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Michel Constantin

Review: The Outside Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 28, December 1973]

The American cinema owes the French cinema—which is to say French critics and audiences as well as French filmmakers—an enormous debt. And so do any American cinephiles whose cataracted vision began to clear only after Gallic enthusiasm pointed the way to a discovery of our national cinematic treasures. Why, the film noir, one of the richest veins in our movie mines, bears a French moniker; and French cinéastes have emulated that particular tradition time and again, from the commercial likes of Borsalino to the more personal genre work of the recently deceased Jean-Pierre Melville to the radically stylized, self-aware poetry of Godard’s Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, and Pierrot le fou. The progression syntactically implied there is stylistic rather than chronological: Borsalino, an enjoyable piece of period fluff concocted by Jacques Deray, postdates the others. It would be nice to say that Deray’s first American-made film added new dimensions to the genre; that a foreign filmmaker practiced in shooting French-based derivations of our native genre might reveal to us unsuspected strains of exoticism gleaming out of the domestic bedrock. But no.

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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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