Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pre-Fantasia: À Double Tour, Lifeboat, and The Break-Up

It'd be tempting just to punt these three movies I saw before Fantasia and my new, more purely bloggish plan of making this a journal while HBS/EFC gets the full reviews. But, there's stuff that interests me here, even if I won't be writing about it directly - I noticed that À Double Tour was based on a novel by someone whose work was also adapted into a movie in the Brattle's Rare Noir series, I spotted that HBS does not have a review of Lifeboat... So I figured I'd try to catch up with these. Why not, right?

À Double Tour (aka Web of Passion)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 June 2006 at the Harvard Film Archive (Eight weeks of Film History)

As À Double Tour opens, the beauty coming from the Marcoux house is enough to make men trip over their own feet, so drawn are their eyes to the half-dressed girl in the window. Of course, as most have by now come to expect, it is just the trappings of their prosperous life that shine so brightly - Julie is not a member of the family, but the maid. So, in a way, the beautiful servant is just another extension of the beautiful garden outside the beautiful house; a trapping of Henri Marcoux's success that doesn't reflect the strain and dissatisfaction within.

Henri (Jacques Dacqmine), of course, has a mistress - a fabulous red-haired Italian girl named Léda (Antonella Lualdi) whose nearby home is filled with souvenirs from her life in the Orient. He's barely doing anything to conceal it, and his wife Thérèse (Madeline Robinson) is unwilling to divorce. Husband and wife both disapprove of Laszlo Kovacs (Jean-Paul Belmondo), the Czechoslovakian man their daughter Elisabeth (Jeanne Valérie) has taken up with, especially since he has brought a friend (László Szabó) with him to their house - the friend is polite and seems uninterested in participating in Laszlo's freeloading, but it's the principle of the thing. Son Richard (André Jocelyn), meanwhile, is the kind of unfailingly polite young man that has to be hiding something, and his awkward attempts to flirt with Julie (Bernadette Lafont), the maid, might give the audience a good idea what it is.

This being a film by Claude Chabrol, there will be a murder, and a detective (André Dino) come to solve it. The detective, of course, will be largely irrelevant; this murder is a family matter, and the Marcoux family figures it doesn't have a whole lot of reason to be forthcoming. The prime suspect appears to be Julie's boyfriend, and for her sake they would like it to be someone else - especially if that someone else was Laszlo. Not that Thérèse and Henri plan to offer their daughter's fiancé up to the police on a silver platter - no, they must be more subtle.

Read the rest at HBS.

Lifeboat

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 June 2006 at the Harvard Film Archive (Eight weeks of Film History)

As I write this in August of 2006, there don't seem to be many Gulf War II movies being made aside from documentaries, which strikes me as a bit odd, considering that films like Lifeboat sprung from World War II in real time. Is it because the country is currently too divided for a film to appeal to everybody, or because of something more practical (films take longer to create and change potentially coming much quicker)? Whatever the reason, it's a shame that the present conflict doesn't seem to be spawning any films as topical, intelligent, and gripping as this.

The film starts with a Liberty Ship sunk, and one survivor, award-winning photographer Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) in the lifeboat of the title. Soon, others are fished out of the wreckage - sailors John (John Hodiak), Gus (William Bendix), who is wounded, "Sparks" (Hume Cronyn) and George (Canada Lee), the only black man in the boat; industrialist Charles "Ritt" Rittenhouse (Henry Hull); nurse Alice McKenzie (Mary Anderson), and pregnant Mrs. Higley (Heather Angel). Also saved from the sea is Willy (Walter Slezak), part of the crew of the German sub which was also sunk in the battle. Many think he should be thrown out of the boat, but Constance plays the "we'd be no better than them" card. Which initially seems fortunate, because he seems to be one of the most capable people on the boat.

Hitchcock made several films which took place in relatively confined spaces - consider Rear Window, The Lady Vanishes and Rope, but Lifeboat is easily the most constrained. The lifeboat doesn't give people a lot of room to move around, but it's not quite so tight as you might initially think. As factions form among the survivors, there's just enough room for them to separate a little, and maybe even hide things from the others. There’s not enough room for the camera to go anywhere, though, and there’s no easy way to remove a character from a scene for convenience’s sake. It’s quite a challenge Hitchcock and screenwriter Jo Swerling (working from a story by John Steinbeck) have set for themselves, but it’s one they meet with alacrity. There’s a bizarre combination of claustrophobia and agoraphobia at play here, as the characters have neither room to move nor bounds to their world. Hitchcock is free to move his camera around, but the irony is that even if we’re not locked into one view, we’re still seeing much the same thing.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Break-Up

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 July 2006 at AMC Boston Common #19 (First-run)

The Break-Up feels genuine because it is comfortable with a basic truth: Well-meaning people can be complete jerks. People being ugly is not necessarily the most enjoyable thing to watch in terms of being entertaining in a straightforward manner, but every once in a while it's nice to see a romantic comedy's wacky hijinks exposed as not being particularly wacky.

The film opens with Gary Grobowski (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke Meyers (Jennifer Aniston) meeting at a Cubs game. Brooke's there with someone else, but Gary's aggressive, making the point that if she's not really enjoying the date, why see it through to the end when she has the chance to do something that really makes her happy? The credits roll, a photo montage of the next three years of their lives as they go out and move in together. On the other end of the credits, though, things aren't so rosy, as Brooke's preparing for a dinner with her family and Gary's not helping the cause. The dinner is the straw that breaks the camel's back, and they're soon splitting, but unable to come to a decision over who should keep the condominium they purchased together.

At this point, we probably expect The Break-Up to go in the general direction of The Awful Truth, and certainly the advertising points in that direction. Indeed, at certain points it seems reasonable to assume that The Awful Truth is Brooke's plan, but as we all soon learn, part of the fun of screwball comedy is in just how divorced from reality it frequently is. Being broken up and in the same condo makes it almost impossible to see what they loved about each other; their interactions are a long series of finding new and familiar ways to irritate each other. Indeed, as the film goes on, we find ourselves more and more having to strain to remember that photo montage, as it gets harder and harder to visualize these two not just in love, but even liking each other.

Read the rest at HBS.

1 comment:

tin169 said...

Now fantasia has envaded the acting career. I hope she will do better on acting in as much as in singing. I heard her life story is going to be a certified hit too. Why can't it be? She will be playing the role herself!