Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Alain Delon in the French Resistance

I'm having a bit of fun listing all the films and series I've watched and rewatched in 2009. So far I must say that autumn has been more relaxed than spring (wherein April and May were a bit absurd).

The only downside is that I set an adjacent goal of writing a bit of a blurb about most of the films, but so far I'm not even half way. So I'd thought I do some mini write-ups about some of the films, and at least make some progress.

Any excuse to put up a picture of Cary Grant. Here from Only Angels have Wings

Paris is Burning

The film adapts a documentary style when narrating the last few days before the Allied liberation of Paris in 1944. Problem is that the film has followed in the footsteps of The Longest Day and other luminaries, and so all the parts are played by famous actors. You're left with the impression that Alain Delon, Jean Paul Belmondo and Leslie Caron all worked for the French Resistance - or more precisely you stop caring about the story and start actor-spotting instead.

My particular favourites are the segments featuring Belmondo, who looks rather amused and a bit devilish in his portrayal of a Resistance fighter. The problem is that Belmondo pretty much brings his A Bout du Souffle character (or variants thereof) to the film, and so the feeling of "French-New wave-does-the-War" never really leaves you. Similarly with Delon, who waltzes through the film more like some angry, fallen angel than a serious Resistance fighter. It is all great fun to watch of course (My love for Belmondo and particularly Delon might have helped), but it does detract somewhat from the narrative. Oh, and at some point Kirk Douglas and Glenn Ford show up, as Generals Patton and Bradley respectively, but the problematic issues of seeing the actor rather than the character remains.

Delon, though not from the film. And if this had been the Resistance leader I wouldn't have any hesitations about joining. Vive La France etc

This raises the question of why use so many famous actors in such small parts? Well, first of, having recognizable names on the poster does lend the film prestige. Secondly, using a famous actor (and often a famous character actor, such as John Wayne in The Longest day) functions as a form of shorthand. You don't have to expand and characterize General Patton - because he is played by Kirk Douglas! And you can rely on the audience associating Douglas with a certain type of character, and therefore (hopefully) they will transfer that knowledge to their reading of his Patton as well. This is a risky way of doing a film. It can work quite well, and I'd claim there are segments of The Longest Day where it does work very well. You don't really need to know that much about John Wayne's character - you just need to know he is played by John Wayne!

In Paris is Burning it does not work. Possibly because most of the actors, such as Delon and Belmondo, are associated with films that are radically different from the documentary realism Paris is Burning strives for.

That said I did like the film, as it made me think about a lot of film-issues. Such as the inclusion of documentary footage in World War II films, the pros and cons of using famous actors to portray historical people and the whole concept of the ensemble epic that Paris is Burning is, and that whole subgenre.

Home of the Brave

The only times I truly dislike my work is when I have to watch bad films. And by bad I mean "films' that aren't even entertainingly bad, just plain awful." Home of the Brave is one of those. It tells the story of a group of soldiers returning from Iraq and how they cope with being back home. That story could be intriguing enough, but rather than tell good story the film drowns in cliches. The acting isn't bad, its just the editing, direction, dialogue and cinematography that is substandard. The only slightly engaging and original character (played by 50 cent/Curtis Jackson) is delegated to about 10 minutes screen time and then he dies, and all the focus is shifted onto the extremely dull Tommy Yates(Brian Presley)who is sad because he watched Chad Michael Murray die in Iraq.

That said I did find the film interesting in how it segues with the rest of the current Iraq-films, such as the excellent Battle for Haditha and fairly okay Stopp-Loss. (Not to mention my beloved Generation Kill). The political element and the plight of the common soldier is fore front in all of these adaptations, often against a background of dysfunctional and/or uncaring bureaucracy. Whether this is an accurate portrait of the situation is not for me to judge, but in the perspective of genre development it is quite fascinating. Not since World War II has a sub-genre of the war film been developed concurrent with the conflict/war it depicts. The major developments in the Vietnam-film genre for instance largely happened after the event, the Desert Storm events never generated enough films to constitute a genre. Therefore I find it quite interesting to see how coherent - both in story and cinematography - the recent output of Iraq films are. They deal with individuals, with personal tradgedies, they have a lot of focus on remediation through personal media such as video cameras and cellphones, and their message is angry. Very, very angry.

Red River

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift drive cattle, while being manly men who quarrel over manly things - like, apparently, cattle. To be honest the film is very good, its just that it is a Howard Hawkes' action picture and I've never managed to engage with those (as opposed to his comedies such as His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby). Everything looks great, and the herd of cattle is wonderfully captured on film, the acting is good and plot structure tight - yet I never managed to become emotionally invested. Or more precisely, I never left the analytical mode while watching and so the whole film for me was all: "Ooh, look! Nice use of a wide shot pan there. Interesting light in the medium close-up".

But Montgomery Clift is wonderful, and if you've ever wondered what type of vibes he would generate when playing against Wayne, then this is a film worth checking out.

Only Angels Have Wings

Another manly, Howard Hawkes action flick - though unlike Red River neither the cinematography or plot structure is as good. Though it does have Cary Grant in leather jacket, he mostly looks out of place. The one thing I did find interesting was the hint of darkness in Grant's character, which made me think of his later role Notorious. My personal pet theory is therefore that Hitchcock saw this film and felt he could expand on that.

As for plot; the film centers around a group of pilots led by Grant who deliver mail in the fictional South American town of Barranca. It is very much a man's world, with a romance plot that seems pasted on and therefore a waste of Jean Arthur, as well as Rita Heyworth in a minor role.

Hotel Rwanda

This was a rewatch, and considering the film's material not a very pleasant one. But one thing struck med then, and even more so now and that is the bitter irony inherent in the film's message.Early in the film Paul thanks the camera man (Joaquin Phoenix) for shooting footage of the genocide. The reply he gets is as follows:

I think if people see this footage, they'll say Oh, my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their dinners.

That quote always makes me wonder how many people see this film, and go: "Oh, that's horrible!" And then continue what they are doing.

In a sense the film's strength is that is a fictional retelling of real events, and so the narrative can be structured and shortened to create the most coherent and emotional effect. That way the film can be assured to bring its point home more efficiently, in that it evokes emotions and identification with the characters and their plight. Yet at the same time this is also the film's weakness, as its status as a feature film makes it easy to dismiss. Easy to watch, be horrified at and then forget. As is pointed out in the film people can watch documentary footage of real life crimes, and then continue as if nothing particular was amiss. Isn't the chance of dismissal greater when they know before hand that the film is a fictional account (albeit heavily based on real events)? Or maybe the the carious tools available to the feature film (music, editing, zoom etc) can help highlight the tragedy and give new urgency to a story that would otherwise drown on the news feed? I have no answer, but it makes me ponder.

And for completions sake - I really like this film. The acting is fabulous, in particular Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo. The story becomes verges onto the cliche turf in its final minutes, but that is easily forgiven as the previous scenes have been so horrifying that it feels good to smile about something.

Films watched in 2009.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
You have reminded me that I have seen "Paris is Burning", but don't really remember anything else. I do remember I had a huge crush on Alain Delon , though.
Oct. 6th, 2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
I have seen "Paris is Burning", but don't really remember anything else

Hee. I think it is that kind of film. It isn't bad, it just isn't very memorable.

As for crushes on Delon, I think they come rather naturally. (though with his strong sense of 'Pretty boy with a damaged psyche' thing going on, he did appeal more to me as a teenager than what he does now. yet I will maintain the claim that he looks like some fallen angel.)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )