Category Archives: France

#329 Pickpocket

(1959, Robert Bresson)

“Perhaps everything has a reason”

So, uh, I have a slight problem. I’m sitting down to write this review because my list says that I’ve watched it. However, this came as a shock to me, since I couldn’t remember watching it initially. So this review may prove difficult and I have to rely on information online as well as my notes to try and remember what it was all about. This probably isn’t the best start.

Pickpocket is, apparently, about a pickpocket. Sorry to shock you, but it is. Martin LaSalle is Michel, who pickpockets someone at a racecourse and is arrested, although the charges don’t stick. Following this, he then falls in with a bunch of professional pickpockets and then shenanigans.

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#317 La Belle et la Bete

(1946, Jean Cocteau)

“Belle, you mustn’t look into my eyes”

It’s a tale as old as time – a beautiful romantic tale about a young girl enslaved by a beast-man in his magical castle until she is able to turn him into a charming prince through her innocent nature. Wait, that doesn’t sound very romantic at all! Yes, it’s everybody’s favourite children’s story about Stockholm Syndrome, Beauty And The Beast.

However, this isn’t the famous Disney version, this is instead the original French adaptation, La Belle et la Bête. After a wealthy merchant loses his fortune through dealings with unscrupulous people, he finds himself lost in the forest. Upon finding a large castle, he picks a rose from the garden and is immediately caught by a fierce beast-man (Jean Marais), who sentences him to death. However, a deal is made, and he can be spared if he sends his daughter to take his place. And so, Belle (Josette Day) is sent to the castle, where she is imprisoned and must now live with the Beast, who appears to hide a soft side under his gruff exterior. Read the rest of this entry

#304 Hiroshima Mon Amour

(1959, Alain Resnais)

“You saw nothing in Hiroshima”

So it is today that the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, which seems an appropriate time to review a movie about the Hiroshima bombings. I would have done it back on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings themselves, but I took a long hiatus and didn’t do it so this will do instead. So, Hiroshima Mon Amour then. What’s it like?

Set in Hiroshima (obviously), a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is in Japan filming a movie about peace, where she gets into a relationship with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The two discuss the Hiroshima museum and then start talking about love and loss and memory. And…uh…the movie kinda stopped being about Hiroshima at that point and…I’m not really sure what it was about by the end.

Yes, this is another French-made film about Japan that rambles on about nothing for a long time and ends up not being about Japan after all. Yes, it’s Sans Soleil all over again. What is it about Japan that makes French filmmakers so enamoured with it that they have to make a philosophical essay of a movie in response? Please tell me. I’d like to know. I’d also like to ask, can we ban them from ever doing it again?

Essentially, this is a long conversation between two people of different nationalities about things. Not specific things. Just things. It starts out with them discussing a Hiroshima memorial museum and ends up with the actress reminiscing about a German soldier that she dated during the war, which of course was forbidden and so she was full of angst. And there’s some stuff about memory in there and everything is dressed up in flowery poetic dialogue that sounds completely unlike anything a real human being would say in casual conversation.

Because of this latter issue, the main problem with the movie is our good old friend “not giving a crap about the central characters.” They waffle on about nothing and talk in such flowery ways that they don’t feel like people, they feel like a catalyst for an essay that Alain Resnais wrote once. And not a very interesting essay either. Your essay gets an F, Alain. Sorry.

Here’s why. Your essay makes no sense and has no central point. Is Hiroshima Mon Amour about Hiroshima? No, that’s just added to the title to mislead you and make you think it may be about something a little more interesting (as interesting as World War II can be at this point). It drops the Hiroshima stuff pretty quickly and then just rambles on forever. I also found it hard to care much about the German solider romance backstory because I kept wondering what the hell happened to the Hiroshima stuff that the movie was allegedly supposed to be about.

In fact, it’s so hard to talk about this movie beyond this aspect because this is all there is. It’s just two people who barely know each other and are never really introduced to the audience talking. For 90 minutes. About nothing.

So again, I say, can we ban French people from making rambling essay movies about Japan? Or if not, can we ban them from being praised by critics and ending up on these lists? You want a movie about the devastation WW2 wreaked on Japan? Go watch Grave Of The Fireflies instead. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas & Pierre Barbaud
Written by Marguerite Duras
Produced by Samy Halfon & Anatole Dauman
Music by Georges Delerue & Giovanni Fusco
Cinematography by Michio Takahashi & Sacha Vierney
Edited by Jasmine Chasney, Henri Colpi & Anne Sarraute

Favourite Scene: Whenever they actually talked about Hiroshima, which, you know, the film was allegedly supposed to be about.
Scene That Bugged Me: Absolutely everything else.

Watch it if: You like rambling French films
Avoid it if: You want a movie about Hiroshima

#299 La Jetée

(1961, Chris Marker)
“This is the story of a man…and of a woman’s face”

I know of La Jetée for three reasons. First of all, I’ve reviewed director Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (and wasn’t impressed). Secondly, I’m a fan of the band Pure Reason Revolution, and their track “Blitzkrieg” samples dialogue from this movie (the page quote, which is actually two sections of dialogue fused together). And finally, the much more well-known Terry Gilliam movie 12 Monkeys draws heavily from La Jetée. So there’s a lot to be interested in there, so let’s take a look.

Set following World War III, a nuclear war that destroyed much of the planet and its population, La Jetée examines the attempts of scientists in the future to send people back in time to correct the mistakes and stop the war from happening. The main character, The Man (Davos Hanich), is chosen for this purpose because of a stark image of a woman (Helene Chatelain) he remembers seeing in his childhood, prior to the war, which provides him a direct link to the past.

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#265 Celine & Julie Go Boating

Céline et Julie vont en bateau
(1974, Jacques Rivette)

“BUT THE NEXT MORNING”

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So, last time we watched a movie about close female friendship framed as a road movie. Well, this time we’re taking another look at a movie about female friendship, and I swear I didn’t plan that. Today, we’re taking a look at Celine & Julie Go Boating, a French movie about…two women and a mysterious house???

While sitting on a park bench one day, Julie (Dominique Labourier) witnesses a young woman, Celine (Juliet Berto) clumsily walking past, dropping her scarf and sunglasses. Julie picks them up and chases after Celine, leading the two to become friends and eventually move in together. After flirting with switching identities, with Celine disguising herself to meet Julie’s childhood sweetheart and Julie hijacking an audition scheduled for Celine, they eventually become fascinated with a strange house that seems to be telling its own story.

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#257 L’Argent

(1983, Robert Bresson)
“You have me on your conscience. You have to answer for that now.”

A little while ago, I reviewed a little-known movie called A Man Escaped from French director Robert Bresson. I surprisingly enjoyed it, expecting a drab musing on the Second World War and instead getting a suspenseful prison break movie where every scene was so dripping with tension I needed a towel afterwards.

As such, I was a little more interested in L’Argent (aka Money) than I initially would have been. This time I was expecting another tense thriller. Did Bresson still have it twenty years on, or was this all a big disappointment?

The plot covers a lot of ground. Two boys forge a 500-franc note, spend it at a shop, and then the shop owners try and pass it off onto a poor, unsuspecting maintenance man named Yvon. Yvon gets arrested, the shop’s assistant tries to rob his employers and the boys try and avoid being found out by parents and their school.

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#242 A Man Escaped

(1956, Robert Bresson)
Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut

Finding context for some films on the must-see list is hard. Sometimes a movie like this one comes along that doesn’t really seem to have much of a place in film history and never really gets much of a fanfare, but ends up being surprisingly quite good. Today, we take a look at obscure prison drama, A Man Escaped.

As you may be able to guess, A Man Escaped is about a man who escapes. That man is Fontaine (Francois Leterrier), a member of the French Resistance during World War II, who is taken prisoner by the Nazis and holed up in Fort Montluc. Unwilling to stay captive, he spends much of his time there meticulously whittling away the boards of his cell door and planning an elaborate escape. And then the title pretty much gives away the ending.

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#222 The Last Battle

(1983, Luc Besson)
Le Dernier Combat

Luc Besson is perhaps best known for directing the excellent Leon: The Professional and the not-so-excellent The Fifth Element, but before that, he was making weird French films in the eighties. And here’s one of them: The Last Battle.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the remains of humanity live in ruined buildings in a large desert area, The Last Battle follows an unnamed man (Pierre Jolivet) as he attempts to travel the world in search of a girlfriend. During his travels, he encounters a strange gang, a doctor (Jean Bouise) and a mysterious man known as The Brute (Jean Reno) who wants something the doctor has hidden away.

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#175 A Tale Of The Wind

Une histoire du vent
(1988, Joris Ivens)

Europe, we need to talk. It was bad enough when self-indulgent home movie compilation Sans Soleil turned up on my list, closely followed by a director adapting his own diary for the screen in Dear Diary, but now it’s gone too far. Please tell your directors to stop making pretentious arthouse films about themselves, because it’s getting silly now.

Yes, A Tale of the Wind is yet another European director going travelling and making a film about himself in the process. At its heart, Dutch director Joris Ivens travels to China because he wants to capture the wind on camera (oh goody, this sounds thrilling!). Overall though, this is a movie about absolutely nothing.

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#162 The Diving Bell & The Butterfly

Le scaphandre et le papillon
(2007, Julian Schnabel)

“Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralysed: my imagination and my memory”

In 1995, the editor of Elle magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, suffered a severe stroke and fell into a coma. After 20 days, he finally awoke, but while his mind was intact, his body was not. Entirely paralysed save for his left eye, he was a victim of “locked-in” syndrome, where a patient essentially becomes trapped inside a useless body. Not letting this get to him, he managed to “dictate” an entire memoir entirely through the help of a speech therapist, a series of blinks and a frequency-ordered French alphabet.

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