Les Enfants Terribles (1950), Jean-Pierre Melville (screenplay by Jean Cocteau)
The Siren thinks of a certain romantic plot device as very French: One figure, usually a woman, is loved madly by several other characters, as in Jules et Jim, Les Enfants du Paradis, even La Règle du Jeu. Les Enfants Terribles, however, belongs to a subset, along with Les Voleurs and Les Amants du Pont Neuf. In these films, everyone is madly in love with one character, and the Siren has no idea why because she (in this case he) is a sexless, soul-sucking, nerve-grating drip. (Mr. C's equable response, when the Siren made this complaint: "Yes, and maybe that is what the films are about. Loving a drip.") The Siren recognized Les Enfants Terribles as a good movie, well-scripted and directed, hypnotic and splendidly individual. But the characters wore her to a frazzle.
[Nicole] Stephane dominates the film: She's like a baby Leni Riefenstahl petrified of losing her grip on her tiny kingdom. The last few reels get slow and hypnotic, until the ending builds up to a theatrical crescendo of emotion and climaxes with a tall screen clattering to the floor (Melville's idea). A truly unique movie, Les Enfants Terribles feels both insubstantial and overpowering, like Chet Baker singing "Let's Get Lost" to an empty ballroom.
--Dan Callahan, Slant Magazine
La sirène du Mississippi (1969), Francois Truffaut.
Despite the Siren's obvious affinity for the title, and several critics' insistence that its lousy reputation is undeserved, the Siren found this a Truffaut misfire. The film began well and the Siren was happily involved for about the first 40 minutes. But once they left the island of Reunion and Deneuve and Belmondo took folie a deux into high gear, suspense and finally interest withered and died. Deneuve does a very nice segue from high-toned con artist to plain old guttersnipe but her chic wardrobe kept undermining her. However, if you are an Yves St. Laurent fan the movie is almost worth it for the clothes. Almost.
At one point the couple goes to see Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar, a film that was hailed by the Cahiers du Cinema crowd. Walking out of the movie Julie observes that she likes it because it isn't just a Western, it's a love story. Truffaut wants people to leave his film thinking the same thing.
--Daniel Fienberg (of the fine blog Check the Fien Print )
La Marseillaise (1938), Jean Renoir
There's a small clip from this movie at the beginning of La Sirene de Mississippi, which prompted the Siren to dig out the DVD and watch. Now this was more like it. And finally a movie that doesn't overromanticize Marie Antoinette, too.
La Marseillaise lacks the irony that make Renoir's Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game true masterpieces, and its pacing is a bit uneven. Nonetheless, Renoir manages to create a feeling that one is actually witnessing the French Revolution. Because this film was intended for a French audience, details that would illuminate some of the actions for audiences in other countries are not explained. No matter. This movie communicates quite a lot. Vive la Revolution et vive Renoir!
--Marilyn Ferdinand, Ferdy on Film
La Fin du Jour (1938), Julien Duvivier Made the same year as the Renoir. Our esteemed colleague David Cairns has been evangelizing for this film for some time, even going so far as to give away copies. And the Siren can now deliver her verdict: David's absolutely 100% goddamn right. This is a great movie, with sinuous camerawork from Duvivier that bears comparison to Ophuls (and higher praise hath not the Siren). Plus astonishing performances from Louis Jouvet and Michel Simon. Now that she has seen it, the Siren herself feels quite evangelical about this one. And she isn't going to post an excerpt from David's review. Just go it read yourself. (And note, in the comments, David Ehrenstein comparing it to Make Way for Tomorrow and Tokyo Story.) Also, Gareth's excellent writeup here.
There is a Duvivier retrospective going on through the end of May at the Museum of Modern Art, and the Siren plans to make heroic efforts to catch a few. She hopes her New York readers do too. La Fin du Jour screens there on March 14 at 4:30 pm and Friday, May 15 at 8 pm.
A few links for the beginning of the week:
Director and Friend of the Siren Raymond de Felitta's City Island just won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. Raymond's comment: "Damn I'm happy." He should be, it's a warm, funny and quite lovable film.
Larry Aydlette has done another shape-shift and landed at The Demarest, a more picture-intensive blog with plenty to delight the eye.
Homework? Try mega-homework. Dennis Cozzalio's quarterly quiz has been up for two weeks at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, but the Siren has a doctor's excuse for being late. Honest...
The Siren has always thought of the Thin Man movies as more or less impervious to analysis, but Ed Howard tries to prove her wrong by tackling the fourth and fifth films in the series.
Ivan reviews one of the most depressing movies ever made, One Potato Two Potato. The Siren saw this as a kid and cried over it for days and days--and she had forgotten the title, probably due to PTSD. Just reading Ivan's summary of the ending made the Siren go hug her kids till they looked at her and said "What?"
A new(ish) blog, Silent Volume, is already going great guns but won the Siren's heart in part by posting about the unfairly maligned Revolutionary Road and the greatest silent of all, The Crowd.
Finally, the Siren is going into the Wayback Machine for this one, but she missed the Forrest Gump/How Green Was My Valley smackdown in March, with Mike endearing himself even further to the Siren by defending the greatness of the John Ford movie.