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Luis Bunuel (#110 of 25)

Women in Chains Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure

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Women in Chains: Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure
Women in Chains: Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s films are as intricate and enigmatic as you might expect from the man who scripted the seminal French New Wave puzzle-picture Last Year at Marienbad. They’re also slyly humorous, intellectually playful, and intensely and perversely erotic. This last element was present in the Alain Resnais film in a more diffuse fashion: discernible in the fetishistic attention lavished on Delphine Seyrig’s flamboyant costumes and the chateau’s rococo décor, and, more to the point, in an act of (at least hypothetical) rape and murder whose lack of depiction within the film itself formed the structural absence at the center of Robbe-Grillet’s labyrinthine narrative. In the films he both wrote and directed, this unruly and often sadistic eroticism takes center stage, even if it’s never entirely uncomplicated by the filmmaker’s love of ontological ambiguity and narrative uncertainty.

Trans-Europ-Express opens with a film director (Robbe-Grillet), his producer (Paul Louyet), and script supervisor (Catherine Robbe-Grillet) boarding the titular high-speed train headed for Antwerp. While on board, they brainstorm the director’s latest opus, which they immediately decide to set on board a train. Taking their cue from a magazine news headline, they concoct a “trench-coat tale” (not unlike the Lemmy Caution stories Godard pilfered for Alphaville) about a drug mule, Elias (Jean-Louis Trintignant), en route to Belgium on a trial run for his new employers. As their scenario unspools like the portable reel-to-reel tape it’s being recorded on, we will return to this compartment for a series of narrative tweaks and emendations. Lest all this seem too straightforward, Trintignant also plays a fictionalized version of himself (possibly), even though the director claims not to recognize him when attempts to share their compartment.

Review: Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast

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Review: Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast
Review: Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast

In 1997, St. Martin’s Griffin Press published Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast to widespread critical acclaim. Now, after several years of remaining out of print, the University of Minnesota Press has released a beautiful new paperback edition of the biography which Stanley Kauffmann called a “permanent resource” upon its initial release. Indeed, Patrick McGilligan’s nearly 500-page treatment of the elusive, demonstrative German director seemingly spares no detail, chronicling Lang’s entire life with a precision that transcends merely ticking off facts in chronological fashion and, more interestingly, revels in the director’s off-screen faults just as frequently as he applauds the on-screen brilliance. Such jarring juxtaposition is epitomized by the books epigraph, spoken by Lang himself: “My private life has nothing to do with my films.” McGilligan looks to test this claim throughout, detailing the life of a man dedicated to artistic integrity and meticulous detail while working, yet also capable of rampant adultery, giving numerous tongue-lashings to cast and crew, and, even, murder.

The final possibility is contained in the book’s most startling chapter; in 1921, Lisa Rosenthal, Lang’s wife, died from a single gunshot wound. According to Lang and Thea von Harbou (Lang’s writing partner and soon-to-be wife), Rosenthal surprised the pair while having sex in Lang’s office. Then, she went into the bathroom and shot herself. However, editor Hans Feld and cinematographer Karl Freund believed something far worse: that Lang had shot Rosenthal, incidental or not, and refused to take any blame for it. McGilligan treats this debate somewhat objectively, though his explanation of logical inconsistencies with Lang’s story suggests, like Feld and Freund, that there remains a reasonable doubt. With this passage, one must remember McGilligan’s opening words, that “Fritz Lang lived his life with the glinted eyes of a maniac.” These tensions drive McGilligan’s prose just as strongly as facts: the possibility that he might be discussing the films of a murderer.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

When The House Next Door invited its writers to submit their Top 10 films of all time, I was faced with the usual conundrum: What does “Top 10” signify – best or favorite? After much consideration, I’m happy to say that the list I came up with could easily represent either. These are definitely personal favorites, but, in my not-so-humble opinion, they are also unassailable in their perfection, and could easily fall at the top of any all-time best list arrived at by consensus.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

There are simply too many amazing films—thousands, really—that could occupy every slot on this list just as confidently as the ones that are here. So I chose great ones that, whether or not it was the authors’ intent, protest the way systems, traditions and institutions threaten to break or trap individuals. Some celebrate how people manage to hold onto themselves or each other during the assault. Others dramatize defeat (see numbers five, six, nine, and 10). This quality in movies is more desperately needed right now and more enduring over time than such film critic checklist items as technical virtuosity and screenplay structure. The vast majority of people who watch movies are the ones who bear the yoke, and last century’s problem was too many films made to satisfy those who wield the whip. We, the people, are still stuck in that false reality of virtual freedom, every time we turn on the TV, click through a corporate banner ad, or look up and see more billboard than sky.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I approached this project the exact same way I expect I would’ve handled being given a ballot in the actual Sight & Sound poll: by procrastinating until the very last second and making a lot of spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment rules to dictate how I could possibly whittle down dozens of films into a list of 10. (I know, everyone else probably would’ve said “hundreds of films,” but I’ve always been a little cine-anorexic.)

The list of “obstructions” ought to be familiar to anyone with any exposure to this parlor game: one per decade, one per country, one per genre, one per boyfriend. But having willfully backed myself into the corner of having no more time on hand, I am forced to use a list I’ve already built elsewhere: the list of films I previously designated as favorites on MUBI. I like using that as a starting point because my choices there seem neither too conservative nor too outré (or at least both simultaneously), and I first started ticking them off as an exercise toward building a list of my 50 favorite movies. Plus, I limited myself to one choice per director.

The number of “nominees” there now stands at a slightly lower sum than that original goal (how have I still not picked a Bresson?!), but it still seems the best middle ground I can find between favoring my, well, favorites and giving movies I consider to be among “the greatest” their due. The only major wrench in this plan is that, of the 46 movies shortlisted, all but about a dozen of them are from the U.S. And nearly half are from the span between 1966 and 1976.

Well, no point dancing around statistics. A strategy is a strategy, so onward and upward, in chronological order:

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Bearing in mind the fundamentally mercurial nature of any such list (at least as far as I’m concerned), apt to alter its constituent membership with the swiftness of a weathervane buffeted by hurricane-force winds, I hereby present the 10 films that rank as my current favorites.

"Long Live Anarchy!" Two by Lina Wertmüller

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“Long Live Anarchy!”: Two by Lina Wertmüller
“Long Live Anarchy!”: Two by Lina Wertmüller

Lina Wertmüller is a bundle of contradictions: an avowed anarchist who was born into the rarefied upper strata of the Italian aristocracy, a feminist filmmaker unafraid to delve into realms of sexual grotesquerie many self-professed feminists would unhesitatingly anathematize. She imbues her films with the popular (and populist) traditions of commedia all’italiana, a style of humor that traces back to medieval puppet theater—a tradition she trained in extensively. Heiress to the filmmaking legacy of directors like Mario Monicelli and especially Pietro Germi, Wertmüller fuses together high-minded political seriousness and a gleeful delight in transgressive lowbrow comedy. Wertmüller also displays a fundamental fascination with the finely tuned communicative potential of bodily gestures and facial expressions, even when they’re expressed in flamboyantly histrionic and broadly comedic fashion, often employing as a result the kinds of extreme facial close-ups usually identified with the films of Sergio Leone.

After taking on political corruption and the Sicilian mafia with her first international success, The Seduction of Mimi, Wertmüller set her sights on the bad old days of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Love & Anarchy, a sort of costume tragicomedy that reunites the stars of the previous film, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato. Giannini plays Tunin, an ugly-duckling bumpkin who journeys to Rome in order to assassinate Mussolini after his friend, whose mission it was originally, is murdered by Il Duce’s secret police. Even though we witness the aftermath of this killing early on (what starts as a bucolic pan across a riverside idyll turns horrific when the shot ends on the image of a man’s body draped over low-hanging tree boughs), Wertmüller holds back until late in the film the reality behind Tunin’s motivation, that he’s nothing more than a hayseed out for revenge and in way over his head.