Movie Project #9: Belle de Jour [1967]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Belle de Jour [1967]

Belle de Jour [1967]
Director: Luis Buñuel
Screenplay: Joseph Kessel (novel), Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière
Country: France
Genre: Drama
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli
Running Time: 101 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a full-length film from Luis Buñuel. My only experience with him was his insane 1929 short film collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou.

Accolades: Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award, Venice Film Festival Pasinetti Award for Best Film, Bodil Award for Best European Film, BAFTA Award Nomination for Best Actress, included in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies series

 
In French, the term “belle-de-jour” refers to the name of the daylily flower meaning “beauty of the day.” In Luis Buñuel’s seminal 1967 film, Belle de Jour, it also serves as the name of a high-class prostitute living a secret life.

Catherine Deneuve stars as Séverine Serizy, a stunningly beautiful housewife who seems to have it all. Her husband, a successful surgeon named Pierre (Jean Sorel), provides her with everything she could ask for, yet they are unable to share a physical connection. They appear to be madly in love with each other, but Séverine is unable to be intimate with him — they even sleep in separate beds.

Belle de Jour [1967]

Little does Pierre know that Séverine has wild, elaborate sexual fantasies involving other men, many of which involve domination and bondage. After hearing from a friend that brothels are still thriving underground, she becomes curious enough to visit one. It is there that she meets Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page), who encourages her to offer her services. Following a strict schedule of 2-5pm (when her husband is working), Séverine begins working as Belle de Jour, bringing her fantasies to life. Naturally, this double life cannot go on forever, and it leads to tragic consequences.

This film is considered one of the greatest in erotica, and it’s easy to see why. Deneuve is absolutely gorgeous, and I can totally understand why so many men fell in love with her back then (and likely now, even). While quiet for much of the film, she gives her character an incredible amount of depth. There is more to Séverine than meets the eye, as she holds an incredible amount of emotional and mental scars. Every now and then we catch glimpses of her past via random flashbacks, most of which are clues to her current sexual frustration.

Belle de Jour [1967]

What made me fall in love with the film was its intricate use of these flashbacks and daydreams. By the end of the film, I was questioning just what was real and what was not. Reading online theories afterward just made me appreciate the film even more, as there are so many layers present that leave its story open to interpretation. It’s quite possible that everyone can take a different meaning from it.

This is exactly the type of film I love, and it has made me eager to see more from Luis Buñuel. I cannot recommend Belle de Jour enough.

9/10

Movie Project #43: For a Few Dollars More [1965]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

For a Few Dollars More [1967]

For a Few Dollars More [1967]
Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonté
Running Time: 132 minutes

I didn’t hear what the bet was.
Your life.

For a Few Dollars More is the second film in Sergio Leone’s famous Dollars trilogy. I wrote about the first in the series, A Fistful of Dollars, earlier this year, and my initial plan was to watch both films back-to-back. This didn’t happen, but no matter — it was great to come back to the trilogy with a few months perspective.

For a Few Dollars More [1965]

Clint Eastwood once again stars as the “Man with No Name”, though he is referred to by others as Manco (meaning “one-handed/one-armed”). Manco is a bounty hunter who is pursuing El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté), a ruthless bastard who is also one of the most wanted fugitives in the west. After running into Colonel Douglas Mortimer (aka “The Man in Black” played by Lee Van Cleef), another bounty hunter who is chasing El Indio, the two men decide they have a better chance to take down the fugitive and his goons by working together. Their partnership is shaky at best, as evidenced by their introduction in which they shoot each other’s hats (an amusing and effective scene), but they have a mutual respect for each other.

While A Fistful of Dollars relied solely on Eastwood, For a Few Dollars More focuses on this unlikely partnership. Eastwood is at his best here, as the poncho-wearing, cigar-chomping Manco, but Van Cleef is just as good, if not better. It’s a lot of fun watching these two legends play off each other, each one slyly trying to one-up the other. Volonté makes a formidable villain, brilliantly playing a nasty shell of a man, one who we learn more about thanks to a couple of flashback scenes. By the end, you will undoubtedly want to see him get his comeuppance.

For a Few Dollars More [1965]

All of the familiar traits from Sergio Leone are on display here — wide, panoramic landscapes, extreme close-ups, and an unforgettable score from Ennio Morricone. On the flip side, the poor voice dubbing is again noticeable and even distracting at times. No matter how many films of this manner I have seen, the dubbing takes some time to get used to.

In many ways, For a Few Dollars More builds upon what its predecessor set out to do. Seeing “The Man with No Name” team up with another bounty hunter adds an intriguing element to Leone’s Spaghetti Western, and the sheer star power of Eastwood, Van Cleef and Volonté is a sight to behold. It’s undeniably a great film, but perhaps its strongest asset is that it set the groundwork for the biggest and best entry in the trilogy: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

8.5/10

 

Cult Movie Review: The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]
Director: Roger Corman
Genre: Drama
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern
Runtime: 85 minutes

After reading Jack Deth’s great post on Roger Corman over at Front Room Cinema, I was inspired to see one of the legendary director’s films. There was one in particular that stood out to me: The Trip, a 1967 feature written by Jack Nicholson. As luck would have it, the film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

As the title would suggest, The Trip is all about LSD. Filmed in “psychedelic color”, the movie stars Peter Fonda as Paul Groves, a young television commercial director who is heartbroken over the divorce proceedings with his adulterous wife. Looking for some sort of guidance with his life, Paul decides to embark on his first acid trip with the help of his friend John (Bruce Dern), an experienced advocate of psychedelics.

The Trip [1967]

From this point on, we follow Paul as he fades in and out of reality, essentially joining him on this trip. He sees all sorts of things, some real, some not. Kaleidoscopic colors, dwarves, strobe lights, naked dancers, druids, police.

Paul meanders aimlessly through these visuals and starts to freak himself out. In a fit of terror, he escapes the house (and his ‘sitter’) and wanders off to the city. This is when the movie really shines, as now we get to see how Paul interacts with others. A conversation with a not-so-classy lady at the laundromat is freakin’ hilarious and is the highlight of the movie. The lady suspects something is off with Paul as he plays around with the washing machines, but she appreciates the attention regardless.

The Trip [1967]

The movie culminates with Paul returning to where he came, this time running into a young Dennis Hopper, whose character also acts as a sort of guide for our acid-ingesting friend.

The Trip is a relic of its time, a fascinating snapshot of the Summer of Love and its free-spirited hippies. It has been said that Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all took acid together in order to prepare for the film. Even Roger Corman dropped acid for the first time so he had a better idea of how to direct this film. Perhaps most amazing is that Bruce Dern, not a fan of drug culture whatsoever, was able to play an acid guide so effectively. He is the voice of reason throughout the film, a way to keep Paul in check and make sure he has a good time.

Obviously, this isn’t a movie that everyone will enjoy. The first half of the film drags along as Paul doesn’t do too terribly much, but it becomes wildly entertaining once he hits the city. It certainly helps to have an interest in the late 60s counterculture period and/or psychedelics in general to fully appreciate this. Music buffs will get a kick out of The Electric Flag’s groovy soundtrack as well.

7/10

Movie Project #15: Cool Hand Luke [1967]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

Cool Hand Luke [1967]
Directors: Stuart Rosenberg
Genre: Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

What we got here is… failure to communicate.

Watching The Hustler made me appreciate the awesomeness that is Paul Newman, and I was eager to check out Cool Hand Luke, another well-regarded movie of his. I had heard this titled as the “ultimate guy’s movie”, and everyone spoke volumes about Paul Newman’s character. I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Cool Hand Luke tells the story of Lucas Jackson (Newman), a guy who lives by his own rules and doesn’t back down from anything or anyone. After getting arrested for cutting heads off parking meters (while heavily drinking at the same time), Luke is sent off to prison for two years. At the prison, he keeps to himself yet somehow ends up in a boxing match with the much larger “Dragline” (George Kennedy), who is the leader of the chain gang. Despite getting his ass kicked, Luke keeps getting back up after every punch before finally his adversary walks away. This single act of courage (or just plain recklessness) earns Luke respect from his fellow prisoners, and many begin to look up to him.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

This is the beginning of a recurring theme, as Luke continually stands up to others, especially the law, and attempts to do things his own way. What makes him so likeable is that he is just a laidback dude who is always up for a challenge — whether that is trying to eat 50 eggs in one sitting or attempting to escape prison. He is a real “cool hand”, as Dragline affectionately labels him.

One thing that has surprised me in reading about Cool Hand Luke is that not many articles mention the significant amount of Christ imagery present in the movie. The most obvious example is after the egg-eating scene when Luke collapses on top of a table, spread out like Jesus on the cross. Another major comparison between the two is in the form of Luke’s name combined with his prisoner number: 37. Hence, Bible verse Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” It is interesting to think of things this way, and the comparisons are not far-fetched, as both were nonconformists who developed followers through their actions.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

I can’t think of anyone else that could have played the role of Luke other than Paul Newman. He just oozes charisma here, making it real hard not to root for the guy. He is aided by an outstanding supporting cast led by Kennedy as his strong righthand man. There are a lot of bit roles here, including spots from Harry Dean Stanton and a young Dennis Hopper, with everyone performing well. There are not many women in the movie, which gives credence to the whole “guy’s movie” reputation, but the passing role of Jo Van Fleet as Luke’s mother creates one of the most emotional scenes of the film.

While a little slow by today’s standards, Cool Hand Luke is still a fascinating study of one of Hollywood’s great characters. Paul Newman’s performance is incredible, and it’s baffling that he didn’t win the Oscar for this. With a lot of great quotes (such as the one at the beginning of the review) and some truly unforgettable scenes, this is well worth seeing.

8.5/10

Movie Project #5: The Graduate [1967]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Graduate [1967]

The Graduate [1967]
Director: Mike Nichols
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Language: English
Country: USA

The Graduate is a film that I was introduced to in my college’s Music In Film class. We discussed the movie thanks to its soundtrack’s meteoric rise to the top of the Billboard charts. Simon & Garfunkel were responsible for the music, and the film’s popularity helped propel them even further into the folk music canon. There’s no question the movie was a smashing success.

Looking back at it 44 years later is rather interesting. It is almost as if opening a time capsule, as this is a fascinating portrait of the restlessness of 60s youth.

The Graduate [1967]

Dustin Hoffman is incredible as Benjamin Braddock, the 21-year-old college graduate who comes back home with seemingly no direction in his life. His summer takes a drastic turn after he is seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the 40-something wife of his father’s business partner. The initial awkward encounters between the two are priceless, but their casual relationship succeeds, at first anyway. This changes when Ben later begins dating her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), and soon everything spirals out of control.

The relations between Benjamin and the mother were the highlights of the film for me, especially as we got to know more about the complex character of Mrs. Robinson. The movie takes an entirely different direction once he begins falling for Elaine, however, and I felt like this dragged on a bit, at least until the brilliant end scene.

I liked director Mike Nichols’ use of “gimmicky” camera angles, such as the first-person perspective from inside Ben’s scuba gear. These dynamic perspectives helped keep things fresh throughout, and added to the movie’s charm.

The Graduate [1967]

Simon & Garfunkel’s soundtrack is excellent, especially as a signature of the times. “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson” are absolute classics, even if Nichols tended to overplay them throughout the movie (especially “Scarborough Fair”, which was played over and over again near the end).

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed The Graduate overall. Even today, as a fairly recent college graduate myself, I can relate to Benjamin’s uneasiness. Leaving the sanctuary of school is scary at first, especially when you still don’t know what you want to do with your life. Hell, I’m still figuring this out three years later.

In a nutshell, The Graduate is still relevant today, and it is a very well-made and enjoyable movie even with the minor annoyances.

9/10