An Anti-Romantic Romantic Comedy: Marriage Italian Style (1964)

Air Raid

Naples, World War II: With an air raid siren howling its warning in their ears, everybody in the vicinity of the port, a potential target, is running for shelter — well, not quite everybody. Domenico Soriano (Marcello Mastroianni) doesn’t appear to be in any great hurry to leave the bordello he’s visiting, though the prostitutes and the other clients have fled in terror. He takes time to look out the window, to turn off a record player, even to make a quip about the Italian army’s uniforms (“How are we supposed to win a war with people dressed like that?”) before strolling toward the exit. Only then does he realize that someone else is still in the building: a frightened girl (Sophia Loren) peeking out of one of the rooms. “Miss, aren’t you coming down?” he asks, to which she cries, “No, no!” and slams her door shut. Satisfied with this response, Domenico turns and starts walking away, until something makes him turn back. Is it kindness, a purehearted, altruistic concern for another human being’s welfare, or is his interest in her a bit less noble than that? Tellingly, he takes a second to fix his hair before approaching her room; then again, maybe that’s just a natural, thoughtless gesture in vain, womanizing, thoughtless man.

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Director Series: François Truffaut

truffaut
Source

Ages and ages ago, as recorded in my very first post on this blog, I decided to view and write about all of Yasujirô Ozu’s extant films in chronological order. For one reason or another, I never made it very far, only managing to get through Days of Youth, Fighting Friends — Japanese Style and I Graduated, But… before abandoning — or simply forgetting about — the project. At some point, I hope to pick up where I left off, though I’ll probably wait until the Criterion Channel launches in April, which should (fingers crossed) give me access to the bulk of his work. (Side note: Is there any legal way to watch The Munekata Sisters, preferably with English subtitles? It’s the only one I still haven’t seen. Anyway…)

For the time being, however, I’d like to attempt the same project with the films of François Truffaut. I’ve already written about quite a few of them here, but I hope to avoid retreading too much old ground; I think that the chronological format will help foster new insights, and these posts will probably be a bit more informal in style than the others, though we’ll see how things develop. The plan at this point is to publish one write-up per month, starting later this month.

Brief Encounters: The Masseurs and a Woman (1938)

carriage

A few minutes into Hiroshi Shimizu’s 1938 film The Masseurs and a Woman, the titular characters cross paths for the first time, in rather less than auspicious circumstances: while walking along a mountain road with fellow masseur Fuku (Shin’ichi Himori) — both of them blind, a tradition in Japan — a man named Toku (Shin Tokudaiji) stumbles on a rock and falls to the ground just as a horse-drawn carriage rounds the corner. Fortunately, he manages to get to his feet in time to move out of its way, and when he resumes his conversation with Fuku, he doesn’t even comment on his narrow escape. Something much more agreeable has captured his attention. “There was a nice woman aboard,” he says. “A lady from Tokyo. She had the scent of Tokyo.” Meanwhile, the driver of the carriage tells his passengers, including the woman in question (Mieko Takamine), about the two masseurs, whom he describes as “famous in these parts” due to their fondness for overtaking sighted people on the road during their annual visits: “Like swallows, they come north every spring, then return to the spas in the south every winter.”

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On First Viewing The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Phantom

The Phantom of the Opera is one of those tales that perennially lends itself to new adaptations, new re-imaginings — and yet, in spite of having read Gaston Leroux’s novel a number of years ago and having spent several sessions studying Phantom in a middle school music class, I’ve never actually seen either the stage musical or any film version of the story in its entirety*. While I know that we watched clips from some production or another in that music class, I can’t pin them down at this point — except one. At some point, our teacher showed us the scene from the 1925 Rupert Julian-directed silent adaptation in which the Phantom’s face is revealed, a sight that we were told had shocked and terrified moviegoers at the time; we, sophisticated thirteen-year-olds that we were, found it hilarious, a view encouraged by the teacher. This was the same class in which we (or the vast majority of us, myself included) first encountered West Side Story, another classic that we regarded as a object of mockery (though it, at least, wasn’t presented to us as such). Having grown to love West Side Story in the intervening years, it only seemed fair that I should give the 1925 Phantom of the Opera another chance, to put that unmasking in its proper context and re-evaluate its impact, and The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon struck me as the perfect opportunity to do just that.

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Bitter Spirits: Immortal Love (1961)

Sadako Heibei

Any viewer who goes into Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1961 film Immortal Love expecting the grand, sweeping romance suggested by the title is bound to be disappointed. The original Japanese title, Eien no hito (永遠の人), can be translated as “forever one,” which is a bit closer to the mark, as the focus is on a marriage — if something so ugly and venomous can truly be regarded as a marriage. Perhaps the other English name given to the film is the most appropriate of all: Bitter Spirit.

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Twenty Thousand Yen: An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

Money

A particular amount of money — twenty thousand yen, to be precise — shows up twice in Yasujirô Ozu’s 1962 film An Autumn Afternoon. In one instance, it’s a gift collected to help a struggling old man; in the other, it’s the price of a set of golf clubs coveted by a young man. Coincidence, or something more deliberate? The two episodes are connected only tenuously, through a third character — former student of the older man, father of the younger and benefactor to both. Taken together, however, these sums and the circumstances surrounding them encapsulate the issues, the uncertainties, the fears and the sorrows at the heart of Ozu’s swan song.

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Just a Game?: Lo Scopone Scientifico (1972)

Game

“We live in a squatter’s shack that’s overrun with rats. Every time it rains, the firemen must take us away by boat. Your dad was injured during the war. He can’t work any more than he does; otherwise, he’d be a hard worker … You must understand that our only hope is winning some money from that old lady.”

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A Foreign Country: The Go-Between (1971)

Marian Hammock

Upon arriving at Brandham Hall at the start of Joseph Losey’s 1971 film The Go-Between, Leo Colston (Dominic Guard as a child, Michael Redgrave as an adult) finds much to impress and even overwhelm him: the size and grandeur of the house itself, the paintings covering its walls, the shining silver arrayed in perfect neatness on its tables. He’s particularly struck, however, by two living things. The first is Marian Maudsley (Julie Christie), clad in white and half-hidden by a white parasol as she lounges in a hammock; the second is a deadly nightshade growing on the property. “Atropa belladonna,” Leo explains to his friend Marcus (Richard Gibson), Marian’s younger brother. “It’s poisonous. Every part of it is poisonous.” Beauty masking poison — a symbol, it will turn out, not simply of Marian herself, but of Brandham and upper-class English society as a whole.

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