This week the Criterion Collection brings us the spiritual successor to Powell and Pressburger’s phenomenal The Red Shoes, The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). An English translation of a French opera, based on the self-mythologizing of a German writer (E.T.A. Hoffmann), Tales combines the beauty of The Red Shoes ballet, with a frankly insane anthology of stories. Pat probably forgets that he didn’t really like The Red Shoes when we watched it, but still manages to think this is a bit flat compared to it. I think he’s just scared of Spalanzani’s eyebrows.
As of this writing 1951's The Browning Version is our final Anthony Asquith film in the Criterion Collection, and while it is also an adaptation of a play it is a very different film to the others we've watched over the years. The Browning Version is certainly bleaker than Pygmalion and The Importance of Being Earnest, but also perhaps more inspiring, in that it actually hopes to be inspiring.
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.
Yasujiro Ozu is brilliant.
We've already seen the final chapter of his Noriko Trilogy -- three films about family that each star Setsuko Hara as a 28 year-old woman named Noriko and are otherwise unrelated -- and now take a step back to the second, 1951's Early Summer. In about two years we'll finish off the sequence with the first film, Late Spring, but until then we can bask in the perfection that is Early Summer.
Going through the Criterion Collection by Spine number often leaves us with some interesting thematic pairs that are just disconnected enough to seem accidental: the earliest that comes to mind is the racist undertones of #32 Oliver Twist and #33 Nanook of the North.
Likewise last week's Ikiru and this week's film both deal with men dying of stomach cancer. They take vastly different paths. Robert Bresson, who we heard from once before, writes and directs Diary of a Country Priest (1951), a fairly heavy film, that may have been better if it were heavier.