Le Doulos (1962)

24 03 2008

Not one of Melville’s better efforts, but still decent enough. It never really sheds it’s film noir sensibility which prevents it from becoming anything genuinely great. Instead, it works as a well-crafted piece of escapist entertainment. It drags on occasion but that is more than likely due to my inexperience and lack of interest in film noir. If you’re a fan of Melville and the cast (which includes a cameo by a young Phillipe Nahon from I Stand Alone) then this is a must. At the same time, don’t expect any high art, it’s purely “time-passing” entertainment, but pretty good at that.

Recent released from prison, Maurice Faugel attends to some unfinished business, which means killing an old buddy, Gilbert Varnove. Back home, he is visited by Silien who provides him with some tools for the robbery he is planning. Silien is actually a police informer and the robbery ends up being a bust, which results in the death of a police officer. Maurice escapes, at least for the time being, and Silien (for whatever reason) is brought in for interrogation. Maurice is placed back in prison, and Silien escapes to reunite with an old flame, Fabienne, who helps him frame the officer’s murder.

There may not be a purpose in pointing out flaws here, since by default, the film’s plot-driven, one-dimensional characterization is enough to ride it off completely. But taking it as mindless entertainment, it still has some problems. For one, the plot, essentially is too complicated. Not to mention that almost every dialogue sequences is shamelessly expositional and seem to go on for far too long. Perhaps these are just elements of every “film noir” but they are still intrusive, even when not taking the film 100% seriously. On the positive side, this is a bit more humorous than Melville’s norm, which would indicate that perhaps he isn’t taking this 100% seriously, either. The film is quite a bit of fun, but it’s frustrating knowing that Melville is a director that is capable of doing more. At this point in his career, he had already done plenty of light film-noir homages.

Casa de Lava (1994)

24 03 2008

At the risk of sounding trendy, cliche, and stupid, it seems like Pedro Costa has become the recent film festival favorite. This is my first encounter with his work and I’m quite impressed, but also befuddled. The later brought on more by intial reaction to the film than the film itself. It’s a minimalistic (cliche count: 2 now) but also romantic film reminiscent of Herzog, Tarkovsky, and (as a result) Carlos Reygadas. Yet, the actually viewing experience was pretty unique. There’s a heavy, ponderous feeling but the film moves along so viscerally almost like some bizarre hallucination. My restless state probably helped out a lot but still, this is pretty crazy. At the moment, no clear cut decision has been made.

Leao, a construction worker, falls into a coma which leds him to Mariana, a worker at the hospital in which he has been placed. He is discharged and forced to go back to Cape Verde, but he is still unconscious so Mariana tags along. Unfortunately, no one is there for his return and Mariana is forced to find her way around town. Eventually she stumbles upon the hospital and afterwards, she wanders around town meeting a wide variety of characters. Leao awakens and in spite of many obstacles, the two try to start a relationship.

The film’s opening sequence is absolutely stunning. Droned out humming accompanies footage of volcanoes errupted, which is then followed by a close-up of many faces. Simple and perhaps pretentious on paper, it’s an absolutely perfect introduction into the Costa’s world. The rest doesn’t quite live up to this great sequence and it does sort of drag at some points. I mean, after all, the main character is comatose for the first half of the movie! That said, this is really quite an impressive film and it’s probable that Costa has improved upon it. Plus, I’m sure another viewing of this is needed if only to clear up my head. For now, it’s a technically proficient odd romance that definitely fits my cinematic ideal.