Is Educating Rita* an optimistic film? Andy Beckett, in this weekend’s FT, argues that the British cinema of the early eighties was a cinema of optimism, in contrast with the pessimism of the films of the seventies.** Citing Educating Rita as an example of the cinema of optimism, Beckett describes Rita and Frank as “a frustrated hairdresser and an embittered alcoholic professor [who] better themselves and each other”. Putting aside the problematic argument that a film can be defined by how uplifting it is, I want to take issue with the idea that Educating Rita is optimistic at all. Continue reading
An Iranian newspaper in Tehran, Hamshahri, is currently running a Holocaust cartoon competition. Entries had to be in by the beginning of this month. The organisers have thrown down the challenge, they declare, as a test of the West’s commitment to freedom of speech. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident, the paper identifies a hypocritical attitude in the liberal West: it is regarded as all right to insult religion but impermissible to joke about the Holocaust. One entry, by a cartoonist from Brazil to an earlier competition, has a double image of a stand up comedian: in the first he is making jokes about Islam to an audience in raucous laughter and in the second making jokes about the Holocaust whilst being booted out of the window. If nothing is to be regarded as funny about Auschwitz, the paper says, then the West should accept that there is nothing remotely funny about Islam. Continue reading
Recently I watched for the first time the film Deux anglaises et le continent (1971) directed by François Truffaut, and then I wrote this.
Truffaut, the key figure of the French New Wave, directed in 1962 the film Jules et Jim. Set in the first years of the twentieth century it examines whether love can find more success outside the bourgeois couple. It was based on a novel by Henri Pierre Roché who had lived a three way, non jealous, open love affair of serene turbulence with the German writers Frank Hessel and Helen Grund between 1907 and the early 1920s. The film explores passion and abundance, misunderstandings and missed opportunities, couplings and decouplings, silent tenderness and hesitations: three people trapped in love but remaining individuals with no wish to hurt the others. Truffaut was the master of films that show the tragicomic consequences of restrained impulse. It was, he said, a ‘hymn to life and death’. A dynamic and vivid film interweaving farce and pathos, reflection and slapstick, anarchy and tragedy; it rolls with a subtle disruptive energy. It is a film about love and tolerance and its morality is for nuanced understanding, never condemnation. Unusually it is a period piece that opens the door onto a summer of modernity. It is my favourite film and I have written about it before: La vie obscure de Henri-Pierre Roché. Continue reading
In early September 1997 my girlfriend, using a pistol, shot me in the back outside 11 Rue Chamagne Premier, Paris. Staggering down the street, left then right, before collapsing, I made three extravagant shapes with my mouth and called her a louse. It was she who had betrayed me to the cops. She did nothing more than move her thumb across her lips. Thus we recreated the final scene of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1959 film A Bout de Souffle. Continue reading
In 1940 Charlie Chaplin released his film The Great Dictator, a satire about Hitler (a man with whom he shared a particular style of moustache). Chaplin’s tramp in the film is a Jewish barber who has lost his memory in the First World War and after years in hospital is released into a militarised Germany under a dictatorship he does not recognise. He looks identical to the country’s dictator, Adenoid Hynkel (also played by Chaplin), and the plot tumbles into a burlesque of mistaken identities. Hynkel is sent to a concentration camp and the barber, now removed from the ghetto and resident at the autocrat’s palace, makes a rabid and hysterical speech in favour of peace whilst lambasting the evils of racism. Chaplin watched Hitler speaking in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will many times in order to mimic the rhetoric. Continue reading
“Who is the greatest Italian painter?”
“Leonardo da Vinci, Miss Brodie.”
“That is incorrect. The answer is Giotto, he is my favourite.”
Here is a list of the thirty greatest films of all time. They have been chosen using the precise critical method Miss Jean Brodie used to select Giotto, they are my favourites. I wrote out the film titles, listed them in chronological order and realised that they were made over a thirty year period. Thirty films in thirty years: why was the cinema of the sixties and seventies so good?
Mood indigo released in cinemas this week, starring Audrey Tautou, has had a mixed reception. It is an adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel, L’écume des jours. The British critics have not been kind about the director Michael Gast’s images of visual whimsy, but at least no one has died. Unlike Vian himself who was killed by his reaction to a film adaptation of another of his novels, J’irai cracher sur vos tombes 1946 (I will spit on your graves). In a preview screening in a Paris cinema in 1959 he died of a heart attack mid protest; mood black. Continue reading
The photograph that I love the most is a black and white image of two male boxers dancing arm in arm, in graceful harmony, one having discarded his gloves. It was taken by the French photographer Raymond Cauchetier in a gymnasium in Paris in 1962 on the set of Francois Truffaut’s film Jules et Jim. It shows two actors from the film, Oskar Werner (left, Jules) and Henry Serre (right, Jim). Cauchetier was the photographer of the French New Wave and had been with the press corps in Indochina before returning to Paris and befriending film critics and filmmakers. He was on the sets of these films as a photojournalist as his interest was in the film process, rather than taking stills for publicity.