The River

Previously on Lost in Criterion:
When Jean Renoir is thinks the world is about to burn we love him. When he's less political, we do not.

On this week's episode:
The River finds Renoir making his first color film which is also the first color Technicolor made in India. Made in 1951, just after India's independence, in the Bengal region, and based on the memoirs of Rumer Godden (who also wrote Black Narcissus). While the Archers ultimately seemed to be arguing that India is just too weird for Brits, The River has a little more respect for the population it's movie is ostensibly about. A very little more.

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Tout va Bien

Tout va Bien (roughly translated: "This is fine"), is the 1972 culmination of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's Dziga Vertov Group, a production group focusing on Marxist/Maoist revolution mostly through documentary, though Tout va Bien is a narrative film. It is, however, paired with the didactic documentary Letter to Jane, a postscript to Tout va Bien the dissects the famous Hanoi photo of Jane Fonda, star of the film who in the months following the release of Tout va Bien became an international talking-point. Ultimately, the film stands to ask the question "What is the role of the woke upperclass in the revolution?" and how that intrinsic to finding the right answers is asking the right questions.

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Night and the City

Jules Dassin moved to Europe in 1950 to avoid the blacklist, and his first stop was London -- The City -- where he made Night and the City seemingly quite hastily -- he claims he never even read the script. Fortunately, Dassin could hit all the notes of noir in his sleep. Unfortunately, it seems like he did.

Anyway, five years ago this week we put out our very first episode which introduced us to Jean Renoir and set us on our rollercoaster of a ride. Lost in Criterion as a name was just something that fell into place back then, but five years on we're still hacking our way through an endless jungle. Sometimes we even understand what we're doing. To those of you who have been here the whole time, have come along relatively recently, or, heck, left long ago, thanks for giving us frankly surprisingly high download numbers that convinced us this was a thing worth doing. Now we're stuck doing it forever! Yay!

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Thieves' Highway

After making Thieves Highway in 1949 Jules Dassin was blacklisted for being a communist. The movie is about working class men -- Army vets at that -- trying to use capitalism to pull one over on a small-time robber baron, and when that fails there's some violence. It's not quite Marx, but it's not quite not Marx.

Anyway, Dassin would flee to Europe and continue working, first with Night and the City which we'll talk about next week, and later with Rififi, his masterpiece.

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In Bruges

It's the end of the year, the darkest night has past (in the northern hemisphere) (literally, even if not symbolically), and we gather our loved ones as we start on our crawl back into the light, rising like Winter Wheat.

Our non-Criterion end of year special this year, Martin McDonagh's 2008 film In Bruges, uses Christmas as purgatory, a time for self-reflection and pushing forward with new resolve. Also a time of depression. Christmas is complicated. Joining us in the complication this year are long-time friend Stephen Goldmeier, returning winter friend Sam Martin, newcomer Ben Jones-White, and (arriving late to the party) occasional guest and theme music composer Jonathan Hape. Hurray, friends!

We've had a good year here at Lost in Criterion, taking the year in small chunks, as we spent nearly a month with late period Jean Renoir, nearly a month with Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, and over a month with the works of John Cassavetes. We also just watched a ton of movies about different sorts of rebellions and revolutions -- Ikuru, Battle of Algiers, The Leopard, and Salvatore Giuliano among a few of others -- because our trip through the Criterion Collection knows we needed escapism about pushing back against apathy, corruption, and tyranny. Hey, speaking of those exact themes: Merry Christmas!

Thank you all for listening! Extra special thanks to those of you who support us on Patreon where you can get access to the rest of the year's non-Criterion bonus episodes! You're all great! Hope you have a wonderful end of (Gregorian) year holiday, whatever you choose to celebrate. Or just a good day today. And a fantastic new year. You're great.

La Commare Secca

An Italian neorealist film where the prostitute doesn't represent the state of the nation! Probably. I mean, you could probably interpret it that way if you wanted.

Bernardo Bertolucci's debut, La Commare Secca is, in a lot of ways, clearly directed by a 20 year old first timer. But it's also got some really good stuff going on, even if it's a Rashomon-plot done by a guy who absolutely swears he's never seen Rashomon. We don't believe him, but it doesn't matter either way. La Commare Secca tells its story of on the ground life below the zooming highways, out of sight down by the river, and it's tells it well.

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Touchez pas au grisbi

We get one las film from Becker and it's a French gangster film starring the star of French gangsterdom: Jean Gabin.

With Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) Becker does his Becker thing of focusing on the minor character elements instead of the plot points and manages to make one of the few French gangster films outside of Rififi that doesn't bore me.

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Casque d'Or

We really, really loved our last outing from Jacques Becker. Le Trou stands as one of the pinnacles of non-horror suspense films we've seen. It was also Becker's final film, so perhaps we should assume that his earlier work would be less impressive.

We return to Becker this week with a period piece based on a real historical love triangle involving a woman with blond hair and some members of the notorious Parisian street gang Les Apaches. Wikipedia's article on the gang contains an image of what it claims is a commonly used weapon, Pat and I talk about it this week, but for those of you looking for better mental image of it, have an actual image of it.

Casque d'Or (1952) suffers for not including that gunthing. It suffers for some other reasons, too. Maybe it just suffers for not seeming as innovative as Becker's other work. Maybe the fact that it is a base criminal love story is why it's so interesting as a Becker work. Though there's also that final sequence to redeem it. Maybe.

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Fighting Elegy

The year is 1966 and Seijun Suzuki's relationship with his longtime studio Nikkatsu is strained to say the least. Tokyo Drifter left him on double secret probation and barred from using the companies color film stock. Branded to Kill would ultimately get him fired. But between those two brilliant pieces of art comes Fighting Elegy, an anti-"red pill" film attacking toxic masculinity and militarism. Written by Kaneto Shindo who directed Onibaba and, turns out, was a left-wing activist, Fighting Elegy is a farewell to arms and the ideas of manhood, sex, and power that fed authoritarian nationalism that led to nearly 3,000,000 Japanese dead in World War 2. It's also funny -- like Vonnegutianly so -- and shot with all the beautifully off-the-wall style we expect from Suzuki, but in this case those wacky visual choices actually land in a philosophical style, too.

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Youth of the Beast

It's been 4 years since we last saw a Seijun Suzuki film.

It's been too long.

Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter were early favorites for Seijun's ridiculous sense of style and clear disdain for being told what to do. Made a few years and a few dozen films earlier in 1963 is Youth of the Beast, a Yojimbo-tale of an ex-Cop investigating his former friends death. Of course that plot synopsis glosses over the Seijun flare that makes it a film worth watching. And it is very much worth watching.

Kagemusha

Donovan Hill often joins us for discussions on the works of Akira Kurosawa because he has a long history with the films, having had them thrust upon him by his obsessive father from a very young age. Dr. Hill passed away recently and Donovan joins us in an episode dedicated in his father's memory, and dedicated to a discussion of the rose-tinted view of Japan's national memory. Kagemusha (1980) is one of the few Kurosawa period films that could be accurately described as historical fiction, not just being set in his normal nebulous samurai period, but specifically being about real people and real battles drawn from history, even if certain elements make it about as historically accurate as Inglorious Basterds.

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The King of Kings

Cecile B. DeMille's silent religious epics are sights to behold, but not necessarily because they are, how do you say...good?

His 1927 The King of Kings takes quite a bit of liberty with the source material, but that's ok! The source material -- the four Christians Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- presents varying takes on the events they're recording anyway. DeMille, though, makes some pretty crazy choices, some good and some very bad. I just...I don't remember the orgy scene in the Gospels.

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Short Cuts

Robert Altman adapts nine Raymond Carver short stories and a poem into a huge ensemble drama that, if about anything at all, seems to be a condemnation of toxic masculinity on par with Catherine Breillet's Fat Girl. It's got a lot going on, and Altman's decision to transport all the narratives to LA and interconnect them both helps and harms. Ultimately, fidelity to the source material isn't the point, and can't be -- as we discuss in regards to the portions based on "So Much Water So Close to Home" short stories are, by their nature, doing different things than film scenes -- but Carver's spirit still exists here. At least as far as we can tell, as neither Pat nor Adam have read any Carver.

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The Making of Fanny and Alexander

After spending something like 12 hours on variations of the same material we finally finish the Fanny and Alexander boxset with The Making of Fanny and Alexander a behind the scenes film of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander directed by Bergman himself. While we've peaked behind the Swede's curtain before with Sjoman's peak at Winter Light's creation in Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, this one seems more true to life, with a Bergman who knows what he wants but is still willing to trust his collaborators (sometimes) all while acting as a filmmaking grandfather in so many ways.

Fanny and Alexander, the theatrical cut

Technically released first, but planned second, the theatrical cut of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander removes over 2 hours of material that, while perhaps non-essential, helps make the longer cut the better version. Three hours and eight minutes is still pretty h*ckin' long for a theatrical film, though it turns out there was a Swedish theatrical release of the full 312 minute "television cut" as one movie in 1983. I think that's probably a bad idea, too. Consume it as the four television episodes over the course of a few nights and you have a much more manageable and enjoyable experience.

This is part two of our discussion of Fanny and Alexander, following last week's discussion of Fanny and Alexander: the television cut.

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Fanny and Alexander, the television cut.

Contrary to what Adam says toward the beginning of this week's episode, Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander was not first released in a 312 minute cut. The long cut was planned first, but the first release was the shorter 188 minute version in 1982, which we'll talk more about next week. Still this longer version was actually released to theaters in December of 1983 before being chopped into four episodes for Swedish television a bit later.

This is part one of our discussion, one because there's just too much Fanny and Alexander for one episode, an two because its impossible to talk about the shorter cut without talking about the longer, better cut. We'll see you next week for part two, which focuses more on the theatrical cut.

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Eyes Without a Face

It's October so let's watch a classic horror film! (As if this was planned and not just a quirk in the randomness of the way the Criterion Collection presents films to us.)

Georges Franju was asked by producer Jules Borkon to make a British/American style horror film for a French audience, but one that didn't torture animals, have too much blood, or a mad scientist. So he made a film about a mad scientist who experiments on dogs and does a whole face transplant on screen.

Franju did so well emulating foreign horror that Eyes Without a Face was wholly disowned by the French film establishment. It's just that amazing.

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Fat Girl

Fat Girl is an unfortunately named coming of age story film that Catherine Breillat made in 2001 which led me to a greater understanding (though probably still not appreciation) of Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter which we discussed three and a half years ago. We're growing!

The film itself plays with similar, if much less Nazi-exploitative, themes to Cavani's work, speaking to the inherent violence of male-dominated sexual relationships. And it's ending! Oh goodness, the ending.

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Tanner '88

Robert Altman gets political again, but in a very different manner to last week's delightfully weird ranting satire. Instead we have a miniseries set against the 1988 Presidential race that may have been satirical in 1988, but we've gone through the looking glass as of late and instead it's just inside baseball. Which doesn't make it any less funny when it's funny, or poignant when it's poignant -- or exploitive when it's exploitive. Tanner '88, written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, tells the story of a failed campaign in a ripped-from-the-headlines manner involving real political players interacting with Altman's fakes over the course of 11 episodes that are incredibly uneven indvidually, but pretty great as a whole.

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Secret Honor

A clearly disturbed and vile president rants about the conspiracies against him while contemplating suicide, and somehow is so full of pathos that we find ourselves feeling pity instead of anger.

There are...modern parallels? Robert Altman's Secret Honor's exploration of Nixon's psyche is a class of its own, due mostly to Philip Baker Hall's masterful performance. Still it does remind us of certain contemporary pieces, namely the first episode of Comedy Central's The President Show (particularly starting at about the 5 minute mark), and Aimee Mann's brilliantly tragic entry for 30 Days 30 Songs "Can't You Tell?".

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