Rams (2015)

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Calling – or whistling – all sheep shaggers everywhere: this is the film for you.

It features 2 old Icelandic beardy bachelor brothers who seem to have done nothing much with their lifes other than like, and love, their sheep.

Theodór Júlíusson from Icelandic film Volcano is once again playing a curmudgeonly grumpy old sod.

The brothers have got farms right next to one another. But they don’t get on. Haven’t spoken to one another for 40 years. There’s serious sibling rivalry bordering on hostility  going on between this pair of shaggy beardos.

Other brother Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) is jealously miffed to have come second to his brother Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) in the Ram of the Year prize

But then disaster. Scrapie found by Gummi in Kiddis winning Ram.

All sheep in the neighbourhood will have to be destroyed.

Except that Gummi, the crafty old chappy, hides a select few in his basement.

Eventually, when the authorities find out, the brothers join forces to flee in the middle of the stormy night to the snowy mountains.

The film feels like its been moving towards the moving final denouement of them interred together inside this ice-hole all along.

Rams

There are supposed to be ‘comedic moments’ in this film but I couldn’t find much to smile about, or even be wryly amused by.

The petty antipathy between the 2 brothers, their individual isolation and remoteness from one another, feels more bleakly tragic than eccentrically comedic.

Yet another Icelandic film where the overwhelming emphasis is on how remotely disconnected, and expertly estranged, and flawlessly alienated, Icelanders are with one another. Well, they would be; living in the lonely land of trolls and volcanos, where icy isolation knows no bounds.

Dir: Grimur Hakonarson, Iceland

6/10

The Soft Skin (1964)

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There was a big slice of autobiography in this film for Truffaut. He was splitting up from his wife at the time. But he had to disguise the ‘personal’ elements to some extent.

Pierre (Jean Desailly), is a middle-aged writer cum TV celebrity. He has the beautiful brunette wife, the doting daughter, the family home; he has money, status, purpose, prestige.

But he will throw all of this comfortable bourgeois life away. For an air hostess.

Is it a mid-life crisis? Male vanity? The play instinct? Complacency?

He balzacs air hostess Nicole (Françoise Dorleac) in a Lisbon bar till early morning. She sucks him all up, fascinated by the size of his intellect. Then he’s soft skinning with her in room 813.

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He carries his fling on with her in Paris. Arranges a dirty weekend away in Reims. She’s playing along with the role of being his sexy bit on the side; changes out of the jeans into a dress he prefers; wants stockings. ‘Women who wear leopard skin blouses like making love’ she says to him complicity. Is this her dropping him a hint she wants one?

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There’s a poignant little dance scene that illustrates the discrepancy, the incompatibility, between them: he’s the dull dad dont dance spectator to her little wiggle waggle solo.

He’s taking pics of her posing as his bit of bimbo fluff (a fatal idea as it later turns out)

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Pierre is less in love with Nicole than with an idea of Nicole he’s seeing through his hard lense.

Wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) jealously sniffs out the love rat when he gets back from his hanky panky. Then she discovers the posey pics of her Pierre with his Nicole. She tools herself up with a big gun under her mac and is speeding towards you in her little mini Pierre. Yes you. You’re going to get a shell blasted right between your high brows. And Franca will be smiling the smile of the just afterwards.

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The irony is Nicole no longer wanted him after he’d separated from his wife. A superficial lovers tiff quickly resulted in her giving him the old heave ho.

I didn’t feel any sympathy for podgy Pierre. He got what he deserved.

Dir: Francois Truffaut, France

7/10

Postcript: Françoise Dorleac  was an up-and-coming star in the early 60s and the older sister of Catherine Deneuve. She was killedat the age of 25  when her sports car crashed, flipped over, and burst into flames. She had been en route to Nice airport and was afraid of missing her flight. She was seen struggling to get out of the car, but was unable to open the door. Police later identified her body only from the fragment of a cheque book, a diary and her driver’s licence.

Volcano (2011)

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This is rather a sombre film. Well, ok miserable.

Bad Things Happen. Because this is Life as raw as a gutted kipper.

Bad Thing No 1: Gruff old duffer caretaker Hannes is dejected about retiring.
Bad Thing No 2: Sticks hose in the car exhaust.

But then he doesn’t go through with it. Can’t let go, give up.

So now he can get back to being his grumpy old sod of a self.

Moaning about the soup tasting weird (Bad Thing No 3)
The grandkid kicking his football (Bad Thing No 4)
The daughters junk of a jap car (Bad Thing No 5)

Bad Thing No 6: Leaky little fishing boat starts to capsize out at sea. He’s pumping the water out, but maybe it might be better to let it sink, and himself sink with it. But yet again, he hasn’t got the bottle to let go, or the will to give up.

He’s smouldering resentments underneath like a volcano about to erupt. He knows what contempt his kids have for how contemptuous he is to dear mama Anna. He’s aware of the horrible he’s horribly being (to her, to them, to himself)

But then comes this lovely moment of intimate reconciliation with wife Anna in bed

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Sucking on her nipples like he needs his mama, burying her with his beardy burly body.

He’s attempting to make amends; buys her halibut to make her favourite soup.

And then VERY Bad Thing No 7 happens to blow his grouchy grumpworld to smithereens.

The rest of the film (nearly an hour) is Hannes caring for his comatised and traumatised wife. Trying to redeem and atone for his bad tempered ways as her inconsiderate, neglectful, surly, husband.

I have to admire this films integrity. For characterising loss without gloss or sentimentality, for showing grief for the grim that it is.

Theódór Jûliusson as Hannes gives a powerful portrayal of a man trapped inside the heavy hardened cusk of himself, leaking out pathos and remorse like a weatherbeaten cranky old hopeless boat. Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir as his comatised wife is almost unbearable to behold.

This is the 2nd, and last, time I’ve watched this film. No need, or desire, to put myself through the wringer of its depressive woe again.

Dir: Rúnar Rúnarsson, Iceland

7/10

Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

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Belmondo is fishing for a wife through the personal ads. Catherine Deneuve glides into his net, stood there holding a canary in a cage. On first seeing her, she says ‘You’re not disappointed?” Eh?! You’re Catherine Deneuve! You look, and are, and were always ever meant to be – absolutely ravishing!

This film seems to be a vehicle – a soft-top sportscar – for Deneuve and Belmondo to ride one another around the exotic sun drenched tropical island of Reunion.

An ‘adorable’ lady like Catherine Deneuve will always go to bed in full make up with her false eyelashes still stuck on.

She’s emptied his bank account and flittered off back to France. I didn’t see that coming.

He finds her working as a hostess in a nightclub. Intends to shoot her dead but can’t go through with it. They have a 2nd go at being ‘loffers’

‘I was dressing for you, to please you, so that you’d want me all the time’ she says.

‘Work, I don’t believe in it’ she says, ‘I don’t like men who work’. The Jean Paul Belmondos and Catherine Deneuves of this world should never be subjected to such a degrading activity as ‘work’. They should be sitting round like this, smoking, wining, and dining. Then back up to sun drenched hotel room to make loff on zee outside balcony.

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.‘When I look at you it hurts’ Belmondo says. So, just to make his hurt even hurtier she fills him with rat poison.

I haven’t been watching their phony palavering with any intent or interest.

Francois Truffaut made a lot of underwhelming films. Stinkers in other words. This is another one to add to the dungheap.

Dir: Francois Truffaut, France

3/10

Of Horses and Men (2013)

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It’s extraordinary that Iceland (population only 330,000) make feature films for general distribution at all.

But Iceland, in the last 20 years or so, has become known as a ‘cool’ place to be. It’s got Bjork and Sigur Ros It’s got the lunar landscape of volcanic rock. It’s got faeries. And it’s got it’s own peculiar breed of Icelandic funny horse.

By ‘funny’ I mean idiosyncratic. Ridden around at a comical trot, with its legs high pumping like some kind of wind up show pony from a circus.  This opening scene is drolly amusing. There’s some horsey monkey business (involving a mare being mounted by a stallion while rider is also mounted on mare, see pic above) that astonishes for sheer bare-faced and bare-bottomed audacity. And then this opening vignette is shut with a shocking Bang!

More horsey antics are to follow. Again, you wonder at how the horse with its actor on board has managed to swim in the sea to the fishing trawler. You think: does that horse really want to do that? And you think: why has this stupid man gone to all this effort for a couple of bottles of 100% vodka? It’s lethal. It’ll kill him. And, er, sure enough – it does.

The vignette with the Spaniard slitting open his horse to climb inside for warmth and protection is disturbing. Disturbed me still (a month after watching it. And I have no desire to watch it again)

The camera is constantly close up into the horses eyes. As if they know something their slightly stupid human doesn’t.  Me (Horse) = sensible. You (Human) = absurd. Horses live their normal natural life. Until vainglorious humans come along and make a mockery out of them with their meddlesome interference and malign stupidity.

A mildly diverting, slightly disconcerting film, horsing about for our (us humans who watch films) amusement.

The moral (fable) of the film seems to be: Horses are the winners, with their human counterparts a decidedly distant second.

Dir: Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland

6.5/10

From Afar (2016)

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A glowing review by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian got me to this film.

The first Venezuelan film I’ve seen. Not that Venezuela, or South America et al, is somewhere I feel particularly drawn to or have ever had much affinity with. I don’t tend to take to Spanish language films much.

This film starts with a sad middle aged maker of false teeth – Armando – cruising for young boys he can wank off to; they strip, to semi bare bottom, he whacks off, they get their wad of wodger. Then teenage Elder is whacking him – over the head, and giving the ‘faggot’ a kick somewhere private.

Armando is compelled to seek Elder out; not to enact retribution but to offer more of his fat wads of dosh.

Most of the film is being viewed from behind, or from the back of the head. Or from the side at obscure angles with shallow depth of field. There’s lots of intense looks of looking without much being said.

Elder (boy) shovels food in, swigs back his bottles of pop, with greedy ferality.

I’ve not got into this film much at all. The relationship between Armando and Elder isn’t compelling or convincing.

Bradshaw called it a ‘ brilliantly dark romance’. But I don’t see any brilliance in it or any romance. It’s opaquely estranging. I was getting increasingly irritated by it by about half way through.

I don’t do gay guy films. I don’t do gay guy films where the gays are neither gay or sufficiently credible  characters.

This was my one, and only, venture into the little known sub sub genre known as the gay dystopian Venezuelan mutist film. I don’t think it will have many followers.

Director: Lorenzo Vigas, Venuzuela

3/10

Small Change (1976)

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Truffaut having a go at a slice of small town (Thiers) French life in the hot summer of 1976.

It moseys along pleasantly enough for the first half an hour.

Toddler toppling out of top floor window and bouncing off a hedge without as much as a dent or a scratch. “Gregory go boom” he chortles. Mom has fainted.

A pair of goldfish in a bowl – which one is Plic which one Ploc? – with no filter! (goldfish care in French films of the 70s – abusive!)

There’s a dark haired bad lad Julien. And this blonde freckly good lad Patrick.

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Julien is being abused. Patrick is disabled fathers sole carer.

Julien has to go into care. Patrick gets to kiss the girl.

Small lifes’, small sufferings, small joys – small change.

Message is: children need to be loved, somewhere, by somebody, somehow. Yes, we knew that already.

The kids in this film are clunky cute, amateurishly raw. The various vignettes seem underwhelmingly random, lacking focus or compulsion.

Freckly faced Patrick just about charms Small Change out of its ho hum hum drum.

Dir: Francois Truffaut, France

6/10

The Woman Next Door (1981)

7296-oeuvrenextdoor1You might be having one of those fantasies about watching a cosy French film on a rainy Sunday. You want to shut your door on the world, get the fire going, lie on the sofa eating kettle crisps with your favourite slipper socks on.

This is probably that French film you’re fantasizing about.

It’s got passionate but doomed romance; it’s got Mathilde, “One of those women that complicate life”, beautifully, neurotically. It’s got “O la-la, la-la”. It’s got Gerard Depardieu being intensely cuddly. It’s got French ladies in short tennis skirts.

An obsessive Gallic love story with beginning, middle, and – suitably tragic – melodramatic end.

It hasn’t got any French bonking.

You’re in a safe pair of French hands with Truffaut. You’re in a safe pair of big arms with Depardieu too. Everything I’ve seen him in he’s been woodenly mainstream. So i tend to stay away from anything with him in it usually.

As soon as the kettle crisps are eaten, the need to watch this film will be over. But i watched on. It was slipping down easily enough. I was all cosy dozy.

I’m not really getting what makes Truffaut such a “great” director.

He’s predictably “O, la-la, la-la”.

Although his conk isn’t as big as Gerard’s.

Dir: Francois Truffaut, France

5.5/10

UPDATE March 2017: I didn’t have any great hopes that this would improve on watching again (6 years later) and it doesn’t disappoint – to disappoint.

Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant aren’t great together; her big mouth of teethy smiles don’t slip onto his tight lips very convincingly. Fanny was Truffauts lover at the time, so maybe having little Francois stood there overseeing the ‘love’ scenes stilted their clinches.

‘Before I thought that many extraordinary things happened under the skirts of women’ says Gerard. Does he still want to get under Fannys skirt? Will she let him hide between her legs? Yes and no. Or no and yes. There’s emotional pain being competed for; her hurt v his insouciance. It’s all feeling a bit Barbara Cartlandesque; soapy with cliche; we’ve even got swelling love-strings as Gerard slips his hand under Fannys skirt feeling for extraordinary things.

Gerard is getting firing up with his moody violence; harassing her into anxiety.

‘All love stories have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end’. Yes, and we know how this love story is going to end – badly (tragically)

The third act steams into overblown melodrama; Gerard is pawing Fanny around the garden to the shock of the gathered guests and their mousey spouses; then Fanny is hospitalised after collapsing under a bush; thinks she’s ugly, garbage, doesn’t know what has happened to her (neither do I) wants to die (she will be in about 20 minutes)

I’ve got well fed up of this film by now. Couldn’t care less who dies. It’s torrid. It’s turgid.

The denouement: he’s slipping under her skirt again. She reaches for gun. Pulls the trigger once. He’s dead. Pulls the trigger twice. She’s dead. Shot in their bonces. Hurrah! It’s over.

What a steamy pot of mush. Another seriously silly Truffaut film.

It gets dropped to a tediously stinky 4/10

Confidentially Yours (1983)

Confidentially Yours

Truffauts final film.

It’s fastly plottily paced. Felt like I was being briskly whisked along into – what? A Chabrolesque thriller? A Hithcockian chiller? A spot of Truffartian spooffery?! (of chiller thrillers)

Truffaut’s mucking about with ‘murder melodramatics’ is slapped on thick. I’m amused for about half an hour; but the story is listing its fun out of a rapidly leaking plot. Or to put it another way: the holes being constantly dug out of the plot are turning it sloppily loopy.

By the final third I’d lost interest. It’s playful had turned silly into farcical.

That slippery lizard Trintignant (I don’t like much) plays it straight. Fanny Ardant (who I do like much) gets her long legs wrapped all over this like a phony good time girl.

It’s not one to keep or watch again.

Francois Truffaut, France

5/10

The Aviator’s Wife (1981)

18435326.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxI usually give films on this blog a second watch, but won’t bother with this one. By about half way through I was wanting to have it over with, finger hovering itchily over the fast-forward button.

Marie Riviere (Anne) was pressing a few touchy buttons. Poor Francois, Anne wasn’t half giving him a hard time. Pulling and pushing at him. Not in love with him. Not really wanted to be his girlfriend. Too ambivalent to even be that considerate. I mean, he’s a nice lad – at least she could be kind, let him down gently. She’s too selfishly caught up in her own precious feelings to enlarge her small self-centred self. Yes, irritating. Her various frustrations not only irritated her. They irritated me also. I couldn’t like her.

Francois was capably if somewhat blandly played by Philippe Marlaud. His cloying need to be Anne’s boy (friend) didn’t seem to be totally convincing him either.

This film was getting to drag its feet.

The second act was sort of better. At least Anne-Laure Meury as schoolgirl Lucie injects some necessary vivacity. She tries to charm the charmless Francoise out of himself. The way she plays with his dull consciousness is like prodding at a pudding with your finger to test how ready or resistant it is.

Despite Lucie’s liveliness I’m disengaging from these contrived dialogues they’re meant to be engaging one another with. They don’t seem real, or true. Is a 15 year old schoolgirl capable of talking like this? Can this amount of intimate self-disclosure really be motivated by such a casual encounter? I can hear too many Rohmer “articulations” being put into their mouths; they aren’t saying these words – Rohmer is.

Ok Lucie. I’ve liked you – but now its time for you to bugger off.

And I’d like Francois not to be buggering back to Anne. But he does. So the whole third act is taken up with her push-pull ambivalence again. Francois tries to make off through the door a couple of times – go on pal, pick up your bag and go! Leave her, reject her, dump her. Stop being a wop! Stop being so bloody nice. You’re not in love with her no matter how much you try to convince yourself – or us – you are. You’re just puting up with it mate. Letting yourself be a passive doormat. Go on – dump the self-absorbed selfish neurotic female. Do it!

But he won’t let go. Or he wants to – cus he likes to – cling on to what makes him feel worthless. And call it love. Cus he’s worth it.

And even having the half-hearted hopeless notion of going back to fresh young Lucie won’t work either. Cus she’s kissing off her boyfriend.

Good. It’s over. Not one to watch again. But I always say that about Rohmer films I haven’t liked. And then I go watch them again. Perverse this attraction I have to Rohmer. Almost like a failing, like a malady I can’t find a cure for.

Dir: Eric Rohmer, France

5/10

Sad Footnote:Philippe Marlaud died the same year this film came out when his tent caught fire while camping. Only 22. If I’d known that I might have watched him a bit more sympathetically.

UPDATE: March 2017

I only watched this film once. Then gave it a cursory once over review. Maybe I’ll see more value in it on a closer 2nd watch. Yes, I’m going to watch it again.

Not feeling the negative reaction towards Anne (Marie Riviere) I was having first time around. Marie Riviere was a favourite actress of Rohmers’. She was very sympathetic in The Green Ray.

My POV has switched to her. Before I was on side with Francois. But I can see how she might see him as a bit of a hapless puppy, hanging around and chasing after her all the time. She’s just not that in to you Francois! He’s the transitional gap-filler, the “interim he’ll do for now stooge”

He’s a serial stalker this lad. First Anne. Then onto following Anne’s ex (Christian) in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Schoolgirl Lucie lucks into view. A delightful distraction. Come on Francois, this girl is lovely. Stop being so earnest, let her light you up!

“You find me ridiculous” he says to Francoise

“Yes, people wrapped up in their own problems always seem so’ says Lucie. Astute this girl, for a 15 year old.

I’ve liked being in that park with these 2 for the last 20 minutes.

They sit in the Cocker cafe “I like life when its mostly like a novel” says she.

Goodbye Lucie. You were a lovely breath of fresh air. But now its back to stale aired Anne for the long final scene in her crampy little attic flat with her 2 goldfish swimming around their very small bowl – and no filter. They’re gonna die from lack of oxygen!

Poor Francois is suffocating Anne too, “I hate anything clinging” says Anne “It’s absurd, because here I am with the most clinging guy in the world”

“Since it’s occasional I tolerate you” (she’s just not into you!)

“You’re so sad, so angry, so upset, yet whats happened to you” says Anne, “Nothing serious”. That’s true. But its because he’s needy of the love you aren’t giving him that he’s so upset. His need of you makes you want him less.

But she’s poking and provoking him: pull him towards, push him away. Wanting his pale passivity to become passionate, as anguished as her own suffering. “If you talk about something you give it an importance it doesn’t have” says Francoise.

Every little grain and nuance of Annes ambivalence towards Francoise (and towards men, and love affairs in general) is painfully squeezed out of this scene.

I’ve been won over! This is being a much better film than first time around. It just shows you. That how you watch a film can depend very much on how you want to see it: on how your mood is, how sympathetic you are willing to be, what you are looking for, what you are prepared to understand, how invested in giving something of yourself you are, the degree of curiosity you are energizing your watching with.

I’m going to keep this film now. And by the time I’ve watched it a third time it will have matured – like a fine wine – into something even finer!

Rating moves from that initial desultory 5/10 to a very commendable 7/10