In Nazi-occupied France, Jewish theatre director Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) has apparently fled the country to South America, but is in fact living in the cellar of his theatre, with only his wife Marion (Catherine Deneuve) knowing of the situation. The theatre keeps running, with Marion as the lead actress in the last play Lucas wrote before exile. Lucas listens to the play rehearsals during the day and gives Marion notes in the evening, which she passes on to the new director Jean-Loup Cottins (Jean Poiret) the next day. They have a rising star lead actor in Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu), who in turn has a roving eye on all the women in the company, including the costume designer (Andréa Ferréol) and a younger actress (Sabine Haudepin). The film follows the play’s production from casting through rehearsals into opening night and beyond, tracking the lives of the players and the impact of the Second World War. Continue reading →
This review was originally written recently for Blueprint: Review, and is also my selection for August for my Blind Spot pick.
Before I get into this review, I feel it’s only fair I give you a glimpse into my brief history with French New Wave cinema. As with David, whose review of another Truffaut film, Shoot the Pianist, posted yesterday, I’m not a huge fan, however, I’ve seen fewer films from within the period than he has, so there was a greater potential for me to like this film. To date, I’ve only really seen two New Wave classics, Godard’s Breathless (written by Truffaut) and Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. I hated them both, and even went back to re-watch Breathless (also known as A Bout de Souffle) and in fact hated it more the second time around. My problems with these films are many and varied, but essentially I find the characters to be so dislikeable that I genuinely don’t want to spend any time with them, and they all suffer from an abundance of style over substance, more so than any other films I could mention. Marienbad is particularly frustrating, given the complete absence of anything resembling a cohesive plot. I’ve heard arguments praising its open-ended narrative, allowing the viewer to read all sorts of insights into the film, but I see it as laziness on the part of the writer, or potentially an inability to write two adjacent scenes at all. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Jules et Jim didn’t have much of a chance to begin with, even though I went in with as open a mind as I could manage.
I’m doing this list for several reasons. Firstly, I want to broaden my cinematic horizons, watching those films I’ve often read about being legendary and must-see, yet never gotten around to actually watching. Secondly, I want to revisit some truly incredible films I’ve not seen recently, or perhaps haven’t watched well enough at this point. Thirdly, I’m shamelessly showcasing my admittedly phenomenal writing talents, to allow the literary world to recoil in shock and awe, ultimately paying me a princely sum for stringing sentences together. Finally, I want to give a second chance to films from the first reason that I have seen previously, but didn’t necessarily ‘get’. And so it is with a heavy heart that I approached Breathless (A Bout de Souffle). I first watched this about 3 years ago, when I first dabbled with Lovefilm. Admittedly, I only half-watched the film (a cardinal sin, especially if a movie is subtitled), but I found it silly, boring, and featuring a deeply unlikable lead character in Jean-Paul Belmondo’s sexist, arrogant, pretentious Michel Poiccard, on the run from the police after stealing a car and shooting a policeman, heading to Paris to collect some money and a girl to take with him to Rome. Regrettably, I found myself agreeing with my earlier judgement, as Poiccard proves continually a chauvinistic and rude kleptomaniac, consistently blaming others and never accepting his fate as being a product of his own irrationally actions. Quotations from his dialogue are probably supposed to be profound and thought-provoking, but under closer scrutiny mean nothing (“I want to become immortal, and then die”). Add to this editing tics such as wholly unnecessary (and nonsensical in the context of the scenes) jump cuts and occasions where characters seem to directly address the camera, then the film shows it is in fact largely over-rated. And I’m sure the main character closing his own eyelids after his inevitable brush with justice is supposed to be cool, in the end it’s just stupid.