This week Pat puts his Anthropology degree to use to take issue with Jean-Luc Godard's sociology practices. Masculin Feminin is a sprawling look at the young people of Paris just before the 1965 re-election of Charles de Gaulle, a re-election that would lead to the events of May 1968 we've discussed previously with Godard's (superior) Tout va Bien. Unfortunately, Godard doesn't give the respect to his female stars that he wants to say the entire generation deserve.
We get to watch a movie about a donkey!
But the donkey doesn't talk. It's not animated. It's depressing.
I'd call au hasard Balthazar peak Bresson, but I'm betting Robert Bresson will keep surprising me. In any case this is the third and final in a string of films that claims inspiration from Fyodor Dostoevsky, and it certainly fits with the Russians' tone (though perhaps not his religiosity).
Donovan Hill joins us as our resident Samurai film buff, and that's always fun. If you like hearing Donovan rant, and I know I do, he joins us for non-Samurai films over on the Patreon bonus episodes more often and it's always a treat.
We're talking Kihachi Okamoto's The Sword of Doom from 1966 and boy is it nihilistic. That's something Donovan knows a bit about as well. Good times! But for serious, this is good conversation. It's also long. Clocking in as one of the longest episodes Lost in Criterion has had because of the enlightening exploration of Japanese cultural history that Donovan and Pat provide.
As evident in our journey through Criterion, Volker Schlöndorff makes interestingly complicated films that press viewers to think about human behavior and how we treat one another. Also ones in which a good chunk of humans, particularly men in the ethnic majority, are sociopathic. These themes, of course, are not uncommon in German cinema of the post-WW2 era.
1966's Young Törless is another variation on that melody, this time emphasizing the ease with which we go along with the oppressive behavior of others in order to fit in. The narrative is not without its own problems, but Schlöndorff manages to remind us how easy it is to help the oppressor, and to slip away convinced you did nothing wrong. It's a lesson much of humanity, again particularly men in the ethnic majority, still needs to learn.
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.
In 2003 the US Department of Defense held a screening of Gillo Pontocorvo's 1966 film The Battle of Algiers at the Pentagon. A flyer for the screening read:
How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.
Subsequent US history tells us that the showing did not achieve its objectives.
Shohei Imamura is the only Japanese director to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, which is probably more of an indictment against Cannes than the quality of Japanese film. Nonetheless, the award was not for The Pornographers, his first independent film made at his own production company in 1966. Imamura viewed himself as a "cultural anthropologist" and therefore wanted "to make messy films" about real people. This one may be a little too real for Pat and I. But it does give us an opportunity to revisit Ronald Neame's The Horse's Mouth, to which Imamura make a clear reference even though a Google search suggests that we are among the very few people in history to notice.
Or listen on iTunes.
On the other side of the Czechoslovakian New Wave we started into last week come a film with a wholly different sensibility. Jiri Menzel's Cloesly Watched Trains (1966) also takes place in a Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, but instead of the emotional drama on the dangers of ignorance that was last week's film we get a coming-of-age sex romp about a kid who'd really just like to lose his virginity please -- Porky's if Porky was a legitimate Nazi.
Seijun Suzuki's 1966 film Tokyo Drifter is more comprehensible than Branded to Kill -- it does actually have a discernible plot for most of the film -- but barely -- there's an extended fight scene that plays like a Merry Melodies short. The studio didn't like this one either. While Tokyo Drifter didn't lead directly to Suzuki's firing, it did get his color film privileges revoked, which is why the later Branded to Kill is in black and white while Tokyo Drifter has, quite honestly, a really excellent integration of color and non-color footage.
Andrei Tarkovsky's 1966 almost-a-biopic film about the artist Andrei Rublev was suppressed almost before it came out, but many things with any merit were in Soviet Russia so it's not that surprising. Eventually Martin Scorsese found a copy of the film and brought it out of Russia, and that copy is where the Criterion Collection edition comes from. The film is quite the trip, and a long one, but thought-provoking nonetheless.