Bande à part (1964)

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This is the 4th Jean-Luc Godard film I’ve seen. I didn’t like the other 3 and I don’t like this either.

Can I bothered writing an in depth review of why I don’t like it? No. It’s for much the same sort of reasons I didn’t like Godards other films. I can never warm to any of the characters. They’re too cool to be real. Or too abstract to be actual. There’s too much deliberate detachment in the story-telling. Any emotional engagement you might be feeling is being consciously under-mined, under-cut. I feel fiddled about with as a viewer. Disorientated, confused. Blah blah blah. I could go on, but I won’t go on. I don’t want to invest (critical) energy in a film that didn’t give me any.

But. There is one scene that did engage me. A 3 minute dance scene. Its quite famous. In fact I already knew this dance before I watched the film. Here it is.

It goes into my folder of “film dances”. I don’t know why I like it. Maybe because its a bit anti-dance. It’s 3 people dancing who are more in their heads than their bodies. They can’t really dance but they don’t care. They are self-conscious but not embarrassed. They contrive to be cool without being cool. It’s all slightly ad-hoc, under-rehearsed, sloppily spontaneous. It’s odd-bods doing odd-bod dancing. It sort of encapsulates their  “Bande à part ” outsiderliness.

Anway, I’ll always watch this 3 minute dance they do; the rest of the film is already forgotten.

I’m not going to watch any film by Jean-Luc Godard ever again. He’s one of the “Greats” of Cinema I’ll just have to give up on.

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, France

4/10 All for the dance scene.

Categories: Tedious Tags:

Babette’s Feast (1987)

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I’ve seen this film 3 or 4 times. Or rather eaten it. So I bought it.

We’ve got a religious sect of dour Danes, puritanical to a fault: reading their Word, singing their Jerusalems, praising their Lord, Hallelujahing. Founded by the father of 2 spinster sisters.

The first half takes a laboriously long time to get to the best bit, the pay off of Babette’s Feast. Unleavened drab bread of dreary piousness weighs down your watching like slow moving stodge.

Instead of the usual modest supper of boiled bread and brown soup, Babette (Stephan Audran) wishes to cook a luxurious celebration French dinner for them all, paid for with her own money (won on the lottery)

She’s giving them turtle soup (with a real turtle) buckwheat cakes with caviar (proper caviar); little quails in puff pastry shells with foie gras and truffle sauce (quails came in cage) and rum cake with dried figs for dessert; all washed down with copious amounts of wine and bubbly.

So does this lovely food make these joyless Puritans cheer up? Yes (even though they hadn’t wanted to) They even start forgiving one another, and dancing around in little jigs of happiness and harmony.

Babette’s culinary alchemy has lightened their spirits, sweetened their souls – so that they can all gaze up to the starry heavens and be blessed by Gods wonder again. Hallelujah!

The revelation of the feast I’ve seen (on this watching) as too twee. Transformation doesn’t happen that quick or that easy. Their communal bonding is too film feel-good.

But it is only a film after all. And this feels like a film fable. And can be watched as a sort of latter day Good News Bible parable. Nice, and simplistically edifying.

Personally, I reckon its the booze wot done it (went to their heads) Oh, ok then – and the food too (softened their bellys)

Dir: Gabriel Axel, Denmark

7/10 I’m keeping it, but probably won’t feel the need (or hunger) to watch it again.

Categories: Good Tags: ,

Vagabond (1985)

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A young girl is lying there, frozen to death – in a ditch.

The rest of the film fills in how she – Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) – got there.

She was a homeless dirty drifter hitching around in winter with a backpack and a thin tent. She appears to be a non-interest sort of person. Rejecting first before she gets rejected. The people she encounters give their impressions of her in a mock-documentary type of way: “She had a vacant stare like a vagrant”

The camera continues roaming randomly around picking people up that pick up Mona. I’m wondering if the film is meant to be as much about these others as it is about Mona. We get reflections of Mona refracted, and distorted, through them.

Weve all got to do our thing” says philosophal goatherder, “You chose total freedom but you got total loneliness”. He’s getting as fed up of her as I am, “You sleep all the time, we work all the time. It’s not fair, and it’s dirty here” (in the caravan he’s letting her doss in)

This was Sandrine Bonnaires first film role (aged 17). It’s sort of unself-consciously anti-glam. And anti-acting (too much) She’s been encouraged to go naturale and be natural. Flatten down any obvious emoting or affectation. Don’t be too cute. Don’t get too heroine like. She hasn’t got anything heroic to depict. This isn’t a heroic life of suffering or coming through suffering to some sort of redemptive self-knowledge. She’s learning nothing. This wandering life is not making her an improved person. Nothing transformative is going to happen. We sort of know that all along (because of flagging up her dirty ditch death right at the beginning) Her journey wiil have to be doggedly anti journey. No getting anywhere to anywhere better. Just this dreary drifting around from one aimless bit of chance circumstance to the next.

It’s all trying to be too true to life. An observational rather than a psychological study. Showing, but not telling, us how it is. The dirty reality of disenfranchised marginalised lifes; maybe for the time (1985) and the place (France) this was relatively novel; but now – 30 years on – we’re saturated with documentaries showing every kind of gritty shitty reality; you name it, we’ve seen it, and had our nosey noses stuck in it. So this film doesn’t have the same kind of shocking, or disturbing, impact that it may have done back in 1985; watching from where I am now it comes across as a constructed film fabrication of a wilfully unconstructed life; a proper – as in, genuine – straight documentary treatment, unadorned with any feature film pretensions might have worked better in getting this nose (mine) nearer to the ground. I couldn’t really, authentically, smell her (even though there’s constant reference to how much she stinks)

And Varda doesn’t give us much psychological context; we find out next to nothing about Mona’s backstory, why she’s ended up on the road; Mona offers little in the way of personal insight, or even personality when we’re tracking her around. She’s like a blank, blanked out slate. She’s not contributing much to the people she encounters, or giving us (the viewers) much to engage with either.

I’m gradually becoming bored with and by her. Feeling as indifferent towards her as she is to everybody else. A lazy, sullen, uncommunicative person – mostly, only, self-interested in smoking, getting off her face on dope and cheap booze, idly lying around reading books, getting herself shagged (and raped) but kind of impassively stumbling through it all – as if nothing much is registering or leaving a mark.

The tag-line to this film when it came out was: “Would you give her a lift?”

Would I? Yes, I suppose I would have. But I wouldn’t have gone far with her. I’d have dropped her out well before the 105 minutes this film dragged on for. And not cus she was a stinky skank. But because she’s a selfish sponger. Who gave me nothing. No conversation, no chat. Not even a smile or a thank you.

Dir: Agnes Varda, France

6/10 Cus it felt like a bleak, unenlightening, ordeal. Disaffecting rather than heart-wrenchingly engaging.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Opens with tarot card reading. Appears like Cleo’s (Corinne Marchand) number is up. Shes doomed. She’ll know and we’ll know in 2 hours when the biopsy comes back.

“As long as I’m beautiful I’m more alive than others” she thinks into mirror. Narcissistic.  Mirrors reflect her superficial image everywhere she goes.

“What a drama queen, shes got everything she needs to be happy” thinks bossy personal assistant. Yes, wealth, celebrity, beauty – all the selfish stuff.

This bossy personal assistant wont let her wear her new black hat “Nothing new on a Tuesday, are you trying to attract bad luck?” Luckily, she didn’t buy this silly white hat

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Now, shes swinging off bars, doing physical exercises in her camisole, like a child. And throwing hissy fits. “Everyone spoils me, no one loves me” she says.

Film is turning – bizarrely – into a Michel Legrand musical cabaret.

By now we know Cleo to be narcissistic, self-absorbed – and add on deluded; cus although you might have terminal cancer you gotta have a fag

She’s out into the streaming streets with the frog swallowers and the hustle bustlers, whizzing around in cars, hopping into taxi with her friend to be sped about

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(How do you drive on Parisian streets?! I mean, really – it iz crazeee, merde!)

Half way through and, surprsingly, I’m not “digging” this film as much as I thought I would. Its all a bit giddy and fragmentary. Nothing to hold onto.

Theres a little interlude with Jean Luc Godard in silent movie slapstick (must be some kind of in joke going on there)

The 2nd half slows down (deliberately) Cleo is getting away from all that rush around razzmatazz glitzy surface stuff. She’s out into the parks to sit down, to quieten down, to reflect.

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“My precious, so capricious body” she says parodically posing it down these steps.

A nice soldier chats her up, accompanies her back to the hospital to get the biopsy result. And cus hes been so nice and sympathetic she seems to fall for him (all a bit too easily I think)

Its cancer. Its 2 months of radiotherapy. But her quick 2 hour  journey around Paris has been a journey of self-discovery (has it? I’m not entirely convinced) and a less selfish centre (and maybe even a bit of love thrown in (for soldier)

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“I’ve the feeling my fear has gone”. I think I know why she might say that; cus the fear of bad news is often worse than the bad news itself; now she knows, she can accept. But the inference here is that she knows now – not just about the cancer – but more importantly, knows about herself. In these 2 short hours she’s come to some kind of self-correcting self-knowledge.

Surprisingly – and slightly disappointingly – I’ve not been bowled over by this film. I thought it was nailed on to be up there with the very best of anything I’ve ever seen  (by Varda, or anybody elese) But it might get better on watch 2 or 3. Cus I reckon I’ll have to be watching it again.

Dir: Agnes Varda, France

7/10

Categories: Good Tags: ,

Mid August Lunch (2008)

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It’s about time I saw an Italian film I actually like.

I liked this because the high voltage histrionics and rapid shouting I’ve seen and heard in previous Italian films, were here toned or tuned down.

Thats more than likely due to the presence of gentle Gianni Di Gregorio in the lead role. In fact, his calming influence is all over this film: he directed it and co-wrote it as well as acted in it.

And he’s good in it, very pleasant, very pleasing, being a very affecting – if initially, put upon – 60 something Italian son to his 90 something Italian mother.

The heart of this film lies in its warmth and light tone.

The old ladies are depicted respectfully; they aren’t made too dotty or too cantankerous; they aren’t overly sentimentalised or stereotyped; they feel like real people (which they were, being non-actors), vivid with their own personality, still viable.

I liked the semi-improvised spontaneous feel of the dialogues and interactions between Gianni and these old ladies; nothing was stretched too far or made too implausible; they weren’t having to act too far away from themselves, or adopt contrived personas.

It all felt totally natural, and truthful, nothing made up or made overly melodramatic.

I got a feel for how Italians feel when they’re being together; the warmth of spirit, the simple need for affection of connection.

How cherishable life must be if you are an old Italian Mamma, and you have such a dutiful son as Gianni, being such a good boy.

Dir: Gianni Di Gregorio, Italy

7/10

Categories: Good Tags:

La Pointe Courte (1955)

This was Agnes Varda’s first film. It was 2 films  in 1. Film 1 is shot like a drama documentary using non actors to portray the actual life they live. Film 2 tracks a young husband (Philippe Noiret) and wife (Silvia Monfort) wandering around the village in convoluted conversation about their estranged marriage.

The documentary type film is relatively straightforward.

La Pointe Courte is a seaside village of humble sheds and shanty shacks; a man in a hat is stood by the fig tree – the Health Inspector for Fish; cus basketfuls of cockles and mussels are illegally being poked up; old fishermen mend nets sucking pipes; stray cats are everywhere (must be cat heaven living in a fishing village); sheets of white washing flap like sails in the mistral coming off the sea; faces are slapped, kids are crying, a kid is dying; everybody knows everybody elses business; later on, the traditional sport of jousting in long boats between rival villages is faithfully documented.

The personal dilemmas inserted into the documentary to give it more drama didn’t feel especially compelling; there was a distinct sense of place evoked, and of actual real work being done, but the various characters involved didn’t activate much interest; I was more disinterested than sympathetically engaged by them. It was like they were acting facsimile versions of themselves, trying not to get themselves wrong.

Film 2 didn’t engage much as a drama either.

The young wife has arrived on the train from Paris. “I came to tell you we should separate” says she. Then she goes on to tell him – in great detail – why she can’t, why she doesn’t, love him anymore.

Then he goes on to tell her why she’s wrong to not love him, or their love anymore :”Our love, you look at it, under a glass. Do you love me or “our love”. Look at me, not at it. You devour, with closed eyes. You have ideas. I don’t. I love differently”.

This self-absorbed analytical “Us” talk goes on and on. On the beach, off the rocks, inside the hulks of boats. The camera tracks slowly over things, textures; Varda wants to transport the personalities of the couple into concrete details, transmute their mind-matter into the phyical matter they’re placed in, as a “kind of psychoanalysis of the material world”.

Can’t say I was really seeing what Varda was seeing or suggesting. And the abstract overwritten dialogues between this couple weren’t engaging much feeling either – in me, or them (it seemed to me). They appeared indifferent to the village life around them (that was probably deliberate) unrelated, disconnected, abstracted, removed.

They are always talking, they mustn’t be happy” says a fisherman’s’ wife. Got it in one love!

Mind you, what did impress me was how sumptuously choreographed the b/w cinematography of this film was. So although I wasn’t particularly engaged by it as a drama, the pictorial aspects were exceptionally composed (especially considering this is a film shot nearly 60 years ago – in 1954) I’m going to include a selection of these frames here

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Theres a lot of playing around with profile shots like this

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Fitting nose into nose and mouth into mouth

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The precise positioning

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The symmetrical mimicking

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The self absorbed intensity

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“You look as happy here as if the world belonged to you” she says. Well, he would – its is home this Pointe Courte place.

Dir: Agnes Varda, France

6.5/10 It gets that for the exceptional photography

Looked up Silvia Montfort on Wikipedia; what an extraordinary woman she was.

Aurora (2010)

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The very first film reviewed on this blog (back in Feb 2008?!) was Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr Lazarescu”; 2 1/2 hours of watching and waiting as an old man in a woolly hat dies a little death of painful absurdity. Grim.

This is the film Puiu made 5 years later. It’s even longer (3 hours) Even grimmer.

More watching and waiting. With a man who is messing about with a gun.

But we have to wait for that decisive “dramatic” action to happen later.

In the meantime lets go skulk around with this disaffected individual, loiter and lurk about without seemingly much intent, be hanging around, or passing through, or stood outside, doors and passageways. He won’t speak much to anybody. We won’t find out very much about him. We won’t know what he’s doing or why he’s being this – disconnected and estranged – numb and dumb person. We won’t like him as much as he seems to not like himself. We’ll feel no sympathy for him because his plight or predicament will be obscurely hidden from us. We won’t have a clue whats going on with this solitary loner. And soon we’re fed up of following him around and want this watching and waiting to end. Because it’s getting to feel fucking pointless.

But there does seem to a be a point to this after all, or at least something its been leading up to: because he’ll go and shoot a couple dead in a car park. But we won’t know why he did that. And later he’ll shoot his in-laws dead too. But we won’t know why he killed them either. In fact all the killings he’s done will seem sort of pointless; to us watching him, but also to him killing them. Its like he can’t be bothered afterwards to really take in, or be affected by, what horror he’s been the perpetrator of.

The point being of course, that this is all pointless. There is no horror. Its banal. Killing, not heightened, but lowered into something that resembles a matter-of-fact banality. As boring as everything else that is making Mr Pointless’s life fuck up.

This film will make you feel as equally pointless. And as bored. And as fed up.

That you’d ever bothered to watch it in the first place.

Dir: Cristi Puiu: Rumania

4.5/10

By the way, Cristi Puiu  starred in his own film. Well, not “starred” as such. He didn’t have to act very much. Just appear non-person like, doing a perpetual pissed-off face of changeless stasis. An exacting model of robotic torpidity. Under-performing to the nth degree of frozen.

Categories: Tedious Tags:

Drifting Clouds (1996)

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Kaurismaki makes films to type: the Finnish type. Just as you might expect Italian films to be histrionic, give off heat, warmth, so Finnish films aka Aki Kaurismaki have to be taciturn, withheld, reflect the cold and isolation of their geographical location.

Its easy to review Aki’s films cus you get all the same sorry stew of ingredients, same old ensemble of reliable actors. Plus, he’s a Master of Minimalism; therefore, nothing is spared or extra; all is economy of exposition, economy of emotion.

The set-up. Tram driver husband loses job. Wife Ilona loses job as head waitress. Will they get new jobs? How will they survive? Everything they’ve got is on tick

As usual – with K – things go from bad to worse to terrible; misfortune piled upon misery. “Times are hard”; soon the TV is going, the furniture is going, the Buick is going. the rent cant be paid on the flat.

Glum faces getting glummer. Pathos served cold, on a luke-warm bed of Bathos.

Husband is off to gamble the 8 thou for the Buick at the casino. “What if we lose?” Ilona asks (Kati Outinen) “We’ll eat wallpaper. We’ve survived before” says he stoically. But whats really going to happen? The inevitable of course. He’ll lose. The lot. Aki isn’t going to relent or show remorse, he’ll keep screwing the coffin lid down. These losers are only good at doing one thing – losing.

The answer to all this misery?  – alcohol. “Life is short and miserable. Have fun while you can”. Order another bottle. Get smashed! Useless husband sits around doing crossword puzzles, or boozing, or getting his face smashed in.

But Ilona, at least, actively looks for work. And then, whats this? – redemption. She’s bumped into her nice old boss and a scheme is hatched to start a new restaurant. On Opening Day: empty tables. nobody is coming. Dont let this last vestige of meagre hope go tits up Aki, enough already, have a heart mate. Then the kind-hearted old owner arrives. Still not a soul in the place. They’re all lined up waiting, hoping: Owner, Ilona, Hubbie, Doorman, Chef, Kitchen staff,  – stood there, waiting, hoping (ok Aki, we get it mate, that everything is at stake, is on the line)

The clock tick tocks. Lunch is nearly over. Nobody came. But then – a solitary face, looking like a well fed food critic, appears at the window, looking in.

Phew! Cue for place to fill with happy diners. Comes a phone call from the Helsinki Wrestlers Club; wanting to book tables for a group of 30. A load of wrestlers smashing up their lovely brand spanking new fine dining establishment?. “Tell them they came come” says Ilona. egalitarian to the last -  bravo Aki!

So they’ve done it, they’ve made it, they’ve come through, survived.

Until the next time.

Dir: Aki Kaurismaki, Finland

8/10

The film is dedicated to Matti Pellonpaa, a Kaurismaki regular, he was going to play the husband, but died just before it began (aged 44).

Categories: Very Good Tags: ,

The Lovers (1958)

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Posh rich bitch has affair No 1 with polo playing Lothario. Jeanne Moreau looks good and plays good in this part. I can see why she’s seen as an icon of French cinema. She’s got that certain sensual something.

“A hateful husband, a ridiculous lover, the tragedy Jeanne thought she was in has become a farce” says the narrative voiceover. I really don’t know what she’s got to complain about to be honest.  Cus this spoilt life she lives is too privileged to identify with, or feel much sympathy for.

In the final act comes the notorious bit: the extended night of libidinous passion. With bloke No 2. Bernard, a seemingly flaccid young academic. They swan off in a little row boat, fumbling and floating beautifully around, lit in moonshine, urged on by a Brahms sextet.

Creeping back to her bedroom (cue Brahms sextet again) they’re going to be at it. Cus she’s calling him “Mon amour” now. A bit of a brazen she is. She wants it. “I’ve known you forever. I’ve known only you” she eggs him on. And now comes Moreau’s famous first: an orgasm, the having of one, in a female, in a film. Not that you see sex in the graphic sense we see sex now. You just see her face having one, and her hand gripped on to the bed sheet having one,

“I’m so happy, so happy” she’s crooning. In ecstasy the woman is. Seems like she - Jeanne (Tournier, not Moreau) – has had her first orgasm ever. That’s what’s made her go all over the top.  She can’t contain herself. It’s all gushing out. The love. In an orgiastic slushy swoon.

She’s even prepared to run off with young Bernie (the Bolt). Now. Abandon her young daughter. Scandalise her husband, her friends, her polo-playing previous, her fans, her public, the American censors.

It got an obscenity charge slapped on it in the U.S.  but the conviction was overturned “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” said the Judge (Potter Stewart) And it isn’t. Certainly isn’t porno anyway. Not anything like, either by todays see-it-all standards, or even the more prudish standards of back then.

Its tame. But good on, thats she’s gone for it I suppose. Cus “THIS WAS HER MOMENT!…and nothing else mattered! exhorts the ecstatic tagline at the time.

And now what? More orgasms? With him? Or will he get replaced by another Bernard  Yes, my guess is she’ll dump dopey him, and exchange this love for another lover ((or clitty-tickler. Lol) Cus nothing else will matter now. Not even her poor little abandoned daughter.

If Jeanne was self-centred before, finding her ecstasy button is only going to head her into a whole swamp of mess; it might rush her right over the top of her self-centredness into complete and utter selfishness.

Dir: Louis Malle, France

6.5/10 I give it more than the 5 I think it warrants cus it was revealing something new (for then) and potentially liberating (for women then)

Categories: It's ok Tags: ,

Le Boucher (1970)

Lets see if Stephane Audran can do anything different than her ice maiden act.

Well she’s got different hair. Short blonde. A warmer look: As befits a nice responsible headmistress.

Butcher Popaul (Jean Yanne) is fond of logic. I’m guessing this logic talk is to foreshadow the illogic cum irrational of what he gets up to later on (cus I’ve already sussed he’s a shady chap)

Helene (Audran) is nicely sozzled ambling alongside Popaul with fag in trap.

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The fag stays firmly clamped in trap for the next 5 minutes. The fag dangling like that says: although conventional (a headmistress) I can flount convention, I can be a little bit distracted away from the norm. Later on you see her meditating in the lotus position as if to reinforce this idea of her non-conformist free-spirit.

And she hasn’t had a lover for 10 years. Why not? he asks. Cus it was unhappy says she. Its not normal says he. She can do without says she. I don’t want to take any more chances says she. But never to make love can drive you crazy says he. Making love can make you mad too says she.

The soundtracks atonal clangings and clankings are integral to creating the disturbing subtext clashing discordantly away underneath.

A constant ding of bells dong off, further accentuating this sombre portentous mood.

I dont quite get or feel the attraction between them.

What’s Popauls murderous motivation? Jean Yanne isn’t convincingly menacing to murder anyone; or compellingly charismatic enough to disable Audran supposedly self-contained independent fag dangling spirit. Audran only seems casually disinterested in him. And yet she colludes by doing nothing to inform the police of her suspicions. I don’t get what she’s up to. Maybe she’s as shady as he is. Or got something improper to hide. Cus a proper, law-abiding, morally upright, – respectable headmistress – would have turned him in by now. Very dubious.

Anyway, Popaul knifes himself in. In front of her. Or does he? Or does she? We haven’t seen (Chabrol faded that crucial bit to black to deliberately obscure what happened) She’s rushing him off, bleeding to death, to hospital in her 2CV. She gives him this kiss goodbye.

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“When the lift stopped he cried “Miss Helene” then he died”

To be honest I don’t care that much if she did kill him. Her obscure motivations have baffled me for the last half an hour. Very little of what she’s been doing (or not doing) has made much sense. Or, about as much sense as what Popaul has been doing, slaughtering the local populace with his butchering knife. Why?

Poor character development, lack of credible motivation, ambivalence mocking itself up as ambiguity, makes wondering why of these pale pair of characters barely worth asking. I wasn’t.

Dir: Claude Chabrol, France

5/10 Given all the fuss made of this it was surprisingly lame. It hasn’t chilled me or thrilled me.

Ok, thats me done with Claude Chabrol. I’ve seen 3 of his films. I don’t need to watch any more.

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