Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Film Reviews

Une Femme Sauvage

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

Early in François Truffaut’s L’Histoire d’Adèle H., before Adèle has met up with the young lieutenant she followed from Guernsey to Halifax, she is seen walking down a street near the military garrison, moving east to west, against the flow of pedestrian traffic (made up almost entirely of men in uniform). Though we are scarcely one reel into the film, we already know her to be, if not a liar, at least an obsessive fictionalizer, and a follower of fancy rather than fact. We sense, too, that this Lieutenant Albert Pinson whom we have not yet seen is not quite the devoted lover she has made him out to be, and that her passion for him may well be a one-way street.

A man in an officer’s cape whips by her; she whirls and cries out; he turns, and the two come face to face at center screen. The man is François Truffaut. Her face immediately tells us her error: yet she keeps looking, for longer than would seem necessary, and the officer looks back. Not a word is spoken, but a great deal more is going on in this shot than a simple case of mistaken identity.

François Truffaut and Isabelle Adjani

In the first place, the mistake is rather improbable, in light of the Albert Pinson we meet later; for this officer is darkhaired, short, and easily old enough to be the father of Adèle’s tall, blond lieutenant. The looks, in fact, which pass between the woman and the officer on the street convey not so much the embarrassment of mistaken identity as a moment of recognition. The scene primes us for that later scene, near the very end of the film, in which Adèle walks past the real Lieutenant Pinson in Barbados without a glimmer of recognition: How complete has been the introversion of romantic fantasy in the mind of this woman who once recognized a little of her lover in nearly every man, and now fails to recognize him even in himself!

Read More “Une Femme Sauvage”

Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Days of Heaven

[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven seems made for Dolby stereo, in the way that certain films were made for Cinerama and not just in Cinerama. I was immediately struck by the film’s showy, deliberately unrealistic use of sound: left and right speakers cutting in and out, sound associated with an onscreen image coming noticeably from an offscreen location, bigger-than-life sound disembodied from its source in the frame. Indeed, Malick and Nestor Almendros have so tightly composed the frames of Days of Heaven that this use of sound is the only clue that a world exists beyond the frame; and that suits the purposes of this big, stark movie, separating its private worlds from the larger world in which its characters dwell. The crisp, sharp photography, and Jack Fisk’s meticulous art direction, offer us a very tidy world, with the same keen-edged precision seen in the worlds of, for example, Jan Troell’s The Emigrants, Werner Herzog’s Herz aus Glas, or Alan Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. Undiffused light seems not merely to illuminate the images but actually to define them. And the result is a world so precise as to seem frozen, as if in an album, or in a memory—which is, of course, what Days of Heaven is, and why its tidiness bespeaks a deceptive simplicity. The frame is filled with what the girl-narrator remembers, not with realistic re-creations of an era. No one actually seems to live and work in the rooms and fields of Days of Heaven; rather, people and the environment seem to coexist as elements of a studied harmonic composition—a composition we must see as the apprehension and re-ordering of reality by the girl’s remembering mind. The fact that the film depicts many scenes that the girl could not have witnessed only further justifies the stylized simplicity with which Malick portrays events that are necessarily more of the imagination than of history.

Read More “Review: Days of Heaven”