Thursday, June 13, 2019

Roubaix, une lumière / Oh Mercy!

Roubaix, une lumière. Léa Seydoux as Claude.

Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Country: France
Year: 2019
Duration: 1.59
Languages: French / subtitles in English
Original name: Roubaix, une lumière
Category: Arnaud Desplechin, Gems of New Cinema

Unifrance: "Christmas night in Roubaix. Police chief Daoud roams the city. Burn out cars, violent altercations... In the face of poverty, deception and distress, Daoud knows who is lying and who is telling the truth. Fresh out of the police academy, Louis has recently joined Daoud’s crew. Young, awkward and easily misled, he constantly misunderstands those he encounters. Daoud and Louis are confronted with the murder of an old woman. The old woman’s neighbours – two young women, Claude and Marie – are arrested. They are addicts, alcoholic, lovers… They terrify Louis. But Daoud never judges them. He speaks, he listens to them. With words, rising beyond the horror of their crime Daoud will find a way to give two murderers back their humanity." (Unifrance)

Mia Öhman (MSFF): "17 years ago in Roubaix, a run-down former industrial town located in Northern France near the Belgian border, a murder was committed. Léa Mysius and Arnaud Desplechin took a novel written about the murder and turned it into Roubaix, une lumière (2019). Director Desplechin was born in Roubaix and has set several of his films in the town."

"Also grown up in Roubaix is the fictional detective Daoud (Roschdy Zem) whose roots are in Algeria. His character has been likened to a modern Maigret as well as Porfiry Petrovich of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Daoud is a calm observer who trusts the justice system, understands his fellow humans, and is infallibly able to assess who is guilty or innocent. He roams the city paired with Louis (Antoine Reinarzt)."

"Two young women, Claude (Léa Seydoux) and her girlfriend Marie (Sara Forestier), are being interrogated as witnesses to a fire next door, but they are actually guilty of murder. Daoud seeks a motive for the deed and his investigations can feel either tormenting or enjoyable. Desplechin aims to depict police work as realistically as possible, so some of the film’s material is taken from a 2008 television documentary of Roubaix’s police station and all crimes covered in the film are based on reality." (MÖ)

AA: In this deeply moving film Arnaud Desplechin returns to his hometown Roubaix, now fallen to hard times after the downfall of its formerly prosperous industries. Its crime rates are breaking records.

Roubaix, une lumière is un film policier, and the police headquarters is the key location. We follow four investigations, including a case of a burned man, a case of arson, and a case of a runaway girl.

The toughest case is that of a murdered old woman. Two young women, witnesses to the arson case, gradually become main suspects.

Roubaix, une lumière does not belong to the thriller genre nor to the action genre of police films. It belongs to a realistic and humanistic trend in which the work of the police illuminates the social condition like in the Swedish tradition of Sjöwall & Wahlöö, nowadays prominently carried by television series such as The Wire.

Roubaix, une lumière is a film about a community suffering from crime and a police force carried by un esprit de corps. The team has a committed leader, inspector Daoud (Roschy Zem), who belongs to a venerable rank of fictional investigators, inviting comparison with inspector Lohmann (in Fritz Lang's M), inspector Maigret, and in Finland, inspector Palmu. All share a strong talent in intuition. All also share a special sense of milieu and atmosphere.

Arnaud Desplechin says that in the heart of the film is the mystery of inhumanity, and in this he shares an affinity with Dostoevsky.

Except for the four brilliant professional actors all members of the cast are non-professionals, essentially appearing as themselves. This audacious solution works perfectly.

My favourite sequence of the film is the reconstruction of the murder. We never see violent action, but Daoud invites the two young women to the old woman's house, and they enact their deed in graphic detail. Ultimately, this is a story of redemption, like in the classics of Hitchcock and Dostoevsky.

Sodankylä morning discussion with Arnaud Desplechin

Arnaud Desplechin in Sodankylä, 13 June 2019, in discussion with Timo Malmi and Satu Kyösola. Photo: Roxana Sadvokassova / MSFF.

Arnaud Desplechin in discussion in English with Timo Malmi and Satu Kyösola.
The School, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 13 June 2019.

MSFF: "As the French New Wave was blooming in the 60s, director Arnaud Desplechin was born in the small town of Roubaix, known for being the poorest town in France. During his childhood, Desplechin found his getaway from books and watching films on TV at his grandparents."

"“I was a sad child, far away from Paris. I was trapped in my house and just read books. Through them I could flee away.”"

"The ambiguity and complexity of images fascinated the young cinephile. Desplechin knew from early on that he wanted to work with films, but never thought he could achieve his dream from the periphery."

"“I was amazed that the adult world is giving tribute to things that belong to childhood. I wanted to be a director, although I didn’t know what this person does. It’s still a mystery for me.”"

"Against all odds and his parents will, Desplechin got to film school in Paris. Since the 1990s, he has made it as one of the most notable French filmmakers, creating cohesive and recognizable oeuvres. Desplechin depicts a certain lack of vision that has always existed, cruelty towards people who are unsure in the midst of life’s abundant offerings."

"“I am hiding myself behind each of my characters,” the director admits."

"Desplechin has gradually assembled his regular cast and crew, including Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Thibault de Montalembert, Emmanuel Slinger and even his brother  – Fabrice Desplechin. As we know from film history, this has been a necessary requirement for most great filmmakers in directing outstanding films."

"Desplechin’s recurring character, Paul Dédalus (Mathieu Amalric) is a similar icon to his director as Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel, repeatedly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud. Dédalus is a similar wanderer to Doinel, but from another generation: an unsure character that ponders on the existential, between education and companions. Besides having his main actors, Desplechin mixes different genres and actors from different backgrounds."

"“I also love to show that we are all diverse, that we don’t always fit together. I want to show that there are so many ways of being a human. Each of us has our own voice.”"

"Having escaped the small city life through cinema, Desplechin is still using the aesthetics of Roubaix in most of his films – like in his newest feature Oh Mercy! (2019), premiering in Finland at the Midnight Sun Film Festival."

"“I have certain directors I think when I wake up. One is François Truffaut, I was astonished by the art of his storytelling. But I’m particularly proud of having lived and embraced the premiere of Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander and (Lanzmann’s) Shoah. I was there at a right age, at a right time. These films shocked and inspired me at the same time.”"

"Desplechin mentions also Frederick Wiseman, Claude Lanzmann, Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman as important influencers to his filming career. But if just one movie should be chosen on a deserted island, Desplechin would choose The Age of Innocence by Martin Scorsese."

"“I wouldn’t take Shoah with me, because it is quite depressing… But I could take The Age of Innocence, since it contains beautiful characters. It fulfills your eyes.”" MSFF press release


Velipekka Makkonen / MSFF:Arnaud Desplechin (b. 31.10.1960) is the most lauded of the French filmmakers who began their careers in the 1990s, but also the most notable for several reasons. One reason being that he has created a cohesive oeuvre, an easily recognizable idiom and gradually assembled his regular cast and crew. As we know from film history, this has been a necessary requirement for most great filmmakers in directing outstanding films. In Desplechin’s age group, there are many filmmakers with films that are easy to like but not as easy to grasp, as they don’t as effortlessly reflect the personality of their directors.

Desplechin’s first two films, La vie des morts (1991) and Le sentinelle (1992) already gained wide-spread and deserved attention, but his third, Comment je suis disputé… (ma vie sexuelle) (1996) fully revealed his personal relationship to the film. He introduced his recurring character, Paul Dédalus (a likely tribute to James Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Dedalus), played by Mathieu Amalric. Paul seems to be a similar icon to his director as Antoine Doinel, repeatedly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, to François Truffaut.

Paul Dédalus is a similar wanderer to Antoine Doinel, but to the third power. He is from another generation and getting an academic education. He doesn’t know whether he wants to write his thesis or to sleep with a woman, and he is also unsure of which woman to sleep with. Why plan for the future, when you don’t know what that is? Other people take hold of their futures, moulding it to their image. Paul Dédalus isn’t one of those people.

It is a question of worldview. Desplechin depicts a certain lack of vision that has always existed, helplessness when faced with all the options. Cruelty towards people who are unsure in the midst of life’s abundant offerings.

Here, the director adheres to the robust tradition of French Cinema, the apparently foremost representative for him being Jean Renoir. Renoir was an all-round filmmaker who rarely subjected himself to any lack of vision. Some kind of model for Paul Dédalus seems to be found in Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux, 1932); Michel Simon’s fabulous turn as Boudu, the clochard who is taken in a bourgeois home and immediately begins to make advances towards both the maid and the mistress of the house. Altogether, his uncontrollable antics turn the house upside down in the matter of moments. Another film, this one much imitated, is The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu, 1939), which didn’t gain wide popularity until the beginning of the 1960s and was then voted many times over the greatest masterpiece of French Cinema. It is about the turning point for the French bourgeoisie on the cusp of World War II. The setting is a hunting trip and a grand ball held in its honour, during which the masters and servants are fatefully mixed up. A central character is Octave, played by Renoir himself, who effortlessly criss-crosses between the classes. The line that has become the film’s motto is: ”The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.”

It is the motifs of these two films that Desplechin seems to creatively use in his films, even if class conflicts appear to have waned into something different from Renoir’s time. The exception to this is A Christmas Tale, which is a cruel portrait of these conflicts. – Velipekka Makkonen / MSFF

AA: A wonderful morning discussion with Arnaud Desplechin, although the event suffered greatly from being conducted in English instead of French.

Q: The first film you saw?
A: "A Disney film. Among the earliest films was also The Jungle Book. Early memories also include Marnie and La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc."

Excerpt: L'Aimée (2007). The excerpt is deeply moving, as moving as any fiction film; it is a family story from Roubaix, 26 August 2006.

A: "My only documentary. Like Truffaut, 'I'm against the documentary', although I love Fred Wiseman, and Claude Lanzmann, who was a close friend. "

"I spent three years reading James Joyce's Ulysses". Paul Dédalus becomes an alter ego in Desplechin's films, and central is Dedalus's relationship with mother, starting with the tension with Buck Mulligan. "Some of my heroes have a terrible relationship with their mother".

"I have no memories of childhood. I was just reading books, preparing for the IDHEC. I hated sport."

Q: You wanted to flee Roubaix. In your films you constantly return to Roubaix.
A: "It's like Philip Roth and Newark. When you visit Newark, there is nothing to see. In a Sacha Guitry film of the 1930s there is a curse about being fired and ending up in Roubaix, as the end of the world. I'm proud of this curse. The old houses have complicated house plans. They look like a maze. They can be a setting for a Strindbergian chamber play. Like Ingmar Bergman's Saraband which is an absolute miracle. My father's only connection with his mother was the childhood home: the house, the labyrinth."

"There is a strong North African community. Roubaix, une lumière for me is like The Wrong Man was for Alfred Hitchcock: a special film based just on facts. In my new film everything is real, which is new for me."

Q: Tell me about your reading.

A: "Encyclopedias, histories of the cinema, the subversive cinema. Native people, native Americans, Westerns, classics."

"I hated the theatre. But after the film school I read plays and I read about the theatre: Strindberg, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Musset, Pagnol: how to write dialogue."

"Dédalus is autobiographical. By the way my mother is still alive. I'm hiding behind each of my characters."

"In Roubaix there may be nothing to see, but with the art of placing the camera Roubaix acquires appealing, mysterious, novelistic qualities".

Excerpt: Un conte de Noël. The beginning. Strongly moving.

"It's a play about the sense of loss. How to tell such a story and sell tickets? Together with Éric Rochant I saw Orson Welles when he visited la Cinémathèque française. He asked the audience: 'Who wants to become a film director?' Everybody raised their hands. Then he asked: 'Who wants to be an entertainer?' Me and Rochant were the only ones. "

"I was inspired by the grave of Waldo, the first son of Emerson. A Christmas fairy-tale of a different kind."

Q: IDHEC, now La Fémis.

"It was not only a disappointment. It was war. They had to close the school. There was no interest in New Hollywood. 'Raging Bull is not properly shot'. We then made films together without teachers."

"New Wave is now not very popular in France. But we had the same conflicts with the previous generation. We were young rebels, together with Éric Rochant and Pascale Ferran. We were unemployed at first."

"Unemployment is not so terrible. I read three novels a week. We were poor and happy. It was wonderful, a great opportunity."

"I'm not sure you can teach something about film-making. Theatre direction requires a lot of experience. I have now directed for la Comédie-Française."

"Cinema is not logical. It's absurd. It's like love. There is a rebel aspect. You learn on the street. Meet people, see films, and discuss."

"I'm scared about the new generation. There is a lack of curiosity about the past."

Excerpt: Esther Kahn. Another stunning sample: the audition at the theatre school: Ian Holm meets Summer Phoenix.

"Directing actors I don't talk that much. As a director I'm heavy, harassing them. We are not pals in private life. In real life I can do Louis de Funes impressions all the time. As a director I'm overacting, taking all the shame on my shoulder. I jump into the freezing swimming-pool, and they are glorious. I overact in front of all the actors."

"I agree with André Bazin's defense of the impure cinema. I love to show the fact that we are so diverse."

Excerpt: Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle).

"The discovery of Mathieu Amalric took place in a long casting process. He is never afraid of looking ridiculous on the screen."

Excerpt: Rois et Reine.

"Mathieu is a hard worker. He cannot dance to black music. We grew together. A relationship based on friendship and equality. Amalric gave me freedom to experiment."

"I am anti-Panofsky. I don't believe in realism at all. Realism is an ideology. I select moments when life is exceptional. Cinema is telling something deeply true. Boredom is an illusion of common life. Life is fascinating. Realism is the illusion that life is a bore. The same moment can be subtle and extreme."

Q: Writing dialogue.

"A good line is a surprise. A good line is like an enigma. I never improvise. Only non-actors are allowed to improvise in Roubaix, une lumière.

Q: Dialogue tender and acid.

"Ingmar Bergman: Scenes from a Marriage. The scene where Erland Josephson announces out of the blue that he is leaving Marianne with another women to Paris tomorrow. A damage you cannot change later. Words are acts. Words you can kill with. Words you cannot take back. You can transform any word into action. Showing the photo of the rival."

"I saw Fanny and Alexander at the right moment in my life. I have revisited it endless times, the long version and the short version. Sven Nykvist."

"Shoah. These are two films I am proud to have received at the right time."

Q: Directors.

"There are so many. There are not so many.

"Truffaut I think about each morning, each evening. Today I see the fire hidden in Truffaut. The art of storytelling. Scorsese: haunting. Truffaut: subtle. Adèle H. The feeling is so violent. Les deux Anglaises et le continent. The burning feeling, the hidden fire. I worship that art."

Q: Godard?

"I'm more ambiguous. I have a problem. Making a film you should acknowledge the fact that in front of the camera is a human being. While filming, you pay tribute to someone. Godard has a difficulty of a relationship with a human being."

Q: Mise-en-scène.

"I don't know what that is."

"Marguerite Duras: le cinéma est du son".

"Marcel Pagnol was just listening to the actors. He did not look. Regain is a great film."

"Each one has obsessions about movements of the camera. Coppola improvises. Each director has his own definition. There is no one definition.

Q: Desert island film.

A: The Age of Innocence, if not Casino.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Synonymes. With Tom Mercier (Yoav), Quentin Dolmaire (Emile), and Louise Chevillotte (Caroline).

מילים נרדפות
France / Israel / Germany 2019
in French, 123’ · Colour
    Nadav Lapid
    Nadav Lapid, Haïm Lapid
Director of Photography
    Shaï Goldman
    Era Lapid, François Gédigier, Neta Braun
Sound Design
    Sandy Notarianni, Christophe Vingtrinier
    Marina Kertesz
Production Design
    Pascale Consigny
    Khadija Zeggaï
    Noa Yehonatan
Assistant Director
    Justinien Schricke
    Stéphane Batut, Orit Zulay
Production Manager
    Marianne Germain
    Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt
    Osnat Handelsman Keren, Talia Kleinhendler, Janine Jackowski, Jonas Dornbach, Maren Ade, Olivier Père, Rémi Burah
    Pie Films, Tel Aviv
    Komplizen Film, Berlin
    Arte France Cinema, Issy-les-Moulineaux
Tom Mercier (Yoav)
Quentin Dolmaire (Emile)
Louise Chevillotte (Caroline)
    DCP with English subtitles by Simon John seen at The School, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 12 June 2019

Berlinale 2019: "In Paris, things do not exactly get off to a good start for Yoav. He knocks on the door of a flat, only to discover the place is empty and, while he is taking a bath there, his things are stolen. Yet this young Israeli had arrived with such great expectations. He is determined to get rid of his nationality as quickly as possible. For him, being Israeli is like a tumour that has to be surgically removed. Becoming French, on the other hand, would quite simply mean his salvation. In order to erase his origins, Yoav first tries to replace his language. From now on, he will not utter a single word of Hebrew. The dictionary becomes his constant companion. The necessary visits to the Israeli embassy annoy him; he finds his compatriots to be a total burden. But the naturalisation test also has its pitfalls. And the young French couple whom he befriends has some rather strange ideas about how to help him."

"Based on his own experiences, Nadav Lapid explores the challenges of putting down roots in a new place. His attempt to find himself awakens past demons and opens up an existential abyss. A tragicomic puzzle that wisely knows how to keep its secrets."

"Biography Nadav Lapid: Born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1975, this director and screenwriter studied philosophy at Tel Aviv University. After military service, he moved to Paris before returning to Israel to take a degree at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem. His short film Kvish (Road) screened in the 2005 Panorama. His debut feature film Policeman won the Special Jury Prize at Locarno in 2011 while The Kindergarten Teacher featured in the 2014 Semaine de la Critique at Cannes. In 2015, Lama? (Why?) screened in Berlinale Shorts. He is a recipient of the French Order Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres."

Filmography: 2003 Proyect gvul; short film 2005 Kvish (Road); short film 2006 Ha-chavera shell Emile (Emile’s Girlfriend); short film 2011 Policeman 2013 Footsteps in Jerusalem; documentary 2014 The Kindergarten Teacher · Love Letters to Cinema; short film · Lama?; short film 2016 The Diary of a Wedding Photographer; short film 2019 Synonymes (Synonyme)
. Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2019

AA: A deeply unsettling Israeli drama about a young man, Yoav who has left Israel for good and is now settling in Paris. In the beginning he literally loses everything. He is naked and without any possessions like a newborn baby, and he starts learning French as a foreign language with the help of a pocket dictionary from which he discovers synonyms.

The approach is close to subjective. We experience things from Yoav's perspective, and there is no solid alternative perspective. Yoav is deeply disturbed, probably due to experiences in the Israeli military, but we do not learn the cause of his trauma. Yoav is constantly contradicting himself. He says that he is being persecuted by Israeli security forces, yet he seeks a job in the security of the Israeli General Consulate. There he refuses to speak Hebrew. In an action sequence involving the head of Israeli special operations there is a sense that Yoav has a past with that very unit. He certainly has the physique of an elite soldier.

Yoav is saved by the generous and original duo Émile and Caroline. They form a bi-romantic triangle, and Yoav and Caroline marry so that Yoav can stay in France as a French citizen. Émile is a writer, Caroline studies the oboe at the conservatory. Music is important in many ways. Besides the oboe piece Caroline is practising, Elgar's cello concerto, Mendelssohn's violin concerto, "Pump Up The Jam", "La Marseillaise" and "Hatikvah" are among the key themes.

An anthology piece in the movie is the French class for foreigners. The teacher (Léa Drucker) has a tough drill sergeant's stance in hammering the basics of French language, society and culture to the skulls of immigrants from all over the globe. The blood-thirsty lyrics of "La Marseillaise" sound particularly revolting in this context. On the other hand, everybody gets to sing songs in their respective languages. In many ways, the theme of language is central, as announced in the title of the film.

Associations run deep into history. Yoav's grandfather has arrived to Palestine from Lithuania. A constant reference is the battle of Hector and Achilles in The Iliad.

The role of Yoav is a remarkable breakthrough for Tom Mercier. In this assured debut role he displays a formidable range of expression from madness to serenity, from violence to compassion. He is comfortable in the nude, even in sequences where he performs for a pornographic film producer.

Yoav experiences a final nervous breakdown when the porn producer's female star, Yasmine from Lebanon, refuses to perform with him.

There is an original approach of black comedy in Synonymes, a disturbing film about a disturbed man.

Synonymes is an incoherent text which needs and deserves to be revisited.

The Great Buster: A Celebration

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Country: USA
Year: 2018
Duration: 1.42
Languages: English / no subtitles
Original name: The Great Buster
Category: Documentary Films, Gems of New Cinema, History of Cinema
    DCP viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), The Big Top, 12 June 2019.

MSFF: "This tribute to the master of silent film which won Best Documentary on Cinema in Venice is only the third documentary in Peter Bogdanovich’s long career; his first one covered the life and career of film director John Ford."

"The Great Buster: A Celebration is a compact package of the life and works of another American film genius – and delivers exactly what the title promises. The celebratory film proves that Keaton was a survivor whose stoic attitude got him through hardships in both life and career. Keaton kept working until the end and lived long enough to see his reputation redeemed as a celebrated guest at film festivals. Already in 1960, Keaton was honoured with a special Academy Award."

"In this documentary, Werner Herzog names Keaton one of the great inventors of cinema. Norman Lloyd, 104, gives a testimony of seamless co-operation between Keaton and Chaplin. Historian Leonard Maltin says Keaton is the special effects in his films. The younger commentators admire Buster’s ability to produce physical comedy that is comparable to ballet. Jon Watts considers the latest Spider-Man inspired by Keaton’s capability to act through his eyes."

"Bogdanovich first presents Keaton’s short films before moving on to his downhill spiral. After selling his production company, the independent film maker was reined by MGM and lost his quality touch. However, the documentary finishes with Keaton’s dozen feature films to test the viewer; if you laugh, you’re still alive." (HB) MSFF

AA: I love Peter Bogdanovich as a film historian, fiction film director (The Last Picture Show) and a documentary film director (Directed By John Ford).

Of Buster Keaton documentaries, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow (1987, 160 min) is a hard act to follow.

Produced by the Cohen Collection, The Great Buster suffers a bit from a conventional dvd bonus feature approach. There are too many unnecessary celebrity soundbites.

But from this documentary I learn many things that are new to me or that I had forgotten. Especially Buster Keaton's television career is richly illustrated, including his television commercials which are often very funny. Sampled is also his interpretation in The Awakening, based on Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat, a reminder of the fact that Keaton was also a very good straight actor.

The structure is chronological with the important exception that Keaton's ten great feature films are saved for the last. From Three Ages till Steamboat Bill, Jr., these ten masterpieces produced within five years are his most lasting legacy.

All Keaton's independent short films are sampled, from One Week till The Love Nest.

The Keaton legacy has been reconstructed and restored with great care during the last years. The visual quality of the samples reflects the highly variable status of the source materials. From the brilliant to the highly battered, all Keaton's independent films are reflections of a comic talent that is unique and extraordinary not only in the history of the cinema but in the history of world art.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Varda par Agnès / Varda by Agnès

FR © 2019 Ciné Tamaris – ARTE France – HBB26 – Scarlett Production – MK2 Films. P: Rosalie Varda. D+SC: Agnès Varda. 1st part codirected by Didier Rouget. Agnès Varda's artistic director: Julia Fabry. Images: François Décréau, Claire Duguet, Julia Fabry. Creation of the birds: Christophe Vallaux. S: David Chaulier, Alan Savary. ED: Agnès Varda with Nicolas Longinotti, chief editor. (Full credits beyond the jump break).
    DCP with English subtitles released by Cinema Mondo viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 2 June 2019.

In recent years we have been rewarded with distinguished testament movies by prominent film directors including Manoel de Oliveira's wistful Visita ou Memórias e Confissões (1981/2015) and Chantal Akerman's quietly devastating No Home Movie (2015).

Varda par Agnès is a joyful entry in this "cycle" of testament films. The director gives an irreverent overview of her career as a film-maker, photographer and gallery artist. There is a lot of new special background material about all stages of her career, surprisingly even about her first film La Pointe Courte (1954).

Agnès Varda was the mother of all the new waves, not only in France, but preceding the direct cinema and cinéma-vérité trends in Canada and the US, the Free Cinema in Britain, and the new waves of Latin America, Japan, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Nordic countries, and Iran.

Amazingly, she never lost her youthful spirit as we can see in Varda par Agnès which had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2019, a month before her death in March 2019.

All the highlights are on display: the Faulknerian debut La Pointe Courte, the enchanting Cléo de 5 à 7, and the existentialist "comeback" film Sans toit ni loi, after which Varda in my opinion wandered in the wilderness and experienced a creative crisis. There was a five year break in her career as a film director.

With the new millennium and the adoption of digital cameras she came back again and did some of her greatest work, starting with Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse, for me her masterpiece.

In Varda par Agnès we also get fascinating glimpses of her less known work such as Oncle Yanco where Tom Luddy takes her to meet her uncle Jean "Yanco" Varda in San Francisco. We also visit Black Panthers in Oakland, experience free love in Lions Love and see a pioneering documentary on graffiti in Mur murs.

We hear key songs such as "My Body Belongs To Me" from the feminist musical L'une chante l'autre pas, and "Sans toi" sung by Corinne Marchand with Michel Legrand at the piano in Cléo de 5 à 7.

To the end Varda was looking ahead and formed a creative collaboration with the "photograffeur" JR in Visages villages.

Beaches are a recurrent motif in this poetic testament (Varda loves beaches and hates walls). The finale is about tide and ebb, wind and sand. The director disappears in the blur. A beach is also always a new beginning. I'm reminded of the Japanese visitor's remark in Jim Jarmusch's Paterson: "An empty page is full of possibilities".

A high visual quality in the digital presentation. Evidently the digitization of Agnès Varda's films has been conducted with good taste and judgment.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

79 primaveras / 79 Springs

79 kevättä
CU 1969. PC: El Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). D+SC: Santiago Álvarez. Poems: Ho Chi Minh and José Marti. Cin: Ivan Nápoles. Design (diseños): A. Fernández Reboire. Trick photography (trucaje): Jorge Pucheux, Pedro Luis Hernández, Pepin Rodriguez, Santiago Peñate). S (edición de sonido y musicalización): Idalberto Galvez. S recording (grabación de exteriores): Raúl Pérez Ureta. S engineer: Carlos Fernández. ED: Norma Torrado. Negative cutting (corte de negativo): Rosalina Saavedra. Translation of poems: Félix Pita Rodriguez. Archival material: Estudios Filmicos de Hanoi. VET 16.2.1970 – 78237 – 670 m / 24 min
    M: Silvio Rodríguez.
– "Section 43" (Country Joe McDonald) rec. Country Joe and the Fish 1966*
– "Sinnerman" (trad. gospel arr. Nina Simone) rec. Nina Simone 1965
– "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (Doug Ingle) rec. Iron Butterfly 1968
– "L'Internationale" (Pierre De Geyter, 1888)
– "Tiến Quân Ca" / "Song of Advancing Soldiers" (Vietnam's National Anthem, Văn Cao, 1944)
– "La era está pariendo un corazón" (Silvio Rodríguez, 1968) perf. Omara Portuondo tbc
– "Anchors Aweigh" (Charles A. Zimmermann, 1906)
– J. S. Bach: Tripelkonzert a-Moll BWV 1044: Allegro c a-Moll (ca 1716).
    Featuring: Ho Chi Minh, General Võ Nguyên Giáp, Ton Duc Thang, Nguyen Luong Bang, Aleksei Kosygin, Fidel Castro, Li Hsien-nien, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, many revolutionary leaders at the funeral.
    Languages: Spanish, Vietnamese.
    KAVI 35 mm print screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), with a translation into Finnish by Anita Mikkonen or Mari Halonen, e-subtitles operated by Petteri Kalliomäki, 30 May 2019

Revisited 79 primaveras, a memorial of Ho Chi Minh, a communist agitprop film, an experimental film, a montage film, a psychedelic film, a trick film, an obituary in the form of a poem.

Still haunting, mesmerizing, hypnotic, shocking, surprising, reverent and irreverent.

The theme of death is conveyed via transitions from positive to negative. 

Flower power. 79 primaveras starts with time lapse images of screaming flowers opening, followed by napalm bombs falling in slow motion, the explosions juxtaposed with flowers.

The musical montage from Silvio Rodríguez, including acid rock from Country Joe and the Fish, a passionate Nina Simone spiritual, and an organ solo from Iron Butterfly is electrifying. Santiago Álvarez plays film like Hendrix played the guitar; in the finale he even burns his instrument just like Hendrix did. But in the finale the soundtrack does not underline what is on view. Instead, in stunning contrast, we hear jubilant Baroque music in the style of the Brandenburg Concertos from the Weimar / Köthen period of J. S. Bach (the composition is in fact the Triple Concerto 1044).

We follow the stages of life of a humble and committed leader. He defies history's biggest military power who has sworn to bomb Vietnam back to stone age. We know who won. This saga belongs with Herodotus's account of Thermopylai and Salamis. A little people with a grand spirit can survive an overwhelming aggressor. A place of honour next to Ho is given to General Giap, the "Red Napoleon", one of the greatest military strategists in history.

The film starts in high gear and escalates in furious crescendo to a shattering finale of material cinema. The film breaks down, images flow in parallel split-screen montages, and sprocket holes and edge marks become visible. It is a cinematic thunderstorm and a lament of the state of the socialist movements. Seen now, the finale can be seen as a prophecy of the fall of socialism, stagnated, ossified and unable to develop, betrayed by the bureaucratic, despotic, corrupt and power-greedy dictators.

The print has been well-loved, screened certainly for a thousand times, but the slightly battered quality does not prevent a very good experience of this film which indeed is like a battlefield. The print was complete at 24 minutes.

* Music historian Richie Unterberger praised "Section 43", saying its "Asiatic guitar, tribal maracas, devious organ, floating harmonica, and ethereal mid-sections of delicate koto-like guitar picking rivaled the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's East West as the finest psychedelic instrumental ever". Unterberger, Richie (2003). "Eight Miles High: Folk-rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock". Backbeat Books. pp. 26–30. ISBN 0879307439. (Wikipedia)

Peter von Bagh dedicated a chapter for 79 primaveras in his book Vuosisadan tarina: dokumenttielokuvan historia [The Story of the Century: a History of the Documentary Film, 2007, pp. 273–274]. His points include: 1) the irony of beauty in the opening, 2) the affinity with Dziga Vertov's Three Songs About Lenin, 3) the law of grotesque juxtaposition bringing to mind John Heartfield, 4) the wizardry of creating a rich account from modest, crumpled photographs, 5) the presence of the departed in the unfathomable sorrow.


Silvio Rodríguez: La era esta pariendo un corazón (song)

Silvio Rodríguez in concert 1968. "Fusil contra fusil", posted on YouTube by Silvio Rodríguez 3.7.2014. Screenshot by AA.

Le he preguntado a mi sombra
A ver cómo ando, para reírme,
Mientras el llanto, con voz de templo,
Rompe en la sala regando el tiempo.

Mi sombra dice que reírse
Es ver los llantos como mi llanto
Y me he callado, desesperado,
Y escucho entonces:
La tierra llora.

La era esta pariendo un corazón.
No puede más, se muere de dolor,
Y hay que acudir corriendo
Pues se cae el porvenir

La era esta pariendo un corazón.
No puede más, se muere de dolor,
Y hay que acudir corriendo
Pues se cae el porvenir
En cualquier selva del mundo

Mi sombra dice que reírse
Es ver los llantos como mi llanto
Y me he callado, desesperado,
Y escucho entonces:
La tierra llora.

La era esta pariendo un corazón.
No puede más, se muere de dolor,
Y hay que acudir corriendo
Pues se cae el porvenir

Debo dejar la casa y el sillón.
La madre vive hasta que muere el sol,
Y hay que quemar el cielo
Si es preciso, por vivir,
Por cualquier hombre del mundo,
Por cualquier casa.

Los Bunkers 1968
Songwriter: Silvio Rodríguez Dominguez
La era esta pariendo un corazón lyrics © Sociedad General De Autores De Espana S G A E

Finnish version:
"Luo aikakausi uuden sydämen", Finnish lyrics Liisa Alatalo, rec. Avaruuslintu (1978), album Siitä jossain päätettiin.

La primera carga al machete / The First Charge of the Machete

Ensimmäinen machetetaistelu.
    CU 1969. PC: El Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). P: Miguel Mendoza. D (argumento y dirección): Manuel Octavio Gómez. SC: Alfredo L. Del Cueto, Jorge Herrera, Manuel Octavio Gómez, Julio García Espinosa. Cin: Jorge Herrera – aspect ratio according to IMDb: 2,35:1 but the print viewed was clearly designed for Academy. AD: Luis Lacosta – construcción: Osvaldo Montalvo, Julian Ruiz. Cost: Maria Elena Molinet. Make-up: Carmelina García, Jose Aladro (confección), Magaly Pompa (maquillaje). SFX: Jorge Pucheux, Pedro Luis Hernandez. Pyrotechnics: Victor Stewart, Eloy escalante. S: Raul García. ED: Nelson Rodríguez.
    Asistentes de dirección: Maria Ramírez, Juan Carlos Tabio, Alfredo Tornquist. Anotadora: Yolanda Benet. Camera: Julio Simoneau, Alberto Menendez. Lighting: Rafael Gonzalez. Utilería: Orlando Gonzalez, Enrique Tamarit. Montador: Rene Varona. Title design: Rene Avila.
    Agradecemos la colaboración recibida de: Empresa basica del Cauto, Regional PCC Bayamo, Organizaciones de masas de Mayamo y Trinidad y Monteros del Cauto – Biblioteca Nacional – Archivo Nacional – Comision Nacional de Monumentos.
    M: Leo Brouwer. Canciones (música, letra e interpretación): Pablito Milanés.
    C: Idalia Anreus, Eslinda Núñez, Ana Vinas, Adolfo Llauradó, José A. Rodríguez, Omar Valdes, Rene De La Cruz, Miguel Benavides, Pablito Milanés, Raúl Pomares.
    Con la intervención de (por orden alfabético): Rigoberto Aguila, Idalia Anreus, Miguel Benavides, Carlos Bermudez, Lius Carreres, José M. Castiñeira, Aida Conde, René de la Cruz, Aramis Delgado, Raul Eguren, Roger Ferrer, Eugenio Hernandez, Daniel Jordan, Gabriel Lopez, Miguel Lucero, Adolfo Llaurado, Julian Martínez, Luis M. Martínez Casado, Eduardo Moure, Miguel Navarro, Frank Negro, Eslinda Nuñez, Alfredo Perojo, Raul Pomares, José Antonio Rodríguez, Felipe Santos, Juan Troya, Omar Valdes, Julio Vega, Ana Vinas.
    Intervinieron también: Rafael Amador, Arnaldo Aviles, Alberto Bertot, Luis Celeiro, Luz Clara Diaz, Guillermo Dominquez, Luis F. Dominguez, Dagoberto Gainza, Teresa Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Rafael Gonzalez, Rolando Gonzalez, Ramiro Herreros, Rosendo Lamadriz, Julio Medina, Cesar Milan, Carlos Padron, Miguel Peña, Felix Perez, Cristina Pino, Pedro Posada, Agliberto Quintana, Pedro Regueiferos, Jesus Requejo, Videlia Rivero, Arnaldo Rodriguez y Tete Vergara.
    Dedicated to: Michèle Firk – caida por la liberación de America Latina.
    VET 80625 – K7 – 84 min
    KAVI 35 mm print in Academy. Credit titles in English only. Spanish dialogue with English subtitles.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 30 May 2019

La primera carga al machete by Manuel Octavio Gómez is a historical epic about Cuba's War of Independence in 1868, featuring famous heroes such as Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, "Father of the Homeland", but most of all it is a history of the people.

It can be compared with epic films such as War and Peace, Birth of a Nation, Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, La Marseillaise, and October. In this comparison Gómez belongs with Eisenstein and Renoir. There is a vigorous epic drive in his film, and an engaging and passionate touch is brought by the troubadour Pablito Milanes, a singing guitar-player commenting the saga all through the noble and violent picture.

La primera carga al machete is an experimental film. It has been shot with a handheld camera and developed in very high contrast. The cutting is fast like lightning. The approach of the combat scenes resembles Orson Welles's Falstaff / Chimes at Midnight, but the handheld quality of the cinematography and the furious cutting make the battles impossible to follow. We only get a general sense of the desperate combat in which the Cubans' will of freedom proves stronger than the Spaniards's imperial might.

A still agreeable vintage Academy ratio print of a film with a severe visual quality. The high contrast resembles at times Xerox copies. The duration of the screening was 79 min.


Sunday, May 05, 2019

Gone to Earth (Blind Date with Nitrate at The Nitrate Picture Show)

Gone to Earth. Jennifer Jones.

Gone to Earth. The wedding cake. The Blind Date quiz image.

Lumottu veri / Villebråd.
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, UK 1950
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 110 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
Donated by Daniel Selznick (son of David O. Selznick), this print was in the family collection before it arrived at the museum in 1999. This is the UK version of the film, not the version released in the United States as The Wild Heart, which ran 82 minutes. Shrinkage: 1,05%

About the film
"Written, produced and directed by Messrs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the adaptation of Mary Webb's loamy novel... has all the makings of a masterpiece. Unfortunately, however, save for a fine beginning and a magnificent ending, the masters have gone to earth themselves, and there is a long deathly dull wodge in the middle when hunters, hounds and quarry appear to be sleep-walking in deep Shropshire mud. Beautifully coloured, it is as lovely a film to look at as I have ever seen, and when the direction deigns to be mobile it is infinitely rewarding."
– Virginia Graham, The spectator, September 29, 1950

"Experience has taught me to approach without enthusiasm the efforts of established Hollywood stars to portray essentially British characters. But Jennifer Jones's enchanting performance as that fey young country creature, Hazel Woodus, of Mary Webb's oddly harsh and cruel novel, almost vindicates past sad failures. Indeed, as she races barefoot across the Shropshire fields, her hair streaming behind her, like some mystic being from a quaint old folk tale, she must surely be exactly as the author imagined her when she wrote this story about a sensual child of nature who cannot find it in herself to resist the attentions of a demanding lover."
– M. H., Picturegoer, October 21, 1950

"Never have I seen the English countryside in its many moods so beautifully photographed in discriminating Technicolor."
– Maud Hughes, Picture Show, October 14, 1950 (NPS)

AA: "Gone to earth!" is a fox hunt term, meaning that the fox has been killed. Revisited Powell and Pressburger's haunting Technicolor tragedy in which a beautiful woman dies like in Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.


Like Rebecca screened at this festival last night, Gone to Earth is a film in which the will of the producer David O. Selznick clashed with strong auteurs, in this case, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Gone to Earth was a vehicle for Jennifer Jones who had just married Selznick. From her perspective the movie belongs into the context of Duel in the Sun and Portrait of Jennie.

Selznick, Powell and Pressburger shared a passion for Technicolor. In the Selznick continuum the glowing use of Technicolor can be linked with Gone With the Wind and Duel in the Sun.

From the Powell & Pressburger perspective the nature mysticism is also related with The Edge of the World, A Canterbury Tale, and I Know Where I'm Going! An erotic tragedy in a remote location was also on display in Black Narcissus, also starring David Farrar in the male leading role.


Gone of the Earth is a pantheistic vision about a nature child, Hazel Woodus, trying to protect animals in the Shropshire countryside. She is being raised by her single father. Her departed gypsy mother has left her only a book of spells.

Hazel is being chased by the squire Jack Reddin, but she marries a Baptist minister, Edward Marston, because of her vow at her mother's grave to marry the first man who comes for her. Aware of her vow and that she does not love her, Edward remains in a separate bedroom on wedding night.

Jack manages to take Hazel with him at her free will. Hazel is unhappy with the brutal Jack and his cruelty at animals. She comes back to Edward, but Edward's mother (Sybil Thorndike) then leaves home, and villagers come to complain about Hazel. Edward rises to the occasion, defends Hazel and takes all the blame. During the incident Hazel's pet fox escapes, and a fox hunt is going on...

Gone to Earth is Hazel's tragedy since it leaves her only unsatisfactory choices: a brutal squire and a minister dominated by his mother. For the minister, Edward Marston, it is a growing-up story: he stands up and defends his wife, defying his mother and the entire community. But it is too late.


The sense of nature is enchanting in this Technicolor saga shot by Christopher Challis on location in Shropshire. Gone to Earth was one of the first assignments in Challis's distinguished CV.

On display was the complete original British release version in a vintage Selznick estate nitrate print. It is a joy to view the landscapes, the sunsets, and the nocturnal silhouettes like this. There is a hazy, fuzzy quality in the general views, typical for Technicolor. Close-ups are pleasingly bright, warm and engaging.


Counsellor-at-Law (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Counsellor-at-Law. John Barrymore.

William Wyler, US 1933
Print source: UCLA Film and Television Archives, Los Angeles
Running time: 82 minutes
The film was not released in Finland.
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
The print is in very good condition, with little scratching and warpage. Despite overall stiffness of the base, the copy has an excellent look on screen. As it is an early sound film, the print has some volume issues printed in, but this can be adjusted in the projection booth. Shrinkage: 0.70%

About the film
“John Barrymore is to be seen in an incisive and compelling pictorial translation of Elmer Rice’s play, Counsellor-at-Law, which undoubtedly owes no small part of its strength to the fact that the screen script was written by the author himself. The film, which has succeeded Little Women at the Radio City Music Hall, moves along with lusty energy, the scenes being so complete that none of them seems a fraction of a minute too long.”
— Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, December 8, 1933

“John Barrymore gives us one of his most controversial portrayals in a film that has many claims to distinction. . . . The result is likely to give rise to much conflicting opinion. By sheer perfection of technique he contrives convincingly to suggest Simon’s sharp, legal mind, his generosity, his dread of being debarred when a political enemy gets the goods on him for faking an alibi and his blind love for an unworthy wife, while the spectacle of Barrymore in full eruption at least makes the personality vivid and interesting, which is all that matters, I suppose.”
— M. D. P., Picturegoer, January 27, 1934

“A veritable Hope Diamond of a movie is sparkling on the Palace screen! A picture that holds you raptly absorbed from opening to closing scene. You simply HATE to have it end! . . . The action speeds into the tensest sort of drama, resulting in a knockout finale that sends you tingling from the theater. Never has John Barrymore done anything as human, as many faceted, as vivid, as persistently appealing, as his portrayal of Simon. The fact that he is a Gentile makes his performance the more remarkable.”
— Mae Tinee, Chicago Daily Tribune, January 8, 1934 (NPS)

AA: Revisited William Wyler's Counsellor-at-Law, a film produced in his last period at Universal before he switched to Samuel Goldwyn. Having started at Universal with programmers, Wyler had by now advanced to prestige productions of high profile subjects.

Wyler mobilizes the mise-en-scène and the cinematography in this adaptation of the powerful drama by Elmer Rice, but never for a moment do we forget that this is a filmed play. It is good to see this and compare it with Wyler's future successes in filming plays in The Little Foxes, The Heiress, and These Three / The Children's Hour.

Together with Ben-Hur this film was the only one in which Wyler had an explicitly Jewish theme. The casting coup of John Barrymore is brilliant, unexpected and perhaps somewhat distancing, but it does make the film more interesting than an authentic ethnic casting choice might have been. Also Ben-Hur had Gentile casting: Charlton Heston.

On display was William Wyler's personal copy of a 1947 re-release print. The visual quality is stunning and exemplary, doing justice to the cinematography by Norbert Brodine. I may have seen this very print before because the last time I saw this movie was at UCLA's William Wyler retrospective in May 1996.

Dead Reckoning (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Dead Reckoning. Humphrey Bogart.

Kuumat paikat / Heta dagar.
John Cromwell, US 1947
Print source: Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA
Running time: 102 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
This copyright deposit print from the Library of Congress does show some changes with the audio track, as it switches from variable area to variable density midway through reel—listen for change in volume. There are slight emulsion cracks along the edges and a slight curl toward the emulsion, as well as intermittent edge creases. Shrinkage: 0.63%

About the film
“There are a lot of things about the script of Dead Reckoning that an attentive spectator might find disconcerting, but the cumulative effect of the new Humphrey Bogart slug ’em–love ’em and leave ’em picture at Loew’s Criterion is all on the good side of entertainment. Old ‘Bogey’ takes the drubbing of his cinematic life from a tough, psychopathic character who delights in ‘messing up’ his victims to the strains of sweet music, but the revenge our hero ultimately enjoys is a dilly and, correct us if we’re wrong, sets something of a new high in savage melodramatics.”
— T. M. P., New York Times, January 23, 1947

“In Columbia’s homicidal orgy now on view at the Earle, Mr. Bogart is cast as Capt. Rip Murdock, of the paratroopers, intent—after the first reel—on solving the mysterious disappearance of his sergeant, Johnny Drake, on the eve of receiving the Congressional Medal. Miss Scott is the languorous blonde, Coral Chandler, of whom Johnny prattled incessantly in both his day and night dreams—that throaty love song, purling from her gentle lips, the scent of jasmine in her hair, etc., etc. Between them, they churn up as sanguinary a yarn of violence and murder as ever compounded high nervous tension or challenged credulity.”
— Nelson B. Bell, Washington Post, April 18, 1947 (NPS)


Wikipedia: "In navigation, dead reckoning is the process of calculating one's current position by using a previously determined position, or fix, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. The corresponding term in biology, used to describe the processes by which animals update their estimates of position or heading, is path integration."

"Dead reckoning is subject to cumulative errors. Advances in navigational aids that give accurate information on position, in particular satellite navigation using the Global Positioning System, have made simple dead reckoning by humans obsolete for most purposes. However, inertial navigation systems, which provide very accurate directional information, use dead reckoning and are very widely applied."

"By analogy with their navigational use, the words dead reckoning are also used to mean the process of estimating the value of any variable quantity by using an earlier value and adding whatever changes have occurred in the meantime. Often, this usage implies that the changes are not known accurately. The earlier value and the changes may be measured or calculated quantities."
(Wikipedia). Dead reckoning in other languages: laskelmasuunnistus / död räkning / Koppelnavigation / navigation à l'estime / navigazione stimata / cчисление координат.

Revisited a film noir that I had not seen since September 1971. The director John Cromwell was a Hollywood professional whose career was interrupted by the black list, as was the one of Morris Carnovsky who plays the gangster boss Martinelli. Dead Reckoning is a Humphrey Bogart vehicle, and cast in the female lead as Dusty Chandler is Lizabeth Scott, imitating Lauren Bacall as closely as possible.

The heroes are war veterans, demobilized paratroopers: Rip Murdock (Humphrey Bogart), Johnny Drake (William Prince), and Father Logan (James Bell). 

The plot is convoluted. It is possible to make sense of it but I give up and get caught in the torrent. I receive the movie as something between L'Âge d'or and a straight gangster thriller.

There is a flashback structure (but in the middle the movie is reset into "real time"). There is voiceover narration (too much of it). The dialogue is hard-boiled.

It's a nightmare movie with brutal killings. Rip's face is beaten to a pulp and he barely survives a car crash. There is a whiff of jasmine before Rip is knocked out. There are subjective vertigo montages of losing consciousness when Rip is drugged or beaten. Rip's special weapons include fire grenades.

Dusty Chandler, who always wears jasmine perfume, is a treacherous woman who has conspired to have her husband murdered for his fortune. Dusty and Martinelli have framed Johnny for the murder. When Johnny seeks justice they have him murdered, too. Next in line is Rip who wants to bring Johnny's murderers to justice.

While suspecting Dusty Rip gets caught in her spell as well. In a brilliant film noir torch song sequence Dusty sings "Either It's Love Or It Isn't". Dusty confesses that with Johnny it was a one-sided love affair. "It happened to Johnny. It didn't happen to me. It never happens the way you want. It never reached the pitch" (the quote is approximate).

In true film noir mode the ambiguousness around the woman lingers until the finale. "Night blooming jasmine grows all over the country", is Dusty's defense when Rip suspects that it was she who clubbed him unconscious. After the lethal crash of the finale Rip recovers while Dusty perishes on her deathbed at the hospital.

In John Cromwell's direction there is no Liebestod approach like in Criss Cross. The romantic angle is tame, and the general atmosphere is balanced more towards a fundamental distrust in relationships, not without nuances of cynicism and misogyny.

Cromwell's touch is prosaic when material like this might be more effective in an all-out dream mode, in an uninhibitedly oneiric and romantic treatment.

It was a luxury to see a glistening vintage nitrate print displaying Leo Tover's film noir cinematography in its original glory.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Rebecca + Rebecca Screen Tests (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Rebecca. Judith Anderson, Joan Fontaine. Behind them, the portrait of an ancestor of Maxim de Winter wearing the dress that had been unforgettably copied by Rebecca.

Rebecca / Rebecca.
Alfred Hitchcock, US 1940
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 130 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: One of three prints donated to the museum in 1999 by Daniel Selznick (son of producer David O. Selznick), it has the original distribution company, United Artists, credited in the opening of the film. There is very light scratching on the emulsion throughout. Shrinkage: 0.60%

About the film
“No one knows better than ‘Hitch’ how to cast a Poe eeriness about a scene, how to use the commonplaces of life to deadly effect, how to isolate a detail so that it shouts drama in your face. From the opening shot . . . he builds up the mood . . . so that every stick and stone, every flimsy knick-knack about the house, has its place in the pattern that fire ultimately devours.”
— C. A. Lejeune , The Observer, June 30, 1940

“A practically perfect translation of Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling novel into a picture. All the old-fashioned charm, the mystery and the originality of treatment which characterized the book may be found in the talkie. . . England’s premier director has combined with Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in turning out a picture that ought to delight every person who has read the book and every person who meant to read it.”
— Daily Boston Globe, March 22, 1940

Followed by: Rebecca Screen Tests
Alfred Hitchcock, US 1939
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 10 minutes

About the prints: These tests, also donated by Daniel Selznick, show slight emulsion and base scratches with splices between takes. Shrinkage: 0.90%

About the film: Rare tests show actors and costumes tested for the production of the feature film. Look closely and you may recognize some of the costumes that were used in another famous film made in 1939. (NPS)


"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into her own again and little by little had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers, on and on the poor thread that had once been our drive. And finally, there was Manderley, Manderley, secretive and silent. Time could not mar the perfect symmetry of those walls. Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me that light came from the windows. And then a cloud came upon the moon and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of a past about its staring walls. We can never go back to Manderley again. That much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back to the strange days of my life which began for me in the south of France... " (The opening monologue of the Second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca).

Rebecca was a personal project both for the producer David O. Selznick and the director Alfred Hitchcock. For Selznick, it was another magnificent woman's picture after Gone With the Wind.

For Hitchcock, it was a meditation on the power of the past. Like in Vertigo 18 years later, and like in Psycho even later, a dead woman overshadows everything. In Vertigo, it's Madeleine, in this film, it's Rebecca. We never even learn the first name of the living female protagonist, the second Mrs. de Winter.

Rebecca is a masterpiece in the sub-genre of the Female Gothic, comparable with Jane Eyre in its use of the first person narrative and a male protagonist with a dark secret like Rochester. It is a brilliant variation of the archetypal Female Gothic narrative of the young and innocent woman entering a sinister house possessed by the past.

The second Mrs. de Winter is a stranger in her own home at Manderley. Scarier than her husband Maxim are the women, starting with her hostess Edythe Van Hopper in Monte Carlo. Mrs. Danvers incarnated by Judith Anderson does her best to make the new mistress feel unwelcome.

Revisited after many years the performances of Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier strike me as even greater than I remembered. They are full of wit, nuance, gravity, and humour. This is a Bildungsroman of a young woman developing from an awkward and clumsy outsider to a heroine of her own life. A turning-point is when she declares to Mrs. Danvers that "I am Mrs. de Winters now".

Finally it turns out that the splendour of Rebecca de Winter's household was only a facade. "I hated her, there was never a moment of happiness", confesses Maxim. That is why he has tried to find a genuine and honest woman in contrast to the glittering fraud of Rebecca.

Robin Wood has assessed Rebecca as a study in patriarchy. He finds ominous Maxim's observation that "It's gone forever, that funny, young, lost look that I loved" and also his quip that his new wife should never be thirty-six. Another way of looking at it is that Maxim has conflicting feelings of patriarchy and modern terms of relationships. The past is a nightmare, but honest and genuine feelings can save the future.

Heikki Nyman has commented on Rebecca's influence on Citizen Kane down to the significant detail (Manderley / Xanadu, the letter R / the letter K, the burning negligée case / the burning sled... ).

I have never had such a stunning visual experience of Rebecca before. The vintage nitrate print from the Selznick estate is clean, refined, and ravishing. It is interesting to observe that the original visual quality is hazy in the framing footage and establishing shots of Manderley.


The ten minutes of tests are moving and charming.

Joan Fontaine's forlorn looks in her four silent costume tests.

Nova Pilbeam and Wyndham Goldie in sound test footage directed by Edmond T. Gréville. She plays the role of the gauche and awkward young woman.

Anne Baxter at age 16 directed by Hitchcock acting with Reginald Denny. She is still too young.

The Nevadan (The Nitrate Picture Show)

The Nevadan. Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker. Photo: a frame enlargement from the print screened.

Nevadan kultarosvot / Duell i bergen.
Gordon Douglas, US 1950
Print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum), Vienna
Running time: 82 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
With 133 splices (all of which have been blooped), this rare Cinecolor print also shows some orange scratches where the two-sided emulsion was slightly scratched on the blue-green side. Shrinkage: 0.95%

About the film
“Westerns come out of Hollywood like a string of sausages from a meat factory. We like sausages, but we tend to take them for granted. Every so often, however, a Western comes along that is a fine specimen of its kind. The Nevadan, with Randolph Scott as a lean US marshal who ties in with an outlaw (Forrest Tucker) by way of recovering a quarter of a million in gold, is a prime example. It may not make any converts to horse-operas, but it will make those who enjoy them happy. Dorothy Malone cuts a trim figure on a horse, and George Macready and Frank Faylen are as obnoxious a pair of gold-hungry skunks as we’ve had around.”
– Edwin Miller, Seventeen, March 1950

“Ruggedness and realism, plus the employment of effective Cinecolor photography, have established several cuts above average westerns the sagebrush sagas being produced by Harry Joe Brown and starring Randolph Scott. This entry is no exception. It’s as tough as a rawhide latigo and as western as cactus. Where vigorous, action-laden, suspenseful drama is appreciated the picture should prove to be a certain hit. The story, through the introduction of several away-from-formula twists, transcends the stereotyped oater yarn; but the innovational angles are not projected at the expense of chases, gunfights, fisticuffs and the other desirable western ingredients.”
– Boxoffice, January 14, 1950 (NPS)

AA: A mighty good Western. Directed by Gordon Douglas, The Nevadan is yet another proof of how wrong we can go if we only follow the great auteur trail in search of good movies.

The Nevadan is a Randolph Scott star vehicle. Perhaps typically, I have been learning to know Scott by crabwalk: starting with Ride the High Country, proceeding to the Ranown cycle, then to films directed by André De Toth and Joseph H. Lewis, meanwhile realizing the distinction of Roy Huggins in his sole credit as a cinema-released film director.

The Nevadan is a Harry Joe Brown – Randolph Scott production for Columbia, and it seems that the Brown-Scott brand was a promise of quality. Scott did great work with others, as well, so he must have had a good sense in selecting his projects and assessing his strengths. Scott could often be bland, but I still also need to see his Paramount cycle of Zane Grey westerns. Henry Hathaway debuted in them and directed Scott to his breakthrough in stardom.

The Nevadan starts in medias res. The introduction is amazingly quick, taking largely place during the opening credits. The plot of the compact film is pretty complex, based on conflicts and tensions between four sets of partners. The distinction of the film is in its witty character studies and great ensemble playing. The granite-faced and ramrod-straight Scott understood to surround himself with actors livelier than himself: Forrest Tucker, Frank Faylen, George Macready, Charles Kemper, Jeff Corey, Tom Powers, and Jock Mahoney.

The story and the screenplay are by George W. George and George F. Slavin, and contributing to the juicy dialogue was none other than Rowland Brown, the director of the stunning pre-Code trio of crime films (Quick Millions, Hell's Highway, Blood Money) who had largely disappeared from the Hollywood scene during the Production Code but was still involved in selected high profile projets including What Price Hollywood? / A Star Is Born and Angels With Dirty Faces. I sense in the dialogue a special sting and a sense of humour that might be attributed to Rowland Brown.

A further distinction of The Nevadan is the strong female role of Karen Galt, a rancher who gets to know Andrew Barclay (Scott) when he needs to trade horses. Her cowboys try to trick him with a wild and untamed horse, but he impresses everybody with his prowess. Andrew, in turn, is impressed by Karen and tells her she seems "pretty sure of herself".

It's gratifying to see Dorothy Malone in an early leading role. She is a convincing rancher, and she interprets the Oedipal / Electra theme with a persuasion that helps understand why Douglas Sirk cast her in his two greatest films, Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels. The attraction between Karen and Andrew is based on a meeting of two independent spirits. She is no routine love interest.

The AFI Catalog editors report that they were only able to access a black and white print of The Nevadan, but today we saw a genuine vintage nitrate Cinecolor print from Vienna. The colour world is not perfect but it is expressive within its limitations.

Ihmiset suviyössä / People in the Summer Night (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Ihmiset suviyössä / People in the Summer Night. Eila Pehkonen, Matti Oravisto.

Människor i sommarnatten.
Valentin Vaala, Finland 1948
Print source: KAVI, Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti (National Audiovisual Institute), Helsinki
Running time: 67 minutes
Translation into English: Maarit Tulkki, live e-subtitling operated by AA.
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
This release print shows some wear and tear on the edges, but overall the quality of the image is good and any scratches do not detract from the exquisite Finnish landscape and people of the film. Shrinkage: 0.85%

About the film
“We have never before seen such a wonderful and delicate representation of Finnish nature. For that we can thank Eino Heino, who in this film has also depicted the people excellently and with great sensibility, and thus proved to be first among our cinematographers.”
— Toini Aaltonen, Suomen Sosialidemokraatti (Finnish Social Democrat), October 17, 1948 (translated by Taina Meller)

“Vaala has sensitively and warm-heartedly conveyed the novel, which is epically narrated but at the same time marked with intense empathy, tocelluloid. . . . This kind of inspired narration, steeped in the artistically poised personality of the director, we have been entreatingly and for long praying for. Valentin Vaala has now given us a movie that shows such artistic maturity, and after seeing it, one feels happy.”
— Raoul af Hällström, Uuden Suomen (New Finland), October 17, 1948 (translated by Taina Meller) (NPS)

AA: People in the Summer Night is based on an impressionistic novel by F. E. Sillanpää, a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1939. Sillanpää was usually lucky with film adaptations, and never more so than in this one.

People in the Summer Night belongs to an international category of the cinema known as the multi-character study, launched in Weimar Germany as the Querschnittfilm. Prominent directors in this mode include Duvivier, Preminger, Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Alejandro G. Iñarritú.

The excuse for the multi-character story may be an object such as a forged banknote passing from hand to hand in Tolstoy adaptations including L'Argent or a dance card with a list of partners in Un carnet de bal. It may be a Don Juan or roundelay story like Reigen (La Ronde). Or a search for an unknown mother like Broken Flowers.

The excuse may also be a location such as a hotel (Grand Hotel), ship, train, airplane or any vehicle on a perilous journey (Stagecoach). War and catastrophe films are often multi-character studies. In this film the excuse is the summer night, or, in fact two nights during a summer weekend.

Four storylines and some twelve characters intertwine, but Sillanpää's advice to the director Valentin Vaala was: "Remember that there is but one protagonist – the summer night!"

Aarne Laurila has observed that nuances of light are of the essence already in the source novel. "The narrative follows the movements of light. People in the Summer Night is the most musical of Sillanpää's texts".


Two years ago at the Nitrate Picture Show another Finnish film was shown: Restless Blood directed by Teuvo Tulio. Tulio and Vaala were schoolmates and lifelong friends who made their first four films together.

Their careers evolved in opposite directions. Tulio, "the wild bird of Finnish cinema", was an independent film-maker, no stranger to controversy. Some of his solutions may be seen as "exercises in poor taste" in the sense of John Waters.

Vaala became the house director of the venerable Suomi-Filmi company, the oldest film company in Finland, celebrating its centenary this year. It was the house of good taste, and Vaala became the paragon of good taste.

Vaala was a total film-maker. He had an assured sense of the mise-en-scène, paying close attention to locations and sets. He was a fine director of actors. He was Finland's starmaker number one. From the start he worked with top cinematographers. During 1941–1958 his trusted DP was Eino Heino whose wife, Emma Väänänen, was Vaala's actrice-fétiche, here in the role of the mother giving birth. 

Vaala's devotion did not stop when principal photography finished. He supervised the grading and the definition of light. He edited his films personally.

Already before his contract with Suomi-Filmi Vaala became the founder of an original style of Finnish urban comedy. He was a great women's director who liked to work with women screenwriters such as Lea Joutseno here. Joutseno was a bright actress who became a screenwriter and later a translator – like Regina Linnanheimo, the partner of Tulio.


Vaala was an ardent film buff and a lifelong cinephile. He loved René Clair, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra. I would compare him with George Cukor because he was equally good in comedy and drama.

Vaala's favourite director was Ernst Lubitsch. Affinities include a love of music and dance, a wit and spirit of expression, sparkling dialogue, a sense of humour and tender irony. People in the Summer Night is a rural story so there is little room for Lubitsch-style urban wit.

But great affinities remain: a fundamental sympathetic understanding of ambiguity and a general sense of the transience of life.

With directors like Vaala and Lubitsch, surface is never superficial. Schein is not far from Sein.

In the appreciation of such an elegant surface it is particularly rewarding to be able to view a first generation nitrate print. Nordic films of the studio era were as a rule struck directly from the camera negative.


In our Finnish old-fashioned mono culture Vaala was a stranger in many ways.

He was Russian in a deeply anti-Russian Finland.

His religion was Russian Orthodox in the most Lutheran Protestant country in the world.

He was gay in a country where homosexual acts were criminalized by the law.

And he made the most definitive native Finnish films such as this one.


The figure of the lumberjack called Nokia was unique in Finnish cinema for a long time. (Yes, Nokia shares his name with the famous cellphone brand. Nokia is an ancient name of a place in Häme where the story takes place).

Nokia is a lumberjack, but although he is gay, he is completely different from the lumberjacks of the cartoons of Tom of Finland.

Martti Katajisto gives a sensitive and moving performance of a man agonized by feelings he has a hard time making sense of.

[Based on my notes to the introduction for the screening].


I did not see the screening properly because I was sitting in the projection room of the Dryden Theatre operating the live electronic subtitling. I viewed the film from a long distance and through thick security glass. The projectionists defined the print as having been "well-loved" (probably it has been screened a thousand times), but with only four splices.

I have seen most of Vaala's nitrate era films in glorious nitrate but never People in the Summer Night because it happened to be the first Vaala nitrate title of which a safety screening print was created. The first screening of the safety print was a revelation of Vaala's genius for a young generation of cinephiles including Peter von Bagh. 

The English translation by Maarit Tulkki is accurate in every detail but fails to convey the distinguished flavour of the dialogue.

Strandhugg (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Strandhugg. Image:

Rantautua / [Hitting the Shore].
Arne Sucksdorff, Sweden 1950
Print source: Svenska Filminstitutet (Swedish Film Institute), Stockholm
Running time: 15 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 3 May 2019.

NPS: About the print: The print displays rich, deep contrast and very little scratches or damage. Shrinkage: 1.05%

About the film: A seaside poem by the Swedish master of short form whose nitrate highlights of past years’ festivals include the unforgettable Symphony of a City and A Divided World. (NPS)

AA: Strandhugg is one of the last of Arne Sucksdorff's cycle of 15 short films made before he directed his first feature-length masterpiece, The Great Adventure. As usual, this is a semi-documentary, and in this case there is a moving central performance of a young fisherwoman who experiences a bitter disappointment with a playboy on the beach. Each shot in this film is a work of art in itself, brilliantly photographed by Sucksdorff.

I watched the film from the projection booth of the Dryden Theatre and was not able to fully appreciate the quality of the print which looked brilliant even from a distance. Because I had never seen Strandhugg before I revisited it online where it is legally available in a handsome digital transfer: Strandhugg at

Nightmare Alley (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Nightmare Alley. Joan Blondell (Mademoiselle Zeena), Ian Keith (Pete, her alcoholic husband), and Tyrone Power (Stan Carlisle, the carnival barker).

Painajaiskuja / Mardrömsgränden.
Edmund Goulding, US 1947
Print source: UCLA Film and Television Archive, Los Angeles
Running time: 113 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
Although the print has several edge nicks and some splices, the overall image and sound quality are excellent. The blacks are saturated to give the eerie feeling of night shadows and life on the dark side. Wonderful resolution is seen in the details. Shrinkage: 0.60%

About the film
“Nightmare Alley sets out to prove, in an original setting, that though you can fool most of the people most of the time you will find in the end, quite simply, that dishonesty does not pay. It is nice to know that, at any rate in the film world, this principle still holds good. Mr. Tyrone Power rises from being a skillful circus trickster to reading written messages blindfolded in a night club, and then with the aid of an unscrupulous female psychoanalyst seeks fresh pasturage in the field of bogus spiritualism. It is here, while bringing spurious comfort to a naïve millionaire, that his fraudulence provokes heaven to justifiable anger. Cast into the awful darkness of drink, he ends up as a Geek, which is a half-man half-beast freak in a circus.”
— Virginia Graham, The Spectator, August 6, 1948

“Nightmare Alley is a harsh, brutal story told with the sharp clarity of an etching. There isn’t a really sympathetic or inspiring character in the show, but acting, direction and production values lift the piece to the plane of gripping drama. In spots it approaches the dignity of authentic tragedy. The picture will satisfy no demands for light entertainment, hence the box office is problematical and largely conditioned on the femme draw of Tyrone Power in the lead. The film deals with the roughest and most sordid phases of carnival life and showmanship. Despite the grim realism of its treatment, it has all the shuddery effect of a horror yarn.”
— Fisk, Variety, October 15, 1947 (NPS)

AA: Last night The Nitrate Picture Show ended with a Fox Technicolor musical. Today it begins with a Fox film noir made two years before.

Nightmare Alley was exceptional for all involved. Fox made fine films noir, but rarely of so dark and daring material. George Jessel, the original Jazz Singer, as a producer focused mostly on light entertainment. Tyrone Power was one of the studio's biggest stars best known for his roles in Jesse James, The Mark of Zorro and Blood and Sand. It was he who insisted on doing this film, and he demanded Edmund Goulding to direct. Goulding, best known as a women's director, had had a tremendous career starting as a screenwriter of Tol'able David, becoming a MGM house director working with Marion Davies, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford, then directing Bette Davis at Warner Bros. until he moved to Fox. There he directed the impressive Razor's Edge the year before, screened at this festival last year, also starring Tyrone Power.

The excellent screenplay is by Jules Furthman, based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. The film is well cast, and knowing Goulding's experience, it is not surprising that female performances are outstanding. Joan Blondell, who had had her breakthrough as a pre-Code star at Warner Bros., was just experiencing one of her comebacks (she never stopped having them: one of her last films was Grease); at Fox she had just appeared in Elia Kazan's debut film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Her role as Zeena is deeply moving. As is Coleen Gray's as the young and naive Molly who refuses to follow through the grand scam plan. The true adversary to Tyrone Power's Stan Carlisle is the psychologist Dr. Lilith Ritter impressively played by Helen Walker. "It takes one to catch one". Walker and Carlisle use their special skills for criminal purposes, but the upstart Stan is outwitted by Lilith.

Much of the special interest of the story is based on Gresham's intimate and detailed knowledge of the world he is portraying. Nightmare Alley belongs to the great carnival stories and it is also rewarding about mentalism, spiritualism, mind-reading, hypnotism, and "the spook racket". It is also a warning tale about the abuses of psychology, the possibility of criminal breaches in confidentiality. It is equally thought-provoking about the exploitation of religion. Like Orson Welles's F for Fake it is a film about the power of illusion with wide-ranging associations. With his mentalism Stan is able to move people more deeply than anybody else, although he is just a showman.

The tragic substance of the story is based on the fact that Stan has real talent and profound insight in psychology. He perishes because of his lack of ethics and professional discipline. He remains a charlatan, but he could have been more.

All this is conveyed brilliantly by Goulding and his team. Tyrone Power, often one of the cinema's "hollow men", succeeds here in a harrowingly tragic role. Although the material is sordid, the approach is not, thanks to the fundamental humanity of the performances. In this tale we are all victims of the Great Depression, trying to survive by any means necessary.

Lee Garmes, Josef von Sternberg's trusted DP, was currently also in favour of De Toth, Vidor, Hitchcock and Ophuls, also known as a "women's cinematographer". Here he displays his skill in film noir, displaying a darkness both physical and metaphysical. The brilliant UCLA print is mesmerizing to watch, conveying themes of illusionism and anti-illusionism in purely visual terms.

The screening of an authentic print confirms the original film's status as a masterpiece on the eve of a remake in pre-production by screenwriter Kim Morgan, director Guillermo del Toro and star Leonardo DiCaprio.