Movie Project #14: A Prophet [2009]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

A Prophet [2009]

A Prophet [2007]
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Country: France/Italy
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif
Running Time: 155 minutes

In Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, prison is an intimidating and often brutal venue that is dominated by two groups: the Corsicans and the Muslims. If you aren’t affiliated with one of these groups (and thereby “protected”), you are entirely on your own, and this is not a desirable option.

The film’s main character, a 19-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent named Malik (Tahar Rahim), learns this firsthand. Sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly attacking a police officer, Malik enters as a naive young man — a kid, really. He is quickly singled out by the Corsican mafia as someone they can take control of. Led by the old, gruff Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the Corsicans force a proposition on the new prisoner. They want him to kill a Muslim witness named Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) who is passing through on his way to testify against them. If Malik doesn’t assassinate their target, he will be killed himself. If he does go through with it, he will be protected by the Corsicans through the remainder of his sentence. Truth be told, there is no decision to be made; Malik has to kill this man.

A Prophet [2009]

So it goes in A Prophet, a dog eat dog world. This is just the first test. Malik does a lot of growing in the film, eventually rising through the ranks in absolutely astonishing fashion. As the film goes on, we learn bits of his background. He dropped out of school at age 11, basically raised himself on the streets, and he never learned how to read. Knowing this background makes his ascension even more impressive. Despite his shortcomings, Malik is incredibly street smart, and he quickly adapts to the prison’s hierarchy system.

Malik’s Arab descent allows him to walk the line between both the Muslims and the Corsicans, and he takes full advantage of this. He becomes good friends with a Muslim, Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who teaches him how to read and write. As Malik’s role within the Corsicans continues to grow, he also branches out into a separate business for himself with Ryad. Eventually, thanks to his good behavior he is granted occasional day leaves, allowing him to conduct business on the outside. It is clear that when/if he leaves prison, he is not going to be the same man.

A Prophet [2009]

Tahar Rahim doesn’t look the type who could succeed in prison, but his performance is entirely believable. We never really know quite what he’s thinking, and the film is stronger because of this. Even better is Niels Arestrup as Cesar, basically the epitome of a godfather-type mafioso. He often appears calm, but it’s clear from one look at him that he is not someone to mess with. The performances and setting are as authentic as it gets — Audiard even made it a point to hire former convicts as advisors and extras in the film.

A Prophet‘s tale is a complicated one, but its surprisingly non-violent payoff is immensely satisfying. The extended running time — all 2 1/2 hours of it — is certainly lengthy and even drags at times, but it’s worth it in the long haul. This is an ambitious drama that manages to combine both gangster epics and coming of age stories into one powerful and intelligent film. With its 13 Cesar nominations — and nine wins — it’s clear that many others feel the same way.

8/10

Movie Project #47: The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928]

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.

The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928]

The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928]
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Writers: Joseph Delteil, Carl Theodor Dreyer
Country: France
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley
Running Time: 82 minutes

During this year’s 50 Movies Project, I have seen a number of great films, many of which I would now even consider among my favorites. None of these, however, could have prepared me for the experience of watching the 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, for the first time.

Before watching this highly-regarded Carl Theodor Dreyer classic, I knew very little of the true Joan of Arc story. This was something that I never learned in school or had even heard of until I was much older. Yet it resonated with me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928]

The film focuses on the trial of Joan of Arc, a 19-year-old French maiden who, claiming divine guidance, led the French army against England during the Hundred Years’ War. After being captured by a group of French who remained loyal to England, she is put on trial for charges of heresy. Unable to get a confession out of Joan, the English bishops begin to ridicule and torture her. This does not prove effective, however, as Joan is adamant about her visions and guidance from God. Claiming charges of “insubordination and heterodoxy”, the English eventually tie her to a stake and horrifically burn her alive.

The on-screen proceedings are based on the actual trial documents, and this fact only adds to the emotional experience provided by the film. The way Joan is treated by what is essentially a group of old, bald, white guys that represent the Church is absolutely disgusting. She is mocked and treated cruelly by most involved, and the actual execution is presented as if it were a circus (complete with carnival performers and men on stilts). In fact, it is not until Joan is literally burning at the stake that the townspeople cause a ruckus. I know the world was significantly different in the 15th century (obviously), but it’s just baffling that something like this could even happen.

The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928]

Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s performance as Joan of Arc is widely considered to be one of the best of all time, and I’m not even going to try to argue that point. Her facial expressions, often shown through Dreyer’s extreme close-ups, will haunt you for days. Legends state that Falconetti was legitimately treated harshly on set, being forced to kneel on hard stone for hours at a time in an effort to provoke genuine emotion out of her. Perhaps this treatment is why she never starred in another film after this; a shame, too, given her flawlessness here.

Quite frankly, The Passion of Joan of Arc completely blew me away. I had my reservations about watching a silent film that would appear to be dialogue-heavy, but I was transfixed from the very first scene. The version I watched was the one Dreyer intended, meaning that it was completely silent — no orchestra or score to speak of. This added to the intensity on screen, but I would love to watch this again someday with one of the acclaimed scores created afterward. Almost 100 years later, this film remains startingly effective.

10/10

Movie Project #45: Grand Illusion [1937]

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.

La Grande Illusion [1937]

Grand Illusion [1937]
Director: Jean Renoir
Writers: Charles Spaak, Jean Renoir
Country: France
Genre: Drama/War
Starring: Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim
Running Time: 114 minutes

It’s something of a miracle that Grand Illusion is available to be watched these days. The original print was thought to be destroyed during an Allied air raid in 1942. It was later found in the 1960s then transferred from Germany to Russia to France, with none of them realizing that they had the original negative. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that it was rediscovered, and eventually it made its way to the Criterion Collection. And what luck! The Criterion version is absolutely beautiful.

Grand Illusion is set during the First World War, and it follows a group of French soldiers who are held as prisoners of war by the Germans. After two French aviators, Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin), are shot down by acclaimed German Rittmeister, von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), they arrive at the nearest German base. Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein are able to bond over their high social class, making the captivity seem more cordial than anything. After seeing the treatment of prisoners of war in other films, it’s shocking to see just how well the French are treated here. Even Maréchal, a working class man, is offered lunch immediately.

Grand Illusion [1937]

Yet even with this hospitality, the Frenchmen are determined to escape the prison. Upon meeting the other POWs, it is learned that they have been working on a secret dirt tunnel below their room. Before they are able to finish, however, everyone is transferred to other camps. De Boeldieu and Maréchal bounce from camp to camp, eventually getting settled into a mountain fortress. It is here where where the two once again encounter von Rauffenstein (still very friendly) and also a prisoner from the old camp, Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio).

Even though the fortress is dubbed “inescapable”, the men immediately get to work on developing a plan. One tactic — to get the entire group of prisoners to cause a ruckus by playing wooden flutes — is sheer genius. This act is the most suspenseful of the film, as it focuses more on an actual prison escape, whereas the beginning is more of a social/political commentary.

Grand Illusion [1937]

The film has a lot to say in this regard, though it is difficult to understand the class relations without knowing quite a bit about what it was really like back then. Director Jean Renoir fought in World War I himself (Gabin even wears Renoir’s real uniform in the film), and his firsthand experience shows the vast difference between the two wars. The upper class in the first war act cordial with each other regardless of nationality, something unheard of just years later.

Filmed in 1937, not too long before the beginning of World War II, Grand Illusion is very much a portrait of its time. Given its overall statement and the general uneasiness of the world at this time, it’s easy to see why the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declared this “Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1”. The back story surrounding this film is absolutely incredible, and it only enhances the viewing experience today.

8/10

Movie Project #25: Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

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.

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]
Director: Louis Malle
Writer: Louis Malle
Country: France/West Germany
Genre: Biography/Drama/War
Starring: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette
Running Time: 104 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a Louis Malle film.

Accolades: Two Oscar nominations (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Writing), BAFTA Film Award for Best Direction + three other nominations, César Award – Best Film + six other wins, Golden Lion Award at Venice Film Festival

(This review discusses the film’s big “secret”, and thus contains possible spoilers.)

Based on director Louis Malle’s own childhood experiences, Au revoir les enfants is a subtle, tragic tale of friendship set in war-torn 1944 France. Technically, it is a war film, but one that is staggeringly different from most set during this period.

Gaspard Manesse stars as Julien Quentin, an 11-year-old student at a Catholic boarding school in occupied France. After returning from a much-welcomed vacation, Julien and the other kids are introduced to a new student: Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto). It doesn’t take long for the other children to make fun of Jean — after all, boys will be boys — and even Julien gets in on the action. Hell, at first Julien downright despises the new kid.

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

It isn’t until Julien learns Jean’s secret that two of them are drawn together. You see, Jean’s real last name isn’t Bonnet — it’s Kippelstein. The boarding school, like many others in France, has been secretly harboring Jews under assumed identities in an attempt to provide them safety from the omnipresent Nazis. This is a huge risk for the school’s headmaster, and close calls with German soldiers (and French fascists) keep everyone on their toes.

Once this secret is revealed to the audience, the film grows in suspense. Nazis are continually in the picture, though surprisingly they aren’t always shown in a negative light. During one scene, Julien and Jean become lost in the woods. They eventually wander into a nearby country road where they see headlights coming in their direction. The two boys are ecstatic — at least until it is clear that these are enemy soldiers. Jean immediately takes off running — a natural impulse, to be sure. The boys are quickly caught, but rather than being tortured or worse, they are given blankets and driven back to the school. It’s rare to see Nazis portrayed positively, especially when the Holocaust is a focal point of the film.

Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]

Of course, there are plenty of evil Nazis as well, and much of the film feels like it is a matter of when — not if — they will discover the hiding Jews. Through it all, the friendship of Julien and Jean is tested. While it is fun to watch their playful behavior throughout, this makes the seemingly inevitable conlusion even more heartbreaking to watch.

I was most impressed with Au revoir les enfants‘s absolute subtlety. Malle never forces emotions onto his audience, instead opting to just show everything as it happens. Everything feels authentic, almost certainly because Malle himself went through a similar experience as a child. As such, this is a beautiful piece of cinema, a story that will move even the bleakest of hearts.

8.5/10

Movie Project #24: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday [1953]

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.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday [1953]
Director: Jacques Tati
Writer: Jacques Tati, Henri Marquet
Country: France
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Jacques Tati, Louis Perrault, André Dubois
Running Time: 83 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a Jacques Tati film.

Accolades: Oscar nomination for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay), nominated for Grand Prize of the Festival at Cannes, #49 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema

Well, it was bound to happen.

Outside of a few purposefully-included trashy films (Salo, Pink Flamingos, and *ahem* Crash), I have enjoyed, at least to some extent, pretty much everything I have included in my movie projects. That has changed with Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, my first Jacques Tati film. I have struggled with this like no other.

Tati himselfs stars as the eponymous Monsieur Hulot, a clumsy, pipe-smoking, socially awkward Frenchman who is going on holiday at a seaside resort. While there, he has a series of misadventures, though none of the other vacationers truly seem to mind his offbeat behavior. Perhaps everyone else is too stuck in their own world to care — after all, this is a break from everyday life for them. Who cares if someone is bumbling their way through their own personal getaway?

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

This is the core of the film, as we experience summer in this resort as seen from Hulot’s perspective. There are a handful of other characters, but none are given adequate screentime to truly get to know them.

Hulot’s disturbances are mostly mundane, and the film’s gentle slapstick humor gives little in the way of laughs. Outside of a couple of amusing scenes — including one in which Hulot, inside a folded-up canoe, becomes mistaken for a shark — most quickly grow tedious.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday [1953]

Spoken dialogue is minimal at best, and in fact, Tati’s performance is reminiscent of silent era Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The visual gags are often impressive, and there’s no denying Tati’s talent in piecing them together. It’s just that most are not particularly funny.

Perhaps my issues with the film come from my expectations. I was hoping for something resembling a narrative, as well as more than a few chuckles. The subtle humor and slow pacing also made it more difficult to maintain interest. It’s also possible that part of my unenthusiasm is due to cultural differences. It’s hard to say. I wanted to love Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but did not find it engaging at all.

5/10

Movie Project #19: Rififi [1955]

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.

Rififi [1955]

Rififi [1955]
Director: Jules Dassin
Writers: Auguste Le Breton (novel), Jules Dassin (adaptation), René Wheeler (collaboration) and Auguste Le Breton (collaboration)
Country: France
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Marcel Lupovici, Marie Sabouret
Running Time: 122 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I noticed this on several “best of” lists for film noir, crime, the 1950s, etc. and wanted to make it a point to finally see it.

Accolades: Won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival, part of the Criterion Collection, Roger Ebert’s Great Movies and Quentin Tarantino’s Coolest Movies of All Time

When it comes to heist films, there is Rififi and then there is everything else.

Fresh out of prison after serving five years for stealing jewelry, Tony (aka “The Stéphanois”, played by Jean Servais) is struggling to adapt to the life he once knew. He drinks too much, has a nasty cough that suggests possible lung disease, has hit a cold streak playing cards, and to top it all off, his former girlfriend is now property of a Parisian mob boss. Needless to say, when a colleague (Jo, played by Carl Möhner) approaches him with the idea of pulling off another jewelry heist, it doesn’t take long for Tony to warm up to the idea.

Two other men — Mario (Robert Manuel) and master safecracker César (Jules Dassin) — enter the picture, and the group begins developing an increasingly detailed plan to rob a popular Parisian jeweler’s storefront. Their research is immaculate — they make multiple trips to the store, checking in on its security system while also learning the inticracies of the building itself. The store’s alarm system is easily triggered, as mere light vibrations will set it off for the whole neighborhood to hear.

Rififi [1955]

In a bit of ingenious filmmaking, we are able to watch the group as they buy an identical version of the alarm and start pondering ways to mute it. Tampering with the wires and the insides of the alarm will immediately cause a ruckus, so there appears to be no clear way to disable it. Just as the men are starting to lose hope on the operation, Tony finds a way to quiet the system using fire extinguisher foam. Eureka!

The actual heist is the stunning centerpiece of the film. For nearly 30 minutes, Dassin shows the group executing their plan, most of which takes place in complete silence (meaning no music either). It’s a rather amazing accomplishment, as there is so much tension and suspense without anything being said. This type of sequence could never happen today.

But yet with Rififi, there is still *more* after the heist. Here the criminals have to deal with the aftermath of their feat, and it isn’t pretty. The film gets shockingly violent after this, especially by 1955’s standards.

Rififi [1955]

Perhaps even more incredible, the film manages to turn these anti-heroes into likable characters. Tony, in particular, is an absolute brute at the beginning of the film. How can we root for someone so self-loathing who also unnecessarily smacked around his ex-girlfriend? Yet by the end of the film, we see that he *does* have a set of morals, and we want to see him succeed. All four thieves follow the “code of silence” after the heist, which is admirable in its own right.

Rififi is still an impressive piece of filmmaking, and it’s clear that it has influenced nearly every major heist film since its release. It’s easy to see why Quentin Tarantino selected it as one of the “coolest movies of all-time” — hell, without Rififi, there would be no Reservoir Dogs. A must see.

9/10

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 #3: The Battle of Algiers [1966]

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.

The Battle of Algiers [1966]

The Battle of Algiers [1966]
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
Screenplay: Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas
Genre: Crime/Drama/History/War
Starring: Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi
Running Time: 121 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the greatest and most important war/political films ever made.

Accolades: Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival, three Oscar nominations in two separate years (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay), ranked #6 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema

It’s rare to find a war film that doesn’t pledge its allegiance to one side of the battle. In the U.S., we are so accustomed to films that either act as tributes to our soldiers, or those that paint us as bloodthirsty warmongers. There is usually no middle ground.

The Battle of Algiers has no commitment to either of the two sides it shows at war, and that’s what makes it so refreshing and still relevant.

The film acts as a capsule of the Algerian War (1954-62) between native Algerians and its French colonists, with the greatest emphasis placed on the Battle of Algiers. This is a war I knew nothing about, but the film does a good job getting viewers up to speed. The first half of the movie follows along with the urban guerrilla tactics of the insurgents in the National Liberation Front (FLN). Their goal is simple: they want their freedom back, and they will do anything to get it.

The Battle of Algiers [1966]

Many of the acts of the FLN could be considered flat-out terrorism. There is one particularly gripping scene in which a trio of Algerian women get haircuts and ditch their traditional garb in order to casually stroll past the French checkpoints in their city. Once through, each woman obtains a bomb, heads to a populated area and leaves their purse — containing the bomb — behind in a hidden location. The destruction is horrifying and we are there to see it all — the effects are made worse due to the fact that we are shown shots of people sitting down, eating, talking, basically not knowing that they are living the last moments of their lives. The shot of a little boy eating ice cream slayed me.

The Battle of Algiers [1966]

With the FLN it’s all or nothing, and while we can empathize with their request for freedom, we sure as hell can’t sympathize with their terrorist actions.

The second half of the film focuses on the French army paratroopers who are sent in to find and kill all of those active in the FLN. This group of elite soldiers, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), are there to do their job, nothing more, nothing less. Their tactics are as ruthless as the rebels — torture, assassinations and lynch mobs are just some of the Draconian methods they use. Their method is to systematically take down the movement, one-by-one, before ultimately reaching the head of the group.

The Battle of Algiers [1966]

The Battle of Algiers is shot documentary-style, making the presentation even more effective. While everything is staged, certain scenes could easily pass as news reel footage. Director Gillo Pontecorvo made sure to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the film stating that this was shot live. The cast is composed of almost entirely unknowns, with Jean Martin being the only professional actor in the bunch. As such, there is little in the way of character development; instead, Pontecorvo relies on the war itself to tell the story. We know some of the participants in the revolution (the actual insurgent, Saadi Yacef, even plays someone loosely based on himself), but they are bit players in the grand scheme of things. This is a battle between two nations.

The influence of The Battle of Algiers is still widely present today. In 2003, during the beginning of the Iraq War, the film was screened for Pentagon employees. In the late 60s, it was mandatory viewing for Black Panthers. The film is perhaps most relevant today, given the recent Arab uprisings in Egypt, Libya and other countries. This is one that has stood the test of time, and will almost certainly continue to do so.

9/10

Movie Review: The Artist [2011]

The Artist [2011]

The Artist [2011]
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Genre: Comedy/Romance/Drama
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman
Runtime: 100 Minutes

Of all the films generating Oscar buzz right now, The Artist is most intriguing. It is not often a silent movie is made in this day and age, and perhaps this novelty is its greatest appeal. This is a sparkling homage that revels in its silent nature, even opting to break out of past molds and play with the dynamics a little.

The year is 1927. Silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) is on top of the world as one of the biggest names in the business. His partnership with studio boss Al Zimmer (Goodman) has resulted in a great deal of success, and the two seem in for a lucrative future.

Fast forward to two years later. Zimmer announces the end of production of silent films, claiming that “talkies” are the future of the business. Valentin calls this transition a fad, and opts to produce and direct his own silent film. This doesn’t go well, and another series of unfortunate events leads to Valentin hitting rock bottom.

The Artist [2011]

Meanwhile, young up-and-comer Peppy Miller (Bejo), an acquaintance of Valentin’s, is taking advantage of the new medium and has become a star in her own right. The two have an interesting history — it was Valentin who “made” her trademark mole so she would stand out from other aspiring actresses. There is a clear connection between them, and they continue to cross each other’s paths from time to time (sometimes conveniently when they need each other most).

There are some pretty heavy moments in The Artist, particularly when Valentin is alone and wallowing in his own self pity. However, when he and Miller are on screen together, the movie becomes electric. Their chemistry is terrific, and Dujardin and Bejo are both so much fun to watch. Dujardin, in particular, seems like he could have been a silent film star himself. His natural charisma translates very well to the movie’s classic setting.

The Artist is a real crowd pleaser, and it’s easy to see why it is blowing up the awards circuit right now. There are just so many enjoyable aspects of the movie — the charming little dog Uggie who brings laughter to a few scenes, the strategically wonderful use of vocals on rare occasions, the frequent nods to cinematic classics — that it’s hard not to fall in love with The Artist. This is a movie that even those ignorant of silent or black-and-white films can appreciate.

9/10

Movie Project #1: Breathless [1960, Godard]

Breathless [1960, Godard]

Breathless [1960]
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Genre: Crime/Drama/Romance
Language: French/English
Country: France

Informers inform, burglars burgle, murderers murder, lovers love.

For the first selection in my “50 Movies” project, I opted for Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 French New Wave classic, Breathless. I had never seen a Godard film despite hearing a lot of great things about his work. Breathless is his first full-length feature.

The movie is about a young thief named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a guy who acts tougher than he is and aspires to be as cool as his idol, Humphrey Bogart. After stealing a car and then murdering a policeman out in the country, Michel goes on the run and tries to get his American on-and-off girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg) to flee with him to Rome. He doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry, however, since he finds time to charm Patricia and lounge around in her apartment. The cops are onto him, but he is more interested in getting laid than anything else. It’s pretty amazing that he is so lackadaisical about, you know, being on the run from the police, but he acts as if there isn’t a care in the world.

Really, not a lot happens in Breathless. This is a film that relies heavily on its dialogue — of which is immensely quotable — and its revolutionary filmmaking techniques. Godard’s usage of jump cuts in this movie is very well documented, and it really works wonders here. These jump cuts keep the film moving at a brisk pace, and fit in effortlessly with the stylish flair from the era. While perhaps not as jarring today, this was a relatively new technique at the time and made some serious waves in the filmmaking world. I also loved how Godard shot the movie on the streets of Paris with many of its citizens unknowingly being used as extras. There are some truly stunning views of the city, and it is a great snapshot of its beauty during that time.

Breathless [1960, Godard]

I was impressed with both Belmondo and Seberg’s performances. Belmondo’s character, Michel, is initially grating since he generally acts like a douche bag with his nonstop attempts to get laid. As the movie progresses, I couldn’t help but to ease up on my view of him, however, and he became, dare I say, likeable by the time the end rolled around. That is a testament to Belmondo’s efforts more than anything. Seberg, on the other hand, is stunning. Her character, Patricia, is quick-witted and hard to read, and she has a mysterious aura surrounding her. She seems to be a strong woman, an American living in Paris who has learned the French language (albeit while still struggling with some slang terms). Her relationship with Michel is intriguing, enough so that a 25-minute-long sequence with the two of them just sitting alone in her apartment is never boring.

While some may dismiss Breathless for its meandering plot, this is still a film classic that is accessible for even non-movie buffs. As one of the most influential movies ever made, it is still remarkable that it feels just as “fresh” today as it did back then. I don’t believe I have any other Godard films on my list, which is a shame because now I would like to dig more into his filmography.

8.5/10