22 June 2007

My Night With MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S

After having been said to remind a friend of what he calls the "Rohmer male," I watched his favorite, My Night at Maud's (1970).

Rohmer was one of the older directors of the French New Wave and also the original editor of the influential film magazine Chahiers du Cinema. I had already seen films by other French New Wave directors such as Godard and Truffaut, so I was interested to see what sets Rohmer apart.

The story follows Jean-Louis Trintignant's character through the Parisian streets of the '60s. He is young, intellectual, and content with being alone. He meets up with an old friend with whom he discusses Pascal and philosophy. Eventually he is invited to meet Maud through his friend. Jean-Louis is interested in a girl from church and is sure he will marry her from the moment he sees her, but Maud presents him with a new dilemma. She is sexy, smart, and wants him to stay over. He insists on the couch (which is the great shot on the cover of the Criterion box set release), but ends up with her. That is until he actually meets his church girl.

I thought the writing was excellent. Rohmer weaves in philosophical discourse and moral themes through dialogue. The camera allows us to be an invisible observer in the life of Jean-Louis, as if we were there. This feeling is greatened by the lack of action and slow pacing of the film. There is a lot of silence and contemplation and the movements are not hurried at all, as if it were an ordinary series of days for the characters.

After watching My Night at Maud's I watched The
Girl at the Monceau Bakery and Suzanne's Career, which were the first two moral tales of Rohmer's six (My Night at Maud's is moral tale number three). These first two were short, around 30 min. and 55 min. respectively, but they had the same style and feeling that I have come to identify as being Rohmer's. The male characters are actually dispicable characters in these first two films. In both cases there is a male who plays around with a girl, taking advantage of the fact that they like them by asking money, psychologically abusing them, and making themselves feel good. Suzanne's career ends happier than The Girl at the Monceau Bakery.

Still, there are male characters I can identify more with, such as Bertrand in Suzanne's Career who is more quiet and enjoye being alone or Jean-Louis towards the beginning of My Night at Maud's who tags along with more outgoing people but can not really mix well with them and would rather just browse a book store by himself. As for being like a Rohmer male, I'll let that be decided by my friend since that's his definition. All I know is that in some ways I see that I am and in some ways I hope I am not. In either case I enjoy the films for their well-crafted dialogue, quietness, and philosphical issues.

11 June 2007

Stray Dog

I had a terrible time trying to get to sleep last night. My entire back felt like it was hosting a party of fleas or fire ants. I suppose it itched since my sunburn is starting to heal. It's still painful to the touch, however, so whenever I went to scratch at my itch, the sunburn would give me a sharp pain. I took a shower at 2 :00 a.m. and decided to watch a movie until I got sleepy enough to fall asleep quickly.

I watched Stray Dog, which I just bought recently. It was really fantastic.

The story follows Toshiro Mifune's character Murakami, a homicide detective, through the slums and blackmarkets of Japan as he tries to recover his Colt pistol which was stolen from his pocket on a crowded bus. He is paired with long-time cop Sato, played excellently by Shimura. This pistol is linked to a couple of crimes, including a murder. Murakami is racked with guilt and takes responsibility for each crime commited with his lost gun, a very honorable Japanese attitude. Eventually, in a beautiful climax, Murakami wrestles with Yusa, the stray dog criminal, and makes his arrest.

This film was slightly neo-realist in its documentary-like feel. Kurosawa went to actual black markets in Japan and other street locations to expose the conditions of a post-World War II Japan.

As always with Kurosawa, there is a great many philosophical questions involved with the film's story. What is the nature of good and evil? When is crime justified? In the climax we see Yusa and Murakami both covered in mud and exhausted after running through some grassy area behind a town. They lay panting heavily and are almost indistinguishable. Really they are the same - they are both men of post-World War II who had fought in the war and felt their life disarrayed - only they chose different paths.

One of my favorite things about this film was watching Toshiro Mifune act in a role other than a samurai. This was my first time seeing him without a kimono or armor. I felt like he is really up there with Brando, Grant, Peck, Newman in those classic male movie stars with a face and presence that just vibrates with so much energy on the screen. I really saw that especially in this film in his white linen suit and clean cut face.