Thursday, August 31, 2006

En français: Fanfan la Tulipe et La Moustache

The past week was a slow one for watching movies; I went without on the weekend because Matt got us tickets to the Red Sox "Futures at Fenway" double header, and I spent time that could well have gone to seeing films spending more money than I'd like on a couple things that often seem of limited utility: A suit to wear to Kent's wedding on Saturday and a TV stand for the HDTV that should arrive tomorrow.

I don't get the suit thing. I understand wanting to look nice, but suit jackets are annoying to get into and out of, and it's not like a $100 pair of pants does anything that a $20 pair doesn't. I certainly don't feel better-looking wearing it. As to the TV stand, well, even if I'd bought a plasma or LCD, I wouldn't be allowed to hang it on the wall. The joys of renting. So I spent money on something which just sits there. It will let me tidy the living room up a little, but it was a pain to get home - it didn't quite fit in the cab properly, and then it was a good thing Matt was home to help me unload it. Since he's working tomorrow, I may have to devise an elaborate system of ropes, pulleys, and ramps to get the actual television in the house.

So, anyway, just the two movies in the past weeks, coincidentally French films from the opposite ends of the spectrum - Fanfan la Tulipe is old and light, straightforward period adventure; La Moustache is contemporary and arty. They're both pretty good at what they do, but I liked Fanfan a bit more - it's nonsense, but it's nonsense with a clear goal in mind, which it achieves. Moustache's nonsense probably achieves its goal, too, but I'm not sure that goal has merit. It's the sort of movie where I half-suspect the filmmaker is playing a practical joke on the audience - that the film has no greater purpose than to contradict itself, and the director is highly amused every time someone claims to find a theme or an explanation.

Also, one of these wasn't what I expected - Google's movie page pegged Fanfan as a 2003 remake with Vincent Perez and Penelope Cruz, rather than the early-50s monochrome version. I'm not complaining at all, though.

Ah, well. They're both short, under ninety minutes.

Fanfan la Tulipe

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2006 at Landmark Kendall Square #9 (Special Engagement)

This is sort of a fun, French Adventures of Robin Hood. Fanfan isn't out to rob the rich and give to the poor, though - he's a rogue who joins the army looking to avoid marrying the country girl he's defloured, and suckered in by a gypsy girl's claim that he'll marry the King's daughter. Gerard Philipe is a charmer as the title character, full of joie de vivre, impatient with things that might negatively impact his carefree lifestyle, but willing to jump headlong into danger. Gina Lollabrigida brings the sex appeal as the fake gypsy who falls for him, and a brace of supporting characters are memorable.

Fanfan reminds me of the Erroll Flynn Robin Hood, although it's shot in black and white rather than Robin Hood's bright colors. It's full of light-hearted derring-do, swordfighting, and athletic action pieces that may not be as polished as a latter-day Hong Kong picture, but are still exuberant. It features sly gallic wit, gently mocking kings who treat war as a game and deriving much more overt joy from Lollabrigida's pulchritude than an American family adventure of the time might.

Overall, a fun, frothy little morsel that fans of the swashbuckler should find delightful.

La Moustache

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Special Engagement)

It's not often you actually feel yourself going back-and-forth during a movie. The opening of this one is playful and kind of sexy, though it quickly seems to become a sort of melodrama about how the need to be right can poison a relationship. That drags on for a bit, though, and I find myself starting to get impatient. Then things get interesting as Marc (Vincent London), who shaved the mustache he has always worn off only to have people claim he never had one, starts to suspect that he's losing his mind, and then something more sinister.

And then, things go off the rails. The segment where he flies to Hong Kong, and then repeatedly rides the ferry back and forth between Hong Kong and Kowloon is just repetitive and mind-numbing. I stopped trying to make any sense of it here, because you just can't. It gets strange, and pretty much anything you might have thought the film was about is just rendered moot.

In the end, I'm not sure whether the first two thirds intrigued me more than the last frustrated me. That's not an uncommon reaction for me; I lost patience with Mulholland Drive the same way. It's not so much that a mystery requires a solution, but just wandering into other territory drives me nuts.

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