Robert Bresson followed up au hasard Balthazar with an similar film, but this time focusing on a young woman instead of a donkey. Bresson calls the tale (and the writer’s other work — Diary of a Country Priest) “Catholic realism”, and like many applications of the terms Catholic and realism it is super depressing.
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s exploration of self The Double Life of Veronique is a subtly surreal and beautiful film, yet much of our conversation is centered around coming to terms with the essays included in the Criterion release, particularly the one written by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Near the top of this week’s episode Adam once again goes on a short rant about the Criterion Collection’s naming conventions as if there is a logic to any of it. There isn’t.
With slight distance I think the boys would be more apt to agree that all of the moral tales of are critiques of various aspects of what we would now call toxic masculinity. In it, though, even with this last episode, we get bogged down wondering if that reading is more our wish than Rohmer’s design. But finally finishing the series at least provides us with a floor to talk about them better individually.
This outing I think Eric Rohmer may have been trying to make a parody of Lolita by introducing a woman with a predilection for underaged men who convinces her male friend to try to seduce a couple underaged young women, but like as a goof. He gets a little too involved.
I like to believe we’ve reached the point in Six Moral Tales where it becomes clear that the Rohmer himself is condemning the behavior of the men in his movies, considering the men in this week’s film are nearly completely irredeemable. But in an interview accompanying the film Rohmer says that he understands the audience not liking the men, but then just laughs and moves on. Does he also hate this behavior? Or does he think this is normal manhood? Are those two mutually exclusive anyway?
In the third Moral Tale we finally meet a fully rounded female character, so round in fact that she gets a name in the title! We also get to finally deal with moral philosophy that while we don’t agree with at least gives us something to talk about in the form of Counter-Reformation Catholicism’s mirror of Calvinism and a discussion of game theory-based Christian belief. Also both of these coming up suggests that mid-century France was significantly more obsessed with certain 17th century theologians and mathematicians than Pat and I find believable, but they may reflect Eric Rohmer a bit more, and that itself makes this movie more interesting. In any case, this one is nothing like “watching paint dry”.
In our second Moral Tale we find another jerk being mean to another woman, but this one has a bit more substance perhaps. It still doesn’t really work for us, but hey whatever. The Criterion releases for each Moral Tale just full of material and Suzanne’s Career also brings us an opportunity to watch and discuss Nadja in Paris (1964), a short clearly meant to encourage American high schoolers to study abroad. Star Nadja Tesich is a delight, and the film is the first collaboration between Rohmer and cinematographer Néstor Almendros who will bring a certain watchability to the rest of the Moral Tales.
We kick off a boxset of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales with one starring Barbet Schroeder (who produces the entire series) as a jerk who mistreats a woman while his heart belongs to another. This is largely the basic plot of each of the Moral Tales, and if you find that statement reductive or dismissive then boydog are you not going to like any episode in this series. Still some of them connected better with Pat and I than others. But Bakery Girls wasn’t one of them.
I can’t, and will not try to, speak to the nature of the Gorilla Foundation’s current model, but the one recorded in Barbet Schroeder’s 1978 documentary on Penny Patterson’s attempts to teach Koko a modified version of American Sign Language appear to lack a certain rigor that Pat and I question. Pat, having been an anthropology undergrad, has seen and critiqued the film before. While Schroeder damningly states that Koko may become the world’s first White American Protestant Gorilla, Dr. Patterson may have just ruined a perfectly good monkey. Schroeder mostly lets the issue lay bare and allows the viewer to decide the experiments merit and achievements. I say mostly because his talk with San Francisco Zoo Director Saul Kitchener makes that zoologist with a primate specialty look like a mean man who wants to take his ape back from the loving psychologist (who wants to give it hamburgers). Along the way we talk about racism and classism, To Kill a Mockingbird and Planet of the Apes, because this wouldn’t be Lost in Criterion if we didn’t.
When I first saw that our agenda with the Collection was bringing us another film about a teenage girl’s sexual discovery I was…nervous. We talk about those nerves quite a bit this week, but Molly Haskell’s essay included with the release goes a long way to qualm those fears and explain why they are, for once, perhaps unfounded. Maurice Pialat’s A nos amours (1983) could have easily been something it wasn’t, and may even have been equally praised if it were. Instead we get something Cassavetes-esque that respects its main character. Though there’s probably still too much nudity given her age.
After our run of later period, more biographical Louis Malle films a few weeks ago we swing back with his first feature length, which is a different sort of master work than Au Revoir les Enfants but still sticks with me. Elevator to the Gallows, or Lift to the Scaffold as the British (and Pat) demand to call it, is a noir murder with a bit of Bunuelian stream of consciousness thrown in and a level of suspense fit for Hitchcock if not Clouzot. And all that name-dropping aside, it’s also just a really good film.
We cover the final film in the 3 Films by Louis Malle boxset this week with his 1987 magnum opus Au revoir les enfants. Before we recorded Pat and I established a rule that if at any point we start openly weeping I’d just edit that out. I think I got most of it.
Au revoir les enfants provides much more context to the previous two films autobiographical natures, to the point where I think we can say we have a deeper understanding of both Lacombe, Lucien and Murmur of the Heart having watched it. But more importantly than that, this is a hard-hitting, masterpiece of a film about selfless compassion in the face of extreme horror, and the personal toll that takes on you.
Speaking of which, the film itself will take a toll on you.
We move from a Louis Malle film we did not at all understand last week into one that we seem to get on a deeper level than a lot of critics and, frankly, that concerns me. Lacombe, Lucien is the tale of a lost young man searching for meaning and belonging who finds himself falling in with Nazi collaborators. The critics not understanding certain character motivations is fine, but I think it says more about the critics than Malle — and maybe that same sentence could be aimed at this very podcast last week.
Anyway. Recognize yourself in Lacombe, because nearly all of us, at times, align with the powers of oppressive violence, and we need to see that in ourselves instead of writing it off as the moral failing of others. Be better. Do better.
We kick off a boxset of films by Louis Malle that are variously autobiographical, and we may have the quickest turnaround from “I hate this film” to “this later film has recontextualized an earlier one and now I maybe like that one more” in our entire run of Lost in Criterion.
That is to say, neither Pat nor I really enjoyed Murmur of the Heart (1971) when we first discussed it for this episode, but by the time we finish the boxset in 2 weeks we have a different understanding of this first film. While Pat has long maintained that he refuses to learn anything from this project, the self-evident truth is that the more movies we watch the better base of understanding we have in watching other movies. Often that means that we can look back on older episodes and know that we were certainly wrong in the discussion we had about them.
But even after all that learning, I think the incest in this movie ruins it for me. Not because it’s taboo, but because it doesn’t make sense.
Jean Gabin really likes trains. Jean Renoir also really likes trains. They wanted to make a train movie, and any train movie would do. So why not one that also includes murrrrrrrrder?
La Bete Humaine has a lot of bad psychology and therefore some bad social commentary. It also misses a theme from the original novel that it seems like Renoir and Gabin — who had just finished The Grand Illusion — should have leaned into but instead ignored. But it does have trains! Lots and lots of trains!
Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games gives us a lot to talk about this week as Pat and I run through various consonant interpretations of the film — though none of ours include the idea that our two young protagonists are in a proto-sexual relationship, an interpretation that seems far too widespread to not say something deeper about the mental state of film reviewers.
If The 400 Blows was “very French”, and it is considered to be, Francois Truffaut’s follow up was meant to be “very American” and really it’s the most American of things: the mashup. It’s a New Wave crime comedy based on a Noir novel and the tonal shifts! Oh boy, the tonal shifts! That is to say it is not “American” in the same way that The 400 Blows is “French”. It’s a bunch of American stereotypical elements rolled into one silly film — a “grab bag” as Truffaut himself describes it.
On this week’s Lost in Criterion I present a nascent Marxist reading of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket -- if only as a counter to Pat’s sexual deviancy reading -- and come so close as I talk it out but still so far. I realized after the recording that if there is a valid Marxist interpretation of Pickpocket I had it a bit backwards: Michel steals excess value from people who (presumably) produce it, but sits on it, not using it to better society nor even to better himself. He’s the embodiment of the thieving Boss. Anyway, the film serves as a pickpocketing procedural which is fun, and is also “inspired” by Crime and Punishment in such a way that it almost feels like a parody of Dostoevsky. It’s pretty great.
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.
It was only a matter of time before we found a Jean-Pierre Melville film I actually like. We do make one big mistake in this weeks episode though. Despite being a film with Samourai literally in the title we did not invite Donovan Hill back to join us for this French gangster classic. I publicly apologize to him and you listeners for that oversight. He'd have hated it, and those are some of the best episodes.
Le Samourai starts with a fake quote about bushido and is philosophically inconsistent with everything we've learned about bushido from the Japanese films Melville certainly watched and doesn't seem to quite grasp. Still brilliant, though.