Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Film Capsule: Jacques Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us (1961)

Paris Belongs to Us (1961)
Directed by Jacques Rivette

Filmed over a period of years as the political paranoia of the 1950s gave way to the social and artistic retaliation of the 60s, the first feature by the one-time editor of Cahiers du cinéma plays like the spiritual commencement of the nouvelle vague, so prescient its perspective and sense of generational anxiety. Whether an outgrowth of this civil consciousness or simply a coincidental convergence of creative and cultural tides, the film even more impressively triangulates what can now be seen as Rivette’s primary thematic preoccupations. Amidst an eerily unpopulated Paris, a troupe of amateur actors rehearse Shakespeare’s “unstageable” play Pericles as gossip concerning a friend’s apparent suicide flowers into an invisible conspiracy of performative and political intrigue, leaving one idealistic student (Betty Schneider) to bear the weight of an ambiguous yet palpable post-war ennui. At once an urban morality play and a work of meta-cinematic interrogation, Rivette’s debut captures a city in the throes of transition as the past stubbornly yields to the demands of an evermore metropolitan modernity. (December 15, 6:30pm; December 18, 3:30pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Lynch/Rivette”) [BKMag]

Los Angeles Repertory Recommendations: December 2015


French master Claire Denis continues to work with a frequency rarely afforded her female contemporaries (whether in Europe or America), but her older films remain a rarity on the big screen, particularly in Los Angeles. It’s an unexpected delight, then, to see two of the director’s least appreciated films make their way to Cinefamily this month. A new 35mm restoration of Denis’ 1988 debut, Chocolat, has three remaining screenings (Dec. 4-6), while her 1996 film Nenette and Boni, receives a single-night showcase on Dec. 8 as part of the ‘La Collectionneuse’ series of classic French films. Together these two works encompass many of Denis’ thematic interests –– from the violence of colonialism, to the eroticism of the human body, to the nuances of feminine identity –– while likewise speaking to the depth and power of her ever-maturing and elusive stylistic vision.


For the past two months the UCLA Film and Television Archive has been showcasing some of their most beloved restorations –– everything from The Red Shoes to My Darling Clementine to Paths of Glory –– and the series continues through mid-December with some of its most tantalizing offerings. On Dec. 6, Barbara Loden’s seminal work of small-town neo-realism, Wanda, is appropriately paired with American iconoclast John Cassavetes’ debut feature, Shadows, while Dec. 11 brings together two even rarer works of micro-budget cinema: Billy Woodberry’s exemplary “L.A. Rebellion” title Bless Their Little Hearts and Efrain Gutierrez’s vital piece of Chicano heritage cinema, Please, Don’t Bury Me Alive!. And finally, closing out the series on Dec. 19 is an early-‘30s double bill of auteurist delights, with Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus –– starring Marlene Dietrich as a wife driven to unfortunate lengths to provide for her ailing husband –– proceeding the Ernst Lubitsch musical The Love Parade, featuring Maurice Chevalier as a philandering Count and Jeanette MacDonald as the Queen drawn in by the young man’s lascivious charm.


Buried amid the New Beverly’s genre and holiday-heavy December schedule is an essential 35mm double feature of lesser-known films from two otherwise storied eras of directorial titan John Ford’s unimpeachable career. Opening the evening on Dec. 30 is the 1934 WWI drama The Lost Patrol, starring Victor McLaglen and Boris Karloff as soldiers attempting to lead a splintered troupe across the Mesopotamian desert following the death of their commanding officer, while the back half of the bill is given over to the vivid 1955 Technicolor drama The Long Gray Line, in which Tyrone Powers’ reckless West Point protege is forced to personally and professionally mature on his way to becoming a storied military instructor.


A diverse selection of titles highlight a busier-than-usual month for the film program at LACMA. On Dec. 11, the museum finishes up their overview of Weimar-era German cinema with a digital restoration of Fritz Lang’s revered serial killer parable M, followed on Dec. 12 by a tantalizing 35mm presentation of F.W. Murnau’s silent chamber drama The Last Laugh. Meanwhile, the weekly Tuesday Matinee series features a quartet of Bing Crosby films, including the Dixieland Jazz chronicle Birth of the Blues (Dec. 8), the seasonally themed musicals Holiday Inn (Dec. 15) and White Christmas (Dec. 22), and, closing out the year on Dec. 29, the dark character study Country Girl, in which the iconic singer plays a washed-up alcoholic who uses his wife (Grace Kelly) as a pawn to keep his fading career afloat. [THR]

Film Capsule: Robert Bresson's Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945)

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945)
Directed by Robert Bresson

“I’ll have my revenge.” So vows Hélène (María Casares) in the opening moments of the darkly sumptuous second feature by the then-emerging French artist and aesthete. Spurred by the cowardly admission of her lover Jean’s (Paul Bernard) lost passion, Hélène’s quest for comeuppance quickly grows perverse as she attempts to lure her former suitor into a doomed romance with Agnès (Elina Labourdette), a young proletarian whose salacious past would, if discovered, bring shame to any potential relationship. The ensuing drama––both coerced and manipulated by Hélène, to ultimately futile ends––enfolds not simply vengeful maneuvering and situational irony, but also social satire and spiritual consciousness, rendering what would otherwise be a traditional melodrama into a modern morality play replete with near-metaphysical implications. And in that sense, the film is less an outlier in Bresson’s increasingly austere catalogue than a clarion call for a new way of considering human behavior and the frame by which such fate is made manifest. (November 27, 9pm; November 29, 3pm at Anthology Film Archives’s “Jack Smith Selects [From the Grave)]”) [BKMag]