Histoire de Marie et Julien (2003)

12 06 2008

I’ve been laboring over this for quite some time actually, but I finally mustered the strength to provide my ever evolving thoughts on what could be my favorite Rivette film. If it is not his very best, than it is at least the closet he’s been to making a film remotely close to my own ideal, i.e one revolving around relationships. All the films I’ve seen by him up to this point flirt with such a notion, but none of them seem to truly embody it quite like this one does. Of course, there’s still plenty of unnecessary surrealistic fantasy elements but at least such stuff is done in a manner closer to the cinema of Tsai Ming-Liang, as opposed to David Lynch.

A lonely clock engineer, Julien, dreams of a past acquaintance, Marie. Almost immediately after he wakes up, he sees Marie on the street and they plan a date for the following day. She stands him up, but eventually invites him over for dinner later. She speaks little of her past with the exception of mentioning the death of her ex-boyfriend. This doesn’t ruin the mood one bit: Marie and Julien fall in love almost immediately and they move in together. In the mean time, Julien is in the process of blackmailing a woman by the name of Madame X. Marie eventually becomes his accomplice in this whole scheme, but she seems to have a prior history with Madame X, who now seems concerned for Julien’s future. In addition to this, Marie begins to act more and more passive around Julien and now devotes most of her time to furnishing an abandoned room in Julien’s house.

One reason why this particularly troubled me for so long is because of the fact that, so far, it is probably the most difficult of Rivette’s films to actually sit through. Even La Belle Noiseuse, in spite of its ridiculous four hour running time, seems to pass by at a more rapid rate. This is not a weakness of Marie et Julien, though, but rather one of its strengths. Perhaps, his other films are a bit more fun, in a sense. They certainly aren’t easy films by any stretch of the imagination but I suppose more physical actions are made. This film is different, though, as it seems to provide more purpose to the “dull” moments of a relationship. In a way, this could be seen as the French equivalent to The Wayward Cloud but with tracking shots replacing Tsai’s lingering static shots. These films share a similar premise: despite some subversions, one could say that they both fall under the “lost souls find each other” genre. Once again, though, Rivette begins to fall back into his fantasy and/or surreal trapping, which creates the film’s limited and minor problems.

Needless to say, I am getting a bit tired of this whole French ghost stories shtick. The people most dependent on this whole sub-movement are Rivette and Jean-Paul Civeyrac. Both of whom are far above this type of irritating bullshit. Why people who can beautifully capture all the ups and downs of human interaction would try such boring David Lynch type of stuff is beyond me. I guess this film could be seen as some sort of an update on Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, which would probably be the greatest argument for Rivette’s surrealistic lapses. In all honesty, though, the surrealism in this film is only a minor intrusion. While it does provide some of the more over-the-top sequences, it also reinforces the overall “mystery” tone, which works in the context of the principle relationship.

Some people have described Histoire de Marie et Julien as a cerebral piece of filmmaking, but it is anything but. Perhaps there is some symbolism and metaphorical pieces within the film, but that doesn’t take away from its very storytelling strengths. With this film, Rivette perfectly captures the wonders and disappointments of human relationships, and does so in a painterly fashion. Each frame is, as one should expect from Rivette, saturated with an overwhelming amount of beauty. While the complications of real life is the subject being depicted, it becomes even more complicated with the film’s own problems. In other words, it is flawed but in a way that is just like the people within it. One of Rivette’s most befuddling films, but also his deepest and most emotionally complex.

Ray, Burnett, and Watkins

12 06 2008

I’m getting a bit “behind” so to speak with my viewings and its most likely a result of an inability to articulate my thoughts well about the three films below. So, instead, I decided to write three smaller articles on these films.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956)

In all honesty, this is probably a terrible movie. I’m sure that was the intention as it comes off so tongue-in-cheek. Still, more often than not, I never go for “campy” films. I suppose I’ll have to make an exception for this film. It’s definitely in the same vein as Ray’s earlier and much more famous Johnny Guitar, which is also quite funny. I think this one is even more over-the-top, though and features some of the most quotable dialogue ever. For what it is worth, James Mason’s character decline into insanity begins rather subtly until he starts go completely crazy. It is a bit disappointing that Ray has never seemed to follow through on the promise of the great “serious” films he made, like Rebel Without a Cause and The Savage Innocents. Still, this is a really fun way to spend an hour and a half.

Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)

A couple months back, I championed Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding – one of the most truthful and perceptive American films of all time. One could assume that I’d enjoy this earlier, and more celebrated film on an even greater level. Well, not quite true. It starts out quite promising: the bad acting is present just like in Burnett’s later film but it feels just as believable and spontaneous. Plus, there’s even a more conscious attempt at cinematic poetry. At a certain point, though, the film falls flat on its grainy and stilted face and precedes to drag to its conclusion. Even at 81 minutes, this feels bloated where as My Brother’s Wedding was pulsing with intriguing human behavior for almost two hours.

The Gladiators (Peter Watkins, 1969)

My first Watkins and a mixed experience, overall. There’s plenty of nice sequences here and the idea itself is pretty cool (think Stalker minus philosophy, plus politics) but overall, it seems a bit too clever for its own good. In other words, Watkins had a pretty funny and clever idea that probably shouldn’t have been used for a full length feature. The rather muddy visual style here seems to predict the 70s work of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. I can’t say I particularly like such an aesthetic, but it didn’t really taint the experience, which I was mostly just indifferent towards. I really liked the freeze-frames in the final sequence, though.