A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wild Reeds (André Téchiné, 1994)

Élodie Bouchez and Gaël Morel in Wild Reeds
François Forestier: Gaël Morel
Maïté Alvarez: Élodie Bouchez
Serge Bartolo: Stéphane Rideau
Henri Mariani: Frédéric Gorny
Madame Alvarez: Michèle Moretti
Pierre Bartolo: Eric Kreikenmayer

Director: André Téchiné
Screenplay: Olivier Massart, Gilles Taurand, André Téchiné
Cinematography: Jeanne Lapoirie

Watched on Filmstruck

François, a student at a boarding school in France in 1962, is beginning to come to terms with his sexuality. His only real confidante is Maïté Alvarez, whose mother is François's French teacher, but he's strongly attracted to Serge, an Italian immigrant whom François helps with his assignments. One night, Serge welcomes François to his bed and, out of curiosity, has sex with him, though he later tells François that he's really attracted to Maïté. Serge's bother, Pierre, is serving in the army in Algeria, where the war is coming to an end, but not the bloodiness, as the right-wing OAS, a group resisting Algerian independence, is still committing terrorist acts. The film opens with Pierre's wedding, at which he pleads with Mme. Alvarez, a member of the Communist Party and a strong supporter of independence, to help him desert from the army. She tells him she's unable to do anything to help him, and when he is killed in Algeria she suffers a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, a new student, Henri, from a family that supports the OAS, comes to the school, and although he's violently opposed to the political position that she shares with her mother, he, too, falls in love with Maïté. The volatility of this mix is obvious, as each of the four young people has to sort out his or her relationship -- political and/or sexual -- with the others. The film is at its best in portraying François's sexual confusion, particularly in a scene in which he approaches an older man he has been told is gay and asks for advice and help. The man is, understandably, confused and not very helpful.

Sound of the Mountain (Mikio Naruse, 1954)

So Yamamura and Setsuko Hara in Sound of the Mountain
Shingo Ogata: So Yamamura
Kikuko: Setsuko Hara
Shuichi: Ken Uehara
Yasako: Teruka Nagaoka
Fusako: Chieko Nakakita
Kinuko: Rieko Sumi
Hideko Tanizaki: Yoko Sugi

Director: Mikio Naruse
Screenplay: Yoko Mizuki
Based on a novel by Yasunari Kawabata
Cinematography: Masao Tamai
Music: Ichiro Saito

Watched on Turner Classic Movies

I find that numerous critics have observed something I sensed while watching Mikio Naruse's Sound of the Mountain: that it feels like a kind of sequel to, or even reaction against, such films by Yasujiro Ozu as Late Spring (1949) and An Autumn Afternoon (1963) that center on the arrangement of the marriage of a young woman. In both of the Ozu films I mention, the marriage is so much the event toward which the plot moves that we never even see the potential bridegroom -- as if just being married were the point. I know that's doing a disservice to the great artistry of Ozu, whose interest is always on relationships and not outcomes, and that Ozu was working in the long tradition of romance and comedy, in which marriage is what the plot is there to move toward, but I have to feel that Naruse is making a direct riposte to that tradition. Why else cast Setsuko Hara, the "Noriko" of three of Ozu's films -- Late Spring, Early Summer (1951), Tokyo Story (1953) -- that center on unmarried or widowed women? In Sound of the Mountain, Hara is Kikuko, an unhappily married woman, whose husband, Shuichi, has taken a mistress and frequently comes home drunk -- or not at all. The couple lives with his parents, to whom she devotes herself almost to the point of servitude. And when their daughter, Fusako, arrives with her small children, having separated from her own husband, Kikuko's household duties increase. Fortunately, she has a sympathetic confidant in her father-in-law, Shingo, who is clearly more than a little in love with Kikuko, and tries to sort things out for her, even to the point of confronting his son's mistress to try to break up that relationship. But things are not so easily resolved in this state of extramarital affairs. Kikuko takes a quietly devastating revenge on her husband by having an abortion -- something that Shuichi's mistress, who is also carrying his child, refuses to do. This is a film of great sadness, a mood that Ichiro Saito's film score does much to emphasize without ever turning lugubrious.