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Bernadette Lafont

Review: The Mother and the Whore

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

The Mother and the Whore is a sort of New Wave marathon, a three-and-a-half-hour return to the French cinema of the Sixties as well as to the generation of youth with which it was often concerned. Here that generation has reached the Seventies (and its own thirties) and is finding, once more, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Jean-Pierre Léaud, that ever-evolving icon of the New Wave, is at the center of the action as an intelligent young Parisian making a career out of post-adolescence with long talks and occasional pickups in sidewalk cafés and other Left Bank environs. At the outset, Alexandre (Léaud) is living with, and apparently off, a boutique operator (Bernadette Lafont), while also making attempts at reconciliation with a previous lover (Isabel Weingarten). Soon, though, he begins a third and increasingly complex relationship with a Polish nurse (Françoise LeBrun) and eventually finds himself bedded down with both LeBrun and Lafont in the latter’s apartment. The three-way relationship undergoes a series of unresolved convulsions which focus increasing attention on Veronika (LeBrun), whose wearily selfconscious mixture of warm allure and abrupt despair perhaps make her both the mother and the whore of the title.

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Blu-ray / DVD: Jacques Rivette’s nouvelle vague magnum opus ‘Out 1’ restored and reclaimed

Out1BoxJacques Rivette’s Out 1 (Kino Lorber / Carlotta, Blu-ray+DVD) has been one of the Holy Grails of international cinema since its premier screening in 1971. Rejected by French TV and, at over 12 1/2 hours in its initial cut, too long for theaters, the definitive editions wasn’t even completed until 1989. It showed on French and German TV but apart from periodic special screenings (including a handful of showings in the U.S. and Canada in 2006 and 2007) was impossible to see.

That changed in 2015 with a French digital restoration from the original 16mm negatives, a high-profile two-week run in New York (qualifying as the film’s American theatrical debut) followed by screenings across the country (including Seattle), streaming availability from the arthouse subscription service Fandor and a late 2015 disc release in France. Now 2016 brings this amazing Blu-ray+DVD combo box set release. It features not only the 13-hour Out 1: Noli me tangere (1971 / 1989) but the shorter Out 1: Spectre (1974), designed for a theatrical release after French TV balked at his original vision, plus an accompanying documentary and a booklet.

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Review: A Very Curious Girl

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

I caught up with Nelly Kaplan’s 1969 “Brechtian” comedy one afternoon in San Francisco when MOVIETONE NEWS failed to rate a second ticket to the Jane Fonda tribute at the film festival. While La Fiancée du Pirate (or A Very Curious Girl, as it’s known for purposes of American distribution) compelled a good deal more attention than most of the features in the 19th S.F. Film Festival, I feel dutybound to register a brief demurral as to its value as cinema. The scenario, about an umpteenth-generation, universally exploited piece of provincial trash who undoes her exploiters through a canny manipulation of her sexuality, their stuck-up susceptibility, and such unfamiliar bits of modern technology as a tape recorder and a record player—plus the fact that said scenario was devised and directed by a woman—has tended to win the film reflexively positive notice for eminently respectable sexual-political reasons. It’s a poor excuse for a movie—scarcely as incompetent as 92 in the Shade, but essentially bereft of anything resembling cinematic shape or style. One is always hesitant to protest the absence of such niceties when someone is surely waiting out there to insist, “That’s what’s Brechtian about it, ya schmuck!” But style and self-awareness have to find a meeting ground somewhere between Verfremdungseffekt and the old Hollywood slickeroo, and Nelly Kaplan (a one-time assistant to the monumentally ambitious director Abel Gance) seems to have made little attempt to find it.

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DVD: Claude Chabrol Begins – ‘Le Beau Serge’ and ‘Les Cousins’

Le beau Serge and Les cousins, the first two films from Claude Chabrol, mark the official birth of the French nouvelle vague. The two confident, mature dramas don’t have the stylistic flash or narrative invention of the more famous works by Godard and Truffaut that followed, but that was always the way with Chabrol, the classicist of the “Cahiers du Cinema ” crowd.

Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy in “Le beau Serge”

Where Truffaut added autobiography, enthusiasm and a palpable love of the act of filmmaking to his films, and Godard deconstructed filmmaking, storytelling and narrative expectations in his films, Chabrol used his camera like a microscope to study the psychology under the surface of human behavior in the Petri dish of social definitions and relationships. Alfred Hitchcock was his idol (he wrote, with fellow critic and nouvelle vague director Eric Rohmer, an early study of Hitchcock’s films) but it wasn’t the mechanics of suspense the interested him, it was the human equation: guilt, jealousy, obsession, the impulse to violence and crime and vengeance, the deflation of regret and loss. It all begins with these two features, which predated Truffaut’s The 400 Blows by mere months. True to form, they quietly established the arrival of a new talent, while Truffaut and Godard (with Breathless) caused a seismic shift.

The two films are like a match set of city mouse/country mouse tales, the first set in the dying community of a rural village (Sardent, Chabrol’s own hometown), the second in the decadent bohemian student society of Paris, with Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy as the provincial and the sophisticate (respectively) in both films.

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