Toil and Trouble: The Organizer (1963)

Professor Meeting

Professor Giuseppe Sinigaglia (Marcello Mastroianni), the title character in Mario Monicelli’s 1963 film The Organizer (originally I compagni, or The Comrades), is hardly a prepossessing figure. Shabbily attired, with disheveled hair and a scruffy beard, he appears no better, socioeconomically speaking, than any of the textile factory workers who have gathered in the Turin schoolhouse where he’s taken refuge. Even so, when he suddenly pops out from behind a wall to interrupt their meeting and offer his thoughts on their situation, he must look like a potential savior, a kind of deus ex machina, at least to many of them.
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Devoured by an Ambition: The Red Shoes (1948)

Red Shoes

“The ballet of The Red Shoes is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a girl who is devoured by an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of red shoes. She gets the shoes, goes to the dance, and at first all is well, and she’s very happy. At the end of the evening, she gets tired and wants to go home — but the red shoes are not tired. In fact, the red shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the streets, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by. Love rushes by. Life rushes by. But the red shoes dance on.”

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A Day in the Lives: Billy Liar (1963)

Billy Bed

Throughout the opening credits of John Schlesinger’s 1963 film Billy Liar, the camera pans along lines of buildings in a northern English town. Although there’s some diversity of styles from shot to shot — apartment blocks, row homes, Tudor cottages — each row in and of itself is strikingly unvaried and repetitive, and the overall effect is of a certain dull monotony. A radio show aimed at housewives provides accompaniment as these images roll past, creating the impression that all of the homes, regardless of their appearances, are united by mundane domesticity. However, within the walls of one of them, a young man named Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) is daydreaming about a much more thrilling existence.

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A Comedy or a Tragedy: A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

Emile Angela Alfred

For a film that opens with the words “il était un fois” (“once upon a time”) in enormous letters, Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman (1961) has a premise that may sound a tad sordid: Angela (Anna Karina), a stripper, wants to have a baby, but her boyfriend, Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy), isn’t interested in becoming a father anytime soon. Unwilling to give up the idea, she threatens to turn to his friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who’s in love with her but whom she’s always brushed off up until this point. “Is this a comedy or a tragedy?” Alfred asks.

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The Reluctant Swashbuckler: That Man from Rio (1964)

Agnès Adrien Statue

When Adrien Dufourquet (Jean-Paul Belmondo) arrives in Paris at the start of the 1964 film That Man from Rio, he’s looking forward to all the fun he’ll have there during his week’s leave from the military — but fate has other plans for him.

That same day, a small earthenware statue is stolen from the city’s Musée de l’Homme. Although there’s some question as to why the thief went after this particular piece and ignored the more valuable items all around it, Professor Norbert Catalan (Jean Servais) thinks he has the answer. He explains that the statue is a relic of the long-lost Maltek people of South America, decimated by Europeans centuries ago, and that he and two colleagues found a trio of these figurines during an Amazonian expedition three years earlier. His was the one taken from the museum; a second belongs to Mario De Castro (Adolfo Celi), the expedition’s wealthy Brazilian backer; and the third’s whereabouts are unknown, as its owner, a man named Villermosa, was killed by a poisoned arrow. A museum guard met a similar fate during the robbery, leading Catalan to suspect that the Malteks — specialists in poisons and hypnosis — are behind it, in spite of the fact that the entire civilization was believed to have been wiped out.

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Family Affair: The End of Summer (1961)

Kohayagawa Family

“The Kohayagawa family is complicated indeed,” remarks Yamaguchi (Kyû Sazanka), a longtime employee of the sake brewery run by the Kohayagawas, around whom Yasujirô Ozu’s 1961 film The End of Summer revolves. Facing falling profits and heavy competition from larger rivals, their small company seems destined for a merger if it wishes to stay in business at all, but Manbei (Ganjirô Nakamura), the family’s patriarch, is opposed to the idea. He wants the company to remain independent — and it’s clear that he desires similar freedom in his personal life. Of late, he’s been disappearing frequently with little or no explanation. Curiosity eventually gets the better of his employees, so one of them, Roku (Yû Fujiki), follows him and — despite Manbei’s best efforts to deter him — discovers his secret: He’s been visiting Tsune Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), a woman who used to be his mistress.

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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.

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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.

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