Movie Review – The Young Girls of Rochefort

The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

Undeniably, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a perfect masterpiece of filmmaking. But…I sort of loved The Young Girls of Rochefort more. Rochefort is a comedy in the classical sense, as opposed to the definition of a tragedy. Cherbourg is a serious story with a down ending, while Rochefort is very upbeat and does allow its characters to have a happy ending. Now one of those endings is more ambiguous than most films would deliver, but that makes it feel like a Demy movie. We don’t see our characters living happily ever after; we see them happy right now. Sometimes that’s the most you can ask for. Stories have to end, meaning we’ll never know if these characters stay happy. If it’s anything like real life, there will be a series of ups and downs, and you eventually learn how to appreciate the good moments.

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Movie Review – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

Masterpieces don’t happen all the time. Sometimes they happen, and people don’t realize they are looking at one. Other times, they know right away when they see it. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a true masterpiece of filmmaking. The script alone is a perfect plot, no fat; everything moves the characters forward, whether getting closer to their goals or having it complicated. There’s not a single second of wasted time on the screen, which says a lot for a film that is also spilling over with style. Oh yes, and every word in the movie is sung, starting with an exchange between a mechanic and a customer talking about the status of a car. Damien Chazelle boldly claimed this is “the best film ever made.” But is it?

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Movie Review – Bay of Angels

Bay of Angels (1963)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

From the opening credits, Bay of Angels explodes onto the screen. The energy of this sequence will propel the rest of the film forward, a visual representation of the distance between people, of long winding personal journeys intersecting with another’s, and even the overstimulated rush provided by gambling. Demy’s characters are always caught up in their passions, and women are found at the center of things. For the director, women seem to be the key for a man to feel life; without them, everything seems to fall into abject misery. Of course, that doesn’t mean life is going to be sunshine and rainbows with a woman in your life, but you will, if nothing else, feel something. These celestial figures light up every nerve ending, even if the sensation is searing pain.

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Movie Review – Lola

Lola (1961)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

The French New Wave was a dominant force in Western cinema in the post-War era. The various filmmakers associated with the movement (Goddard, Truffaut, et al.) left an indelible mark on how movies are made, but at some point, they faded into the background as other countries around the world started revolutionizing cinema in their own way. Jacques Demy was a French filmmaker, a little younger than the New Wave auteurs, whose best work happened after that attention had faded. He made some incredible movies, often inspired by Hollywood pictures but with his own flourishes added. His name would not be as well known as his older peers, but his work would resonate with certain modern filmmakers. Damien Chazelle cited The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as “the greatest film ever made” and heavily cribbed from it and The Young Girls of Rochefort for his La La Land. I think Demy deserves much more accolades for the brilliant remixing of film elements he presented in his work.

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Movie Review – L’Argent

L’Argent (1983)
Written & Directed by Robert Bresson

Money is essential for survival in our current system yet is the constant root of many problems. Theft is predicated on taking money from someone or stealing property that can later be sold for money. Homelessness results from not having enough money to afford rent/mortgages. Medical debt continues to explode across the United States. Inflation is driving up the prices of essential goods. As Max Bialystock once said, “Money is honey,” but it’s also a load of shit. Those with money essentially live in a different society from those who do not have it, able to transcend the Law and behave as they please. Those who must toil and labor are slaves to money, never able to take a break from working for more. Robert Bresson was a student of how humanity tortures itself and imposes strictures based on economic class. We saw this in Mouchette earlier this year, as a peasant girl is made to be the object of cruelty for so many. 

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Movie Review – The Phantom of Liberty

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
Written by Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière
Directed by Luis Buñuel

The comedy anthology film is a rare beast but experienced some popularity in the 1960s and 70s. Monty Python’s contributions are notable, sometimes using an overarching plot to structure the sketches or just featuring scenes that exist independently. Most recently, we have The French Dispatch as a prime example. I think these movies come out of the filmmakers having ideas that weren’t big enough for a feature film but not wanting to make short films as those aren’t as marketable. People want to see a movie, so you take all these little ideas, maybe create some links to move from one bit to the next, and release them that way. This is precisely what Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty is.

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Movie Review – Mouchette

Mouchette (1967)
Written & Directed by Robert Bresson

In the early days of cinema, movies were just filmed as stageplays. Over time, filmmakers came to develop a language of film, understanding that the camera could be moved closer or further away from the performers. There could also be cuts to different places or flashbacks in time. Today all of these things seem standard, but they are part of a craft and had to be developed. Robert Bresson was a French director who worked to break away from the performance-centered model of filmmaking and refocus on the techniques. He saw that many movies were just someone aiming the camera at a performance but not really saying anything through the craft. He came to refer to his actors as models, implying they were posed by him and more like props in the stories he was attempting to tell. It probably won’t surprise you to learn Bresson had no interest in the acting schools that were coming up in the 20th century, and he hated performances that stole away from the whole picture.

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Movie Review – Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Written & Directed by Chantal Akerman

Our lives are made up of rituals. We wake up, get dressed, clean ourselves, make food, and overall prepare for our day. This is just the opening of a single morning. There is comfort in ritual; repetition provides security because we can easily predict what happens next. The disruption of these rituals can upend all peace we feel, throwing us into a realm of conflict and volatile emotion. From a filmmaker’s perspective, it’s relatively common to compress and delete chunks of time that don’t flow into a structured narrative. You don’t often see a character going through every step of that morning routine on film; only the pieces the director or screenwriter has decided provide shorthand to understand a character or jumpstart a plot. Chantal Akerman threw all of this out the window to present an almost four-hour picture that, by focusing on tedium, illuminates a kind of life often discounted in the medium.

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Movie Review – Cache [Hidden]

Cache [Hidden] (2005)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Cache is a film nestled in modern French history, specifically the Algerian War. The French right-wing was becoming aggressive towards Algeria in the early 1960s. Algeria had been a colony since the mid-1800s, and its citizens had become tired of their abuses at the hands of the French. In October of 1961, the FLN, a nationalist political party in Algeria, called on their emigres in Paris to participate in a march. The police prefect Maurice Papon, who served in Vichy France, called on the police to take aggressive action against these protestors. The result was 200 Arab people being drowned or shot to death in the Seine. French authorities hid evidence and suppressed investigations in the wake of the massacre. At the time, only three deaths were admitted. By 1998, when reporters were given access to archives, the total death toll became clear.

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Movie Review – Time of the Wolf

Time of the Wolf (2003)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Throughout his career, Michael Haneke has been interested in how the media will present information or events versus what experiencing those same things would be like. He’s often pointed to the screen as a filter that blocks humanity’s perceptions of the actual emotional weight of trauma. Frequently Haneke protects his audience from the sight of violence but uses sound to make sure they do not forget the pain inflicted on a person. Time of the Wolf reads as a response to apocalypse-porn popularized by director Roland Emmerich starting with the blockbuster Independence Day. These ends of the world are almost always bombastic, full of massive explosions, and ending with humanity triumphing somehow. Haneke refuses to leave it like that, and so he went about making his own film.

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