The first movie listed here is the only stone-solid, mind-blowing masterpiece the Siren watched with her mother during this visit. But great as it is, the Siren's got a bit more to say about another, less celebrated film (doesn't she always?). So she's saving that last one for another post.
Play Time (in 70-mm at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center)
The Siren spent years refusing to see this movie in anything other than widescreen, which meant she'd never seen it. And here was the opportunity, smack in the middle of Mom's visit. It says a great deal about my mother that, told we were going to see a 1967 French movie with no stars, no plot and sparse dialogue, made by a director she'd never heard of and screening a good hour's commute from where I live, Mom agreed for all the world as though I'd said "Let's watch Auntie Mame on DVD." And of course, it was worth the years of stubborn patience, it was worth the journey, it was worth standing around the Walter Reade lobby while a sheepish projectionist explained that 70 millimeter can be a bit recalcitrant. The Siren's rendering the title as two words in honor of historian Rick Perlstein, who was urging Chicago residents to see it at the Music Box: "Motion, motion, motion. Even read it as two verbs, a double command: 'Play.' 'Time.'" The print wasn't pristine but the movie dazzles all the same, a stunning feat of imagination that turned the Siren into a kid at a birthday party, gobbling treats at top speed in fear she wouldn't get to it all in time. And in fact, she didn't; at several points a huge laugh from the audience alerted the Siren that she'd been concentrating on the wrong part of the screen. The only time the Siren risked the time it took to glance at Mom and see how she was doing was after Hulot locks himself in his friend's high-tech foyer, a feat the Siren herself once managed in a 19th-century New York building by forgetting a key. Mom was shaking with laughter. The Siren had always heard Play Time described as a satire, and that it certainly is, both pointed and accurate in showing how so-called modern conveniences have complicated the hell out of everything. But there's an essential goodness in this movie--if not flat-out optimism, then an allowance for grace, for kindness, for people to delight you no matter how lost and bewildered we all are. Monsieur Hulot eventually gets his meeting with his heel-clacking bureaucrat. Lovely Barbara does meet up with Hulot during the peerless restaurant scene. As the restaurant falls to pieces around him, the loudmouthed American businessman, far from running the staff ragged and gasbagging about French incompetence, turns calamity into a chance for a Boys' Own Treehouse; if only making Play Time had worked that way for Tati himself. When the lights came up, the Siren turned around to behold every member of the previously severe, holiday-weary audience wearing a huge grin.
What Mom said: "That's one of the best things we've ever seen together."
Bonus: Sheila O'Malley, the Balzac of the Blogosphere, seems to have the same hotline to the Siren's brain as Kim Morgan, where we come up with the same obsessions at the same time. Here's her take this very week on Play Time: "It does not bemoan the fate of modern man, it does not say, 'Oh, look at how we are all cogs in a giant wheel, and isn’t it so sad?' It says, 'Look at how we behave. Look at how insane it is. We need to notice how insane it is, because it’s hilarious.'" From Peter Lennon, who had a go at the English dialogue before Art Buchwald took over, here's an informative, if rather acrid, glimpse into the making of the movie. Finally, check out this charming Japanese poster at Adrian Curry's splendid Movie Poster of the Day.
Des Gens Sans Importance (Boxing Day)
Directed by Henri Verneuil, this 1956 mix of noir and social drama was the last of the Jean Gabin movies the Siren had lingering on her DVR. And, unexpectedly, it has a Christmas link: Gabin's youngest son awakens as his parents are fighting, walks in to see an empty Santa costume on the table, and says, in a voice of stunned disappointment, "Il n'existe pas, Père Noël?" And that counts as one of the LESS melancholy moments in this tale of how Gabin's harsh life as a trucker takes on a brief glimmer of romance when he falls in love with a truck-stop waitress (the improbably gorgeous Françoise Arnoul). Gabin was born to play weary, star-crossed romantics, and Des Gens is most elegantly shot, particularly in the night-driving scenes. The characters are fully, richly drawn; even Gabin's worn-out wife and bitchy daughter have their reasons. But, it must be said, the film is so relentlessly downbeat it makes They Live by Night look like Meet Me in St. Louis. Can be firmly recommended on the merits, but approach in full knowledge that it's going to depress the hell out of you.
What Mom said: "I'm going to bed."
The Happy Time (Christmas Day)
This was a rewatch of a movie that lives on the Siren's DVR until such time as it comes out on DVD (which may be a while; it's based on a play, which was turned into a musical, lord only knows what the rights look like). The Siren chose a movie she'd seen because she needed a palate-cleanser; she saw long ago at the urging of Karen Green, who knows. Set among French Canadians in Ottawa at the turn of the century, The Happy Time is nobody's idea of a forward-thinking depiction of gender roles. Still, it's delicate of touch and sweet of temperament. Sex is constantly present (it's basically about puberty, in the person of Bobby Driscoll as Bibi) but it's handled with wit, not a leer. (Maman to Grandpère, when he appears dressed for a night on the town: "You should be in bed." Grandpère: "It's only a matter of time.") The Siren loves the entire cast, but particularly Charles Boyer (of course, the Siren always loves him) as the benevolent Papa, Marsha Hunt as a beautiful, age-plausible Maman, Marcel Dalio (can you believe this cast?) as Grandpère and, as the womanizing Uncle Desmonde, Louis Jourdan, whose reaction to a full-force slap is the funniest moment he ever had on film. Tyrone Power's bride Linda Christian is here too, surviving a bad blonde haircut almost as well as did Rita Hayworth in The Lady From Shanghai. Opened up nicely, but unobtrusively, by director Richard Fleischer, who loves front porches almost as much as the Siren does.
What Mom said: "That was adorable. Poor Bobby Driscoll."