Sunday, May 16, 2010

Film Reviews: The Lovers & Les Enfants Terribles

"The Lovers" *** (out of ****)

Louis Malle is a great filmmaker. Sadly his name is not on everyone's lips anymore. But he was a director of considerable talent. What I always appreciated about Malle's directing style was he never imposed his own style on a movie. What I mean by that is, the material dictated the style and tone of the film. Each movie Malle's directed feels different from the next. And "The Lovers" (1958) is no exception.

A lot of people may be more familiar with the background story concerning this film than the actually film itself. "The Lovers" turned into a Supreme Court case. This is the movie the Supreme Court judge made the famous speech about pornography, "I know it when I see it". A theatre owner in Ohio was charged with exhibition of pornography for playing this film and he fought the case to the Supreme Court.

Of course I should tell you "The Lovers" is not pornography. I too know it when I see it, and this isn't it. There's not even nudity. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"The Lovers" reminds me of the work of the great Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni. The lead character, Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau) is a "lost woman". She is married to a wealthy newspaper publisher, Henri (Alain Cuny), but the marriage is a loveless one. She has been having an affair with a polo player, Raoul Flores (Jose Luis de Villalonga). She travels to Paris to stay with her best friend, Maggy (Judith Magre) who knows about the affair and gives it her blessing. But, does Jeanne want more? Is she really happy?

It is kind of difficult to describe anymore regarding the plot out of fear of spoiling something. What I will say is the title may not be what you think. Like an Antonioni film the movie pulls the rug from underneath us. What starts off as one story turns into something else.

This will divide the audience. The movie's structure will bother some. So will the character's actions. They will complain there is no clear motivation. And they are right. But, when dealing with matters of the heart I'm reminded of something Woody Allen said, "the heart knows no logical. The heart wants what the heart wants". Love makes us illogical.

We see our "lovers" meet at night, their love blossoms. Plans are made. But by morning, in the light of day, they start to second guess themselves. But isn't that the way life is? At night we lose our inhibition. We feel more lose, less constrained. By morning the world looks different. We are more level headed.

One thing I like about "The Lovers" is the flow of the movie. Malle doesn't treat this material vulgar. The love scenes are tender. It all builds up. Malle did something similar in "Murmur of the Heart" (1972). He slowly builds up to a controversial moment in both films but by the time the moment happens, somehow, we aren't shocked.

What I really like about "The Lovers" however is the honesty of it. I like the things others won't. I like the fact that Malle gives us no explanation why the characters do what they do. Sometimes things happen for no reason at all. How often are movies this honest with us?

"Les Enfants Terribles" *** (out of ****)

Jean-Pierre Melville is another great French filmmaker no one seems to remember anymore. It's too bad these great directors no longer seem relevant.

Melville is probably best known for his gangster, noir stories. "Army of Shadows" (1969) and "Bob le Flambeur" (1956) among them. Though my favorite is "Le Deuxieme Souffle" (1966). However "Les Enfants Terribles" (1950) is nothing like those other movies. This was one of Melville's first films. It was written by Jean Cocteau, a famous filmmaker in his own right. Known for "Orpheus" (1950) and "Beauty and the Beast" (1946). He should have really directed this movie. But, I must say, Cocteau seems to have stayed out of Melville's way. While it doesn't resemble a Melville film, it still does quite feel like a Cocteau film either.

The film follows a brother, Paul (Edouard Dermithe) and his sister, Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane). They live with their sick, bed-ridden mother. The two are on their own and Elisabeth has taken over as Paul's mother. She watches over him. They even share a bedroom.

There's a lot of sexual tension in this movie but the story never fully, directly deals with it. Are Paul and Elisabeth in love with each other? Is this a tale of incest?

Paul ends up falling in love with a girl, Agathe (Renee Cosima) but Elisabeth does everything she can to prevail them from getting together. Paul, on the other hand, disapproves of Elisabeth's choices in men.

Still there is the question Paul might be a homosexual. He was attacked by a fellow student, Dargelos (also played by Cosima) with a snowball, which has left him in such poor health he is unable to attend school. But as Elisabeth notes, Paul has pictures of celebrities on his wall, and they all sort of resemble Dargelos. And what about the fact the girl he does fall in love with looks like Dargelos?

The siblings play cruel jokes on other people all for their own amusement. The film mostly resembles Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" (2004). That is the movie to watch. It is much more direct with its material. We know precisely where everyone stands. Here there is too much guesswork involved.

Not one of Melville's great movies but a curiosity piece for those who appreciate him.