Movies reviewed this week: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Purple Noon, Petite Maman, and La Haine.
5/9/2022: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972): *****
Yeah, okay, Fassbinder really did hit his stride once he decided he wanted to work with melodrama. The nihilism in The American Soldier is a lot of what I liked about it, but in this movie the same degree of nihilism serves a more pointed end and that lifts it to superior heights.
Also the acting is better. The movie wouldn’t work if any of the three leads weren’t capable of holding our attention. (Has there ever been a lead with as little dialogue as Marlene?)
The cinematography is as lush as anything Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle ever did. Circling back to the actors and adding in the costume design: all of this brings the huge Baroque Midas and Bacchus down off the wall and extends it into the third dimension of Petra’s claustrophobic living space. Visually stunning in a way I didn’t expect after the black and white noir of The American Soldier.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the fact that I’ve fallen for both Agnès Varda and Rainer Werner Fassbinder this year. One’s a supremely human empath who worked for her entire long lifetime, and one’s a monster who died young. I don’t think you can be as scathing as Fassbinder without really understanding humans, though — Petra’s pain isn’t defined by Fassbinder’s scorn, it’s created by his understanding. His empathy just led him to really different places.
5/10/2022: Purple Noon (1960): ***1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a film on the Summer Travels list
My, Alain Delon is pretty. Also quite good even this young. Tom Ripley isn’t an easy character to play, with that mix of boldness and self-loathing, and Delon did well with it. I know many critics think he’s a completely aloof Ripley but I disagree: the early scene where he’s trying to romance the woman in the carriage right alongside Greenleaf is the giveaway. He’s desperate to emulate Greenleaf. It’s further demonstrated in his anger when Greenleaf corrects him on silverware. Delon’s Ripley hates being poor, hates being stupid. That’s why he jokes about being clever.
Marie Laforêt, for her part, has an easier role in Marge but I thought she inhabited it well. It must have been an experience to see them effectively debut together.
Also beautiful: the scenery. There was a point where I was convinced the little Italian town was a matte painting because it was too perfect and too still. Nope, that’s just a slice of sun-drenched coast. Really the best parts of this movie take place in the sunlight, including the lengthy tense sailing trip.
I thought the movie decayed a bit after that trip. It was still tense, but in a punctuated way. Ripley’s first real crime is where all the built up tension explodes and Clément never quite winds it up to the same degree again, although he does stay nicely chilling.
I am also inclined to agree with Patricia Highsmith about the ending — you gotta embrace the amorality. So that’s a fault. Considered separately from the book, though, it’s a fine psychological drama.
5/14/2022: Petite Maman (2021): ****1/2
Gentle without being soppy. Simple enough not to need explanations. I don’t have this kind of relationship with my parents, for about a million reasons, and I don’t regret what was never going to be possible, but it’s moving to see it on screen.
And this is my first Céline Sciamma movie. Does she always make such perfect use of sound?
5/15/2022: La Haine (1995): ****1/2
Scathing. It took me a while to realize that Paris is the locus of whiteness in this one: white art gallery, white skinheads, white cops. The immigrant/minority protagonists come from the banlieues. The suburbs. So that’s a difference between France and the United States. But, you know, it’s the same fear of the different.
Pay attention to which one of the kids doesn’t get blamed for the riots, and which one (it’s the same one) who slips past trouble most of the time.
Everyone involved in this was young. The energy shows it. You can’t get away with borrowing as much as Kassovitz does without being brash about it. He fuses it together into his own creation, certainly.
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