Brigitte Bardot Plays Herself

Before he had reached the age of thirty, French director Louis Malle (born in 1932) had already emerged as one of his country’s most critically acclaimed and internationally recognized filmmakers on the basis of his first three films – The Oscar®-winning documentary, The Silent World (1956), which he co-directed with Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the atmospheric noir Elevator to the Gallows (1958), and the controversial adultery drama, The Lovers (1958). Many film critics felt that his fourth film, Zazie dans le metro (1960), based on the novel by Raymond Queneau, was his most adventurous and impressive work to date but it failed to generate ticket sales and was a costly failure. Due to this, Malle felt pressured to make a more commercial feature and the result was A Very Private Affair (1962, French title Vie privée), starring Brigitte Bardot.   Continue reading

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Adrift in a L.A. Haze

Anouk Aimée in Jacques Demy's Model Shop (1969)

Anouk Aimée in Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969)

Los Angeles has served as the backdrop for countless Hollywood movies but in Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969), the French director’s first and only American film (if you don’t count the 1984 made-for-TV movie Louisiana), the city becomes the real protagonist. With its sprawling urban landscape, oil derricks, desolate beaches and constant traffic, it  provides a vivid canvas for a contemporary love story about romantic longing, missed connections and unrealized dreams. Film writer Clare Stewart referred to the film in the film journal Senses of Cinema as “a road movie that doesn’t go anywhere” but that’s not a putdown. It’s an apt description of what Demy was trying to create here – a drifting, dreamy mood piece.   Continue reading

Any Port in a Storm

sailor from Gibraltar (fra) posterAlong with his film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark (1969), Tony Richardson’s The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967) is probably the most obscure and rarely seen film from the director’s middle period, a time when he was floundering and unable to match the earlier critical and commercial success of his 1963 Tom Jones adaptation. There are many reasons for that, of course, and Richardson would probably admit it was one of his biggest disasters, if not the biggest. It also wasn’t intended for the average moviegoer and was much more attuned to art house cinema patrons with its enigmatic story based on the novel Le marin de Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras, whose screenplay for Hiroshima, Mon Amour received an Oscar® nomination in 1961 (even though the film was released in 1959). To date, The Sailor from Gibraltar is still missing in action with no legal DVD or Blu-Ray release available. Continue reading

Truckin’ With Jean Gabin

Jean Gabin plays a world weary trunk driver in Henri Verneuil's Des gens sans importance (1956, aka People of No Importance).

Jean Gabin plays a world weary trunk driver in Henri Verneuil’s Des gens sans importance (1956, aka People of No Importance).

One of the great stars of French cinema, Jean Gabin was also an unofficial film culture ambassador for his country whose career can be divided into five distinct phases; the first would be a brief stint in silent films and playing secondary roles in the first French “talkies” and the second would be as a ruggedly handsome, melancholy anti-hero and acclaimed actor who reached a career peak in the late thirties with Port of Shadows (1938), La Bete Humaine (1938), and Le Jour se Leve (1939). The third phase, the years between 1939 and 1953, are generally considered a fallow period in which he attempted an unsuccessful bid for Hollywood stardom and experienced equal disappointments in the French film industry.   Continue reading