Tag Archives: French

The Image Book

16 Mar

‘The Image Book’: Godard’s cinematic collage will consume you, given the time and attention

Image result for the image book showtimes

In my mind there’s a debate which director had the best decade ever. An obvious choice is Coppola in the 1970s, topping Spielberg and Scorsese with four killers (“The Godfather,” “The Godfather II,” “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now”). How do you beat that? Well, in the 1960s, Jean-Luc Godard churned out “Breathless,” “Contempt,” “Band of Outsiders,” “Weekend,” “Alphaville” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” among others. That’s a pretty stacked deck, even if folks want to debate the last two entries. For me the French New Waver’s sci-fi flick (“Alphaville”) never worked, but it’s highly regarded; and many find Godard’s chronicling of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” studio sessions stilted, intermixing what I would call their greatest song with images of the Black Panthers and negative American imagery. But you can’t make that song look or sound bad, even if you interrupt it with total nonsense.

I digress. Godard is almost 90 and he’s made more than 100 films of various lengths and formats. He’s probably not been truly relevant stateside since his 1985 take on the Virgin Mary, “Hail Mary.” In pre-sex scandal Irish Catholic Boston, where the church was a powerhouse, there were far more protesters outside the Paris Cinema on Boylston Street (now a Walgreens) than people trying to get tickets. I wonder how that would float now? Shortly afterward, Godard made a short called “Meeting Woody Allen” – again, I wonder how it might be received today?

I don’t think Godard gives a rat’s ass what folks think of his films. He’s always made the vision he wants. Initially he wanted to be a writer, and dabbled in journalism; he crossed the creative divide into making films more about themes and feelings – the theater of the absurd and, in the case of “Weekend,” the lurid.One could argue that many of his 1960s works, namely “Breathless,” about a day in the life of a petty hood in Paris (Jean-Paul Belmondo) are visual contemplations on the cycle of violence.

That’s where we are with his latest, “The Image Book,” which gets five screenings in March at the Harvard Archive, starting with two Friday. In a highly edited montage we get newsreel footage of battle, cinematic battle, lots of Godard’s own work (several chapters of the film are labeled “Remake”), even “Jaws,” some choice footage from “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” and classic Hollywood B&W snippets from the 1930s and 1950s, saturated with deep color that makes them feel like moving watercolor paintings. Like Godard’s “Goodbye to Language” (2014), a serendipitous exploration of the parallels between the travails of a couple and a dog, “Image Book” is haunting and ethereal, though edits and audio transitions are jarring at times. It’s like an ICA video installation on the early works of David Lynch: You can drop in and drop out, and it pretty much all still makes sense. It’s a building wave of emotion and social commentary that Godard has very carefully assembled. The patient will be consumed. 

Most tag Godard incorrectly as founder of the French New Wave with “Breathless” (1960), but that honor is reserved for Agnès Varda, who made “Le Pointe Courte” in 1955. She’s got a few years on Godard, and in 2017 was nominated for an Oscar for her documentary “Faces Places.” (Those French have clearly found the fountain of youth.) In 1967 she collaborated with Godard, among others, on “Far from Vietnam” a pro-North Vietnamese postcard protesting U.S. involvement in the country. That film, a college of vivid images, is a perfect companion piece for “The Image Book.”

 

Climax

9 Mar

‘Climax’: Oh, Noé, the drinks have been dosed and the dancers are all too disturbingly into it

 

Image result for Climax movie

No, “Climax” has nothing to do with the New England Patriots owner and a brothel in Florida. It’s just the latest from take-him-or-leave-him French provocateur Gaspar Noé, of such haunting and stylish depictions of depravity as “Irréversible” (2002) and “Enter the Void” (2009). The former revolved around a brutal rape in a dingy Parisian underpass, while the latter unfurled a techno-charged odyssey about a soul seeking rebirth after drug deal gone wrong in the bowels of Tokyo. Here, Noé gives us a dance party that goes wildly off the rails and beyond.

“Climax” is disorienting on many levels. It begins with a blank white screen, and you half expect credits to roll before a woman in a sleeveless leotard staggers into view. It’s a top-down shot, and you realize she’s trudging through snow – and surely must be freezing. The camera zooms in and we hear wails of pain and see faint traces of blood smeared across her arms. Is it hers, you wonder, as she falls into the whiteness, writhing and contorting, creating the imprint of a bloody snow angel. Then the credits do roll. What’s this? Did someone queue the film up wrong?

It’s the only outdoor scene in the film, and an apt encapsulation of Noé‘s envelope-pushing style and its ability to pique, unsettle, enrapture and linger. After the credits, the film cuts to an old boob tube playing VHS audition tapes of dancers with names such as Cyborg, Psyche and Gazelle who tell the camera why they love to dance and want to be part of a troupe heading out on tour. Packed tightly around the television are DVD binders of “Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom,” “Suspiria,” “Taxi Driver” and similarly macabre flicks. It’s a pretty good indication of where this is all going – kind of. Continue reading

Wings and Yummy Things

24 Feb

Restaurants arrive on red line as destinations for diners seeking Asian, French, small plates

 

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Along the red line in each of our three northernmost squares, eateries with time-tested roots have popped up within the past month.

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square at what was the Korean restaurant Meju. If the name seems familiar, Jae’s was a popular pan-Asian restaurant franchise in Boston and Cambridge in the 1990s and early 2000s. It never officially went away – there’s still a Jae’s in Pittsfield, and owner Jae Chung owns Koreana in Central Square, one of the few places in town to get Korean barbecue at your table. The menu for Jae’s has traditionally been a blend of classic Thai (Pad Thai), Korean (Bibimbap) and sushi staples; on Elm Street locale, the focus is more on Korean. The rebranding comes as no surprise, though the timing is interesting, as Chung had become involved in the ownership of Meju last year after the eatery began to languish. Jae’s will face the same challenges as Meju: a heavy concentration of competition. There are seven other Asian restaurants in the area, including Sugidama Soba & Izakaya, Genki Ya Sushi and two ramen restaurants. It is, however, the only Korean venue.

243 Elm St., Davis Square.

Colette in Porter Square. (Photo: Colette via Facebook)

One T stop down, the French bistro Colette has finally opened in a long-vacant restaurant and lounge spaceon the ground level of the Porter Square Hotel. The eatery, which offers a French cafe-style breakfast as well as Francophile dinner offerings, is operated by Loic Le Garrec and Sandrine Rossi. The duo, natives of France, run sister restaurants over in Boston: Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Avenue, and Frenchie in the South End. The dinner menu features classic French Onion Soup ($11), Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent (a mushroom-filled flaky pastry for $13), Nicoise Cannelloni Coq au Vin (pasta stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and bacon for $12), Steak Frites ($32) and, aptly, a grilled Porterhouse steak you can sink your teeth into for a eye-popping, but not off-the-charts, $78. The cut is arguably named after Zachariah B. Porter, who ran a hotel and steakhouse across Massachusetts Avenue in the late 19th century, while the restaurant in part is named after the 20th century French writer and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.

1924 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square. Continue reading

Belle de Jour

15 Apr

 

Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since Luis Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour” caused a minor stir by chronicling the soul-searching of a bored Parisian housewife who, for obscure reasons, takes up part-time work as a high-class call girl. Provocative and erotic but never base or graphic, the film’s a deep dive into the psyche of its heroine; entwined in fantasy and fulfillment, the film gives Buñuel, a deft surrealist (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” his signature work), opportunity to reach into his bag of tricks and smudge the edges of reality the way Dalí or Munch might on a canvas.

On the outside Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) has it all: a spacious flat in a nice neighborhood and a classic, good-looking husband by the name of Pierre (Jean Sorel) who works long hours as a surgeon. Everything’s perfect, yet there’s an aloofness and conflict behind her wide, luminescent eyes. The film begins with Pierre and Séverine in a horse-drawn carriage ambling though the countryside when Pierre orders its driver to halt and his assistants to assail her. It’s one of the many fantasies we get from Séverine’s point of view. In another she’s dressed in a virginal white gown and men throw mud and perhaps worse at her – thoughts of Pasolini’s “Salò” well up. 

The carriage bell, the beat of hooves and the mewling of cats work their way mysteriously into scenes within the flat and brothel. What’s it all mean, and what of Séverine‘s masochistic fantasies? A troubled childhood? The desire to break free of a coddled life, yet an unwillingness to jump? A self-destructive bent to feel alive? Perhaps simply the intoxication of strange men in strange places? It’s a tease throughout, and the real-world pairings as arranged by Madame Anais (Geneviève Page) are almost as far out as Séverine’s fantasies, especially the client who demands that she dress up like his recently deceased daughter. Then there’s the gangster who gets freebies on the house, and the obsessed john who follows Séverine home. Ever lurking too is Pierre’s buddy Henri (Michel Piccoli, who has the mug of a mortician) who’s on to Séverine’s game and quite taken by her seeming piety and the wild side just beneath. Séverine outwardly loathes him. “Keep your compliments to yourself,” she tells him.  Continue reading

Agnes Varda

7 Mar

A Pioneer Of The French New Wave, Filmmaker Agnès Varda’s Career Spans The Playful And Pointed

Filmmaker Agnès Varda with street artist JR. (Courtesy Cohen Media Group)closemore

Filmmaker Agnès Varda has seen and done much in her life — from witnessing the German invasion of France during World War II, to becoming the female face of the French New Wave, to hanging out with enigmatic Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison and, now, being recognized with a Charles Eliot Norton professorship at Harvard.

Varda, who was born in Brussels and spent most of World War II on a boat off the French port of Sète (where her mother was born), stumbled into film. Bestowed with the birth name of Arlette Varda, she changed it at the age of 18 — something that other famed French filmmakers of the time like Jean-Pierre Melville and Chris Marker did as well. A photographer by trade, Varda returned to Sète to shoot pictures for a friend who was physically unable to make the journey to the Mediterranean fishing port.

That photographic mission inspired Varda to make a cinematic postcard of the area with Philippe Noiret (“Cinema Paradiso”) cast as a man trying to reconcile a rocky marriage. The result was the 1955 film “La Pointe Courte” — the title referring to a small, water surrounded quarter of Sète. Shot using natural locations on an incredibly modest budget — and reluctantly edited by fellow filmmaker Alain Resnais who was working on a similar effort at the time — the film is widely considered the forerunner of the French New Wave. Continue reading

The films of Jean-Pierre Melville

3 Dec

6 Films To Celebrate French Noir Master Jean-Pierre Melville’s Centennial At The MFA

Serge Reggiani in Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Doulos," released in 1962. (Courtesy Rialto Pictures)closemore

If he were alive today, Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the great faces of French cinema, would be 100 years old. (He was born in 1917 and died of a heart attack in 1973). To commemorate the filmmaker’s 100th birthday, the Museum of Fine Arts is running a retrospective of the auteur’s work.

If you’re unfamiliar with the name (and too many Americans are), Melville minted chic, noir-ish gangster flicks that have been widely cited for their influence and echoed in the hip, popular works of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann and John Woo. Melville also was a contemporary of, and collaborator with, many of the iconic directors of the French New Wave in the ’50s and ’60s — namely Jean-Luc Godard — and employed many of the great French actors of the time, most notably Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve.

Now revered for his unique style and approach (he made the fedora and the trench coat as synonymous with the French gangster genre as dusters and 10-gallon hats are to the American Western) Melville almost didn’t become a filmmaker. Born an Alsatian Jew by the surname Grumbach, he fled to England after the 1940 German invasion of France. Later, he returned as a member of the French Resistance. His nom de guerre was indeed copped from the “Moby Dick” author, who the young freedom fighter held in high regard. After the war, Melville applied to become an assistant director, but his license application was denied so he launched his own production company. The rest, so to say, is cinematic history. Melville produced a spartan 14 films — nearly all fine cut gems. Continue reading

Interview with director Olivier Assayas

16 Mar

Inspired By Progress For Women, A French Filmmaker Prefers To Keep His Movies About Them

Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas on the set of "Personal Shopper." (Courtesy IFC Films)closemore

French auteur Olivier Assayas, whose kinetic style and eclectic works have enchanted cinephiles over the past 30 years, doesn’t particularly relish the term “muse.” “It’s somewhat cheesy,” he notes during an interview to discuss his latest release “Personal Shopper.” The inspiration garnered from his lead actresses, Assayas says, germinates from a more genuine and iterative process.

Past partnerings with Maggie Cheung, his wife from 1998 to 2001, yielded the deconstructive melodrama “Irma Vep” (1996) and the sobering “Clean” (2004). With fellow countrymate and longtime friend Juliette Binoche, he churned out “Summer Hours” (2008) and the top 10 list-maker “Clouds of Sils Maria” (2014).

“Personal Shopper,” which opens in Boston this Friday, marks Assayas’ second collaboration with American actress Kristen Stewart, who starred alongside Binoche in “Sils Maria” and has since become a highly sought-after talent. Stewart made the unlikely transition from the box-office bait, teen-targeted “Twilight” saga, to an art house darling collecting raves for her recent efforts in “Café Society,” “Still Alice” and “Certain Women.” And “Personal Shopper,” which scored Assayas Best Director honors at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, will likely only raise Stewart’s stock.

“I discovered Kristen when doing ‘Clouds,’” Assayas says, “and [during filming] I learned how capable she was and I was fascinated. Once that was done, I was inspired by her and wrote the part [of Maureen Cartwright in ‘Shopper’] with her in mind.”  Continue reading