Tag Archives: French

222 – Le Doulos

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

We visit another Melville, 1963’s Le Doulos, about a network of criminals searching for an informer in their midst. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays his thief with such assuredly French swagger that it’s no wonder why Quentin Tarantino names this film as a significant influence, though we also pick up on the story’s similarity to Reservoir Dogs, in particular the botched robbery and snitch mystery.

The film has clearly been preserved beautifully, the crispness of the images on Mubi’s stream simply breathtaking. As with Un flic, we consider the characters’ alienation, emphasised here through composition and framing, and their decisions, including the idea that all these men try to do the right thing by their particular code.

Despite looking for things to like, Mike is ultimately nonplussed and a little bored by Le Doulos, preferring, on reflection, Un flic, while José, as ever the spirit of sunshine, beams with praise for it. We can at least agree that it looks fabulous.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

221 – Un flic

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film, Un flic (A Cop), has a bleak feel, its characters isolated amongst harsh architecture and the neverending business of cops and robbers. Alain Delon’s cop follows the trail of Richard Crenna’s thief, whilst handling informants, other cases, and an occasional relationship with Catherine Deneuve.

It’s a film in which feeling shows through small actions, glances, and behaviour. The cop has seen the worst of humanity and carries a weariness with him, but that just makes his capability for generous gestures more meaningful. Mike remarks upon the similarity between cop and thief, both going about their work with a sense of lifeless inertia. We also note the central heist sequence’s clear influence on the climactic set-piece in Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible, comparing the ways in which the scenes work and what their intended effects may be, and José comments on the film’s blue-tinged look, something that contributes greatly to its sense of melancholy.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

217 – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

A delicate, intelligent love story, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire undulates with complex, interlocking themes and emotions. It’s a film about looking: who looks, who is looked at, how one should be seen, for whom the gaze is intended and what the rules are. Héloïse, a young aristocrat, refuses to have her portrait painted for the approval of a Milanese nobleman; an artist named Marianne is commissioned to do just that, but in secret, forcing her to steal glances at her subject and, outwardly, act merely as her companion. The women’s relationship quickly develops, and soon they are collaborating on the portrait to which Héloïse had hitherto objected.

Sciamma demonstrates an eye for beautiful, sensitive composition, and with cinematographer Claire Mathon creates some simply stunning imagery, evoking 18th and 19th century Romantic art; truly, this film understands what it means to paint with light. We consider the differences between the characters: one formerly resident in a convent, brought home to take over her sister’s role to be betrothed; the other a skilled worker, whose life experience Héloïse is keen to probe – and this is to say nothing of Sophie, the maid, who forms friendships with both Héloïse and Marianne, and the drama of whose life experience surely outweighs theirs combined. We discuss how the boundaries between the three – particularly Héloïse and the two workers – are broken down; without the rule-keeping figure of Héloïse’s mother present, the young women are able, to an extent, to reshape the world in which they live. But patriarchy overhangs the entire film, even with men physically absent throughout; the painting into which Marianne and Héloïse are investing their love is the very thing, intended for the Milanese suitor as it is, that will seal their fate to live separate lives.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an ambitious, confident, complex and beautiful film whose imagery soars on the cinema screen. See it.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

99 – Climax

A group of dancers parties the night away, but someone has spiked the sangria with LSD. There are extraordinarily long takes, sex, drugs, violence, and horror. Yes, it’s a Gaspar Noé film.

Climax is a singular cinematic escape into a vision of Hell. Boy, there’s a lot going on. We grapple with the film’s themes of sex, violence, drugs, youth, dance, sexuality, nationality, culture, and whatever else we can remember of its insane 96 minutes. We discuss what we did and didn’t like about the dancing – the pros and cons of the way it’s shot – and what value there is in extraordinary cinematic violence in a world in which footage of horrific real-life violence is commonplace. We discuss the detail of Climax‘s cinematography and editing and the effects they have on our experiences, particularly shooting upside-down and inserting almost subconsciously brief flashes of black frames in otherwise normal cuts. We’re reminded of Do the Right Thing, The Exterminating Angel, and Salò, and indeed Climax wears its influences on its sleeve. José reads it allegorically, finding reference to Europe, cultural power, and race, though so far adding it all up remains beyond us.

It fired Mike up enough to have a go at a guy who’d had his phone on during the cinema, but it enveloped José so completely that he didn’t even notice the distraction. And Mike made a film like this once! As he puts it, “Not as good as this, probably, but a lot shorter.” You can see that here if you like:

In short, Climax is certainly worth your time. There’s so much going on and we’ll be seeing it again when the mac screens it in November.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

63 – Custody

This week we go arthouse and discuss Xavier Legrand’s first feature, Custody (Jusqu’à la garde), though ‘arthouse’ perhaps only in the sense that it’s subtitled. In some ways, the film is shot in a realist style, halfway between British kitchen sink drama and the Dardennes’ more leisurely, microscopic style. The film revolves around a couple in the process of divorce battling for custody of their young son. The boy wants to stay with his mother. Has he been coached? Is his mind being poisoned against his father?

We discuss how the first section is basically an exposition of the law where the father is surrounded by women, how the film initially orchestrates the audience’s sympathy around the father, and how this changes as the film unfolds. Is the film a critique of male privilege? Why is it so unpleasant so watch? Is it material that television handles better? What’s the point of putting an audience through this type of experience? We both adore Denis Ménochet as the father but really praise the whole cast. José loved it; Mike did not. The conversation as to why this is so occupies much of the second half of the podcast.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

62 – 120 BPM

José has been obsessed with 120 BPM and was very keen to hear what Mike, who is much younger and not gay, thought of it. Is his obsession due to purely personal reasons – the film seems to reflect a part of his youth – or is the film actually as good as he thinks it is? Is it a niche film or does it have meanings and feelings to communicate to a broader audience? Is the movie really great or is just it something José’s particularly vulnerable to weeping at the mere thought of?

We talk about it in relation to Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance, currently on at the Young Vic in London. We also discuss the film as ‘director-as-editor’ filmmaking. We agree that despite the film’s length – almost the same as Infinity War! – there’s not a moment we’d cut. We discuss the opening sequences, all meetings, political actions, and introductions of characters; we agree that the sex scene in the hospital is one of the best ever filmed. Sex and desire in the film is always on the table and we discuss how it takes on different meanings. We also touch on film form but always only as a way of understanding what the film shows in a historical context.

Luckily for José, Mike liked it and was not sorry he’d bullied him into seeing it.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.