European Cinema

The 400 Blows

I recently watched Max Ophuls’ The Reckless Moment (Ophuls, 1949). it is based on the same novel (The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding) as The Deep End (McGehee and Siegel, 2001) with Tilda Swinton. The Reckless Moment stars Joan Bennett as a housewife who finds the body of her young daughter’s lover, it was an accident. James Mason arrives at her home and blackmails her with letters written by her daughter which could make her a suspected murderer. My favourite scene is when Bennett and Mason are in the car together, Mason explains the situation to Bennett looking directly at her whilst still driving at about five miles an hour. The subtle tension of Mason’s face is enigmatic. I can’t think of another film that has as many shadows; walls, banisters, doorways. The film’s director Max Ophuls was born Germany where he started making films, then he went to France, before going to the United States where he made The Reckless Moment and three other films, after which he returned to France.

I’ve been thinking a lot about European cinema, there is so much that I haven’t seen (Andrei Tarkovsky, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bela Tarr, Philippe Garrel, Pedro Costa and Jacques Rivette). Cache (Haneke, 2005) changed my life, it opened my eyes to world cinema. Rainer Werner Fassbinder made forty films before his death at 37 in 1982, I watched two recently, Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, 1974) and Fox and His Friends (Fassbinder, 1975). Fear Eats the Soul is about the racist attitude towards immigrants in Germany in the 1970s. This film is based on the story of class prejudice in America by fellow German director Douglas Sirk in All That Heaven Allows (Sirk, 1955). Fox and His Friends is a very subtle film until the last thirty minutes when the world of its protagonist (Fassbinder himself) faces tragedy.

I also saw Force Majeure (Ostlund, 2014) about a Swedish family set in a French ski resort. As the family have lunch on the roof of a restaurant an avalanche hurtles towards them. The father grabs his phone and gloves instead of his family and moves away quickly as his son calls out to him. The whole film is about the consequences of this incident. The shot of the cable car above in the snow is a wonder.

I put together a PowerPoint for a hypothetical class on the films of Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold, with three films each to their name, they are amongst the best directors in Britain. I have always loved British cinema, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made twenty films together between 1939 and 1972. I loved the ideology of A Matter of Life and Death (Powell and Pressburger, 1946). I need to re-watch I Know Where I’m Going! (Powell and Pressburger, 1945) in the future. European cinema moves me very deeply. The Belly of an Architect (Greenaway, 1987) is another trip to Greenaway land; rich imagery which is unassuming and spacious. Romanian films’ lack of close-ups continue to astonish me. Roy Andersson has made five films in 45 years, (1970, 1975, 2000, 2007, 2014). His operatic and comic sensibility ring true in a world that is completely his own. From France I’ve been watching Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs, The Green Ray (Rohmer, 1986) and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (Rohmer, 1987). Rohmer draws you in with his static camera placements as we listen to his characters’ conversations. Claude Chabrol has been called the French Hitchcock, I wasn’t sure whether I’d seen Wedding in Blood (Chabrol, 1973) but I had an image in my head of the holding of hands as the final image, sure enough that is the final image just as The 39 Steps (Hitchcock, 1935) is. The last shot of The 400 Blows (Truffaut, 1959) of Jean-Pierre Leaud staring into the camera is cinema at its best; provocative, moving and logged in your brain.

Note:

According to my Letterboxd, I am one film away from watching my 1000th film. I’ve decided to watch The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Fassbinder, 1972) as I am going to Germany for the first time tomorrow and no other German director I know makes films like Fassbinder does, they are so personal. I will also be in the Czech Republic on my trip, a reminder that I need to see Czech films. Watching all of these films and going on my trip make me feel like an outsider. My four favourite films on Letterboxd are all set in countries where the directors have an outsiders’ view. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is set in America, Mike Nichols was born and partially raised in Germany. Bad Timing is set in Austria, Nicolas Roeg is English. Damage is set in England, Louis Malle is French. Cache is set in France, Michael Haneke is Austrian. My writing is inspired by Mark Cousins’ columns for Prospect and Sight and Sound. Cousins spoke about visiting East Germany in October 1989 as being the most memorable day of his life, he ran out of film in his camera and began to draw what he saw, he remembers everything he did that day. Cousins turns 50 on 3rd May. I am 25 and hope that when I’m 50 I’ll still be writing about film and hopefully teaching and going to loads of film festivals around the world. The critic John Simon turns 90 on 12th May, he has always been a critic, 70 years of critical writing, that’s astonishing.

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