If I had to pick one decade as my favorite for movies, I think I would have to go with the 1960s. Picking my six favorite movies from that decade? That’s a little more difficult. (It’s hard enough to limit myself to six favorites from a single year of the decade.) After much debate, I’ve decided on the following films (listed chronologically), though there are probably about two dozen other titles that could just as easily have made the cut.
Thanks to the Portail des bibliothèques municipales spécialisées, I came across this picture I couldn’t resist sharing: a not-yet-two-years-old Jean-Pierre Léaud with his mother, actress Jacqueline Pierreux, from the April 16, 1946 issue of Pour tous magazine. (And it’s part of the Bibliothèque du Cinéma François Truffaut, fittingly enough.) It’s definitely a resource worth checking out, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further.
At one point in Otar Iosseliani’s Pastorale (1975), a train trundles through the Georgian countryside in which the film takes place, announcing its approach with a low blast of its horn that almost immediately gives way to a song sung in the nation’s traditional polyphonic style. Though it’s mixed with the rattling of the locomotive, the music appears to be non-diegetic; there’s no obvious sign of singing among the laborers in the fields who pause in their work to watch the train go by, who stand all but motionless while they stare at the passengers staring back at them. Could it be, perhaps, that this music is what the agrarian scenery evokes in the minds of the more urban-looking passengers?
Throughout Yasujirô Ozu’s body of work, familiarity and change are ever-present. On one hand, there’s a certain comfortable sameness about them, especially on a superficial level. An Ozu movie — save, perhaps, something from the earliest years of his career — always looks unmistakably like an Ozu movie, so consistent and distinctive is his style: the low camera placement, the static shots, the way the actors face the viewer directly as they speak. The sense of familiarity goes beyond the purely visual as well. Again and again, one finds repeated themes and situations, taking place in similar milieus, involving similar characters played by many of the same performers. Still, for all of this familiarity, the world in which these characters live is fundamentally unstable. Things change, inevitably, in ways both dramatic and mundane: people die, children grow up and leave their parents, workers are transferred to faraway cities, friends drift apart. It’s sad, but that’s just the way things are. (“Isn’t life disappointing?” as a young woman in 1953’s Tokyo Story famously puts it.)
Early on in Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 film Hour of the Wolf, painter Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) urges his pregnant wife, Alma (Liv Ullmann), to pose for him so that he can sketch her. He instructs her on how she should sit, how to arrange the robe she’s wearing, what to do with her hair. “If I patiently drew you, day after day…” he says as the scene fades to black. The artist and his muse — but their roles undergo something like a reversal once Johan vanishes and Alma is left to try to make sense of what happened, to share her perspective on the man with whom she lived for seven years. Perhaps she didn’t know him as well as she thought; perhaps, in a strange sense, she knew him too well.
Outside a theater in an English seaside town, an artist’s rendering of a grotesque face, massive in scale and positioned over the words “Archie Rice: The One and Only,” grins down at passersby. Scarcely anybody gives it even a moment’s glance, but one young woman, Jean (Joan Plowright), stops in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to gaze up at it. The expression on her face suggests a certain fondness for this strange figure, with perhaps the slightest touch of ambivalence. This ambivalence grows as she looks at the other promotional materials on display depicting the one and only Archie (Laurence Olivier) — no less grotesque in photographs than in drawings — posed with scantily-clad showgirls and proclaiming him “T.V. & Radio’s Sauciest Comic,” until she’s become downright glum. Obviously, Archie Rice is a public figure, but in private life he happens to be Jean’s father — and yet, different though they are in many ways, it’s not always easy to tell precisely where the public figure ends and the private man begins.
Brighton today is a large, jolly, friendly seaside town in Sussex, exactly one hour’s journey from London.
But in the years between the two wars, behind the Regency terraces and crowded beaches, there was another Brighton of dark alleyways and festering slums. From here, the poison of crime and violence and gang warfare began to spread, until the challenge was taken up by the Police.
This is a story of that other Brighton — now happily no more.
The 1948 (or 1947, according to some sources) film Brighton Rock, directed by John Boulting and based on Graham Greene’s 1938 novel of the same name, follows its opening credits with this written statement, which scrolls over a shot of a multitude of happy holidaymakers relishing the sun, sand and surf. No doubt its primary purpose is to reassure potential tourists who might be put off by the film’s unsavory depiction of the city, yet it also establishes the theme of duality that will run throughout the story.
In many ways, Hiroshi Shimizu’s Mr. Thank You, released in 1936, is a little film. Only seventy-six minutes long, it restricts itself, physically speaking, almost entirely to the interior of a small bus and to the road along which that bus makes its regular journeys through the Japanese countryside. There’s not a great deal of action, unless one counts the vehicle’s oft-interrupted progression, nor is there much in the way of plot. Instead, the heart of the film is in its characters and the interactions among them. Some of their interactions are funny; others are poignant; many are brief, by necessity; and as these varied little moments accumulate, the film reveals itself as something grander in scope and in spirit than it might appear at first glance.
Jacques Rivette’s 1976 movie Duelle opens with a textbook film noir scenario: One night, a mysterious woman named Leni (Juliet Berto) — who’s even dressed in 1940s-style clothing, despite the fact that the film seemingly takes place in the era in which it was made — arrives at a Paris hotel and requests a specific room. She explains to Lucie (Hermine Karagheuz), the porter on duty, that it’s the room in which her former longtime lover Max Christie (or Lord Christie, as he’s often called) stayed a year ago. “I’ve lost his trail. I must find him again,” she insists. Lucie never met him, but she’s heard about him from another employee: that he left big tips, that he was often there with a girl by the name of Stern, that he only came to the hotel after visiting a nearby hostess club called the Rumba. Leni decides to seek further information there, and she also hires Lucie to investigate. To anyone familiar with noir conventions, it should come as no great surprise that Leni turns out to be a femme fatale — but the form that takes isn’t quite so conventional.
Diane Kurys’s 1977 film Peppermint Soda shares its name (Diabolo menthe in the original French) with the bright green beverage that Anne Weber (Éléonore Klarwein) and her friends order when they visit a cafe one day after school. It’s an exciting outing, novel, rather grown-up — a couple of boys several years their seniors even wink and smile at them, much to their amusement — but Anne’s pleasure is cut short when her sister Frédérique (Odile Michel) enters and recognizes her voice. “What are you doing here?” Frédérique addresses her angrily, for all to hear. “Are you out of your little head? Go home immediately. Since when do you hang around in cafes? Wearing stockings! Putting on airs! Mom will be delighted.” Anne, humiliated, walks out just as the waiter returns with a tray of peppermint soda. The adult world, or at least the world of older teenagers, remains elusive. She and her sister are only two years apart in age — Frédérique is fifteen, Anne thirteen — but sometimes that small gap seems like an abyss, an eternity.