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Month: October 2012

Two English Girls / Deux Anglaises et le Continent, Le (1971)

Two English Girls / Deux Anglaises et le Continent, Le (1971)

“They stopped by a river full of torrents: they decided the tumbling water was like Ann, the eddies like Claude, the peaceful pools like Muriel.”

Synopsis:
In the early 20th century, a young Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Leaud) befriends two English sisters — Ann (Kika Markham) and Muriel (Stacey Tendeter) — while living with them and their mother (Sylvia Marriott) in their countryside home. With encouragement from Ann, Claude (Leaud) falls in love with Muriel, but his mother (Marie Mansart) insists that they spend a year apart to verify their commitment to one another. Claude soon finds himself attracted to other women, and when Ann arrives in Paris to study art, she and Claude begin an affair, thus further complicating Claude’s feelings towards both sisters.

Genres:

Review:
Peary notes that while he once found this adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roche‘s novel to be “depressing and endless”, he “now considers it one of Truffaut’s most romantic films, a heartfelt exploration of the passions, jealousies, inadequacies, and insecurities of young lovers”. He writes that “Truffaut’s three sheltered, innocent characters take years to consummate their loves, so handicapped are they by interfering mothers, as well as by physical infirmities and cockeyed personal moralities” — but he posits that “the relationships between Claude and each sister are mutually beneficial, no matter that he takes advantage of them and they manipulate him into filling their sexual and intellectual needs”. He points out that “as in Jules and Jim (also from a novel by… Roche) and Stolen Kisses, lovers never love each other equally at the same time”; but he argues that “the romance comes through anyway because of cinematographer Nestor Almendros’s pictorial beauty…, Georges Delerue’s lush, haunting score, and Truffaut’s singular ability to make us sense that the hearts of his characters… are beating several times faster and louder than our own”.

There’s no denying the “pictorial beauty” of Two English Girls, which is consistently gorgeous, with fine attention paid to period detail. However, the storyline itself suffers from being too much of a somber literary adaptation, with Truffaut’s customary voice-over dominating the proceedings. Ultimately, those who have seen Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (and which film fanatic hasn’t?) will recognize this later film as simply a variation on the same theme; indeed, Leaud’s callow character is clearly based on Roche, and is even seen at one point writing and publishing a novel called Jerome et Julien, “about a woman who loved two men… It was his story, which transposed his love for the two sisters.” But while Jules and Jim remains a heady New Wave classic, utilizing creative editing and a non-linear storyline, Two English Girls takes more than two hours to tell its multi-year tale, and eventually becomes somewhat wearisome. In sum, I find myself agreeing with Peary’s initial take on the movie (as “depressing and endless”), rather than with his later enthusiasm.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nestor Almendros’ cinematography
  • Georges Delerue’s score

Must See?
No, though Truffaut fans will want to check it out.

Links:

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

“We burn them to ashes, and then burn the ashes — that’s our official motto.”

Synopsis:
In an anti-literate future where citizens are discouraged from independent thinking, firemen like Montag (Oskar Werner) burn the books they find hidden in people’s homes. Montag’s wife, Linda (Julie Christie), is perfectly content remaining sedated through pills and watching her “wall screen” all day, while his neighbor Clarisse (also Christie) questions the government’s motives, and struggles with losing her teaching position. Will Montag choose a “safe” life of ignorance with his beautiful wife, or assist Clarisse and rebel against the very laws he’s paid to enforce?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary posits that “the sci-fi genre got a needed dose of respectability when Francois Truffaut adapted Ray Bradbury’s classic novel,” but argues that “unfortunately, Truffaut’s low-keyed, ungimmicky production is a disappointment — as is Bradbury’s novel, if you reread it today.” He notes that while “there are some haunting visuals” and “a couple of tense confrontations between idealistic fireman Guy Montag… and his stern captain (Cyril Cusack)”, the “film lacks the passion present in Truffaut’s other films” — perhaps because “Truffaut, the true romantic, had trouble rationalizing Montag preferring an asexual, purely intellectual relationship with a woman who reads… to years of lovemaking with his pleasure-seeking… wife”. He writes that “if the choice were between love/sex and seeing films (rather than reading books), then Truffaut could have felt more emotional about Montag’s willingness to sacrifice home, wife, and job and risk his life”.

While Peary’s hypothesis is a provocative one, I don’t think it quite holds water. First, as much as he adored every aspect of films and filmmaking, Truffaut was a deeply literate man who found tremendous value in books and writing — as is evident not only in many of his other films (where he often shows his characters engaged in thoughtful writing), but through his lifelong work as a screenwriter, as well as his frequent decision to adapt novels for the screen. Second, Montag isn’t shown being “seduced” by Clarisse in any way — in fact, their relationship never smacks of anything other than complicity in their growing awareness of how restricted their lives are. Linda and Clarisse (cleverly portrayed by the same actress — though this wasn’t Truffaut’s original intent) simply serve as dueling catalysts in Montag’s deeply personal struggle — indeed, Fahrenheit 451 is all about Montag.

On that note, Werner and Truffaut notoriously butted heads over their conception of how Montag should be portrayed, to the point where their friendship ended bitterly and Werner attempted to sabotage continuity in the final scenes of the film by cutting his hair (!). While many disagree, I find Werner’s performance to be oddly compelling, in a robotic sort of way — he acts exactly how I would imagine a man in his position (and within this particular society) might act under such circumstances. Meanwhile, though Christie’s performance as short-haired Clarisse (her wig is terrible) isn’t particularly noteworthy, she does a fine job portraying Linda as a willing Stepford Wife, exhibiting an appropriate air of befuddlement when her husband suddenly begins to sabotage the secure life they’ve created for themselves. The best performance in the film, however, is a brief one given by stage actress Bee Duffel as “The Book Lady”, whose love of books overrides any other sense of self-preservation; she’s haunting to watch in her few moments on screen.

As a whole, however, I agree with Peary that the film is somewhat of a “disappointment”, perhaps due in part to limitations in the original novel (which I haven’t read in many years — but message board posts on IMDb corroborate this suspicion). There are ultimately too many glaring inconsistencies and unanswered questions in the story itself to allow this adaptation to be anything other than a provocatively stylized rendering of a uniquely dystopian society; as DVD Savant puts it, “Conceptual problems that may have been easy to evade in print, leap out of the movie screen”, mostly revolving around Truffaut’s choice to show the entire society as “printless”. Yet it’s certainly worth a one-time look by film fanatics — for its visuals, its enduringly relevant themes, and a stand-out score by Bernard Herrmann.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Oskar Werner as Montag
  • Bee Duffel as “the Book Lady”
  • Fine art direction and cinematography (the latter by Nicolas Roeg)
  • Bernard Herrmann’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.

Links:

Day for Night / Nuit Américaine, Le (1973)

Day for Night / Nuit Américaine, Le (1973)

“Shooting a movie is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. At first you hope for a nice trip; soon you just hope to reach your destination.”

Synopsis:
With his loyal script girl (Nathalie Baye) by his side, a director (Francois Truffaut) making an innocuous romantic drama in Nice experiences seemingly endless troubles with his stars — including a young male lead (Jean-Pierre Leaud) whose infatuation with a sexy apprentice (Dani) serves as a constant distraction; a young female lead (Jacqueline Bisset) recovering from a mental breakdown; an older male lead (Jean-Pierre Aumont) with a secret love life; and an older female lead (Valentina Cortese) with a drinking problem.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Francois Truffaut’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film” is “as intricately constructed as Nashville,” “giving us glimpses into the chaotic lives of the various members of cast and crew (and their companions) who all seem to be sleeping with each other”. He notes that “the film debunks myths about the glamour of the movies”, given that “the performers are emotional wrecks, filming is done out of sequence and in bits and pieces, prompt cards are taped to walls, [and] night scenes are filmed in the day”. He argues that the “film is, surprisingly, a tribute to actors, who are insecure, vulnerable, and constantly suffering, yet are generous and sacrificing” — but I don’t quite agree; instead, what stands out to me is the critical role played on set by the non-glamorous assistants, as epitomized by Truffaut’s script girl (Baye), who is constantly at his side, on the move, and willing to step in as needed to rectify the (at times) ridiculous or seemingly hopeless situations that emerge.

Regardless, Day for Night remains a delightfully absorbing backstage drama, one which almost instantly makes us (as viewers) regret any criticism we heap upon “poor” filmmakers, given what a miracle it apparently is that anything noteworthy ever emerges from their efforts. In addition to a classic scene involving a kitten who refuses to drink the milk placed in front of it, the most memorable instance of such insanity is the tragic yet hilarious extended sequence in which drunk Cortese attempts in vain to remember her lines and open up the correct door; to that end, Cortese perfectly embodies an aging diva desperate to maintain her dignity while clearly on the path towards irreparable decline, and Jean-Pierre Aumont is equally well-cast as her past-and-present romantic co-star. Much less involving is the storyline involving Leaud’s callow, self-absorbed young star; his single-minded passion for a free-spirited young woman (Dani) is simply a distraction. However, Bisset gives a fine, vulnerable performance as the female star of the film, who doesn’t arrive on set until fairly late in the film but remains a dominant presence. She’s never been lovelier (and her French is quite remarkable).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jacqueline Bisset as Julie
  • Valentina Cortese as Severine
  • Nathalie Baye as Joelle
  • A fascinating, amusing look at behind-the-scenes film-making

  • Georges Delerue’s score

Must See?
Yes, as one of Truffaut’s most enjoyable movies, and an invaluable glimpse at both the joys and struggles inherent in film-making.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Wild Child, The (1970)

Wild Child, The (1970)

“I think the only cause of his dumbness is the isolation in which he lived.”

Synopsis:
In 18th century France, Dr. Itard (Francois Truffaut) assumes responsibility for training a young boy (Jean-Pierre Cargol) found living feral in the forest — but he soon begins to question exactly how much he can teach Cargol, who may have been irreparably damaged by his years of solitary existence.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while the “true story” behind Truffaut’s ninth feature-length film “makes for a fascinating movie premise”, and that the “portrayals by both Cargol and Truffaut are believable”, it’s nonetheless “not as enjoyable as one would hope”. He cites several potential reasons for this, including “the absence of humor”, the lack of “surprises (since fictional works have covered the same subject)”, the fact that “the mystery of the boy’s origins was never solved”, and/or resentment for “what the doctor is doing (even though he has good intentions)”. My major complaint about the film — which I actually find admirably low-key and restrained for Truffaut — is that the emphasis placed on Itard’s chronicled methods for trying to “train” Victor eventually starts to feel both repetitive and ill-conceived. While Peary argues that “the most interesting scenes are those in which the boy temporarily tires of civilization’s restraints/rules and, like Tarzan, returns to the wilderness and his brutish state” (thus revealing Peary’s naturalistic bias), there’s never really any doubt that Victor is better off learning how to live within society. What’s unfortunate is that the film — remaining clinically faithful to Itard’s published articles, including plenty of voice-overs by Truffaut-as-Itard — eventually focuses almost exclusively on Itard’s relentless attempt to impose joyless academic learning on Victor, at the expense of more valuable “lessons” in (for instance) social interaction with peers.

Unlike Peary, most other critics found (and continue to find) much to praise about the film; for instance, Time Out’s reviewer calls it “as lucid and wryly witty a film as you could wish for, uncluttered by superfluous period detail”, with “a beautiful use of simple techniques” — such as “black-and-white photography, Vivaldi music, even devices as outmoded as the iris” — “giv[ing] it a very refreshing quality”. While my ultimate opinion lies somewhere in between Peary’s and the above assessment, what I’m most impressed by in the film is the astonishing performance given by Cargol, a gypsy selected from 2,500 potential boys to play the title role. Cargol (who apparently never acted again, instead turning to a career in music as an adult) is never anything less than entirely believable, seemingly remaining oblivious to the presence of the camera as he gives one of the most convincing child performances I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s for his performance alone that I recommend this film as one-time must-see viewing for film fanatics (who will surely also appreciate Nestor Almendros’ luminous b&w cinematography).

Note: Click here to read some additional background on the film, told in part from the perspective of Truffaut’s daughter, Laura, who was on the set as a child.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jean-Pierre Cargol as Victor
  • Francois Truffaut as Dr. Itard
  • Fine b&w cinematography by Nestor Almendros

Must See?
Yes, simply for Cargol’s astonishingly “natural” performance.

Categories

Links:

Silkwood (1983)

Silkwood (1983)

“I think you’d do just about anything to shut down this plant.”

Synopsis:
A nuclear factory employee named Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) is distressed to learn that her company may be engaging in less-than-safe practices — but as she becomes more active in her local union, she finds herself increasingly isolated from her co-workers, who fear loss of their jobs if the factory shuts down.

Genres:

Review:
Meryl Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance firmly grounds this disturbing biopic about labor union activist Karen Silkwood, whose mysterious death in a car accident while on her way to meet with a reporter remains one of the most notorious instances of “whistle blowers” meeting an untimely demise. Given that viewers know the outcome of this real-life tragedy in advance, director Mike Nichols (working from a script by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen) wisely frames his story as both an ethnographic look at Silkwood’s working-class existence — she’s estranged from her kids, living with her boyfriend (Kurt Russell) and lesbian friend (Cher) — and as an unsolved mystery story (is someone contaminating Silkwood on purpose?). Streep, naturally, is phenomenal in the title role, providing a nuanced portrayal of a woman who’s both easy to like (she’s amiable and free-spirited) and easy to hate (she’s mildly manipulative and not easily deterred). What’s most fascinating about her story — other than seeing how close-to-the-edge she and her co-workers live on a daily basis, given the dangerous work they’re doing — is watching Silkwood’s consciousness slowly growing, as she uncovers more and more instances of suspiciously neglectful and/or deceitful behavior on the part of her employers. The “scrub down” showers — shown being given to Silkwood herself and to a terrified co-worker (stage actress Sudie Bond) — remain among the most horrifying scenes in non-horror cinema.

Note: Click here to read a follow-up story in People Magazine about the various individuals in Silkwood’s real life.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Fine supporting performances
  • A powerful, often-scary, “based on real life” screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as an all-around good show, and for Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance.

Categories

Links:

Jules and Jim (1962)

Jules and Jim (1962)

“Jim accepted it. She belonged to Jules.”

Synopsis:
In pre-WWI Paris, a pair of close friends — Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner) and Frenchman Jim (Henri Serre) — both fall for a free-spirited young woman named Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), but Jules claims her for his own, which Jim accepts. Soon, however, Jules realizes that Catherine is not content with just one partner, and he allows her infatuation with Jim to run its course, with unexpectedly complicated results.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this “marvelous film” — a classic of the French New Wave — as Francois Traffaut’s “masterpiece”, noting that it’s “so wonderfully acted and written that it’s a pleasure to listen to”. He points out that the “sumptuous yet leisurely direction by Truffaut, music by Georges Delerue, and camera work by Raoul Coutard, particularly when panning, create an incomparably romantic ambiance”. He calls it all in all a “great film, with scenes, characters, [and] faces that will stick with you.” The bulk of his review focuses on an analysis of Catherine, “a character who is central to feminist film criticism because she embodies the contradiction present in the modern woman.” He notes that “Truffaut presents her as someone who wants to be totally independent of men, but at the same time can’t live without them and desperately needs to be placed on a pedestal, the focal point in their lives”. He argues that while her “actions… are selfish beyond reason, neither of the men nor Truffaut condemns her. In fact, Truffaut adores her”, and “feels sympathy for her as well”, while the men “regard her as not particularly smart or beautiful but as the ideal woman, who, being perfect as a child, lover, refined lady, wife, mother, companion, conversationalist, decision-maker, and catalyst to good, unusual times, is all things special to all men”.

Interestingly, while many critics seem to agree that this film is really more about Catherine than about the title characters, I remain most fascinated by the relationship that evolves between Jules and Jim, with Catherine simply serving as a mediating (and binding) influence between them. As the film opens, we’re told the accelerated story of how Jules and Jim “met”, which comes across as awfully close to a romantic infatuation:

It was around 1912. Jules, a foreigner in Paris, asked Jim, whom he hardly knew, to get him into the Art Students’ Ball. Jim got him a ticket and a costume. While Jules was hunting for a slave costume, their friendship was born. It grew as Jules watched the ball with his kind tender eyes. The next day, they had their first real conversation. Each taught the other his language and his culture until late at night. They translated each other’s poetry. They shared an indifference for money. They talked, and they listened to each other.

Of course, the story then immediately segues into the film’s decidedly heterosexual central premise — the fact that Jules “had no girls in Paris” but wanted one, and how, because “Jim had several”, he introduced a few to Jules. But the solidity and tenderness of Jules and Jim’s friendship has already been firmly established by this point; they are two of a kind, as evidenced in a charming taxi scene involving Marie Dubois’ delightfully anarchic “Therese”, who gets their names mixed up time and again, and doesn’t really mind which one she ends up spending the night with.

Even during the first pivotal turning point in the film — when Jules quietly insists to Jim that Catherine is “hers” and not to be shared — we’re pleasantly surprised to see that Jim accepts this assertion, rather than arguing or pouting. He knows that his friendship with Jules is ultimately what’s most important, and while he can’t help his own feelings for Catherine, he respectfully stays out of their romance. After a “brief” interlude of wartime (Jim admits, “Sometimes, I’m afraid I’ll kill Jules during a battle”), Jules eventually realizes that Catherine is not happy within the idyllic homelife he’s carefully crafted for their little family, and understands that he must allow Jim and Catherine’s infatuation to manifest itself physically. From this point forth, Catherine’s “selfish actions” take center stage, and we sense that we’re watching a hopeless love triangle playing itself out to a bitterly unknown end. Jules in particular remains a haunting, relentlessly intriguing presence, and Werner perfectly embodies his weary resignation.

I’ve focused my review here primarily on an analysis of the characters and their storyline, choosing just one of many interesting elements (Jules and Jim’s friendship) to explore. Equally worthy of analysis, however, is the fact that Truffaut — basing his film on an autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roche — so boldly explores the nature of an “open” relationship, at a time when such a topic was rarely hinted at, let alone given center stage in a film. But what ultimately makes Jules and Jim such an enduring classic is the way in which it is told: it truly epitomizes the French New Wave, with its unconventional editing, compressed narrative structure, shifting camera styles, and thematic interest in freedom from societal constraints. While The 400 Blows (1959) remains my personal favorite among Truffaut’s oeuvre, Jules and Jim is equally relevant to any film fanatic’s understanding of this unique period in cinematic history, and is certainly must-see viewing at least once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Oskar Werner as Jules
  • Jeanne Moreau as Catherine
  • Henri Serre as Jim
  • Marie Dubois as Therese
  • Raoul Coutard’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a certified New Wave classic by a renowned director.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Woman Next Door, The (1981)

Woman Next Door, The (1981)

“Love affairs must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

Synopsis:
A man (Gerard Depardieu) living happily with his wife (Michele Baumgartner) and child (Olivier Becquaert) is disconcerted to learn that a former lover (Fanny Ardant) has moved in next door with her new husband (Henri Garcin). Soon Depardieu and Ardant have renewed their tempestuous affair, with potentially disastrous results.

Genres:

Review:
In his penultimate film, Francois Truffaut returned to his interest in exploring the dangers of obsessive love, as represented here by a pair of former lovers who (to no great surprise) find themselves unable to resist the temptation to fall back into one another’s arms. The storyline itself — an original “scenario” by Truffaut, his long-time collaborator Suzanne Schiffman, and Jean Aurel — offers little that’s new or interesting within this limited genre, though one can’t help watching with morbid curiosity to see what will befall our foolish protagonists (and their hapless spouses) next. What’s most memorable about the film is the vibrant, sensual presence of young Fanny Ardant, who was nominated for a Cesar Award, and became Truffaut’s real-life lover, as well as the mother of one of his daughters. While we never fully understand her “issues” (or those of Depardieu’s character, for that matter), she’s nonetheless consistently appealing to watch on screen, especially as filmed in such a luminous fashion (see still below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fanny Ardant as Mathilde

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look, and will certainly be of interest to fans of Truffaut’s work.

Links:

Soft Skin, The (1964)

Soft Skin, The (1964)

“I’ve discovered life wasn’t what I expected lately.”

Synopsis:
A successful middle-aged writer (Jean Desailly) begins an affair with a beautiful young stewardess (Francoise Dorleac), but quickly finds it more challenging than he realized to hide the affair from his wife (Nelly Benedetti) and colleagues.

Genres:

Review:
Francois Truffaut’s fourth feature-length film — following on the heels of The 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960), and Jules et Jim (1962) — was this morality tale about a married man whose infatuation with a young stewardess causes his undoing. For the first 40 minutes or so, you wonder exactly where Truffaut is heading with this scenario, given that it’s one we’ve seen or heard at least a hundred times over. However, by the film’s tensely scripted “interlude” scene in Reims, we begin to understand that we’re watching a story about a clueless protagonist who’s not really savvy enough to pull off something as elaborate as the double life of an adulterer. Perhaps predictably, Desailly’s situation quickly unravels, with a truly unexpected outcome emerging by the film’s tragic end.

It’s difficult at first to accept the pudgy, nondescript Desailly as a likely candidate to attract the attentions of a sexy young thing like Dorleac — yet we soon understand that it’s his celebrity (there are posters plastered around Riems announcing his upcoming lecture) and his intellect that she finds so appealing. Meanwhile, it’s equally difficult to understand exactly why Desailly would feel a desire to cheat on his sexy wife (Benedetti) — but then again, motivations for infidelity often makes little sense! The three leads (especially Dorleac and Benedetti) all provide solid performances, and Raoul Coutard’s lovely b&w cinematography firmly grounds the film within its cinematic era. While this isn’t must-see viewing by Truffaut, it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Francoise Dorleac as Nicole
  • Nelly Benedetti as Franca
  • Raoul Coutard’s cinematography

  • The tense “Reims” interlude

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look.

Links:

Officer and a Gentleman, An (1982)

Officer and a Gentleman, An (1982)

“You can kick me out of here, but I ain’t quittin’.”

Synopsis:
A headstrong Naval Aviation Officer candidate (Richard Gere) with a troubled past butts heads with his hard-nosed drill sergeant (Louis Gosset, Jr.) while engaging in a no-commitment romance with a local girl (Debra Winger).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s right to refer this “surprise smash hit” — directed by Taylor Hackford and written by Douglas Day Stewart (of Blue Lagoon screenwriting fame) — as “slick, manipulative, and hackneyed”. He notes that the “training scenes are drivel, taken from countless other basic-training pictures”, but points out that the “erotic performances by Gere and Winger, and [Winger’s] sympathetic character… wear down most resistance” from viewers. Adding to the film’s appeal is the Oscar-winning theme song “Up Where We Belong”, and a powerful supporting performance by Lou Gossett, Jr., who Peary posits “shouted his way to an Oscar”. Despite its strengths, however, An Officer and Gentleman is ultimately a disappointing romance, given how closely it hews to old-fashioned, anti-feminist norms.

Winger plays an appealingly independent-minded character, yet she’s reduced — like all the working-class women in her town, apparently — to waiting for a man to rescue her from her situation, whether it’s for a temporary month-long fling, or a longer commitment. We’re meant to tsk at the tactics employed by Winger’s best friend Lynette (Lisa Blount) when trying to snag a cadet of her own (David Keith), but Winger isn’t necessarily a much better role model. Meanwhile, petite Lisa Eilbacher is cast in a gratuitous role as a female trainee struggling to make her way through candidacy, who breaks down into tears every time she tries to progress through a particularly challenging component of the obstacle course — and, naturally, she’s helped by a man in the end. The famous final factory scene between Gere and Winger is perhaps most egregious of all, though I won’t spoil the film by saying too much more. Ultimately, this erstwhile hit remains erotic eye candy at best, with the added bonus of seeing Winger in one of her too-few leading roles before she left Hollywood semi-permanently in the mid-1990s.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Richard Gere as Zack
  • Debra Winger as Paula
  • Lou Gosset, Jr. as Sergeant Foley

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time viewing simply for the performances.

Links:

Green Room, The (1978)

Green Room, The (1978)

“The dead belong to us, as soon as we agree to belong to them.”

Synopsis:
In the wake of WWI, a widowed journalist (Francois Truffaut) obsessed with honoring the memory of his deceased wife builds a shrine to her existence. While at an auction, he meets a young woman (Natalie Baye) who possesses a similar fascination with death, and they develop a tentative friendship — but will Truffaut’s obsession stand in the way of his current happiness?

Genres:

Review:
Based upon Henry James’ short story “The Altar of the Dead” (and incorporating elements of two other James stories), The Green Room was a project director Francois Truffaut held very close to his heart, given that so many of his close friends, colleagues, and mentors had recently passed away. In an interview, Truffaut noted that he wanted “to film what it would be like to show on screen a man who refuses to forget the dead” — with the ultimate moral, however, being that “One must deal with the living!” Unfortunately, while The Green Room was highly praised by critics upon its release (perhaps simply given their overall admiration for Truffaut’s work), it’s not a film one can recommend to anyone other than those most dedicated to covering the director’s oeuvre.

We quickly see that Truffaut’s character (“Julien Devenne”) is a man unwilling to move beyond his past: he writes obituaries for a slowly dying newspaper, lives with an aging housekeeper, and is mortally offended at the notion of finding a new wife (an idea embodied by another recently widowed character shown in the film’s opening scene). Baye’s character is introduced as a potential source of joy and life for Julien, but their relationship is based on the slimmest of connections, and is never fully explained. Indeed, there are many elements of the screenplay that are insufficiently explained: Is the deaf-mute boy living with Julien his own son? (One presumes so, but we’re never given any context for his existence.) Why does Julien have such an interest in buying a particular ring sold at an estate auction overseen by Baye? And who in the world is the pivotal (unseen) character of Paul Massigny? Ultimately, the most memorable aspect of the film remains Nestor Almendros’ atmospheric cinematography, which relies heavily on natural light from the candles placed throughout the altars Julien constructs in memory of the dead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nestor Almendros’ cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Truffaut completists.

Links: