As part of our focus on Polish director Andrzej Żuławski, we take an illustrated look at his dark and moody drama The Most Important Thing: Love. Based on the novel La Nuit américaine by Christopher Frank, the story revolves around the passionate love affair between struggling actress Nadine (Romy Schneider), who earns her money starring in cheap soft-core movies, and Servais Mont, a photographer (Fabio Testi) determined to help her get her career back.
Lucile Hadžihalilovic’s follow-up to Innocence is as poetic, disturbing and elusive as its predecessor.
Ten years after her wonderfully disquieting debut Innocence, Lucile Hadžihalilovic returns with a tale that feels intimately close to it, thematically and atmospherically, despite the differences in setting. Here again, birth and transformation are elliptically explored through the creation of an immersive, sensory world infused with slow-burning unease. Just like its predecessor, Evolution starts in water and ends with an ambivalent coming out of the water – symbolic birth? Escape? Expulsion? Abandonment? But where Innocence revolved around a little girl’s education at a peculiar boarding school, the protagonist of Evolution is a little boy who lives on an island seemingly peopled only by women and other young boys. After seeing something alarming while swimming in the sea, a boy begins to question the way in which he is brought up. Soon he finds himself in hospital, the reason for his treatment unclear.
Is what we see just a manifestation of a little boy’s anxiety at growing up, or is the reality of life on the island truly sinister? Just as in Innocence, Hadžihalilovic skilfully treads an ambiguous line, leaving us to interpret what we witness. Although at first view the film could be seen as the male pendant of Innocence, its real focus is once more on the female. Choosing to tell the tale from a young boy’s point of view allows the film to present the women as incomprehensible creatures with strange bodies and customs, and to underline the alien, disturbing nature of human reproduction. Innocence looked at the rituals that marked a young girl’s transformation into adolescence and adulthood. Here, the emphasis has switched to worrying, unexplained mutation, and to the weirdness of living matter in all its squelchy, mushy monstrousness. This comes to a head in a few moments of startlingly horrific imagery, which punctuate the fluid flow of oblique impressions, all the more powerful for their sparseness.
Imbued with a mythical quality, Evolution is constructed from simple, but unsettlingly effective motifs: water, a starfish, the colour red, the decaying white village and the decrepit hospital, the women’s red hair and odd features, their identical outfits, either austere khaki dresses, or quaint white nurses’ uniforms. These elements subtly draw on legendary and filmic creatures, suggesting aliens, sirens and monsters, giving the story a deeper resonance. A beguiling mix of art and horror, Evolution is a richly evocative, intensely physical experience, an eerie, darkly poetic meditation on the strangeness of organic existence. Hadžihalilovic makes a cinema of textures, colours and sounds, a cinema of ideas embodied in sensations, a rare, precious kind of cinema that is both sophisticated and visceral. Let’s hope it doesn’t take her another 10 years to make another film.
As gorgeous as it is oppressive, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s latest neo-giallo is an ultra-sensuous, hypnotic trip through dark desires and the disturbing, delicious lines between pleasure and pain, madness and sanity, dream and reality. With a title that riffs on the wonderfully convoluted names of the films that inspired it, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears strengthens the potent aesthetic vision of the directing duo’s 2009 feature debut Amer, focusing entirely on pure sensation. In this hallucinatory, obsessive psychosexual dream, every shot is a marvel of composition, every object and texture is fetishized: leather, gloves, boots, jewels, blood, mirrors, blades. Male and female bodies are repeatedly penetrated, skull wounds are shaped like sexual organs, broken mirror shards enter flesh, as sensual ecstasy becomes deadly and lovers turn assailants.
The narrative is even more minimal than in its Italian predecessors – a man is looking for his missing wife – and it serves as the pretext for an intense distillation of the visual and sonic motifs of the giallo. Just as its masters effortlessly found stunning decors in beautiful, decadent Italian architecture, Strange Colour makes great use of the Brussels art nouveau building in which it is set. With its exuberance of organic round shapes, flowery motifs, voluptuous naked women, twisted stairs, stained glass and golden curlicues, the building is like a living organism, the figures on its walls breathing and moaning with the rapture and agony of its inhabitants.
A baroque film composed of giallo elements that are themselves baroque, Strange Colour constructs a dizzying, infinite cascade of doubles and repetitions, of stories within stories and structures within structures, where everything is mirrored, multiplied and fragmented. While it pays brilliant homage to its models, it is compellingly alluring in itself, and its meticulously crafted world of lush excess, sumptuous sophistication and opulent illusion is deeply seductive.
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Loosely based on the French graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh, Blue Is the Warmest Colour is an oddly seductive, three-hour lesbian love saga, featuring the coming-of-age of middle-class high school girl Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos (Carré blanc), who instantly and desperately falls for foxy art student Emma (Léa Seydoux), from the moment she spots her on the street in Lille until their painful and moving break-up as young adults. Below, Sally-Anne Hickman takes an illustrated look at the film, released in UK cinemas by Artificial Eye on 22 November 2013, and on DVD + Blu-ray (R2/B) on 17 March 2014.
A train station in Italy. Two small children receive a furtive send off before boarding a train alone with their mother. Their father, a fugitive gangster, has decided that it’s time for the family to return home to France after ten years in hiding, but to finance the move, Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) needs to pull off one last job, a brazen theft in broad daylight in Milan. Of course, that theft only increases the unwanted attention from the police, and Davos’s flight to the border, and eventually to Paris, is a dramatic, dangerous and ultimately tragic grasp at freedom, which underpins Claude Sautet’s fantastic thriller about a once-powerful man now struggling for his survival.
Based on a novel by José Giovanni, written after the author’s release from jail, Classe tous risques (Consider all Risks) gets off to a dynamic start, with Davos’s getaway from Milan relayed in a terrific action sequence, involving cars, motorbikes and a boat landing on the French shore under the cover of night. But when the worst happens, Davos finds he must turn to his former partners-in-crime for help. His ‘friends’ in Paris now live more respectable lives, safe only because he took the fall for their misdeeds in the past, culminating in his exile. But now, years later, they are reluctant to pay their debts. Instead of becoming personally involved, they send Eric Starck, a young man-on-the-make (played by a terrific Jean-Paul Belmondo) to pick up Davos in the south of France and bring him back to Paris.
Davos, who should be more concerned with the welfare of his family, is quietly furious and turns to plotting his revenge, seeking payback for this latest betrayal – with the help of Eric, who goes above and beyond the call of duty to protect Davos and his children. From this point on, despite clear indications of the brutality that lurks below the gangster’s charismatic exterior, Sautet sets up a blend of moral ambiguities and dilemmas, making it almost impossible not to empathise with Davos – even if his actions can’t be condoned.
Classe tous risques is a taut, original gangster film told with simplicity and a compelling directness, with bare-bones exposition and a neorealist touch. But there are also deeper, more thoughtful issues in play with Sautet’s no-punches-pulled exploration of the conflicts between loyalty and family, and the code of honour among thieves. The result is a tour de force, which is rounded out by a soundtrack by Georges Delerue and beautifully composed cinematography from Ghislain Cloquet. In one memorable shot, a woman that Davos and Eric encounter, having only just realised that she might be in the company of criminals, is caught between Eric in the background, while in the foreground, a telephone – a link to the cops – is separated from her by a pane of glass. Her moment of hesitation as she decides between right and wrong is exquisite.
It’s only a shame that Classe tous risques was utterly eclipsed on its original release by Belmondo’s other film, Breathless, coming out in the same year, and the ensuing excitement over the French New Wave. But the real mystery lies in why Sautet rarely returned to the underworld of gangsters and criminals during his career, choosing instead to focus on dramas set in the world of the bourgeoisie – films which, admittedly, brought him more success than this overlooked, but rich contribution to the genre.
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The pristine swimming pool of a glamorous couple’s private villa in the French Riviera is the focus of Jacques Deray’s 1969 tale of lust, co-dependency and revenge. Of ample size and stylish design, it’s where lovers Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) and Marianne (Romy Schneider) fool around during a long hot summer, far from the madding crowd of St Tropez. It’s also where Jean-Paul challenges Marianne’s ex-lover Harry (Maurice Ronet) to a symbolic swimming race, and where the film reaches its shocking and deadly climax.
Even outside of the pool and sea, water – or lack of it – is a strong motif throughout the film. Jean-Paul is told he’s a ‘Pisces, with Aquarius rising, you were born to be loved’, while his decision to start drinking again after a teetotal patch will prove fatal. And when one character is killed, there is a noticeable lack of tears at their passing.
Harry’s nubile teenage daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin), whose arrival with her father brings Jean-Paul and Marianne’s peaceful holiday ‘à deux’ to an end, isn’t seduced by the chlorinated blue of the pool. She’d rather idle around in modish thigh-skimming dresses, ignoring her father, who she claims is only interested in her now she’s old enough to be mistaken for his girlfriend. Better still, she likes swimming in the sea. And when Jean-Paul - who is not indifferent to her doe eyes and sky-high legs – takes her there for a night-time swim, he crosses the unspoken line of decency forever.
Deray does a deft job in capturing the hedonism and abandon of the period, where good looks and chic clothes conceal dark feelings that lurk beneath the surface, helped by a toe-tapping soundtrack by Michel Legrand. Legrand is a name often associated with the French New Wave, as is Maurice Ronet, who plays smooth-talking music producer Harry, but La piscine‘s connection with the movement ends there. Instead, with its smoulderingly attractive cast and focus on relationships, it owes more to American film noir and psychological thrillers of the previous two decades, as is especially clear after the pivotal murder scene – which is sudden, clumsy and disturbing.
While it may seem stilted to some, the lackadaisical pace of the film has the dual advantage of both reflecting the holiday-makers’ idle summer and allowing the unspoken erotic tension to reach a Hitchcockian crisis point. When the pace is broken by a lively and impromptu shindig, held at the villa by Harry and his rent-a-crowd of hipsters and kohl-eyed beauties, it comes as a relief to the viewer but has devastating consequences for the characters, who use it as an excuse to turn feelings into actions.
The film’s real strength lies in its ending which, although implausible by today’s standards of law and order, comes as a genuine surprise and shows the price you might have to pay to get simple domesticity.