles Taylor, Salon

Critical discussions of Godard’s late films have treated them as poetic meditations, and that seems partly right to me. Yet few critics ask how they manage to create their lyrical, associative quality. I think... this has to do with his treatment of narrative (naturally) and his layout of scenes. But even before we get there, I think that we find in the very texture of his images (let alone his sounds) a daring decentering of faces and bodies—the usual nodes of our attention. If he often blocks the flow of our glance, it’s in order to rechannel it to unexpected areas and textures, crannies and gaps, within the image. And so we want all those areas and textures, along with the crannies and gaps, available to our eyes and minds.

- David Bordwell

A pivotal text on Godard, is that by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, "Three Questions about "Six Fois Deux""2 dealing with a series of TV programs made by Godard in 1976 with Anne-Marie Mieville. Deleuze adjusted Godard's own formula, "not a correct image, just an image", by transposing it into his, "not a correct idea, just an idea."3 The sense being the opening out and experimentation of ideas in a way that does not normalise ideas according to dominant orders. To create a cinematic/philosophical surface where images/ideas are freely able to be experimented on in a non-judgemental, non-hierarchical and non-exclusionary framework. Godard's filmwork is also characteristic of the concept of the "Rhizome" developed by Deleuze and Guattari. Godard's use of short-term ideas, offshoots, disconnected spatial and temporal coordinates, sudden shifts between layers, degrees of speed and slowness, dérive, and the heterogenous use of structural elements is intensely rhizomatic in form and structure. Deleuze's text on Godard, points out how Godard's filmwork is essentially inbetween; between text and image, cinema and television, sound and vision, passion and politics. If we consider it, the very concept of montage is itself the meaning inbetween, the rupture between the two images, the fissure of intensity created by the juxtaposition. Deleuze goes on to describe this disaggregation as stammering. Which for Godard becomes a visual stammering, to stammer not in one's language, but in how one sees. Where the language of cinema is disassembled, taken down to its elements, to produce a molecular cinema, the twenty-four frames a second. As Godard himself says, it is, "admitting that you're stammering, that you're half blind, that you can read, but not write..." The question is always what is there to see? What is imperceptible? These are Godard's reasons for dissolving linear narrative and normative cinema conventions. The sequences of slow motion, fast forward, repetition, distortions, out of focus and scrambling attempt to deconstruct the viewers senses, to destabilise the perceptual plane. To slow the movement down to see what remains, to speed it up again to see what is revealed, what is lost and what is captured in each frame. It becomes a machinic cinema, brought about by the continual extrapolation and complexification that Godard submits his films to, as part of the editing process. Repeatedly throughout Histoire(s) du Cinema (1989) we see Godard labouring over his film editing machine, as if he were a worker in a factory. Throughout his career, Godard has been increasingly moving more and more towards smaller film crews, verging ever so slowly towards that unobtainable solitude. By reducing the size of film crews, Godard gives himself increased freedom to manipulate, focus and control the output, without the interference of stars, budgets and producers. The use of minimal film crews, is also an attempt to resolve the hierarchy implicit to the filmmaking process, plus it affords him a greater automaticism in the filmmaking process. This increasing verging towards solitude, is something that Deleuze described as "an extraordinarily populous solitude," meaning that this kind of solitude allows him to intensify the interconnectedness of his work, between a plethora of different filmmakers, writers, thinkers and musicians. The music in his films alone has stretched from Beethoven and Mozart to Stockhausen, to Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. What has emerged is an inbetween, between life and filmmaking, where the two begin to converge indiscernibly. What is created is an inbetween, which is a strange cluttered reality, discontinuous, fragmentary and decentred. In a short film by Armando Ceste, Two or Three Things, there is the inclusion of footage of Godard and his voice narrating over the images. Godard says, "Even today, its easier for me to make a film as it should be made... than live the life I would like to live... If I could live the life that I believe I have the right to live, I don't think I would make films or art," and elsewhere, "The cinema is life, and I would really love to live life as I do cinema." It is the sense that making a film, is simultaneously making reality and simultaneously making himself. The separation between the onscreen and the offscreen becomes blurred. As such, it is with irony that Godard, in Prenom Carmen, (1983) stars, somewhat mockingly as himself, as a washed up filmmaker in an institution. Throughout the film we see him in his own idiosyncratic style, wearing dark glasses, his hair tangled and scrunchy, his face stubbled, buried in cigar smoke, speaking in a muffled-wet voice and hugging a portable cassette player. Godard was in fact institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital by his father, in the 1950's after a spate of habitual petty theft. In Godard's self portrait film, JLG/JLG (1994) we glimpse more of his dulcet sombreness and melancholy, which strikes us by its richness and clarity, with it's uncommon intimacy and sensitivity.

- Robert Lort, "Jean-Luc Godard, inbetween Deleuze"

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ABOUT JEAN-PIERRE GORIN

IMDb Wiki

Jean-Pierre Gorin first achieved international attention through his collaborations with Jean-Luc Godard as the Dziga Vertov Group. This association has brought him both celebrity and neglect: those who admire the films of the "Vertov period" often attribute their virtues to Godard with scant or no reference to Gorin; and many that dislike them often view Gorin as a punk who led the master astray while riding his coattails. This controversy tends to overshadow and ignore the small but impressive body of work that Gorin has produced since parting with Godard in 1973. To be sure, circumstances have made these films all too easy to overlook: there are only three features and a pair of related video works, along with a number of aborted or never-begun projects, made at intervals of years, distributed spottily, and of deliberate modesty.

These solo films, however, may well prove as important as the collaborations with Godard. What they lose in provocation and extremity they gain back in charm and in complexity of form and nuance: they stand among the most ingenious and potentially fertile contributions to the genre of "film essay." They are characterized by a resolute fidelity to the local, revealed with tenderness and humor, and are personal and engaging in ways unimaginable in the Vertov-period works. These three films: Poto and Cabengo (1978), Routine Pleasures (1986) and My Crasy Life (1991) deserve to be much more widely seen and discussed; and the videos Letter to Peter and a record of Olivier Messiaen's opera St. François d'Assise (both 1992) open up new areas which one hopes Gorin will have the opportunity to explore further.

If Godard has fashioned himself into "the ultimate image of the end of Europe" (as Charles Olson once wrote of Ezra Pound), Gorin has done something more modest. Each of his films chews on recurrent themes—of childhood or nostalgia for childhood, of language and exile—with intensely local concentration. If Marker's Sans Soleil (1982) or The Last Bolshevik (1993) expand grandly from their immediate subjects to the illumination of History, Gorin's burrow instead into their locality. Since the generalizing rhetoric of the Vertov period, Gorin has allergically avoided "large statements": instead, his work is allied with, and tender and inquisitive toward, the small, the individualizing detail. It is, in Manny Farber's words, "termite art," "eating its own boundaries," leaving "nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity."  In this very modesty, Gorin's work is perhaps of special importance in a time dominated by the soulless and grandiose spectacles of Hollywood, and by the cynicism and affectlessness of so much "independent" film. Instead, the eccentricity of Gorin's movies reminds me of those from certain other great contemporaries, like Abbas Kiarostami or João Cesar Monteiro, whose quirky particularity allows them extraordinary range and engenders deep and abundant pleasures.

- Erik Ulman, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

If you don't start from reality, if you don't start from the fact that a film is a film, then you are not going to produce any positive effects by the diffusion of your film in the social structure. You need to know that you are specific, and you need to deal with the aesthetic problems, because they are specific for the filmmaker. What the social effect of your film will be depends on your situation in the social structure, on your position in production, and on the way you try to fight a system that strangles you. If you do not have profound personal reasons to rebel against the system, you will achieve nothing.

The process of making a film is a process where you say:

“Well, I am surrounded by thousands of images and sounds. In the streets of Paris there is a normal code of sounds, and I know what that normality means and what effect it has on me. It is an effect of madness.”

So try to work on that as a filmmaker. Try to disconnect the elements of that reality and to reconnect them in another way.

You need to reach the point where you are not speaking as an ego, but where something is speaking through you. This is a process of complete dissolution of the ego. Something is speaking through me which is history, not only my own history, but centuries of history. It is some kind of really schizophrenic experience, and that’s what I am going to work at in my next film. Sometimes the heavy Marxist talk, the stiff political thinking, is only a way to preserve one’s individuality and attempt to master reality. Let’s instead try to break the individuality and have reality speaking through you. That’s exactly the point where you break the whole mystique of the auteur.

- Jean-Pierre Gorin, interviewed by Christian Braad Thomsen, Jump Cut, 1974.

ABOUT JANE FONDA

IMDb Wiki

Jane Fonda's career has reflected her personal values and the political turmoil of her times. On the issue of Vietnam she acted in defiance of government constraints, risking surveillance and blacklisting, and at the expense of alienating her public. Years later, in 1984, conservative protesters picketed Marshall Field's department store in Chicago when she appeared there to promote a new line of exercise clothing. In September 1984, on the other hand, she was honored by earning an Emmy for her role in The Dollmaker, an ABC television presentation which she had attempted for 12 years to get on the air. Because of her celebrity and her outspokenness, her life became a public affair, fully documented in the popular press.

Fonda was born to a life of wealth and privilege. Her father, Henry Fonda, was a successful movie star, her mother an heiress of substantial means. After studying art, she had pursued a successful modeling career (twice featured on the cover of Vogue), before taking up studies with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Her first movie contract was with her father's friend, the director Josh Logan, for Tall Story in 1960, followed by Walk on the Wild Side and The Chapman Report. On the basis of these early films, the critic Stanley Kauffmann was among the first to acknowledge her talent in "performances that are not only fundamentally different from one another but are conceived without acting cliché and executed with skill." Ahead, however, were the consequences of her developing a political consciousness that would cause her to be variously described by others as a "lateblooming flower child" and an "all-American antiheroine." (Notably, her father once commented with disdain on her tendency to champion every social issue imaginable, calling her "Jane of Arc.")

In the next phase of her acting career the French director Roger Vadim transformed Fonda, after marrying her, into the sex goddess of his cartoonish Barbarella. About the same time, during the late 1960s, she became a social and political activist, dedicated to antiestablishment causes. A new seriousness was also reflected in her films, particularly They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Klute. Her political instincts drew her to the radical French director Jean-Luc Godard, who featured her in Tout va bien in 1973. Protesting the Vietnam War she founded in 1971 an antiwar troupe (Entertainment Industry for Truth and Justice) which toured Southeast Asia and went on to produce a film entitled F.T.A. (Foxtrot Tango Alpha, Free the Army, Fuck the Army).

James M. Welsh, Film Reference.com

968 (110). Le Deuxième souffle / Second Breath (1966, Jean-Pierre Melville)

screeened May 14 2009 on Criterion DVD in Brooklyn NY TSPDT rank #928 IMDb Wiki

Jean-Pierre Melville's last feature in black and white is an extended study of a gray terrain: a criminal underworld that's less dark than cloudy, where truth, loyalty and honor stumble through a mist of greed, distrust and hubris. Melville immerses the viewer in a similar experiential haze by casting a sprawling narrative that spreads gaseously through the oblique and largely unstable relationships among its ensemble; it's not until the masterful heist sequence at the midway point that the film finds its focus.  It's an ambitious gambit, carried over largely by Melville's assured deadpan style, working through scenes with a consummately professional attention to detail mixed with emotional detachment. The lack of the latter spells the doom of tough but aging ex-con Gu (Lino Ventura), whose plans for one last big score are usurped by the compromising of his good name, ironically incited by a police trap that exploits his insecurity over his reputation. This professional code is the real protagonist of the film, demonstrated in virtually every scene and mediated through each character's decisions and the viewer's responses.  Predicated on a world of crime, the code itself is not an absolute good, as it enables Gu and his accomplices to justify killing innocent cops along with more deserving double-crossers and agitators. As with the resistance fighters in Melville's Army of Shadows, the code is an imperfect talisman guiding its followers through a world of overwhelming danger and corruption; among the criminals in this film it proves to be just as fatally insufficient. Nonetheless, it remains Gu's sole remaining principle as he makes a furious bid to redeem his professional honor at all costs, an act of equal parts salvation and suicide.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Le Deuxieme souffle among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Mika Kaurismaki, Sight & Sound (2002) Robert Fischer, Steadycam (2007) Wilfried Reichart, Steadycam (2007) Jean A. Gili, Positif: 10 Favourite Films 1952-2002 Sight & Sound, 360 Film Classics (1998) They Shoot Pictures Highly Recommended Films

Titles by Jean-Pierre Melville in the 1000 Greatest Films:

#240 - Le Samourai #559 - Bob le flambeur #573 - Army of Shadows #734 - The Red Circle #786 - Les Enfants Terribles #928 - Second Breath

Le Deuxième Souffle is less well known than such celebrated films as Le DoulosLe Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge, and has been regrettably neglected due to its long unavailability. The long overdue home video release reveals a transitional film between the romantic genre play of Bob le Flambeur and Le Doulos and the austere and existential Le Samourai. The moments of light humor and romantic diversions from his earlier films have been banished from this portrait of the criminal underworld and the romantic code of underworld honor comes at a steep cost. Melville's direction is more stripped down and austere, his camera more sensitive to the minutiae of detail and his exacting pace and meticulous editing attuned to the weight of time. The careful casing of a room and the tense wait for the arrival of a target are as meticulously measured as the exacting details of a robbery or a shoot-out. It's all there from the brilliant opening scene, a prison break where we never actually see the prison, only the abstract pieces of walls and doors and guard towers that the three convicts must navigate to reach their freedom. In the gray light of early dawn, they wordlessly make their leap, the oldest of the three straining to keep up with the youngest, huffing as he tramps through the forest and races to catch an open boxcar on a passing train.

The film is based on a novel by José Giovanni, the pen name of Joseph Damiani, a real-life petty thief who started putting his experiences and stories to paper while serving eight years of a life sentence. Melville, In his interviews with Rui Nogueria (published in the book Melville on Melville), proclaimed that "I retained everything that was Melvillian from the book and threw everything else out." Melville scholar Ginette Vincendeau, in her book Jean- Pierre Melville: An American in Paris, observes that his adaptation is in fact largely faithful to the original novel, but that the minor changes are also defining. Melville cuts minor characters, removes private lives from his professional characters and makes Gu an isolated loner too proud to accept the charity of his friends. He also restructures the story, providing a strong, clear narrative line through the complex web of relationships and betrayals and the multiple story strands that he slowly winds together: Gu's life in hiding and his scheme to from France, the platinum heist masterminded by his old friend Paul (Raymond Pellegrin), the bad blood with Paul's unprincipled brother (Marcel Bozzuffi) and the dogged investigation by maverick Commissaire Blot (Paul Meurisse), a cagey Paris cop with a savvy understanding of the politics of the underworld. "He isn't your usual killer," he warns his men as they close in on Gu. "He's doomed and he knows it." But Gu does have something to lose. When a less disciplined cop leaks to the papers that Gu snitched on his fellow gang members, Gu becomes almost feral as he risks his own life to restore his honor and redeem his reputation.

Melville began pre-production on Le Deuxième Souffle in 1963, but a long legal battle with another production company (who had also purchased the rights from Giovanni, who apparently thought Melville's option had lapsed) delayed the start until 1966. Ventura has originally been set to play Commisaire Blot opposite Serge Reggiani (from Le Doulos) as Gu. By 1966, Reggiani was out (over a contract dispute, according to the actor), Ventura took over the lead and Melville reworked the role of Gu from an exhausted and fragile older man to an aging but still robust veteran. According to Melville, Simone Signoret was originally signed to play Manouche and the rest of the film was almost entirely recast. The film was rushed into production in February under "extremely difficult conditions" and shut down in mid-March for three months, according to Melville. "When we started again on 7 June, it seemed like a miracle." Even after it was finished, Melville ran into problems with censors over a scene where the police, during their interrogation of Paul, put a funnel in his mouth and pour water down his throat. The Censorship Commission demanded the scene be cut because: "This is not normal practice in the French Police." It was, however, an echo of recently revealed Army interrogation practices in Algeria, which may have made the scene even more troubling to the censors.

Le Deuxième Souffle is at heart a romantic fantasy of underworld loyalty and lives of calculated risk and violence anchored by brilliantly staged and shot set pieces, from the opening prison break to the precision execution of the armored car a heist. But there is a harder edge to the moral compromises made in the name of professionalism (notably the cold-blooded killing of two motorcycle cops played out with the cold dispassion of a military attack, an act Melville doesn't shy away from but neither condemns). For all that thematic darkness, the film became his biggest hit to date and firmly established the maverick auteur as a major mainstream director.

- Sean Axmaker, Turner Classic Movies

Early in Le Deuxième Souffle, police investigator Blot (Paul Meurisse) preemptively details the various phony-baloney stories some criminals involved in a shootout plan to tell, though the crooks' threadbare tall tales still prove successful at keeping them out of the slammer. Jean-Pierre Melville's 1966 film functions in a similar fashion, its story a compendium of well-known, somewhat tired characters, situations and tropes that the director nonetheless utilizes effectively, and thrillingly. In its most basic outline, the plot concerns Gu (Lino Ventura), a thief who breaks out of prison and both commits murder to protect his devoted sister Manouche (Christine Fabréga) and partakes in an armored car robbery for 200 million francs. As with most of the French auteur's noirs, however, the ensuing action defies easy summarization, so unstable and evolving are all of its underworld figures' allegiances to each other.

Written with José Giovanni (based on his novel), Melville's film is another of his meditations on predestination, with Gu's plans to escape from the cops (and France) as futile as any would-be stabs at fleeing his fundamental self, an existential endeavor the roughneck doesn't for a second even consider, so convinced is he that only death awaits. Gu's criminal code of ethics (don't rat, don't betray) is also typical Melville, though the director's handling of these pet themes is, compared to Le Doulos or Le Samouräi, occasionally more sluggish than scintillating, thanks mainly to a script that indulges in a few too many silent, protracted sequences that are gripping in the abstract but, strung together, hinder momentum. Taken as a series of bravura showcases for the director's unparalleled modulation of tone, rhythm, texture and mood, however,Le Deuxième Souffle smolders, its portentous fatalism generated from hyper-composed camerawork and an experimental jazz score that help couch the proceedings in a nowhere-world situated between dream and reality.

Characteristic of Melville's crime canon, the film's rigorously mannered aesthetic creates a decidedly artificial environment, and yet that environment is so meticulously, thoroughly realized that it's breathtakingly immersive. And at no point does Melville's blend of the natural and the self-consciously synthetic produce greater results than during the centerpiece heist, during which the director's masterful command of cinematic grammar—especially his dazzlingly swift transitions in perspective—proves both viscerally and intellectually heady.

- Nick Schager, Slant

Jean-Pierre Melville’s methodically paced, existentially motivated Second Breath is a remarkable study in back alley morality. The movie nearly transcends its heist film roots, slowly growing as it proceeds into a shadowy examination of pride. It’s a film that’s considerably enhanced by its director’s consummate, unerring skill behind the camera. Several sequences in this black and white film are stunners. For example, the way that Melville films the opening prison break sequence transforms it into a geometric marvel. He chooses stylish angles to abstract the action, and stages it in a deep gray light that casts a pall over much of what’s to follow. There’s no music in this bit, and that choice remains a near-constant throughout the remainder of the film. The effect is one of a heightened reality that can switch from glamorous to gritty in a second, as the well-dressed men that populate the picture suddenly reveal their thuggish nature.

The plot of Second Breath, in which the aging, escaped fugitive Gu (Lino Ventura) must perform one last heist before fleeing the country, is textbook stuff, but the execution is superb. Melville focuses on the symbiotic relationship between cops and robbers, which strikes the old-school Gu as a sickening development. It’s not until about a half hour into the movie that the plot details concerning the heist are made explicit. The time spent before that scene is used to establish not only the large cast of characters, but also the allusive doublespeak and ethical codes that exist in their underworld. Particular attention is paid to the exalted reputation of Gu, who performed a legendary heist years earlier. Doggedly pursued by the morally alert Police Commissioner Blot (Paul Meurisse), Gu is a fascinating subject that transcends the clichés inherent in his caricature.

For the bulk of the run time, the film is not so much exciting as it is absorbing. Some of the detail that accumulates early on may seem arbitrary at first, but it soon comes to inform the drama that unfolds in the film’s second half. Exciting, however, is exactly the word to describe the climactic highway heist that serves as the film’s centerpiece. In this tense, expertly filmed sequence, Melville demonstrates why he’s perhaps the best director ever to inhabit this genre. He establishes space masterfully, taking time to pause for occasional observational details (such as the ants on the ground that one hood spies as he waits), and then watches in broad daylight as his plot unfolds with ruthless efficiency. The sequence moves so matter-of-factly, though, that it scarcely dominates the less overtly energetic scenes that surround it.

A procedural pitched from the perspective of the man in hiding, Second Breath uses the locations it was shot on to full effect, establishing a poetic quality that in no way interferes with believability. The plot spans a period of a few months, but the tight editing and frequent camera wipes make time fly by. Large swaths of the film proceed with next to no dialogue. When Melville does need to stage a conversation, he does so simply, with extended medium shots that do a great deal to show off his cast’s talent and his fluid camerawork. The net impression of such unobtrusive mastery is awe. The product of a director in complete control of his talents, both on a technical and narrative level,Second Breath musters enough depth that by its conclusion it feels only nominally like a heist film.

- Jeremy Heilman, Movie Martyr

A 1966 film by Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the great eccentrics of the French cinema. Melville specialized in severely stylized versions of American gangster films, bringing out their unspoken existentialism through a camera style that sometimes evokes the minimalist purity of Bresson, sometimes the seamless studio realism of William Wyler. Second Breath, one of his few commercial successes, is a painstaking account of an aging gangster (Lino Ventura) who escapes from jail and plans an elaborate armored-car robbery to prove he's still in the game. It isn't an easy film to watch, perhaps because it moves so deliberately in comparison to its American models, but this somber, repressive, and perverse work displays a ferocious moral and formal integrity.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

Melville's great film noir Le Deuxieme Souffle (Second Wind), one of the pinnacles of the French crime movie, is based on an icily knowing novel and script by ex-Death Row inmate Jose Giovanni, the writer of the noir classics Classe Tous Risques and Le Trou. It stars that magnificently dour, Bogartesque hard guy Lino Ventura as Gustav “Gu” Minda, a famous (in the underworld and among the flics), hard-bitten career criminal who escapes from jail and gets entangled in a doomed heist.

The movie is beautifully shot in crisp, gloomy black and white by cinematographer Marcel Combes, and the supporting cast includes Paul Meurisse of Jean Renoir's Picnic on the Grass (as the bemused inspector Blot), Raymond Pellegrin (as fellow crook Paul Ricci) and The French Connection‘s assassin-on-the-El, Marcel Bozzufi (as the other, badder Ricci brother Jo), and blond anti-femme fatale Christine Fabrega as Gu's good angel Manouche.

Le Deuxieme Souffle was greatly influenced by Robert Wise’s moody, jazzy 1959 American heist thriller Odds Against Tomorrow, which was one of Melville's three favorite films (the others are John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives). Melville's veneration for Wise's picture extends even to his duplicating the wallpaper here from Robert Ryan’s apartment -- but what he captures more than anything is that mesmerizing, fatalistic, anti-heroic quality of the great American noirs, that sense that crooks and cops are ensnared together in a web of fate that will not release them until the end of the road. Certainly this is what happens to Gu, the most tragic of all Melville's gangsters, a man without a country in a world without a moral compass.

- Michael Wilmington, The Isthmus

From the novel Un reglement de comptes, by José Giovanni, Le deuxième souffle is among Jean-Pierre Melville’s most morally complex and visually captivating works. The film opens as gangster Gustave (“Gu”) Minda and another inmate escape from prison, thus winning a “second breath” of freedom. An overhead shot, because of the design of the prison roof, entombs upright officials in an enormous coffin-like space, suggesting a limit to all breath and “second breaths.” The two escapees jump a train, but the younger man, who jumps off for his destination, ends up a suicide when cornered by the law intent on sending him back to prison. This could have been Gu, whose pilgrim’s progress during his “second breath” the film follows.

Cold, clear-eyed, exceptionally brutal, Melville’s black-and-white Second Breath boxes viewers in a mental coffin, steeping them in an intricate mortal world of cops and criminals. Not for the first or last time in Melville, the drop of a hat off a shot-dead man’s head releases a poignant reminder of our ultimate vulnerability.

- Dennis Grunes

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DEEPER READINGS

Like many of Melville’s later films, Le deuxième souffle is a kind of “minimalist epic” that has the precision of a scalpel and the intensity of a full-blown melodrama, without being restrained by the coolness of the one or the histrionics of the other. It is a contradictory and paradoxical work in which the pulse of life appears to be pumped in and withdrawn at the same time. These qualities are directly related to how Melville represents physical actions and gestures. Gu’s movements throughout the film are both organic—they seem natural and appropriate—and regimented by the closed-in environments he is placed within. For much of the first half of the film, we watch Gu as he waits for the opportunity to break free from the tawdry, cell-like microworlds he is forced to hide in. Ventura’s performance emphasizes his stocky physicality, the on-set tension between director and actor perhaps bringing a very real sense of hostility and irritableness to his character (though like other Melville characters, he also displays an extraordinary, almost Zen-like patience that is linked to his professional typology). Also typical of Melville, there are numerous shots and scenes that show us characters traveling in cars, but here these act less to open out the landscape and allow these figures the freedom of mobility than to show the restrictedness of the space they occupy and move within (one of the most hypnotic sequences involves Gu traveling on a series of buses, his bulky frame squeezed into ill-fitting seats, to reach his next hideout).

In Melville’s cinema, characters are rarely given a complex psychological dimension and are defined and judged by the “purity” of their actions. Gu is a brutal, driven, and pared-down figure who gains respect, even from Inspector Blot (the wonderful Paul Meurisse), who recognizes his murderous brutality, because he ultimately conforms to and doesn’t break from his “code.” In fact, the key crisis for this character occurs after he is tricked by the police into informing on his criminal collaborators. His hysterical reaction, including an attempt at suicide, underlines the definitional importance of his inscrutable ethical code. But this code or typology is also central to the ethics of the film, and Gu is rewarded with a degree of respect and a heroic death for maintaining it.

Like many of Melville’s films, Le deuxième souffle pivots on a dazzling set piece that relies upon these qualities of observation, varied perspectives, and an almost documentary-like rendering of actions. This central heist sequence is a study in contrast. Whereas most of the film is defined by its cramped and dank interiors, or the minimalist gaudiness of some apartment and nightclub settings, the heist is staged in a vast, windswept, and elemental environment that almost seems to visibly shock the gang. The sequence is a model of both restraint and meticulous detail, showing us a series of actions, gestures, and perspectives that constitute the event. It shows Melville as a complete master of framing, mise-en-scène, and montage, combining and fragmenting each to give us the full sense of this dramatic episode, including its atmospheric brutality. The precision of the sequence mimes the matter-of-fact but bravura professionalism of the gang, as well as the epic minimalism of the film itself. It is a remarkable display, but it is also absolutely in keeping with the pinched, battened-down, almost parched theatrical realism of the rest of the film.

A little too much has perhaps been made of the fact that Melville was an avid cinephile who actually lived above his own film studio, actively blurring the distinction between the world of cinema and everyday life in much the same way that his films do. Nevertheless, much of Le deuxième souffle can only be accounted for in terms of its immersion in and refinement of the iconography and generic conventions of Série noire, film noir, and the American gangster film. Melville’s films in this mode have the quality of afterimages, modernist apparitions of established models fueled by a ghostly world-weariness and the characters’ self-consciously ritualized actions and gestures. A wonderful example of this occurs in the second half of Le deuxième souffle, when Orloff (Pierre Zimmer)—a loyal compadre who offers the desperate Gu his place in the gang—arranges to meet the other gang members to discuss Gu’s inadvertent betrayal of them to the police. As in Melville’s next film, Le samouraï, the main preoccupation in this scene is with process, the meticulous preparation that leads toward what we might call action. Both Orloff and a member of the gang “case” the arranged meeting place first, looking to gain the upper hand, but also preempting the generic requirements of the scene. These preemptory actions highlight the gestural and sartorial qualities and definitions of these characters, their movements having both a narrative and an archetypal function and origin. Orloff seems to be rehearsing the poses of his archetype—and he really is little more—theatrically prestaging the various postures and stances of the standoff that will occur. His awareness of the situation, of his place in the world, and of how this scene will unfold is characteristic of the existential, worldly, and ritualistic nature of Melville’s world. Similarly, it is not until Gu changes into clothing more closely resembling that of a gangster that he is able to break free, even if only briefly, from his clandestine existence.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Le deuxième souffle is its treatment of time. This emphasis is clearly signposted by the almost maddening preponderance of dates and times that appear on the screen, drawing attention to both the procedural and quotidian dimensions of the film we are watching. This play with time, its fragmentation and our awareness of it, places Le deuxième souffleclearly within the realm of the sixties European art movie. But Melville’s film is actually one of the most contemplative and quiet of all crime films, and his concern with time also has more profound implications. Love, friendship, communication, self-respect, and “life itself” are not impossible in Melville’s cinema but are explicitly finite or time-bound. The bittersweet, gruff, highly stylized but deeply felt quality of the director’s work suggests that his preoccupation is less with feelings of contemporary isolation—common in sixties art cinema—and the opportunities that sound and image “situations” offer for compositional abstraction, à la Antonioni, than with the melancholy contemplation of the play of intimacy and inevitable betrayal. Ultimately, Le deuxième souffle offers one of the richest and starkest portraits of the Melvillean universe.

- Adrian Danks, The Criterion Collection

Melville's ninth film and last to be shot in black and white, Le deuxième souffle (known in English as Second Breath or Second Wind) is, I'd argue, the one most indebted to the Hollywood gangster films he famously loved. It's not his best by some margin, ranking roughly in the upper middle of his impressive output, but no other film Melville directed could so easily be pictured as a potential Warner Bros. success starring Cagney and clocking in at just over half the 150 minutes of Le deuxième souffle. What Melville does is take a fairly basic story, which he co-adapted from the José Giovanni novel with the author, and quite literally turn it into an epic. The plot is plucked almost directly from any number of pictures where a convict escapes from jail and takes on what he perceives to be a final job, only for things to eventually go awry. There are several nuances that keep this idea eternally fresh and relevant, but Melville falls for few of them. He instead seems to consciously position his film as an alternative to the fast-paced entertainment of the Warner Bros. gangster movies. Le deuxième souffle is no one's idea of being fast-paced.

From the opening prison break and through the planning, execution, and fallout of a platinum heist, Melville's Hollywood adoration mixes nicely with his desire to add some extra meat to the thin bones of the American gangster film. Every little decision and ramification gets probed and prodded. The utter banality of an unofficial profession seemingly exciting to a fault becomes fascinating in the sheer detail used. We see the methodical nature of the heist and its planning, waiting, and clean-up. This isn't Rififi or Melville's superior Le cercle rouge, but it's certainly in that same vein at times. A single job is still the centre point and it serves as the catalyst for everything that happens before and after. The quick, yet violent efficiency employed during the heist is almost hypnotic in its matter-of-fact style. By also sketching out relationships that Gu is entwined in, either romantically with the icy blonde Manouche or through tacit friendships with men like Orloff, Melville adds some gravity to the proceedings. Gu is intimidating to the point of being likable, but he's hardly redeemable. This is a criminal through and through - guilty, convicted, imprisoned and escaped, and still unable to leave well enough alone before making another violent run for the money. Where Le deuxième souffle struggles for elbow room is in convincing the audience that these people are worthwhile at all.

(spoiler)

Those even remotely familiar with Melville's other films may be able to guess at the final result. For all his interest in these gangsters and criminals, Melville certainly seemed unimpressed by their plight when it came to stamping out a fate. Over and over again, the men at the centre of his films die violently. They either accept this conclusion or they struggle to overcome it, but there's ultimately no escape. The twinge of melancholy for Gu is established in his counterpart, a police commissioner identified as Blot (Paul Meurisse). He's played superbly by Meurisse as someone just as interested in the unwritten code of his profession as Gu. When Melville lets criminals be his protagonists, he usually makes sure to attach the ethics of the trade near their murderous hearts. Blot is a total funhouse mirror of Gu with the obvious distinction that he's chosen the other side of the law. There's an interesting distance maintained between the two for much of the film, though this seems as incidental as it is necessary. Those paying attention may notice that Michael Mann tends to wear his Melville influence on his sleeve in a handful of crime-related films. The relationship between Ventura and Meurisese isn't entirely unlike that between De Niro and Pacino in Heat. The main difference lies in allegiances. Few will watch Le deuxième souffle and hope for Meurisse's Blot to triumph while Pacino is positioned more as the protagonist in Heat. Mann tends to follow this line of placing sympathy in the direction of the good guys in a couple of his most Melville-influenced films, notably the excellent Miami Vice (with Thief being more classically in the spirit of Melville).

Aside from the either painfully or deliciously patient approach used, depending on one's perspective, Le deuxième souffle seems intent on establishing every last demon contained within Gu's deceptive freedom. The film progresses and his liberation increasingly feels like a trap at most every turn. Since Melville peddles in tragedy as much as he does character-oriented crime tales, the expectations for the protagonist's future should be limited, but if you're watching intently then you're probably in his corner to a certain extent. The existential wave had not yet completely fallen over Melville by this film, but where Gu goes and where he has to go become basically identical. The commentary on this disc even goes so far as to question whether Gu could be subconsciously suicidal. On some level, that may be a valid reading. His actions don't necessarily resemble those of a man content to live out his life on a beach somewhere. Part of what makes Melville's films so endearing is his reluctance to romanticise the crime genre despite allowing the characters to exist within a warm, though still detached, frame. The director doesn't really seem indifferent to them, but he's ever the realistic pessimist. In the world he created on film, he has reason to be.

- Clydefro Jones, DVD Times

On its release, ‘Le Deuxieme Souffle’ was an instant hit and is one of Melville’s most commercially successful films. The Parisian underworld was familiar territory for Melville, and the obsessive glare with which he repeatedly explored such a troubling and seductive milieu meant he took great pleasure in romanticising and glamorising the exterior world of the hardened criminal. Masculinity was a key thematic motif and the imagery of the underworld in ‘Le Deuxieme Souffle’ is one that holds a deep prejudice towards women, and patriarchal rituals that occur between the male characters in many of Melville’s films are evident in how the central protagonist and anti-hero, Gu, has no real desire to abscond with his lover, Manouche. Instead, having already escaped from prison, Gu is lured back into the underworld when he is offered the chance to help pull a lucrative heist in the foothills of a desolate Marseille landscape.

When Gu is framed by the police as an informant, he goes to extreme lengths in order to clear his name and prove to the underworld of his religiously devout adherence to a moral code that can never be compromised or corrupted in anyway by righteous institutions like the police. Redemption rarely ever exists in the world of Melville’s crime films, and Gu is another in a long line of stylish, likable criminals who are made to suffer at the hands of a nihilistic underworld that cannot offer any kind of escape. Escape becomes almost like a form of humiliation in ‘Le Deuxieme Souffle’, and though this macho attitude espoused by Gu is spectacularly conventional in how it is manifested in the final sequence in which he goes seeking some kind of payback, it also functions as an extended metaphor for a repressed desire to seek death at the hands of morally dubious men like himself.

If conventionality in terms of genre is something that finds itself quite visible in the narrative, what separates ‘Le Deuxieme Souffle’ from Hollywood crime films is Melville’s intricately detailed and visually minimalist manipulation of framing, composition and camerawork; technical elements that would are usually rendered obsolete and unoriginal in most Hollywood mainstream genre films are deliberately fore grounded so that when a character enters the frame, where they are going to position themselves within the frame becomes a point of active interpretation that is intellectually rewarding for the spectator.

The heist sequence in any Melville film is a real dramatic high point, and in ‘Le Deuxieme Souffle’, the heist of an ordinary armoured van is made altogether more gripping for Melville’s instance to set the action in the scenic landscape of rural Marseilles. Melville’s greatest tool for making the heist sequence in his films a genuinely enthralling spectacle was the rejection of a bombastic Hollywood soundtrack used by many filmmakers to create a false kind of emotional investment. Silence, minimal dialogue and natural sounds in the heist sequence forces us to observe rather than become preoccupied with the nature of the event. Such a primitive technique used by early cinema pioneers works superbly in the hands of Melville, making us value and experience the micro details that are typically excised in traditional crime films.

Though his characters are infinitely stylish and have a wonderfully eclectic dress sense, Melville more than anything wants us to see the edges to the stark reality of the life that Gu must lead once he has escaped from prison. It is a life made up of living in the shadows, hiding and making oneself invisible to the naked scrutiny of an unforgiving society that views criminals as a cancerous disease. When Gu is killed at the end in a hail of bullets, nobody mourns his life except Manouche, his lover and the only female character in the film, but even she can now finally see the worthless and indispensable nature of the underworld and how treats its own occupants, citizens and loners with nothing but contempt.

- Omar Ahmed, Ellipsis

Le deuxiéme souffle was adapted by Melville from the book and screenplay by José Giovanni, the real-life criminal who also wrote Classe tous risquesand the jailbreak picture Le trou, the latter based on his own famous prison escape. Giovanni rarely resorts to gangster movie clichés, instead writing his scripts more like reportage. To match this, Melville and cameraman Marcel Combes shoot Le deuxiéme souffle in a pseudo-documentary style, almost like French Noir Neorealism. They use real locations and a loose, fluid camera style that follows the action rather than dictating where the action goes, maintaining a spontaneity even in the carefully planned crime sequences or Gu's overly cautions travel patterns. The platinum hijacking is shot as a virtuoso action scene, each moment planned to the tiniest detail, and with the patience and precision of the jewelry store break-in in Dassin'sRififi (later aped by Melville in Le cercle rouge). The men don't speak, they just fulfill their roles. Yet, even with this eye towards realism, the director doesn't abandon the expressive shadows of old-school noir completely. Take, for instance, when Manouche goes to see Blot, and the police station corridor is so dark, we can barely see their faces. It's questionable whether Manouche is being led to her salvation or destruction.

Giovanni's felons are only glamorous in the sense that they come off as lone warriors trying to stave off change, to continue to operate within a system that is becoming obsolete. Lino Ventura played a similar criminal type in Classe tous risques, the older thief who is ready to get out of the game. Melville likely saw something in these men that appealed to him. His crooks are professionals who do their jobs and they do them well, or else they might lose their lives, much in the same way hardboiled gumshoes of American detective fiction managed to maintain a level of good in a rotten world by sticking to their manly code of personal ethics and the structure of "how things are done." The ultimate expression of this ideal would come a year later, realized by Alain Delon in Le samourai, but Le deuxiéme soufflehas a trench-coated precursor to Delon's hitman in Orloff (Pierre Zimmer), the movie's ultimate get-it-done man. He's the one who hooks Gu up with the platinum heist, forgoing the big money himself, all because he respects Gu and knows he needs the work. Orloff doesn't even want credit for it, forbidding anyone to tell Gu he was responsible even while vouching for the older hood's viability. Orloff says Gu can do it, and that should be good enough; likewise, when things do go wrong, there is nothing more important to Gu than clearing his name.

And trust me, it's not a spoiler to reveal that things go wrong. From the very start of Le deuxiéme souffle, there is a sense of impending doom hanging over Gu. It's not just that calendar, either, though that does serve as reminder of time running out--not that we know when the deadline is, just that one is coming. Before Gu even appears on screen, a title card informs us that some believe that man's only true power in life is to choose the time of his own death, though for any one of us to give up simply because we are tired is to waste everything we have experienced prior. Once we read that, we know that Gu can only have one destination, it's just a question of how he gets there. In one sense, I suppose, we know he can never escape and just retire, that wouldn't fit Melville's mission statement. We also can't believe someone as meticulous as Gu would walk into his own death without at least having some plan for escape. No, Melville never intended his little lead-in to be taken so literally.

Rather, the director was giving us something to chew on, like the Eastern proverbs he would use in Le samourai and Le cercle rouge, little pearls of wisdom for the audience to roll around in their heads while watching the drama unfold. As our existential hero, Gu isn't looking to end his life, but instead he attempting to take back his right to choose his own fate, to wrest it away from the cops and criminals who are trying to dictate how he will go out. This solidifies metaphorically as his eventual quest to clear his name, to prove to his peers that he is not a rat. The one time he actuallydoes attempt suicide, it's a desperate, flailing attempt to silence the lies. In a hard-bitten society like this one, actions must trump words. Honor matters, but it's what a man does that proves he has it.

As the credits roll, Le deuxiéme souffle leaves one with the strange satisfaction of a self-fulfilling prophecy. While in other instances, Gu's fate would be cause for sadness, in this case, it comes off more as a job completed. It still gives us reason to reflect, but not to lament.

- Jamie S. Rich, Criterion Confessions

OTHER REVIEWS

"You have to choose, to die or to lie," prefaces 1962's Le Doulos, French slang for "informer." Le Deuxième Souffle (1966) begins with, "A man is given but one right at birth: to choose his own death." Cowboy gangster Jean-Pierre Melville almost always chose to die and almost always violently. Thieves, murderers, fugitives, solitary men coming into contact with one another to reassert their honor and betray their friends, Melville's heroes usually get Le Deuxième Souffle's "second wind," but to call it fleeting ascribes time too much elasticity. Le Doulos' B-grade noir heist film piles up bodies faster than Jean-Paul Belmondo can drop a dime or get Richard Widmark on a dame, but Belmondo never quite achieves full focus of character. Melville can't make up for his own script, which drags even for the director's usual measured pacing. Serge Reggiani (Casque d'or) shines like a single bulb swinging in an attic murder, his hushed tones and hunted glances unforgettable. A vintage interview with Reggiani documents his decadelong professional "blackout," in which he refused to keep up with the Joneses. In this case, that's Melville favorite Lino Ventura, of recent Criterion gripper Classe Tous Risques, as well as the great Paul Meurisse (Diabolique). Ventura opens Souffle escaping from "the can," hot as his henchman's luger, out to settle some scores, dodge Meurisse, and pull one last heist on his way to Sicily. Melville's every bit as methodical, but his material's better and his leading men titans of French film. At nearly 2½ hours, almost every minute clenches its jaws in gangster predestination. Behind Melville were Criterion essentials Les Enfants Terribles and Bob le Flambeur; ahead lay Le Samourai,Army of Shadows, and Le Cercle Rouge, also gold-bullion DVDs. In these bloody B&W sieges, Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) lay down with death and got up once again on equal footing with William Wyler (The Desperate Hours), his American idol.

- Raoul Hernandez, The Austin Chronicle

The heist is only one part of the film. What Melville is primarily interested in is Gu's sense of honor, the code he lives by, and that he hopes others adhere to. Ventura was forty-six at the time of filming, and is presented as a guy who is starting to get old. Minda makes the leap across the prison roof, but barely is able to catch the freight train that takes him to Paris. Christine Fabrega's Manouche is a woman still attractive, but no longer youthful. Added to this mix is Paul Meurisse as Blot, a police detective who is so familiar with the Parisian gangsters he deals with that he can supply them with their own fantastic alibis before they are offered, spoken with deadpan, sarcastic delivery. Le Deuxieme Souffle is about people who know that they have limited futures. This may be best seen in a shot of Minda, alone on New Year's Eve, ripping off the last page of a daily calendar, leaving only a blank page.

Much of the action takes place in empty, or nearly empty spaces. The buildings are crumbling, while the interiors are shabby and in need of repair. It is not surprising that the only thing shiny and new in Minda's hideout is the lock that isolates him from the outside world. The heist takes place on a rocky stretch of road that gets little traffic. The heist partially takes place in the rain, while another scene is of Minda interrogated in a muddy lot. As in his final film, Dirty Money, Melville likes to put is characters in a nowhere town stuck in crappy weather. Melville's Paris seems empty of people, even during the daytime. Against this austerity is the what appears as a visual non sequitur, at least initially, of a dance troupe performing in a dive more bar that nightclub, appearing in the early Paris based scenes. There is really no reason for the girls to be in the movie from a narrative standpoint, but they do look good making their moves against the cool jazz style score ofBernard Gerard. In the end, Le Deuxieme Souffle is about people who are alone, even when they are with other people, fighting to maintain their individual sense of integrity in the face of compromises imposed by others.

- Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee

Why is Gustave Minda — I guess I’ll call him “Gu” from here on in, like everyone else does, even though the nickname is incongruously babyish — such a sympathetic figure? Or at least a figure you find yourself rooting for? He’s more than just a hard, hard man, after all; he’s a killer equally capable of killing people from a distance (like the guys on the motorcycles guarding the van full of platinum) or close up. (Gu has a thing for taking people on drive through the countryside and killing them while the car is still moving — it’s unclear whether this is a way of ensuring he’ll have fewer witnesses to the crime or if the gun, the victim, the highway, and the moving car are a peculiar constellation of elements that satisfy some inchoate psychopathic compulsion deep inside his brain.)

Maybe it’s that shot early in the film of Gu clumsily climbing aboard a train car shortly after climbing over the prison wall, barely able to run fast enough to keep up with the car, and then barely able to swing his leg up into the open cabin. (According to Ginette Vincendeau’s audio commentary on the Criterion DVD of the film, Melville instructed the engineer to make the train go faster than Lino Ventura was expecting in order to achieve precisely this level of unathletic awkwardness.) Maybe it’s the sight of Gu later in the film trying to keep a low profile as he travels to Marseilles: he’s grown a fussy little mustache and wears a pair of glasses as he rides a seemingly endless series of buses to his destination, looking like a dumpy office manager who can’t afford a car and has to take public transit on his business trips. Is it the shot of Gu showing up at his old flame Manouche’s apartment, his head bizarrely appearing at the bottom of the half-open door, like a five-year-old cautiously spying on his parents? Is it the little domestic glimpses we get of Gu holed up in various cramped hideouts, briskly shaving in anticipation of a dinner with Manouche, or enjoying a cozy solitary dinner on New Year’s Eve, smearing a thick coating of pâté onto a piece of toast? Or is it the genuine agony he displays when Commissaire Blot tricks him into identifying his partner in the platinum heist, branding him forever as a police informant?

Gu is the character we get to know best in Le Deuxième Souffle, and yet by the end of it, we feel as though we barely know him at all, or why his inevitable doom affects us the way it does. Except for Blot, the characters don’t speak much, and they operate according to obscure motives and codes of criminal conduct. (It was reassuring to listen to the DVD commentary and hear Vincendeau and fellow Melville expert Geoff Andrew admit that the plot is kind of confusing the first time through — I was starting to think I was just slow.) The characters have a certain glamour, thanks to the charisma of the movie stars playing them, but they live drab, joyless, sexless lives that no one watching them would envy.

Maybe it’s Melville who I truly envy: the restraint of his storytelling, his treatment of violence as a grubby, matter-of-fact reality instead of an occasional for spectacle, his ability to take this complicated set of criminal plots and counterplots and transform it into a nearly abstract meditation on loyalty, honour, and age. Strange that a director so austere and grown-up — it’s impossible to imagine any of Melville’s characters ever being children — should have been such an inspiration to a filmmaker as exuberantly adolescent as Quentin Tarantino.

Stray Observation: As in Le Doulos and Le Cercle Rouge, Melville stages a couple of scenes in a nightclub and pauses the action so we can enjoy the kooky floorshow — this time, it’s a bunch of girls in black cocktail dresses and cigarette holders striking poses together to cool jazz music. I love these scenes, although I’m always amazed at how these little clubs can afford to keep a team of 10 dancers on staff every night along with all those waiters and bartenders.

- Paul Matwychuk, The Moviegoer

For me, there are two primary aspects to consider when judging a film: what does it have to say, and how does it say it. A flick can succeed or even excel in one department, but it's all for naught if it lets viewers down in the other. Case in point, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Deuxième Souffle, a French gangster noir with a hell of a story on its hands. The film's main aim is to question the idea of honor among thieves, of whether those engaged in such seedy activities truly abide by any sort of shared moral code. Melville has a great concept to work with, but the laborious way in which Le Deuxième Souffle moves along ends up almost crippling the movie's burgeoning coolness factor.Casting an introspective eye on the criminal underworld is all well and good, often doing Le Deuxième Souffle a great thematic service. But it's in moving away from overtones and towards building up an actual story that Melville makes the first of numerous missteps. Most of the time, watching the film is like watching him play Pin the Tail on the Donkey — sometimes he's right on the mark, and other times he might as well be in Timbuktu.

The trouble is that Melville's focus is way too inconsistent. He builds up the pivotal heist sequence throughout the film's first half, but once it's over and done with, he just sort of meanders his way through the crime's aftermath. You can almost see him let the camera keep on rolling as he goes off to make a sandwich or something. The film's style and sharp look (which, thanks to the Criterion Collection's restoration, is nothing short of gorgeous) begins to emerge as dressing that barely covers up the bitter taste left by Melville's prolonging of the plot. Aimless scenes abound in the latter two acts, with Melville eventually losing his storytelling finesse and, disappointingly, ending the rather messy affair in an obligatory hail of bullets.

- A.J. Hakari, Blog Critics.com

Le Deuxième Souffle was, when it was released in Europe in 1966, the last film to be shot by Jean-Pierre Melville in black-and-white. The French master's first color film was Le Samourai in 1967 and was followed within two years by Army of Shadows, two inarguable masterpieces that the US wanted nothing to do with at the time. Like few other directors, Melville took naturally to color, uncovering a deeper isolation in an array of tones that had seemed simply tragic in his peerless black-and-white work. Recently remade in France with Daniel Auteuil in the lead, Le Deuxième Souffle, which literally translates into "The Second Breath," might be considered "minor" Melville in comparison to the towering giants that followed it, but even that would rank it among the best crim films of the 1960s.

Deuxième Souffle is perhaps Melville's most elementally structuralist affair. The acting is superbly restrained, the movement and space mapped meticulously. It is perhaps the most fluidly edited of the master's films. In this respect, though, it is thoroughly apolitical, the film foresees the globe-trotting paranoia of Army of Shadows and the director's late-era crime epic Le Circle Rouge rather than representing the penultimate work of Melville's black-and-white period.

Few things in Melville's oeuvre rival the centerpiece heist of the police transport, executed with the precision of a Swiss stopwatch. Bernard Gérard's unhinged jazz accompaniment is suspended while Melville focuses on procedure and movement, ingratiating the scene with the permanence of the hold-ups and shoot-outs of Ford and Hawks. Like those two directors saw the myth of America in their westerns, Melville sees the cold efficiency of the French bourgeoisie in his teeming underworld, two worlds he often remarked as being nearly one and the same.

Of all the gangsters, thieves and hoodlums that populate Le Deuxième Souffle, few have the presence that Pierre Zimmer gave the properly-named Orloff, a gigantic, reserved gangster who passes the heist to his old friend Gu and remains one of the few people who sticks with the aging thief when he accidently rats on Paul. Possessed of nearly the same frosty manner as Ventura, Zimmer dominates his scenes with stiff physicality and a collected expression, especially in a nerve-wracking sequence where he looks to be cornered by Jo and Antoine. That this was Zimmer's debut performance renders it near-astonishing.

Not many of Melville's crime sonatas end happily and Souffle is no exception. Tracked by a corrupt police force, Gu ends up stuck between Jo Ricci and his thugs and Commissar Blot (the great Paul Meurisse), the investigator who has been following him throughout. Like the doomed samourai that he so often filmed, Melville became increasingly fatalistic while approaching his 55th birthday, seeing as both his father and grandfather had suffered fatal heart attacks in their 55th year. Eerily, he suffered the same fate only two months before his 56th birthday in 1973, a year after releasing his swan song,Un Flic, in France and two years before it would see release stateside. Like Gu, there is a sense he saw his fate coming and, rather than let his reputation succumb to uneasy modernity, simply said "To hell with it!" and continued to make brilliant, tight-lipped noirs like this.

- Chris Cabin, Film Critic.com

It all came affirmatively back to me: the geometrized prison break in the cold gray (black-and-white) dawn; the seven silent minutes to the first line of dialogue; the five-minute unobtrusive single take as the prissily sardonic police inspector (Paul Meurisse) sizes up the scene of a nightclub shooting, supplies all the answers and alibis to his own questions, and proves himself in the course of this virtual monologue the equal of Melville (or vice versa) as an aficionado of the underworld; the pregnant first look between the escaped convict and the cotton-candy-haired gun moll at their reunion, matched and surpassed by their pregnant last look much later on; the protagonist’s trademark killings in a moving vehicle; the mountain-road stickup of an armored car; the superb ruse by which the policeman gets the gangster to spill a single bean; the evocative shots of dark-coated figures in a landscape, scantily clad chorines on the dance floor, abstract polygons of light and shadow; the spare, neurotic jazz score; the stoic camaraderie and the stern judgmentalism about good people and bad, whether crooks or cops. And through it all, that great block of granite, that craggy colossus of the French screen, Lino Ventura — a block with worrisome cracks in it (is he over the hill? all washed-up?), a block that undergoes liquefaction over his deviously induced betrayal of his cronies and his principles, an unnerving turn of events that can only be put right by doffing his fusty mustache-and-glasses disguise, donning a regulation trenchcoat, and doing penance by way of a two-gun suicide.

Near the end, my most treasured sequence in all of Melville leaves Ventura out entirely, and centers on a subordinate figure in the large population of characters, a natty iceman (Pierre Zimmer) with the sinister name of Orloff. “He’s all style and no action,” someone appraises him. Well, let’s see. It is he who is tabbed as the protagonist’s go-between at an assignation with three ticked-off mobsters. As a precaution, he visits the meeting place ahead of time, picks out a spot atop an armoire where he can stash a gun out of sight from normal human height. He practices standing with his back to the armoire, reaching up over his head, pulling down the gun with the business end forward. He goes away satisfied. Then the gypsy triggerman from the hostile trio also checks out the meeting place beforehand, finds the gun, keeps it. He’s satisfied as well. Comes the meeting. The talk turns testy. Orloff sidles over to the armoire, positions himself in front of the empty hiding place. The gypsy tenses in anticipation, eggs him on. Mr. Cool Cat is about to have his fur ruffled. You’ll need to see the film to find out what happens next, a moment even more magicianly than the one in Le Samourai when the professional assassin unveils his white gloves from beneath a washroom towel. And, as I would tell the undergraduates, this alone should suffice to deter us from a life of crime: we’re not smart enough.

To object that Melville glamorizes his subject would be to miss altogether the point of a film that is manifestly a movie buff’s fantasy. Aside from that, the film is doubtless a “meditation,” as they say, not just on the gangster genre but on themes of loyalty and trust, aging and death, sang-froid and savoir-faire,arbitrarily in gangster garb. Any piddler of course can meditate on such stuff. It takes a true artist to arrange his thoughts and feelings into a form that will fully express and validate them. Many a filmmaker loves gangster movies, pays homage to them, imitates them. Melville improves them. His love runs deep. I can’t say that the extra twenty-five minutes, when I could identify them, added anything to the film but length, two and a half hours all told. Mere length is not nothing, however, in a film I never want to see come to an end. The extra minutes necessitate no revision in my previous opinion of it.

- Duncan Shepherd, The San Diego Reader

The films of Jean-Pierre Melville are obsessed with detail. Consider the scene in Le Deuxième Souffle, in which Gu and his associates conduct a carefully-planned heist. Every single detail of this heist is outlined with cautious observation. Melville wants to give us a sense of where everyone is and what they are doing at all times. This is not uncommon for a heist sequence; many films have examined such scenes in careful detail. What sets the work of Melville apart is the fact that gives every single scene in his movie an equal level of artful attention. The director is equally fascinated by the conversations and actions of every character related to the situation. The set-up is just as important as the event itself, and more surprisingly, so is the aftermath.

Le Deuxième Souffle gives us yet another Melville film that offers up one compelling sequence after another. I would love to know what the average shot length is in his films. I know that it has to be considerably higher that it was for most directors of the era. Melville's lets his camera run on and on and on, sometimes sitting still and sometimes slithering in a voyeuristic manner across the room. However, I don't think Melville is showing off. The shots do not draw attention to themselves, and they are always quietly supporting the action rather than outshining it.

That may be largely because Melville provides such engaging characters for his camera to study. Here there are two important performances that are equally fascinating. The first comes from the rugged Lino Ventura, who takes Gu across a long and carefully-modulated character arc. Ventura is quiet and reserved most of the time, dealing with each new situation with a low-key efficiency. Then watch him in the moment when he is asked to participate in the heist. He is told that his friend Paul is involved. "Paul!" he says excitedly. It's the first little burst of emotion we see from the character. When he reaches his loud scenes towards the conclusion, they have an explosive impact due to Ventura's patient and finely-tuned portrayal.

The other notable performance comes from Paul Meurisse as Blot, the man on the side of the law. Meurisse has less screen time than Ventura, but he does a lot with his scenes. Meurisse is the most charming and charismatic character in the film, blending wit, sarcasm, kindness, and intelligence into the character. We are constantly surprised by the way Blot reacts to certain situations. He has an unusual ability to see the truth of any situation. Consider a moment when others in the police department suggest several tactics they might use to catch Gu. Blot smiles gently and dismisses them all, declaring that there's more or less nothing than can do until Gu makes some sort of mistake and leaves some sort of clue. This is a man who can follow the smallest of leads to a conviction, but he is honest enough with himself and the department to know that he might as well be shooting at gnats unless he finds a starting point.

Once again, Melville successfully blends many aspects of American gangster and noir genre films with French culture. His movies do not look or feel like most of the French films being released during the 1960s, and they have a unique vibe that can't really be found anywhere else. His films have the aesthetic of a Bogart movie, but the meditative and reflective qualities of a European film (though not necessarily a French film). Many American noir efforts combined a gorgeous visual style with a breathless narrative speed, but Melville is too much in love with the genre to permit himself to breeze through it. He wants to soak in each moment, stretch it out, give viewers time to fully appreciate every detail of it before moving on.

- Clark Douglas, DVD Verdict

Melville clearly has a taste for the existential and the absurdist—with character names like Gu and Blot (the chief inspector), it sometimes sounds as if we're in a late-period Beckett play, Endgame with guns, or something. There are some absolutely extraordinary sequences in the picture, without question—the most notable would have to be the central heist, a 200-million-franc job that's too sweet for Gu to resist, even though he's hot as blazes. It's kinetic and tense and visual, Melville at his best, sort of both a tribute to and a conscious attempt to outdo Rififi. But other scenes make you feel as if you're in some sort of noir echo chamber, scenes that bear little or no relationship to real life, or even to the story, but are there simply to conjure up the mood of the gangster pictures so close to Melville's heart.

Titles pop up with date, time and location, alerting us that we're barreling toward the inevitable and unpleasant climax—it's a familiar noir device, maybe most famous from Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. And the odd brother/sister relationship is in many respects at the heart of it all—there's something a bit untoward and overly intimate about their relationship, and he seems at other times ready to pimp out Manouche, who understands the power she can exercise over men. Her interactions with Blot are especially charged and dangerous. (Christine Fabréga is beautiful and ice cold in the role.) But it's also unquestionably an excessively long picture—it clocks in at two and a half hours not because it's got a tremendous amount of ground to cover, but because it's a little too in love with or impressed with itself.

- Jon Danzinger, Digitally Obsessed

Review by Glenn Erickson for DVD Talk

Review by Mick LaSalle for The San Francisco Chronicle

ABOUT THE CRITERION DVD

Criterion's disc shows minor signs of age and wear and some chemical degradation across some reels (noticeable mostly in darker scenes), but it's eminently watchable and a welcome release for the rarely screened Melville film. The DVD features commentary by Melville scholar Ginette Vincendeau and critic Geoff Andrew, who intersperse their reading of the film and observations of style with production details, and a new video interview with filmmaker and critic Bertrand Tavernier, who worked as an assistant and publicist for Melville in the sixties and shares stories about the director. Also features a pair of archival interviews with Melville and Ventura: a short four-minute newsreel piece (which includes a brief clip of actor Jose Ferrer, who is not in the finished film but was apparently cast in the film at one time) and a more formal 26-minute interview from the French TV series Cinema. An accompanying booklet features an essay by film professor Adrian Dirks.

Sean AxmakerTurner Classic Movies

Aside from a few more noticeable artefacts in the darker scenes of the beginning - this Criterion transfer settles down to have some fairly strong moments. It appears to have a few more earmarks of Criterion digital restoration magic which I, actually, never found overly obvious but it seems to have helped smooth out the source inconsistencies. I wouldn't say it is a perfect transfer but for the most part it looks quite competent and reasonably clean. It is anamorphic (in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio), progressive and situated on a dual-layered SD-DVD.  Hopefully the screen caps below will give you a good idea of what it will look like on your system.

- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver

The Video:

Criterion has done a nice job with the 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Le Deuxieme Souffle on this DVD. The black and white image is nice and stable and while eagle-eyed viewers will probably spot a couple of minor compression artifacts in some of the darker scenes, overall things are pretty stable. Contrast looks set properly and there aren't any problems with any serious print damage save for a couple of fleeting instances that thankfully don't last too long. Only some specs and grain now and again are constant. Detail levels are pretty strong despite occasional softness in some of the far away shots and a tiny bit of edge enhancement.

The Audio:

The French language Dolby Digital Mono audio track comes with optional subtitles in English only. While it's a little on the flat side there aren't any serious problems with it to report. Dialogue remains clean and clear throughout and the levels are all properly balanced. A little bit of minor distortion is noticeable in a couple of spots but unless you're listening for it you probably won't pick up on it. All in all, the movie sounds just fine.

The Extras:

Ginette Vincendeau, the author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American In Paris joins BFI programming head Geoff Andrew for an excellent commentary track. Both participants have a fair bit to say about this film, putting it into context and comparing it to Melville's other pictures and pointing out some interesting notes about both what we see on the screen and about what we don't see. Much attention is paid to Melville's use of shadow and about the film noir style employed but the pair also discusses the intricacies of the plot and detail the history of the film and those who made it. As far as critical commentary tracks go, this one is pretty impressive.

From there, check out the twelve minute interview with film critic and publicity agent Bertrand Tavernier (11:36) who speaks about his involvement with this film and his working relationship with Melville and who lends some unique insight into the picture's history. Up next is a four minute archival piece from a French television show entitled Province Actualities(3:59) that is essentially a news clip that gives us a quick look at the set of the film while it was in production - basically Melville, Lino Ventura and Paul Meurisse discuss the film briefly while sitting at a bar. A lengthier twenty-six minute interview segment entitled Cinema (25:50) features Melville and leading man Lino Ventura being interviewed by television host Francois Chalais. This is considerably more in-depth than the first interview is and it's a joy to listen to the sunglasses wearing Melville talk about his work on the film and to hear from Ventura about his contributions to the picture as well.

Rounding out the extra features is an anamorphic widescreen trailer (2:18) for the film, some classy menus, and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase is an insert booklet that features an interesting essay on the film written by film critic Adrian Danks.

- Ian Jane, DVD Talk

ABOUT JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE

IMDb Wiki

The following quotes are found on the They Shoot Pictures profile page for Jean-Pierre Melville:

"Melville was a precise, methodical director with a predilection for themes of war and crime. The former preoccupation was attributable to his own experiences, and the latter was the probable result of his nostalgic admiration for the Hollywood cinema of the 30s...Beginning in the early 60s, Melville worked with larger budgets and with name stars like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon and showed an increasingly technical mastery of the medium." - (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)

"He had a built-in breathlessness, in fact, an adopted resignation to transience and mutability that is partly an eccentric individualism and partly what Melville inherited from American mobility and obsolescence. It gives his gangster films a true supercharge - "en quatrième vitesse" - and he transformed Belmondo and Delon into beautiful destructive angels of the dark street." - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

"Powerful endings and memorable set-pieces have a place in all Melville's work, even the earlier films, some of which are far removed from his later world of 'flics' and gangs', where the night-time photography glitters as cold and metallic as a gun barrel." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Film Directors, 1999)

"Betrayal, revenge, and the criminal mind are significant elements in the work of Melville. His films are not so much reflections of the Hollywood crime genre as indications of a unique sensibility creating from the same source material - crime and criminals." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

Tribute by Mystery Man on Film features more quotes and an excerpt from a 1961 radio interview between Melville and Gideon Bachmann.

Jean-Pierre Melville said it himself: "I have a bloody awful character." In 1972, towards the end of his career, glowering at the world through smoked glasses under a Texan ten-gallon hat, the man whom some consider to be the "father of the nouvelle vague" listed the collaborators for whom he still felt gratitude after 25 years in the business. None of his stars stars got a mention; neither Belmondo, Delon, Lino Ventura nor François Perrier. Nor, outrageously, did his his great director of photography, Henri Decaë. Melville told the journalist Rui Nogueira, author of The Cinema According to Jean-Pierre Melville (1996) that he only felt gratitude to Pierre Charron and René Albouze. Charron chose the furniture for his films; Albouze was a prop man.

This is as good a clue as any to the character of this provocative, morose, secretive, private and perverse man, whose life was a running battle with collaborators, former admirers and critics. He once said he was "a solitary to the power of five - myself, my wife and three cats."

It was of course this sacré caractère which drove Melville to employ the independent methods of a "new wave" director well before the nouvelle vague. Melville made his first feature in 1947; the nouvelle vague proper did not appear until 1959. Frustrated by the film establishment, which regarded him as an amateur, and angered by what he saw as the "communist dictatorship" of the unions, he built his own Studio Jenner, in 1947, the only director to have one. It was destroyed by fire in 1967.

Melville's hardboiled world is really that of the film buff, but a skilled one. He involved himself in every aspect of film-making; set design, writing the script, running the camera, and designing his heroes' fetching gangster gear. Here we come to a puzzling contradiction. Alongside his seemingly obsessive gangster pastiches, Melville was perfectly capable of producing work that was restrained, precise and sensitive with no reaching for decorative symbolism.

- Peter Lennon, The Guardian

The career of Jean-Pierre Melville is one of the most independent in modern French cinema. The tone was set with his first feature film, Le Silence de la mer, made quite outside the confines of the French film industry. Without union recognition or even the rights to the novel by Vercors which he was adapting, Melville proceeded to make a film which, in its counterpointing of images and a spoken text, set the pattern for a whole area of French literary filmmaking extending from Bresson and Resnais down to Duras in the 1980s. Les Enfants terribles, made in close collaboration with Jean Cocteau, was an equally interesting amalgam of literature and film, but more influential was Bob le flambeur, a first variation on gangster film themes which emerged as a striking study of loyalty and betrayal.

But by the time that the New Wave directors were drawing from Bob le flambeur a set of stylistic lessons which were to be crucial to their own breakthrough—economical location shooting, use of natural light, improvisatory approaches, and use of character actors in place of stars—Melville himself had moved in quite a different direction. Léon Morin, prêtre marks Melville's decision to leave this directly personal world of low-budget filmmaking for a mature style of solidly commercial genre filmmaking that used major stars and tightly wrought scripts to capture a wide audience.

This style is perfectly embodied in the trio of mid-1960s gangster films which constitute the core of Melville's achievement in cinema. Melville's concern with the film as a narrative spectacle is totally vindicated in these films, each of which was built around a star performance: Jean-Paul Belmondo in Le Doulos, Lino Ventura in Le Deuxième Souffle, and Alain Delon in Le Samourai. Drawing on his 1930s viewing and his adolescent reading of American thrillers, Melville manipulated the whole mythology of the gangster film, casting aside all pretence of offering a social study. His criminals are idealized figures, their appearance stylized with emphasis on the belted raincoat, soft hat, and ever-present handgun. Their behavior oddly blends violence and ritualized politeness, and lifts them out from their settings. Melville had no interest in the realistic portrayal of life. He disregarded both psychological depth and accuracy of location and costume. The director instead used his stars to portray timeless, tragic figures caught up in ambiguous conflicts and patterns of deceit, relying on the actor's personality and certainty of gesture to fill the intentional void.

Le Samourai, a perfect distillation of the cinematic myth of the gangster, remains Melville's masterpiece. Subsequent attempts to widen his range included an effort to transpose his characters into the world of Occupation and Resistance in L'Armée des ombres, as well as a film—Le Cercle rouge—that combined his particular gift for atmosphere with a Rififi-style presentation of the mechanics of a robbery. These films are interesting but flawed works. Melville's frustration and dissatisfaction was reflected in his last work,Un Flic, which completed the passage towards abstraction begun in the mid-1960s. It offers a derisory world lacking even the human warmth of loyalty and friendship which the director had earlier celebrated. In retrospect, it seems likely that Melville's reputation will rest largely on his ability, almost unique in French cinema, to contain deeply felt personal attitudes within the tight confines of commercial genre production. Certainly his thrillers are unequalled in European cinema.

Roy Armes, Film Reference.com

multiple perspectives
Bob le flambeur

In 1963, Raymond Durgnat pertinently suggested that “Melville has a way of watching, rather than sharing, his characters' perplexities. He seems not to mind what they do, provided it suits them. He is not unkind, but feline.” Durgnat's astute reading of Melville's work nevertheless over-emphasises the purely detached and relatively amoral perspective that it offers. The subtle scene described above is one of many moments in Melville's cinema in which his mostly male characters appear to be both within and outside of a dramatic situation, able to engage in the emotion of the moment while also stepping outside of it to contemplate a configuration of events, actions and bodies. Bob recognises his complicity and involvement in the coupling he sees staged in his bed but he also recognises the beauty of this staged composition, its 'rightness,' in a way. In a similar fashion, the lone assassin protagonist of Melville's most celebrated film, Le Samouraï (1967), both enacts his crimes and observes the patterned compositions he creates through his meticulous movements and steely actions. There is another moment in Bob le flambeur where Bob looks, as many of Melville's characters do, at his unshaven face in the mirror. Though this provokes a momentary shock of existential awareness – the notation of age and a concomitant world-weariness – it is also a moment of pure contemplation; the character simultaneously sees both from within and outside himself. Typical of Melville's aesthetic style (and his ethical perspective), we are shown these moments and events through a mixture of seeming point-of-view shots and a vast array of detached perspectives (which rarely repeat camera set-ups). Thus, while the characters are both 'interior' and 'exterior' to the situation, we are also both inside and outside their view of it, engaged in the film's action while also observing it. It is this combination of direct engagement and distanced contemplation, of feeling character and observing actor, as well as the joining of real-time observation – which Colin McArthur describes as a “cinema of process” – and aesthetic abstraction (heightened or drained colours, self-consciously staged compositions) that defines Melville's cinema. Melville himself has been careful to place his work within the context of a composed or synthetic tradition of filmmaking: “I am careful never to be realistic.… What I do is false. Always.” But this statement encapsulates only 'half' the story, as John Flaus suggests: “He [Melville] does not seek to simulate the world but to create anew from the materials of the world. The severe form, the precise detail, the delicate effect are part of a style which shows rather than refers to its subject.”  Essentially, Melville's cinema is a highly complex and regulated thing within which nothing, not an edit, a gesture, a sound or a camera movement, is wasted (though it is also a cinema that is often also stylistically adventurous). His films present a collection of minute observations and actions played out in what seems to be real time, while also reveling in self-conscious displays of what could pass for pure style. Melville combines this with an overwhelming sense of lived experience. His films are often, all at once, highly personal, non-naturalistic (full of attenuated shades and colours or self-consciously fake back projections), dream-like fictions, and documentary-like narratives. His style often also revolves around the meticulous placement and withdrawal of certain cinematic techniques. For example, despite the head of the character of the niece being consistently framed in Le Silence de la mer (1949), she is never given a close-up until the penultimate point of the film.

Les Enfants terribles

Melville is a filmmaker that almost everyone seems to admire, but few know what to do with (other than those who attempt to slavishly copy or evoke his work). Similarly, many accounts of his cinema focus only on his gangster films, finding it difficult to encapsulate the trio of films he made about the war-time occupation of France into an overall understanding of his work; particularly any 'summary' which attempts to present a teleological narrative that moves from the initial 'literary' works such as Le Silence de la mer to the explicitly cinematic genre and audio-visual abstraction characterising his last film, Un Flic. Critical discussion of Melville's work is also obsessed by the American affectations of his films and his personal style (the car he drove, the Stetson he wore, the Coca-Cola he drank, the evocative New York-based or influenced films he made such as Deux Hommes dans Manhattan and L'Aîné des ferchaux [1962]), as well as his status as perhaps the first truly self-conscious cinéphiliac director. It is in these obsessions that most critics see Melville's talismanic importance to the nouvelle vague, as an exemplar of particular critical proclivities and independent production processes. Nevertheless, Melville seems to belong to a separate generation or movement (closer to other singular figures of French cinema like Robert Bresson, Georges Franju and Jacques Becker). His valediction of such highly classical directors as William Wyler, John Huston, Robert Wise and Charles Chaplin points toward an unflinching, or aspirational, classicism in his own style; expressed in his films' attention to detail, deployment of iconographic objects and often restricted emotional, tonal and aesthetic palette. But his films, particularly from Le Doulos (1962) onwards, also seem to belong to an explicitly modernist tradition in which the world created appears predetermined, patterned, almost geometric – and such patterns or geometries emerge as key themes and visual preoccupations of films such as Le Samouraï and Le Cercle rouge. Thus, although Melville would like to be connected to names such as Huston, Wyler, William Wellman and John Ford, he belongs as much to a formalist cinema defined by its compositional clarity and spatio-temporal experimentation, and thus should be examined equally alongside such directors as Yasujiro Ozu, Alain Resnais, Bresson and Jacques Tati. Melville's cinema is essentially tonal: a sensibility (melancholy, poetic, unhysterical) which is founded upon a 'purity' of style, performance and narrative action. It is this 'sensibility' or 'tonality' – existential, ritualistic and formed around the incapability of the individual and their community – that preoccupies most critical accounts of Melville's cinema. John Flaus has suggested that Melville “is a self-confessed addict of the structure & ethos, but not the tone, of the Hollywood crime genres.” Thus Melville's films often appear as intricately choreographed shadow plays in which the elements of genre become isolated, detached and abstracted. This abstraction goes hand-in-hand with a career long fascination with totemistic objects brought either to the foreground of a shot or arranged purposely in the background of the frame. Melville's films are full of moments in which characters fix on a particular object or fetishise certain keepsakes or elements of mise-en-scène. This isolation of individual shapes, objects and actions is playfully noted in the scene in Le Samouraï where the character of Weiner is asked whether he can identify the man (Jef, played by Alain Delon) he passed in the foyer of his lover's apartment block. Not being 'observant,' he cannot recognise the 'person' of this man but constructs a readily identifiable composite; he points out a hat, a coat and a kind of face that he remembers brushing past...

The endings of Melville's films tell us much about the moral codes and frameworks that they set up. In many of his films the majority of the central characters end up dead. These endings – which often have the feeling of ritual – reestablish the intimate connections that have been created between characters whose relationships are made impossible by a variety of legal, social, moral and criminal codes. In this sense they have much in common with the cycle of 'chamber' Westerns made by Budd Boetticher with Randolph Scott; in fact the moral climates, dilemmas and group dynamics of Melville's films often seem closer to the Western than film noir. It is also in respect to this focus on the relativity of social roles and functions (often with characters on either side of the Law), as well as their explicit revision and abstraction of the crime genre, that one can see the clear influence of Melville on directors such as John Woo, Johnny To, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino. It is also in these endings, particularly in his last five films, that Melville tells us something about the end of a kind of classicism; of a classical world of archetypes, moral and physical integrity, and ritualised ceremony that is passing from view. They also prefigure the end of a cinema that Melville considered to be a “sacred thing.”

- Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Classical cinema, basically, had to do with heroes, so-called modern cinema is to do with grubs. I have always refused to go along with this regression… I always arrange my characters – my 'heroes' – to conduct themselves within their environment, whatever it might be, the way I would conduct myself […] To be frank, I'm only able to become interested in characters who reflect some aspect of myself. Egocentric, paranoiac, megalomaniac? No: quite simply the natural authority of the creator.

- Melville, as quoted by Danks in Senses of Cinema

947 (89). Judex (1963, Georges Franju)

Screened Thursday December 30 2008 on Something Weird VHS (courtesy of Kim's, sniff) in New York, NY TSPDT rank #  IMDb Wiki

This remake of pioneer cineaste Louis Feuillade's 1916 action serial featuring cinema's original caped crusader can function today as a surreal subversion of the modern superhero genre that dominates movie houses the world over. While Judex (played by real life magician Channing Pollack) makes a bold entrance in a tuxedoed bird costume to orchestrate the death of a greedy financier, he, unlike most contemporary superheroes, is mostly ineffectual for the remainder of the film.  He's upstaged by a slinky, shape-shifting minx (Francine Berge) who changes disguises at every step of a kidnapping plot so haphazard it slips like mercury through the viewer's grasp. No one character maintains control of the narrative, which operates like a soccer game, bouncing in jagged trajectories with every unexpected death, deception or deus ex machina revelation. But once in a while a stunning moment will materialize to sear itself into the memory: a masked ball of wealthy socialites wearing bird's heads; Francine Berge's lightning transformation from a sweet-faced nun to a sleek cat burglar outfit; Edith Scob's delicate body floating downstream; a boy staring transfixed at the fresh corpse of a woman who's fallen to her death. Feuillade's grand vision was of a world whose capacity for imminent, explosive chaos resisted the authoritative logic of 20th century narrative; Franju is clearly sympathetic to Feuillade, but goes further in imposing a new authority, one of the lyrical dream image. If only more summer blockbusters had that sense...

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Judex film poster

There's a world of difference between the natural, "found" surrealism of Louis Feuillade's lighthearted French serial (1914) and the darker, studied surrealism and campy piety of this 1964 remake by Georges Franju. Yet in Franju's hands the material has its own magic (and deadpan humor), which makes this one of the better features of his middle period. Judex (Channing Pollack) is a cloaked hero who abducts a villainous banker to prevent the evil Diana (Francine Bergé in black tights) from stealing a fortune from the banker's virtuous daughter. Some of what Franju finds here is worthy of Cocteau, and as he discovered when he attempted another pastiche of Feuillade's work in color, black and white is essential to the poetic ambience.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

Franju's superbly elegant and enjoyable tribute to the adventure fanatasies of Louis Feuillade sees the eponymous righter-of-wrongs (Pollack) abduct a wicked banker in order to prevent villainess Diana (Bergé, glorious in black cat suit) laying her hands on a fortune the banker's daughter (Scob) is due to inherit. Cue for a magical clash between good and evil, with the director revelling in poetic symbolism (the opening masked ball finds our hero, with forbidding bird mask, creating a dove out of thin air), black-and-white photography that thrills with its evocation of a lost, more innocent era, and surreal set pieces.

- Time Out

Judex adds a subtle, sophisticated and endearing chapter to the swollen literature of cinematic pop art. In homage to French Movie Pioneer Louis Feuillade, Director Georges Franju tenderly resurrects Judex, a formidable mass hero whose dime-novel adventures burgeoned on the silent screens of France between 1916 and 1918, decades before Superman got off the ground as a force for good. Happily, Franju never yields to the temptation of playing a soggy old classic for easy laughs as a smart-alecky spoof. Instead he celebrates it with sound, as a nostalgic song of innocence, an ode to an era when all the battles that Virtue waged against Vice were won without tricky compromise.

Wearing a black cloak and several delicious disguises, Channing Pollock portrays Judex with the stubborn, single-minded intensity of a reformed Dracula. The plot that roils around him is mostly post-Victorian gimcrackery, carried out in a pure period style that offers everything from mad little chases in vintage jalopies to the acrobatics of human flies, from reunions of long-lost sons and ruined fathers to the machinations of a rascally banker whose ill-gotten capital gains keep Judex awake nights. So does the banker's daughter (Edith Scob), a lovely wisp of a heroine. All crumpled organdy and helplessness yet clearly indestructible, she is drugged, chloroformed, kidnaped, nearly impaled on a hatpin, and at one point must be pulled out of the river after a prolonged dunking that would have drowned a plainer girl. Most of her woes are devised by a supple archvillainess (Francine Bergé) who revels in evil for its own sake, keeps slipping out of her period gowns to dart away in tights, only to reappear moments later as an apache dancer or murderous nun.

Judex has too much low-key charm and seriousness to be wildly funny, but Director Franju seems content to woo a minority taste. He affectionately thumbs through an album of thrills remembered from boyhood, shrewdly heightening the original and sometimes shading in his own touches of nightmarish reality—most strikingly at an eerie masked ball where all the guests are feathered out as birds, again in a cell where a rotter confronts his festering conscience in a mirror that swivels to catch his every move. The spare, clever background music by Composer Maurice Jarre is a pleasurable bonus in a movie that does not just dwell on the past but feelingly rediscovers it.

- Time Magazine, May 13, 1966

An unusual concoction, this 1963 Georges Franju picture, which goes about its business as if the nouvelle vague never existed, among other things. An homage to the 1915 Louis Feuillade serial about an almost super-powered crime fighter who nonetheless has a fairly arduous time bringing the main evildoes to justice (the defining paradox of such serials, I suppose), it honors Feuillade as a surrealist precursor by introducing (or at least we believe we haven't seen him before) the title character as something out of a Max Ernst collage.

Villainess Diana (Francine Berge) is quite the adventuress, thinking nothing of attempting murder whilst dressed in a nun's outfit. Seen above, she's making the first in a series of daring escapes. She's quite a contrast to the handsome but rather impassive Channing Pollock, the real-life stage magician playing Judex. And so, it's fun, fun, fun all the way for a while, as Franju's pastiche grows ever more thrillingly absurd and self-referential. We see the incompetent detective Cocantin reading an adventure of Fantomas, another famous subject for Feuillade...

The film's climax constitutes one of the most hilariously arbitrary flauntings of the deus ex machina ever. Judex is trapped by the villains on the top floor of a tallish building, the entrance to which is barred. Hence, Cocantin and the young fella known as "The Licorice Kid' in Feuillade's original are sitting outside, disconsolate. A circus caravan passes by, and one of its coaches is that of, what do you know, one Daisy—in this film an old flame of Cocantin's. The gorgeous Sylva Koscina's cameo is an almost ineffable delight. Sad-sack Cocantin's explanation of what's going on doesn't sit well with Diana. Why aren't you helping your friend, she asks. He would, he explains, but he can't get to where his friend is. After all, he's not an acrobat—"But you are!" he brightens, and sends Diana up to the roof for what will be a helluva catfight with the villainess.

And it's at this point the film changes. From almost out of nowhere, the Franju who made his name as an unblinking observer of horror (with films such as Le Sang des betes and the aforementioned  Les Yeux sans visage) suddenly asserts himself.

Hanging from the rim of the roof, Diana, once the personification of immorality's fearlessness, is now a pathetic, wide-eyed, impotent creature. And Franju doesn't let it go at that—her fall, its thud, her lifeless body, its horrific expression fixed on her face (and witnessed by that cute little Licorice Kid). The pall it casts hangs heavy even as we watch Judex finally unite with his beloved; their stroll on the beach somehow brings to mind a similar seascape in Murnau's Nosferatu...

- Glenn Kenny, The Auteurs Notebook

George Franju treats the horrific and the strange with the approach of a filmmaker directing the most rote literary adaptation. This produces a slowness to his scenes, to his pacing (Dan Sallitt recently wrote of a similar effect in Franju's Eyes Without a Face), a stolid, regular quality to the mise-en-scene that consequently makes that horror, that strangeness all the more uneasy and abrupt, a lyrical inclusion in what initially seems something regular, unremarkable.

This weight of normality, of unnotable cinema makes Franju's masterfully vignette based, tone-jumping 1963 revision of Louis Fuillade's serial Judex work all the more successfully. It allows the homage to start as a film tracking political terrorism in the guise of surrealist horror, and move from this to trapdoors and automobile getaways, deering-do numbers, a segment centered on the comedic duo of a tramp child and a goofy detective, and a death scene that grants the film's villainess more dignity than a million movie deaths before and after will ever condescend to treat their characters. All this wild divergence is treated with the same stolidness, and as such never seems inconsistent. The fantastic is always possible when it is treated as nothing fantastic at all.

Ending with a coda to the unhappy era that Feuillade's 1914 serial was produced in, Franju's seemingly standard "homage"—pre-pastiche, post-New Wave—predicts a Cold War global catastrophe and posits itself as a predecessor to this future catastrophe: so read into its not-so-equal doses of innocuous costume shenanigans and capitalist terrorism what you will.

- Daniel Kasman, The Auteurs Notebook

The ferocious poetics of Georges Franju's style have silent-film purity -- the use of pre-Griffith iconography studding many of his feature movies is no fashionable Nouvelle Vague hommage, but an artist acknowledging his stylistic roots and pondering their validity in modern times.  There are disguises, night raids and rooftop chases, though, as in Feuillade, Franju's lenses remain cool even as the action gets more delirious. Judex's first appearance, resurrecting doves at a costume ball while decked in a majestic bird mask, is an astonishing visual epiphany, yet the movie's vitality lies with Bergé's Diana, whose energy, whether climbing walls in tights or masquerading as a nun, puts the story's WWI-era patriarchy in '60s perspective. The picture's reverence notwithstanding, the two filmmakers are virtual polar opposites -- where the old master used documentary aesthetics to record the extraordinary, Franju filters the ordinary through the gauze of ominous lyricism. The results contain all the fascinating tensions that the collision implies.

- Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion

French cinema of the mid-1960s saw something of a revival of interest in the old Louis Feuillade thriller serials of the 1910s.   Feuillade’s criminal mastermind Fantômas came back for a second round of murderous mayhem, and a certain amount of mirth, in a series of three films directed by André Hunebelle and starring Jean Marais and Louis de Funès, beginning with Fantômas (1964).  The previous year had seen the release of another remake of a Feuillade classic, Judex, directed by Georges Franju.  It would take another three decades before Irma Vep, the villainous queen of crime from Les Vampires (1914) would return to the big screen, played by Maggie Cheung in Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep (1996) – although this hardly counts as a remake.

Georges Franju’s fascination and love of the silent Feuillade thrillers is evident from this inspired, and ever so slightly camp, reinterpretation of Judex.  The film is an obvious fan homage to Feuillade’s work – employing the episodic structure to almost ludicrous extremes whilst evoking the dark menace and poetry of Feuillade’s films through its stylish expressionistic design and lush black and white photography.  Feuillade’s grandson Jacques Champreux worked on the screenplay, which has many of the elements of the original 1916 Judex film, but curiously omits the justification for why Judex behaves as he does, and so the central character becomes an avenger without a cause.

Channing Pollock is a surprising yet effective casting choice for the role of Judex.  He had previously appeared in just three films and, with his stunning good looks, was being promoted as the next Rudolph Valentino of Italian cinema.  He was much better known as an illusionist and magic would be his metier for most of his career – Judex was to be his last screen credit.  What Pollock may lack in experience as an actor, he makes up for with charm and charisma, and the film certainly makes good use of his real talent, as a conjuror.   The svelte Francine Bergé revels in the part of the deadly female villain Diana Monti, the role that Musidora made her own in the original Feuillade serial.  Interestingly, Brigitte Bardot was briefly considered for this part...

The 1963 remake of Judex is regarded more highly today than when it was first released, partly because Franju’s reputation as a filmmaker has risen substantially in recent years.  It is true that Franju’s Judex is stylistically very different to that of Feuillade.  Whereas Feuillade sought to achieve a synthesis of fantasy and realism, Franju is clearly more preoccupied with the fantasy side of the equation.  In common with many of his films of this period – Les Yeux sans visage (1960) being another good example – Judex has the character of a Daliesque dream, with ill-defined characters shifting in and out of focus in a plot that is fantastic and barely coherent, but with stark, almost surreal images that make a strong impression on the spectator.   The film may lack the pace, darkness and narrative solidity of Feuillade’s film, but it makes up for this, at least in part, with its inspired visuals, which owe as much to Jean Cocteau as they do to Louis Feuillade.

- James Travers, Films de France

Judex... with its Ernstian feel for the surrealism of late Victorian iconography, is utterly anachronistic, as is Franju's fascination by the melodramatic scenario in which innocent daughters are plunged into distress by their father's nefarioius actions: the melodramatic pieties are subverted by a modernism that has no faith in knights in white armour. Franju's anachronisms testify to the intensity of his empathy with the forest's medieval dream world.

- Paul Coates, Film at the Intersection of High and Mass Culture. Published by CUP Archive, 1994. Page 79

Judex bird head

Franju vs. Feuillade

Franju sought in particular to recapture Feuillade's sense of documentary and his playfulness. He reproduced with as much exactitude as possible the costumes and settings which Feuillade filmed in scrupulous detail. Feuillade's street-scapes are now an invaluable documentary record, but Franju also paid particular attention to reproducing the elaborate interior designs and furnishings of the day, resulting in settings of quite extraordinary detail and clutter. Franju also sought, despite the playfulness, to avoid any camp satire of these elements by over-emphasis or any special attention being paid to them.

In the title role, Franju pulled off his most brilliant coup by casting the master prestidigator of his day, near godlike in his handsomeness, Channing Pollock. Pollock's skills as a magician were employed to produce a dazzling array of apparent magical occurrences involving, most particularly, disappearing doves, a plot device that Feuillade uses to enable the regular rescue of the heroine and others by Judex. Franju's Judex is a far livelier, less sombre, more inventive and more mysterious character than that of Feuillade.

- Geoff Gardner, Senses of Cinema

Judex shows his sensitivity to the atmospheric tension of Feuillade's serials while discovering an element of dramatic irony missing in the originals. Whereas Feuillade's serials seem to accentuate the murkiness of his lurid plots and his characters' romantic mystique, Judex balances its eerie tone with a more extravagant delineation of the characters' valor. The hero's walk through the ball with the dove is faithful to the original while isolating its most overtly romantic elements. Unlike Feuillade, who magnifies the fear and fatalism that surround his players, Franju reveals the vulnerability and resiliency of his heroes and villains. The slow, solemn pacing in Feuillade is an extension of the numerous plot complications; in Franju there is a methodical inquiry into both the charm and deviousness of the genre.

- Aaron Sultanik, Film, A Modern Art. Published by Associated University Presses, 1986. Page 396

Judex bears a dedication to Feuillade in its closing credits, and is nominally a remake of Feuillade's 1916-17 serial film of the same name (also remade as Judex 34 in 1934 by Feuillade's son-in-law, Maurice Champreux), but in interviews (collected in the booklet that accompanies this double-disc edition), Franju made no secret of the fact that he was much more interested in the character of arch-villain Fantômas (whose criminal enterprises were serialised by Feuillade in 1913-14) than of the rather bland avenger Judex. Unfortunately Franju and his screenwriter Jacques Champreux (Feuillade's grandson) were unable to afford the rights to Fantômas (which was in fact made into a black comedy by André Hunebelle in 1964), but Champreux includes in Judex a scene in which the bumblingly bookish Detective Cocantin (Jacques Jouanneau) is shown engrossed in a Fantômas pulp novel whose details (an empty coffin, nuns with guns) reflect elements of the plot that Cocantin is himself supposedly investigating. Meanwhile, Diana Monti (Francine Bergé), the catsuit-wearing, rooftop-climbing femme fatale in Champreux's reimagined Judex has been modeled on another Feuillade villain, Irma Vep from Les Vampires (1915-16).In Feuillade's original serial, Judex is sworn as a boy by his Corsican mother to seek vengeance for his father's suicide as a result of the wicked banker Favraux, but so thoroughly does Franju efface this original story that what remains is merely an avenger without a cause – who is also, adding to his aura of mystery, an accomplished magician. The art of the illusionist is key here, for Franju himself is less interested in the banal mechanics of his plot than in the uncanny spectacle of its execution, as he repeatedly wrongfoots the viewer with a series of false deaths, trick substitutions, and similar cinematic sleights of hand.

Courtesy of a cunning disguise, Judex has, in fact, already been onscreen, unbeknownst to either Favraux (Michel Vitold) or the viewer, since the film's opening scene, but when he makes his “first” recognisable appearance at a ball, wearing the mask of a bird of prey and conjuring an apparently dead dove back to life, his intention is to poison the host Favraux – but crucially, after Judex has handed him a glass, without even taking a single sip the banker drops down dead (albeit not really any more dead than the dove, as the sequel will show). The eeriness of the masque imagery and the irrationality of the sequence mark Franju himself as the master prestidigitator here, with Favraux, Diana, and even Judex himself just inferior pretenders to the throne of dissembling, manipulation, and bluff. The criss-crossing, episodic story that follows is full of sadistic incarcerations, ruthless crimes, improbable coincidences and miraculous resurrections, but really it is Franju's dream-like visuals that remain most memorable: a knife-wielding nun, a woman floating down the river, three men in black climbing a wall like spiders. As a hero, Judex may cut a somewhat dull figure once his true face has been revealed, but Franju has set him within a haunting shadow-world where vengeance is too strange to be sweet.

- Anton Bitel, Film International

Although just as beautiful, perhaps more so, Georges Franju’s remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1916 Judex is as different from the original as is night from day. It is slower and graver; it is also more darkly magical (Judex, this time, is a magician—a touch here of Fritz Lang’s 1921 Destiny?); its world isn’t ours, as it is in Feuillade’s version, but something stranger, more self-contained; it is a period-piece. It is also in black and white (Marcel Pradetal, his cinematographer, helps make Franju’s film by far the more gorgeous of the two); but Franju’s Judex is moody and mysterious, and also somewhat deterministic, while Feuillade’s is airier, freer, lighter and more open. Feuillade’s Judex is touched by dream(s); Franju’s whole film feels subterranean, as though playing out in his or somebody else’s unconscious. In both style and tone, the film is scarcely different from Franju’s grim, sorrowful Eyes Without a Face (1959), although here we get to see Edith Scob’s lovely face—and also likely determine that her profound performance far outdistances that of Feuillade’s Jacqueline, Yvette Andréyor. (On the other hand, Franju’s Jacques Jouanneau is no match for Feuillade’s Cocantin, Marcel Lévesque.) Of course, another difference is striking and omnipresent: Feuillade’s film is silent; Franju’s isn’t—although the absence of extraneous noise gives his Judex, at times, an eerier quiet. There is considerable talk in both versions, but few titles in Feuillade’s, where the pantomime-like acting more often conveys the gist of what people are saying. (Yes, film actors had faces then—but also hands.)

One thing more: Franju’s camera moves, and evocatively; Feuillade’s doesn’t.

- Dennis Grunes

Franju attempts to recreate the mood of the silent era with slow pacing and expressionist lighting (with great shadows) as well as decorative intertitles and even a few iris shots and a keyhole mask. However, he ignores the quality that made Feuillade’s style so distinctive – his stunning visual compositions. In the original, whole scenes were shot with little editing and a still camera (this was pre-Griffith of course), with the action beautifully framed, often in depth. In Franju’s revisitation, it is replaced with classic continuity editing. Yet, he equals if not betters Feuillade in achieving dreamlike expressionism from (unlike the German silents) real locations, finding the poetic and lyrical in reality much as he did in his documentaries.

The iconography of Feuillade’s world is perfectly captured – most notably in the moonlit rooftop scene where two women in leotards (one black and one white of course) fight to the death. Franju even trumps the original’s surrealist tendencies with the bizarre masked ball at the start of the film, in which all the guests wear creepily realistic bird heads - Judex a hawk and Favraux a vulture. Other moments of startling poetry include the scene in which a drugged Jacqueline (Franju regular and the masked star of Les Yeux sans visage Edith Scob, with her own face this time) is thrown from a bridge and floats down the river before being rescued by children. If Franju’s film has a major flaw it is in trying to cram five hours (12 episodes) of serial plot into a 90-minute movie. The silent era storyline must at times seem rather far-fetched to modern audiences but in such a magical film it almost works.

Perhaps the main difference between the two versions is one of intention. Feuillade is aiming for pulp entertainment and almost accidentally hits poetry whereas Franju sets out to make an enchanting lyrical film, paying little attention to the drama. Nevertheless, there are enough brilliant set pieces and beautiful cinematography to thrill the fans of Les Yeux sans visage.

- Paul Huckerby, Electric Sheep

Criticisms

Franju's aim in remaking Judex was primarily to create an aesthetically enhanced version of Feuillade's world that could communicate magic, poetry and the fantastique. Period interiors were precisely reconstructed, and some typical effects from Feuillade and his age - the arabesque flourishes framing the intertitles, irising in and out, even one keyhole shot - carefully retained. Plasticity was more important in Judex than in any other of his films. Franju stated. His photographer Marcel Fradetal went to extraordinary lengths to recreate the qualities of Feuillade's orthochromatic film, by imitating Feuillade's photographer Guerin and arranging lighting so that decor and the character(s) in shot could be lit at the same time, rather than one at the expense of another. The costumes for the film were designed by Christine Courcelles, who used magazines from the 1912-1918 period to get the styles exactly right. What carried the film was 'le cote decoratif esthetique.' Possibly as a consequence of Franju's concentration on style, plasticity and effect, however, his Judex has a perceptible lack of narrative drive remarked on by a number of reviewers at the time, who called his rhythm 'paresseux' and the directing 'nonchalante, pour ne pas dire laborieuse.' Impressive though its set pieces were, the film relied on them too much and seemed not to be able to link them up; its approach to the story's fantastic episodes and images was too studious, and lacked panache. The actors had an absent air that seemed to result from not identifying with their roles, and the mystery and poetry of Franju's mise-en-scene faded as the film progressed because it had been created too obediently, 'avec une piete de conservateur de cinematheque.' Perhaps the best summary of these weaknesses in narrative construction was given by Claude Mauriac in Le Figaro litteraire, who stated that the spectator of Judex was prevented from identifying with the action because the attention to single images and 'plastic beauty' demanded of him or her interfered too much with this process. Critical reception of the film was generally very admiring of the homage to early cinema Franju had created - its 'retro' mode - but aware too of problems that had resulted form an over-conscientious approach to style and atmosphere.

- Kate Ince, Georges Franju. Published by Manchester University Press, 2005. Pages 56-57.

Franju made his name as a director with the 1959 French horror film Les Yeux Sans Visage (aka: Eyes Without A Face), a film that earned him a reputation for being a director who could bring the fantastical and the eerie out of the most mundane settings. Judex is a film that continues very much within this tradition and the eeriness is portrayed in a number of powerfully expressionistic scenes that are, nonetheless, anchored in a strange form of realism.

The first of these two scenes is Judex's entrance into the house of the banker. In eveningwear and a giant bird's head, the scene opens with the camera panning slowly up his body to reveal the sinister head staring right into the camera. Judex then wanders through a masked ball with a dead dove in one hand. He climbs the stage and begins a magic act carried out in complete silence and which begins with the reanimation of the dove. Creepy, surreal, disturbing and utterly fantastical, this scene matches the otherworldliness of Jean Cocteau's 1947 adaptation of Beauty And The Beast, as well as the surreal decadence of Renoir's 1939 satire of upper class France, The Rules Of The Game. The second scene is shot on a roof in the dark, and scored with some beautiful and yet disturbing electronic music, as the femme fatale battles it out with an acrobat who, in true deus ex machina fashion, happened to be passing and decided to risk her life for the good guys. Again, conducted in silence, this scene is evocative of Fellini's taste for surrealism and fondness for circus folk. While these two scenes are beautifully shot and richly evocative, the other 80 minutes or so of the film are somewhat puzzling.

Despite being an adventure film, Judex is seriously lacking in pace or even excitement. Franju bloats the running time by showing the characters doing mundane things such as putting on hats and getting in and out of cars. This, along with the fact that the action scenes are clearly not in the least bit choreographed, gives the film a kind of amateurish feel that does not exactly capture the attention. The writing is also largely sub-par with the film lacking any real point or thrust; the characters are paper-thin and things just happen for little or no reason. Indeed, if this film had been made today, it would be tempting to see it as a kind of satire of the all-conquering superhero genre as none of the action/ thriller genre conventions are obeyed or even acknowledged.

Judex is dominated by an on-going battle between the film's more fantastical elements and the relative mundanity of its setting and characters. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) draws attention to the fact that Batman (and the Joker who comes in his wake) is actually an utterly bizarre thing to have running around your city. The surreal nature of Batman is clearly what is behind the decision to make Gotham city seem a far more mundane place than it was in Batman Begins (2005). Judex mines a similar vein of surrealism by having Judex drive around in perfectly normal cars. Indeed, when he wanders around in his cape and hat people barely acknowledge the fact that he looks weird. Nor does anyone question how Judex found out about these injustices, let alone ask what business they are of his. If Judex existed in a world full of ninjas and castles, we would not question his presence but the fact that he exists unquestioned in a largely mundane world sets up a tension between realism and fantasy that actually makes the film and everything in it seem quite eerie. This eeriness is also increased by the film's frequently strange soundtrack, which includes incredibly loud birdsong whenever the characters are outside, including at night.

Ultimately, aside from a few admittedly beautiful scenes, Judex has little to offer. If judged as the action/ adventure film it was supposed to be it is a clear failure as the mundanity of the world, and the lack of any real pace or drama, make it a rather monotonous watch. As a work of film-as-art it is pretty enough and the scenes that clearly inspired Franju are undeniably well shot, but there simply is not enough here to support a film that is dangerously close to two hours long.

- Jonathan McCalmont, Video Vista

It never quite finds its feet after a strong, intriguing opening, probably because that hero fails to live up to his introduction, looking as if Franju simply wasn't that captivated by him. Who he was captivated by is the villainess, Diana Monti (Francine Bergé), a slinky and amoral brunette who, posing as Favraux's maid, has worked out a scheme involving his innocent daughter Jacqueline (Edith Scob) and young granddaughter.

So it's Diana who makes the most of her screen time, disguising herself as a nun to kidnap Jacqueline, who she then plans to murder after she realises the woman recognises her and therefore can lead the police to her. There's a delicate nostalgia here for the times when adventures like this were par for the course, but a more robust approach might have been to the project's benefit, and on occasion it seems as if a strong gust of wind could send this all flying. Still, there are images that linger in the mind, such as Sylva Koscina as a circus acrobat who scales the wall of the bad guys' hideout to save the day, or that great bad girl Diana stripping out of her habit and slipping into the river to escape. If only the rest of Judex had been as effective.

- Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

Charming and entertaining as it is, Judex is never quite as good a film as it could have been for one very simple reason: the subject was not director Georges Franju's first choice. Knowing that a femme fatale and a diabolical master of disguise provided rather more interesting anti-heroic possibilities in tune with his own sensibilities, his preference was for two of silent serial director Louis Feuillade's other characters, Irma Vep of The Vampires – work out the anagram of her name, as a predecessor of "Johnny Alucard" – and the eponymous Fantômas...

The most telling scene with regard to the difference between the two men's sensibilities is one late here that sees Judex encounter Favraux . As Judex lurks outside Favraux expresses contrition for his old actions and indicates that he is does not want his old life back any longer. In part this is because he knows it suits several influential people for him to be dead to the world, with the implication that if he did dramatically reappear – a reappearance not outwith the realms of probability in the universe of these films – he would then soon wind up dead for real. Judex then bursts in regardless, still determined to act as judge, jury and executioner without evident regard for the clear selectiveness of his approach – a selectivity which becomes still more evident and compromised by the end of the film – but also his impotence in the face of what is clearly an endemic criminality amongst the respectable classes. As such, if Feuillade's Judex was a figure and a film acceptable to the establishment, here Franju pushes both that little bit further to bring the inherent contradictions of his predecessor's work to the forefront.

I would say that Franju's combination of new and old works better than that of Truffaut in Shoot The Pianist, as a film set in the present but making use of anachronistic techniques, and perhaps even Jules Et Jim, as a film set partly in the same period.

Whereas to me Truffaut's use of irising and suchlike can come across as somewhat mannered, Franju's assemblages always have a sense of authenticity. There's the sense that unlike his younger counterpart he was never trying to impress anybody with his knowledge of cinema history and technique but was simply expressing himself and the delight he found in the early cinema. (Whereas Truffaut 'studied' at the Paris Cinematheque, Franju, along with Henri Langlois, founded it.)

- Keith Hennessey Brown, Eye for Film

Other reviews:

Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews

Slarek, DVD Outsider

Adam Dugas, Log It

An illustrated entry by Brandon's Movie Memory

John Coulthart offers a historical rundown comparing three movie versions of Judex

About the Masters of Cinema DVD

This is a two disc affair with the first being the 1963 Judex - an homage/remake of the iconic Louis Feuillade 1916 serial. The Masters of Cinema DVD is anamorphically enhanced in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, progressively transferred - residing on a dual-layered disc (taking up 7.44 GB.) It looks good but not pristine - which is actually more suitable to the silent-era homage sparking references that were constantly reminding me of Les Vampires or Fantomas. Franju's Judex is 45 years old now although the PAL image can look remarkably strong even if contrast can be slightly muddy at times. I loved all the Feuillade markers in both films with costumes, 'healthy' women, an intricate plot and a general emphasis on obtaining justice against wrongdoings. Franju's use of intertitles help evoke that aura in Judex.

Disc two has Nuits Rouges. The transfer is also in 1.66 and progressive but it is not 16X9 enhanced. Colors are wonderful and the image can appear extremely sharp. I should note that I am no expert on edge-enhancement and Gary could chip in once he receives his DVD(s). The film was made in 1973 but it didn't have the same appeal for me as Judex. Despite lack of anamorphic enhancement the image projected is an appealing visual presentation.

On the French mono audio - Judex had some inconsistencies in the sound department - perhaps reflecting its age. Nuits Rouges seemed stronger but had some background hiss although neither inferiority hindered my enjoyment. Optional English subtitles are available for both features.

Extras - Supplements sport two separate interviews (one per disc) with Jacques Champreux who is Louis Feuillade's grandson. They total about 20 minutes where he talks about Franju and his memories of the making of the films. Typical for masters of Cinema they include a healthy 40-page booklet with illustrations and interviews. It's a wonderful keepsake addition (as are all their liner notes booklets).

Over the past couple of years I've really come to treasure my Masters of Cinema DVD collection (although, unlike Gary, I don't have all of them). Judex/Nuits Rouges is another entertaining addition and I'd never have seen these films if not for their coverage.

- Geoff Gardner, DVD Beaver

VIDEO WATCHDOG contributor Brad Stevens informs me that Masters of Cinema's new Region 2 DVD release of Georges Franju's JUDEX is missing some minor footage that is present in Sinister Cinema's DVD-R/VHS release of the film's US theatrical version, as originally distributed by Continental Releasing. There are seven cuts in all:

1- 52m 58s. 33 seconds are missing; the end of the shot showing a man walking away from the camera; the whole of the following shot, showing the doctor walking behind a pair of children; the start of the next shot of the doctor.

2- 53m 11s. After the woman tells the children "This isn't a sight for you," they walk away. In the MoC edition, the shot ends here; in Sinister's tape, it continues for an additional 5 seconds with the boy turning around and shouting at the woman.

3- 53m 23s. The whole scene (46s) showing the man getting into a car and talking to the nun has been cut.

4- 54m 37s. A 35s shot has been cut; this shows two men carrying a stretcher into a room and placing a woman on it.

5- 55m 8s. Shot slightly shortened.

6- 57m 20s. A 3s shot showing a man getting out of a car is missing.

7- 58m 1s. 4s of dialogue is missing after the man says "It's quite a walk, you know."

The same cuts (amounting to roughly two minutes) are present in the earlier French release, with which the Masters of Cinema disc shares the same transfer. As both releases were licensed directly from the film's producer and struck from the original negative, it appears -- judging from the fact that all of the gaps occur within a 5m section of the picture -- that the negative suffered some damage during its decades of storage.

Mind you, the cuts are not disruptive or critical, and these Region 2 releases do offer the best quality for this important title we are likely to enjoy. That said, the completists in our audience may still wish to acquire the Sinister disc while it's still available as a reference copy of what now appears to be lost footage.

Update 9/9/08: Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant responds: "Your description of missing bits from the DVD of JUDEX doesn't read like the result of film damage. The choice of connecting tissue omitted indicates that someone trimmed 'unnecessary' footage to perk up the pace (the slow, 1901 pace we love). This happens more often than one would think, and to the original negative sometimes... a distributor or other nefarious party suddenly decides to 'improve' the film. First it's the 'unnecessary' beginnings and endings of scenes. Soon thereafter, they're cutting METROPOLIS in half! I remember the kid yelling... I hope the little pieces aren't gone forever."

- Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

About Georges Franju

IMDb Wiki

Quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Franju:

"Georges Franju combined realism and fantasy, poetry and polemics, savagery and tenderness to unique effect. Imbuing his films with a surrealist's antipathy to established notions of normality, he was one of cinema's most fiercely independent visionaries...His surrealism was not a matter of artifice, but of a highly personal vision that was at once elegant, horrific, provocative, becalmed and nostalgic." - Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)

"Franju's career falls clearly into two parts, marked by the format of the films: the early period of documentary shorts, and a subsequent period of fictional features. The parts are connected by many links of theme, imagery attitude, and iconography." - Robin Wood (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

"Some reckon him one of the greatest of all French film directors; others don't reckon him all. Franju is cult material par excellence, and from his first bravura documentary release, Le Sang Des Bêtes (1949), in which he casts an unswerving eye on the brutal business of meat slaughtering, it was obvious that Franju was not to be conveniently filed and docketed. A co-founder of the French national film archive, he alternately stimulates and shocks, as for example, with his sensationally surreal horror classic Eyes without a Face." - Mario Reading (The Movie Companion, 2006)

"First known as a documentarian, Franju has contributed some fine horror and suspense films." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

Franju's films are a witchlike fusion of melodrama and expressionism. When we watch a Franju film, eyes stare soulfully out of the screen at us. They belong to men and women in an iron mask: to the heroine of Eyes Without a Face, whose scientist father abducts young girls and lifts their faces in an effort to repair her ruined mask; to Therese Desqueyroux, betrayed by curiosity into a rural bourgeois life that shuts like a prison around her; to Francois Gerance in La Tete contre les murs, consigned to an asylum by a father outraged by his motorcycle-boy defiance. Only in Judex is the concealment of the face the sign of liberation: and its hero is the superhuman masked man of popular fantasy, Fantomas, the French outlaw Batman; liberation is a beautiful dream. With their lilting music, Franju's films are dark fairy tales in which people seeking to become themselves are rendered vulnerable by their hesitancy and suffer transformation into puppets by a bad sorcerer, a poetic version of the melodramatic villain. The girl wandering tentatively down a corridor, that key Franju image, is the soul trapped in a Gothic labyrinth expressionistically darkened by the impossibility of redemption. Only the eyes behind the mask tell us this person was once 'one of us.' As in German expressionist films, the mask is a trap glued to one's face by society, the father - in short, an authority whose insanity is evident in the blank rigidity of the eyes at the heart of its mask. Franju's heroes bang their heads against the asylum walls in an effort to dislodge the cage affixed to their faces. Like Francis in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, they have made a trip tot he fair that ended in a prison house.

- Paul Coates, Film at the Intersection of High and Mass Culture. Page 77

Despite, or because of , his links to the public institutions of cinema, Franju’s films sometimes occasioned scandal—Blood of the Beasts required the critical intervention of Jean Cocteau to speak up for its merits against controversy (Ince, 32), a defense which recalls Cocteau’s defense of Jean Genet, perhaps. (The letter Cocteau wrote with Jean-Paul Sartre, in defense of Genet, addressed to the President of the Republic, appeared in the same year as his defense of Blood, White, 1993, 334-335.) Nonetheless, Franju would later be dismissed as too ensconced inside the institution of culture, the view of some New Wave directors and the generation after 1968 (Ince, 7-8), for whom he was outmoded, a fuddy-duddy who favored literary adaptations and was part of a film establishment. His relation to what we might now, anachronistically, call splatter (for example, on-camera slaughter and dismemberment of a horse, cows, calves, and sheep in Blood; the notorious face removal in Eyes, the lingering depiction of a patient in straitjacket being force-fed in Head against the Walls [La tête contre les murs], 1958) apparently currently disqualifies him from any consideration other than as a cult film maker. Yet, one might argue that it is exactly his anomalous identity, part provocateur and part archivist, his lifelong alliance with a militant avant-garde while working in the mainstream of national cinematic culture, as well as his uncertain positioning between the institution and what it expels, that makes Franju a director who can speak with particular eloquence to contemporary concerns about social ambiguity and cultural ambivalence.

- Michael du Plessis, "Fantasies of the Institution: The Films of Georges Franju

and Ince's Georges Franju." Film Philosophy.com
Read Kate Ince's reply to Michael du Plessis' critique of her book on Georges Franju

About Cinematographer Marcel Fradetal

Although Marcel Fradetal is most readily identified with the director Georges Franju, his career has evolved through association with several filmmakers. In the 1930s he worked under various leading cameramen, notably Rudolph Maté on Dreyer's atmospheric Vampyr, Maurice Desfassieux on Henri Diamant-Berger's Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Ted Pahle on L'Herbier's Entente cordiale. Their influence is discernible in his work.

It is essentially his 30-year collaboration with Georges Franju, however, that has cemented Fradetal's reputation. The association began in the 1940s with Le Sang des bêtes, and a series of documentaries, features, and eventually television films followed. Franju initially hired Fradetal because of his work with Maté whose insistence on lighting and composition corresponded to Franju's own preoccupations.

Fradetal's camerawork is equally vital to Franju's features. In Pleins feux sur l'assassin an eerie son-et-lumière sequence at a castle is created, and in contrast an accelerated funeral, à la Clair, irreverently conveys the joy of the dead man's beneficiaries. In Judex, a homage to Feuillade and the early serial, Fradetal brilliantly reproduces the orthochromatic tonal qualities of the silent cinema to create a visual symphony of light and dark effects as good and evil join battle. The screen version of Cocteau's Thomas l'imposteur exposing the heroic myth renders concrete the writer's imagery, such as the horse with its mane ablaze, while beautifully composed luminous shots of Belgian beaches with sea mists rolling across the trenches combine to produce a hauntingly atmospheric film about the realities and the unreality of war. For Zola's La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret, Fradetal achieved powerful, almost surrealist images such as the statue of the Virgin appearing to rise spontaneously from a packing case, but the essentially poetic quality of Zola's work is often disappointingly labored in the visual transcription.

The quality of Fradetal's camerawork ultimately resides in his experienced, sensitive, and appropriate response to his material. Where his camera is required to observe unobtrusively it does so, and where images of pristine clarity are expected then Fradetal provides them. Nevertheless, where a synthesizing image, or a telling close-up, or an atmospheric composition, or a specifically paced tracking shot is needed, he imaginatively satisfies his director's wishes. A self-effacing professional, Fradetal has left his mark both on fictional as well as documentary cinema.

- R.F. Cousins, Film Reference.com

940 (81). La roue / The Wheel (1922, Abel Gance)

screened  Wednesday October 29 2008 on Flicker Alley DVD in Weehawken, NJ TSPDT rank # IMDb Wiki

Abel Gance was celebrated by his countrymen as France's answer to D.W. Griffith; one quality the two directors abundantly share is ego.  Griffith's imprint of every intertitle with his monograph can barely compete with the opening shot of La roue, in which the stony visage of its director looms over footage of speeding railway tracks, rendering him more of a captain of industry than a cinematic visionary. Such bombast may account for the initial seven-plus hour length of this magnum opus, in which Gance uses the Oedipal melodrama between a railway conductor, his son and his step-daughter to illustrate the cycle of life, from destructive desire to transformative love.  Even in its present 4 plus hour cut, it can be an uneven slog at times, as Gance lingers on moments until they creak with significance. But there's no denying his all-embracing ambition in bringing as many forms of cinema as he can conceive: from grimy working class realism to cliffhanger action to costumed fantasia interludes to moments of avant garde abstraction. On a shot by shot basis, there are few films that seem as visually diverse, certainly not from this period.

Want to go deeper?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of La roue on the TSPDT 1000:

Andrew Zwobada, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) John Boorman, Sight & Sound (2002) Pierre Billon, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Movieline, 100 Greatest Foreign Films (1996) Premiere, Centenary List (19??) Various Critics, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2004) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

"There is cinema before and after La Roue as there is painting before and after Picasso."- Jean Cocteau

Rapid editing exists in an embryonic state in the gigantic work of Griffith. To Gance goes the honor of having so perfected this method that he deserves to be considered its inspired inventor. La roue is still the formidable cinematic monument in whose shadow all French cinematic art lives and breathes.

- Jean Epstein, from "For a New Avant Garde", January 1925

In rare moments scattered among various films, one has been able to have the confused feeling that there must be the truth. With La roue Gance has completely achieved cinematographic fact. Visual fragments collaborate closely with the actor and the drama, reinforce them, sustain them, instead of dissipating their effect, thanks to its masterful composition. Gance is a precursor and a fulfillment at the same time. His drama is going to mark an epoch in the history of cinema. His relationship is first of all a technical one. He absorbs objects and actors; he never submits to means that ought not to be confused with the desired end. In that above all his superiority over the American contribution resides. The latter, picturesque and theatrical in quality, in bondage to some talented stars, will fade as the actors fade. The art of La roue will remain, armed with its new technique, and it will dominate cinematographic art in the present and in the future.

- Ferdinand Leger, "La Roue: Its Plastic Quality," December 1922

Poetry has expected everything from film; let's acknowledge that it hasn't always been disappointed. Often the scenario has been magnificent and the actors wonderful. We've been indebted to them for profound emotions. Yet, while poetry has freed itself from all rules and fetters, the cinema still remains bound by a rigid and strictly common logic. Despite a number of endeavors, the screen still has not given us a chance to see a scenario unfold emancipated from human laws. Dreams there especially are perverted; none operate with the incomparable magic that is their charm. None, that is, when the filmmaker is served only by his memories.

Is the public which is thirsting for such manifestations so restricted? That should not be so. Here an educational effort might prove interesting. In any case, it is discouraging to see foolish sums of money swallowed up for imbecilic popularizations like La Roue and not to have any money at all available to tempt the desire of those whose freedom of mind is great enough to allow full license to the filmmaker. The cinema has nothing yet equivalent in audacity to the Ballets russes, nothing naturally as free as Couleurs du temps and Les Mamelles de Tiresias in the theater.

- Surrealist poet Robert Desnos, from "Le Reve et le cinema," 1923

La Roue began as a simple melodramatic tale, but in the course of six months scripting and a year's location shooting, the project took on quite a new dimension. In the central figure of Sisif, Gance seems to have struggled to create an amalgam of Oedipus, Sisyphus, and Lear. Meanwhile portions of the film that were eventually cut apparently developed a social satire of such ferocity that the railway unions demanded its excision. The most expensive film as yet made in France, its production was again delayed when the death of Gance's wife caused him to abandon work and take a five-month trip to the United States.

Like his previous work, La Roue had been conceived and shot in the pre-1914 style of French cinema, which was based on a conception of film as a series of long takes, each containing a significant section of the action, rather than as a succession of scenes made up of intercut shots of different lengths, taken from varying distances. But in Hollywood, where he met D.W. Griffith, Gance came into contact with the new American style of editing. Upon his return to France, Gance spent a whole year reediting his film. On its release in 1923 La Roue proved to be one of the stunning films of the decade. Even in its shortened version—comprising a prologue and four parts—the film had a combined running time of nearly eight hours.

- Roy Armes, Film Reference.com

Rene Clair on La roue

La roue is the archetype of the film that is Romantic in spirit. Just as in a Romantic drama, you will find in M. Abel Gance's film improbable situations, a superficial psychology, a constant attempt to achieve visual effects - and verbal effects as well - and you will find extraordinary lyrical passages and inspired moments of movement, one could even say, the sublime and the grotesque.

Given a drama so obviously "thought out," so carefully stuffed with literary ideas and ambitions, it is tempting to debate these with the author. No need to bother. If a screenplay ought to be merely a pretext, here it is a cumbersome pretext, sometimes annoying, rarely necessary, but in any case not deserving of lengthy consideration. It is hardly unusual that, like most filmmakers, M. Gance has made a mistake as a screenplay writer, even if the mistake is more serious at times than we are accustomed to. If we were asked to judge M. Gance by the psychological intentions he expresses on the screen and by the titles to write, I have to admit that my judgment would not be in his favor. But right now we are concerned with cinema.

As I see it, the real subject of the film is not its odd story, but a train, tracks, signals, puffs of steam, a mountain, snow, clouds. From these great visual themes that dominate his film, M. Gance has drawn splendid sequences. We had, of course, seen trains before moving along tracks at a velocity heightened by the obliging movie camera; but we had not been completely absorbed - orchestra, seats, auditorium, and everything around us - by the screen as if by a whirlpool. "That's only a feeling," you will tell me. Maybe. But we had not gone there to think. To see and feel is enough. Fifty years from now you can talk to me again about the cinema of ideas. This unforgettable passage is not the only one that testifies to M. Gance's talents. The catastrophe at the beginning of the film, the first accident Sisif tries to cause, the ascent of the cable car into the mountains, the death of Elie, the bringing down of his body, the circular dance of the mountaineers, and that grandiose ending amidst veils of cloud: those are sublime lyrical compositions that owe nothing to the other arts. Seeing them, we forget the quotations from Kipling, Aeschylus, and Abel Gance throughout the film, which tend to discourage us. And we start to hope.

Oh, if M. Abel Gance woudl only give up making locomotives say yes and no, lending a railroad engineer the thoughts of a hero of antiquity, and quoting his favorite authors! If he were willing to create a pure documentary, since he knows how to give life to a machine part, a hand, a branch, a wisp of smoke! If only he were willing to contribute in that way to the creation of the Film that can barely be glimpsed today!

Oh, if he were willing to give up literature and place his trust in the cinema!

- from "Les Films du mois: La Roue," published in Theatre et Commedia illustre, March 1923. Reprinted in Richard Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism. Published by Princeton University Press, 1993

Other comments

Even in its more widely distributed three hour version, the film feels slow and drawn out, and it is mainly Gance’s innovative techniques (most notably the rapid cutting in the racing train sequences) which keeps the film interesting.

- James Travers, FilmsdeFrance.com

Gance had achieved a major critical and commercial success with his 1919 antiwar film,“J’Accuse,” which ran a relatively modest three hours. His financial backer, Charles Pathé, was prepared to follow his director on another extravagant project, this time inspired by the 19th-century social epics of Victor Hugo and Émile Zola, and reflecting in equal measure Hugo’s dense, multigenerational plotting and Zola’s theories of biological predetermination. The result was a story that applied themes of incest and alcoholism to a sweeping narrative covering several decades and moving from the dark, grimy railroad yards of Nice to the blindingly white vistas of Mont Blanc.

The poet and future filmmaker Jean Cocteau spoke for many of his contemporaries when he said, “There is cinema before and after ‘La Roue,’ as there is painting before and after Picasso.”

Today that reaction is hard to comprehend. The psychology of the central relationships seems crudely deterministic: Sisif and Elie are crushed by their incestuous impulses as if by asteroids dropping from the sky, and once stricken, they are powerless to resist, staggering along like zombies. The performances Gance draws from his actors leave little room for nuance. As Sisif, Séverin-Mars (who died of a heart attack before the film was released) seems constantly to be begging for audience sympathy with his watery eyes and furrowed brow; as Norma, Ms. Close (a popular English actress who was the mother of Ronald Neame, the director of “The Poseidon Adventure”) is a standard gamine of the period, frisking with her pet goat.

But “La Roue” still fascinates as a grab bag of experimental techniques, which do not all belong in the same movie, but which clearly dazzled audiences of the time with the formal possibilities of this still relatively new medium. Circular forms, drawn from the title image, appear with maddening regularity: in the charging wheels of Sisif’s locomotive, the faces of ominously ticking clocks, the ring dance of a band of happy peasants.

Gance here develops the accelerating editing style that he would push further in “Napoléon”: a train wreck is built from a shot 10 frames in length, followed by a shot of nine frames, working all the way down to a single, subliminal flash. And he imposes poetic metaphors, as when an overhead shot of a slow-moving train dissolves into an image of a snail, and back again. Gance allowed his actors to walk out of focus as they approached the camera (here, to suggest inebriation); Sisif’s increasing blindness is portrayed by images taken through distorting glass and by iris effects that slowly close down on the actor’s face, isolating him in a field of darkness.

In his creative frenzy Gance frequently mixes tonal and emotional registers and points of view. Some of the trick shots look down on the characters, passing editorial judgments from the director’s perspective; others are meant to portray the characters’ inner turmoil. As in “Napoléon,” his style is ecstatic and impressionistic at one moment, stiffly academic at another.

Perhaps some of the initial enthusiasm for “La Roue” was generated by the sense of absolute freedom — from all current standards of narrative structure and formal coherence — that Gance projects with practically every sequence. It would be for future generations of filmmakers, including Cocteau himself, to balance that freedom with a sense of discipline and restraint, shaping unbridled effusion into poetic expression.

- Dave Kehr, The New York Times

Gance was both a classicist and a great film innovator, and La Roue is told in a blazingly brilliant style that blends stunning compositions and passionate acting with brilliantly accelerated editing techniques (in the action scenes), pounding volcanic cutting rhythms that went even further than Griffith’s and obviously were another major inspiration on Eisenstein and the Russians. La Roue, whose main admirers included the young Akira Kurosawa, is a cinematic masterpiece that we have never before seen with such power and complexity. It rends the emotions, drenches the eyes and quickens the heart.

- Michael Wilmington, The Daily Page

Gance was... a restless, relentless re-inventor of cinema, and his best films can play like a mad scientist's laboratory at full crank, filthy with inexplicable angles, double exposures, impossibly moving cameras, crazed speed montages ("La Roue"'s came before Eisenstein), etc. "La Roue" is a massive, tragic melodrama, but it's also a high-gear modernist landmark, and its restoration and DVD release is an event; probably due to its length, Gance's movie was never released in the U.S., and it's remained one of the most elusive and rarest of monumental silent classics.

- Michael Atkinson, IFC

There really is no other director like Gance. He draws upon the full range of graphic effects, from irises to dramatic masking, double exposures to composites, and unleashes his arsenal within the first few minutes. But his technical mastery is in the service of the story, and he transforms the story of La Roue into an emotional epic. He is a master conductor who plays scenes like symphonies of feelings, continuing long past the narrative point has been established to express the emotional intensity of the characters and situations, and to add moments of pure grace to the mighty drama.

- Sean Axmaker

La Roue is a powerful drama of life among the railroad workers, rich in psychological characterization and symbolic imagery. To dramatize his story of a railroad mechanic’s tortured love for his adopted daughter, Gance elaborated his use of masking and superimposition and perfected his fast cutting into the rapid montage that would soon be adopted by Russian and Japanese silent filmmakers for whom La Roue was a seminal influence. Complex in its thematics, the film’s images animate machines and the forces of nature with a life and spirit of their own while the wheel ("la roue") of the film’s title becomes a metaphor for life itself. Gance’s remarkable symbolism is exemplified in the film’s conclusion: as the old railway mechanic dies quietly and painlessly in his mountain chalet, his daughter joins the local villagers outside in the snow in a circular farandole dance, a dance in which nature itself, in the form of clouds, participates. Shot entirely on location at the railroad yards in Nice and in the Alps, La Roue remains a work of extraordinary beauty and depth. Jean Cocteau said of the film, "There is the cinema before and after La Roue as there is painting before and after Picasso," while Akira Kurosawa stated, "The first film that really impressed me was La Roue."

William M. Drew

The scenes of the engines pumping out vast billows of smoke and the flashing rails racing toward the horizon benefit from unalterable realism. In one of the best moments, Sisif, his thoughts roiled with guilt and desire, runs ahead of a pursuing locomotive at night, trapped in the pitiless glare of the headlight. Throughout, Gance uses a wide variety of vignetting techniques to concentrate our attention on the characters; more than once, the actors are isolated in tiny circles of light in the midst of a black screen, as though viewed through a microscope. Gance works his title metaphor hard: the wheel is the wheel of the locomotive and the endless round of suffering that is human life. In the moments of greatest physical and psychological stress, the rapid-fire, staccato editing reaches the point of cutting in images frame by frame. But Gance also knew how to slow down-the last scene of the first half circles slowly around the distraught Sisif as he stands in the center of the railroad roundhouse and pivots to look at the locomotive bays. It is his farewell to a world he can never see again.

- Michael S. Gant, Metroactive

Watching La roue is a heightened experience. It's definitely a silent movie in some of its acting style, but Gance's progressive direction does much more than simply record the action. The interior décor of Sisif's house is forever changing, with Elie working on his special violin varnish and Sisif constructing models of his inventions; the lighting effects through the windows are carefully observed, with trains passing and the time of day changing. Gance's close-ups are more organic to the action. He doesn't use then standard 'cameo' vignettes, and often frames faces in extreme angles with dramatic lighting.

Gance uses visual effects to express psychological concepts. When Sisif has his fortune told, a view of trains are superimposed into the palm of his hand. Norma's face appears reflected in windows and hovers in space when the men in the story think of her. We know that Sisif's obsession with the young girl has gone too far when he can't erase her phantom image, even after drawing a curtain over a window.

- Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk

La RoueMore crucial to La Roue's expressive force are Burel's long takes, fashioned by Gance into a slow pulse of magisterial image. If this were a symphony, it might be by Brahms, as the film yields an adagio of unutterable grief late in its second part. Sisif, now totally blind, has fashioned a large wooden cross that he must plant high on a mountain precipice, the scene of a senseless death the year before. Shot outdoors in very low light, the sight of the aged Sisif dragging the cross up a snowy slope is one of the great images of silent cinema.

- Gordon Thomas, Bright Lights Film Journal

Gance called La Roue (a.k.a. The Wheel) his "black and white" epic, setting the first half in the railroad yards (black) and the second half in the snowy mountains (white). Gance's visual inventiveness comes through in almost every shot, specifically in his unique editing, which sometimes repeats shots, and sometimes uses rapid-fire cutting to increase tension or excitement. When Sisif tries to crash his own train by increasing the speed, the film's rhythm builds to an intense frenzy. And when Sisif begins losing his vision, Gance responds by slowly fading the image up to pure white. This level of technical achievement was fairly rare for 1923, with perhaps the exception of Erich von Stroheim's work in America. Even D.W. Griffith didn't dare to turn such a wretched melodrama into an epic; he needed epic material to justify a film's size and length.

- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

La Roue opens with the most impressive depiction of machinery that I have seen to date, incorporating the dramatic violence of the locomotive into its own accelerated montage strategies - rapid editing, stark juxtapositions of light and darkness, and frequent alternations between close-ups, long shots and medium shots - producing a self-destructive aesthetic whose logical conclusion is the disastrous crash that sets the narrative events in play. In another context, these might seem melodramatic - an orphaned baby is rescued by a train driver and brought up by him and his son, both of whom fall in love with her, and both of whom, for that very reason, are afraid to reveal her true origins. But there's a mythological tone at work that tends to preclude melodrama, clearest in the slightly unreal location of the action - a kind of no-man's land between two rail junctions, more suited to a signal-box than a family home. This gives the locomotives the omniscient, ambivalent status of gods, capriciously (and often literally) directing events without having any vested interest in them, or comprehensibility to them. In the same way, the characters are almost entirely robbed of interiority, mechanised and mythologised to the point where they exist as mere impulse and action, disempowered everymen for an industrial age. Strangely, the third act departs from this topos, replacing it with a mountainous backdrop which is evocative if ultimately misplaced, producing a more predictably melodramatic conclusion.

- Billy Stevenson, A Film Canon

In the DVD liner notes, the claim is made that La roue invented the cross-dissolve; I am not certain that it was the first film released with that technique, but its long production time might well mean that Gance and his cameramen (Dissolves had to be done in-camera back then! The mind reels) came up with the idea before anybody else. Think about that for a second: the dissolve from one scene to another is such a familiar trick that some of us find it to be cheap and tasteless - maybe that's just me - but in 1922, it was brand new. Admittedly, some of the film's most impressive technical leaps are even less interesting to the modern viewer: the use of shocking, bold colors for the tinted scenes is unlike anything I've ever seen, and I cannot think of another movie with such a mature and elaborate system of iris shots (the "pinhole camera" frame) in any other film, but these are both techniques that were essentially dead after the coming of sound. I might also point out that, filming in the studio but also in Nice and at the peak of Mount Blanc, this is one of the earliest and probably the most ambitious of all location shoots in film history, beating John Ford's mythic The Iron Horse to the punch by two years.

- Antagony and Ecstasy

The railway forms more than just the backdrop to La roue—trains play an important role by continually driving the story forward. The imagery is tremendously powerful, and the story-line, with its twists and turns, is well adapted to the medium of film. I believe that even today, La roue is the most memorable railway film ever made.

- Jiro Hanyu, "Railways in Film," the Japan Railway & Transport Review

Dennis Grunes

Dennis Schwartz

Bob Ham, DVD Corner

Deeper readings

The idea of the symphonic was in fact to have an immense importance in French attempts to establish an aesthetics of film. The definition of cinema as "the music of light," attributed to Gance but also claimed by several others, including Emile Vuillermoz and Elie Faure, became an accepted term in writings about film in the early 1920s. And for all its neat oversimplifications, Henri Langlois' description of Germaine Dulac remains a pertinent characterisation of a dominant impressionist tendency: "she sees music, she thinks music, she always considers film not as a fresco but as a symphony of images in which each shot, through its tonality and length, has the same value as a sound. She plays on montage as she would play the piano." As long as one doesn't eliminate poetry and dance, this view could be applied to most of the French avant-garde, from Leger to Rene Clair, Jean Epstein, and Blaise Cendrars. What they all have in common is their reference to Gance as point of origin, especially to La roue, which seemed to prove that cinema even in a proletarian setting and addressed to a popular audience was an art for the future. It had elevated cinema incontrovertibly to the status and dignity of music. This may seem to be an argument in favour of the "musical analogy," and indeed Gance continued to insist through to the late 1920s that cinema had to equate itself with music, to become a visual orchestra, performing symphonies in time and space. But music was not simply an analogy, it was, as La roue further exemplifies, a determinant of the image, providing a basis for tonality, movement within the frame and cutting between frames, even though in this instance the "source" of the music is not present in the image.

From its conception, La roue was mapped out in terms of musical metaphors. It was to be a symphony in black and white, or, more precisely, a "white symphony following on from a black symphony." A first part set in the soot and smoke of marshalling yards and railway engines, a second set high up in the Alps - contrasting worlds made for the cinema. Much later Gance described the film as a poem in which each image counts, like a note in music, echoing Langlois' comments on Dulac. But as in La dixieme symphonie, music had a definite function within the film. His project, she declared in a 1920 interview, was "to paint a visual opera," to establish a direct relationship between the vibrations of sound and light, to unite photography and Rachmaninov. Like La dixieme symphonie it was a melodrama, not the "cathedral of light" he aspired to construct but a film that would be understood by a popular audience and which would at the same time have universal significance. The hero is an engine driver called Sisif (Sisyphus), but within this proletarian actualisation of myth, music takes on a new function. It isn't something that is composed and performed within a narrative from which it then escapes. Music and image are conceived together.

This attempt to construct a visual equivalent of sound provoked one of the great pitched battles in film history. La roue was either an outrage, a bombastic, overblown and overlong piece of triviality, or the first cinematic oeuvre that demonstrated what the new art might become.

- Richard Abel, from Silent Film. Published by Rutgers University Press, 1996. Pages 35-36.

The central opposition of Clair's analysis, between "thinking" (literature) and "feeling" (cinema, reveals a profound misunderstanding of - or hostility to - Gance's project. To try to separate out the purely cinematic virtues of La roue from the director's moral messages is, finally, to misread him and make his work radically less interesting and compelling than it can be when read more sympathetically. At his best, Gance was a visionary filmmaker who made no distinction between ideas and feelings. The cinematographic experiments in his works can only fully be understood as expressions, and affective explications, of his philosophical positions. The wheel of the title (explicitly identified in the film's beginning as an instrument of torture, and implicitly identified with locomotives) represents human existence...

Commentators such as Rene Clair (and, more recently, Richard Abel) who reject Gance's visionary, philosophical project must inevitably view La roue as a mass of contradictions, a work which combines the supposedly antithetical elements of "pure cinema," literary and philosophical quotations, melodrama, a certain social realism, and so on. But it was the very heart of Gance's life project to overcome contradictions. A huge number of disparate elements are to be found in his films because he put them there deliberately, so that his work could become the site of their reconciliation. Perhaps he did not always succeed, indeepd perhaps he never did, but there is no doubt that his was a conscious and in its own way sophisticated endeavor, and not the naive, almost embarrassing primitivism it is sometimes made out to be. Currently available versions of La Roue probably seem clumsy and contradictory because too much has been cut from them. Gance structure his film as a poetic visual text, based on extensive formal repetition which figures his character's plight. The wheel, its complementary motif the cross, blackness, whiteness, hands, impressions of speed or slowness, and many other elements are repeated, varied, and combined in different ways. To understand the film, to allow the necessary, and for many viewers difficult, suspension of (philosophical) disbelief, we will have to see it in a version as close as possible to its original proportions.

- Alan Larson Williams, Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking. Published by Harvard University Press, 1992. Pages 90-91

Abel Gance's La roue is often placed beside Greed in advancing the thesis that the silent film was gradually refined into a realist medium. There are major similarities in the thematic entanglements in the two films - in their grubby, lower-class atmosphere and the sexual tension among the central characters - but Gance's interests are distinct from Von Stroheim's. In Von Stroheim's films the cutting does not fragment the compositions but highlights their most dramatic, psychologically symbolic features. Gance favors a far more furious pace: his camerawork continually upsets the permanence of his settings to expose the dynamic, disparate action and the characters' emotional instability. In La Roue, and more so in Napoleon, Gance's kinetic camera is distinguished from the fast-paced style of the American comedy film and from Griffith's epics - as well as from the historical dialectic of the Russian cinema - by seeking out the numerous dramatic details of his chaotic reality. Sets like the father's home in La Roue or the assembly in Napoleon are not presented in rigid, formal terms but as a means of emphasizing the interaction of conflicting social forces and human emotions. The psychological validity of La Roue derives from Gance's sudden editing permutations, which seem to explode on the screen with all the forcefulness of the train the father drives; it is a complex and ultimately confusing framework. Gance's experimentation with a variety of camera angles and the different speeds at which various sequences play overwhelm the viewer's hold on reality. He is exploring a theme similar to the one in Greed, human obsessions and how they are defined through a myriad of cinematic techniques.

- Aaron Sultanik, from Film, a Modern Art. Published by Associated University Presses, 1986. Page 108.

About the Flicker Alley DVD

The virtually simultaneous appearance of restored, two-disc editions of Abel Gance’s 1923 blockbuster from Flicker Alley in the US and Marcel L’Herbier’s no less oversized L’argent (1929) in France highlights the unusual proximity of avant-garde and mainstream filmmaking in France during the 20s. (Two other interesting common points: both are derived from Zola novels, albeit unofficially in the case of the Gance film, which is said to derive in part from La bête humaine; and both DVDs include a contemporary “making of” documentary—in the case of La roue, a short film by Gance’s friend and collaborator Blaise Cendrars.) Since I’m already writing about L’argent for the online Moving Image Source, I’ll focus here on the Gance, beautifully outfitted with Fernand Léger’s original poster for the film on the box and a symphonic Robert Israel score inside. Seven-and-a-half hours long on its first release, La roue (The Wheel) has been restored to only four-and-a-half hours here, but this is still the longest version to have appeared anywhere since 1923, and the clarity of the images is exceptional. (My only regret is that the original French intertitles aren’t included, even optionally—an ironic turn of events for a film that apparently never even opened in North America.) Based on what I’ve seen so far, the wild eclecticism of Gance’s rapid montage and superimpositions is a triumph of sustained intensity, and the film may well qualify as the ultimate train movie; in her fascinating book Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema (1997), Lynne Kirby understandably devotes more than 20 pages to it.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Cinema-scope

Music makes all the difference in a film like this, and it's easy to imagine how the experience might be rendered tedious if not for [Robert] Israel's score. With funding from Turner Classic Movies (which aired the restored film in late April), the assignment called for roughly 4½ hours of musical accompaniment, with Israel drawing from nothing more than the brief prelude composer Arthur Honegger wrote for the film's original release. The rest of the score, like nearly three hours of the film itself, has been lost to the ages.

Building upon earlier compositions of his own to evoke the energy of Gance's work, Israel delivers far more than background music. His score begins with the bombastic energy of the opening train wreck, but mellows out as the film progresses. When Gance shifts gears to the mountains, the music helps smooth the transition, echoing each character's theme in a softer, more romantic context. It's important to remember that silent films were never silent. Without a score of this caliber, contemporary audiences would find it virtually impossible to appreciate Gance's achievement.

- Bruce Calvert, Nitrateville

Our first look at the disc reveals an excellent full-frame video transfer that has chiefly utilized a 35mm master positive of the common 12-reel version of the film, supplemented with a 35mm eight-reel print of the Russian release version, and two incomplete color-tinted 35mm nitrate prints of a longer French version of the film. Two short scenes are presented from a 9.5mm reduction print — the only known footage to survive of these scenes. Some sections of the source prints are marred with the expected amount of dust, speckling, emulsion scratches and processing artifacts. This edition, produced by Eric Lange, David Shepard and Jeffrey Masino, with support from Turner Classic Movies, represents the most-complete version of La roue to be seen since the 1920s.

Easily one of the three most-important DVD releases of 2008, we enthusiastically recommend this edition of La roue.

-Silent Era.com

Video: La Roue is a full-frame presentation, and given the age and scope of the picture, the DVD producers have done a tremendous job resurrecting it. Notes that come with the booklet in this release detail how this version was cobbled together using a variety of sources, and though the print is not perfect, it's clear they went out of their way to use the best material for each scene. There is some noticeable wear and tear, usually seen as surface scratches and sometimes spots and burns in the film, but these problems are usually minimal and the image quality is always clear. Very rare scenes have tremendous damage, and even they are still perfectly watchable. Surprisingly, the picture never gets jumpy, and even splices are clean. Undoubtedly, the people involved gave their every attention to making this the best it could be.

The picture is black-and-white, but tinted with various changing colors, as well. It's only by some weird coincidence that all of my screengrabs are the standard gray.

Sound: One stereo sound mix is available, featuring the new score by Robert Israel. Israel uses a full orchestra, as well as the occasional integrated sound effect, and the audio is excellent, using the different speakers to give the work a large atmosphere. It's a good score, never overbearing even as it enhances the onscreen action.

New English title cards were produced for this edition, and they also include some effects, like the delayed appearance of a closing line of a sentence to add drama. There are also occasional passages that appear over the top of the scene like subtitles, and if written words appear as part of the props, such as a letter, there are smooth fades from the French text to English translations. All of the text is easy to read, staying on screen for the right amount of time to allow proper digestion.

Extras: Only a couple of extras here, this two-disc set is mostly movie. The one that surprised me the most was "Autour De La Roue," a period behind-the-scenes documentary that collects over eight-minutes of on-set footage, put together like its own silent movie with explanatory title cards. It's rather fascinating to see a 1920s movie production at work, including shooting on location and with the big trains.

The original press book is also presented as a video feature, with the pages automatically turning after a couple of seconds. The text is in French and given without translation.

Inside the DVD case, which has a hinged tray to accommodate both discs, is a sixteen-page booklet with an essay on the history of the film by William M. Drew and notes from composer Robert Israel.

- Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk

About Abel Gance

IMDb Wiki

Abel Gance was a giant of cinema art, a genius whose artistic courage and humanist vision created masterpieces that inspired many other directors, from his silent film contemporaries in the 1920s to the French Nouvelle Vague of the 1950s and 1960s. The failure of much of the critical establishment in the 20th century to fully recognize or appreciate Gance’s artistry, a tragic oversight which succeeding generations will surely rectify, was perhaps the inevitable consequence of the director’s prescient conception of his medium. Constantly experimenting with new techniques to express his view of life on screen, Gance expanded the possibilities of film as an art beyond any of his contemporaries. Yet, while devising dazzling technical innovations to achieve what he called "the music of light," he never lost sight of humanity, inspiring his players to give intense and vital performances in narratives whose sweep embraced both epic grandeur and lyric tenderness. Gance’s vision was at once romantic and realistic, larger than life in its heroic and mystical dimensions, yet sensitive to historical documentation and location shooting, incorporating the details of actuality. His much-misunderstood conception of the heroic, a direct challenge to skeptics and naysayers, paid tribute to the aspirations of the human spirit for transcendence. For Gance, the hero was not a manifestation of elitism based on traditional views of group and caste, but rather an individual of tremendous creativity and insight whose tragedy resulted both from the fierce opposition of an entrenched establishment and the reality of his own human limitations. Invariably a man of the people voicing the need for radical change, the Gance protagonist was ultimately isolated from mass society because of his failure to adapt to its fundamental conservatism which is in constant tension with its simultaneous yearning for revolutionary transformation. Expressing these conflicts in his work, Abel Gance created films that are unique and timeless in their dynamic portrayal of the triumphs and dilemmas of humanity in its search for the ideal.

- William M. Drew

Abel Gance is universally recognized as one of the greatest directors in history. Often compared with Erich von Stroheim for his talent, extravagence, imagination and ego, his experiments in camera movement, editing, and cinematography exceeded anything being done by his contemporaries and redefined the parameters of film discourse. But he often provoked animosity promoting his own genius and aggravated producers by running over budget on ever-expanding projects. Finally, like von Stroheim, the advent of sound prevented Gance from realizing his ambitions.

La Roue's (1922) story concerns a railroad engineer named Sisif (combining Sisyphus, Oedipus and Lear), the incestuous passion he shared with his son for his adopted daughter, and his desperate attempts to repress that passion. Like Gance's previous work, La Roue was unabashedly melodramatic and pompous, the title referring to train wheels, the wheel of fortune and a Victor Hugo quote which preceded the story. But the level of technical daring was so breathtaking that Jean Epstein called La Roue "the formidable cinematic monument in whose shadow all French cinematic art lives and believes." Gance spent six months on the script and an entire year shooting on location. Then came tragedy: Gance's wife died of tuberculosis the day he finished shooting. He mourned in the US where he met D.W. Griffith at the New York premiere ofJ'accuse!. Griffith was so impressed he invited Gance to his studio. As a result of this encounter, Gance spent an additional year reediting La Roue. Filled with contradictions, it also contains sensational climaxes and truly lyrical moments. Among the innovations: rhetorical figuring; dramatic lighting effects; sophisticated editing used for inserts, flashbacks, and parallel action; and dazzling rhythmic montage so extraordinary that when Russian directors Eisenstein and Pudovkin visited France they thanked Gance for having taught them editing.

For years Gance has been undervalued because he focused his attention on style rather than narrative, because of his predilection for melodramas, and because of the deplorable state of available prints. His work is often pretentious, lacks rigor and represents the antithesis of narrative modernity. But thanks in large part to Brownlow (along with Francis Coppola and others), Napoleon and Gance's reputation have been restored to their proper places in film history. Having taken film further technologically and esthetically than any of his contemporaries, Gance has finally been recognized as the major figure in French film of the 1920s.

- Turner Classic Movies

924 (65). Un coeur en hiver / A Heart in Winter (1991, Claude Sautet)

screened August 12, 2008 on Fox Lorber DVD in New York, NY TSPDT rank #904 IMDb Wiki

A deceptively modest triumph in guileful storytelling and poker-faced acting, Claude Sautet's late career hit is unabashedly bourgeois to the bone, concerned with little more than the romantic miscues between a trio of classical violin professionals (one plays them, one fixes them, one works with one and sleeps with the other) in between rigorous rehearsals and cozy cafe catchup sessions with friends. Thoroughly embedded within this milieu, Sautet presents a scenario that thoroughly vivisects this subculture from within, exposing the contending values and asumptions that make its characters tick, the most dominant - and destructive - being middle-class politeness. When Camille (Emmanuelle Beart) falls for Stephane (Daniel Auteuil), the friend and partner of her lover Maxime (Andre Dussolier),  all Maxime can do is step aside and let love take its course (after all, he dumped his wife for Camille). Camille, a young ingenue violinist, sees in Stephane one with a kindred passion for the art, as his fine tuning of her instrument unleashes in her a higher level of virtuosity. After initial intimations of romantic interest on Stephane's part, he abruptly spurns her; his flat answer, echoed by the what-you-see-is-what-you-get camerawork, is a renunciation of intimacy so blunt that it leaves the viewer scouring Auteuil's expressions for the slightest hint of self-betrayal.  Auteuil's performance, in his quizzical reactions (or non-reactions) to the experiences and expressions of love and pain presented to him by others, may feel one-note at first, but it goes considerably well beyond the gimmicky blankness of Peter Sellers in Being There or Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, or the sentimentality of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Unlike all of them, Stephane straddles a gaping paradox between social sophistication (affably holding his own at dinner table conversations and cafe chitchat) and the most contemptuous, self-alienating sociopathy.  The most critical distinction of Stephane over other movie simpletons is his capacity for machination: Sautet's script lays several clues as to his motivations in disrupting the affair between Maxme and Camille, but leaves him as much as an enigma as when it found him.  But perhaps none of this would matter, neither the script nor Auteuil, if it weren't for Beart's youthful conveyance of Camille's passion and insecurity. It is through her heartbreak that we learn what's at stake in the movie: she must discover her own rules for navigating through the bourgeois world of art and love, or else succumb to a comfortable nihilism that, as embodied by Stephane, threatens to occupy its center.

want to go deeper?

The following ballots were counted towards the film's placement on They Shoot Pictures Top 1000 Films:

Bill Craske - Senses of Cinema (2001) Claire Binns - Time Out (1995) Hulya Ucansu - Sight & Sound (2002) Phillip Lopate - Village Voice: Best Films of the 1990's (1999) Village Voice - The Best 100 Films of the 1990's (1999) Wes Anderson Film Comment - Ten Best of the 1990's 2000)

Original Trailer:

On the surface, an unassuming, low-key study of a ménage à trois that never really takes off physically; dig deeper, however, and it's filled with dark, disturbing emotions and unsettling power-games. Stéphane (Auteuil) and Maxime (Dussollier) are old friends and partners in a violin-making business; Camille (Béart) is a concert violinist and Maxime's lover, who comes increasingly to dominate the taciturn Stéphane's thoughts. As time passes, while she seems to respond to his apparent interest in her, he remains reticent: out of shyness, loyalty to Maxime, or something more perverse? What distinguishes the film is that Sautet and his excellent trio of leads manage to convey complex emotional nuances without resorting to explicit dialogue, plot contrivance, or hackneyed visual metaphor. Everything is underplayed, made manifest through subtle glances, brief but pregnant silences, the rhythms of the editing, the moody qualities of the lighting, and the occasional bursts of Ravel played by Camille. There's not an ounce of fat on this deceptively quiet movie, which at times achieves a real sense of pain and confusion.

- Geoff Andrew, Time Out

One of the key writer-directors associated with the upper-middle-class and middle-aged French, Claude Sautet has never had a strong impact in this country. This feature, A Heart in Winter, his 13th, gives a fair sense of his craft and his limitations; I find it ably made but a bit on the dull side. Loosely inspired by "The Princess Mary" story in Lermontov's novel A Hero of Our Time, the plot concerns two violin makers played by Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette) and Andre Dussollier (Melo, Le beau mariage), who work as partners, and the changes wrought in their lives by a young violinist (La belle noiseuse's Emmanuelle Beart) preparing to record a Ravel trio. Other significant characters include a music teacher (Maurice Garrel) and the older woman (Brigitte Catillon) the violinist lives with. A major thematic interest is the wintry heart (lack of feeling) of Auteuil's character, and what makes the presentation of this theme relatively novel for American tastes is the lack of psychology underlying it. The performances are all quite good, Beart's in particular, but whether one really cares about these characters is another matter.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

Any story focused on a lonely, loveless character risks allowing its viewer or reader to draw back, convinced that he or she will never share the protagonist's pitiable state. Hence Mr. Sautet's willfully aloof direction of "Un Coeur en Hiver" comes as an interesting surprise. This director, best known here for films he made 20 years ago ("Cesar and Rosalie" in 1972, "Vincent, Paul, Francois and the Others" in 1973) makes no effort to wring pathos out of Stephane's plight. Nor does he encourage Mr. Auteuil to reduce the character to two dimensions. "Un Coeur en Hiver" accepts Stephane's remoteness as something clinical, and adopts a Rohmeresque detachment in observing and analyzing its consequences...There is both fascination and frustration in watching this odd story unfold, since the director avoids commenting overtly on his characters' inner lives. Working from a screenplay by Yves Ulmann, Jacques Fieschi and Jerome Tonnerre, Mr. Sautet makes this story powerfully vivid without often penetrating its smooth veneer. The film's settings, invitingly evoked, are used as landmarks in the lives of the principals: the atelier, several bistros, recording studios and concert halls and a large, handsome house in the country. Yet Stephane can travel this landscape quietly and inexpressively, except in the remarkable moment when he describes his isolation. "You're talking about feelings which don't exist for me," he tells the ashamed and astonished Camille. "I can't feel them. I don't love you."

"Un Coeur en Hiver," the winner of Cesar awards last year for Mr. Sautet's direction and Mr. Dussollier's polished performance as Maxime, offers satisfactions that go beyond the scope of its strange story. Within its atmosphere of intelligence and precision, the film makes deft use of the Ravel sonatas and trio that are actually performed by Jean-Jacques Kantorow, but feigned captivatingly by Ms. Beart. This actress is an esthetic delight in her own right, and she gives a carefully measured performance that suits her role. Mr. Auteuil, prim and watchful, conveys the delicately calibrated changes in Stephane's nature as fully as the material allows him to. And he manages the remarkable feat of commanding attention even when Ms. Beart is at center stage.

- Janet Maslin, The New York Times, June 4 1993

Emmanuelle Beart in Bed:

"Un Coeur en Hiver," directed by Claude Sautet, has the intensity and delicacy of a great short story. It reveals how superficial most movie romances are - because they make love too simple, and too easy a solution. The heart has needs that love does not understand, and for Stephane, perhaps the comfort of his routine and the consolations of his craft are more valuable than the risks of intimacy.Daniel Auteuil plays Stephane. He has an inward-looking face, a repose; he tells us more about himself in the narration than he tells anyone in the film. Camille is Emmanuelle Beart, beautiful, yes, but required here to be a convincing violinist and a theorist about music. She is given a difficult role, and avoids its hazards brilliantly. She must throw over one man and be rejected by another (many of the crucial scenes are in public), and yet seem not foolish but simply unlucky. She must maintain her dignity, or the film will become the story of a woman scorned, which it is not. It is the story of a man not scorned - of how Stephane psychologically cannot take the woman from Maxime.

As a general rule, the characters in French films seem more grownup than those in American films. They do not consider love and sex as a teenager might, as the prizes in life. Instead, they are challenges and responsibilities, and not always to be embraced. Most movie romances begin with two people who should be in love, and end, after great difficulties, with those two people in love. Here is a movie about two people who should not be in love, and how they deal with that discovery.

- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times, July 2 1993

American movies are all talk, no listen. Jabber jabber, feint feint -- conversation is combat, a schoolyard dissing contest, a slightly more sophisticated version of "Your mother!" "No, yours!" In real life, and in French movies, people pretend to get along when they talk. They keep things light, genial, talking around the issues that burn them up inside. Some love affairs never begin because people are afraid to reveal what they feel; "I love you" is so hard to say. Some marriages can last a lifetime on the tacit agreement that hostilities will go unexpressed. The static is in the silences.

By the chatty U.S. criterion, Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter) is no great shakes. Even by French standards, Claude Sautet's drama tends to dither a bit. Yet the film displays a wonderful attention to the spaces between what people say and what they mean. Because the business of its main characters is making music, we spend many rewarding moments watching people listen. And then, because this is a kind of love story, we watch a woman watching a man. Here, the actors are the audience; they do what we do.

Auteuil's performance is heroically blank. He doesn't explain Stephane's emotional numbness, nor does he editorialize against it. He allows his lure for dear Camille to remain a mystery, like so many romantic attractions. But then Beart (Manon in Manon of the Spring, the painter's model in La Belle Noiseuse) is an actress of such extraordinary beauty that any time she falls in movie love she seems like a goddess slumming. Her radiant face is , therapeutic. A glance from her should thaw the frostiest heart.

- Richard Corliss, Time, June 21, 1993

Un coeur en hiver

Claude Sautet's subtly haunting Un coeur en hiver is a film about the deepest human feelings and fears, especially fear of intimacy and fear of rejection.

At the opening of Un coeur en hiver, it is observed that violins are the "most precious possessions" of violinists. This declaration has profound meaning as the scenario evolves. If the instruments are such, they are so because they are safe. They have no free will. They will never abandon their owners. If they fall apart from usage, they always can be repaired. They are dependable and reliable—unlike human beings...

Emotions are complex, inexact, ever-changing; in human relationships, feelings are dependent upon the responses of others. Stéphane is keenly aware of all this, and it is for this reason that, despite his feelings, he distances himself from Camille. He is afraid of allowing himself to love her, because of the pain he may be forced to endure. As a result, he presents himself as passionless, which even plays itself out during an intellectual discussion in which he professes to have no opinion on the subject at hand.

The relationships in Un coeur en hiver are not only between lovers. Camille has for many years roomed with Régine, her manager. As Camille prepares to move in with Maxime, Régine must adjust to a new and more solitary lifestyle, a fact which she acts out by becoming angry at Camille. Later on, Stéphane tells Camille that he considers Maxime a business partner, and not a friend. Camille retorts that Stéphane's attitude is "just a pose." "It's strange how you enjoy giving yourself a bad image," she adds. Of course, Stéphane is not cold-hearted. He and Maxime are in fact friends, and he truly values their relationship. What Camille does not understand is that Stéphane simply is fearful of facing his emotions.

In the end, Stéphane is a lonely figure, one who is "unconnected with life." His solitude shelters him, keeping him protected from the hurt feelings that are the offshoots of human connection. Is he better or worse off? To answer this question, Sautet points out that, while we all are solitary souls, if we do not choose to be brave and risk connecting emotionally with others, our lives can never be complete.

—Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com

Studio Clip:

From the first moments of Un Coeur en hiver we are engulfed by the long takes, the stillness of his images and the whisperings of his characters. It is as though we are bound by some secret affinity to the lives of these characters.

In an interview Sautet revealed that this film was more based on his memories of the story, rather than an adaptation of Lermontov's short story “Princess Mary,” from his book A Hero of Our Time. This aspect, coupled with Jean-Jacques Kantorow's recording of Ravel's sonatas (a gift from his son, which he was listening to at the time), allowed Sautet's film to develop deeper and richer dimensions in the three main characters. The novelistic quality in the detailed study of his characters, who reveal themselves slowly but precisely, through conversations, gestures, looks, are all Sautet's doing. He and writer Jacques Fieschi worked on the first third of the dialogue for no less than four months in order to pare it down to perfection.

But there remains an opacity to his characters: we learn of Stéphane's (Daniel Auteuil) thoughts about winning over Camille (Emmanuelle Béart) through snippets of his conversations with Hélène (Elisabeth Bourgine), but his gestures and behaviour belie his stated intentions (standing silently in the dark watching his old professor argue with his wife). We do not know whether we should believe in what he says, or even if he himself understands his own actions.

Cafe Clip:

The yearning, or suffering, of Stéphane's heart in Un Coeur en hiver is revealed to us through Sautet's close-ups of Auteuil. His choice of a sombre palette of winter tones, grey-brown and desolate, rather than steely blue tones, and the grace and melancholy of Ravel's music all infuse the film with a kind of warmth which seem to suggest that Stéphane's heart is capable of love. Most of the time his unyielding exterior is echoed in his gestures, although if one studies his behaviour closely, one will find that these are also gestures which give him away: his immobility in the presence of Camille and his silent repose beside Maxime may suggest a steely heart, but he is ultimately betrayed by those burning eyes of his when they are fixed on Camille, and by his patience and fine ear for Maxime and music. And, finally, an act of kindness he kills his sick old professor. Though morally wrong, Sautet believes that this is the only “compassionate and loving thing he does” in the film, because his character is “incapable of any positive action in a conformist sense.” Sautet goes on to say that although it is impossible to know how deep Stéphane's love is for Maxime, one is able to get a glimpse of this love through his look of childlike bewilderment when Maxime comes to visit him in his new studio and from the gravity of these short words Stéphane says to Camille at the end of the film: “You've missed me, and I've lost Maxime.”

- Janice Tong, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Claude Sautet often explored the unresolved nature of triangular relationships. In Les Choses de la Vie (1969), Pierre's (Michel Piccoli) accident becomes a conduit for re-evaluating his relationships with his wife and his mistress. In Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud (1995), personal inhibition and fear of rejection prevent Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) and Arnaud (Michel Serrault) from pursuing their tacit romantic connection, despite Nelly's failing marriage. They exchange knowing glances and carefully selected words, but inevitably, never reveal what is in their hearts. These films depict the process of discovery, as the characters find themselves captivated by the novelty of falling in love at the expense of an emotional investment in maintaining their current relationships. In Un Coeur en hiver, the "incompleteness" lies solely within Stephane's ambivalent behavior, and it is his underlying ambiguity that creates Camille's perceived dilemma.

The selection of the Ravel Sonatas and the Trio effectively captures the essence of the triangular relationship in Un Coeur en hiver. With equal measures of subdued longing and passionate intensity, the soundtrack embodies Stephane and Camille's increasing attraction and emotional vacillation. When Camille delivers her finest performance at the recording studio, the moment proves to be a turning point, not only in her professional career, but in her personal life as well. In essence, her performance becomes a validation of her connection with Stephane. Stephane has perfected the precious instrument entrusted to him, and now Camille has realized its exquisite potential. The passionate music becomes a recorded testament of Stephane and Camille's creative union - an intimate expression of their unrealized bond.

Un Coeur en hiver is a sublimely sensual and provocative film on the complexity of human relationships. Through the technically brilliant, but emotionally flawed Stephane, Sautet presents a fascinating character examination of the subtle, yet profoundly relevant dichotomy between mechanical creation and art, polite conversation and intimacy, attraction and love. In chronicling the lives of imperfect people, Claude Sautet compassionately captures the quiet longing of the soul, and in the process, composes a subtle and graceful contemporary ballad of the human heart.

- Acquarello, Senses of Cinema (abridged version on Strictly Film School)

The Love Triangle Begins:

This is my favorite movie. It feels very personal to me, as if it were somehow my film. It unites my favorite music and my favorite actress with a gifted, sensitive director. It's about a violinist (Emmanuelle Beart), and a violin maker (Daniel Auteuil), who meet over the recording of two sonatas by Ravel. As we watch them speaking together, and watching each other, we feel the space between them becoming increasingly more charged. The film feels smooth and perhaps a bit muted, but so much runs under its surface that it concludes with surprising power. Recently I heard that this film is loosely based on a Russian novel, Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time. I hadn't noticed the similarities -- the novel is quite different! -- but it adds an interesting perspective from which to view the film.

- Darcy Paquet

Veteran French filmmaker Claude Sautet (of the Oscar-winning César et Rosalie) has made a powerful film here expressed in the smallest of gestures, just as one might tune the strings of a violin ever-so-slightly to achieve perfection. Sautet indeed employs such a sonorous motif in this story, in which violins always seem to be playing and suggesting that the principal characters look at life as they do music: something to be tinkered with and manipulated for effect.

--Tom Keogh, Amazon.com

Here is an example of the script's fine dialogue (and I should mention here that the characters of Un Coeur en Hiver are uniformly of the French petite bourgeoisie). There is a gently ironic scene near the film's beginning in which a smart but pompous dinner guest, a writer, holds forth on his theory of popular culture versus true art. When he is lightly challenged by another guest, he responds, "So, I'm a reactionary?" "No," says a wiser, older fellow "you speak for an anxious elite in a world of democratic excess." The writer responds with, "I've fought elitism all my life. There's too much bleating today." But then he continues by saying, "Museum's today are full of clueless clodhoppers." Is this kind of wit and dissection of class to be found anywhere in today's American cinema? This snippet of the scene, for all its interest, is mere filigree to the core of the story's concerns. Yet as the scene continues, the three main characters are drawn into the conversation in a way that illuminates their relations to one another up to this point in the film. The small dinner scene is a good example of the intelligence and mature vision that suffuses the whole movie.

Stephane's seduction is subtle, passive, and ambiguous. Does he have a genuine affection for Camille, or is he subconsciously manipulating her as if she were one of his specialized violin tools, a tool to repair his apparent ennui and emotional coldness? I have to write "apparent" because he is not a sociopath or obvious emotional cripple. Perhaps he is unable or unwilling to renounce his solitary nature because his work and love of music is more important to him than the distractions of human fellowship. For that matter, the movie seems to ask if there is anything wrong with his hermetic existence. Are "true love" and carnal fulfillment, as most romantic American cinema would have it, the only goals worth seeking, or is Stephane's violin-making craftsmanship an equally worthy life pursuit? The director does not deliver us pat answers. The viewer's personal inclinations will likely determine his or her conclusions.

- Russell Engebretson, DVD Verdict

Stephane rejects Camille's love:

An open-ended bout with a tragic love triangle, Un Coeur en hiver uses subtle and convincing performances to project its emotional pain. Stephane (Daniel Auteuil) and Maxime (Andre Dussollier) are partners in a Parisian violin repair and sales operation, successfully catering to a wide range of famous musicians. Maxime handles the customer relations and new clients (he's a real charmer and smooth talker) while Stephane is the master surgeon, delicately working on the innards of a cherished instrument. This arrangement suits both perfectly, although it doesn't stretch as far as friendship (although Maxime would like to think that it does).

A film which approaches the subject of love in a decidedly adult fashion is unusual in itself, but one which embraces the contradictions inherent in Stephane is special. For he is the owner of the title organ, a man who typifies the characteristic of reticence. Outwardly he is an enigma, avoiding all emotional entanglements and reliance on others. Inwardly it's impossible to comment, since it's entirely plausible that even Stephane doesn't know why he acts in certain ways. Acting the martyr he claims not to have led Camille on, when she starts to react to his presence, yet this is entirely false - he just seems to be playing games. When Camille falls into obsession, as Stephane cuts off from her, his behaviour is atrociously cruel. Yet how can one feel anger for Stephane, since he somehow suffers the most of all - a victim of his own introversion.

Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK

Argument Clip:

Camille is no less a complicated character, but her feelings are simpler to read. She hides nothing, and when she recognizes that she loves Stephane, there is no doubt in her mind -- or ours -- of the truth. Especially noteworthy is the manner in which Camille's sudden, intense passion for Stephane intertwines, and at times conflicts with, her lifelong love of music. The stunning Emmanuelle Beart gives an astonishing, unaffected performance. Emotion is often displayed in the most subtle gestures, expressions, and vocal inflections. Before beginning production of Un Coeur en Hiver, Beart had never played the violin. After the film's release in France, director Claude Sautet claimed that she "fooled everyone" with her "perfect motions" (violinist Jean-Jacques Kantorow does the actual playing). Not only are her hand movements proficient, but the look of rapture on her face as she loses herself in the music of Ravel is an example of how accomplished Beart's acting style is.

Un Coeur en Hiver is yet another case of real-life chemistry translating well to the screen. At the time when this picture was before the cameras, Beart and Auteuil were companions away from their acting, and the spark of this intensity, even unfulfilled as it is here, is too obvious to miss.

- James Berardinelli

At first sight "A Heart in Winter" is the story of a love triangle, a variation of the basic and often filmed competition of two men for the affection of a woman. At second sight, however, the film is a treatment of the philosophical question "What is love?" Unlike typical Hollywood movies, "A Heart in Winter" is not based on such popular premises as: love is the answer to everything, sexual consummation is the ultimate closure, or monogamous commitments are tantamount to happy endings. Sautet's film subverts any such clichés by wondering about the nature of what people call "love," by showing, for example, how much more weighty a passing glance can be than wild cohabitation, or by exploring the possibility that a quiet, solitary life can be as rich and deep as one that is crowded by emotional demands and relentless instinctual pressures.

Any interpretation of the film will run into the following question: Is Stephane's state of mind and way of life the expression of some shortcoming or even pathology, or does his conduct represent a plausible ideal--a way of life for which even philosophical reasons can be offered? Does Sautet tell the story of a sad failure, or does he give us the outline of a kind of life that is attractive in an unusual way?

Under the influence of Hollywood movies and pop psychology, most viewers will be inclined to look at Stephane as a person who suffers from "psychological problems." Instead of pursuing the woman to whom he is attracted, and instead of responding to her reciprocating interest in the way any "normal" men would, Stephane does not act on his initial impulses, and even withdraws when Camille shows a keen interest in him. It seems obvious that he is "inhibited" in some way, that the "healthy" or "natural" expression of his feelings is blocked by some inner obstacles. The reasons why he does not follow up on his initial advance are not moral, after all; Stephane does not adhere to any code that would prevent him from approaching another man’s woman. The reason for his abstention seems to be an inability to feel. "There is something dead in me," as he puts it himself, and it seems to be this "deadness" that causes him, a good looking heterosexual male in his best years, to be a bachelor, to be thoroughly wedded to his work, and to be entirely content with furthering and enjoying excellence in the realm of music and the arts. What else but some sort of lack of vitality could it possibly be?

Stephane's own mentioning of "something dead" in him may prompt them to think of his demeanor as something inflicted on him, as a pathological condition that was caused by traumatic events. But Stephane's refusal to become intimate with Camille in the usual way is a choice, a choice that makes sense--even if psychologists should be able to connect it to some story of early trauma. The film provides enough material for the viewer to see that a life entangled in worldly human affairs can be much less attractive than the calm and detached life that Stephane lives. Sexually intimate love, after all, does not only have the enchanting and beatific aspects that typical Hollywood romances emphasize, and that at first are in the foreground of the story of Stephane and Camille, but also unpleasant sides that grow out of the instinctual and often brutish constitution of human beings as part of the animal kingdom. Throughout "A Heart in Winter" Sautet placed a number of scenes that deliberately depict intimate relationships at their less than palatable moments.

- From Jorn K. Bramann: Educating Rita and Other Philosophical Movies. Reprinted on his website Philosophical Films

About the DVD

Koch Lorber - Nov 2006 - Quite a spectacular difference in brightness/color between the two releases. The Koch Lorber states - 'restored HD transfer supervised by the film's director of photography, Yves Angelo', so we believe that the NTSC edition is most accurate in representing the color scheme of the film. Aside from that the Second Sight, although also being progressively transferred, shows more digital noise and some minor speckles that are not apparent on the Region 1 release. Part of this could be compression as the PAL is on a single-layered DVD where the Koch Lorber is on a dual layered disc. The audio is also improved from the initial release with a 5.1 track as well as the optional mono. Koch have stacked the supplements with some interviews and an excerpt from Claude Sautet ou la Magie.

- DVD Beaver

In a welcome change, Koch Lorber present the film with a newly restored high definition anamorphic transfer. Given some of the poor transfers they have released previously, the treatment here is to be applauded. The transfer of the film is very sharp and captures the slightly subdued look of the film well without it seeming too dark or colourless, it does seem some colour and contrast boosting has occurred. There is minimal noise in the transfer and this knocks the previously grainy R2 Second Sight release out of the park. The icing on the cake visually is that the film is also in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Given the film was transferred under the eyes of the films' DP, Yves Angelo, I suppose the product is unsurprisingly good.

Soundwise this is 95% perfect with music and dialogue never sounding anything other than clear and dynamic. There are two mixes, a mono track and a surround track, but no option for the original stereo mix. The tracks are well restored and you will struggle to hear any distortion or soundtrack noise. However there is two large buts. Firstly, the audio as the film moves into the closing titles sounds stretched to me and this effect is especially disturbing in the surround track. My final criticism is that of the new translation given to the subtitles. Remembering the film from its theatrical release and the R2 disc there are some crucial lines which are translated differently and in my opinion less effectively. In the R2 version Stephane's almost penitent line "je n'arrive pas", literally I don't get there, is translated as "I always get there too late", whereas here it becomes "I never manage..." - the R2 translation seems closer to the sense of the dialogue and the emotional core of the film rather than the prosaic fumbling for words suggested by the R1 disc.The extras include some French TV interviews with Sautet and Dussollier. Sautet is an agreeable interviewee who seems content to accept his interviewers views on his work, but he does look as if he is co-operating so he isn't tortured too long. He agrees that the film portrays a world where men have learnt to avoid feeling and that women find themselves punished by their search for true emotion. Dussollier's piece is a hotel room junket interview and short and uneventful. Sautet is interviewed again about his previous film, A Few Days With Me, and talks about that film, this film, and Nelly et Monsieur ArnaudUn Coeur En Hiver, it feels like a largely irrelevant extra. There is an excerpt from a documentary on Sautet where colleagues praise and discuss this film as his best and reveal the preparation for the film such as Beart's year long violin training. The extras on the disc are completed by the original French trailer. The final extra is a very short piece by critic Michel Boujut about Sautet which is included in the small insert that comes with the disc. There are no stunning insights in the piece but some background on Sautet's influences and intentions in film making. Overall, the extras give an impression of a film maker who was a modest man and whose intention was to produce strong dramatic films with great human insight.

- John White, DVD Times

In the four-page printed insert included with the DVD, film critic Michel Boujut writes that "…Sautet, like many French directors of his generation, was deeply influenced by post-war American films. His first great masters were John Ford, Howard Hawks, and John Huston." That probably accounts at least in part for the clean, old-school framing of shots on this film. The cinematography is calm and deliberate: over-the-shoulder shots, medium close-ups, gliding shots that follow the actors naturally. There are no jittery hand-held cameras, fast MTV-like cuts, or any of the novelty film techniques that force the viewer's eye to follow the lead of the director and editor. It was a refreshing change of pace—especially after the last few hyperkinetic American films I've seen—to watch a movie that emphasizes acting and dialogue over camera trickery. The slow, steady cinematography gives the viewer time to linger over the frame and take in the sumptuous detail, the facial expressions, the play of light and shadow.

- Russell Engebretson, DVD Verdict

About Claude Sautet

IMDb Wiki

There is a sense of melancholy and a certain quietude that permeates Claude Sautet's cinema, and it is in keeping with its pace, a languid but deliberate slowness, that we are able to enter into his world. Sautet's world is a richly textured one, and requires attentiveness and a careful eye to its details. Populated by fully formed and complex characters, its skein of images is the weaving together of a series of looks, gestures, annunciations, utterances and moods of its inhabitants. Both limpid and opaque, this world and its denizens ask us to be thorough and mindful not only of what we see, but also what we hear -- to listen to the conversations, the music, the ambience, as well as the silences. In this way, his films ask us to surrender our senses, to give ourselves over to them, so that we do not remain on the 'outside' as mere viewers or voyeurs to the intimacy on screen.

Described as a “discrete and elegant man,” for many this director is a humanist whose films may be described as “intimate-realist” films, a meticulous study of lived lives whose characters, despite their social standing, are nonetheless part of the quotidian. Who is to say that the bourgeoisie are immune to the falterings of friendship or the failings of love? For others, his films are scrutinised for their lack of criticism of the bourgeoisie and their mores, and whose films always seem to be “as pleasant, polite and polished as the man himself” and are “very French in that attractive, fashionable people prepare and eat a lot of attractive food, while grappling with life and love” kind of way. It is these kinds of split considerations that have haunted Sautet's career and driven a rift between the two French film journals, Positif and Cahiers du cinéma, in their views and opinions of this French director. It seems that, for the latter, Sautet has simply vanished out of sight -- especially in death, with the noticeable absence of obituary on this important director.

For me, his films have the ability to consume us entirely, by stripping back our emotions we come face to face with something truthful in his films.

This is what Sautet's films do best, to reveal to us that “the other is not to be known; his opacity is not the screen around a secret, but, instead, a kind of evidence in which the game of reality and appearance is done away with.” He achieves this through carefully constructed dialogue and the way he frames his characters: never in the middle of the action, but always on the sidelines, waiting and watching silently, humbly and without judgement. It is in these ways that his images allow us to approach the other without eroding their opacity. For the enigma of the other is precisely what intrigues us; we need them to be different from ourselves, so that we may be “seized with that exaltation of loving someone unknown, someone who will remain so forever.” Like the closing of a violin, “[e]verything, all the work that has gone on underneath, is hidden. The skill of the craftsman is such that it takes two people to close up the instrument.” (13)

- Janice Tong, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

About Daniel Auteuil

IMDb Wiki

Biography on About.com by Jurgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky

Algerian born Daniel Auteuil spent his teenage years traveling with his father, who was an opera singer, and claims to have grown up in the theatres of provincial France. Now one of France's most popular and well-known male actors, Auteuil began his professional acting career in the theatre before making his big-screen debut in 1975 in Gérard Pirès's L'Aggression, and going on to act in several stage and screen comedies. Auteuil's career was slow to gather momentum, but in 1986 he starred in Jean de Florette and its sequel, Manon des sources, the success of which launched him into a select group of leading French character actors, alongside Gerard Depardieu and the late Yves Montand.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Jasper Rees describes Auteuil as "the new Depardieu—but thinner," and it is true that since Jean de Florette the two men have vied for the affections of French cinemagoers. Yet as actors Auteuil and Depardieu could hardly be more different. While Depardieu excels as a romantic lead, Auteuil prefers more ambiguous characters, such as the landowner, Ugolin, in the "Manon" films, or the wronged lover in numerous other movies such as La Femme Française, Un Coeur en Hiver, and La Separation.

In the 1990s, Auteuil had the pick of some of the best films to have been produced by the French film industry. Un Coeur en hiver saw him co-starring for the third time with his then wife Emmanuelle Bèart in a bitter love story, and won him the Felix award for Best Actor.

Often cast in roles involving troubled relationships, conspiracy, and pragmatic moral choices, Auteuil manages to attract audiences to unpleasant or difficult characters with his laconic style, and an obvious commitment to the parts he plays.

—Chris Routledge, Film Reference.com

About Emmanuelle Beart

 IMDb Wiki

The Emmanuelle Beart Site