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Population: One

Petite Maman, 2021 – ★★★★½

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?

Purple Noon, 1960 – ★★★½

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 22/52
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.

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.

The American Soldier, 1970 – ★★★★

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 21/52
Prompt: Watch a film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

I dithered a lot on the right movie for this prompt but ultimately decided, yeah, let’s go for the lesser regarded gangster neo-noir over a Sirkian melodrama. Not that I don’t like Sirk a lot, but for a director I’m watching for the first time I’m more likely to enjoy the neo-noir.

Good call, past me! This bitterly nihilistic gangster movie is in my sweet spot. In places it lacks coherence — I think we had one too many meandering symbolic story — but the chilly black and white style carries the effort through. The closing shot is also a marvel; that display of grief unabashedly shows the passion which every single other person in the movie fights to conceal.

There were a couple of scenes where I thought the movie might be too misogynistic for me. Ricky, the titular American soldier, doesn’t treat women well. But particularly after the scene with the Romani, it became clear that it’s a general attitude towards perceived weakness. And he considered just about everyone he interacts with to be weak.

Man, that style, though. It’s noir, but it’s higher contrast noir. Fassbinder took the usual high contrast black and white and turns it up full volume, washing out details. The scenes of driving in the sunlight have almost too much glare.

The Sweet Hereafter, 1997 – ★★★★★

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 20/52
Prompt: Watch any Criterion film on your watchlist

As is evident from the prompt, this is one of the movies I picked for the challenge because it’s been on my list to watch forever. I just needed that extra push. As with Hiroshima Mon Amour, my explorations into Kieślowski’s Three Color trilogy, and Cléo from 5 to 7, I have been amply rewarded for figuring out a way to push myself.

My favorite music is sad. It is not entirely the case that my favorite movies are about grief, but look at that list of movies I just reeled off in the last paragraph. I like exuberance and action, a lot. I am also drawn towards melancholy. Egoyan explores the nature of grief in this movie without sugarcoating the terrible things that grief can lead to.

The bus accident didn’t destroy that town. The town was in terrible shape, gliding over betrayal and corruption of the soul: that’s in all the stories Egoyan tells here. Ian Holm’s Mitchell Stevens isn’t really the cause of the pain he leaves in his wake, he’s just the magnifying glass.

There’s something quietly savage about Billy’s offer of help, “the way we used to do it… because this was a community.” The man who’s having an affair with someone else’s wife is citing community? Again, the town was never what they all wanted it to be.

Those two scenes which Holm and Sarah Polley share are gifts. Two amazing actors, spending most of that screen time watching each other.

I loved the lack of easy answers. I don’t even think the Pied Piper symbolism is clear. It’s just a myth, and the best myths flavor everything.

It’s Always Fair Weather, 1955 – ★★★★

Totally delightful. I wouldn’t call it cynical at all; the ending is upbeat and (spoiler) friendship does conquer all. Clear-eyed is more apt. The message is that you have to work to keep your dreams, but if you do, you probably get where you want to be. 

That’s still pretty refreshing. Cyd Charisse nails it as an independent smart woman who doesn’t have to set aside her intellect at any point. The dancing is really really good.

Hopscotch, 1980 – ★★★½

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 19/52
Prompt: Watch a movie made in America

Really very charming. There are a lot of good actors in this and with the exception of poor Ned Beatty, they’re all at maximum likability. Sam Waterston brought his eyebrows. It’s mostly Matthau’s movie, but Glenda Jackson knows how to craft a memorable performance out of the exasperated helpmeet.

There’s not all that much tension amid the lovely locations. I can’t say I objected. It’s a lazy shaggy dog story carried by our affection for Matthau and Jackson, which is fine.

I’ve just finished Slow Horses this week. It’s amusing thinking about Gary Oldman’s Jackson Lamb meeting Matthau’s Miles Kendig. They’re both of an archetype: the slouching rumpled older spy who appears to have aged out of being dangerous, with an emphasis on “appears.”  Lamb’s world is actually dangerous, though. Diana Taverner would eat G. P. Myerson alive.