Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Latest from the Cinematheque

In the last week, I was able to see three films at the Cinematheque:

Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)
The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
Boy Meets Girl (Leos Carax, 1984)

I'm happy to report all three prints were quite good, with Boy Meets Girl especially great. The films themselves ranged from a major revelation to a slight disappointment. The only film of the three I had seen before was Dassin's Night and the City and it held up quite well. It was the last film made for Hollywood by Dassin before he was blacklisted, and this film noir certainly captures the darkness of the period, with some rather blatant references to the moral bankruptcy of selling out a person for money, even if that person is himself rather unlikable. The hero, Harry Fabian, is extremely flawed yet not unsympathetic, especially as played by Richard Widmark. The film explores the contradiction of the American success myth: if a man doesn't obtain it, he is a loser, yet he cannot become consumed with it or else he will be unhappy. Most of what I remembered from my first viewing years ago comes from the closing sequence, and it still works very well, conveying Harry's desperation and self-loathing and his touching if misguided attempt at some sort of redemption.

Tarkovsky's The Mirror, however, was a mild disappointment. Viewed as the most personal and autobiographical of his films and hailed by many Tarkovsky enthusiasts as his best work, it left me rather cold. The fact that I didn't grasp the meaning of some of the sequences didn't bother me. I'm willing to go along for the ride if the images and emotion sweep me up. Surprisingly, I never found the visuals consistently engaging. Of course, there are moments that are very memorable, and it has a strong central performance from Margarita Terekhova. But I expected more, and in fact thought to myself that if this wasn't a film with Tarkovsky's name on it, I may have evaluated it even more harshly. Normally, I hate the word "pretentious" and am suspicious of those who use it. But I found The Mirror pretentious (and I view my reaction suspiciously as a result).

On the other hand, I found Leos Carax's first film, Boy Meets Girl, to be quite amazing. It may be one of the most strikingly shot films I have ever seen, especially on the big screen. The high contrast black and white images have the beauty of great photographic stills, and the luminous cinematography threatens to completely eclipse the story. But ultimately the tale Carax is telling is a self-consciously dark and romantic love story that needs the power of the images to properly convey the characters' emotions. The plot is also small and contained enough to allow Carax to put the visuals front and center, and even has a scene where a man conveys in sign language why silent film is the most effective. In its love story and emphasis on directorial self-expression, it is reminiscent of the New Wave, although not in any superficially imitative way. This is the first Carax film I've seen and I'm anxious to track down some of his other films, particularly Les Amants du Pont-Neuf.


Jacob Worrel said...

Surprisingly, I found Andrei Tarkovsky's "The Mirror" his most accessible work. Maybe it was just the relatively short running time. It doesn't have the stunning visuals of "Stalker" or even "Solaris", but I was never wondering "God, when will this end?" That being said, reading a bit about it before watching it definitely helped me situate myself. Like any really challenging film (and boy is Tarkovsky challenging), a second or third viewing is necessary.

Marc Raymond said...

I agree that it's his most accessible, and I wasn't really bored by the film, but it just didn't add up to as much as I expect from Tarkovsky. I think the highly personal nature of the project is something of a negative here. This is actually not unusual. Many filmmakers most personal and passionate projects are not always their best (for example, Scorsese and LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST).

But, I also agree that it may have been me, not the film, and maybe I'll take a second look on DVD (I have a copy) in the next little while. And I still would recommend the film, I'm just measuring against my expectations.

roujin said...

Glad that you enjoyed Boy Meets Girl. I'm actually probably underrating since I think it's the weakest of his first three films. I think it's got a very goofy, off-handed charm and I only begin to really love it when Alex and the girl met (she's very charming! love those teeth! :D). The visuals are very strong, very influenced by silent cinema (which is something that's a constant with Carax from what I've seen) except that perhaps his images gain more potency and intensity as he progresses (I still have not seen Pola X, however).

I could just watch her tap dance forever...