Between Two Worlds: The Wild Child (1970)

Victor Forest

On a summer day in 1798, a woman collecting mushrooms in a French forest is startled by what appears to be a large animal moving in the brush, grunting and sending leaves flying into the air. After she runs off, it reveals itself — not as the fearsome beast the woman imagined, but as a boy of eleven or twelve (Jean-Pierre Cargol), naked, long-haired, covered in filth and moving on all fours. Human though he is, he leads the life of a wild animal, and soon he’s captured like one, chased by dogs and smoked out of a hole in the ground by a group of hunters. Dubbed the Wild Boy of Aveyron, he becomes an object of curiosity to the public at large and the medical profession in particular. Because he’s unable to speak and has limited hearing — he turns around when a nut is cracked behind him but doesn’t react when a door slams — the boy is placed in an institution for the deaf, where tourists come to gawk at him and the other children abuse him. Appalled by these conditions, Dr. Jean Itard (François Truffaut) proposes moving the boy to his own home on the outskirts of Paris. There, with the help of his housekeeper, Madame Guérin (Françoise Seigner), he intends to educate him.

Continue reading “Between Two Worlds: The Wild Child (1970)”

The Quintessential Ozu: Late Spring (1949)

Late Spring Noh Play

“I always tell people that I don’t make anything besides tofu, and that is because I am strictly a tofu-dealer,” Yasujirô Ozu said of his work while promoting An Autumn Afternoon, the 1962 film that would turn out to be his swan song. (He died of cancer the following year, on his sixtieth birthday.) By that point, he had been directing for thirty-five years. Although his resume includes college comedies, crime dramas, a period piece (his now-lost debut, Sword of Penitence) and a documentary short on a kabuki dancer, the bulk of his impressive output — fifty-four films in total, despite the fact that his career was interrupted in the late 1930s and again in the early to mid-1940s when he was called up for military service — deals with family relationships in contemporary Japan. Tokyo Story, released in 1953, is probably the best-known example, a tale about an elderly couple traveling to the titular city to visit their children and grandchildren. However, the most representative entry in Ozu’s filmography — his tofu in its purest form, as it were — may be 1949’s Late Spring.

Continue reading “The Quintessential Ozu: Late Spring (1949)”

Blind Spot Series: Il Grido (1957)

Il Grido Title

When an Italian woman named Irma (Alida Valli) learns that her husband has died abroad, Aldo (Steve Cochran) — her lover of seven years and the father of her young daughter, Rosina (Mirna Girardi) — assumes that the two of them will finally marry; Irma has other ideas. Now that she’s free (and, simultaneously, forced) to make a decision, she’s realized that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life with Aldo. In fact, she admits that for the past few months there’s been “someone else,” a younger man, and she intends to leave Aldo for him.

Continue reading “Blind Spot Series: Il Grido (1957)”

Composition of a Villain: Amadeus (1984)

Salieri Balcony

“Mozart! Mozart, forgive your assassin! I confess, I killed you!”

On a snowy winter night in Vienna in 1823, over three decades after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death at age thirty-five, these shouts ring out through an elderly man’s (F. Murray Abraham) house. From outside the locked door of his room, his servants initially try to calm him down by tempting him with pastries, but when his ranting is succeeded by a chilling scream and the sound of something falling on a piano, they grow increasingly concerned. At last, they force their way in. Their master is on the floor, covered in blood; he’s just cut his own throat.

So begins the 1984 film Amadeus, directed by Milos Forman and adapted by Peter Shaffer from his play of the same name. The elderly man is Antonio Salieri — villain and victim.

Continue reading “Composition of a Villain: Amadeus (1984)”

Boy Loses Girl: The Coward (1965)

Karuna Ami

When the taxi in which he’s traveling breaks down at the start of Satyajit Ray’s 1965 film The Coward, Kolkata resident Amitabha Roy (Soumitra Chatterjee) finds himself stranded in the countryside, unable to reach his brother-in-law’s house in the town of Hashimara. There’s no chance of leaving before the next day — the car needs a new ignition coil that the local garage doesn’t have in stock, no other taxis are available, the last train has gone — and the only nearby hotel is reportedly a less than pleasant place to stay.

“What’s your line? Tea or forest?” asks a stranger (Haradhan Bannerjee) who has taken an interest in his troubles; after all, why else would anyone be out in the middle of nowhere like this? The stranger himself, Bimal Gupta by name, owns a tea plantation, and he invites the young man to spend the night at his bungalow. As they drive there, Amitabha explains that he’s a screenwriter seeking local color for his next scenario, a romantic tale. “Boy meets girl, boy loses –” Bimal begins, but Amitabha corrects him: “Boy gets.” “Boy gets girl, boy loses girl. Right?” he says. “Exactly,” his guest replies with a laugh. A simple formula — real life proves a bit more complicated.

Continue reading “Boy Loses Girl: The Coward (1965)”

Blind Spot Series: Little Caesar (1931)

Little Caesar Title

Caesar Enrico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) — Rico for short — is tired of knocking over gas stations in his small town. He longs to be like the big-time crime bosses he reads about in the newspaper, and not just because of their impressive wealth. “Money’s all right, but it ain’t everything,” he says. “Ah, be somebody. Look hard at a bunch of guys and know that they’ll do anything you tell ’em. Have your own way or nothin’. Be somebody!”

Continue reading “Blind Spot Series: Little Caesar (1931)”

A Strange Game: Two English Girls (1971)

Game

Early on in François Truffaut’s 1971 film Les deux Anglaises et le continent, or Two English Girls, sisters Anne (Kika Markham) and Muriel Brown (Stacey Tendeter), their mother (Sylvia Marriott) and their house guest, Claude Roc (Jean-Pierre Léaud), get caught in the rain. After the group takes shelter in a small cave, Mrs. Brown suggests that they play a game called citron pressé (“squeezed lemon”) in order to pass the time until the weather improves. Her daughters agree eagerly and sit down on either side of her, their backs against her arms while she faces forward, and begin to rock her to and fro, first one leaning backwards and then the other. Laughing and out of breath, Mrs. Brown soon invites Claude to take her place, which he does — but what was merely an innocent diversion for the Browns becomes something quite different for the young Frenchman. “Suddenly he was a pawn in a strange game. Squeezed between the girls, he didn’t dare breathe. He’d never even touched their hands. Now their supple backs thrust against him. It was like an indiscretion,” the narrator (Truffaut himself*) says as Claude is pushed from side to side, surprise, pleasure and uncertainty flickering across his face.

Continue reading “A Strange Game: Two English Girls (1971)”

Reflections: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Cleo Mirrors

“Take another card,” a fortune teller (Loye Payen) instructs the tearful young woman (Corinne Marchand) sitting across the table from her at the start of Agnès Varda’s 1962 film Cléo from 5 to 7. Awaiting a potential cancer diagnosis, singer Cléo Victoire has come to Madame Irma in hopes of receiving some sort of comfort or reason for hope. So far, her tarot reading has been less than encouraging, and although Madame Irma has tried to remain positive throughout, even she jumps back in alarm when she turns over the next card and reveals a skeleton holding a scythe. “This card is not necessarily death’s. It means a complete transformation of your whole being,” the fortune teller says, still endeavoring to make the best of it, but Cléo doesn’t want to hear any more: “I’ve known for two days. I don’t need the results of the tests.” Nevertheless, she immediately asks Madame Irma to read her palm, as if that might reveal something that will cancel out the rest; Madame Irma gazes down at it for a few moments, looks up at Cléo’s face, and finally declares that she can’t read hands. “Is it so bad…?” Cléo asks, bursting into sobs. She leaves in a daze, and it’s not until she encounters a mirror downstairs that she begins to revive. “Ugliness is a kind of death,” she thinks while smiling at her reflection. “As long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive.”

Continue reading “Reflections: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)”

Holding Pattern: Wings (1966)

Larisa Shepitko’s 1966 film Wings opens on a crowded street, along which unending streams of people flow ceaselessly both left and right. From this crowd, it appears, one man suddenly turns toward the viewer; the camera then pulls back to reveal that he’s a tailor walking through his quiet, nearly empty shop, undisturbed by the mass of humanity outside his window. His focus is on a customer, a middle-aged woman (Maya Bulgakova) who’s waiting for him in a dressing room. With skillful hands, he takes her measurements for a jacket and skirt, noting the width of her shoulders, the circumference of her waist, and so on and so on, until at last he announces his verdict: “Standard size.” But while that may be true of her clothing, it soon becomes painfully clear that Nadezhda Petrukhina is not a woman built for a standard size life.

Continue reading “Holding Pattern: Wings (1966)”