The Lost Souls of Sao Paulo

Long Day’s Journey into Night is the title of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1956 play but it could also serve as a succinct capsule description of numerous movies from the 1960s that were clearly influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) and its themes of alienation and existential despair. Some examples include Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s Il Mare (1962) which follows three strangers on the isle of Capri during a bleak winter season as they try to connect with each other. Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) depicts a dystopian futuristic society in which a detective finds himself out of place in a modernistic Paris controlled by an oppressive artificial intelligence. And Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969) uses the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and its smog-creating car culture as a backdrop to an unemployed architect’s search for meaning in his life. Yet, the most Antonioni-like film of all and the least known is probably Noite Vazia (1964) by Brazilian director Walter Hugo Khouri, which traces a dusk-to-down encounter between two men and two women amid the sterile cityscapes of modern Sao Paulo.

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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