A good mix of films this post…
The Innocent, Luchino Visconti (1975, Italy). I have somehow managed to watch several Visconti films over the years without actually setting out to do so. First there was The Damned, which I thought okay, and then Death in Venice, which was pretty good (and I do like the Thomas Mann novella as well), and then The Leopard, which was very good indeed (so much so I read Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel, and thought it excellent). And now The Innocent, which was Visconti’s last film, and which is another historical piece, this time set during the nineteenth century and based on a 1892 novel by Gabriele d’Annunzio. Jennifer O’Neill plays the mistress of an Italian peer, whose interest in his wife is re-invigorated after she begins an affair with another man. And then becomes pregnant. But then the lover dies, but the husband cannot accept the baby. It’s by no means a pleasant story, nor is it intended to be. But O’Neill is astonishingly charismatic as the mistress, and the mise-en-scène throughout is extremely convincing. It doesn’t have the faded grandeur of The Leopard, and so it seems less historically grounded, if you know what I mean, but it succeeds pretty much in presenting its time and place. I liked it a great deal, and I don’t know how much of that is down to its presentation as anything else. I can spot good cinematography, well, especially good cinematography, but I’m more likely to notice landscape cinematography than I am artful cutting between two characters in a scene or clever zooms and pullbacks. In other words, YMMV. The Innocent gives me some of what I look for in films in the visual sense, while providing an intriguing story. Nothing in it stands out per se, whereas for Pasolini it often does, which is why I prefer his films; but this is nonetheless a very good film, and I’d like to rewatch it. I’ve meaning to pick up my own copy of The Leopard for a while – but which one? The Criterion edition? Or the BFI Blu-ray? But I wouldn’t say no to a copy of The Innocent as well – although there’s only a single edition of this available, in DVD or Blu-ray, both by Cult Films.
Judex, Georges Franju (1963, France). This is a remake of a 1910s serial od the same title, I think, or a remake of a remake of Fantômas, a 1910s serial based on a series of pulp novels published between 1911 and 1963, which was later adapted as a film; and I have another 1910s serial, Les vampires, by Louis Feuillade, the man who co-invented Judex, who is based on Fantômas, and who also made the 1910s Fantômas serial… Um, I think. Anyway. Judex, this film, is a 1960s remake of a 1910s-set mystery featuring the eponymous private detective, back in the day when villains had more personality than the heroes, and the good guys were just as often as contemptuous of the law as the bad guys. Judex featured some ridiculous plot about an evil banker who is kidnapped in order to force him to pay back the people he has ripped off – like that would ever happen. But there’s some evil lady crime boss also involved, and Judex, a masked defender of the downtrodden, with a gang of “ex-criminals and circus people”, although the only thing they have in common is the conjunction, who ends up rescuing the banker. Or something. It certainly looked all very 1910s, and was very pulp-ish. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. It feels like a film that needs to be watched after watching the earlier films featuring the title character, but would likely feel superfluous having watched them. If you know what I mean.
Port of Call, Ingmar Bergman (1948, Sweden). A young woman begins a relationship with a sailor who has had enough of travelling the seven seas. But this doesn’t go down so well with the local men, leading to violence, much bickering, and the sort of marital drama Bergman made much meat of throughout his career. There’s not much that stands out in this, except perhaps the opening scene where the young woman jumps into the harbour and is rescued by the sailor. The story is an original one by Bergman, although may well have been influenced by Harry Martinson – whose book, Resor utan mål, the ex-sailor is actually reading in one scene; and Bergman later staged Martinson’s play, Trei knivar från Wei… none of which is relevant but does remind me of Malcolm Lowry’s fascination with the works of Nordahl Grieg, also, like Martinson, a Scandinavian who served aboard a tramp steamer (although a Norwegian rather than a Swede), and whose The Ship Sails On Lowry felt a harbinger of his own fiction, particularly Ultramarine, and one of whose plays Lowry even translated into English but was unsuccessful in staging (I’ve been trying to locate a copy of The Ship Sails On for ages, but the only one I’ve found is $150). Which series of facts create a number of resonances with a writer whose fiction fascinates me… And while there is zero commonality between the subsequent careers of Lowry and Bergman, although both were notorious perfectionists, it does mean that Port of Call fits into a place in my mental map of Bergman’s career in a much richer way than any of his other films. Go figure.
Houseboat, Melville Shavelson (1958, USA). I had it in my head this was a Rock Hudson film, although I’ve no idea why as it clearly stars Cary Grant. And Sophia Loren. It’s a pretty uninteresting spin on a common model from the time. Hollywood made shitloads of films like it, some were better than others, some were actually good films. This is neither. Grant is a widower with two young children he is determined to look after himself, despite being equipped for a bachelor lifestyle – ie, he lives in a small city apartment. One of his young sons sneaks out and makes friends with Loren, the daughter of a prominent Italian composer touring the US. She takes the boy home when he keels over, and is mistaken for a homeless person by Grant. So he offers her a job as the kids’ nanny. Which she accepts. For reasons. And they move out of the city and are forced to live on a ricketty old houseboat near the home of the sister of Grant’s late wife, who has her own designs on Grant. Except Loren too has fallen for him, but he takes no notice of her… until the country club dance when realises what was under his nose all along. Loren is good, the kids are good, but Grant feels a bit too sarcastically dismissive to be much of a catch. I used to think of Grant as the epitome of the 1950s male romantic lead, but I’m coming to the conclusion he was better in earlier decades. Certainly by the late 1950s, he was starting to more resemble the preserved presenter of an antiques show than a romantic lead. I’m almost starting to prefer the lolloping and puppyish Grant from his early 1930s films. Rock Hudson is clearly the better romantic male lead of the 1950s. So there.
Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair (2001, India). I remember this film being celebrated at the time of its release, one of those rare Hindi-language films which cross over to the English-language market. Except that’s not so rare for non-Bollywood films, and this wasn’t a Bollywood film. It was an international co-production, filmed in India with an Indian cast and some Indian money, but also a lot of US money – Nair is a US director – and UK money. So while it’s fair to describe Monsoon Wedding as an Indian film, it’s not a Bollywood film. And it shows. There’s a fly-on-the-wall tone to much of the film that feels almost antithetical to the Bollywood film-making process. As too does the anthology-style story-telling, with its intertwined narratives, and its ensemble cast. And its Romeo and Juliet plot. Which is a bit weird. As I had expected a Bollywood film, and got something that clearly wasn’t one but was in a Bollywood setting… And I have yet to work out if that means I liked it or not. Some of the characters seemed too broadly drawn, which would be a weird criticism to make of a Bollywood film but is appropriate here, and some of the minor story arcs were a little predictable and, well, ditto. Monsoon Wedding wasn’t bad, but I can’t figure out if that is because it was actually good or because it just wasn’t what it looked like it should be.
Patema Inverted, Yasuhiro Yoshiura (2013, Japan). I forget who recommended this, it may not even have been David Tallerman. In fact, I seem to remember it coming out of a conversation on Twitter. Anyway, with no expectations – because I have learnt that it’s best not have expectations for anime – I bunged it on my rental list, and so it arrived. Patema lives underground in a world whose gravity is inverted – ie, the surface of the world is down to her, even though she lives underground. She finds a shaft to the surface, and accidentally falls up it, and so finds herself on the surface. Upside down. She is helped by the son of a big wig on the surface world, who hides her because otherwise she would be killed or something. But her presence is discovered by the authorities, and during her interrogation, and subsequent, some surprising truths about her world come to light. The central premise of the film is, to be honest, hard to swallow, but the film goes totally with it and it actually starts to make a bizarre sort of sense by about two-thirds of the ways through. But then the final twist doesn’t really come as a surprise, despute all the narrative left turns designed to hide it. I quite enjoyed this – it looked fantastic, and it sold me on its daft premise. Sometimes that’s enough,
1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die count: 883