Tag: louis malle

Lacombe, Lucien


Lacombe, Lucien (1974)
★★★★ / ★★★★

I find Louis Malle’s “Lacombe Lucien” to be a particularly brave drama set during 1944 as World War II nears its closing chapters because the material is honest about the number of French people who were actually willing to collaborate with the Nazis. To paint a pretty picture may help to make the viewer feel good, but to tell the truth is patriotic. On the surface, the film parades a series of events as the titular seventeen-year-old country boy joins a French branch of the Gestapo. But look closer and one is bound to recognize the story is a more personal kind; it is about the yearning to belong—somewhere, anywhere, with anyone who would pay even the slightest attention. That group just so happens to be those who hate Jews and are willing to send millions of them to be exterminated.

Lucien Lacombe is portrayed by Pierre Blaise in his first role on film. It is the correct decision to cast a non-actor because, in a way, we must consider the character to be an enigma. You see, more experienced actors tend to employ behavior to sell a thought or an idea—an approach that may not have worked in this role. It is demanded that Lucien be as raw as possible, for the viewer to wonder constantly why he is doing the things he does. Is he even aware that what he is doing is morally wrong? And if he did, does he care? Pay attention to how he kills animals like chicken and rabbits. The look in his eyes does not change as he kills people. The only difference is how he is dressed for the occasion.

Look closely during captured moments when Blaise is simply being himself, perhaps hanging out on set while waiting for his cue to utter lines provided on the script. Malle is wise to include the in-between moments because it is a way to capture’s one’s soul and then manipulate it through the scope of the story being told. But because Malle is a master at creating human portraits, he does not turn Lucien into a monster. We despise the protagonist’s actions but not the protagonist himself. Without Malle’s careful, intelligent, and humanistic direction, the work could have been reduced to a story of a stereotype.

The picture is beautifully photographed, particularly scenes shot outdoors. The grassy villages where animals roam and the majority of people work with their hands put us into a particular headspace—serenity and freedom—before Lucien joins the German police. Images shot indoors, too, are interesting but in a different way. Notice the high ceilings of the Gestapo headquarters, the well-decorated rooms, the expensive figurines and paintings. And yet—listen to what the conversations are composed of: trivialities, hatred, drunken babbling. Interactions are cold, unsafe, driven by the next opportunity to wield power and murder.

Unlike Malle’s other works (“Murmur of the Heart,” “My Dinner with Andre,” “Au revoir les enfants”), “Lacombe Lucien” did not move me emotionally. But perhaps that isn’t the point. So many movies with stories that take place during World War II are designed to get an emotional reaction from the audience. This one, however, is impersonal in that it appears to only be interested in showing reality, specifically one person’s reality, Lucien’s desperation to belong. We wish to understand him rather than to empathize with him. After all, how could we empathize with somebody who is so ignorant that he hasn’t got the slightest awareness—curiosity, even—of what’s being done to the Jews? For him, the Jews, being stripped from their homes and families, are merely going on a train ride.

Damage


Damage (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★

Stephen (Jeremy Irons) locks eyes with Anna (Juliette Binoche) at a party. Stuck in an increasingly passionless marriage with his nonetheless loving wife, Ingrid (Miranda Richardson), Stephen yearns to have Anna. She wants to have him, too. However, the ravishing woman across the room turns out to be the girlfriend of Martyn (Rupert Graves), Stephen’s son, and the two have plans of creating a future together.

Based on the novel by Josephine Hart, I watched “Damage” in complete fascination because of its directness in dealing with needs and wants. While it could have been too easy and cheap to show only the man wanting to have sex with another woman outside of his marriage, I liked that Anna is given scenes in which she brazenly makes the first move. After all, breathing life into an affair usually involves two people.

The scenes involving sex are titillating but never exploitative. In order to understand Stephen’s need to possess and Anna’s need to be wanted, we are required to see them in various carnal situations and what they wish to do to each other to quench their hunger.

We observe their ritual. They are always only a phone call away. An invitation to meet is consistently met with acceptance. For Stephen, putting his hands around Anna is an uncontrollable itch that needs to be scratched. His obsession is passionate but can be scary at times. For instance, being a member of the Parliament, he has a meeting in Brussels. Just as it adjourns, despite not getting any sleep, he takes earliest available train to Paris to see Anna, all the while knowing that she is with Martyn on a getaway. We are made to wonder if deep inside he hopes to get caught in order to save himself the trouble of having to explain that what he and Ingrid have is no longer viable.

For Anna, being wanted by Stephen is like reliving a time in her life when she feels truly loved, but the love was considered wrong and immoral. One of the darkest and most intriguing scenes involves Anna talking about her past and how the tragedy she experienced has found a way to reside and lay dormant within her. The mysterious sadness she exudes is what attracts Stephen—and his son—to her.

While the nature of Anna and Stephen’s relationship is open to interpretation, not for a second was I convinced that what they share is love—at least not the kind that can last. In my eyes, love is between Stephen and Ingrid: dealing with the routine of the every day and learning to be content and see the bright side even if things may go wrong slightly. Despite Stephen and Ingrid not having one sex scene, the combination of David Hare’s screenplay along with Irons and Richardson’s nuanced acting suggest a long and loving history between the husband and wife.

Directed with a critical eye by Louis Malle, “Damage” is a fascinating portrait of a man willing to risk it all, crossing lines as if he were a blind man without a cane. We keep watching because we know that the risk is not worth the reward and he does not. Or perhaps he does but he is unwilling to accept it because any change when it comes to his marriage—even crushing it completely—serves as a reminder that he is still alive.

Au revoir les enfants


Au revoir les enfants (1987)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A Catholic boarding school hid three Jewish students, one of which was Jean (Raphael Fejtö), from the terrorizing Nazis in the middle of World War II. We viewed the events from Julien’s (Gaspard Manesse) perspective, a home sick boy who, like most kids, did not really understand what was really happening yet he had no problem throwing words around like “Jew” or “yid” and the bigotry that came with those words. Julien and Jean started off as enemies but the two eventually became friends. However, their friendship was challenged my the Nazis who came to their school to hunt down the three students and send them to their deaths. What I admired most about Louis Malle’s film was the fact that he was able to take the events that happened in his own life and ponder over the decisions he made. Right from the beginning, it felt very personal. The opening scene was a mother and her son saying goodbye at a train station. It was a simple scene but we immediately got to know the protagonist: he was sensitive when he needed to, he felt neglected by his parents, and he hid his real emotions through transference. The other scenes that stood out to me were also simple scenes. One of them was when Julien got lost in the woods in the attempt to find a hidden treasure. On top of the giant rocks, he looked around. What did he think about? Did he know which direction to go? Was he afraid to go down the rocky terrain? Was he worried about the sun setting? In one specific glance around his surroundings, I had so many questions and felt so many emotions. I felt like that scene was a test for him and for us. Even though he was somewhat of a bully, I found that I cared about what would happen to him. Another highlight was when the kids and the teachers watched a Chaplin picture. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I love the movies, but I felt so much joy while watching them laughing collectively at the screen. In one scene, even though the kids made fun of each other and didn’t always get along, they found a common ground. The Chaplin film brought them together and I couldn’t help but feel moved. Malle’s strength was definitely taking simple portraits from his youth and letting us feel why those were important to him. Even though his experiences happened more than fifty years ago, the feelings cut through time and we find ourselves able to relate and sympathize. The closing scene was simply masterful. Slowly, the camera inched toward Julien’s eyes as he realized that sometimes his actions can be powerful. There was no going back. It was a loss of innocence at its finest. He became a man because he finally learned to take responsibility. “Au revoir les enfants” is an astute picture, a rewarding experience, and utterly unforgettable.

Conversations with Other Women


Conversations with Other Women (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Conversations with Other Women,” directed by Hans Canosa started off with seemingly two strangers (Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter) flirting and finding some sort of connection. Eventually, they realized that they’ve known each other in the past–ten years to be exact. What I love most about this picture was its ability to present opposites and the insights that go with them. For instance, Eckhart was more light-hearted and likes to makes jokes while Carter was more of a Debbie Downer and oozes sarcasm. The split-screen worked well because it played upon the very opposite of things, such as one screen would present the past while the other the present, one screen would present reality while the other fantasy, and then back to the characters as it captured the exact facial responses and body languages when the two would converse. I understand that a plethora of people were put off by this film because of the split-screen and the fact that the whole movie was an extended conversation between two past lovers. However, I didn’t find anything bothersome about it. In fact, the whole thing made me smile because it reminded me of great films like Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” With a short running span of one hour and twenty minutes, it was very efficient because the first half was more about the comedy and rekindling an old romance, while the second half–after the sex which was the midpoint–focused more on the circumstances on why these two people, despite their obvious chemistry, could potentially never be together. I recommend this film to anyone interested in great conversations because it made me feel like I was right there in the room with them. To be honest, I found myself laughing out loud with some of the jokes and teasing that each character threw at each other, something that happens in real life. Another reason why I was glad to have finally seen this movie was seeing Carter play a “normal” person. Whenever I see her, I usually think of her being an evil witch (“Harry Potter” series) or a woman who serves pies made of human flesh (“Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”). This is a strong, quick-paced little movie and intelligent cinema lovers should not miss it.

Murmur of the Heart


Murmur of the Heart (1971)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Louis Malle (“Au revoir les enfants”), this unconventional coming-of-age picture (also known as “Murmur of the Heart”) was about an intelligent fifteen-year-old named Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) and his quest to lose his virginity. He has a difficult time achieving his goal because his family watches each other’s moves very closely: two brothers who act like spoiled rich brats, a father (Daniel Gélin) who is a gynecologist, and a free-spirited mother (Lea Massari). He finally gets away from his family (except his mother) when he gets ill and has to go to a medical spa in hopes of getting better. I mentioned that this was an atypical coming-of-age tale because, in a way, it kind of excuses or glosses over the issues of childhood molestation and incest. Scenes that would normally or supposed to bother people, such as a religious leader inappropriately touching a boy and a mother who is way too involved with her son (emotionally and physically; taking “European” kind of closeness into consideration), are an integral part of the story, the director decided to not judge and simply show what was happening. In many ways, I admired this technique because most films that I’ve seen that tackled the same topics could not help but pass judgment. This film reminded me of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” not because of of its subject matter itself but because of the many scenes that were shot indoors, the political backdrop of the story (in this case, the IndoChina War), and that feeling of freedom to explore any kind of topic and emotion that could easily be labeled as taboo. In the end, I really got to know Laurent: what kinds of books he likes to read; his tastes in music and girls; what he thinks about the people around him; and his own capabilities as a blossoming adolescent facing pressures exerted by himself and other people. Perhaps if I knew more about the authors and books that Laurent referenced to, I may have had a better understanding regarding some of his motivations to do certain things. This was a daring film but, in my opinion, did not cross any line but merely straddled it. I must also note that this was not just about a person who wanted to have sex for the first time. It was much more complex than that. But another one of the many layers of this movie was the dynamics among the family members, whether or not in its core, they were truly happy.