My Thoughts On…Plein Soleil

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@StudioCanalUK

Blu Ray release date: Monday September 9th 2013

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It’s scintillating to re-watch Rene Clement’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s rightly vaunted The Talented Mr. Ripley in the shadow of the re-release of Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Bonjour Tristesse. 

Both films are concerned with money and its cancerous properties. Both films concern outsiders in physical and emotional senses and both deal with sociopathy, to varying degrees but in both cases tragedy is never far from the vanity. 

The film starts with Tom and Philip (Dickie in the book) taking a sojourn away from Marge, Philip’s lover, where they run into Philip’s old friend Freddy. The first 20 minutes are a masterclass in setting the scene for the drama that follows as we are expertly introduced to all the main players even in the absence of one of them. 

From there the drama unfolds at a languid pace as we spend time with the privileged (read spoilled and brattish) Philip and Tom, an emotionally crippled and jealous but dangerously chameleon-like criminal and realise that this is not going to end well. When Marge re-enters the fray and the money Tom has conned from Philip’s parents starts to run out, the feverish sun and swelling current turn from pleasant to perilous.

Alain Delon is Tom in a performance of terrifying blue eyed charm and danger. There is nothing shy about his Ripley. His immersion and subsequent subsumption of Phillip’s life is as impressive at is eerie. 

Clement masterfully ensures that all the cinematic elements serve this powerful performance, giving Highsmith’s original character a thrilling pedestal upon which to bewitch and beguile. His mission is to take what he believes is his, this life he observes that in truth neither he, or his victim has earned.

And then as it threatens to slip, the tension is upped by beautiful arrangements of design, cinematography and editing that turn the final hour into a thrilling drama. 

The final moments are as disturbing as the final moments of Psycho (released the same year) and eerily similar as something hidden is dredged from the water and the protagonist, a strange blend of empathetic and utterly demonic sits detached from reality in a separate state of being.

And all of it is shot in the most blissful, sun kissed blues and bright whites. Like Tristesse, this is a paradise that has been visited by the vainglorious and tainted with blood. Also, a lovely little early appearance, too briefly, by the delightful Romy Schneider. A masterful film and a gorgeous addition to anyone’s blu ray library. 

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My Thoughts On…The Trial (Blu Ray Release Review)

@StudioCanalUK

Blu Ray Release: Monday September 10th 2012

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This will be a shorter piece, as I recently wrote about this film in a bit of depth here.

The fact that it is on Blu Ray though, thanks to the Studio Canal UK is a thing of joy and wonder that needs further celebration.

The Trial is a masterpiece in my opinion, one of the finest films by one of the finest ever filmmakers, if not the finest. It’s second only in the Welles canon to Touch of Evil. It’s daring, it’s frustrating, it’s beautiful, it’s unique. It’s pure cinema. Watch it on Blu Ray, go on, do it.

My Thoughts On…Death Watch

Released by Park Circus Films

In Cinemas: Friday June 1st 2012

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To call Bertrand Tavernier’s film ahead of its time is probably the understatement to end all. This is the ultimate Hare and Tortoise film, forgotten since it was made in 1980, watching as other films bluster and fall by the wayside only to stroll over the finish line with a gorgeously cinematic, scathing indictment of modern society. 

This film is one of a tradition of real Science Fiction films, films that fictionalise a projected future that may rise from scientific advancements and it’s got caution running through each frame. It reminded me of Alphaville and more recently The Adjustment Bureau, films that take ideas about where society is, or where it’s headed but that uses its contemporary geography to make the ideas, the fear, more tangible. This is real science fiction and the use of Glasgow to convey meaning, tone and atmosphere is sensational.

The film is bursting with ideas, that seep out of every detail. Romy Schneider’s central character says ‘everything is of interest, nothing matters’ but in the frame, everything matters. The composition, the production design. Everything is important to decoding the ideas being presented.

Harvey Keitel plays a TV director who has a camera implanted in his brain and eyes, so he records everything he sees and he is going to record Romy Schneider’s author character dying. All for the pleasure of a public that has forgotten what death feels like, and for a calm, despotic producer played by Harry Dean Stanton.

The performances are scintillating and they clearly loved working with a sublime screenplay. So technically it’s a wonderful piece of work, but it’s in the ideas, and how prescient they are, that the film is so powerful.

In a modern society consumed by voyeurism and gossip, on cruelty and on the need to feel superior, connected, part of, the same as celebrities and those we construct into celebrities the film hits like a shotgun blast to the chest.

We no longer live in the same time the film was made. It was pre Diana, pre 9/11, pre Jade Goody. But watching this film makes time collapse on itself.

It is a brilliant treatise on media manipulation and public complicity. 

The most terrifying part of the whole thing, is that it doesn’t feel macabre, it feels possible. It doesn’t feel fictional, it feels natural. This feels like an archaeological find, a historical document with important lessons for here, for now, and for next.

 

My Thoughts On…The Trial

Along with Paths Of Glory this is probably one of the most infuriating and rage inducing films I’ve ever seen. I adore it, easily one of my favourite Welles films sitting just below Touch Of Evil, and I’ve watched it a lot. It never fails to anger me with how raw and real and plausible it feels. It helps that like Paths Of Glory it is a work of supreme cinematic art.

Seriously, where is the daring in cinema now? This looks spectacular, each composition is peerless, flawless, flooring me with its power and depth of meaning.

Perkins is sublime, perfectly cast and the film moves along at such a slow pace that it all becomes confusing, and drawn out. Welles is storming, as usual and Romy Schneider is wonderful as the pale, callow, institutionalised maid/nurse/object of Welles’ beguiling, brusque and confounding Advocate.

I showed it to my students this morning, I am not sure how it went down, but one afterwards said she got confused, and wanted it to be over.

I told her that is the point. That’s what the system, what society be it corporations, bureaucrats, bullies, the government want. They want us to give up, to lose hope and resign to control. Most would say they don’t want a film that makes them feel that way, I say I want a film that reminds me life feels that way sometimes, if we let it.

A masterpiece.

My Thoughts On…Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

I love cinema. Not merely the finished product but the process. The endeavour, the gossip, the lore. This film is an absolute joy for lovers of cinema. It brings to the screen one of the great lost films of all time through the digitisation of original footage, documentary and reconstruction of the screenplay. 

There is so much to devour that it will need another viewing. Basically, Clouzot (who made Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques amongst others) had an unlimited budget to make his dream film about a jealous insomniac husband. He wanted to change the way cinema worked visually. 

His attempts to make the film seem akin to the story of Charlie Kaufman’s Synechdoche, New York as an artist refuses to acknowledge the inevitable and plough on with a sprawling, incomprehensible and impenetrable work. Clouzot was felled during the shoot by a heart attack, with the film behind budget and with no discernible script. It remained unfinished.

Aside from the salaciousness of the retelling what astounds is the footage of the tests that were shot to convey the lead’s state of mind as he is overcome by jealousy.

The way the camera is used - colours, lenses, movement, in-camera work and the incredibly original use of colour palettes feels revolutionary and it was. It’s exotic, erotic and evolutionary. Totally mesmerising. Some of the things Clouzot did have become part of the signatures of modern filmmakers. The ones I saw most readily at a first read were David Lynch and Michel Gondry but this was 1964! It’s terrifyingly ahead of its time and the sadness that welled inside me knowing the finished film will never be seen was overwhelming.

So it appears Clouzot was a brutal perfectionist, a planner, a thinker. I did not know a lot about him besides his films but it was fascinating to go into the world of a Kubrick-like figure. There are so many parallels to Stanley; the response of actors in their devotion (not all obviously) despite almost torturous multiple takes, the use of the camera, the unlimited budget and total creative control given over by a major studio. 

Truly fascinating. Highly recommended for fans of cinema, or the creation of iconoclastic art.