Tag Archives: Jeanne Moreau



Format: DVD + Blu-ray (Region 2/B)

Release date: 10 March 2014

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Burkhard Driest

Based on the novel: Querelle of Brest by Jean Genet

Cast: Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau

West Germany, France 1982

101 mins

When Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle was first released in cinemas in 1982, it was not received with much enthusiasm by the critics, despite its inspired imagery. Most of them thought the picture was messy; they found the plot confusing and the direction over-stylised. Nowadays, although it is still not considered a great picture, the film has managed to find its place among other cult classics.

The somewhat loose storyline follows a young, handsome sailor, Querelle (Brad Davis), as he arrives in the port of Brest, deals drugs, commits murder and has his first homosexual experiences. Adapted from Jean Genet’s novel Querelle of Brest, Fassbinder’s last film attempts a tricky balance between theatricality, striking visuals and heavy literary influences. This bold cocktail is not very well mixed, but the film should at least be applauded for its distinctive vision. Fassbinder’s brilliant and controversial idea to set the film in a fake set paid off, and it is testament to his talent as a film director that despite the stagey production design, the picture still feels extremely cinematic, thanks to the elegant and fluid camera work, and deep, vibrant colours.

The story takes place in the port of Brest during a seemingly endless (and painted) sunset. In this setting, time seems to be losing its significance. We are not sure if the story we’re watching takes place during one hour, one day, or one week, and this confusion adds to the film’s dream-like quality. This sun that never sets seems to be the film’s greatest symbol; perhaps a metaphor for ambivalence or hesitation, or an undecided state of mind. The film’s protagonist, Querelle, after all seems to be in such state of mind. Dressed in a veil of overbearing masculinity yet burning with homoerotic desires, he is the ideal representative of a world that Fassbinder seems to be mocking, although paradoxically, this dry, serious picture is bereft of humour. This world is based on a self-conscious masculinity and is heavy on pretensions.

These qualities are on full display in the scene where Querelle reunites with his brother after a long time. The two engage in a tender hug, and then, perhaps pressured by the other men’s persistent gazes, they start punching each other on the stomach. Although still not funny in any obvious way, that scene betrays Fassbinder’s bitterly sarcastic take on a ‘macho’ world that tries too hard to hide its many feminine sides. The men have to quarrel. And they have to fight. They even have to kill. But on the other hand they are allowed to have sex with each other. Not to kiss though. And they cannot fall in love with each other. For that would render them ‘fairies’ – weak, and feminine. Querelle shows the struggle of a young man to accept his homosexuality in such a world.

It is unfortunate that the film should get bogged down by its literary influences. Although Fassbinder stripped down the novel’s many and complicated storylines down to the essentials, it is still not enough. When the characters engage in endless philosophical conversations, both story and subtext become harder to follow. In addition to that, there are some confusing choices that don’t really have a clear dramatic pay-off and complicate things unsatisfactorily. The actor’s theatrical performances and the film’s deadpan serious tone and lack of humour do not help matters either.

However, Fassbinder’s bold visual choices make up for the film’s shortcomings. In perfect command of his tools, he makes inventive use of images and sounds to convey messages and emotions, even if some of the plot points and dialogue sidetrack the movie and may take the viewer out of the filmic experience. In all, Querelle might not be a great work of art, but it definitely is a distinctive one. And, in a strange way, that might be a much bigger compliment.

Special DVD/Blu-ray features include the mini-documentary Twilight of the Bodies: Fassbinder in Search of Querelle, as well as a presentation of the film by Volker Schlöndorff.

Pavlos Sifakis

Lift to the Scaffold

Lift to the Scaffold
Lift to the Scaffold

Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 February 2014

Distributor: BFI

Director: Louis Malle

Writers: Roger Nimier, Louis Malle

Based on the novel by: No&#235l Calef

Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin

Original Title: Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

France 1958

92 mins

Louis Malle’s 1958 debut feature Lift to the Scaffold offered a number of notable firsts. The director introduced key themes such as duplicity, moral compromise, weakness and fatal attraction that would permeate his work over a subsequent 30-year career. Released under a number of guises, including Elevator to the Gallows, but best known under its original language title of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, it made an iconic star of Jeanne Moreau and featured the first film score composed by Miles Davis.

The film is adapted from a relatively minor roman noir by No&#235l Calef that was clearly indebted to Double Indemnity; it is also an early example of a European take on film noir with a nocturnal Paris standing in for the mean streets of Los Angeles. Retaining the bare bones of the novel and bringing the marginalised female character to the forefront, Malle and his script writer, the left-wing novelist Roger Nimier, up the existential ante in the tale of a handsome veteran of the Indo-China and Algerian wars, Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet), and his lover, Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau), who plan the murder of her husband, an arms manufacturer. Returning from the crime scene, Tavernier becomes trapped in an elevator and Florence is forced to wander the streets of Paris forlornly awaiting their assignation. Any final flickering hopes of escape are extinguished when a teenage couple steal Tavernier’s car and take it on a joyride.

Influenced by Bresson and Hitchcock, Lift to the Scaffold boasts two remarkable achievements alongside its pervasive mood of melancholy, ennui and amour fou. The film is shot in high-contrast black and white by Henri Deca&#235 and is striking to look at, with each frame resembling an intricately designed photograph; Deca&#235 went on to work for Chabrol and Truffaut and became one of the finest cinematographers in European cinema. The other trump card is the aforementioned score by Miles Davis.

Malle was a huge jazz fan and carried a particular torch for the music of Miles Davis. While the director was editing the film in 1957, Miles was visiting Paris to play as a guest soloist for a few weeks at the Club St Germain, and the pair were introduced via Juliette Greco. Malle plucked up the courage to ask Miles to compose a score. Initially reluctant because he was travelling without his usual recording band, Miles was finally convinced after being shown a rough cut of the film and given an explanation of the plot and main characters. As recounted in Malle on Malle, a series of interviews between the director and Philip French, the duo agreed on the moments in the film where music was required, and on a rare night off from his club residency Miles gathered together musicians Barney Wilen (tenor sax), Rene Urtreger (piano), Pierre Michelot (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Renting a studio whose foreboding atmospherics matched the dark nature of the film, work continued from 10 at night until five in the morning with all the music, amounting to about 18 minutes in total in the film (a 2003 soundtrack reissue later compiled a further 40 minutes of out-takes), scored directly to screen. This was one of the first film scores recorded this way and improvised in its entirety. Malle found Miles’s efforts transformative, declaring that without the score the film would not have had the critical and public response it enjoyed.

The score is indeed remarkable, often acting as a counterpoint to what we see on screen rather than trying to simply reinforce it. The music is elegiac and detached, while the mood of the film is often one of anticipation and tension, contributing to the poignant sense of doom that shrouds the film from the first image to the very last. The score is particularly effective when we see Moreau’s character prowling the Paris streets at dawn, lending it a sense of abstract emotion. Jack Johnson aside, Miles Davis would go on to produce other feature film soundtracks, perhaps most notably the John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal triple whammy for The Hot Spot, one of those instances where the soundtrack is more memorable than the film it accompanies, but he never came close again to replicating what he did on Lift to the Scaffold.

The film also marked a major turning point in the career of Miles Davis, freeing the trumpeter from the conventional structures of modern jazz. The result was Kind of Blue, widely regarded as the bestselling album in the history of jazz.

Jason Wood

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