This past weekend, our theater Cinema Detroit was a venue for the fourth annual Cinetopia International Film Festival, which brings “the best films from the world’s best festivals” to Detroit and Ann Arbor every June. It was our second year as a Cinetopia venue and while all the films on our slate were worthwhile, I’m highlighting five of my favorites. Keep an eye out for these if you haven’t seen them already.
Sometimes I find a fun, quirky movie and I just can’t keep it to myself. This is definitely the case with PAULINE DETECTIVE.
True-crime magazine editor Pauline Astruc (Sandrine Kiberlain) seems like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Not only did her boyfriend break up with her, but her sister Jeanne (Audrey Lamy) dragged her into going on vacation at a crowded resort — it’s so crowded that Pauline has a roommate. A very nosy roommate, Mademoiselle Blanchot (Michèle Moretti), who will interrogate Pauline about her love life, drive her literally to drink, and suddenly, suspiciously, disappear.
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Every year, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) throws a few surprises into their Summer Under The Stars (SUTS) programming. As you may know, SUTS means each day in August is dedicated to the films of a single brilliant star. Along with actors you might expect, such as Humphrey Bogart (Aug. 1) and Bette Davis (Aug. 14), TCM always includes a few surprising choices. For instance, I don’t know of any other cable channel that would run nearly 24 hours of silent films, but that’s exactly what happened on Ramon Novarro‘s day (August 8). If you missed Ben-Hur (1925) starring Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, you really should check it out.
The other somewhat unconventional and totally welcome choice in the SUTS mix this year is Catherine Deneuve (Monday, August 12). As I said on Jean Gabin day in 2011…big ups to TCM for running 24 hours of subtitles. (Actually, there is one English-language Deneuve film, The Hunger, showing at 4:15 a.m. on Tuesday, August 13. But still…it’s not something you see every day.)
Un flic is French for “a cop;” the film’s American title is less ambiguous: Dirty Money. Delon plays the title role, a brutal, not-so-clean police commissioner, who suspects that his friend, a nightclub owner (Crenna), is behind a series of bank robberies and drug deals. Cathy (Deneuve) is caught between them, sleeping with both and keeping both their secrets. Her model beauty and perfectly coiffed hair belie the anxiety in her nervous gestures and darting eyes. It’s a small part but a memorable one.
Melville is one of my favorite directors, he does crime pictures as well as anyone. His newsreel-style, on-location filmmaking was influential on Jean-Luc Godard (whose use of jump cuts was inspired by Melville). This was Melville’s last film, and like my favorite Le samouraï, Un flic may as well have been shot in the black and white of a film noir…cold desaturated colors, dark rooms, inky shadows. Thematically it’s as melancholy as any noir, and the line between the lawman and the criminal is as hazy as dusk in the Paris of Melville’s creation…this isn’t Woody Allen’s City of Lights. Part of it is unbelievable (you’ll know it when you see it), and I’m pretty sure Crenna was dubbed, but these are minor details in a suspenseful and enjoyable neo-noir.
UPDATE: No worries if you missed this on Deneuve day and you have Netflix. I searched the site on the off chance they would have Un flic on DVD, and lo and behold, not only do they have it, it’s also streaming. C’est super!
I talk about how much I love The Train all the time, I watch or DVR it every time it’s on, and I really want more people to see it, but I feel like I haven’t really said why. Its premise is deceptively simple: In the waning days of World War II, French railway inspector/Resistance member Labiche (Burt Lancaster) is ordered by Nazi-in-charge von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) to get a train through to Germany no matter what. Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except that nearly every important piece of art left in France is on the train. Von Waldheim has ruthless soldiers at his disposal, but Labiche’s Resistance friends, some of whom actually run the trains, are used to making sabotage seem normal. It’s an unpredictable, suspenseful chess match with French lives staked against the country’s soul.
Maybe it’s so good because it’s so real. How real? Lancaster did all his own stunts. He even did stunts for another actor. He was injured only once during filming but it had nothing to do with the movie: He sprained his knee while golfing. Director John Frankenheimer covered it by having Labiche get shot in the leg.
Lancaster was actually responsible for Frankenheimer’s presence on set. After the first day of filming, Lancaster didn’t think original director Arthur Penn was emphasizing action and suspense as much as necessary. The actor, who was also producing, had Penn fired and called on his Young Savages/Birdman of Alcatraz/Seven Days in May director, who was happy to help — provided his conditions were met: the film’s official title would be “John Frankenheimer’s The Train;” he would have final cut; and he would receive a Ferrari. The producers agreed to all of it. (Don’t feel too badly for Penn…he went on to make Bonnie and Clyde.)
In addition, when you see trains crashing or derailing, they’re very real, life-sized, often WWII-era, trains — Frankenheimer didn’t use miniatures. In one scene, the production was able to take advantage of the French government’s decision to scrap a railyard by “planting dynamite charges beneath the tracks….According to Newsweek, this brief sequence incorporated 140 separate explosions, 3,000 pounds of TNT and 2,000 gallons of gasoline” [source].
I could write another whole blog post about the filming of these scenes:
and I haven’t even mentioned Jeanne Moreau’s cameo as an innkeeper who may or may not be collaborating with the Nazis, the crazy weather delays and their effect on the film, or the real-life true story that inspired the script — Rose Valland’s autobiographical Le front de l’art: défense des collections françaises, 1939-1945.*
Furthermore, the film can be enjoyed as both a straight-up action picture and as a philosophical exploration of art and war. It asks the questions, “How much does art matter, and is it worth dying for?” and suggests that one’s answer will vary based on class. The Train’s preoccupation with social status is understated, but it reminds me of another film with an ambivalent outlook on war, La Grande Illusion. For starters, both have working-class Frenchmen, Labiche and Jean Gabin’s Lieutenant Maréchal, and aristocratic Germans, von Waldheim and Erich von Stroheim’s Captain (later Major) von Rauffenstein, though their differences are far more prominent in Illusion.
So The Train won a ton of Oscars, right? Not at all. It received one Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen — which it lost, to Darling. Neither film is really all that well-known today, but I confess I have more affection for the somber World War II movie that could.
This post is part of Week 5 of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, hosted by myself, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen and Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled. Check out past weeks’ fabulous posts as well: Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
* Per IMDB, paintings from the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris “were indeed loaded into a train for shipment to Germany during World War II, but fortunately, the elaborate deception seen in the movie was not really required. The train was merely routed onto a ring railway and circled around and around Paris until the Allies arrived.”
UPDATE: This post wouldn’t really be complete without Frankenheimer’s TCM tribute to Lancaster. The director talks about The Train, including the one-take scene Jack Deth referenced in his comment, here.