R.A.S. (1973/Yves Boisset) ++/mixed
fiction about young anti-war students drafted and sent in a disciplinary camp in occupied Algeria, to face with hiding out terrorists and be forced to kill once. The moto of the communist activist is to refuse to fire, because it's the sloppy slope into escalation of violence. Drafted privates rebel and refuse to train. They are sent to Algeria anyway, in a disciplinary camp, confronted to the racist local commandment, torture, razzia, rape, summary killings. They try to plot desertion and refuse to kill any algerian.
TV-grade film largely piloted by humored and emotional relationship building up between the characters, but present a realist account of the situation, the latent racism, humiliation of soldiers, immoral tactics to gain popularity with a bigger death toll, and the mention of torture. The filmmaker Yves Boisset gave us a great introductory speech about the political situation and the shooting conditions. Algeria refused to authorize the film because the anti-violence statement denounced teh very methods used by their government to control insurgent at the time of the shooting, so the reconstitued all teh sets in nearby Tunisia. He also pointed out that only half a dozen of films have been made in France on this military defeat, while the USA made about 800 films on the Vietnam war, an equivalent trauma. It says a lot about the politicaly correct taboo about Algeria.
One of the 6 (anti-war) films made by France on the war of Algery (which is the equivalent demise Vietnam was to USA, who did around 800 films on this subject to exorcize!). Even The Battle of Algiers is not french! A political and military taboo hardly overcome today. The government only apologized a couple years ago.

The Rain People (1969) Francis Ford Coppola ***
Interesting premise: a woman sneaks out of bedlocks because she feels traped in a marriage routine, and drives off to nowhere, all the way West. She needs distance between her and her husband to finaly be able to talk to him. She was wrong about herself, while she blamed him. By giving a lift to a strange football player on the road, she gets another taste at life...
a quite messy editing (or was the copy over repaired?), but the situations and the way to look at it are nice and original.

Rancho Notorious / Chuck-a-luck / L'Ange des Maudits (1952/Lang) **
boring western... the original plot is so messed up by the lame linear screenplay (with oversignificant digested flashback scenes). there would be more dramatic potential than the long ride of this very calm and reasonable cowboy whose wife has been raped and murdered! Marlene Dietrich is good at wearing fancy outfits, but doesnt bring anything to the movie except for the flirt scenes

Reconstruction (2003/Denmark/Christoffer Boe) ****
FIPRESCI Grand Prix (Best Director) / OSCARS 2004 (best foreign film nomination for Denmark) / Chicago IFF Golden Plaque (For the outstanding cinematography) / Cannes 2003 Golden Camera!!!
a photographic exercise with grainy textured images, satured colors of night streets, intimate close ups of faces and eyes, virtuose editing, night lights, and gorgeous art direction.
my tagline : this is how Love is like!
a surreal study on love. film in a film, mix of fiction and reality, doppleganger, time warp, memory lost, fatal thoughts, parallel simultaneous dimensions, imaginary lives...
Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Dogme95 actor, stared in von Trier's Idioterne, and Open Hearts), a young man has a lovely girlfriend, Simone (Maria Bonnevie, Insomnia) who buffers between him and his father. He meets an unknown swedish woman in copenhagen, Aimée (Maria Bonnevie, again! but very different :D), bored wife of a successful novelist, August Holm, busy with lectures in town, and finishing his last novel about 2 strangers who meet and fall in love passionately, breaking up with their social life.
Alex and Aimée play pretend they know each other, seduced by a passionate appeal, and plan to leave for Rome. they will make love all night (gorgeous love making scene edited with still grainy saturated close ups!!!). but in the morning a decision to forget it all or to run away together will have dramatic changes in Alex's life... Lost in an existancial labyrinth where nobody knows him, Alex experiences how dreadful casual thoughts can affect the course of love.
the film is impossible to summary, since the premise is very simple (as exposed above), but all the beauty relies on the atmosphere, and the acting between the 2 actors in unexpected situations, with renewed approaches in each scene.
innovative exploration of the implication of a casual affair, reassesment of life assumptions, broken storytelling timeline, looping back on itself, relationship maze, description of a strange flirt, meeting of a woman in a bar for love at first sight... painting love certitudes and emotional doubts, the temptation of cheating, the vertigo of loosing everything.
must see! a cinematographic delight.
Remake of Last Year in Marienbad.

Red Beard (1965/Kurosawa/Japan) +++
The cinematography is splendid throughout, (especially the screen composition as always), but the drama is very average for the entire first half. It only gets deeper with the story of Otoyo, this segment alone is a masterpiece.

La Règle Du Jeu / The Rule Of The Game (France/1939) Jean Renoir ****
Frenzy and Explosive gathering of aristocrat couples with their faithful servants at a hunting party, in the manor of an excentric marquess. His wife is the object of many lovers. Dialogs are entertainment from end to end, with an outstanding panache. the ending may be the only weak part, slowish and expected by its a comedy.

Remorques (1941/Gremillon/France) ++/mixed
The melodrama of a tugboat captain (Jean Gabin), who is pressed by his 10 years long wife (Madeleine Renaud) to retire and buy a house, and meets love in another woman (Michèle Morgan)... Nice model special effect of his boat out in the storm. Good performances, smooth mise-en-scène, experimental and graphic photographic study of boat engine. Clearly an Actors' film.

Repulsion (Polanski/UK) +++
Catherine Deneuve is pathologicaly frigid, a phobia for men leading her into madness locked in alone at home for days with a rotting rabbit and her hallucinations beautifully descripted by an organic space mutating with her delusion.

The Return / Vozvrashcheniye (Russia/2003) Zvyagintsev ****
Venice Mostra 2003's Golden Lion for a first feature! my #1 of 2003.
2 early teenager boys raised by a single mother, meet all of the sudden their father after being missing 12 years. their only memory of him is from an old black and white photograph where they are both babies in his arms. Is he their father? Mom says so... Why did he come back? Who is he? What is he doing? Where was he gone? they don't know anything about him... however he leaves the next morning and take them out fishing for the weekend... a road movie on the water, to get in touch with roots and a broken family.
the cinematography is superb! purist, minimalist and aesthetic, composed artisticaly around the faces of this man-trio, and the bare desertic scenery of northern russian great lakes and forest.the narration is built in daily chapters, like the diary that the boys have sworn to write each alternatively. the 2 young boys support the whole movie on their fragile shoulders, with a strong personality and a powerful screen presence, from shyness to violence!
Vladimir Garine, who plays Andrei with fantastic restraint, tragicaly died of drowning few days before the first staff screening...
the director said he felt the boy was unfocused and abscent, maybe too unstable, due to the trauma of a car accident he had. the younger Ivan (Ivan Dobronrarov) is even more inpired! with a more complex role pulls out an outstanding performance for his age. The father is mysterious and distant leaving enough room for the craziest fantasy around his past and his endeavors...

The River (1951/Renoir) ***
a colonialist movie about chick teens discovering love with an american crippled war vet in the rich property of a chanver factory owner along an Indian sacred river.
The narrator, the older daughter of 5, Harriet, writes poems and a diary of these days when she became a woman. her look on a colorful India, where poverty doesnt exist, is very naive and innocent. everyone is happy, and sad people do not show their grief. it's all about flirting competition between the girls: a wise mixed-blood indian, an impetuous redhead neighbor and Harriet the youngest of the 3. there is a beautiful piece telling the legend of Krishna.

Les Rivières Pourpres / THE CRIMSON RIVERS (Mattieu Kassovitz, 2000)
such a lame attempt at copying an Hollywood genre.
it's a well made TV crime show... but with a terribly bad scenario indeed. can u believe they made a sequel? (Kassovitz and Cassel left the project tho)
it's a pain! because the premise is not all that bad : the elite university, the genetic plot, the high mountain location, the secrets... this should have built a solid thriller, if it wasnt about the clichés, stereotypical characters and setup scenes. the ending is not so much a Deus Ex-Machina (because those things happens on a glacier) but u wonder why everyone meet over there for the denouement????
ultimately this film is a mere sketch of a pilot of what could have been done with this kind of material. Reno and Cassel dont save it...

Pokój saren / Roes' Room (Lech Majewski, 1997, Poland) ****
Lech Majewski introduced his Roe's Room himself, in english. he didnt say much about the film, just that it was made of childhood memories that sprung in his mind when he was composing his opera. he also said he was offered to film his Opera (award winner), and refused because the material was made for Opera audience only.
The filmic illustration of the filmmaker's own prize winning opera. Poetic vignettes based on partial childhood memories of his appartment throughout seasons, his parental education, his first love, the death of his father...
This gives us a very unique experience to look into the mind of a music composer when he creates a piece for the opera. this piece, very poetical, surrealist, interwoven of powerful symbols became real, is quite extraordinary. The background opera music goes in and out, alterning with raw set sounds (steps, wind...), the intrusion of the choir on the intimist set, without the opera stage performance emphasis.
a young man living with his father and mother in a small appartment, remembers memories from his childhood through 4 seasons (i believe Majewski composed his opera while listening to Vivaldi). Scenes appear like snap shots from the past in a nostalgic, langourous atmosphere, slow paced, silent. We see the family gathered around the soup, in front of the TV...
4 movements beginning with Spring : we are introduced to the appartement, bare, simple and boring yet touching daily life moments. Then a surreal event occurs, the introduction to poetry (the fountain scene).
Summer : love blossoms in his heart by a glance at the neighbor girl living in the building across the street. a magic tree appears in the middle of the dinning room and announces innitiation to sexuality.
Fall : the wheat grows on the floor everywhere, and is harvested by the father. roes deer walk in. the boy meets the girl.
Winter : the cold sits in. his father is found frozen to death sitted at the table. impressive funeral.
The set design and the photography are awesome. quite simple, minimalist but very powerful in significance and expression. Another masterpiece of silent diegetic narration.

Le Roman de Renard (1930/Starewicz) ***
Black&White animation. 4 years were necessary to put this together, and the film was voiced and released in 1941 only.
it mixes stop-motion animation of stuffed puppets (animals and humans), real time filming (mechanical animation with engines and stuff), and insert of picture footage (background travel through crowd and city). the sets are very basic cardboard-like design, but the puppets are quite expressive and their moves are funny.
it's a story for kids (it worked great on the kids in the theatre where i was), the famous medieval tale of the clever and facecious fox, Maitre Renard, who play tricks to everyone in the kingdom of Sir Lion. none is strong enough to beat him at his own game, not Goupil the Wolf, not the bear, not the cat. and the armies of Sir Lion have to siege the castle of Malpertuis where the fox hidesout.

Roman Holiday (1953/Wyler/USA) +++/PRO
Adorable holiday trip in Rome, non-stop tender comedy, not quite as predictible as it could have been. More witty scenes and less cheesy romance. Anyway Audrey Hepburn IS a princess! Gregory Peck (definitely better cast than in Moby Dick ) could be less rigid and a bit cool... he's more uptight than the princess' royal etiquette!
What is it with Audrey shaking hands of notorious european film critics (playing themselves) at the final??? Was it some kind of corruption to buy good reviews? Anybody knows the backstory?
Also interesting to note Audrey answering to the foreign ambassadors/journalists during the mirroring handshaking scene in their native language (like a good princess shall), not just because it was written but because she was multilingual. I recall her saying words in french and dutch (she's belgian), and maybe others spanish? german?
It's truly an outstanding performance, in a leading role, for the young Audrey who never played in a big budget hollywood film before. She was born to be a star. Most of her films seem to rely on her charism. I can't picture myself Cary Grant and Liz Taylor outthere... not after Audrey anyway.
The B&W photography and the lower budget are not regretful... the outdoors scenes are plenty and don't feel too limited by time and space constraint. The appartement scenes are also quite delightful with the bed-swap, the tight bathroom, the stairs recurring gags... funny and never too heavyhanded. When Audrey, sleepwalking under the effect of drugs, walks around the stairs while Peck climbs them, is my second favorite scene
What toughens up a normaly poor romcom, is the ongoing ironical subtext, with a delicious derision of the genre and the elements the film uses : the reverse cinderella tale saying the topmost dream of all girls, to be a princess with fancy dresses is a bore, what the princess dreamt of was to walk the market, get a haircut, eat an icecream, sit at a cafe terrace and dance. (I know you didn't like it, Wizard, but it meets Sissi here). This mysterious unnamed kingdom although extremly wealthy and famous, tracked by all reporters, of which we never see the King or the Queen, is both burelesque and slightly politicaly incorrect. The critique of journalists, of the american press dominant position (freed by the police and excused by the angry victims), the inefficience of the royal security in the embassy and of the secret service on the boat is farfetched but cynical. The unconventional ending...
Such a delightful romance to fall in love with.

Romance sentimentale (1930/Eisenstein/France)
A visual experiment developping his soviet montage theory by colliding images together in a rapidfire editing of various graphic studies of lines and movements with the sea, trees along the road, falling trees, a woman playing piano...

La Ronde / Roundabout (1950/Ophüls) ****
a fantastic show, half theatrical, half abstract, featuring 10 stars (Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux, Daniel Gélin, Gérard Philipe, Jean-Louis Barrault, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Isa Miranda...) who spin on the Merry-go-round of Love following the narrator/author/director's instructions. 2 by 2, in 10 successif love affairs, where one of the 2 goes with another one each time, we meet the prostitute and the soldier, the maid and the family son, the lover and the married woman, the peaceful uneventful married couple night in (separated) bed(s), the husband unfaitful and a young naive girl who looks like her wife when he met her, the dramatic author and the actress, the actress and the Count admirer.
the individual scenes are quite cliché and boring but the ensemble is impressing, especially when the narrator admits the tricks of cinema like time and space warp from set to set, and a funny bit when he cuts the film, and replay the scene for another version. Ophüls is fond of tilted composition and plan-sequence panning across rooms and staircases, in artisticaly decorated sets.
the scene with the married couple (Danielle Darrieux) is brilliant of cynism about social etiquette, appearances, and educated lies (especially knowing they both cheat!:D). the scene between the maid and the son (Daniel Gélin and simone Simon) is adorable as well when a shy love catch the youngsters. finally the scene between the actress and the Count (Isa Miranda and Gérard Philip) is a monument of erotic speaking (note the sexual double-entendre and phalic symbols :D)

Russian Ark ***
beautiful breathless plan-sequence! a class of russian history digested in an hour and half. somptuous costumes and coordination. the storyline is a bit confusing at times or unsignificant.