Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Two New Wave masters after the fact

Mostly by accident, there's been a strong connecting thread between a few of the movies I've watched recently: they're 70s efforts from the two leading directors of the French New Wave. But that's about all they have in common; Truffaut and Godard couldn't have been more different after the 60s.

Roger Ebert called Two English Girls Truffaut's best effort, and while I don't quite agree with that, it is a solidly emotional, impressionistic film. Almost ten years after Jules and Jim, Truffaut tells a similar story about the two titular English girls and the French guy who loves them both. Jean-Pierre Leaud plays Claude, who charms young sculptress Ann in Paris, and she takes him back to her English countryside home. Ann has an ulterior motive to this trip, to introduce Claude to her younger sister Muriel, certain they will fall in love. They do, then complications happen, then more complications, as happens in Truffaut romantic films.

Leaud is wonderful in the role of Claude - he plays it as a more continental, gentleman-type of Antoine Doinel. The sisters, played by Kika Markham (as the sexually liberated, wonderful Ann) and Stacey Tendeter (as the sort of irritating Muriel), are sort of underused, but the turn-of-the-century pastoral scenes are gorgeously shot by Nestor Almendros. This is a gentle movie, yet the convoluted love story gives it a crushing sense of heartbreak and the quiet desperation that haunts everyday life.

On the flip side of Two English Girls's quietly harsh emotional punch is The Story of Adele H, Truffaut's interpretation of the story of Victor Hugo's daughter, Adele, who follows a military officer who seduced and promised to marry her, all the way to Halifax, Canada. Adele follows Lt. Pinson around everywhere he goes, like the most dejected puppy you've ever seen. She screams, cries, pleads with him, lies, and tries everything else she can do to get Pinson to love her, so much so that she makes herself deathly ill several times. But, as everyone knows, you can't force someone to love you.

Isabelle Adjani, one of the most exquisitely beautiful actresses ever onscreen, plays Adele with all the desperation and clinginess the character necessitates. Some of the shots that are meant to convey Adele's inner turmoil (stormy seas superimposed over Adele's crying face) are just silly and incredibly melodramatic, and those tendencies are what keeps this movie from being a great one. There are much of the same elements in Two English Girls as in The Story of Adele H, but Truffaut seems to have used most of his subtle charm in the earlier picture.

I have been as consistently hot and cold with no director more than Jean-Luc Godard. Breathless is one of the finest films ever made, but pretty much every film I've seen of his since 1970 I have absolutely hated. I was expecting to feel the same about 1972's Tout va Bien, but I think in this film, Godard found the perfect balance between politics and art.

Yves Montand and Jane Fonda (imagine a Hollywood actress doing this film now!) star as a married couple who are changed by the political strife they witness firsthand at a factory strike. But to put it that way makes it far more personal than it is. When we see the couple arguing, it's about politics; in fact, everything they do in the film is about radical politics. But Montand and Fonda are only pawns in Godard's (and co-director Jean-Pierre Gorin's) political statement. The workers in the striking factory are radicals, but ones that went through the May '68 revolt in Paris and understand the hard work radicals face.

But this film isn't all about politics, it's a statement of art as well. Some actors clearly read their lines, and there are fewer dialogues than political monologues between characters. While frustrating at times, the colors in the film are revolutionary in their own right. Before Godard went off his rocker and began making films that were completely inaccessible, he made this film that is a treat on par with his 60s films. Truffaut and Godard went in incredible divergent directions after the French New Wave unofficially disbanded, but both continued to make intriguing, underrated films.

Two English Girls: 8/10
The Story of Adele H: 6/10
Tout va Bien: 8/10

Fun fact! Godard was offered the opportunity to direct Bonnie and Clyde after Truffaut declined. Arthur Penn eventually ended up directing, but imagine how different it would have been if either of those men had directed - a Pierrot le Fou orShoot the Piano Player for American audiences!

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