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The Confrontation (Fényes szelek) [DVD]
The Confrontation (Fényes szelek) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Andrea Drahota
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £10.31

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Revolutionary Jancso Classic, 19 Feb 2013
When the communists take power in Hungary in 1947 they send young militants into colleges to radicalise the students, teachers and education system.

Jancso was a big name director in the 1960s, but then fell into almost total neglect outside Hungary. For those of us who didn't see his films first time around, the Second Run DVD's of his mid 60s classics ('Way Home', 'Round Up' & 'Red and White') have been a revelation - it's not often you come across a director with a completely different and original style, a completely different type of cinema.

Second Run recently released a slightly later (1971) film 'Red Psalm' and 'Confrontation' is similar to 'Red Psalm' - it's a beautiful colour film (Jancso's first) and represents an historic event through choreographed, almost balletic movement of actors and camera, set to songs and folkloric dance. But 'Confrontation' is earlier (1968) and seems a more coherent film to me than 'Red Psalm'. Jancso sets the film in one college and, given his trademark symbolic style, the film becomes heavily allegorical. Doubtless the college stands for divided Hungary in 1947 slipping into communist terror, but the allegorical resonances are much broader. In fact the film is more redolent of the year of its making 1968 than 1947 and brings to mind both May 68 student revolutions and the young red guard activities in the cultural revolution in China ('Confrontation' would make an eclectic period piece triple bill with Godard's 'La Chinoise' and Lindsay Anderson's 'If').

Idealistic communist youths trying to win over the main body of students through democratic debate are contrasted with an ultra leftist faction who think that force - terror - must be used to defeat the reactionaries and closet fascists. Jancso's style brings out the twists and turns in this political confrontation with surprising clarity. Jancso cleverly makes the college a religious order, a monastery seminary, thus adding Christianity vs communism to the various levels of confrontation in the film. He also has a Jewish holocaust survivor central character, who refuses to conform and brings out how the revolutionaries are mirroring the preceding fascist terror. There is also a suggestion that all the youths are children playing at revolution while the communist police and apparatchiks, who occasionally appear at crucial points in the narrative, are the grown-ups and the real power. The ending is cleverly ambiguous and disturbing, leaving the last word to the ultra leftists.

It is certainly not a straightforwardly pro or anti communist film and one suspects that Jancso has a romantic or nihilistic sympathy with the ultras. The communist cultural commissars and censors in Hungary 1968 must have been scratching their heads trying to work out exactly what the film was saying. What is startling today is how Jancso delivers all this complicated historical, political & ideological confrontation through colourful choreographed stylisation - less like Brecht and sometimes more akin to a Jacques Demy musical!

Second Run have done their usual excellent job with the presentation of this DVD (including informative booklet/essay) - let's hope they get to release the remaining unseen vintage Jancso movies sooner rather than later.

The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vol 1 (4 Discs) [DVD] [1970]
The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vol 1 (4 Discs) [DVD] [1970]
Dvd ~ Toula Stathopoulou
Price: £23.33

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Angelopoulos Agnostic, 19 Feb 2013
Having only seen a couple of later Angelopoulos films (& caring for neither) I was hoping to really get to grips with this director via this box set containing TA's first 4 films, the films that made his reputation. There's some interesting reviews & discussion of these box sets on Amazon from long-time fans, so it might be worth posting the opinions of someone relatively new to Angelopoulos, a non-convert, now that I've had a chance to watch each film in box set #1 at least twice.

There is nothing cinephiles like better than a box set series rounding up a director's complete works in chronological order, so Artificial Eye are to be congratulated for their efforts - the only criticism of these no-frills boxes might be the lack of the kind of booklets labels like Masters of Cinema / Second Run / BFI tend to include. These films need a little bit of contextual info more than most - so it's worth checking out interviews with TA about each film in books or online before watching.

A peasant wife murders her émigré husband - the case is investigated & repeatedly reconstructed by police, journalists & film makers.
A low budget black & white film, but excellent grimly evocative cinematography. This film carries all kinds of resonances about the poverty of Greek provincial village life, emigration & the socio-economic backwardness of Greece as a whole under the post-war military dictatorship. The film is also very self-reflexive, blurring the lines between fiction & reality, questioning the documentary `truth' of cinema. But these various layers of allegorical meaning never distract from the enigmatic power of the central storyline (Kairostami & the Iranians must surely have seen this film back in the 1970s....) A good if challenging film which was even better on second viewing.

DAYS OF '36 (1972)
Greece 1936: A union leader is assassinated by an agent provocateur who then takes a hostage. The army / government must free the hostage but how? And are they politically complicit with the right wing assassin?
A bigger budget & colour - impressive elaborate choreographing of scenes & camerawork. Very elliptical narrative. A rather confusing film on first viewing despite a simple central plot situation. But the film is a lot more comprehensible on second viewing & Angelopoulos certainly knows how to portray the paranoia & pervasive violence of a fascistic society in political crisis. A good film - worth persevering with (but maybe worth reading up on the historical background first).

An acting troupe travel around Greece across a couple of decades, always performing the same scenes from the same antiquated play in various political contexts before & after WW2 (ie performing under successive foreign occupations & the basic civil war split between right wing militia & communist partisans).
This is generally regarded as Angelopoulos' masterpiece & obviously I appreciate the achievement of putting all this repressed Greek history on the screen while the military junta era was coming to a close & I appreciated the clever narrative structure (weaving back & forth between time periods within long takes). Nevertheless, watching the film for the first time in 2012 rather than 1975, I found the film rather arduous & unsatisfying & it didn't improve much on second viewing. It reminded me of the Brechtian agit-prop theatre of the 70s & 80s - fine on stage but inherently uncinematic. Much of the film is like a cursory potted history & the characters mere ciphers (yes I understand the intention is to block empathy or psychological identification but it seemed simplistic to me on that level). Even politically I'm not sure there is any real depth to the analysis. The long sequence shots & camera set ups seemed inconsistent to me - lacking the authority of Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Jancso et al.

In the 1950s a group of bourgeois holidaymaking hunters accidently shoot a communist partisan - from the 1940s! How could this historical impossibility have happened and what should they do with the body?
Again this seemed more like a Brechtian theatre piece based around a simple conceit - more suitable for the stage than the screen. Some of the film is quite blackly comic & the basic political `joke' is quite well achieved, but the set pieces in the latter half of the film seemed increasingly contrived to me. An uneven film. There's something disturbing about how Angelopoulos presents sexuality / sexual violence too, aside from what is intentional.

Overall conclusion? Well, having gone on & ordered Box Set volume 2 I must have been partially converted, but still remain an Angelopoulos agnostic - only really liking Reconstruction & (to an extent) Days of 36. There's often something flat, ponderous & superficial about the sensibility & execution - and from his cinematic style (eg the sequence shots) there's little of the sheer thrill to be had from the classic modernists or from recent `late modernists' like Bela Tarr, Bilge Ceylan, Jai Zhangke, Kairostami. At the very least, given the current crisis in Greece, the films certainly help to provide an interesting historical education & it's obviously worth picking up these box sets at Amazon discounts while they are available, but, speaking purely as someone new to the films, I'm not (yet) convinced that Theo belongs in the first rank of directors.

Kurosawa: Classic Collection [DVD]
Kurosawa: Classic Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Toshiro Mifune
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £29.76

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Includes LOWER DEPTHS & DODES'KA-DEN, 7 July 2012
These loosely-themed BFI Kurosawa box sets are often available for under £20 in the periodic Amazon sales, so they are a convenient & affordable way to get a comprehensive Kurosawa library.
This box contains 5 films on 5 discs (with a little booklet of notes & some Alex Cox introductions) & is called `Classic Collection', which doesn't necessarily mean `best' or `most popular' - if you want Kurosawa's greatest hits you should get the `Samurai Collection' box set. `Classic' here seems to mean `serious' - these are Kurosawa's more serious films, many of them literary adaptations and, as such, this collection will probably appeal mostly to long-time aficionados of vintage Japanese cinema.
IKURU (1952) is the best known film here - a poignant story of a terminally ill office worker fighting against bureaucracy & conformity on behalf of others & finding a meaning to his life in the process.
I LIVE IN FEAR (1955) is about an old man obsessed with the idea that Japan will again be a victim of atomic annihilation - is his paranoia a symptom of madness or unflinching sanity? This might not be what people want or expect from a Kurosawa movie but, in its own terms, it's quite successful & provocative - and given the recent nuclear accident in Japan, still relevant.
RED BEARD (1965) took 2 years to make & was the most expensive ever Japanese film - it must be one of the longest too (170 minutes) & is an episodic narrative about a humane doctor trying to modernise & reform his feudal community. Red Beard is difficult to resist but, depending on your point of view, it is either Kurosawa's ultimate humanist masterpiece or where self-indulgence & sentimentality started to take over.
For Kurosawa fans the main interest in this box set comes with THE LOWER DEPTHS & DODESKADEN - two films not previously available on DVD.
LOWER DEPTHS (1957) is about the squabbles of a group of underclass slum-dwellers; an elderly destitute priest arrives & provides a wise commentary on events as they unravel. Very obviously based on an old play, it's been turned into something very 1950s - like a piece of existentialist theatre cleverly turned into something cinematic. It's not so much a gritty realist film about the poor but instead some kind of allegory about how people tell themselves lies & fantasies in order to make their existence bearable. A great film.
DODESKADEN (1970) is a reworking of Lower Depths, again set amongst the squalid inhabitants of a slum. This was Kurosawa's first colour film & it is extremely stylised & experimental. The allegorical dimension is overt - the suspicion must be that the portrait of these outsider characters lost in damaging self-deluding fantasies is a portrait of what it is to be an artist - or the director himself. Kurosawa attempted suicide afterwards, ostensibly because the film flopped, but the film itself feels a bit like a long suicide note.
Although full of (earthly & ironic) humour, both LOWER DEPTHS & DODESKADEN are rather disturbing films, but they are definitely among the director's best work & might make those who think Kurosawa was too mainstream & superficial (especially compared to his rival Japanese auteurs) reconsider their view of the director.

Polish Cinema Classics [DVD] [1958]
Polish Cinema Classics [DVD] [1958]
Dvd ~ Roman Polanski
Price: £34.27

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long Live the Polish Film School!, 6 April 2012
The Second Run label has been doing a great job releasing vintage films from the former eastern bloc & they've really excelled themselves here. Four films from the so-called "Polish Film School" 1957-1960 on 4 discs, restored & looking good in rich black & white & new sub-titles, each with an illustrated booklet containing a lengthy informative essay, plus a few extras on the discs.

These films are "classics" in the sense that they had a big impact in Poland at the time and also met with acclaim internationally. However I doubt they've been seen in UK for decades - at least I don't recall ever seeing them on the art-house cinema circuit or late night TV. The reason might be that the Polish Film School was quite early, instigated by a mid 1950s post-Stalin cultural thaw in Poland but fading out in early 1960s after "discouragement" from the authorities. I guess it then became overshadowed by all the later new waves of the 1960s, including the Czech & Hungarian.

Many people will have Polanski's "Knife in the Water", Wajda's "Ashes & Diamonds" war trilogy and a few of the other previous DVD releases like "Saragossa Manuscript", "Mother Joan of Angels" & "Passenger" - and that's about it - so this box set should, at a stroke, give a big boost to the vintage Polish cinema collections of most of us. The four films are as follows:

Kawalerowicz: NIGHT TRAIN (1959). A mysterious, equally traumatized man & woman, strangers, are thrown together in a sleeper compartment on a crowded train - what will ensue: a one night stand or a murder? This is what we want from the Polish Film School! If you like "Knife in the Water" you'll love this - mostly filmed in the confined space of a train carriage with incredibly stylish cinematography & jazzy vocal soundtrack. There are nods to the Hitchcockian thriller, but it's really more of a psychological observational piece with lots of funny eccentric secondary plots & characters (including, inevitably, Cybulski) and, as often in eastern bloc cinema, some surreal & sinister allegorical overtones. Brilliant film.

Munk: EROICA (1957) A second world war movie with a difference - setting out to systematically undermine & dismantle standard myths of heroism. The first part is a black comedy about a drunken man reluctantly getting embroiled in the Warsaw uprising; the second part is a more sombre piece about Polish soldiers in a Nazi prison camp being tortured by each other's irritating habits rather than by the German guards. It's hard to believe this was made in Poland in 1957 - it certainly wouldn't have got made in UK or USA. The disc also includes an evocative short colour film by Munk about a little girl wandering around Warsaw's old town.

Wajda: INNOCENT SORCERERS (1960) Young beatnik types listen to jazz, discuss their existentialist angst, ride scooters & smoke a lot of cigarettes. A very new wave style film which stars EVERYBODY - Lomnicki, Cybulski, Polanski, Jerzy "Deep End" Skolimowski, even composer Komeda - as himself! There's a long elaborately choreographed Godard-style central scene of a couple in an apartment. The characterization & dialogue is rather stilted & contrived compared to, say, French or Czech new wave films, but maybe it's misleading to compare - this mannered theatricality seems to be part of the Polish style. Even if, like me, you don't quite "get" the film (on first viewing) it's still worth watching for its great cinematography & the scenes of Warsaw streets & clubs and the zany antics of the jazz group with Polanski & Komeda (did Dick Lester see this film? the way the group are filmed off & on stage seems to prefigure the Beatles in "Hard Days Night"!)

Morgenstern: GOODBYE SEE YOU TOMORROW (1960) A young Polish guy (Cybulski) feels his backward cultural inferiority in a brief fling with a chic French girl visiting Poland - he calls her his "girl from another planet". Similar in style to "Innocent Sorcerers" but the elliptical & mannered style seems more appropriate to this film, set around a theatre & apparently written by Cybulski based on his experiences in such a theatre troupe. A strangely haunting film.

It really does help being able to see 4 closely related films in one batch like this - overall a very well put together box set.

Medea (DVD + Blu-ray) [1969]
Medea (DVD + Blu-ray) [1969]
Dvd ~ Maria Callas
Price: £10.03

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maria and the Argonauts, 6 Mar 2012
This review is from: Medea (DVD + Blu-ray) [1969] (DVD)
After their crops fail again, despite human sacrifice to the ancient gods, an archaic rural civilization vilify their high priestess, Medea. So when Jason & his Argonauts come pillaging & looking for the golden fleece, she goes off with them. But, unable to adapt to her new life in Jason's more modern walled city society, she calls once more upon her ancient gods to help enact a terrible revenge....

A very welcome BFI release to a Pasolini classic that has been conspicuously absent on DVD. "Medea" (1969) is a reworking of the Greek play / myth and as such is a companion piece to the earlier "Oedipus Rex" (1967). "Medea" still belongs very much to Pasolini's `serious' so-called Marxist / Freudian period rather than the bawdy popular farces of the later `trilogy of life'.

Pasolini clearly enjoyed recreating his archaic society in the extraordinary Turkish landscape - the cinematography is in vivid 1960s colour, the costumes are wonderful, as is the very striking soundtrack drawn with a wilful lack of authenticity from traditional music of Bali, Bulgaria, Tibet etc. And of course Maria Callas is perfect as the regal but bewildered Medea. Perhaps the second half of the film in the walled city of Corinth is less engaging - Pasolini was obviously less sympathetic to this modern (!) culture & concentrates instead on playing out the inexorable revenge plot of the myth.

Pasolini's main points appear to be that archaic society is, via its myths & rituals, more in touch with the sacredness of being & nature than commercial rationalist modernity and that any belief system (rational or mythological) only has meaning within its culture and is meaningless & impossible to access outside that specific culture. In "Medea" these themes are presented in a very knowing & effective way, although there is always something dubious about Pasolini's nostalgia for the primitive & his glorification of primal violence.

The second half of the film is sometimes strangely soporific (but not at all boring!) & there is a discussion of this in the BFI booklet essay. Right at the beginning of the film when the child Jason is listening to the centaur telling the tale, Jason keeps nodding off and the film itself takes on a hypnotic dream-like ambience - in particular there are various strange dislocations & doublings of time, place & plot in the narrative, which are quite disorientating. Some extended episodes are played out from different perspectives, in Medea's imagination & then in reality, which can really confuse anyone watching for the first time. There were actually intertitles between episodes, clarifying the narrative, which might have helped, but these were suppressed from the director's cut (they are included as an extra on the DVD).

This BFI edition, using a restored master, is excellent. I can't comment on the Blue Ray but the DVD is fine (both Italian & English audio versions) & the full colour booklet very informative, with several essays & an interview with Callas.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 12, 2012 1:52 PM BST

La piscine [DVD]
La piscine [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alain Delon
Price: £10.50

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Summer with Birkin, 6 Mar 2012
This review is from: La piscine [DVD] (DVD)
A couple invite an old friend to their holiday home in the south of France - he brings his teenage daughter and psycho-sexual rivalries intensify within the quartet as they lounge around the swimming pool....

I can't possibly compete with the other `star wars' review but here goes

This is one of a number of neglected French films from the 1960s finding their way to us via DVD - neglected in the sense that the film was largely unknown outside France - the director Jacques Deray didn't have much international auteur status & maybe the film fell awkwardly between art house & mainstream. In France, on the other hand, it was presumably quite a prestigious & well-known film, given the starry cast. Alain Delon does his usual cool but uptight routine, Maurice Ronet is macho man & Jane Birkin (by my calculations half way between Wonderwall & Serge) does her usual, er, pouty leggy young thing act. But the real star is surely Romy Schnieder, who brings psychological complexity to her character and a subtle intensity to the whole proceedings.
Much of the film consists of the scantily clad quartet lounging around the swimming pool gazing, either intently or voyeuristically, at each other; nothing much happens or rather everything is happening ambiguously beneath the surface. Towards the end, the film abruptly switches into a darker crime thriller mode - perhaps the director suddenly realised he needed to give a mainstream audience something more tangible to send them home happy, or more charitably it could be seen as a shift into Chabrol territory.
"La Piscine" might not be a classic but has plenty to offer fans of vintage French film - amazing cast, beautiful cinematography in glorious 60s colour, music by Michel Legrand & the screenplay is by the great Jean-Claude Carriere. I don't think Ozon's recent hit "Swimming Pool" (with Charlotte Rampling) was exactly a remake of "La Piscine" but it must certainly have been inspired by it. Those interested in Carriere might also want to check out another current low-key DVD release - the much odder "Night of the Orchid" (1970 - starring a young Charlotte Rampling!) but "La Piscine" is maybe the more satisfying film.

I can't comment on the blue ray, but the DVD is fine - from a new French `restored edition'. Bare bones release from Park Circus label - just a (groovy) trailer extra.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2013 11:14 AM BST

Regular Lovers (Les amants réguliers) [DVD]
Regular Lovers (Les amants réguliers) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Louis Garrel
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Opium for the vanguard, 6 Mar 2012
In the aftermath of the May 68 riots, a close-knit group of alienated bourgeois youths drift into a drug-addled limbo, disappointed with the failure of the revolution while dreaming of making careers as poets, painters, sculptors....

Attempts to recreate the 1960s in cinema are usually horribly embarrassing, so "Regular Lovers" is a pleasant & relatively cringe-free surprise. Wisely Phillipe Garrel doesn't really confront the myth of 1968 with all its baggage - the politics of the time are alluded to lightly in passing, but for the most part the `revolution' is taken as a given backdrop, and instead the film concentrates on presenting the mood, ambience & sensibility of this particular small group of characters. Apparently Garrel filmed on a zero budget in a few days using sets, costumes, actors & extras borrowed from Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" - personally I'd say that Garrel's is much the better film! Full marks to the young cast & to the great man Lubtchansky for his cinematography.

The film cleverly uses the rough gritty black & white style of Jean Eustache's actual post 68 film "Mother & Whore" (discussed in accompanying interview extra) and this helps to give "Regular Lovers" a highly stylised yet disarmingly authentic grungy look. The scenes of riots & the hero's escape from the cops across the Paris rooftops are very well-done - Garrel might yet have a future making action thrillers! The scenes of drug bust paranoia are also very effective. The romantic scenes, particularly between the central couple, are perhaps the only places where the film lapses into retro pastiche of Godard / Truffout New Wave - but even these interpersonal relationships within the central group of characters are mostly treated in an effectively understated way.

The opium smoking milieu allows Garrel to intersperse scenes of low key surrealism (even in the riot scenes) alongside a general sense of extreme detachment. This stylized `distancing' means that the film never really tries to explain, apologise for, or patronize the characters. The immaturity, contradictions & flaws of these youths are presented without judgement. The result is that "Regular Lovers" is a stylistically spaced out alienated film about alienated people, yet paradoxically Garrel has made a film strangely warm and true to his 20 year old self.

The DVD is fine. No extras apart from the somewhat rambling press conference interview.

Early Kurosawa - Collection [DVD Boxset]
Early Kurosawa - Collection [DVD Boxset]
Dvd ~ Akira Kurosawa
Offered by FilmloverUK
Price: £21.50

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a mixed bag of early Kurosawa, 27 May 2011
The BFI have done a great job here - bringing together all of Kurosawa's early films together in one box set - six films on four discs. These films are generally considered to be Kurosawa's "apprentice works", made in very difficult wartime circumstances. As such, individually, they may be of primarily historical interest, but brought together as a collection they provide a fascinating overview of Kurosawa's development and Japanese cinema of the period. Although made in tough economic conditions, the films are technically quite accomplished. The prints are sometimes a little scratchy & ragged, but very watchable - it's a miracle they survived at all. The sudden switch from wartime patriotic propaganda to post-war American Occupation propaganda might be disconcerting, but doesn't seem as opportunistic as expected - the wartime propaganda is mostly rather low key, while the post-war films seem not so much pro-occupation as verging on the communist. Or maybe there is an underlying continuity in Kurosawa's cinematic style & sensibility regardless of ideology.

Kurosawa's debut "Sanshiro Sugata" (1943) is a martial arts film about the conflict between judo and jujitsu. Doubtless the film was extolling the militaristic "purity" of Japanese martial arts, but it comes across as sensitive & exciting, prefiguring the later famous samurai films. The climactic closing combat scene on a dark windswept hillside is really impressive. After this success a follow-up was demanded - apparently Kurosawa was reluctant & it shows, but after a slow start & some clumsy xenophobic propaganda "Sanshiro Part Two" improves, building to another memorable fight scene.

"The Most Beautiful" is about a group of women factory workers struggling to meet increased wartime production quotas. This is an unadulterated propaganda film & may be cinematically and historically interesting, but I imagine most viewers will find it hard to take. More accessible is "They Who Step on the Tigers Tale" (1945) a traditional Kabuki tale of lords disguised as monks trying to make their way to safety. The film seems quite strongly influenced by a classical "Noh" style. Made towards the end of the war, it had the honour of being banned both by the Japanese military government and then by the American Occupation authorities. In the accompanying booklet, critic Philip Kemp is lukewarm about the film & its mix of traditional & comedic elements, but I thought it unusual & interesting.

As for the post-war films, "One Wonderful Sunday" is an uneven love story but "No Regrets For Our Youth" (1946) is a real stunner. Starring Setsuko Hara in a role rather different from the Ozu films for which she is known, it is a melodrama about Kyoto University activists struggling against the militarists & going underground during the war. It surely goes way beyond what the American Occupation wanted, being a complex (if propagandist) radical leftist film. Might it even be said that Kurosawa himself "sold out", like some of the characters in the film, when he abandoned this radicalism at the end of the 1940s for "humanism" and more mainstream filmmaking?

Overall, the films in this box set are of obvious historical interest, but for the most part they also stand up quite well as watchable films in their own right. Well done BFI!

Eric Rohmer - Six Moral Tales [DVD]
Eric Rohmer - Six Moral Tales [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jean-Louis Trintignant
Price: £29.00

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Of Rohmer, 27 May 2011
Exactly what was wanted: a nicely put together Artificial Eye DVD box set - six films on five discs - bringing together all of the "Moral Tales" series - the films that made Eric Rohmer's reputation & arguably the best films of his long career.

After the unfortunate false start of his debut ("Le Signe du Lion") Rohmer found his trademark style with the first Moral Tales "Girl at Monceau Bakery" & "Suzanne's Career" - 2 short 1963 films together on disc 1 of this box set. These are both freewheeling new wave fun - showing what you can do on a zero budget with some black & white film stock and a Paris street as a film set. Both films are coming of age stories (told by voiceover) about young men encountering women & love.
"My Night at Maud's" is probably Rohmer's masterpiece - a black & white film largely consisting of the protagonists sitting in Maud's bedroom talking about religion, politics, philosophy, love and sex (and mathematics!). A much richer film than it might at first appear, extremely accomplished with beautiful cinematography from Nestor Almendros & fantastic acting (especially from Trintignant in a demanding role).

In lovely 60s colour "La Collectioneuse" (1966) is my personal favourite & it's great to have it on DVD at last. Two young nihilistic bohemians spend their vacation at a summer house in the south of France, but find a girl already staying there. Various power & sexual mind-games ensue & in the end it is the girl who turns out to be the "liberated" one. At the same time that Godard was filming young Parisian Maoists in "La Chinoise", Rohmer was filming the Parisian dandy hedonists in a similarly ambivalent (satirical?) way. The film has a number of connections with the so-called "Zanzibar" group of bohemians (even Donald "Performance" Cammell pops up briefly). Anyone interested the Garrell circle (and films like Regular Lovers / The Dreamers) might want to check out "La Collectioneuse". Excellent central performances from Haydee as the girl and a young Patrick Bauchau (recently seen in Lars Von Trier's "Five Obstructions").

"Claire's Knee" (1970) is about a man on holiday who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl - her knee being the fetish of his obsession. Perhaps only a French director could film this as a universal moral tale rather than a story of unseemly perversion. "Claire's Knee" is one of Rohmer's best-known films as is "Love in the Afternoon", though the latter stands up less well in my opinion. Bernard Verley is a less impressive leading man than his illustrious predecessors in the Moral Tales series. The film also stars Zouzou (another Zanzibar group associate) who was already something of a sixties casualty when this film was made in 1972. She gives an all too believable performance as the former wild child becoming an embarrassment as she tries to go straight in the harsh new decade. But the rest of the film & cast seem to be playing in a register of mild conservative comedy cruelly at odds with Zouzou's character.

This box set is basic - no booklet & very basic annotations / information but there are a few extras (short films / trailers).

Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963
Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963
by Susan Sontag
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman, 29 April 2011
Although the teenage Susan Sontag states at the outset that her journal will be a place to record her development as a writer and intellectual, life evidently got in the way. The diaries largely consist of sporadic, more or less random, cryptic fragments - lists of books & films, brief quotations from assorted texts she happens to be reading, disparaging comments on her university professors, interspersed with accounts of her sex life & lovers, along with bouts of agonized self-analysis (which increase markedly as the diaries progress). All of which should make the diaries unreadably obscure and of little interest. Personally, however, I found this first volume strangely absorbing & addictive.

A plot worthy of a novel gradually develops as Sontag, in her mid-teens and wondering about being bisexual, starts going to San Francisco lesbian bars (the diary as a whole contains many fascinating snippets for anyone interested in a "secret history" of the 1950s). A little later, suddenly, there is an entry announcing her forthcoming marriage to a fellow academic, after which there is a long gap (as if her true self was being repressed). When the journal resumes Susan is into her twenties, has a child, but is escaping marriage and motherhood by running off to Paris to embark on a tortuous lesbian affair.

Sontag retains a degree of intellectual detachment which enables her to analyse her self-obsessive craziness - though this detachment itself, in turn, becomes a problem. The later parts of the diary are dominated by this psycho-sexual "alienation" and a general vexation over the physicality of the body and its needs, alongside increasing concern over the meaning of a Jewish identity. There are many brief but interesting comments on other writers - she is obsessed by Thomas Mann (& goes to visit him!) & Djuna Barnes "Nightwood" - in fact she seems to be living out Barnes' novel - but there is surprisingly little discussion of her own writing practice (her early articles & first novel were well under way). She seems pretty close to complete breakdown at the end of the book - just at the point it might have been assumed she had it all, on the cusp of a brilliant career.

The random fragmentary quality of the text creates a peculiar kind of narrative, often resembling a long lost avant-garde novel. The juxtapositions between entries are frequently surreal. For example, an entry giving a graphic account of different types of orgasm is closely followed by an entry consisting of a brief list of different types of Roman legion. God knows why she jotted down the latter list, but these obscure juxtapositions seem somehow appropriate.

Obviously the book will appeal mainly to those familiar with Sontag's other writing and her eclectic intellectual frame of reference. Many of the friends and acquaintances mentioned in the journal are well-known people in their own right, which might add some "interesting gossip" spice.
This diary ends in the early 1960s with Sontag in her mid 20s. I doubt whether future volumes will be as unguarded and idiosyncratic as this first. A rare insight into another person's "inner life".
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