Category Archives: French Films

Dirty Dishes (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Housewife has nervous breakdown.

Armelle (Carole Laure) is a full-time housewife taking care of 2 young boys while her husband Marc (Pierre Santini) works a job designing car tires. Armelle is bored with the mundane chores that she must do day after day and looks forward to Thursday evenings, which is the one night that her and husband can go out, but since Marc’s job has become very demanding he can no longer do that, which makes her feel even more shut-in. She occasionally goes out with her two friends (Liliane Rovere, Liza Braconnier), but they’re trapped in the same thankless domestic routine as she is. One day she snaps and has a sexual tryst on her cluttered kitchen floor with an architect (Daniel Sarky) who works across the street, but this doesn’t subside her feelings of rebellion, so she steals a car, which almost gets her in an accident. Eventually her husband realizes her frustrations and promises that things will be different, but will this really bring the change that she wants?

Written and directed by the daughter-in-law of the legendary filmmaker Luis Bunuel, the film is a mixture of Diary of a Mad Housewife that came out 8 years earlier and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was released 10 years after this one. There’s even a bit of Jeanne Dielman mixed in for good measure. The one thing that this film does do well is focusing on the mundane tasks that she does each day, which gives the viewer a clear impression of her trapped feeling. Unfortunately it doesn’t go deeper than that and ends up just being another feminist comedy that fails to have anything unique to say from the other films from that era with the same theme.

There are a some amusing lines uttered here and there, but the laughs are sporadic and there should’ve been tighter editing, which would’ve given it a frenetic pace and made the absurd moments seem less out-of-place. There’s also a few really weird tangents that come out of nowhere including a psychotic man that invades the families picnic at a park and tries running them down with his car that has no connection to the main story and wasn’t needed as was the segment at a grocery store where Arnelle breaks up a fist-fight between two men only to find that she’s been a victim of a candid camera-like prank.

There are a couple of good poignant moments particularly the scene where the couple is lying in bed and Armelle states to her husband that she feels scared and he replies: “Why, are you afraid something is going to happen to you?” and she responds: “No, I’m afraid nothing will happen and everything will remain the same.”, which hits home the characters quandary perfectly.

Laure’s is radiant and soaking in her beauty helps smooth over the slow spots. The scene where she gets rejected as a model of a dish detergent ad because she’s ‘too beautiful and no one would ever believe she does her own dishes’ is quite funny as that’s all we’ve seen her do since the film began.

The ending however offers no conclusion or answers. The character remains stuck in the same situation that she was at the start with only vague promises from the spouse that things ‘would be different’, but in cases like these that usually means things will eventually just go back to the way things were. The viewer needs to see the change for themselves, or how the character learns to adapt to the problem by finding ways to make the monotony seem more interesting, but the film shows none of this making it feel ultimately like a waste of time as both a satire and character study.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joyce Bunuel

Studio: Planfilm

Available: VHS

The Track (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hunters chase down woman.

Helen (Mimsy Farmer) is an American who has traveled to rural France in order to teach at a local university. At the train station she meets Philippe (Jean-Luc Bideau) who agrees to take her to the isolated cottage where she is to stay. Along the way they come into contact with Philippe’s boisterous friends who drive them off the road. The men are going out for a wild pig hunt and a few of them particularly Paul (Philippe Leotard) shows a sexual interest in her, but Philippe assures her that they’re ‘harmless’. While Helen moves in to her new place the men go off on their hunt, but when she walks outside to check-out a nearby barn she again comes into contact with Paul along with his brother Albert (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and Chamond (Michel Robin). Paul uses the opportunity to rape her while Albert holds her down and Chamond acts as the lookout. As they are about to leave Helen shoots and critically injures Paul with Chamond’s gun, which he had inadvertently set down, before she goes on the run deep inside the forest. The rest of the group tries tracking her down in an attempt to negotiate some sort of deal, so she won’t go to the authorities, or silence her permanently if she still insists that she will.

Some have labeled this the French version of Straw Dogs, but I consider it much more like Deliverance. In that film you had middle-aged suburbanite males wanting to prove their ‘macho manhood’ by roughing it in the wilderness for a weekend only to find that they weren’t quite as prepared for the harsh elements as they thought. This film works in kind of the same way. The men go hunting to get in touch with their rugged side, but when forced to face tough issues, like helping a woman in distress, they succumb to group pressure and prove ultimately to be wimpy.

Unlike other films in the rape/revenge genre the main character here is shown the least. Farmer does well during the rape segment and screams and fights in a way that elicits genuine horror, but otherwise her facial expressions and mannerisms are quite one-dimensional though I was impressed with the way she did her own stunt work and forced to navigate her way through some difficult and inhospitable terrain.

The main focus is on the male characters who are fascinating and multi-faceted. The most interesting aspect is how they start-out seeming benign and domesticated only to slowly unravel into a aggressively threatening group. The segment where they kill a pig and the animal struggles after being shot will make some animal activists uncomfortable, but like with Jean Renoirs’ Rules of the Game, which had a hunting segment even more graphic than here, it does effectively illustrate that if people are willing to kill an animal for sport; how thin is the line for them to cross-over to a person?

The lack of a soundtrack is a plus. Many thrillers will have a pounding score and sometimes it works to accentuate the tension, but here the natural sounds particularly Helen’s heavy breathing as she runs through the underbrush is far more effective. There’s also no forewarning of what’s going to happen nor buildup. Everything occurs out of nowhere. Most victims who survive a crime will say the same thing that things were peaceful and normal one minute and then all hell broke loose the next.

Spoiler Alert!

The only two things I might’ve done differently had I directed was not showing the rape. As rape scenes go this one is rather mild, but my feeling was it would’ve been creepier had the viewer been in the dark about what occurred as were initially the other men. They’re told the story that the gun went off accidentally and the woman ran in a panic only for them to slowly learn the dark details later on. Having the viewer come to this realization along with the other men would’ve added an extra layer to the story versus it being spelled out.

While the ending is effectively unsettling I still wanted a denouement showing how the strains of this experience changed them, which would’ve added insight. Overall though it’s a brilliant especially for the way it reveals how some of the men considered themselves more ethical than the others only to end up being no better. Everyone likes to feel that they, or their friends, would do the right thing when put in a stressful situation and ‘be the hero’, but this movie expertly examines how that might not always be the case.

Alternate Title: La Traque

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Serge Leroy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (dvdlady.com, jfhi.com)

Rape of Love (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Assault victim seeks justice.

Nicole (Nathalie Nell), a young nurse, goes bike riding one day to a friend’s house. Four men (Marco Perrin, Gilles Tamiz, Bernard Granger, Daniel Auteuil) spot her at a cafe and begin following her in a van. Once she reaches a remote area they drive her off the road and force her into the back of the van where she’s taken to a remote shed and brutally raped and humiliated. Once it’s over she’s brought back to the dark road, thrown to the pavement, and warned not to tell anyone. Initially she feels ashamed and doesn’t want to talk about it, but then while making a house call to one of her patients (Marianne Epin) she sees a picture of one of the rapists on the wall, who’s apparently a married family man living a normal life. She’s enraged that these men can go on living like nothing happened while she remains emotionally and mentally shaken. She becomes motivated to bring them to justice despite both her mother (Tatiana Moukhine) and boyfriend (Alain Foures) advising her not to.

This film was written and directed by Yannick Bellon, a feminist who had  worked on documentaries before doing this one. It bears a striking resemblance to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave, both were filmed around the same time and neither production was aware of the other. Bellon had wanted to make a movie about rape that didn’t sanitize it and would capture it in the most explicit and violent way possible. While Zarchi’s movie has gone on to achieve cult status this one has fallen into obscurity even though despite some flaws it’s easily the better of the two.

The rape scene is quite graphic though I was actually expecting it to go on longer. It lasts for about 10-minutes, which is just enough time to give the viewer a very raw and uncomfortable taste of the crime’s viciousness without exploiting it and then unlike with the Zarchi movie the film shifts back into a drama instead of a revenge horror flick. I liked this transition better as it gives greater depth to the characters including the rapists who aren’t shown as being one-dimensional backwoods thugs like in the other movie, but instead regular citizens who you’d think were nice guys if you didn’t know better. One scene even has them discussing at a bar what they feel would be a suitable punishment for a criminal who had committed another crime, showing how these men, as terrible as they are, still have a warped idea of morality for others.

I also liked the way it focuses on Nicole’s psychological recovery though here I felt it got a bit botched. Having her examined after the incident by a male doctor I didn’t think worked as she’d not trust a male being in that emotional state and insist instead on a female physician. She also expresses later to a friend (Michele Simonnet) that she no longer likes people to touch her even as her friend touches her while she says it, which doesn’t make much sense. She also goes right back to riding her bike even though I’d think it would take her a long time if ever before she’d do that again.

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Her relationship with her boyfriend and the way they no longer have sex, which frustrates him is interesting particularly the scene where he’s shown angrily walking down the street and comes upon a prostitute. I thought the film was going to have him take his frustrations out on her and thus showing how this ‘good guy’ could be, under certain circumstances, just a violent as the rapists he hates, which could’ve brought out an insightful irony, but the film only teases the idea and eventually doesn’t go there.

The reaction of the rapist’s wife who begs Nicole not to take the case to court as it would be stripping her of a ‘fine husband’ and her kids from a ‘wonderful father’ seemed absurd. I would presume most wives would be disgusted to find out what their husbands had done and would want to leave them, or at the very least refuse to believe that they had committed it. Then again I was not living in France during the 70’s, so I can’t say I know how that culture would view rape. I know they consider affairs in a much more liberal way where it’s not always the deal-breaker like it is here, but to frame rape as just being another of his ‘flings’ seemed a bit too open-minded.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic court battle falls flat. Having the men immediately confess to what occurred once they were questioned by the authorities didn’t seem realistic. After all she didn’t decide to press charges until 6-months later, there was no semen sample, no DNA, and no other witnesses. The men could’ve denied everything and most likely gotten-off. The film ends without the viewer finding out the verdict and never knowing how stiff their penalties were, or weren’t.

I wasn’t so keen about the boyfriend, who left Nicole once she decided to go public about the rape, coming back at the end and rekindling the romance. I felt this sent the wrong message. Sometimes when a person decides to do what they think is right then that means sacrificing everything and learning to live with it including losing friendships with people that don’t agree with what they’re doing. It’s a bridge one crosses that you can’t go back on. Having her adjust to being an independent single woman, or finding a new boyfriend that wouldn’t bail on her during her time of need would’ve been a better resolution.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Yannick Bellon

Studio: Les Films de l’Equinoxe

Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (j4hi.com)

Honeymoon (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married to a stranger.

Cecile (Nathalie Baye) is a French woman living in New York City who’s at risk of having her Visa revoked due to being in a relationship with a recently arrested drug offender (Richard Berry). In order to help her remain in the country she gets involved with a shady, underground firm run by Novak (Peter Donat) who can marry her off to a stranger. Cecile is reluctant at first, but desperate enough to play along especially after she’s assured she’ll never actually see the man she is marrying and both parties are simply doing it for their own personal benefit. However, after she agrees to it and then returns home the man that is her fake husband, Zack Freestamp (John Shea), shows up at her doorstep and demands to be let in. He then takes over her apartment and acting like he’s her real husband and she’s obligated to play the role of the dutiful wife. She resists, but becomes increasingly hounded. Where ever she goes he follows and she can’t seem to ever shake-him. Due to being involved in an illegal activity she’s unable to go to the police and therefore must use her wits to outsmart him, which won’t be easy as Zack’s killed before and is used to getting what he wants.

This is one of those obscure movies, which was filmed on-location in New York, but by a French production company and thus making it a foreign film, where you wonder how it could’ve fallen through the cracks. It’s possible, as evidenced by the film’s promotional poster as seen above, that it was marketed to the wrong audience as you’d get the impression from looking at it that this was a horror/slasher film, which it’s not, and those coming to the theater expecting that were disappointed and thus gave it bad word-of-mouth. In either case it’s deserving of another look though not by those looking for a conventional thriller.

What impressed me had nothing really to do with the stalking element, but more the excellent performance by Baye, an award-winning performer in her native country though not too well known here. Her portrayal of a person lost in a cold, lonely environment really hits-home and you get a genuine feel for her desperation and how others in her same situation would react and think. If anything this movie should’ve been promoted as a drama that gives viewers insight to how foreigners that live in this country, but aren’t yet citizens, see our world and deal with the alienation, which I believe would’ve made this a critically acclaimed film instead of a forgotten one.

Shea’s casting is interesting as he’s cursed with having a boyishly cute face like he was snatched directly from a modeling agency and only given onscreen work due to his appearance over any actual talent. He had just been in Windy City where he played a sickingly sweet nice guy, so I’m sure he was determined to prove his acting range, and possibly even advised to do so by his agent, by taking a part completely different from that one. Does he succeed? Well, for the most part he’s competent, but the character would’ve been even more frightening had he been ugly instead of a pretty-boy.

Spoiler Alert!

The story fortunately doesn’t have too many loopholes and manages enough twists to keep it interesting though it does wear itself out by the end. My main complaint is the part where Cecile is taken by a blind date in his car to a darkened alley where he plans to assault her and yet she’s rescued by Zach who appears out of nowhere. I thought it was because he had again been following her, but no car that he was in is seen making it seem like he had just been in that alley by himself when they got there, but what would be the chances that out of the thousands of alleys in New York City they’d conveniently park at random at the one he was in?

There’s another scene where Zach’s being chased by the cops who are in a squad car while he’s on foot. He turns and shoots at them from behind and manages to hit the driver squarely in the head, but the prospect of him having such great aim while running is extremely low. Later a nervous and shaking Cecile shoots at someone and manages to nail-him right in the heart, but since she was clearly not confident in using a gum her great aim seemed implausible. I also didn’t care the chase through a house of mirrors at an abandoned carnival side show, which came-off as a rip-off of a similar one done in the classic Lady of Shanghai. Overall though it still has its solid moments and in need of more attention than its unfortunately gotten.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Patrick Jamain

Studio: Malofilm

Available: VHS

The Last Metro (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding from the Nazis.

Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is a young actor, who’s also a member of the French Resistance, living in occupied Paris during World War II. He gets a part as the leading man in a play at a playhouse run by Marion (Catherine Denueve) who has taken over the business since her husband Lucas (Heinz Bennent), who was Jewish, and supposedly fled the country when the Nazis took over, but in reality is hiding-out inside the cellar. Bernard and Marion don’t get along at first, but slowly form a bond when they find a mutual enemy in the form of theater critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard) who is an anti-Semite that writes a nasty review about their play, accusing it of being pro-Jewish, in an effort to close the place down, so that he can take it over.

The film, which was writer/director Francois Truffaut’s most successful movie financially and one of the highest grossing French Films ever, remains sufficiently compelling despite very little that actually happens. One of the elements though that I found intriguing was the behind-the-scenes segments revealing all the work that gets put into a play before its opening night premiere . I especially liked Nadine (Sabine Haudepin) as a young actress who tirelessly goes from one acting gig to another, sometimes multiple ones on the same day, in order to help her career and get established.

Revealing right away, or pretty much by the end of the first act, that the husband has never left the country like everyone presumes, was a mistake that lessened the intrigue. For one thing the place he is hiding in, which is the cellar of the theater, is not too creative and even has a back door leading out to the alley way, which made me feel that anyone could’ve caught on to his whereabouts a lot sooner especially as Marion sometimes leaves her visits with him by going out the back entrance. Any passer-by/snitch could see her doing this and wonder what the door lead to, or called the Nazi authorities to have them investigate. It’s also not clear how, in seemingly a few minutes time, Marion is able to hide Lucas and his bed/personal belongings, from the Gestapo when they eventually insist on checking-out the basement.

Marion’s interactions with her husband is not particularly compelling and yet these scenes take up the majority of the runtime during the second act while Depardieu, who is excellent, barely gets seen at all. Then during the third act Marion and Bernard suddenly get really into each other, but the interactions between the two needed to be shown more for this to be organic to the viewer and in fact should’ve been more the focus of the film than Lucas. Had I been the director I would’ve kept Lucas’ whereabouts a secret until near the end when Bernard finally becomes aware of it and used the mystery of whether Marion knew more about it than she lets on as part of the intrigue.

The ending is a bit of a disappointment. The tone of the film works as a drama, but then suddenly shifts with about 10 minutes to go into a quirky comedy, which doesn’t work. The story threads get wrapped up in too tidy of way leaving the dynamics of Marion’s relationship with Bernard and Lucas’ response to it wide-open. After 2 hours and 10 minutes the character arcs should’ve been better defined and since they aren’t it makes the viewer feel like the movie doesn’t really go anywhere, or lead to anything insightful, which is a shame as it’s a nice looking, period authentic production otherwise.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1980

Runtime: 2 Hours 11 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Le Jouet (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A rich kid’s plaything.

Eric (Fabrice Greco), the son of Pierre (Michel Bouqet) a rich business tycoon, is used to getting his way, so when he goes to a toy store, where he’s informed he can have anything he wants, he chooses Francois (Pierre Richard). Francois is a struggling journalist looking for income and decides to go along with the outrageous proposition of being a child’s toy because of the money he’s offered, so he gets put into a crate and ‘delivered’ to the home just like a regular large ‘toy’ would. He’s then forced to amuse the child at all times and catering to any whims of fancy that he may have. While this arrangement is initially quite awkward Francois is eventually able to form a bond with the boy and the two then set out to teach the arrogant father a lesson.

The script, which was written by the prolific Francis Veber, who also directed, lends keen insights into capitalism and the corporate company structure. While Pierre seems to be the one that is being put into a degrading position and treated like a puppet, it’s actually the company yes men that surround Eric’s father and obediently do anything he demands who are the real toys and yet none of them see it.

Richard does quite well in the lead and despite being put in a humiliating situation ends up showing much more self respect than many of the other characters. Greco is equally good in this his only film appearance. Initially I thought I was going to really hate this spoiled kid, but Veber’s adept writing creates a child character who’s very savvy to the foibles of the adult world  and ends up showing a hidden motivation for why he does what he does that eventually comes out later.

The only performance that I didn’t care for was that of Bouquet. While he has an impressive acting resume and is still appearing in movies at the ripe old age of 95 having just starred in one that came out this year and working steadily in films since 1947, which makes for one of the longest career spans of any actor ever, I still felt here he wasn’t right for this part. His facial expressions are dull and one-dimensional and he’s never funny with his grey hair making him seem too old to be the father of such a young boy.

The film does get a bit heavy-handed at times making its targets too obvious, but it’s still filled with some acerbically funny moments including my favorite scene where Eric and his father walk-in on a family eating dinner and he offers them a lot of money if they agree to on-the-spot sell their home and leave, so after a brief conference the family immediately starts packing. Even with some minor blemishes it’s still far superior to its American remake, which will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francis Veber

Studio: AMLF

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region A/B/C), Amazon Video (Dubbed), YouTube (Dubbed)

Le Sex Shop (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bookseller turns to pornography.

Claude (Claude Berri) runs a Paris bookstore, but finds his business slumping. In an attempt to make a profit he decides to start selling pornographic materials, which soon makes his place a popular hangout. It also attracts a different type of clientele including Lucien (Jean-Pierre Marielle) a local dentist who along with his beautiful wife Jacqueline (Nathalie Delon) are swingers who try to get Claude and his wife Isabelle (Juliet Berto) into their lifestyle, which ultimately begins to put a strain on their marriage.

Although billed as an X-rated movie it is really more of a satire of the public’s zest for sexual fantasy and the extremes they will go to enliven their sex lives only to in some ways end up needlessly complicating it. The film is full of a lot of keen moments that are both insightful and funny including both Claude and his wife lying in bed next to each other while each simultaneously having fantasies about sex with someone else. The part where Claude’s two kids, who are both under 10, sneak into the shop and start playing with the sex toys is a hoot too as is the scene where Claude lies in bed between two naked women and spends the whole time talking about his kids and sharing family photos.

I also liked how the sex shop itself gets captured. In real-life these places are usually quite dark and dingy giving off the idea that there’s something ‘sinister’ or ‘shameful’ about sexual fantasy while here the shop is bright, colorful and inviting with clientele not just made up of men either, but with equal amounts of women too.

Director Berri casts himself in the lead and while this can sometimes come-off seeming narcissistic I felt in this case it was a perfect touch as he looks very much like Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character and watching some of his shocked expressions as he gets himself more and more immersed into the seamier side of things is quite funny. I also enjoyed Beatrice Romand, as a young lady looking like she’s no older than 16, getting hired as a sales clerk at the shop and who shows great familiarity to all the sexual paraphernalia and expounds on how to use them to the older male customers like a teacher lecturing to her class.

The two women who play prostitutes (Francesca Romana Coluzzi, Catherine Allegret) are a lot of fun too and become the symbols of the old way of life as they fear that their services will no longer be needed. The scene where they challenge a topless author at a book signing in regards to the authenticity of her sexual conquests and how she, in their eyes, is not a ‘real whore’ is quite amusing.

The film though could’ve used a better buildup. The couple move into the sex business too quickly and thus watching their transition into swingers isn’t as impactful or interesting. The ending is too ambiguous and outside of the sex shop the film fails to have any type of visual flair. There is an abundance of nudity, but none of it is erotic or arousing. Maybe this was the intention, but a film about sex should have at least a few spicy moments while this thing, despite its very adult rating, falls completely flat in that area.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated X

Director: Claude Berri

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Out-of-Print)

Day for Night (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Movie within a movie.

Director Ferrand (Francois Truffaut) is trying desperately to complete his latest film project, but faces many challenges in the process. His young star (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is threatening to drop-out due to his recent break-up with his girlfriend, so his co-star Julie (Jacqueline Bisset) decides to sleep with him out of pity and in an effort to get the film completed, but in the process gets in trouble with her husband. Ferrand also faces issues with his other leading lady Severine (Valentina Cortese) who is an alcoholic  and with the sudden death of his male lead Alexander (Jean-Pierre Aumont).

What was once an innovative idea now seems rather antiquated. No where is this more apparent then in the scene where Severine constantly forgets her lines and opens up the wrong door during each take. At one point this might’ve seemed funny as behind-the-scenes bloopers really didn’t come into vogue until Hal Needham started showing them during the mid-70’s in the closing credits of his films. However, actor screw-ups are now no longer fresh and instead seem almost sad and pathetic especially here where you begin to wonder if the woman is suffering from severe psychological disorder. I was also surprised that the rest of the crew and director put up with it as most Hollywood productions would have the actress quickly fired and replaced.

Truffaut may be a great director, but his onscreen presence isn’t much and he hardly ever seems to be directing anything anyways, but more overwhelmed by the people and problems that surround him almost like he really isn’t in control. Perhaps this was the point, but a stronger actor with a more definitive personality would’ve hit the idea home better. I was also confused why he constantly wore an earplug that seemed to be connected to what looked like a transistor radio in his shirt pocket. Initially I thought it was to help relay messages/signals to his co-director/cinematographer or vice-versa, but then he is shown wearing it even when he was not on the set making it seem like it might be a hearing aid, but in either case it never gets properly explained, but should’ve.

Bisst is beautiful and I’ll give Truffaut credit as he certainly knows how to capture her exquisite blue eyes better than any other director.   Hearing her speak fluid French is at first surreal, but then kind of fun and watching her climb a tall ladder without hesitation in order to get onto a elevated set was impressive too as I’m not sure I would’ve been quite so brave.

The behind-the-scene romantic/sexual scenarios that occur between the cast members are quite funny, but I wished they had jumped into them sooner as I found them to be more interesting than the filmmaking stuff, which to me didn’t come off as all that revealing or insightful. I also felt the antics got resolved too quickly and easily. Again I presume this was the humorous intent by showing how no matter what the problem or issue somehow, someway they find a way to get the film completed, but the story would’ve been more captivating had these side-dramas been more played-out. It’s still an entertaining watch, but a reboot with the setting in a Hollywood production should be in order as I suspect some of the on-set politics there would be handled much differently.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She performs daily chores.

This is a highly unusual film which analyzes in minute detail the monotonous tasks that a single mother performs throughout her day and was apparently inspired by writer/director Chantal Ackerman growing up with a mother who suffered from obsessive/compulsive disorder. The story centers on Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) a woman raising a teenage son while living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Belgium. During the day she entertains various men with sexual services and uses the money that she receives for this to help maintain things for both herself and her teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte). When she is not working as a prostitute she is busily cooking and cleaning, but as each day passes her routine becomes sloppier, which is a subconscious signal that something is bothering her and only at the very end does the viewer find out what it is.

Some have hailed this as a masterpiece including being listed among the ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ by Steven Schneider. Normally I enjoy films that buck the conventional narrative and trying to learn about a character through the way she performs her daily routine as opposed to doing it the standard way through dialogue and action is commendable, but the cinematic flair is missing making this seem more like ‘monotonous task porn’ than a movie.

For instance when we watch Jeanne wash her dishes the camera does it in a very static way from behind her instead of doing something flashy like a close-up of the water glistening of the dish, or from some other provocative angle. Akerman has stated that she took this approach in order to show respect to her character’s ‘personal space’, but this only ends up giving it a closed-circuit TV feel.

Nonetheless I still remained strangely intrigued, but I’m not sure if this was because of some reviews I read beforehand where I was told that about the ‘surprise/shocking ending’ that would somehow make what I was watching all seem worth it, or because of what I was actually going on. I’ll agree that seeing the way she prepares and cooks her various meals is fascinating, but it’s for all the wrong reasons as you become more caught up in the task itself than the character and to say that one’s mind doesn’t eventually begin to wander after 3 hours and 20 minutes of this would be an understatement.

The 3-day arch that she goes through from where she performs her tasks proficiently on the first day only to screw them up more and more by the third one needed to be much more apparent as her ‘screw-ups’, like dropping a newly washed spoon on the floor, are too subtle and not enough of a payoff. Cinema is still a visual and dramatic art form and yet this film runs away from that at every conceivable turn making it seem more like an assault on one’s stamina instead.

Spoiler Alert!

The only true cinematic moment comes at the very end when Jeanne kills one of her male clients, but there’s no reason given for why she does this or what the aftermath will be. To have to sit through all that comes before it just to walk away with unanswered questions is frustrating and almost like being told a joke where the punchline is not an equal payoff to the long, tangent-filled set-up that it took to get there. I like the concept, which is intriguing, but it could’ve been accomplished in half the runtime making this an interesting experiment that can be appreciated as an oddity, but nothing more than that.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 3Hours 21Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Chantal Ackerman

Studio: Olympic Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their lives lack purpose.

Eight individuals (Rufus, Miou-Miou, Dominic Labourier, Roger Jendly, Jacuqes Dendry, Myriam Boyer, Jean-Luc Bideau, Myriam Mezieres) who were a part of the French protests in May, 1968 now live on a communal farm where they find that their lives lack meaning due to being forced into jobs that do not inspire or interest them. Jonah is the baby of the one of the members who they hope will grow up into a better, more open world.

I usually prefer European films due to their leisurely pace that emphasizes nuance and doesn’t feel the need, like in most Hollywood flicks, to hit-you- over-the-head with a broad generalized message and yet this one took me quite a while to get into. The major hurdle is that it rotates between too many different characters making it hard to follow any of them as there are long gaps between when we see one individual until we see them again. I was also frustrated that we didn’t get to see what these characters were like back in 1968 as this period only gets briefly alluded to even though seeing firsthand how much they had changed would’ve been interesting.

Although billed as a comedy it is much more a dramedy with only fleeting moments that are funny. The best bits are done in black-and-white when the characters imagine themselves in some other situation outside of their dreary existence. My favorite of these are when the adults watch eight children playing on top of a muddy hill only to then have the adults imagining that they are the kids wallowing around in the mud themselves.

The characters do eventually grow on you once you get to know them making the ending far more impactful than the beginning. Miou-Miou, who just a year earlier played a prostitute with no discernable personality in the dark comedy Going Places is the life of the movie here as a supermarket cashier who doesn’t charge certain customers the full price of their groceries in her attempt to ‘rebel’ against what she feels is an unfair system and her visits with an elderly shut-in (Raymond Bussieres) inside his apartment are both amusing and touching.

The film’s message and its searing attacks on capitalism are something you’d never see any American movie, but thought provoking nonetheless placing this almost on the same level as O Lucky Man!. I also liked that you feel the pain and anguish of these characters without having it explained to you through dialogue, which is a sign of masterful filmmaking that I wish was more prevalent in movies that are done here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: December 1, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Alain Tanner

Studio: Action Films

Available: DVD (Import all regions)